Lady Antoinette slowly turned to face me,her eyes filled up for the first time in my life.I have never felt so much love and affection towards me.She’s normally so closed down,Mama doesn’t really express emotion.She held out her arms to reach out to me. ‘Am I dreaming?’ she gasped.
‘No Mama,it’s me your Gis…and I’m here with William.’
‘Yes Mama,after Papa,didn’t you receive my letter?’
‘I just thought that…Oh my Gisele,he would be so proud of you.’
‘I miss you.’
‘Please don’t do this to yourself.’
‘It’s breaking my heart,that I never got to see you as often as you wish.Why don’t you come home? I’ll fetch one of the maidservant’s to get you a carriage?’
‘Serenity Estate lies empty.’
‘Mama can you quit while you’re ahead?’
‘You’re destant to be back there Gisele?’
‘There’s too many ghosts there Mama.’
‘But you have to admit there were some happy times?’
‘Yes there were some happy times.’
‘All you have to do is say the word and you’ll be back in London before you know it? Where you truly belong.’
‘You know it’s not as simple as that?’
‘My home is in Marseilles,I mean it was a lot to ask of Oliver for giving up his whole life in London and moving there in the first place.We’ve built a family home there,for the first time in such a long time Oliver’s settled…Louisa’s set to marry and build her future there…’
‘I hardly see how that effects you?’
‘Whatever’s that look for?’
‘So she’s settled on that horrid Lord Benjamin?’
‘Word has it he has a wandering eye? There’s talk of another woman he’s fallen in love with?’
I raised an eye brow. ‘Must you always listen to idol tittle-tattle you’re such much better than that?’
‘I’ve always thrived on someone’s misfortune.’
‘That is such a vicious thing to say! I order you to take it back Mama!’
‘I certainly will not,when I know that I am perfectly right…You mark my words Gisele,he’s a gentleman not to be trusted…You watch yourself around him,I know what you are like? You’re a sucker to a handsome stranger.’
‘Mama,I am not remotely in Lord Benjamin,he’s far too beautiful to look at your’s truly.’
‘Nonsense my child,your far too beautiful for the likes of him.Louisa doesn’t need you holding her hand for the rest of her life,she’s a big girl now.’
‘Looks can deceiving,she may appear to be all indepent on the outside,strong minded.Making all of the decisions.All of the years I’ve known her she’s blossomed into a fine specimen of woman.But I know her too well,underneath it all she is still the frightened sweet naive girl,I took under my wing on my first visit to Serenity Estate I simply can not abandon her now…and there’s the elephant in the room that everyone refuses to discuss in my company.’ I cleared my throat. ‘Jack.’
‘Oh darling,don’t tell me you’re still frightened of that man?’
‘Despite our distance,he still haunts my dreams.’
‘He’s just like Duke Matthew,he’s just a frightened little boy,mark my words my dear Gisele.He will get his come uppance in the end.’
‘Oh Mama,I wish I could believe you.’
‘He’s not worth fretting over Gisele.If only you married Carl when you were given your second chance,then you would be here,Surrounded by your family and friends.He could have made you happy.You never have had your head turned and strayed from his side? Not like you do with Oliver.Lord Oliver Rickman is rotten to the core.’
‘Mama,that is my husband you’re talking about?’
‘He’s your husband only in name.Darling I can see it in eyes that you’re troubled my child? You did once have feelings for Carl did you not?’
‘Once upon a time.’
‘Maybe you could get that back?’
‘Mama I was fifteen years old?’
‘You had your heart set on him before you got involved with Oliver? You’re unhappy don’t do denying it? Maybe he’s the one that will break the spell of you’re unhappiness? He could make you happy if you truly wanted him to?’
‘Mama are you taking your medication for your fever?’
‘Oh don’t fuss.’
‘…let me finish because something’s clouding your judgement? You’ve never spoken ill of Oliver before? And for one Carl he’s with another and like I said before I was just fifteen.I was just kidding myself that I could ever have a future with him…Before I thought I could revisit my blossoming romance and recapture my youth…I was just kidding myself.’
‘Seeing him with that woman?’
‘She has a name Lady Rose.’
‘It’s got me thinking of the past…it could have been you two together? I never did apologise for jeopardising your relationship with Carl,setting you up in an arranged and unwanted marriage with Duke Matthew.I’ve never forgiven myself for what he did to you.’
My face went pale,my blood ran cold. ‘How did you?’
‘Letitia told me.’
‘I can’t believe she betrayed my confidence?’
‘Please don’t be angry with her petit Gisele,I forced it out of her,backed her into a corner she had no choice but to confess all.’
