The bunch of roses that Amelie had thrown out landed on the paving stones filled with dirty water. The bouquet splattered petals first, splashing dirty water on the tip of Amelie’s shoe.
Their toes touched as they stood face to face over the fallen roses.
On one side, a pair of tiny flats, old and worn, splashed with dirty water. On the other, a pair of sleek new leather shoes. Amelie glanced down at her feet.
“Again, I don’t need these, Duke. As for me, I can take care of myself, so go.”
To hide her fear, Amélie craned her neck even tighter. It might seem strange, but she hoped he could read her mind, that she didn’t want to be involved somehow.
Maybe he’d show his true colours this time and get angry. Maybe he’d say something insignificant, off-topic, nasty, and walk away. Like he did with Georges.
Olivier Dangpierre laughed.
He didn’t get angry nor did he let out a swear word. He just smirked lightly, as if it didn’t matter, or as if he expected it.
“Thanks to you, it become prettier. Roses that bloomed in the mud.”
Amelie’s tightly closed eyelids slowly opened. The Duke pointed to the rose she’d tossed.
The rose was intact, except for a little dirty water on the tips of the petals. No, as he said, it was more beautiful in the dirty water.
“I knew you had a temper, now let’s go.”
It was Amelie who was now embarrassed. If only he had been angry…….
The man who had been so fierce with the valet a moment ago was nowhere to be seen. His gaze fixed on her like he was looking at something infinitely pretty.
It’s a good thing it was dark out. She had to hide her hot cheeks from embarrassment.
Amelie remembered another saying that had been passed down from generation to generation in the world of maids. ‘A young master is like a box of expensive chocolates.’
You nibble on them one by one, and before you know it, you’ve eaten the whole box, and the tragedy is that all the food on your table for the rest of your life looks like rubbish. The price of that one taste is that you can never go back to your old life.
“Even if I were your enemy, I wouldn’t let you go to that place alone.”
With a small click of his tongue, the shoe turned and stomped away. He didn’t seem to care if the ground was muddy or not. He was really just a guy who just went straight.
Is it because his legs are so long? He hasn’t even walked a few steps, but he’s already in front of the hotel door.
The man standing in the soft moonlight called her name. He was impeccably dressed, hands in his pockets, looking more at home in a department store catalogue than in front of a shabby hotel.
Unfortunately, Amélie Gagnier’s ancestors hadn’t told her how to avoid this dangerous box of chocolates. Maybe because there was no way to avoid it…….
Now what? Amélie looked at him with eyes full of perplexity. She stood dumbfounded for a moment, like a fragment of a dream, and then, after a long moment, she finally spoke.
Amelie’s worn shoes began to move. Like a magnet, her feet drew her across the filthy mud. It wasn’t easy, as she had to dodge large pools of standing water and occasionally retrace her steps.
When she reached him, he smiled broadly.
“You thought well, Amélie.”
* * *
The lobby was empty, with no staff in sight.
As Amélie debated whether to ring the bell to summon someone, Olivier was already standing at the stairwell.
“Amélie, I have the key, room 3C.”
Amelie’s eyes immediately lit up with alarm.
Frowning in embarrassment, Olivier pulled the key out of his pocket.
“Okay, let me explain. So what’s going on here is that I used someone to find you, and you happen to be here.”
“You used someone to find me?”
There was an awkward silence. Olivier shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s how genuine it was.”
She stared into his hazel eyes, blinking slowly in embarrassment, and Olivier laughed softly.
As if to assert that he hadn’t had other things on his mind, Olivier quickly fished a key out of his pocket, shook it, and handed it to Amélie.
“You were screwed by the boss from the beginning. Whether someone steals your bags or breaks in, isn’t this a place where nothing would seem strange no matter what happens?”
The story of a bastard who said ‘You went out to roll around with another kid!’ and got punched in the face was casually omitted.
Amelie slowly fiddled with the key in her hand. She wondered if he’d been holding it in her pocket the whole time, the brass still warm from his body heat.
The hotel was even worse late at night, with things that hadn’t been visible during the day.
Ceilings with fallen timbers and exposed plumbing, the sour smell of sewage, wooden staircases that creaked with every step, and the stench of vomit and urine that must have been left behind by countless drunks.
The whole hotel had a sort of sticky, musty air about it. Even the dim, red lighting made the place look even more cheap.
If he had stayed up all night with a drunken Georges in a place like this, it would surely not have passed like a normal night.
“Be careful, Amelie.”
The Duke did not express anything, but it was clear that he regarded the hotel as very unclean. Even when he stepped on the rotten stairs and his steps slightly twisted, his arms only flinched slightly. He never once touched the railing.
But he never lost his attention on Amelie, constantly looking back to make sure she was following him up the stairs. All the while, all she could see of him was his smooth smile.
“Amelie, do you want me to hold your hand?”
“No, thank you.”
Every time Olivier glanced back, Amélie’s heart sank a little. Was this a gesture of kindness? Or was there a reason for it?
Fortunately, the Duke asked no more questions than that, after Amélie had said no a few times.
The pair ascended to the third floor and found themselves in a dark, red, long, narrow corridor.
Unexpectedly, there seemed to be quite a few guests. All sorts of noises were creeping through the thin plank walls that looked like they could be kicked through.
Cursing, breaking of utensils, roughhousing, groaning in the midst of revelry. Some sobbed, others laughed, drunk on something.
Amelie’s heart grew impatient. She’s never been in a place like this before, and somehow she felt so ashamed and embarrassed that she can’t look at Olivier.
These people, this space, these smells, these sounds……. Wasn’t it all new to him?
She wished she hadn’t bluffed him into leaving. She should have just asked him to help her from the start. She didn’t want to look like a woman who was used to this.
Vulgar and dirty things. Like she’d been through the muck and mire of life. She couldn’t help but worry that all those things might be part of her life and be entangled with it.
His favours for Amelie would last an hour or two at most. Let’s not put too much meaning into it. Even as she repeated this to herself, Amélie Gagnier kept glancing at the Duke.
She wondered why he was being so generous, and a tinge of vain hope filled her mind.
Nineteen this year. Old enough to be old, young enough to be young. She lived half of her life as her maid.
She pretended to be worn down by the world, to have insight into people, but in truth, she knew little of the world outside the mansion or the kindness of men.
Suddenly, Olivier Dampierre appeared in front of her.
The man she saw in the newspapers every day. The man who decorated the bedside tables of the maids. The man who had been courted by a princess from another country for years.
Amélie Gagnier, no matter how steadfast she was, could not help but be swayed by the man covered in an unrealistically handsome wrapper.
It’s a wonder she didn’t faint at his slightest attention and kindness. Maybe that’s why the Duke chose her, but…….
Oh, no. Get a grip.
Amelie clenched her fists. She deliberately raised her fingernails and pressed them against her palms. She couldn’t be dragged along like this in the hands of a skillful man.
Even if he was Olivier Dampierre.
It was then. A door in the middle of the corridor flew open with a loud bang.