“How can I help you…”
The valet at the entrance glanced up at him, and without a word, unlocked the door. Olivier was stunned. He stifled his rising irritation and stormed up the stairs.
It was even worse at the top. A half-dozen servants stood to greet him, but all they could do was stare back at Olivier with blank, expressionless faces.
Olivier asked sarcastically, but all he got in return is an eerie silence. There’s not even the slightest hint of panic, as if they’d known he was coming. But they just stand there, lined up like jigsaw puzzles.
“She’s waiting inside.”
The servant ushered him inside without changing his expression. Striding briskly behind the head servant, Olivier’s eyes swivelled around the simple but ornate room.
Glancing at the tapestries on the walls, Olivier’s eyes narrowed as he recognised at once that they were centuries-old treasures.
How could he not see it in the galleries…?
The servant led the way through the parlour and sitting room, past the study and small guest rooms, and stood at the great door in the innermost room. Olivier gave another wry smile.
“Welcoming guests to your bedroom? How is it different from a courtesan?”
“Please refrain from insolence in the presence of the Duke.”
Olivier quirked a brow.
“How would you know if she’s already stripped naked inside? I don’t even know who your mistress is, but she’s so damn crazy…”
“Duke, come in.”
Just then, a gruff voice came from inside the door. Olivier froze for a moment, as if searching his memory. The voice sounded vaguely familiar.
Eventually, Olivier pushed the servant out of the way and reached for the doorknob himself. With one swift press of the smooth brass handle, he swung the heavy door wide open.
“The Duke Olivier Dampierre has arrived.”
The servant said quietly behind his back.
Slowly stepping into the room, Olivier frowned. It was clear enough that the only use for this damned house was for promiscuous sex.
Colourful carpets from faraway lands, sumptuous china, and a plethora of ornaments that would make your eyes hurt…
Worst of all, there was an enormous bed that could fit six or seven people at once. It was supposed to be erotic, but to Olivier’s eyes it was just a reddened mosquito net.
And that scantily clad shadow sitting there, surely a horrible pest.
As if that weren’t bad enough, it was stiflingly stuffy and hot inside.
It’s April, and the flames in the fireplace are crackling with life. It was obvious she was trying to get him to take off a layer of clothing, and he didn’t have the heart or inclination to comply.
He folded his arms tightly around himself. Frock coat, cravat, sheepskin gloves, staff gripped tighter in case he’d left it behind. As he braced himself for battle, a shadow slid across the bed.
“I didn’t think you’d come if I didn’t provoke you, Olivier. You have the temperament of a fire.”
With a swoosh and swish of fabric, Mademoiselle R appeared.
Embarrassment flashed across Olivier’s face.
Damn it, he knew that face all too well.
If it’s that lady… Yes, it would not be an empty assumption to say that she would provide investment funds for the New World. Olivier clenched his teeth tightly, feeling like an animal caught in a trap.
* * *
With nothing but the sound of wood crackling in the fireplace, Olivier was speechless for a moment, watching her face, and then he frowned.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
His thoughts were interrupted. He wasn’t supposed to be like this. At least, you shouldn’t greet your guest naked and wearing a see-through negligee…
She murmured dreamily.
“Do you remember, when you asked me…”
“Stop being delusional, we don’t see eye to eye like this.”
Olivier cut her off. He didn’t want to give her a moment’s respite.
Mademoiselle R muttered in disbelief.
“You haven’t changed a bit. You’re still as aggressive and stubborn as ever.”
Olivier glared at her.
“It’s actually quite questionable. I thought you would have gained some refinement and sophistication by now, but you’re still stuck in the mud.”
“Hearing you say that… it hurts.”
She dropped her head as if she were about to cry. Tears formed at the tips of her quivering eyebrows.
“But I know. You were forced to give me up.”
“Stars, you’re crazy.”
Olivier was fed up. His grandmother, Eleanor Dampierre, had been a bit of an eccentric, but this was truly… irrational.
She’s already got a lot of the men of Ezon society under her feet. Some of them risked their lives to get her.
Or not, Olivier just wanted to put her in a mental institution as soon as possible.
She called him with an affectionate gleam. That was what she’d called him when they were comfortable with each other. That much was true.
“You told me I was beautiful.”
But now, Olivier was losing patience. His brow furrowed as he scanned her with envy and disdain.
“What are you but a well-dressed brute?”
“Don’t be so contemptuous, Ollie.”
“Not if you don’t give me something to despise in the first place.”
Dark eyes of disgust glared down at Mademoiselle R, then turned away.
“I have no time for cheapness, so farewell.”
Turning to Olivier, who stalked across the room, Mademoiselle R raised her voice.
“Are you sure you won’t regret this? After doing this to me?”
The stomping feet stopped dead in their tracks. Slowly turning, Olivier glared at her.
“Why, are you going to pay me? How much are you going to give?”
His face twisted into a grimace, and Mademoiselle R took a hesitant step back.
His voice grew colder with the rising disgust. All that remained of his relationship with her, already in ashes, was a deep-seated dislike that had taken on added weight today.
Mademoiselle R gritted her teeth.
“Ollie. Don’t I know you? You’re someone who feed on high society scandals, but your bed is always cold. You hate the smell of perfume. You’re a recluse, unable to have a proper relationship with anyone.”
Throughout the naked woman’s tirade, Olivier stared down at her without changing his expression. He muttered as if he had lost interest.
“My bed is my business, so I’ll spare you the unnecessary attention. What’s more…”
He gestured down at her with his eyes and shrugged.
Isn’t it clear that I’m not interested. It’s so cheap, can’t you see that it’s putting me off?
The temperature in the room rose to a stifling boil. Unable to shake him, no matter what she said or how she did it, Mademoiselle R shivered and cursed.
“How can you love anyone when you are so broken? You’re not the type to believe in such sentimental things!”
For a moment, a tiny crack flashed across his moulded face. But Olivier wiped it away as if it didn’t matter.
After a moment of reflection, Olivier spoke up.
“No, didn’t I tell you, I’m getting married soon.”
* * *
Silence fell over the room like a bomb.
Mademoiselle R, barely out of shock, muttered weakly.
“Marriage life for you? Don’t make me laugh. It’s obvious that it’s the match that Elenore arranged for you. What can you do with that woman?”
“That’s none of your business.”
Olivier smiled lazily. He looked so nonchalant that Mademoiselle R was confused.
“I’m about to be a new groom, and I can’t stay in this filthy place any longer.”
Olivier shook his head and crossed his arms lazily. His polite, leisurely smile completely gone.
She opened and closed her robe, but it made no difference, and her naked body moved closer, as if she were about to pounce. Olivier stepped back quickly, putting distance between them.
He even raised his cane and pointed it at her, and Mademoiselle R cried out.
“Olivier, I was foolish. I knew my heart too late. I regret it. Please.”
“Madame. Get out of the way.”
“Ollie, don’t go.”
She blocked the door in front of Olivier’s eyes. In a desperate gesture, her negligee slipped off, revealing a spotless body.
Raising his cane, as if he didn’t even want to touch her, Olivier shoved her shoulder aside with the tip.
“You don’t even want to touch me. How dare you insult me like this.”
Even as her despair slowly turned to anger, Olivier gripped the door handle and spoke softly.
“Since you don’t know shame, I’ll open the door.”
He yanked the door wide open with a loud bang. The gazes of the servants lined up in front of the door met theirs for the briefest of moments, then quickly dropped downward.
“Don’t put someone else’s life in the gutter, and solve your own miserable family affairs with a family court judge. Or maybe the metropolitan police…”