‘That wasn’t her secret to tell.Did Papa find out?’
‘No thankfully not,it would have broken his heart the thought of that piece of vermin with his grubby paws all over his precious little Gisele,it would have broken his fragile heart.When I found out,my heart broke into a thousand pieces.I was never there for you when you needed me the most.I turned my back on you and I regret that now.’
‘That night he stole away every inch of my dignity,it still brings me pain,the marks are still engraved onto my body,it’s still up here corrupting my thoughts.I realise that I shall never be to able to erase it from my thoughts,but I’m no longer than the victim I played the long time and I finally got justice in the end.God was on my side.This little boy who I adore so much,my heart overflows with so much love for him.I look at him and all of the pain I’ve endured soon vanishes.A new day has come,all in the eyes of a little boy.’
A few days later I was reunited with my sisters for they had returned home.To my disgust Mama insisted that I should get back in circulation in London society and that included paying that vile woman Lady Isabelle Chadwick and her daughter Rosaline a visit.I was trying to put my foot down and insist,that I aught to stay at home with William.
‘Nonsense child,you have nothing to be ashamed of.’
‘If I do return there,I shall be constantly reminded of my current behaviour.’
‘Gisele you had every right to speak to her in that imperitent manner manner,she tried to taint your good character.Ok,I admit London hasn’t been kind to you in the past.But you were partially to blame coverting in the public eye with that man Sir Holmes…and as for Jack,there were times when people may say you were unbalanced to jump into another’s bed and having a child so quickly to a man you barely knew? I mean Esme is the only decent thing that came out of that relationship.’
‘All right Mama! I can do without a dressing down from you.’
‘My point is there are times that society can be cruel,whispers in the corners.It can eat you up inside,twist your heart,doubt is such a cold dark and lonely place to be left.You have let fear constantly control you,emerge from the shadows like a phoenix rising from the ashes,with your head held firmly high,a smile upon your face,and let this little bundle of joy do the talking.Besides your sister’s will be there to hold your hand.So what’s it to be my child? Runaway and hide or be the better person and face the world?’
‘Doesn’t look like I have a choice do I?’
‘Good girl,now go and get changed.’
I looked down at my dress.
‘You’re not seriously thinking of wearing that my child?’
‘Mama I’m not out to impress a gentleman…that times past.’
‘Quite the opposite effect,forgive me my child.But ever since your move to France you have let yourself go a bit.’
‘This is all the fashion in France.’
‘On a courtesan perhaps now come on Gisele? Do as I say,put something more respectable on.
I was once again in my bedroom,the amount of secrets that has been enclosed between these four walls,I blush at the thought.As quite frankly I’ve lost count.This was my safe place where I spent over many happy times before my fate was sealed when I married Lord Rickman.I was looking through the dresses that I brought with me.
‘I felt this big,I mean what is wrong with the gown I’m wearing?’
Holly looked up and down my body several times. ‘It’s perfectly fine if you had one intention? Seducing the dreamy Lord Benjamin.’
‘I like red.I sighed. ‘It doesn’t matter if I’ve given birth to three children,I’m still treated like a five year old.’
‘Perhaps you’d benefit from a good spanking?’ giggled Holly.
‘Now now,let’s not lower the tone.’ suggested Marianna.
I held up a gold dress.
‘I don’t think Lady Rosaline would appreciate being up staged in her own home to such beauty.’ smiled Letitia.
‘Well it’s either the olive satin one or the purple one? Ever since I’ve had William.Nothing fits anymore.’
‘That’s because you’ve barely been eating.You’re your own worst enemy Lady Rickman.’
‘The olive one it is then.’
‘You’ll make Lady Rosaline green with envy,it’s perfect.’ said Evangaline.
‘Can someone help me into it?;
‘I will.’ volunteered Marianna.
‘Thank you.’ I smiled. ‘You were so right Mari,Mama has changed since I got back,I’ve never seen her so full of regret.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘She has got it into her head that Oliver and I are so wrong for each other and that I should have settled on Carl when I had the chance.’
‘It’s official Mama has lost it.; shouted Holly.
‘I’m being deadly serious here,I’ve never seen her so apologetic,full of remorse and woe.She blames herself for what Matthew did to me?’ I looked directly at Letitia.’Do you know anything about this?’
‘I told you that in confidence you swore a Delessop sister oath that would take that to your grave?’
‘You’ve forced my hand Letty.How can I ever trust you again?’
‘I never judged you or said anything about you acting like a common tart and selling yourself to Lord Benjamin!’
