You know how I said I was going to write that historical? Well, here goes….
In the Year of Our Lord 1897, Paris was the most glittering of European capitals, the impressive center stone in a diadem of international gems.
The ballrooms of Paris were the most crowded.
The ladies of Paris were the most chic.
The conversation and company were the most witty and sparkling.
It was a gilded age….
Or so it was said.
Chuck Bass surveyed the hot, overcrowded ballroom with a bit of ennui. It didn't appear to him to be any more special than that of London or his native New York.
It hadn't been his idea to come tonight, but he'd heard that his closest friend, Nathaniel, the new Duke of Archibald, might be making an appearance and for that reason alone Chuck had decided to investigate. Bass was newly arrived in Paris, here to follow up on some international investments by his father's company.
The collaboration with his father was a new thing too. During the early years of Chuck's life, Bart Bass had ignored his only son and only child. Some said it was because the boy so closely resembled the mother whose life had ended bringing him into the world. Others said it was because the elder Bass had ice water in his veins and cared for no one, blood relation or not. Either way, the result was the same. By the time the neglected boy reached adolescence, he had gotten into more than his fair share of trouble, to the extent of being expelled from his exclusive Manhattan prep school.
For Bart, that had been the final straw. He saw to it that Chuck was packed up and sent to Eton before he could put up much of a fight. If Bart had thought being a world away from home and in the company of reserved lads from the best British families would be a sobering influence on his prodigal son, he'd thought wrong. But being exiled from home and country had taught Chuck some important lessons: the importance of finding friends and forming alliances…and how to not get caught so easily the next time around.
Friendship was precious indeed if it had brought him here to be drinking watered down wine punch whilst standing around watching a flock of society ladies prance about, flirting over their fans and pretending to pay attention to the longwinded stories of their blustering escorts.
Nathaniel was nowhere to be found.
So why was he suffering the boredom of all of this when he might be drinking hundred year old scotch and sampling the pleasures of a pair of Dutch twins at the Moulin Rouge?
Chuck had all but made up his mind to leave, when whispers of excitement began to ripple across the ballroom.
The Prince of Wales was going to be announced! And naturally he would be accompanied by the pair of American debutantes who were his new protegees.
The Sun and the Moon. That's what some witty newspaper writer had dubbed them. The two young ladies were from wealthy families of New York, but there the similarities ended. Though they were said to be the dearest of friends, it would be difficult to find two other girls more dissimilar in aspect and outlook.
The pair were said to be stunningly beautiful and they caused a stir wherever they went. People openly craned their necks to get a look at them and then gawked once they did.
Of course Chuck had heard of them; everyone who was anyone had. But he was Chuck Bass. He was not interested in a new crop of debutantes, regardless of how alluring they were said to be.
Still, if he was there and they were there…he might as well get a look. Besides, Bertie was a friend he hadn't seen in an age.
To anyone who didn't know him, the Prince looked like any other well-to-do, middle-aged gentleman. He was tall and portly, his mustached face lending a distinguished air to his presence. But something other than his faultless posture and his sense of style made him command one's attention. There was power here. Or there would be. His mother was the greatest reigning monarch since Queen Elizabeth and she ruled over an empire over which it was said the sun never set. To be on the arm of her son was more than a compliment to a debutante; it was a ringing endorsement and a prediction of that young lady's future prospects.
The young lady on the Prince's left arm was clearly the Sun and so radiant it was hard to imagine that she needed anything whatsoever to garner attention. She was tall, willowy and fair. Indeed, the glittering lights of the ballroom made her golden locks shine and picked up the sparkle in her blue eyes. She looked delightfully carefree and when she laughed at something the Prince said, her laugh rang out like that of a young child.
This must be her then, Chuck thought, the young lady Nathaniel was aiming to make his bride. Indeed, with her sunny looks and disposition, she certainly brought his friend to mind. She was practically his female counterpart. They would laugh and love and have a nursery full of giggly, blue-eyed, blond babies. A good match, though Chuck himself shivered in horror at the prospect.
Then the Prince's other companion came into view.
And Chuck ceased thinking, almost ceased breathing.
