A lady, Sir Percy Blakeney announced once, could never have too many roses.
Months had passed since the particular announcement, one Marguerite had laughed at, but her husband was in earnest.
Ever since their return from the near-disastrous venture in France, Marguerite found a fresh rose on her pillow each morning, each a slightly different colour with a note of devotion tied to it with a strand of silken ribbon.
They still slept in their private bedchambers and she, who would wake at the sound of a cat’s paws, had not once seen nor heard him enter the room to leave his small tokens. Sometimes the roses still bore dew from the gardens.
This morning, the rose was a rich, dusky pink, and the note simply read ‘I watched an angel sleep, my dearest’.
Marguerite pressed the petals to her smiling lips.
The roses were the least of his tokens. Already, she had received a new horse, a dozen dresses, more glittering gems than could be worn in a season, and yet, of all these things, the most private of gifts were the ones that she cherished.
She rose from her bed and went to her dressing table. A vase stood upon it, already overflowing with the blooms, but she found a place for this latest addition. The note was carefully slipped into a drawer with the rest.
She sat, gazing the flowers. They were another part of an apology which was far from necessary. On the journey home from France, in the privacy of the cabin of the Day Dream, he had fallen to his knees, begging her forgiveness. He had kissed each of her worn feet, both of her hands, and confessed his guilt at hiding so much of himself from her.
It hurt, and still did, to know how he had lied and smiled, playing her for the fool along with the rest of the world.
All the same, how could she hate him for it?
The Scarlet Pimpernel was a mythic creature she loved long before she realised the truth of his identity. He was a hero, one who had to keep many at arm’s length to protect and save dozens of others.
One of the maids tapped lightly at the door, begging leave to enter, and Marguerite rose, to be readied for the day.
Sometimes, Percy found a simple pleasure in watching his wife sleep.
As was proper, they kept to their own chambers, but sometimes, when the house was quiet, and he had naught but his thoughts for company, he would slip into her rooms. There was a chair close to the bed. It had been put there when Marguerite was struck with a chill, and a maid had sat with her. No one had ever returned it to its rightful place.
It allowed him to sit close to and watch the moonlight on her face.
She looked peaceful when she slept, every trouble smoothed from her beautiful brow, and sometimes she smiled. He hoped her dreams were pleasant, for she deserved every joy and more.
He remembered how he doubted her, and it was like a blade. To believe in her treachery seemed like such folly now. He had loved her from the first sight, a laughing Gloriana surrounded by her admirers, before he had ever spoken a word to her. Despite the company she kept, there was a brilliance, a pureness to her that had ensnared him.
Perhaps that was why it was so easy to believe in treason. Surely no one person could be so beautiful, so witty, so wonderful without some terrible flaw. He thought of his mother, once the bright star in London society, reduced to sobbing madness by the end.
It was easier to believe that no one could be perfect.
Circumstance only added fuel to the fire of his doubts: she was once a strong voice in the revolution, she was known to have disliked the man, she was associated with the man in charge of St. Cyr’s arrest.
And yet, not once had he dared to ask her.
He told himself it was for the safety of the league. If he was to ask questions, she might grow suspicious of his motives. He convinced himself that if he asked, she would lie, and actress that she was, she might yet fool him again.
He knew he was a damned fool.
He also knew he had been afraid to trust her for her own safety.
The League was a dangerous enough business, but they chose to place themselves in the mouth of the lion. To be put there, simply because one’s husband had damned foolish ideas about saving unfortunate fellow men, was unfair and cruel to her.
And yet, despite all his best intentions to keep her far from danger, there she was.
Chauvelin’s ruthlessness left her bloodied, exhausted, but still defiant to the end. Percy’s heart had swelled with pride at the sight of her. She was swaying, verging on swooning from fatigue, but she kept her feet, her expression one of utter contempt for Chauvelin and his underlings. She could have been a Queen.
Even now, her beautiful little feet bore the scars.
She stirred briefly, her dark curls tangling around her fingers on the pillow, and he saw her brow furrow.
“Hush,” he whispered, moving closer, tracing his fingertips close to her fair cheek. “Hush, my darling.”
Sometimes, he wished that she would wake, and that he could take her in his arms to lavish her with all the love he had to offer. Yet, he could not rouse her, not for his own desires, not while she was so peacefully at rest.
He remained there until the first touches of dawn started to colour the sky.
Only then did he slip from the room, and within the half hour, a fresh rose was resting on her pillow.
To the members of the League, the change was as clear as day.
Sir Anthony Dewhurst had known Percy for years, ever since the errant heir to the Blakeney estates had wandered into the fold. Percy was a consummate gentleman, and every bit the dignified Englishman, but since their return from France, he had turned positively doe-eyed when his wife was present.
