The Vilest Betrayal Why she wished to get closer to him, she could not have said: perhaps

she was impelled by an allpowerful fatality, which so often seems to rule the destinies of men. -The Scarlet Pimpernel, chapter 12 Sir Andrew Ffoulkes groped his way up the narrow staircase, stepping slowly where he could not tread lightly. The other residents of The Fisherman’s Rest had retired many hours ago, and Lady Blakeney herself had finally surrendered to the late hour after they had talked well into the night. Andrew doubted that she would find any rest, for both of them were anxious to be away from Dover and across the Channel to Percy, but he was glad that she had retired to her room all the same. Now it was time for him to go to bed, but whether to sleep or lay awake the whole night with his thoughts, Andrew knew not. Yawning until his jaw creaked, he blindly sought his way along the narrow corridor, counting the door frames to his usual room at the inn. He had given Lady Blakeney the candle so that she could light her way safely upstairs, rashly insisting that he could find his way blindfold. Only now did he discover that the wall sconce had either blown out or burnt down, leaving him with only his sense of direction and the waning moonlight to find a place to rest his head for the night. “From home again, home again,” Andrew murmured to himself, running his hand over the wooden architraves. After working back from the linen cupboard at the end of the corridor, he found his bearings. Jellyband always put him up in the second to last room, which was smaller than the other chambers but faced out to sea. Where other guests of Quality would have baulked at the

location and dimensions of such a room, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes saw only a private space and an excellent vantage point. Recalling that the warped wooden door could make a fearful din, Andrew settled one hand on the handle and pressed the palm of his other to the panels nearest the hinges. Holding his breath, he quickly turned the latch and pushed the door inwards. Two thoughts came instantly to him when he looked into the room: Jellyband had left a candle burning within, as promised, and – and the room was already occupied. There she stood, her back to the door, holding a chemise in her hands but without a stitch to cover her naked body. In what seemed like hours, but was in fact but an agonising moment, Andrew watched her turn to take in that the door was open, and who had opened it, before covering herself with the folds of her garment. He quickly pulled the door closed. Almost immediately recognising his mistake, Andrew spun on his heel and strode into the room opposite, the door opening with a rattle and a shriek. He sank down against the frame, closing his eyes. My God, my God, he mouthed. He had invaded a lady’s privacy, unwittingly betrayed his friend’s trust, and embarrassed himself into the bargain – yet he could not forget the sight of her as she turned towards him. The perfect roundness of her bottom, her shapely calves and slender ankles, and – good God – the swell of her breast, tipped with a firm pink bud. Andrew smacked his head against the door. He could also see the look of sheer horror on her face, her mind working faster than her reflexes, when she became aware of the situation. Her hair was loose, tumbling down her back. Stop it, Ffoulkes! he chided himself. What on earth would Blakeney think? What would he do? It didn’t matter that he had burst in on her by mistake, but the fact was that –

yes – he had wanted to see more, he realised now. Even a glimpse of her ankle would have been enough to thrill him. Marguerite Blakeney was a beautiful, delectable woman, and he had just seen everything that a gentleman ought never to look upon, unless with his own wife or a whore. Sir Percy’s lady was neither. When she had come to his townhouse, ready to confess her betrayal of the Scarlet Pimpernel to Chauvelin and forsake her dignity in asking for help, Andrew had not known what to make of the once proud Lady Blakeney. He had wondered why this charming yet cautious woman might suddenly engage him as her friend, doubting if he could – or should – trust her story. Yet without knowing why, or for whose benefit, he had agreed to accompany her to France, following her to Dover dressed in his own servant’s livery on her suggestion. From acquaintance to ally, Andrew’s perception of this extraordinary woman had grown in respect and confidence in the space of one remarkable day, but how was he to behave around Lady Blakeney now? They faced the long, lonely hours of a Channel crossing in the confines of a packet boat before even reaching Calais, and then there was no guarantee they would find Percy. He would be alone with her for days, his mind seared with the afterimage of all he had seen, until he could reunite her with her husband, his best friend. Though still uncertain of the passionate woman he had come to recognise in Lady Blakeney, a deeper, more personal fear was now nagging at Andrew’s conscience. He would follow and guard her for the sake of his friend, but did not know if he could trust himself. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was burning with desire, but not for Mademoiselle Suzanne de Tournay. When he closed his eyes, he saw not soft ringlets and a look of tender brown innocence, but tumbling golden tresses and a liquid blue gaze that could chill or cheer with practiced expression. A low, lyrical voice it was that echoed in his ears, not the polished tones of a nobleman’s daughter. And never could he imagine such a divine figure lurking beneath the worn finery of his young émigré fiancée.

Tortured by his imagination and aching with unrequited passion, Andrew threw himself upon the bed to count the hours and steel his nerve until morning.