He'd expected her to be beautiful; he didn't expect her to take his very breath away.
Her skin was pale and the perfect accompaniment to the dark waves of silken curls that formed a halo around her head, with one lock teasingly flung over her shoulder. Her swanlike neck was tall and graceful, as she also appeared to be, though she was several inches shorter than her friend. Sensual lips were stretched into a smile and she looked quite gay, though her enormous dark eyes were subtly scanning the room, as if searching for something…or someone.
When her eyes landed on him, she froze, and he felt the breath go out of her body, because the same thing was happening to him.
Merciful heavens, he looked like Satan himself…or a fallen angel. Wings of dark hair swept back off a face that was unlike any other she'd ever seen. A proud nose, a chin that indicated the gentleman might be more than a tad stubborn…his lips were quite beautiful, even curled in a smirk. Thick, dark brows served to showcase his eyes.
Perhaps they were the most striking of all his fine features. She was too far away to ascertain their exact shade—Sherry? Amber? Hazel? She could tell, however, that they were dark and set at an exotic slant in his handsome face. And they appeared to see everything. Like how her corset lacings were almost unbearably tight, the little mole on her left breast…and every secret she'd never share, even with her best friend.
It was an uncomfortable feeling. Uncomfortable…yet…seductive.
She released the breath she hadn't realized she was holding and tried to break his gaze. But her traitorous eyes had a mind of their own and refused to leave his.
For his part, he couldn't stop looking at her. An English author and playwright of some renown once said that he would "stand all day in the street" just to see the Duchess of Marlborough, nee Consuelo Vanderbilt, get in her carriage. Clearly that man had never seen this goddess, because one glimpse of her was worth a whole week's wait, at least.
Rude though it might be to stare, he simply couldn't stop. He comforted himself in the knowledge that she was staring right back.
So caught up was he in surveying the as yet unknown goddess that he was startled to find the Prince and his two companions standing right in front of him.
"Bass! Delightful to see you here tonight. I haven't seen you in practically forever. What have you been doing with yourself?"
Chuck often met the Prince at various house and hunting parties he attended with Nathaniel. Although the Prince shared Nate's easygoing temperament, he and Chuck had quickly bonded over their shared interests in men's fashion, sporting pursuits, beautiful ladies and the good life. The Prince had taken an instant liking to the American import that continued to this day.
"Well, Your Highness, I've been in New York learning the family business."
His voice startled her. In truth, she hadn't known what she was expecting; he could've been French or English or from somewhere different altogether. It seemed somehow right, however, that he should be a fellow New Yorker. The deep quality of his voice and the slow drawl were as attractive as his physical features and she wanted him to continue talking. She glanced at Serena to see if she could ascertain her thoughts on the gentleman, but her blonde friend was woolgathering, her mind clearly somewhere else. She rolled her eyes discreetly.
Of course he saw—those eyes wouldn't miss anything—and looked at her quizzically.
She looked back at him, then at the still-daydreaming Serena, and back again. They smiled at each other in understanding and he felt as though they'd just had a conversation, even though they hadn't yet been introduced.
The Prince was still speaking. "Capital fellow, your father. Quite the businessman. Probably the best in New York…and speaking of New York citizens, have you met my companions?" He smiled at both girls.
An introduction at last!
"Miss van der Woodsen, Miss Waldorf, may I present Mr. Charles Bass? He's quite a favorite of mine."
"You honor me, Your Highness." Chuck bowed to the blonde and then to the brunette Miss Waldorf, who graciously extended a gloved hand to shake his.
Their fingers met and clasped and although both were encased by the finest of evening gloves, a shock somewhat akin to a spark shot through them and both were taken aback.
So startled was she that Blair Waldorf almost let go of his hand and stepped back, but he recovered faster and drew her hand up to his lips, planting a brief kiss on the back of it. She felt it even through her silk glove, as tingles crept up her arm. What on earth was he doing to her? It wasn't at all proper! And heaven help her, he made her not want to be proper.
"Bass! Such a devil with the ladies," His Highness chided, only to be interrupted by the bell announcing supper.
