Author's Note: Well, I think I am finally, at the end of this traipsing little story. However, if any of my readers want to see a particular scene or feel I need to add anything else, then please feel free to ask and I will see if I can deliver. Thank you for reading, reviewing, favoriting - it has been a fun one to write and complete!
The Invisible Savior
It was the next day before Percy and Marguerite arrived back at the cabin in the French Alps. The snowstorm had blown out, leaving pristine powder in its wake, except for a long trench where people had walked to and from the front door of the cabin. Marguerite was somewhat relieved to see smoke curling from the chimney and the windows glowing cheerily. After the past week, it was nice to see something pleasant.
She was also grateful to know she would soon be around other people, even if they were members of Blakeney's League. Since leaving Madam Muhr and the children in Switzerland, she and Percy had barely spoken ten words to each other. He seemed aware that speaking would probably irritate her further at the present moment, and she wasn't certain what to say to him, either. Part of her was furious with him, while the other part was slightly giddy at the thought that he was the same boy who had tried to speak to her so long ago in the theatre. It was a war of emotions, and she hadn't felt so many varying emotions in her heart in years. It was overwhelming.
Fleurette opened the cabin door and screamed when she saw them – her arms went around Percy first, then Marguerite, and she dragged both inside. Of course, Tony and the others helped. There were multiple questions as to her health, sanity, and general well being, while strapping British men crowded around her to guide her towards a comfortable chair.
"I'm fine," she insisted...though she felt far from fine. She felt drained, exhausted, angry, giddy, and confused all at the same time.
"Leave Madame alone," Fleurette scolded, shoeing the members of the league away from the table. "Let her breathe. She has been through much the past week."
"I take it then, that you are safe?" Percy asked Fleurette. Marguerite could see the worry behind his eyes, and wondered how she had never noticed before that his emotions played behind his eyes so clearly.
Fleurette smiled wanly. "Oui, I am safe, Monsieur. My father did find the tunnel, and ransacked the house looking for you both. But he did not harm me other than to say several ugly remarks about Amédé."
"I am truly sorry you had to see him again," Percy said gravely.
"It is in the past now, and we are unharmed. Please do not worry, Monsieur Blakeney. Besides, I shall never see him again." Her expression became closed, and Marguerite felt a thrill of terror. Had Fleurette already heard of her father's death?
"What do you mean?" Percy asked, his tone wary.
"Monsieur Glynde already visited us, so you won't have to tell me yourself. He didn't have to come here to inform me of the situation. It wasn't part of his orders. But he did it as a courtesy. He didn't want me to blame you for what happened."
"I am sorry." Percy said it awkwardly, as though he weren't sure how to express how he felt about Chauvelin's death to Fleurette.
Fleurette shrugged. "Quite frankly, I'm surprised he wasn't killed before now. I certainly don't blame Monsieur Glynde, either. He was following orders. My father and I parted ways a long time ago. A part of me wishes he had never sided with the Nazis, and that I could have known him better, but it is all in the past now."
Tony cleared his throat. "At least we shan't have to worry about that threat anymore."
Percy's brow furrowed. "No."
Marguerite wondered what he was thinking, how the wheels in his head were turning, but at that moment there was a series of knocks on the door, and one of the other men went to open it immediately. Two more men entered the cabin, and Marguerite cried out, jumped up, and ran to greet them. Before anyone could stop her, she threw her arms around Andrew and hugged him tightly.
"Oh, Dieu merci, you are safe! I have been so worried!"
Andrew stiffened beneath her, but patted her gently on the back and said, "Yes, I am safe. I am sorry to have made you worry. Percy insisted I stay out of the way. He didn't want Suzanne to be terribly upset if something happened to me. Damned annoying, I must say. I hate not being part of the action."
Marguerite frowned and pulled back to look at his pinched face. "I would never want anything to happen to you on my account, Andrew. I am sorry you had to endure what you did."
"That was nothing," the second man complained, though good-naturedly, for his smile belied his true feelings. "I crashed a car off the side of a mountain, and you haven't said a word to me about how glad you are that I am safe!"