Marguerite Blakeney perched on the edge of the slightly damp yet firm bed, and started to unlace her half boots. Oh, how she missed her maid! Yet she reminded herself, if I can consider sailing to France after my husband, I am quite sure that I can also get undressed by myself. Lifting up her skirts, she wearily rolled down her stockings and tossed them after her boots. There was a chill in the air, despite the fire burning in the grate, and Marguerite was reluctant to shed her warm travelling gown, but knew that she would rest better if not wearing her stays, and the one necessarily came before the other. Pushing to her feet, she dealt quickly with the heavy outer garments, folding them neatly over the little chair beside her makeshift dressing table. Reaching behind her to pull on the knotted lace tethering her stays, Marguerite worked loose the boned silk panels. Doffing her feminine bondage with a sigh of relief, she set to work on her petticoats. Now wearing only her chemise, Marguerite was definitely feeling the cold. The strong winds raging outside found sneaky access via the window casement and chimney breast, causing a perpetual draught that chilled the floorboards and rattled the door. She shivered. Had her maid thought to pack her woollen night gown? Marguerite quickly unpacked her valise onto the bed, and found that Louise had yet to fail her mistress. Holding the neatly folded night dress to her body, she grimaced. To put on the warmer gown, she would first have to take off her chemise, stripping naked. Marguerite felt her skin crawl and her nipples harden at the mere thought of getting completely undressed. Yet – she

would only be uncovered for a moment, and then she could dive into the warm woollen wrapping. Turning her back to the room, Marguerite took a deep breath and gathered up the thin material of the chemise. Pulling the pins loose in her hair as she tugged it over her head, she was about to shake out the rumpled linen and place it on top of her clothes, when a strong draught from the door made her turn around. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, her husband’s best friend, was standing in the open doorway. His eyes were wide, fixed on her body, and suddenly Marguerite came to her senses. Hiding her shame, she was about to order him to leave, when he was gone as quickly as he had appeared. Blushing, fixed to the spot, Marguerite stared at the door. Looking down at herself, she lowered the chemise to how she had been holding it when he walked in, and saw an exposed breast and – mon dieu! – her entire derriere! Little wonder he had been transfixed by the sight of her. Even her husband hadn’t seen this much in – months! (But how she would close that distance when they met again in France, she promised herself.) Realising that she was still standing there on full view, Marguerite quickly got into her nightgown. She must put this embarrassment behind them so that they could focus on the journey to France tomorrow.

A soft tap on the door made Andrew jump. “Sir Andrew?” Lady Blakeney asked. He waited behind the door, not daring to confront her so soon, but she did not go away.

“Please, Sir Andrew,” Lady Blakeney insisted, when Andrew failed to answer her. “I do not wish to lose your friendship, so recently gained and sincerely treasured,” she went on. “Let me come inside for a moment, before I am overheard.” Andrew gave in. Her face was illumined by the light of the candle she carried, and he saw that she had pinned up her hair and donned a cloak over her gown. “Lady Blakeney, pray forgive me,” he started instantly, but she held up a hand to silence him. “There is nothing to pardon,” she said, moving past him into the room. “Close the door. You are human, and so am I. We have both erred recently, but mine is the more grievous trespass. Let us say no more about tonight.” Andrew sighed, and then nodded. There was so much he still needed to say – to apologise for – but she could not read his feelings, luckily for him. “Do not look so guilty, friend,” she teased. “I am not angry.” “But did I not embarrass you?” “Oh,” she shrugged, “say more of a surprise! But I am to blame, for I should have locked the door, or barricaded it with a chair. Privilege has made me careless.” Andrew was ready to absolve her of any fault, when she added, “I am glad it was a friend at least, and not good Mr Jellyband, or a complete stranger.” “Such a friend as I!” he groaned, turning away. “Oh, Lady Blakeney, I am sorry that it was a friend, because I am also a friend of your husband’s, and now I feel so wretched.” She set her candle down on the table and went to him. “Why so?” Conscious of her nearness, Andrew could not speak. He shook his head.

“Are you sorry that you saw me, Sir Andrew – or that you wanted to see more?” At that, he turned to her. “My God, no, Lady Blakeney! What must you take me for?” She untied her cloak strings and let the voluminous mantle fall to the floor. “I take you for a man, and I am a woman, that is all. It is only natural.” He took in the single layer of her night gown and backed away to the door. “You are right to punish me for my behaviour, Lady Blakeney, but do not make matters worse. Think of Percy.” “I do think of him,” she replied, fingering the buttons at her neckline. “I have thought of him for a year, because that is the last time he came to my bed.” The bodice fell open, suggesting the curves contained within. “Lady Blakeney, this is madness!” Andrew insisted, but his eyes were drawn to the front of her gown and the obvious outline of her figure beneath. “I want you to look at me, Sir Andrew, because he will not,” she said simply. Andrew closed his eyes, and then opened them again. He watched, unbelieving, as Lady Blakeney, the beautiful wife of his best friend, began to draw up the long skirt of her gown. His eyes fell to take in her ankles, then her knees, and finally the forbidden glory of her thighs. He thought she would stop there, cover herself and then laugh at him, but instead she swept the garment up and over her perfect body and let it drop from her hand. No longer a coy lady rushing to cover her blushes, Marguerite Blakeney faced Sir Andrew, brazen in all her bare beauty. He glimpsed the soft, russet curls between her legs, burnished in the candlelight, and then took in the full roundness of her breasts, before turning his whole body to the door. “Please, Lady Blakeney,” he struggled to speak. “Cover yourself.”