To be frank, Tony was sure that every man and his mare would notice.
The demmed man could wear a dress and fool a Frenchie into thinking it was his own dear mother come to visit, and yet, Marguerite could walk into a room, and Percy’s face would light up like a demmed candelabra.
It was hardly seemly to speak to a man about openly showing his devotion for his wife, especially when it was a wife so hard-won, but were he not buoyed down with their little chores chez Paris, Tony was sure Percy would drift away in a cloud of lace.
“Why do you stare so, Tony?” Percy asked, propping his boot on the edge of the table. “Is it this demmed cravat? I swear the wretched thing unties itself the minute we put out to open water.”
They were aboard the Day Dream on another venture to the merry Republic across the water. Distant light twinkled through the stern windows, the glimpse of Dover fading in their wake.
Tony smiled briefly. “You look quite wistful, Percy. I daresay you look forward to being home, what?”
Percy’s smile bordered on foolish. “I do have a good reason to make haste now.”
“Slender, French, dark curls methinks,” Tony laughed. “Good fellow, you make cow’s eyes even over her portraits.”
Percy laughed quietly. Tony watched him. It was strange to see him so happy once again. The last time had been the fateful day: the wedding, before the news had reached them of Marguerite’s part in St. Cyr’s demise.
“It is quite extraordinary, Tony,” Percy mused, “to have found myself quite in love with her all over again.”
Dewhurst hid a smile. He was thoroughly unsurprised. What had surprised him - and all of them - was that Marguerite had proved herself every bit as resourceful, reckless, clever and loyal as her husband. It was no small wonder she and Percy fitted together like a hand within a particularly well-made glove.
Percy, however, noticed the expression. “You must be bored silly of my nonsense,” he said with a rueful laugh. “How tiresome it must be to have to listen to me with nowhere to go but the sea.”
“Percy,” Tony said with a smile, “I am quite honestly happy to know you are happy.”
For a moment, Percy’s smile faltered.
“Dash it all!” Tony groaned. “You still fret over the bad beginnings?”
“Tony, dear fellow, you cannot imagine what it is to have suspected one’s wife of treachery,” Percy said with a sigh. A gloomy pall fell across his countenance. “I was a demmed fool.”
Tony sighed. “Percy, old fellow, she did lie to you, and her words did lead to St. Cyr’s demise, no matter how accidental it was,” he pointed out. “She hid herself as much you did, and no matter how you paint it and dress it up, that’s the demmed truth of it.”
Percy looked towards the cabin’s portholes with another great sigh.
Tony lifted his eyes heavenwards. “Percy, you and she both know the truth of it now,” he said. “If you don’t stop this fussing, you’ll lose us all our heads. You love her, she loves you and that’s the end of the matter.”
Percy’s sleepy blue eyes drifted back to him, and the smile returned, brief and quiet. “You see, Tony, tis moments like this that prove to me that you might have half a brain in that pretty little head of yours.”
Tony snorted with amusement and struck him on the arm fondly. “If I am a fool, Percy, that makes you the King of Fools.”
Percy laughed outright at that. “That I am, Tony,” he agreed. “I the King Fool and you my jester.” He sat up and pulled the map closer to him. “So, my jackanory, let us plan as only foolish Englishmen can.”
The Blakeney estates were glorious in the summer sun, though a lady had to take care not to let her nose freckle.
Together with Suzanne, Marguerite took air in the gardens beneath the shade of her parasol, her heavy, bustled gowns replaced with softer, lighter gowns that did not stifle as they took in their sun.
“Andrew left yesterday evening,” Suzanne confided. “He insisted that he was only going hunting in Norfolk.”
She noticed Marguerite’s smile was distant, as if her thoughts were a hundred miles away. Perhaps they were after all. “The secrets they still keep,” Marguerite murmured.
“You did not know?”
Marguerite looked at her in surprise. “Oh, yes,” she said. “I was aware. Percy left word for me, so I should not be concerned.” She laughed quietly, briefly. “He throws himself into the pit of snakes and tells me I should not be concerned. What fools they are.”
Suzanne caught her hand. “He has never failed to return before,” she said. “They all come back, you know.”
“I know,” Marguerite said softly. “He would die a thousand times over rather than leave behind any that follows him.” She laughed again, wistfully. “I would that I had known sooner,” she admitted. “To know he did such things, and I awaited him with scorn and cruelty is unbearable.”
“You cannot change what has passed,” Suzanne said, squeezing her hand. “You nor he. You both know you have erred.”
“Yet, all the words of apology in the world cannot erase what was said and done in ignorance,” Marguerite countered quietly. “How can I forget that I lied to him? How can he forget that he played me for a fool?”