Had he been saved by the bell, Chuck wondered. He could make some excuse, get out of there right now. Paris nightlife awaited…and beckoned. But the small hand in the silken glove was still resting in his…and there was no contest.
"Will you be joining us for supper, Bass?"
Chuck's eyes locked with Miss Waldorf's and he'd swear she was contemplating the same thing: fight or flight.
"I'd be delighted." The words slipped easily off his tongue, almost of their own accord, and he could feel her release the breath she'd been holding.
She favored him a smile, one that matched her eyes this time, and he found himself quite satisfied with his decision. Had the Prince asked him to fight a lion at this moment, he felt confident he would've accepted that challenge as well.
Instead Bertie made another suggestion: "Do be a good fellow and escort Miss Waldorf into supper for me."
"My pleasure," his words wrapped around her heart as surely as her arm entwined with his.
The crowd parted to make way for the royal guest and his friends. While the Prince and his blonde companion attracted their share of looks and curiosity, the dark couple behind them set the room abuzz. Separately, they were attractive and elegant; together, they were stunning. There was something in the air between them-a magic, a connection visible to any observer.
Supper was a charming affair. The Prince was, as always, full of witty stories about places he'd been and people he'd met.
"And what a shame that Miss Sparks had to leave the city so soon."
That snapped Chuck to attention. "Miss Georgina Sparks?" he inquired with a frown.
"Yes. Do you know her? I had forgotten she was from New York as well."
Miss Waldorf's eyes flew to Chuck's for confirmation.
"Our fathers move in the same circles and occasionally do business together." What Chuck neglected to mention was that one of those articles of business was some misguided matchmaking. Hell would freeze over before Chuck allowed himself to be shackled for more than one dance to that devious little tart. He involuntarily shuddered.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about Georgina, Your Highness. I'm sure she is all settled in at that Swiss finishing school by now. It will no doubt be the making of her. Though it is rather a shame that the convent retreat couldn't be arranged. I would think she'd find the vows of silence and the lack of diversions to be…liberating to her soul." Miss Waldorf's eyes looked quite serious, but the very corners of her mouth were turned up almost imperceptibly.
"Blair!" Miss van der Woodsen hissed.
So her name was Blair. It suited her, he thought. Just like that revealing face did. The eyes and mouth that didn't match made it so easy to read her…and she made for a fascinating tale.
Before anything more could be said, their chaperone, Miss van der Woodsen's grandmother, Mrs. Rhodes arrived at the table just in time to check in with her charges, partake in a bit of supper and chat with the Prince briefly before the dancing began again.
What luck the Prince could only dance with one of his protegees at a time and he selected Serena for the first dance.
"May I have the honor?" Chuck offered his arm to Blair.
If he'd thought that being on the dancefloor might give them more opportunity for private conversation, he was sadly mistaken. The first set was a lively country dance that kept them moving quickly and being continually separated. Where was a waltz when you needed one?
The Prince came to claim Blair for the next dance and Chuck danced with Miss van der Woodsen, whom he learned was named Serena, was originally from the Deep South, and loved Paris and painting with watercolors. He felt certain she would love puppies and warm summer days as well. A perfect choice for Nathaniel. In the meantime, he was counting down the minutes until he could return to dance with Blair.
When the music blessedly ended and he handed Serena off to her next partner, he made all possible haste to return to where he'd last seen Blair. Alas, some milquetoast of a Monegasque prince beat him to the punch and was already partnered with Miss Waldorf. Chuck was left with a well-endowed French matron who kept murmuring what he assumed were French sweet nothings in his ear throughout their dance.
He looked over to where Blair was smiling up at Prince Milquetoast, looking quite absorbed by whatever story His Royal Boredom was telling. He gritted his teeth. This was unacceptable.
Finally, the current dance ended and he was back with Blair. He didn't understand why slipping his arm around her waist and holding one hand in hers felt like coming home, but it did.
He looked down into those dark, mysterious eyes. "You must tell me how you did it, you know."
"Did what?" Her giggle sounded innocent and carefree.
"Engineered the removal of Miss Sparks from this lovely city."