“Look at me, Andrew,” Marguerite said. “I know that you have long admired me from a safe and respectful distance, but now there is no need.” She stepped softly up behind him, and pressed herself against his back. “Look at me.” Groaning with frustration, Andrew turned and found her in his arms. His hands moved naturally to her waist, soft and slender, and then swept lower to her bottom. He could feel her nipples brushing his chest, and held her away so that he could look full upon her. “Would you be able to resist looking at me, holding me, for a year, Sir Andrew?” she asked. He shook his head slowly, staring without disguise at the gentle blush on her pale skin. Faint pink lines running from the underside of her breasts to her navel marked where the daily wear of her stays had pressed the creases of her chemise into her flesh. Andrew imagined himself massaging the imperfections away. Before he knew what he was doing, he found himself caressing her breasts, cupping them in his palms while his thumbs brushed over the buds of her rosy nipples. She responded eagerly, grinding her hips against his groin. This was beyond his wildest dreams, but Andrew did not know if he could control his urges enough to do what was right by her, or his absent friend. When he felt her fingers on the falls of his breeches, he tried to tell her to stop, but found that the need for release from her touch was stronger than his will. Marguerite stripped away his breeches, and took him in her hands. Her touch was gentle at first, playful, and then rougher, bringing him to the very edge. Andrew held her to him, hard against her stomach, while the wave rushed over him. “Forgive me indeed, Lady Blakeney!”

He woke up in bed, holding himself beneath the covers. Shuddering with spent passion and shame, Andrew sought for his discarded shirt and quickly covered himself. Had he called her name out loud? Despite the cacophony of the storm outside, she was only across the hall and might have heard. Nor were hers the only sensitive ears he feared; Jellyband already suspected the worst. Sinking back onto the mattress, Andrew buried his face in the pillows. Lady Blakeney had not come to him, offering a sight – and then the pleasure – of her body. She was probably mortified by the whole sordid incident, as he should rightly be. Unbidden, a memory of that first glimpse, real and innocent, came to his mind, and he saw again the hard berry of her nipple which he had caressed in his dreams. How was he ever to face her again?

Pulling back the covers, Marguerite let the chill night air rouse her body, for sleep would not come. Thoughts and fears tumbled within her mind, and her imagination was full of confused, unwanted dreams – of Percy in danger far away from her, and Sir Andrew all too close at hand. Staring into the darkness, she relived the embarrassment of his blunder and flushed with shame. What would he think of her, leaving her door unlocked while undressing? Their friendship was too fragile, and far too important, for such a trivial yet personal situation to upset the balance of trust and respect between them. If only it had been Percy and not Sir Andrew, Marguerite mused, idly raising her knees. She would not have hidden herself from him, but opened her arms instead. Of course, Percy would have known which room was hers and stayed well away from her door. She sighed. Of all the fashionable neglect and cold civilities she had been forced to endure since her marriage, her husband’s rejection of their marital bed was hardest to accept or comprehend.

He was a passionate man and he loved her, yet he would not even lay with her to fulfil his conjugal duties, not to speak of pleasure or satisfaction. How she longed to be with him again. Stroking the inside of her thighs, she thought about the last time Percy had touched her. He had been so tender with her, kissing and caressing her body until she had opened up to him. Closing her eyes, she imagined him with her now, and let her fingers brush against the curls between her legs. Her body was hungry for his touch, sensitive to the gentle motions of her own hands. Gathering up the folds of her nightgown, Marguerite drew the woollen material under her body, closing her legs over her exposed sex. Sitting up, she shrugged the gown over her shoulders and tossed the discarded garment to the end of the bed. Touching her hands to her breasts, her nipples were already hard against the cold and the thrill. She teased the tips between her fingers, imagining that it was Percy arousing her. He had taken her into his mouth, sucking gently, teasing her with his tongue, and she recalled the heat and exquisite sensation of his special kiss. She groaned deep in her throat, only to remember where she was and lay back onto the cool sheets. Slipping her fingers between her legs, she held the aching core of her pleasure. “Percy ...” she breathed. “Lady Blakeney!” Marguerite’s eyes flew open. It must surely be Sir Andrew, across the hall! She had heard his door creak open when he ran from her room earlier, instantly understanding how he had erred, and knew that he was very near to her. But why would he call her name? Getting out of bed, Marguerite stepped tentatively to her own door, which was now locked. No other sound followed his brief exclamation, however. Hugging her breasts, which

