FROM LADY CHANCE…
Giles glanced down at his English girl. That pretty bow mouth of hers had taken on a mulish set. She arched one eyebrow. He thrust out his elbow for her to take his arm. “Is it possible you are called Lady Chance because there is such a high probability you will throw yourself into trouble?”
“Would you rather I throw you into trouble? If so, tell me how I may oblige in that manner.”
“You would oblige me more if you did not insist on this.”
“Oh, no, my dear Giles. Too much gratifying of such whims as those would lead to spoiling your glum countenance. You might actually smile and we cannot have that. You would cease to be the stern major and your mystery might unravel.”
Giles had no time to answer. They had crossed the room. His uncle watched their approach with speculation bright in his silver-gray eyes. Françoise stood still, his arms folded and his shoulders hunched, looking ridiculously young, more like a boy than a man. After his first glance at Diana, Françoise straightened and appreciation warmed his eyes.
Giles made the introductions in French and finished by saying, “This is my graceless brother who has no time for me now he has come to Paris.”
“No, no, Giles—that is too unkind. You paint me as a care-for-nobody when it is you who are always called off for some parade or duty.” Turning to Diana, Françoise put a hand over his heart. “I assure you, milady. I have left my card three times at my brother’s lodging. But he is a hero now and has no time for family.”
Eyes bright, Françoise grinned. He shared the same tea-brown eyes as his brother and the same deep-brown hair. However, Françoise wore his hair long. The light caught chestnut mixed with the darker shades in soft waves and the silky strands almost invited a touch. Diana’s heart tightened. Giles had once been just so open-faced.
She glanced at Giles and saw his frown had not softened to his brother’s teasing. She tapped Françoise’s arm with her fan. “You must not pull your brother’s tail, although it is nearly irresistible. I am certain he thought only of his family when he put on a uniform. But now you must tell me of the entertainment to be had in Paris, for I am newly arrived and have not seen the city in years.”
Nodding, Paul-Henri smiled. “Not since your aunt had to flee with you back to England, I understand.”
Françoise’s enthusiasm dimmed. He glanced once at his uncle and back to Diana. His expression dropped into a cool mask. “My mistake, milady. I took you…your French is very good. You have not the mangling of our words like most English.”
“That is flattery indeed. I had a French governess. But now, because I am English, I lose all my charm?”
Françoise’s cheeks pinked. He stammered out a denial, but Giles’ uncle interrupted again. “Oh, we all much admire you English, but we do so better when you are at a distance.”
“No, Giles,” Diana said, opening her fan to ply it. “Pray, do not rebuke your uncle for the truth. It is as refreshing as a winter’s breeze.”
Paul-Henri gave a shrug. “Paris can be chilling to those unaccustomed to its shifting winds.”
Diana put her head to the side to consider. She was not yet certain if she liked this man. She had the sense of being weighed by him and found a little wanting. In such a case, she had no difficulty living up to his very low expectations.
She put on a vapid smile. She had perfected it years ago to bore unwanted suitors into abandoning her. “Oh, la, sir! You make a jest. Chilling indeed.” She added an empty laugh. Paul-Henri frowned. She turned to Giles’ brother. “And you also wish us foreigners to blazes? What was your recent fuss about—a republic, was it not? But that cannot be right, for you had yourself an emperor in its stead.”
The color lifted high and bright in Françoise’s face. “The ideals of the Republic still live! And the rights we had under—”
“Françoise,” Paul-Henri said, his tone sharp. He lifted his cane to wave it between Françoise and Diana. “Do not bore the lady. Milady, forgive us. We have forgotten how to entertain. You asked about amusements. Françoise, did you not see a play just the other evening—a delightful diversion?”
Paul-Henri forced the conversation onto safer topics, although Giles’ brother, Françoise, could not seem to recall the plot of what he had seen. Diana fixed a smile in place, nodded when it seemed necessary, and watched Giles from the corner of her eyes.