Suzanne gazed at her sadly. “I wish,” she burst out passionately, “I wish I could just blow all these ill feelings away like cobwebs! Cast them to the winds!”
As if it had been listening, a breeze rippled around them, casting their hair around their faces and making them laugh.
“Perhaps we should,” Marguerite said, pushing tousled curls away from her cheeks. She caught Suzanne by the hand. “Come. Perhaps this is a way to at least make a beginning at pushing away ill matters.”
Suzanne ran along with her, laughing. “What do you have in mind?”
Marguerite hurried into the study. The door was never locked to her now. She took a piece of paper from the drawer and tore it neatly in two. “Write your woes upon the page,” she instructed. “Any you may have. Any fears and any griefs.”
Suzanne sat down to do so, concealing a smile. This was a game she remembered from their time in the convent school together. They were silent but for the scratching of their quills, as they quickly scribbled down all their current tribulations.
“What shall we do with them?” she asked, setting down her pen.
Marguerite answered by tearing her paper into tiny pieces, each no bigger than a fingernail, her expression one of intense concentration. “To the winds,” she said, scooping the tiny fragments into her little bag.
Suzanne smiled. “And be rid of them all?”
Marguerite nodded. “A clean page,” she declared, rising. “I will tell Percy on his return.”
Suzanne gathered up her somewhat smaller list and tore it too. “To the winds, then,” she said, scooping up the pieces.
They stepped back out into the day and cast their sorrows away.
Three more necks had been spared the kiss of Lady de la Guillotine.
As delightful as this was, it did not change the fact that Sir Percival Blakeney, Bart. was exhausted. Fortunately, Hobbs was waiting him when he put into dock, and the carriage ran smoothly enough for him to doze inside.
The rest of the household staff were doubtless abed already when the coach rumbled into the yard, save for Jessup.
The retainer had once served Percy’s father and now, despite his misgivings about Percy’s idealistic tendencies, served Percy just as loyally. He said little, and merely clicked his tongue in quiet disapproval at the state of Percy’s riding clothes, as he helped his employer down from the carriage.
“All quiet here, old man?” Percy asked, smothering a treacherous yawn.
“As ever, Sir Percy,” Jessup replied. “Milady had a visitor, and the reports from the Gloucester estate have come in.”
Percy patted his shoulder. “Jolly good,” he said.
“Supper was laid out for you in your chambers,” Jessup added helpfully. “Should you be hungry.”
“You are quite the hero to me,” Percy said sincerely, shedding his overcoat into his retainer’s hands. “I’ll see myself to bed, if you don’t mind, what?” It would hardly do to let Jessup see the impressive new bruises and scrapes that adorned him.
“As you say, Sir,” Jessup acknowledged. “Would you wish to be woken early?”
Percy considered it. He slept rarely enough that he seldom needed to be woken. “I think I will sleep late tomorrow, old boy,” he said. “Have a little quiet kept, eh.”
Jessup bowed as Percy turned and strode up the stairs. His pace only slowed as he neared Marguerite’s door. It was late. No doubt she was already asleep, and it would hardly be seemly for a dusty, travel-stained brute to stagger in, demanding her sweet kiss when she was resting so.
As tempting as the door was, he continued to his own chambers, shutting the doors firmly behind him and leaning against them for a moment.
“Oh, Marguerite,” he murmured to himself.
It took a great deal of effort to straighten up and he made for the small tray of supper on the table, seeking at least a little strength. Better that than falling into bed fully clothed. He was halfway through his glass of wine when he became acutely aware that he was not the only person in his rooms.
There was a broad, polished mirror above the mantle, and it revealed the door to his bedroom was ajar. He turned, wary, and crept forward, one hand going to the dagger concealed at the base of his back. His heart thumped loudly in his ears.
Something rustled beneath his feet and he looked down.
Percy’s heart thumped a little louder.
He pushed the door open, the light from the candles illuminating alabaster limbs and a tumbled of auburn curls, and very, very little else, save for rose petals upon his silk sheets. And upon her.
His dagger hit the floor with a resounding thud.
Marguerite’s blue eyes opened, and she smiled with them as much as her lips. “Percy,” she murmured.
He caught the handle of the door, if only to stop himself stumbling to his knees, his eyes wide. “My lady…”
She lifted her hand and let petals cascade from it. “I have missed you, my darling.”
He was quite sure he meant to say something, but all he could do was watch the petals of the roses he had picked tumble and slip against her beautiful skin and delicate breasts, even puddling in the curve of her belly.
Her eyes shone with mischief and pleasure. “Will you not come to bed, Sir Percy?”
If he had any fatigue, it was as forgotten as his wine and his supper, as he pushed the bedroom door closed and came to his wife.