felt tight and tender, she was about to slip back between the sheets when the raucous scrape of Sir Andrew’s door announced that he was leaving his room. She stepped quickly back to listen at the wood. No movement could be heard in the passage beyond. Had she imagined the noise? Marguerite turned the key slowly in the lock until the barrel rolled back, and then eased down the handle. At first the hall looked as dark as her room, but her eyes adjusted to the shadows and then she could detect the pale silver light of the moon through the window at the head of the stairs. “Are you leaving, Sir Andrew?” she whispered after his retreating figure. He froze, his back to her. “I shall return before morning, Lady Blakeney,” he answered softly. Marguerite opened the door and stepped onto the threshold. “Sir Andrew,” she sighed out. “Stay with me. Please.” Andrew turned and closed the distance between them with two long steps. Standing close before her, he could feel her body heat and knew that he was living his dream. Suddenly he was upon her, sweeping her into his arms and back inside her room. “Oh Lady Blakeney, are you sure?” he breathed into her hair, his strong fingers kneading her soft backside. “I have wanted you for so long.” “I know it,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. “But please, Andrew, let us not speak of it now.” Nodding his assent, he laid her on the bed, and then quickly stripped off his shirt and breeches. Marguerite saw him silhouetted against the window, and her breath quickened in surprise. He was ready for her. Kneeling between her legs, he ran his trembling hands over the

contours of her body, taking in the curve of her neck and the smooth slope of her shoulders. Cupping her breasts, he brought them together, massaging the soft fullness and caressing her erect nipples. When Marguerite arched her back into his touch, he lowered himself against her. She closed her eyes to pretend he was Percy, but her body was responding instinctively to Andrew’s – the rough hairs on his chest brushing her nipples, and the feel of him between her legs. Only when he sought her lips, pressing on her an urgent, probing kiss, did Marguerite open her eyes. Turning her face to the side, she grimaced with shame in the darkness, but Andrew did not notice and her reluctance was naturally overcome. He lowered his searching mouth to her throat and her collarbone, moving his body to take in more of hers, and she laced her fingers through his thick fair hair. “Oh, Marguerite,” he panted, and she started at his familiar use of her name. Until that moment he had only ever called her by proper title, and the loss of his polite respect for her position as Sir Percy Blakeney’s lady somehow pained her more than taking him to her bed. “Hurry, Andrew,” she bid him, feeling that the path of his questing kisses was about to seek her most intimate area. Although she throbbed for that maddening sensation, his gentle caresses were too much like that of a lover. He pushed himself onto her again, and Marguerite buried her face against his shoulder before he could kiss her. Meeting the natural rhythm of her body, Andrew plunged inside her, gritting his teeth against the cry of pleasure building in his throat. He lay upon her, cradling her shoulders, trying to kiss her. She met his lips briefly, but was inexplicably relieved when he shifted position to hold himself above her, watching her writhing beneath him in the moonlight.

Even while she dug her ankles into his backside, pushing him deeper into her responsive body and gasping at the force of his thrusts, Marguerite could only think of Percy. She knew this would destroy her already unstable marriage if her husband were ever to learn of her union with Andrew, and she dare not even imagine how he would punish his best friend for such a cruel betrayal, but there was a part of Marguerite, angry and frustrated, which also blamed Percy for her desperate actions. She was lonely of course, and her vanity had been bruised, but that was not why she needed Andrew to fulfil her desire. The bitter truth was that Percy did not trust her, even after she had opened her heart to him, yet Marguerite knew that he still wanted her. If she had but laid a finger on him, last night on the terrace steps, he would not have been able to stop himself. It was his pride, not hers, now dividing them, and the tension that had been building for months had finally overpowered her tonight. Driving harder and faster within her, Andrew groped her breast, pinching the nipple until she moaned. She had not known he could be so rough, yet his unreserved passion suited her mood. When he moved to take her into his mouth, she pushed him onto his back and mounted him. Surprised by her initiative, Andrew let her ride him, holding onto her hips then her backside. Now she could defend against the one consequence that she feared. When she could feel his muscles almost trembling with restraint, Marguerite released him. Andrew grunted and tried to pull her back, but she could not take the risk. “Marguerite ... Please, you must ...” He reached for her hand and forced her to touch him there, pressing her fingers closed around his arousal. Slick from her own body, she was able to slide her fist easily down the