Marguerite suddenly laughed as she recognized the young man next to Andrew as Wallescourt. She quickly hugged him too, though she had never spoken to him in the tunnel. He also stiffened beneath her and she wondered if it were some bizarre English trait to be so unaffectionate. But she didn't dwell on it. Instead, she replied, "I was quite worried about you, too – when Blakeney told me what you were going to do, I was horrified! I was certain you would be killed."
"Not me." His eyes twinkled in the firelight. "It's a specialty trick of mine. I race cars for a living."
"That was what Percy said."
"Well," Percy coughed slightly, interrupting the conversation. "We've all had a long two days. I suggest we get some sleep. I must take Madame St. Just and Andrew back to Fontbleu's real set tomorrow, and no doubt he'll be in high dungeon. I'm surprised he hasn't sent out a search party yet."
With a jolt, Marguerite remembered the ridiculous film she was in the middle of. Suddenly, acting seemed utterly pointless and trivial. But she couldn't escape her contract with the studio. Hopefully they would wrap up filming soon, and then she would speak to her agent about extracting herself from the film industry business completely. Then she could focus on helping Hagen with his education.
While the League made some random comments about upcoming plans, Fleurette tugged her away from the men and took her to the same small bedroom. There, she drew a hot bath in an adjacent loo, and Marguerite gratefully sank into it as soon as the girl had left the room.
She didn't soak as long as she would have liked, though. Being alone gave her mind time to wander and drift, and she didn't particularly want to think. It was as though she couldn't shut her thoughts off. There were too many racing about in her head, and she rubbed her temples with annoyance. The water was still warm when she rose and toweled off, but she couldn't sit idly in the tub and just think.
By the time she had dressed and re-entered the main room, she discovered the men were gone. Fleurette looked at her in surprise from the table, where she was kneading bread dough.
"I thought you would want to relax in the bath, Margot... is something wrong?"
"I'm afraid that there is too much in my mind to relax." Marguerite sat down at the table and looked at the dough, her shoulders sagging slightly.
"Monsieur Blakeney said he took you to meet Hagen and the others." Fleurette punched the dough down and flipped it. "I told him that was rather callous of him to do so without warning you. He muttered something unintelligible and he left with the others to secure transportation for tomorrow."
Marguerite snorted. "He was probably complaining that I told him the same thing you did, as did Madam Muhr. That he was thoughtless."
"He is a good man." Fleurette smiled sadly. "But for such a good and brilliant man, sometimes he can be quite dense. It is becomes he loves you that he tries so hard. Will you forgive him?"
"Perhaps," Marguerite said dryly. "I have not yet decided."
Fleurette seemed unperturbed with this response. "Well, then. It will likely do him good for you to keep him at arm's length a bit longer, I daresay."
"When he learns some propriety, I will reconsider." Marguerite rose from the table. "For now, I'm going to bed, if you will excuse me."
"Bon nuit," Fleurette replied, smiling.
"Oui, bon nuit."
As Percy had hinted, Fontbleu was in a towering temper when Marguerite and Andrew reappeared on the actual set the next afternoon. Percy didn't want Fontbleu to know he was in the vicinity, and so did not accompany them. Marguerite privately thought Percy might be a bit of a coward for it, the great lout. Leaving her to handle the situation! Dieu, he was impossible.
Meanwhile, Andrew clearly disliked confrontation of any kind and deliberately avoided Fontbleu's furious reactions to their renewed presence. It was Marguerite who had to pacify the director, though she lost her temper as well and passionately snarled at Fontbleu that she and Andrew certainly weren't to blame because of the inaccurate directions they received, nor were they to blame for getting caught in a snowstorm in the French Alps.
And, just as Percy had also suggested, Fontbleu finally finished blustering about a week of good filming wasted, and walked off to yell at other members of the cast and crew in his attempt to find out who had given Marguerite and Andrew the wrong directions.
Andrew sighed and his shoulders sagged as Fontbleu blustered at a poor secretary (who cowered and insisted she hadn't given the directions to the main stars of the cast). Marguerite, meanwhile, huffed and crossed her arms.
"This is Percy's fault," she said crossly, "and we are the ones taking the blame for it!"
"It was more of Chauvelin's fault," Andrew reminded her. "But I do see your point."
"Sometimes I could strangle Blakeney," she said through gritted teeth.