I slapped Letitia.
‘Stop behaving like an animal!’ yelled Marianna.
‘I shall do more damage…I shall rip your hair out so help me god!’
Marianna had to hold me back ‘You can work this out?!’
‘After what she’s called me! Take it back!’
‘I’m sorry it slipped out!’ she protested.
‘She said she’s sorry,come on Gisele accept her apology?’ begged Marianna. ‘We could do without Mama walking in and witnessing her two girls brawling,we’re grown ups here?’
‘I loved Benjamin,I never once sold myself,we were both willing and you’re making out I sold my body!’
I turned to leave.
‘I have nothing more to say to you Letitia.’
‘I only did what I thought was for the best?’
‘You’re dead to me now,because of you Mama won’t let me out of her sight,suffocating me for the rest of my life!’
‘I’m so sorry.’
I sat down on the bed and broke down. ‘I didn’t mean what I said…I’m sorry too.Its just that you make me so mad sometimes And words come pouring out of my mouth.’
I gazed around the room.
‘What’s burdening you Gis?’
Mari placed her hand on my shoulder.
‘It’s just that,ever since I arrived home.I’ve felt nostalgic.So many memories flooding back to me.’
‘I remember the night of your twenty first,you sitting there.Lucille.You looked so beautiful that night.You had butterflies in your tummy?’
‘I remember it like it was only yesterday…I was about to make my grande entrance into the ballroom.How I wanted to make an impact.That night I was about to enter into the unknown and I didn’t have a care in the world.I was sick with excitement.So I had the pressure of finding a match as Mama threatend to cut me off.But I closed my eyes and thought this is the night that I shall fall in love with the man of my dreams and I shall be happy.Write the ending to my love story,why did I settle on the first man?’
‘I beg to differ you certainly gave Oliver a run for his money? Besides you turned down numerous proposals?’ said Marianna.
‘I can’t being choosy.’
‘Bet you’re secretly relieved that you didn’t settle on Daniel?’
‘Daniel was my safety net.If I had married him it wouldn’t have been so bad would it? I mean you see how happy he is with Sophia and Nicole?’
‘You would have died of boredom.’ said Holly.
‘It wouldn’t have been so bad?’
‘Really? Having Lady Isabelle poke her business into your affairs every five minutes? I bet Daniel had to ask permission to sleep with his own wife on their wedding night?’ scoffed Evangaline.
‘That is such an awful thing to say Evangaline! Daniel may sometimes appear to be a pompous prat but he has a good heart,he cares for our family dearly.I was so used to Mama and Papa manipulating my decisions,teaching me right from wrong.But after that night I shaped my own destiny.I know now I should have not let my instincts influence my senses.I thought if I married Oliver then all of our money troubles would soon vanish.Looking back now I should have turned left instead of right,I would never have hurt Louisa with Lord Henry.Maybe Mama was right I should have married Carl.Married for love instead of money.’
I watched my sister’s leave the room,I decided that I would write a secret note to Benjamin.
I’m being careful as I write you this love note.
I have fleed to London to be with Mama for a few days.
Everything is starting to get to me,maybe I should have
given us a chance?
Now I shall never know the outcome of us.
I enclose of lock of hair,to remind you of me.
Do with it as you wish.
I’m about to encounter the dragon that is Lady Isabelle
I know I should be terrified at the prospect of seeing her
But all I can think about is our very first kiss.
That kiss changed something within me.
I must go Mama will be sending a search party.
I see life as one big performance,full of smoke of mirrors.Painting an illusion,all fake smiles just to please Mama who knows when my last scenes will be life’s too short? I should be living like these are my last breathing moments,but something keeps holding me back.I stepped into Lady Isabelle’s one more.Will Benjamin reply to my note,or will he listen to what I previously said.Maybe he’s learnt to forget about me.I gazed up at the familiar chandelier in the hall way,circling the room taking in it’s sheer beauty.I always think that’s out of place.Something we have in common.I noticed Lady Rosaline in the corner,I reluctantly gave her a smile and walked over to her.She greeted me with an icy reception,turning up her nose in disgust. ‘Look who the cat dragged in!’ She snarled.
‘And hello to you to Lady Rosaline.’
‘I see you’ve brought your spawn of a son.Oliver’s is he?’
I passed William to Marianna.
‘Don’t let her speak to you like that.’ snapped Marianna.
‘Mari,please let me handle this in my own way.This is William.Not a spawn,he has a name.’
‘Oh she speaks?’
‘There’s so much I’d like to say to you Lady Rosaline,but I shall not lower myself to your tone.’