length of him and over the tender flesh beneath. It did not take him long to climax, cupped in Marguerite’s teasing hands, and then he relaxed against the bed with a slow, shaking sigh. Marguerite found her night gown and shamefully dried her hands and body, before sinking down against his side. Andrew wrapped his arm possessively around her, absently fondling the pliant flesh of her backside. They could not stay like this until morning, but neither could she bring herself to move, her body at once lethargic with pleasure and peaked with excitement. Spent and satisfied, Andrew was no longer thinking of Percy or France or even being caught together in Dover. All he was aware of was the woman in his arms, her perfumed hair tumbling about his shoulders and the length of her soft, sleek body in his arms. Marguerite’s shallow breathing was stirring the hairs on his chest, her hand resting lightly on his stomach, and he dare not move in case the moment was ruined. She would snap to her senses and turn from him with the guilt that he knew they both should be feeling, but Andrew was in selfish denial. “Did you dream of me?” she murmured, propping her chin on his chest to look up at him. Andrew pulled her closer. “How did you know?” “You called my name in your sleep,” she laughed, teasing him with the light dance of her body against his. “What was I doing, in your dreams?” He covered his face with one hand, but wanted to know what she would say, how she would react, if he told her. Turning on his side, their heads sharing a pillow while legs and feet intertwined, Andrew confessed his fantasy to her.

“‘What must you think of me’?” she repeated, giving a convincing imitation of his subconscious horror. “And what did I reply?” “That ... I was a man, and you were a woman,” Andrew said, bashfully recalling her dream-words. “You said it was only natural.” “I was very wise. And did I indeed reveal to you that I am a woman?” He nodded. “And you were just about to prove that I am indeed a man – when I woke up.” Marguerite fell onto her back, rocking with amusement. “Now I know why you called my name!” she bubbled with laughter. “Poor Sir Andrew!” Andrew brushed a dark curl from her forehead, caressing her smiling face with his fingers. She leant into his touch, but seemed to start and pull back. Her mirth replaced with silence, she lay still beside him, staring with glistening eyes at the ceiling. “Marguerite ...” he sighed. She let him touch her, following with the tips of his fingers the curves of her breasts and the valley to her navel, but only shivered in response. “You are cold,” he said, tugging at the sheets beneath her to gather enough material for a cover. “Get into bed, Marguerite.” “I am more than cold, Andrew,” she told him, pushing him away. “I have ruined everything.” He swung his legs to the floor and sat up, his back to her. “It is my fault,” he sighed. “I have long admired you, it is true, and when I walked into your room tonight, I knew that something must change between us.”

“You dreamed of me,” she reminded him. “That is only natural, I suppose – but not this.” Andrew felt the mattress shifting behind him as she quickly slipped to the edge of the bed and got to her feet, leaving him with only the heavy scent of her body and a flash of her backside. A moment later, he heard the tinder box strike and a bright, bobbing flame on the candle lifted the darkness of the room. Marguerite turned to him, suddenly demure with an arm across her breasts and a hand between her legs. “We should get dressed, it will be dawn soon,” she warned. “You must return to your room. I need to wash and get ready.” He stared at her face, trying to make her raise her eyes to his, but she remained like a marble statue in the middle of the room. “Marguerite ...” he began. At last she looked at him. “Sir Andrew. Go. Please.” Andrew reached down to gather his rumpled clothing. When he stood to dress, he saw her glance quickly at his body before looking away. Getting her revenge, he supposed. “Why did you open your door to me?” he asked. “I was dreaming also,” she answered softly. He did not ask if he was the one she dreamed of.

Marguerite could hardly bare to look at herself as she bathed at the washstand, pouring cold water into the basin and scrubbing her skin with a threadbare towel. Her body seemed to bare evidence of her guilt, from the livid flush on her skin to the dull, musky scent of her sex. She swabbed angrily at herself, still sensitive in places and wincing with surprise,

and then topped up the basin and set it on the floor. Kneeling over it, she raised the icy water to the slick curls between her legs, sluicing away the shame. At least that was all she need remove – Andrew had not filled her with his eager passion, although the urgency of her lust might well have betrayed her common sense at that point. She did not consider herself a hedonist, but the pleasure of his touch, and the completion of his body within hers, had banished all pain and regret for one careless hour. He was not the man she had wanted to fulfil her desire, but Andrew had known how to touch her, and animal instinct had done the rest. Shivering, Marguerite hastily dried herself off and threw on her discarded chemise, the shedding of which had ignited the spark between a lonely woman and a haunted man. Surveying the rumpled bed and damp sheets, she covered her face. The gossiping maid, or maybe even Sally Jellyband herself, who cleaned this room after her departure with Sir Andrew on the morrow – God willing they could get away – would surely recognise the signs of an illicit union. Marguerite could imagine the rumours, already fuelled by her very presence here tonight with the close friend of her husband, and prayed that for once her standing and reputation would protect her from the truth.