Andrew remained silent on that point, which irritated Marguerite further.
"I suppose you think I am not good enough for him, for saying things like that?" she demanded.
"No, I was thinking that it might do him some good if you strangled him a bit. But knowing Perce, he would probably enjoy it."
Marguerite scowled. "Sacre bleu, but I will be glad when this stupid film is over." Without waiting for Andrew's response, she stomped off for the dressing rooms to change and have her hair done.
Still, despite anything else, Marguerite had to endure another month of filming, and it made her completely irritable when she was off set. Percy kept his distance, and she wasn't sure if she was grateful for that or not. When filming finally ended and the movie went into post-production, Marguerite immediately contacted her agent and insisted on retiring.
Her agent, understandably, was shocked and confused.
Did Madam believe she was getting too old for the profession? Did Madam need a temporary break? Was Madam having difficulties with a director or other actors? Madam was still in her prime; surely she knew this! Madam was famous! Why on earth would she wish to give up her fame?
Marguerite stonily informed the man that she was on perfectly decent terms with the majority of the French film industry, and she was certainly not too old. She did not need a temporary break, either. She needed a permanent break. The agent was bewildered, and reluctantly agreed to start making preparations. In turn, Marguerite instructed him to take on Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in her place – an exchange, so to speak. The agent wasn't certain about that. Marguerite had been a brilliant star that had helped his career, and taking a man who had only starred in one film so far was risky at best. The film hadn't even released! It was not certain that Andrew would rise to stardom!
In the end, she bullied him into agreeing. She could bully people well when she needed to. And it was the least she could do for Andrew, who had put up with so much and helped her so much.
A week later, after the meeting with her agent in person to finish the deal, Marguerite left the building and exhaled deeply when she stepped back onto the busy Parisian street. Cars bustled back and forth, the wind was biting, and a light frost iced the bare trees and iron railings. The cold cleared her head and she sighed. It was all over now. She would never act again. It was time to move on with her life. Acting had been a way to help Armand pay the rent, and a way to take her mind off of his disappearance after the war. It was a past life. She had money saved, and if she managed it well, she would never need to work again.
"You do look as though you were freezing, Madam."
The voice broke her revere. She straightened and scowled, but did not turn to look at the speaker. He had been avoiding her for the past month and a half, which had nettled and annoyed her. Just because she had told him they were going to take their relationship slowly did not mean they should avoid contact altogether. He truly was idiotic.
"That is because it is February in Paris, Monsieur," she replied frostily. "Surely even a dunce such as yourself would know the month and seasons. Dieu! But you are hopeless, I think."
"I am, I'm afraid. I pray you will forgive your humble servant. Shall I make it up to you?"
She could hear the amusement lacing his words. Her eyebrow arched. "How so?"
"A comfortable dinner, I think? Snow is in the forecast for tonight. It wouldn't do for Madam to be out in such dreadful weather. Her fans would be most concerned if she caught a chill." Without waiting for her response, he stepped around her and opened the door of a parked car.
Marguerite gave him a cool glance. "Perhaps Madam prefers ice skating this evening, and never mind her fans."
She watched as his lips twitch, and then suddenly, he laughed outright – that bold laugh that was truly his, and not the fake one she had heard so often in the preceding year. Passerby glanced their way; one little old lady in a wool coat tsked under her breath and scowled deeply at the laughter.
"Oh, just get in and drive, Perce," Marguerite demanded. Without waiting for an answer, she slipped into the seat, her face flushed from slight embarrassment.
Still chortling, Percy shut the door and walked around to the driver's side. Once he was comfortably inside and had the heater going, he gave her a small smile. The blue in his eyes seemed brighter than she remembered, and Marguerite felt her stomach flip. Good Lord, she had forgotten how pretty his eyes were...the color of summer sky or robin's eggs, or perhaps she should just think blue and not think in such romantic, silly terms.
However, as if he were thinking something similar, he murmured, "My God, but you are stunning." Without waiting for her reply, he reached over to tuck a tendril of curl behind her ear.
Her skin burned where his cold fingers trailed, and she quickly looked away and attempted to master her breathing.
"What sort of dinner did you have in mind?" she asked.
