Frederik stared at the poster, the illustration of Desirée that didn't hold a candle to the real thing, feeling torn. He’d seen her twice this week already, but the tour would be moving on soon, and who knew when he’d see her again? On the other hand there was Anne, dear, sweet, chaste Anne. Anne who so patiently endured his ‘working’ late into the evening more and more often these days, who had a warm meal and a fresh drink arranged when he at last arrived home, smelling faintly of soap and even more faintly of something the innocent girl wouldn’t even recognize. She deserved better than this, than a philandering husband who was dallying with an actress.
But damn it, he’d been patient. He’d treated her with gentleness and understanding, month after tortuous month, always waiting, always hoping—and always seeing the ‘soon’ in her eyes rather than now. Soon had certainly been a long time in coming, and he had begun to despair of its ever arriving, until that fateful evening at the theatre when he’d found something better than all of the cold baths in the world to make the wait endurable.
Could one even truly call it infidelity when there was no two-timing involved? he rationalized as his feet began taking him toward the hotel without ever making a conscious decision. Eleven months of nothing more than chaste kisses and frustrating teases—the best, most stalwartly faithful man would be tempted to stray, would he not? And, as he’d once said to Desirée himself, didn’t her role in all of this make him retroactively faithful? At least there was that.
Yes, he decided at last, he would go to her again. Only—he realized he was already there. With a sheepish smile he rapped at her door, twice, then a pause, then once more.
The door opened to reveal her already expecting him, wearing nothing but a smile and bearing two glasses of champagne. He bent his head to kiss her, slipping inside and pressing the door closed behind him.
“He’s a beast!” Anne declared over tea.
“Is he? What kind?” Charlotte asked dryly, raising an eyebrow.
Anne ignored the question, or didn’t notice it, which was the more likely of the two. “As if I’m so silly and inexperienced that I wouldn’t even think what kind of work he could possibly be doing so late, and so frequently.” Her eyes brimmed with tears as she looked to her friend and ally in all of this misery. “Oh Charlotte,” she near-sobbed. “What am I to do?”
Charlotte sighed and reached out to pat Anne’s hand comfortingly. “If I had the answer to that I should have done it myself long ago. I suppose you shall endure, as I have, and grow bitter and spiteful.” Anne’s face fell and Charlotte wished she had better counsel to give the poor girl. “Now, dear. If you’ve no intention of confronting him—“
“Oh, I couldn’t!” Anne protested, shaking her head and dabbing at her tears with a handkerchief.
“—Then perhaps if we just bide our time, the perfect opportunity will present itself.”
Anne nodded and finally sipped at her lukewarm tea. “I suppose I should be comforted by the fact that the play is moving on after this weekend. That will put an end to it, Frederik can hardly think I would stand by and let him chase after that…that…”
“Tart?” Charlotte held out a plate of pastries with a knowing smile.
“You’ve been most patient with all of this, a true friend,” Frederik told Desirée as they shared a cigarette, propped against the headboard, the bedclothes tangled haphazardly around them both.
“And you’ve been most delightful, my dear. Better than a plaque from the mayor.” Desirée smiled and kissed his cheek.
“Mmmm. And your dragoon? You’re taking an awful risk.” Though they’d had no repeat of that uncomfortable first evening, thank heaven, Count Carl-Magnus did tend to creep into his thoughts like a thief at times like this. Oh, not during, certainly not, who could ever think of anyone but Desirée during? But after, when he finally had some of his wits about him. “He’s sure to be tired of your indiscretions with me by now.”
Desirée sighed and waved an airy hand. “Oh, let him be. I’m rather tired of him myself. I don’t know what I ever saw in him.” Well…money, status, title. But other than that the man himself was rather unappealing, the more she saw of his jealous side. As if he had room to be jealous of her. “Perhaps it is time to move on.”
Frederik sat up, his expression solemn. “Yes. It is, isn’t it?” he murmured. He twisted away to set the cigarette down, then turned to Desirée, clasping her hands. “When will I see you again?”
“Oh, I’d imagine when the next show comes to town,” Desirée answered, squeezing his hands. She didn’t like the idea of parting ways now, either. After all this time to have found him again—it seemed too cruel of fate to separate them like this. “Or perhaps I could return sooner, we’ve only Falkenberg left before we close the tour.” She frowned, then shook her head. “But really, I must visit my mother and daughter, it’s been far too long and it just gives her more ammunition if I stay away.”
Frederik nodded, resigned. Then he cupped her cheek and kissed her, slow and deep and full of promise for a reunion. “Until the next show, then, my Desirée.” He slipped from the bed and began dressing, shaking his head as he felt her eyes follow him through every step. “You’re as shameless as ever, darling,” he whispered, darting to the bed to embrace her one last time before he dragged himself away and out of her room, not allowing himself to look back.
“Can you believe the…audacity !” Anne said shrilly. She hadn’t stopped pacing since being shown into Charlotte’s parlor, the engraved invitation clutched in her hand. “A weekend in the country? Sitting at the table with her every night? Her very presence would completely destroy my appetite!”
Charlotte sat calmly, gazing at the invitation with a speculative look, letting the young woman get the vitriol out of her system. “It is amusing, but rather inept.”
“As if we would accept!” Anne continued, as always seeming not to hear anything but her own voice. “Did she really think such a transparent ploy would work?”
Charlotte looked up, arching an eyebrow. “Au contraire. You must accept,” she responded.
Anne deflated a little, crossing the room to drop into the chair next to Charlotte with a confused frown furrowing her brow. “Accept? But why?”
“Remember when I spoke of perfect opportunities?” Charlotte smiled a rather devious smile. “I believe one has just presented itself, my dear.”
“I don’t understand.” Anne pulled the invitation toward her as if the answers were perhaps included in a post-script she’d missed.
“Trust me. If we plan it right, this could be delightful. Dress in white and wear your hair down, and a flower. Don’t use make up. Play your part and in comparison her beauty will simply fade away. She’ll grow older by the hour, don’t you see?”
Anne did see. Her smile was tentative at first, but slowly grew. “Yes, I see,” she agreed. “We’ll accept it. It’s only polite that we should.” Her smile grew nearly as devious as Charlotte’s.
“I’d a feeling you would,” Charlotte said approvingly. And she too had a plan. Perhaps a weekend in the country was just exactly what they all needed.