‘Don’t tell me you’re afraid that you’ll cause a scene? I think you had enough to say on your visit? So unlike you refusing to be the centre of attention?’
‘I don’t know why you have taken a dislike to me ever since our paths crossed? And I have never known why?’
‘Delessops are common species…’
‘I may have been naive then,I have never had an issue with you only your Mama,we could have been fine friends? I have come to the conclusion that you’re just jealous?’
‘Jealous? Of you?’ Tutted Rosaline.
‘Yes,Over the years you have tried to win over Oliver,way before I came onto the scene,because your Mama said you were meant to be together, a fine match made in society….you have done my utmost to trap him.Throwing yourself at him like a desperate spinster and he didn’t care a jot for you.I went out of my way to be nice to you,but you shunned our friendship? I didn’t go out of my way to entice Lord Rickman to be honest with you I wasn’t interested in him from the start…I don’t know who you think you are? Constantly turning your nose up at my family,like the Chadwicks are the far superior race to us lowly Delessops.Oliver chose me because he saw the real me.I didn’t have to pretend that I was someone else.Lady Rosaline Chadwick,you’re nothing but a jealous and bitter woman.Change you’re ways or else you’re going to die alone.Goodbye.’
With that I walked past.
‘I have waited for years for someone to stand up to Rosaline.’
I turned around. ‘Carl?’
‘I shall leave you two alone’ smirked Holly. ‘Since you have to get your romance on track?’
I was left alone.’Did I just witness that?’
‘I’m sorry.’ I blushed. ‘Mama has got it into her head that Oliver is a wrong one and I should have gave you a chance.’
‘Lady Antoinette said that? My that’s a turn out for the books?’
‘She was defending your honour.Ever since I have returned to London….I have been having these crazy intense feelings about us.’
‘Back then I took our love for granted,I never saw what I had in front of you.I used and abused you just to get Oliver jealous and I never should I did that.I really did love you you know?’
‘I forgive you Gisele.There’s no point in playing the blame game.We were just a couple of kids trying to live the dream.’
‘Carl it’s rather noble of you to forgive me,but the damage is already done.What I felt for you back then was sheer confusion.I was so lost,like gravity was pulling me towards you.Like a drug,consuming me.I couldn’t stop running.’
‘Like how you feel for Benjamin?’
‘Our bond is unbreakable,nothing could ever go wrong.He could take my pain away in an instant…I’m sorry I feel I’ve said too much.’
Carl pulled me into my waist. ‘You’re my Gisele,you can tell me anything?’
‘It’s like I can’t function without him.’
‘Everything will turn out fine in the end.’
‘I had a dream about you the other night?’
‘Oh?’ I blushed.
‘Yeah it was the night of your twenty first,you and I in a compromising position? Not how I remember the night ended?’
I didn’t want to confess all about my strange vision.
‘Gisele,I wish I could save you.’ He kissed my forehead.
‘I thought I heard voices?
In walked this perfect creature,her reddish hair so emaculate not a strand out of place.Every step ever so graceful.She looked like the perfect English Rose,just how Carl had described her.She lived up to my expectations.So full of confidence,she reached out her arm.
‘Lady Rose Keating,and you must be the lovely Gisele Rickman.I’ve heard so much about you? Carl’s kindred spirit?’
I need to mask my pain and tears.I can not bare to express my fears in front of a complete stranger.I bit my lip,she can not see the tears that I cry.
‘All good I hope?’
‘The stories I’ve heard? How could I possibly live up to the love of his life? The famous Lady Gisele Delessop? Darling I’m sorry to interrupt but Lady Isabelle is asking after you? It was lovely meeting you at long last Gisele.’
She smiled a heavenly smile and with that Rose and Carl walked away,I sat on the stairs and wept.
‘It surely can’t be all that bad?
I looked up.
He sat down beside me.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘Mama talked me into it,she said I must get back in circulation…I wish I never came I’ ve never felt so unwelcome.’
‘It’s so good to see you.’
‘And you too,it’s been so long.Where is that darling with of yours?’
‘She’s elsewhere,you know what she’s like? I’ve missed you.’
‘And I you.’
‘How does it feel being back in London?’
‘Strange really,I have all of these memories and I still feel out of place.’
‘You belong here Gis…Where’s Oliver?’
‘I told him to stay in Marseilles with Ava and Esme,so I can show off William.’
‘Where is the future heir?’
‘With Mari,any news the prospect of a pitter patter of tiny feet?’
‘Funny you should mention that,I’m going to be a father Gisele!’