He leaned over, close to her ear, his lips scorching damp against her skin. "A private one, in front of a fire."
"In that case, where have you been this past month?" A question she had legitimate reason to ask. He suddenly wanted to be alone with her, despite avoiding her since their little incident in the Alps? Oh, he could be insufferable.
His mouth traced lightly down the tendon in her neck. "I thought you desired some distance, to think. And in any case, I had to complete the business transactions on that ridiculous film, as well as check on another family of refugees in Poland. But the problem is, I cannot physically stay away from you..." He inhaled sharply, as though breathing her perfume in. "No matter how much time you need to think."
Marguerite's throat was dry. "So you've been secretly following me despite traveling to Poland and God knows where else? Is that how you knew I'd be here today?"
"Not exactly." His hand fell on top of hers, and he didn't move his head away from her ear. While his thumb traced lazy circles on her wrist, he went on, "Andy told me you were seeing your agent today. To quit the business. I must admit, I nearly lost my head with desire when he mentioned it. Was all I could do to stay sane enough to finish the conversation with him and not bolt directly here."
Unable to stand his flirting touch any longer, she bit out, "Oh Percy, do stop – you're completely undoing me! I can't think straight!"
He chuckled in her ear and leaned back into the driver's seat. "Thank God. It's about time."
"About time I quit the business, or about time I allowed you to see how much you get under my skin?"
"Both." His eyes were smoldering. "Margot, if I don't get you somewhere alone in the next five minutes, I'll lose my mind."
She remembered what she had told him back in the cabin in the Alps, hidden in that tiny secret room, tucked in bed with him. That she wanted a man who sometimes couldn't keep his hands off her, because he was so in love with her. But she only said, "Then you'd best start driving, don't you think?"
Percy gaped at her, but after a moment he shook himself and put the car in gear. Twenty minutes later, having made the ride in silence, he pulled up a nondescript, quiet street, lined with bare trees and comfortable looking homes, and parked in front of a perfectly normal townhouse, stately in appearance. It was painted cream with black shutters, and seemed perfectly Parisian.
"Is this one of your many houses?" she asked dryly, as they made their way up the walk.
"The only one I own in Paris, actually."
The door opened before they mounted the steps, and a butler bowed politely. "Sir Percy," he said, in a crisp English accent. "Dinner is almost ready."
"Excellent," Percy murmured. He ushered Marguerite into the front hall, which was dripping with fine antiques and paintings.
As a maid took her coat and gloves, Marguerite found she was gazing in awe at the paintings – beautiful ones, which were museum quality. She caught a glance of the signature on the nearest and gasped.
"Where did you get this?" she asked, turning abruptly to Percy, who was thanking his butler.
As the butler exited with their coats, Percy said, "Ah, the Rembrandt. A Jewish fellow owned it. A wealthy banker. I smuggled him to Switzerland but I couldn't bear the thought of the Nazis getting their hands on this piece, so I went back to his house, and brought it back here. The Nazis took everything, don't you know. The diamonds and jewelry and money I could have cared less about, but artwork was different." His brow furrowed, as though deep in thought. "It sickened me to think they were burning artwork and books and wot. They daren't raid this house, so I brought it and countless other pieces here. I tried to return this one to the man after the war, but he wouldn't hear of it. Gave it to me as a gift of thanks, though he needn't have bothered." Percy sighed. "I do wish he had taken it back. It's priceless, and my services weren't worth that."
Marguerite stared at him. "Percy, your services, as you call them, were worth his life! Which was more priceless than this painting, I assure you!"
Percy shrugged, burying his hands in his pockets and looking out of place. "So he said. As did many others. Which is why my alleged collection appears so large. The reality is, I don't technically own even a quarter of the paintings and artwork in this house! I don't think my services were worth these things. I do wish the people would take them back. All of the pre-war owners survived, and it seems silly that they won't hear of taking them back."
Marguerite shook her head. "You astound me. You rescued people so they wouldn't be killed, and when they offer you a paltry thanks in the form of a piece of artwork that you managed to salvage from their homes before the Nazis struck, you get confused. I know you are brilliant, but sometimes you do truly act idiotic, Percy."