How they spent that wearisome day at Dover, Marguerite could never afterwards say. -The Scarlet Pimpernel, Chapter 22

It was still early when she descended the stairs to the coffee room, and Marguerite was surprised to find Andrew already waiting for her. He was sitting on one of the benches close to

the fireplace, staring into the flames. When he heard her tread upon the steps, he rose to greet her, his weary gaze taking in her neatly attired figure with disturbing intimacy. “Good morning, Lady Blakeney!” he announced, nodding towards the kitchen door. “Is it?” Marguerite asked, glancing in the same direction. She could hear Sally Jellyband bustling within, ordering the kitchen maids to hurry with my ladyship’s breakfast. “When can we make a start?” She looked properly at Andrew for the first time and noticed that his clothes were damp and dishevelled, curls of steam rising from his woollen jacket and breeches. Marguerite laid a hand on his arm, leaving a print in the dewy nap of his sleeve. “Mon dieu, my good man,” she laughed, attempting her former flippancy, and then asked urgently, “You have been to the shore? What news?” Covering her hand with his, Andrew could only shake his head. “We will have to wait for the next tide, I fear,” he explained. “Even if we could find a vessel strong enough to brave the sea, and a foolhardy crew willing to serve us, the storm would capsize any ship that ventured beyond the harbour.” “I cannot stay here,” she hissed, snatching her fingers free of his grasp. “My husband needs me!” Sir Andrew’s eyes met hers, seeming to accuse her without speaking of the betrayal that they were both guilty of. But would he want you, if he knew, that look conveyed to her own blackened conscience, and do you still need him? “Here we are, my lord, my ladyship,” Sally Jellyband announced, bustling into the room. “Fresh bread and eggs, and some fruit for my ladyship, with some good hot chocolate or

maybe coffee?” she chattered on. “Would you prefer a slice or two from yesterday’s roast, Sir Andrew? You must be famished this morning!” Andrew shot a guilty look at Marguerite. Fortunately for them both, the flush that coloured his face might as easily be explained by the warmth of the room after the blustery conditions out of doors. “Yes – I am, rather – yes, thank you, Sally,” he muttered distractedly. Marguerite walked over to stand by the fire, hiding her own blushes. Was he trying to expose them both? How could he revel in such shame? “One moment,” she called out to Sally, her impatience sharpening the impersonal application into a gruff demand. Marguerite sighed. “Our departure has been delayed by the storm. We will require use of a private parlour, where we can wait undisturbed – if we may impose on your welcome for a few hours longer?” “Why – certainly, my lady,” Sally confirmed. “I’ll have the back room set up for you now, shall I?” The young maid was already moving towards the kitchen, glancing over her shoulder from Marguerite to Sir Andrew. “My lord,” she nodded quickly. Waiting only until the kitchen door was closed once more, Andrew approached Marguerite, resting his hands upon her shoulders. “Have courage, Lady Blakeney,” he whispered. “We will be with Percy anon.” “Are you mad?” she snapped, shrugging free of his touch. “Would you handle any other man’s wife with such freedom?” Visibly stung by her accusation, Andrew stepped back. “No – not at all,” he refuted, “but –”

“But I have lost the right to any respect from you?” Marguerite finished for him. “That may be, Sir Andrew, only take care not to betray our deception before we even set sail for France!” “Lady Blakeney, of course I still have respect for you!” Andrew pleaded, reaching for her instinctively before clasping his hands safely behind his back. “I only meant to comfort a friend –” “Shh!” she stopped him, her eyes flashing dangerously. “All ready, my lady!” Sally announced cheerfully, appearing suddenly on the threshold. “Will you and Sir Andrew breakfast here, or shall I carry the dishes through for you?” “Let Sir Andrew eat his fill,” Marguerite answered stiffly, turning back to the dancing flames in the hearth. “I am no longer hungry.”

He gazed forlornly at the beautiful woman before him, her fine profile etched in candlelight against the leaden sky outside. She hadn’t stirred or spoken since settling onto the window seat after breakfast. To Andrew, the heavy silence between them was somehow worse than her cruel words before. “Lady Blakeney,” he called across to her. “May I be of service – is there aught you require?” Marguerite sighed. “Only an end to this miserable day,” she told her reflection in the window pane. “You must pardon my temper, Sir Andrew. Patience has never been my forte.” “Should I leave you alone?” he offered politely.