‘Oh Tom I am so happy for you,Reinette will make an amazing mother,you both will…I can’t believe it!’
‘I hope all is well with you Oliver?’
‘We’re stronger than ever.’ I lied.
‘I’m so pleased that’s everything worked out for you in the end.Sorry to break it to but dinner is served soon.’
‘I can’t face everyone laughing at me.’
‘The old Gisele would never do that?’
‘The old Gisele has long gone I can not bare the pain and humiliation,everyone pointing the finger at me.I may appear on the outside to be the strong independent one,but the truth is I’m frightened that my perfect little life is going to turn upside down.I can keep running and pretending,but one day Jack is going to find me and kill me.’
‘Is this what this is all about?’
‘I can’t tell Oliver the truth you know what he is like? I am trying so hard to remain strong for the sake of my children.’
Tom took my head in his arms and kissed it gently. ‘You have me by your side,Carl,Oliver,Daniel.Jack is never going to hurt you again.You have got to have a little faith.’
‘I don’t think you’re being honest with me Gis?’
‘I have did some terrible things.’
‘Gisele you have repented your sins,Declan is a thing of the past you need to learn how to forget about the past.’
‘No not Declan….I haven’t been completely honest with you Tom.I came to London alone to escape my troubles.I have fallen in love with Lord Henry,Louisa’s fiance’.I have did so many terrible things and one of these days God is going to find his way of punishing me.’
‘When did this all happen?’
‘Why does it matter?’
‘I just want to understand why you would throw everything away again?’
‘It happend the last time I was at Lady Isabelles.I was at my lowest point,it was after my heated confrontation with her Ladyship.He took me by surprise,he was so attentive,paying me compliments and I didnt blink a single moment.He kissed me,it was so beautiful and tender.I dismissed it immediately,confessed all to Oliver swore I should never fall again.But it never lasted,he turned my head once more.He stole my heart and I never gave a single thought to what I could be doing to Oliver.It’s over now,I promise you.He is getting married to Louisa and I am moving on with my life.Promise me my beautiful arcitect,you will keep it to yourself?’
‘I won’t say a word.’
He took hold of my hand and kissed it.
‘Now you can hide here away from the world or you can face everyone…Gisele this old fool needs a helping hand.’
‘Oh Tom,you’ll never be old to me.’
A while later,I walked into the dining room with Tom.He kissed my cheek for reassurance,then took his place next to Reinette.
‘Nice to see you Gisele.’ she smiled.
‘Reinette,congratulations you’ll make a wonderful Mother.’
‘I may have to take some friendly advice.’she smiled. ‘Is it really this tiresome?’
‘I’m afraid so,but I promise you this.When that baby is in your arms,it will be worth it.’
‘I saw William earlier,he has your eyes.
Reinette turned to Tom and was greeted with a gentle kiss.
Marianna took hold of my hand.
‘Do not shed a tear my darling sister,you know it breaks my heart to see you this way.’
‘Where is William?’
I looked at Carl. ‘I hope Rose doesn’t take Carl for granted,full of broken promises that’s what sealed our fate.’
I raised my glass. ‘To the one that got away.’
Evangaline was whispering to Holly in he corner. ‘I still can not believe Lady Rosaline,what she said of William?’
‘Well Gisele certainly showed her.’ laughed Evangaline.’She’s been green with envy ever since.’
Lady Antoinette looked over. ‘Gis you do realise it’s rude to whisper? And Holly must you speak with your mouth full? It’s not the correct dinner etiquette?’
‘Sorry Mama.’ Holly pouted.
‘Honestly will you ever learn? You will never attract people must think I dragged you girls up? Lord William must be spinning in his grave?’
I heard Lady Rosaline and Lady Rose were deep in discussion talking about the joy of Rome and how Rosaline should visit there sometime.
‘Is that where you and Lord Carl first met?’asked Lady Antoinette. ‘You’ve did extremely well Carl.Lady Rose is an asset to London society.I bet you’re glad you didn’t settle for scraps?’
She looked directly in my direction.
‘May I congratulate you on the birth of baby William.I saw him earlier with your sister Marianna and he’s simply a delight.A credit to you and Lord Rickman.’
‘…..So sorry that I’m late Lady Isabelle,my invite got misplaced.I thought you said dinner was to be served at one?’
My blood ran cold,people started to stare,I feel violently sick,I tried to escape but felt powerless.My haunting dreams finally becoming a reality.All of Tom’s reassurance vanished in an instant,I was once again that frightened little girl.
‘Hello Gisele,did you miss me?’