He continued to gaze distantly at the Rembrandt, as if remembering the man who had owned it before him, but after a moment he roused himself and gestured to a wide staircase. "Forgive me, Madame. Dinner awaits, and I'm a poor host to keep you from it by reminiscing over art! If you will follow me."
And so she followed him upstairs, curious as to why they were not eating in the dining room, which was usually situated on the ground floor. Once up on the first floor landing, he led her to a wide, luxurious parlor with glass doors opening onto a balcony. It was too cold to eat on the balcony, but his staff had arranged a table before a crackling fire, set in the marble fireplace. She gazed at the beautiful eighteenth-century furniture and antiques – it was a show room, not a room to live in. It was dripping with wealth.
He was watching her, as if waiting for her opinion, and she said dryly, "This is a stunning room, monsieur, but I don't see how you can be comfortable in it. It is for show, when you need to make a good impression, and nothing more."
To her surprise, Percy burst into loud laughter – so loud that the butler hurried in to make certain everything was in order.
"Yes, yes," Percy snickered, waving him out. "Everything is perfectly fine, Frank. Thank you."
As soon as the door closed behind Frank, Percy turned back to Marguerite, his eyes twinkling. "This townhouse is precisely that, I'm afraid. A showcase for when I need to entertain the wealthy. This room makes them feel comfortable. I was curious as to your response about it. Don't worry, after dinner, we will retire elsewhere. Somewhere more...realistic."
Her eyebrows arched. "If you plan to retire to a bedroom, monsieur, you will do so alone."
His eyes sparkled. "Now that is a dreadfully dull notion, isn't it?"
She did not have a chance to respond, for the door opened again and the staff brought in dinner. They quietly arranged it upon the table and exited, and Percy held out the chair for Marguerite and then joined her.
It was a nice dinner, she decided, watching the flames dance lower and lower, until the embers crumbled and the candlelight was their main source of light, while darkness fell outside. The dinner was delicious, almost as fancy as the room, and they talked about Andrew's film career and Suzanne's being smitten with him; the upcoming release for The Invisible Savior and what her fans would do when they found out she had left the business. Marguerite could care less about that, but Percy seemed highly entertained.
"They'll think you are courting a fool," he suggested. "That you left the business for more money. The paparazzi will have a field day. I can see the headlines now – Famous Actress Marguerite St. Just Elopes with Moronic Englishman!"
"Elopes? Getting a bit ahead of yourself, aren't you?"
"A tad, yes."
He smiled lazily. "I don't think so."
His confidence was unnerving, and Marguerite looked back to the fire. "Dinner was divine," she said loftily. "But where are we retiring, now that it is finished?"
"Ah." He rose gracefully and helped her from her seat, and then led her back into the hall. "This way."
He went up another two flights of stairs, and she half wondered if they were headed into the attic. It certainly seemed that way, but instead, on the third floor, he led her through a large, dark room and onto a small balcony that faced the rear gardens and overlooked downtown Paris. The Eiffel Tower twinkled against the starry sky and Marguerite sighed heavenly as she gazed across the dazzling scene.
"Now I know what you purchased this townhouse. The view is magnifique."
"Yes, it was a selling point. I thought you might enjoy it. I would have taken you ice skating, but I didn't want Madame to break an ankle. I'm sure they're insured for a hefty price."
"Oh, you are horrible! I can skate without any problems." Marguerite meandered to the cold railing and leaned against it, heedless of the height. "And my ankles are not insured, only my face and figure." She gave him a small, sarcastic smile and cocked a hip in his direction as she rested her elbow on the cold iron.
"As they should be." He put his arm around her waist and pulled her against him. "Is there anything written in the insurance policy about kissing vagabonds and mysterious persons?"
"I'm sure there must be; would be a boring policy otherwise, wouldn't it?"
He chuckled, bent, and kissed her anyways. It was a slow, tentative kiss. The angle changed several times until he was kissing her more deeply and passionately, and his hands trembled against her hair to hold her, as though he were desperately attempting to contain his strength. Marguerite could taste the raw heat in his mouth, and she was reminded of their brief time in the hidden room in the cabin. They had slept in the same bed that night, and she briefly contemplated asking if they could do the same tonight. It was chilly, this townhouse was comfortable, and a part of her wanted to. She would wake up in the morning to frost crusting the windowpanes, a low fire in the grate, and burning heat from his body. What a lovely thought...