He seemed willing to allow his uncle to lead the conversation. However, Diana had the impression that Giles was only proving to her why she should take no interest in his relatives. Paul-Henri did not seem to think much of the English. Françoise obviously not only did not wish to be here but had nothing to say to an Englishwoman. The young man moved from reluctant to positively sullen. Diana would have laughed except that would have mortified the poor lad. The uncle seemed content to allow his nephews their moods, but he was quite skilled at orchestrating events.
He managed to pack off both gentlemen, taking Giles to task for not fetching Diana refreshments and sending Giles’ younger brother to call for their carriage so they might leave. Left alone with the older gentleman, Diana closed her fan and wondered why he wanted a word with her. She did not have long to wait for an answer.
Paul-Henri placed both hands on the carved head of his cane and gave a nod. “You need not bother with the smiles. You are very good at them, but as an old dissembler to a younger one, I urge you not to waste your talents.”
She stiffened for an instant, but let out a soft breath and kept her smile. “Oh, it is never a waste to practice one’s skills. I had not trotted out this particular expression in ages. It must be almost as rusty as my accent.”
“No, both are excellent. But if you were as vapid as you have just seemed, Giles would not have looked at you as he did earlier.”
“What look would that be?”
His smile widened. “You might be good for him, milady. Or you might be his death warrant.”
“Really, now—so dramatic!”
He lifted a hand. The gold ring on his little finger caught the light. Like his nephews he wore no gloves. Unlike his nephews, he had soft, white hands. “These are times of high drama. And your cousin, Lord Sandal, is it not? He is placed to decide such things? Or perhaps he is just another English come to visit. It is so difficult to tell who is who these days.”
Diana silently had to agree with him. And why were all these Taliaris men so interested in Jules? She folded her hands together in front of her, feeling more like a schoolgirl than she had in years. “Sir, we could fence with each other for hours and as entertaining as that might prove it would advance nothing. Perhaps you would care to come to a point about something?”
“Or perhaps not. You do know that my nephew plans to return to Bordeaux to the family vineyards. He seeks a life that is all too…quiet.” He made the word sound worse than exile.
Diana could not resist looking out over the crowd to find Taliaris. Would such pastoral peace be good for him? Or would the lack of action leave him bored and fat? Or would the countryside be just the respite he needed from the world? She glanced back at his uncle. “You mean he is not for the likes of me? He needs a quiet wife to go with such a life?”
“I did not say that. Perhaps he knows his own desires—or perhaps he only thinks of a change without knowing just what sort of difference he needs, eh? But Giles returns with a glass of something for you and his scowl for me. Lead him a merry dance, milady. I think that is what is best for him just now.”
“And you, sir? What is it you seek from this evening? This introduction, which you now have? I played to your lead, but I think your trump did not yet take the hand.” He looked at her, his stare sharpening. Diana smiled. “We should play cards someday, sir. I think you are not often well-matched, and I should like to empty your pockets.”
His mouth twitched. He took her hand and bowed over it. “I am never matched, well or otherwise. And I do not play at games. Enjoy this visit, milady, but keep your bags packed.”
She frowned at his words. But Giles returned to her side, and she had to turn to take the glass he held out to her. She sipped the wine, something white and dry, and gave a small shrug. “Very well, I shall say it.” He lifted one eyebrow in inquiry. She shook her head for an answer. “You had the right of it. I should not have forced an introduction. Your uncle now thinks I am a flighty woman—or at least the wrong sort of woman. And your brother has no love for anything—or anyone—English. And I thought my family difficult! But they are, for Jules has deserted me, or at least has taken himself off somewhere. Shall we scandalize everyone with a second dance? Or perhaps we could flee for a walk along the Seine and air that does not reek of perfume and too many schemes?”
He stared at her for a moment. His eyes seemed so dark as to be almost black and she could not read what expression lay in the depths. But he took her hand—a dreadfully forward habit of his—and started for the stairs.