She turned to look at him over one shoulder. “A little late for chivalrous gestures, n’estce pas?” she teased him in French, a wry smile twitching at one corner of her mouth. “Je vous en supplie, Lady Blakeney!” Andrew cried, answering Marguerite in her own native tongue. “I can only implore your forgiveness for my actions – I cannot change what happened, nor restore our former acquaintance.” “And what can I do, my good Sir Andrew?” Marguerite demanded, sitting forward to face him. “While you are begging for absolution and rueing your own part in our sordid rendezvous, what restorative word or deed is left for an equally guilty wife?” Andrew looked at her in horror. “Will you – are you planning to tell Blakeney, then?” “If we ever reach Calais, and if we can find Percy there, then – no, I think not,” Marguerite answered honestly. “The knowledge would destroy him.” “And your marriage,” Andrew pointed out. “And your friendship,” she retorted. “I do not think of myself, Sir Andrew, though you need not believe me. But he does not deserve to lose everything because we might feel better for confessing our sins to him. Do you not agree?” Andrew was silent, staring down at the stone floor. “I think – once I know that you are safe in Calais – I should make myself scarce for a while,” he said finally. “I cannot face Blakeney yet, nor stand to watch you with him.” “You do not love me, Andrew,” Marguerite told him softly. “Do not mistake desire for devotion.” Did he love her? No, perhaps she was right, Andrew thought to himself. He had always found her alluring, fascinating, entertaining – but until last night, Lady Blakeney was forever beyond his reach. Even in her former role of Marguerite St Just, the brilliant star of the

Comédie Française, Andrew had hardly dared to dream that she might speak his name. He belonged in the audience, and she far above him in the limelight. Only one man could meet such a force of nature on her own level, and that man was her husband. “And who do you love, Marguerite?” he asked in a small voice. Afraid to look at her, Andrew blindly followed her progress towards him with his other senses. He heard her skirts sweeping across the floor, and grew dizzy on the scent of her natural perfume when she knelt before him. Felt her cool fingers caress his rough, windchapped face. “Look at me, Sir Andrew,” she said gently. He did as she bade him, and met her clear blue eyes. She was undeniably lovely, with her porcelain features and halo of golden curls, but the spell was broken. When a man could picture more than the shape of a woman’s body, even beneath the drab woollen gown she wore – his imagination able to supply in every detail how she would feel and move and taste beneath him – then the forbidden became commonplace and the temptation was lost. “We were never meant to be lovers, you and I, Sir Andrew,” Marguerite told him. “Even in Paris, before I married Sir Percy, we were different people. I beg of you, for his sake, go home to England, marry my dear Suzette, and let the blame rest with me.” “The blame is ours, Lady Blakeney.” He took hold of her hands where they rested upon his knees, his long fingers circling around her slender wrists. “Mine was the initial error of judgement, when I blundered into your room, and then we both committed a terrible act of betrayal on the one man who demands loyalty above all else from his – friends.” His voice was thick with shame. “Do not ask me to drag poor Suzanne de Tournay into such treachery.”

“Then break your engagement,” Marguerite scoffed, trying to free her hands, “if it will satisfy your conscience. But why make Suzanne miserable – and devastate Percy – over one night of madness?” Andrew looked at her, astounded by her casual dismissal of his own guilt, and then dragged her towards him with her pinioned arms. Leaning awkwardly over his lap, the breath driven from her lungs by the constriction of her stays, Marguerite was forced into an angry embrace. His dry, firm lips bore down roughly on her mouth, but she whipped her head to one side with a strangled scream. “What are you doing?” she gasped. “Do you want to make everything worse?” “How can a kiss make anything worse?” he growled, pushing her away. She fell backwards onto the floor, and he shot to his feet, striding over her towards the window. Wiping at her mouth, Marguerite clambered up into the chair. “That was not a kiss,” she managed to reply, still breathing heavily. “I do not love you, Sir Andrew! Not like that. I wish to God last night had never happened, but I am enough of an actress still to pretend that I can forget what I cannot change.” “Are you – are you made of stone, madam?” Andrew cried. He started back towards her, but halted his steps when he saw Marguerite trying to draw further back into the chair away from him. “How can you go to him, now, after setting that fiend – another of your ‘friends’, no doubt – on his trail? If you have no respect for your own reputation, you should be ashamed to even speak his name now!” “Keep your voice down!” Marguerite hissed.

“Oh, what matter?” Sir Andrew dismissed the rest of the inn with a Gallic shrug which sat strangely on his strong Saxon physique. “Let them talk. Do you honestly imagine he will take you back, Marguerite?” “That is what I intend to find out,” she answered quietly. “In Calais.” “And if he does? Could you live with yourself?” “If he still wants me, Sir Andrew,” Marguerite told him levelly, “and if he can love me, after all that has passed, then yes, I could live with myself. I could be loving and patient and loyal, and he would never, ever have cause to doubt me again. Only – only I must know for myself. “Please, Andrew – for Percy’s sake. For the Scarlet Pimpernel.” Turning back to the window, Andrew closed his eyes. He could still see her, of course – the tears in her eyes, and the dark shadows beneath, revealing the hidden suffering of this proud woman clinging to her dignity. For him to judge her, or to hate her, Andrew would have to own to his share in her infidelity – and he found that he was no longer driven to confess all. Not for his own protection, not for hers – but for his. “You have my word,” he said at last. “If he can forgive you – for leading Chauvelin to the Pimpernel, naught else – then I will keep our secret. Lady Blakeney.” “Thank you,” she whispered from behind him. “My friend.”