She eventually broke away to breathe, and Percy rested his forehead against hers, stooping to do so. It had to be an uncomfortable angle for him.
"Margot," he whispered, rubbing his thumbs down her temples to her cheeks. "I told you once that I was not a very strong man. I have tried to give you time to think, but I cannot stay away much longer."
"I can tell."
"You don't have to forgive me for what I've done. Just..." He paused, trying to come up with the right words.
"Just marry you?" She laughed softly. "Oh, Percy. If that isn't just like you. Never mind the forgiveness, just marry you, by God."
He swallowed thickly. "What I meant was..."
"I'm considering it." She stepped back from him and smiled, ignoring the dizzy feeling from kissing him. "I am, truly. But there are things we need to do before that. Hagen, for example."
"Oh." He straightened, looking downright confused. "Hagen. I promise to take you back to him this spring, when the weather is warmer. He can't start university right away, Margot. Surely you know that."
"Are you going to make me wait until summer?"
She laughed at his horrified expression. "It is tempting, if only to see the expressions on your men's faces."
Immediately, Percy scowled. "You would not be that cruel."
"Oh, have I finally struck a decent punishment?" She turned and ambled back inside, out of the cold. The room they had passed through to get to this balcony was still dark, but the lights from Paris and the moon offered just enough light for her to see about. There was a fireplace, with embers glowing, and a towering bed with a canopy. Her breath caught in her throat. She could stay here the night, if she wished. She just had to say it aloud to Percy.
"That would be a horrible punishment," he admitted behind her. The door to the balcony closed with a snap.
"Is this your room?" she asked curiously, walking up to the plush bench in front of the bed and trailing her fingers along the dark velvet. The room was done in masculine tones, with rich, heavy furniture instead of the lavish Louis XV style from the parlor on the first floor. A heavy rug on the floor helped keep the cold out, and there were thick quilts on the foot of the bed.
"Yes, when I stay here."
Marguerite walked up to a roll-top desk, scattered with papers. This room was far more real than the rest of the house. It was lived in, as it were. She murmured, "It is a beautiful room."
"This isn't beautiful, Margot. Just a man's bedroom."
"Louis XV is an exquisite style, but this is more real, to me. It looks lived in and used, not like icing on a cake."
"Well. I suppose that's one way to put it."
"It's been a dreadfully long day." She stopped at the door leading back to the hall, and paused. "I would stay here, but we both know what would happen if I did. We should at least have dinner a few more times before we let things progress to my sleeping in this room, don't you think?"
He hesitated. "You are probably right."
"Yes. I think so." She gazed wistfully at the bed all the same.
He wrapped his arms around her again and she felt the sheer strength in his muscles. For a brief moment, Marguerite allowed her eyes to close and to simply relish the feel of him holding her. She turned and buried her nose in his shirt, inhaling the sharp scent of his body. His grip tightened.
"Margot, unless you want to stay in this room tonight, I suggest you, um, detangle yourself from me. I'm afraid my arms don't seem to be working properly, or I would do it myself."
She burst into laughter at his foolishness. "Oh, Percy. You are always talking nonsense – Andy is perfectly right about that." And before he could protest, she slipped out of his arms, out of the bedroom, and down the stairs.
She knew he was following her because she could hear his footsteps, like a puppy running to catch up with a playmate. Only when she was back in the entry, and putting her coat back on, did she turn to face him again.
"That was a most enjoyable dinner," she said. "I suggest we have another one quite soon."
"Certain you wouldn't like a nightcap?" he asked lightly.
Marguerite laughed. "And let you get me good and drunk, so I'll stay? You are a naughty man, Blakeney. I never would have guessed it a year ago. My schedule is completely free now, as I won't be working. And I get bored very easily. So I suggest you come up with some grand ideas. You seem to be rather good at that. Now, are you going to take me to my home, or shall I call a cab?"
Percy smiled. "I'll drive you. Whatever mademoiselle wishes, don't you know."
He said the word wrong deliberately, and she swatted at him with one of her gloves. Oh, but he could be insufferable and idiotic!
But she also now knew he could be many, many other things besides.