"I?" She endeavored to sound innocent again. "Whatever would make you think that?"
"It takes one devil to know another." His whisper grazed her ear.
"What makes you think you know me, Mr. Bass?" Her tone was flirtatious. "We've only just met."
"Your eyes…and your mouth." He studied both intently. "One reveals when the other is lying."
"Have you been studying me this evening?"
"You're a fascinating subject, Miss Waldorf." He held her a little tighter. "One I find endlessly alluring." His words were like a caress.
"You know what they say about curiosity and the cat. I wonder what it does to a Bass?" She laughed again.
He laughed too. "You don't get nearly enough credit for your wit. Or your beauty. Both are the stuff of which legends are made."
She stopped moving then, and he realized it was because the music had stopped. The dance was over.
A slight flush crept up her cheeks as she pretended to be engrossed in finding her dance card and her next partner.
Another gentleman approached, clearly expecting to claim Blair as his partner.
No way in hell was Chuck letting her go now!
"You're dismissed. Miss Waldorf already has a partner for this set." Then he plucked the dancing card out of her hands and pulled the pages out, ripping them in two and scattering them on the floor. "And every one after."
She gazed up at him in surprise…and perhaps something more. Her eyes widened, her flush deepened and her breath came quickly in little gasps.
"Come on, let's get some air." He took her hand and led her out the nearest door and onto the terrace.
Dear God, did he know what he'd just done? Gentlemen were not supposed to dance with a young lady for more a couple of dances, four at the very most, so as not to monopolize her time with other friends and prospective suitors. To do so was considered rude. Mr. Bass had no respect for that, for dancing etiquette, or her reputation.
She sat down on a wrought iron bench by one of the stone balustrades and told him as much.
"On the contrary, I have the utmost respect for what is important here: you."
Oh, he was a silver-tongued devil, there was no doubt of it. She smiled in spite of herself.
"Isn't the air so much nicer out here tonight? Far easier to converse and dance here than in a crowded, stuffy ballroom." His voice was as seductive as the night air.
"Mrs. Rhodes won't think so. If she finds I'm gone, I'll be in a great deal of trouble."
"Miss van der Woodsen's grandmother? She's likely flirting with an older French gentleman or sneaking some gin into her punch….perhaps both." He grinned.
She gasped. How this man saw so much so quickly, she had no idea.
"The Prince is likely off to find one of his official mistresses and Miss van der Woodsen is probably juggling dancing partners and focusing on making small talk. So…come dance with me again and tell me how you exiled Sparky."
He really was the devil himself. She stepped back into his arms, marveling at how well their bodies fit.
"It wasn't that difficult, to be honest. A simple, anonymous letter to her parents about how she was becoming involved with 'a most unsuitable young man' and they arrived with all due haste."
"And was he so 'unsuitable'?" He raised an eyebrow.
"Of course not! He was quite the catch; he was just someone else's beau," she confessed, not sure why she felt so comfortable spilling her secrets to someone she'd just met. He just seemed like a kindred spirit, one with whom she felt lighter, happier, free to show her true self.
He smiled and whirled her around in the next step of their dance. "Truly, I am proud. Whose?"
She smiled back, looking like a cat who'd been caught in the cream. "Mine."
The smile immediately disappeared from his face. "And where is this wonderful catch of a beau of yours tonight?"
It was her turn to frown then. "He's not in the city, not even in France. He was needed by his family. They're very close."
He pulled her closer again. "Admirable, to be sure, but does he not worry that, while he's away, someone might be getting close to you?"
Their faces were mere inches apart. She wanted to look away, but could not. Those traitorous eyes of his had bespelled her.
"One shouldn't be careless with one's treasures. And certainly not with one so beautiful and unique."
Somehow they had stopped dancing, even though the music played on.
He could hear her heart speed up, though maybe that was his own, and suddenly, more than breath—maybe more than life—he wanted to kiss her.
So he did.
Afterwards, he was never sure exactly how it had happened, how one second they were caught in each other's gaze, breathing the same air, and then suddenly his lips were on hers.