Sir Andrew was ready, too, to help with the precious burden, but Sir Percy would not entrust his beloved to any arms but his own. – The Scarlet Pimpernel, Chapter 31

She found him on the foredeck of the Day Dream, leaning over the rail like a damaged figurehead. He was dressed in the same ill-fitting servant’s livery he had been wearing for days, the tailored coat and trousers now looking decidedly shabby, but Sir Andrew had declined Blakeney’s offer of a change of clothes. The chief had been too tired to question Andrew’s polite yet firm refusal, much less argue the toss, and wearily accepted his friend’s excuse of waiting to dress in his own linen after a proper bath, once safely back in England. ‘Well, I shan’t throw you overboard, my good fellow, but with luck we will be spared the occasion to test Mr Franklin’s proverb about fish and visitors!’ Sir Percy had drawled. My God, he missed his friend already. Andrew wondered if he would ever feel the same around Blakeney again. His own guilt and fear of discovery had reduced a ten year friendship to deferential acquaintance. “I should have stayed in Calais,” he told the waves. “He would not have let you,” a painfully familiar voice answered from behind. Andrew turned. She, too, wore the same dark travelling gown he recalled from their stay in Dover, though more out of necessity than abnegation. Her face was still pale and drawn but cleansed of her recent travails, and her freshly washed golden hair secured with a velvet ribbon made her look like a young girl. “Lady Blakeney,” he greeted her stiffly. “How is he?” “Sleeping, at last,” she said, glancing back towards the cabin. That brief look of tenderness in her smile made Andrew feel angry, and sad, and sick, all at once. “And yourself, Lady Blakeney?” he forced himself to enquire. “Are you able to walk again so soon?”

“Oh!” she laughed, lifting the dusty hem of her gown to reveal the battered pair of sailor’s shoes which Blakeney had appropriated from Harper, the young midshipman, for his lady’s use. “The Versailles glide would mayhap be a challenge at present, but I am no longer in any pain.” “I am glad to hear it,” he said, and then ran out of words. Marguerite lowered her gown and walked slowly towards him. He could push past her, turn and jump into the Channel, or stand still. So he waited. She stopped at a respectable distance and looked up into his face. “And I am glad that you did not stay behind in France,” she told him, and then held out a small gloved hand. “My dear friend.” He could only look at her, paralysed by an inward conflict between courtesy and conscience, until she began to slowly lower her arm. Ashamed, Andrew snatched up the proffered hand, bowed low over the tips of her fingers, and then hastily broke contact between them. “My lady,” he returned curtly. They stood facing each other on the deck, swaying with the rise and fall of the sea, surrounded by Sir Percy’s men, unable to speak honestly or maintain the pretence of uncomplicated friendship now they were alone. A fragment of conversation from that fateful night at the inn returned unbidden to Andrew. He remembered talking with Marguerite about Blakeney, trying to distract her fears with fond stories of her husband’s adventures as the Pimpernel. Through her laughter, she had then told Andrew that he had been her first choice amongst the League when she needed an ally to help her undo the harm she had unwittingly caused by acceding to Chauvelin’s

demands. Sir Andrew was Percy’s oldest and closest friend, Marguerite understood, and the man to rely on in a crisis. Being male, and English, Andrew had acknowledged the longstanding duration of his friendship with Blakeney, but added that few, if any, were truly close to the man whom they were working together to protect. Sobering quickly, Marguerite had admitted that she, too, had been mistaken in Percy. From mistrusting his friend’s wife, to fearing her power over him after what had happened between them, Andrew now pitied Marguerite. He was willing to follow his chief into danger with unquestioning loyalty, but was that a sound basis for a marriage? This brave young woman had owned to her betrayal, risked her reputation, and endured both mental and physical punishment to atone for allying herself to a man she had loved but underestimated. Hadn’t she suffered enough? Andrew’s heart was suddenly softened by her imperfection and openness, because if anyone needed a friend now, that woman was Lady Blakeney. “We should return to our cabins, my lady,” he suggested, the warmth of his voice belying the formality of his words. “I fear the old Count de Tournay does not travel well, and poor Armand has played nursemaid for long enough. And – Percy will want to see you, when he wakes.” He could find no closer words to acknowledge the rules of their new friendship: that Blakeney would always be the tie that bound them together, and the husband who kept them very properly apart. “Give me your arm, Sir Andrew,” Marguerite smiled up at him. “I fear I may need assistance to walk back after all.”

FIN

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