Dancing the Maypole
up with a pained expression. Had his black eyes
been begging for forgiveness? The man made no sense. His words had
been bitter, but his passionate kisses… She shivered with pleasure
at the memory.
    Peering through
closed curtains, she’d watched him leave. He’d put on his hat,
pulled on his gloves and then stood on the drive staring at the
house like a rejected lovelorn suitor. She held her breath as he
took a step, but he turned and climbed onto his seat. Carefully
taking up the reins; he waited for his groom to take his seat
before driving slowly away. She’d watched until the black curricle
was only a flash of black through oak leaves. Every mile must have
caused agony to his hand.
    Had Peter
Smirke already forgotten her? Would he marry Helene Carteret?
Isabel viciously stabbed her food with her fork and winced as
silver screeched against china. It meant nothing to her if he
married a poisonous harpy, nothing but misery. She was aware of her
parents having a whispered conversation, but the soft French words
drifted past her ears. If her father pursed his lips and declared
one more time that she should have accepted Peter Smirke’s
proposal, she’d throw her plate at his head. Just because an
eligible man with French blood had proposed, she was expected to do
her duty and fly the nest. Silver prongs scraped her china plate,
forking a single pea. It was useless.
    Peter Smirke
would remain in her thoughts with impunity; her father had refused
her teary request to reclaim the fan. If she wanted it, she’d have
to claim it. How did her father expect her to do that without
making a scene or… If she’d found the nerve to sneak into Peter’s
chamber, would she have found her fan or… If Peter had wrapped his
arms around her waist and pulled her onto the bed…would she have
found it under his pillow? It was just as well. If her father had
found her in a man’s bed…she unconsciously made the sign of the
cross over her chest, flinging the solitary pea across the table at
her parents.
    “Isabel!” She
ignored her father and silently prayed he wouldn’t say the hated
words. “We know the heart it iz broken, but you must eat. We will
not watch you dissipate into death. Manger! Maintenant!”
    “I’m not
hungry.”
    “Tu n’mange pas
pour three days…you are famined. Eat!”
    “I can’t eat. I
can’t sleep.” Isabel’s lower lip trembled. “I want one whole day
without having to think of that horrid Smirke, and don’t tell me
that I should have married the man, or I’ll never eat again.” Her
knife and fork fell to the floor with a clatter. “I hate my life. I
wish I could throw the last week into the fire and rewrite it from
the beginning. I want a happy ending Papa…”
    Jumping up from
his chair, her father rushed to her side and wrapped his arms
around her shoulders. “Ma petite fille, you will be happy eh? Ton
Père will find you le bonheur directement. You need to laugh et
danse avec les beaux hommes.”
    “I hate
beautiful men! Why would I want to dance with them?”
    “Not all
beautiful men are big stupid cows Isabel.” It didn’t matter what
her brother thought. He wasn’t the one with a broken heart. “If
you’d married a sane short man when you had the chance I wouldn’t
have to listen to this stupid conversation.”
    Monsieur de
Bourbon ignored his son,“ Bon, danse avec les hommes laid…it does
not matter what the men look like if they make you eat. We go to
Bath. You will be content.”
    Isabel’s
shoulders slumped, “I’d rather visit Madame Guillotine. If we go to
Bath, I’ll have to call on cousin Agnes. She’s married to Peter
Smirke’s brother. I hate happy Smirkes.”
    Her father
pursed his lips in thought. “We will send une lettre and tell to
her you are malade…if you have a disease that is catching, she will
not want to see you. C’est parfait.”
    “I can’t tell
Agnes I have the plague and then dance past her at a ball.”
    “You are
Français…if you

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