Had he closed the distance between them? Had she? Or had the universe simply pulled together into an embrace?
He didn't know. He only knew that it was like lightning passing between them and he never wanted it to end.
But it had to. Her lips were soft and sweet…and innocent. Were his the first lips to taste hers?
With great reluctance, he tried to pull away. But a gloved hand came up to cup his jaw and her mouth was on his, deepening the kiss.
She sighed into his mouth and he groaned in response. How could a kiss on the lips be felt through one's whole body?
The sound startled them both and they broke apart, panting and still staring at each other.
Years of lessons and strictures were the only thing that enabled her to say, "We—we should go back inside now."
Was he only imagining it, or did she sound as disappointed about that as he felt?
He summoned up all his strength. "Of course." He took her arm and felt her shiver. "Are you cold?"
"I'm fine," she reassured, though she now felt quite chilled, like some part of herself was now missing, that he'd taken it away.
They'd almost reached the door to the ballroom when Serena came flying out of it.
"There you are! I've been looking for you all over."
"We just stepped out so Miss Waldorf could get some air," Chuck began to explain.
Serena was unconcerned with reasons or details. "Just be glad I found you before Grandmother discovered you were gone! Really, Blair, this isn't like you at all."
And it wasn't. Or perhaps it was exactly like her. She only knew that before tonight she wouldn't have left a ball with man she'd just met, told him secrets and kissed him in the moonlight on a Parisian terrace. She desperately, desperately needed to regain control here.
"I think Grandmother wants to go home soon," Serena advised.
Home. Yes, once she was back at their rooms and tucked in for the night, maybe things would appear normal again. Or maybe they would never be the same again.
Chuck and Blair hung back and allowed Serena to outpace them a few steps.
"Will I see you tomorrow?" He hoped he didn't sound like a silly schoolboy asking that, but he wanted—no, needed—to know.
"I don't think that's a good idea." Her voice was quiet and deliberate. "I have a beau, you know."
He nodded. It was a sword to the heart, but it was probably for the best. No other woman had ever affected him so and he was not at all sure he liked it.
"You are amazing, Blair Waldorf. I am very glad to have met you."
She tried in vain to get her mouth to work, but instead her tongue refused to cooperate, as if it knew that opening her mouth would lead to a sob.
She nodded instead.
"There's Grandmother!" Serena turned and looked at the pair following her. They looked strangely sad and subdued. Mr. Bass's arm slowly slid down Blair's and for the merest of seconds, their fingertips touched. It almost looked like they were holding hands, though how could that be? She must be fanciful tonight. How else to explain that she thought she heard Bass whisper to her friend, "Goodnight, my treasure"?
Chuck Bass awoke at the break of dawn, if "woke" was the right word for it. He'd barely slept, only to be startled into consciousness by dreams of the glorious Blair in a silk chemise, with her hair flowing over her shoulders and her lips pressed to his.
Some breakfast might put him to rights, but he found he had not the slightest of appetite for food or drink.
Last night had shaken him to his very core and he had no idea how to escape this strange, new feeling.
He didn't want to sleep.
He didn't want to eat.
He only wanted Blair.
It was crazy. He had only just met her. He could forget her.
It was one kiss, for goodness' sake! And he was Chuck Bass.
Maybe the punch had been bad.
Maybe he was coming down with an illness.
Maybe he was only imagining how very wonderful that kiss had been.
If he kissed her again….
There was no help for it: he was going to have to kiss her again.
Now that he'd resolved this in his mind, he felt somewhat better…
Though he had a sick feeling that somewhere Fate was laughing at him…
And that she wasn't nearly done with them yet….
Perhaps Fate was only getting started.
The English author/playwright who would "stand all day" to see Consuelo Vanderbilt was none other than Sir James M. Barrie. You may have heard of him; he wrote a book called Peter Pan.
Serena loves Paris, watercolor painting, puppies and warm summer days. I love reviews. So please leave me a review and make me smile, or send Blake Lively a puppy. You make the call.
I know this will come as a great shock, but I don't actually own Gossip Girl or Chuck and Blair, who beg you to remember that they belong only to each other.