Dangerous Liaisons

Author's Note: The most part of this piece (up until Cecile's personal reflections) is based entirely on early scenes of the movie, complete with all of the dialogue. Enjoy.

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The Marquise de Merteuil gazed into her mirror, scrutinising her complexion as she did religiously every morning. She was no longer the luscious creature she had been in her youth; even she had to admit to herself, yet her many admirers assured her that her attractiveness remained unbounded. The long process of dressing and grooming every morning was essential to her – cosmetics, powder, and chiffon and satin were her tools for success in maintaining her beauty, and therefore her power.

            A woman's only power, she surmised, was in her charm. Beauty was merely the first step towards this. Allowing her servant women to pull her into tight corsetry and then a divine creation of peach silk and snowy lace, she smiled to herself. Another strange and yet delightful day no doubt lay ahead; each one, in these times, seemed to bring new surprises with it. And with surprises came the best sport of all.

Sport almost always delivered to her by the Vicomte de Valmont: her closest friend and confidant, sometimes lover, and only hero. Her feelings towards him confused her at the best of times, and yet she could not imagine a world without him. Treading the richly carpeted floor between two serving maids as they curtsied, she breathed deeply, satisfied with her appearance and composure.

It had been another morning the same as every one before it, and yet by no means unpleasant. Touching at the rows of pearls around her throat, the Marquise felt infinitely optimistic, and not least because of the knowledge that she would soon be face to face with the Vicomte and privy to all his exquisite schemes and plots.

Cecile de Valanges stepped cautiously into the salon, catching her breath at the sight of the splendour around her. Three liveried footmen lit a multitude of candles upon a golden chandelier, as her mother sat playing cards I silence at a nearby table opposite the Marquise de Merteuil. At the sight of the girl, the Marquise smiled brightly and ignored the game for a moment.

            "Well, my dear! How are you adjusting to the outside world?" A friendly, or so it appeared, reference to Cecile's recently having completed her convent education.

            "Very well, I think."

            Madame de Valanges cut in impertinently, "I've advised her to watch, and learn, and be quiet except when spoken to." The woman, her age clearly showing despite vigorous efforts to remain young, turned her eyes back down to the cards in her hand.

            The Marquise appraised mother and daughter discreetly, and with some surprise. Madame behaved as an old woman, most disgracefully so in her friend's opinion. There was no excuse whatsoever for a woman to deliberately allow herself to age so. Her manner was irksome to almost all who met her, meaning that her social circle shrank steadily as the years went by. Only the Marquise remained steadfast, mostly out of pity, but also for her own continual amusement at the other woman's decline in society.

            And yet, she had produced somehow the wondrous young thing who stood behind her, dressed in a marvel of white lace and pink ribbons that set off her youth and astonishing loveliness to perfection. Demonstrating her nervousness, her small, slender white hands pressed together and her full sensuous lips hung in a becoming half-frown. Her eyes were enormous and soulful, her hair a shining yellow blonde. Suppressing a smile, the Marquise pictured herself as a young debutante, and saw more than a few similarities.

            Those were the looks of a madam in the making, not the uneasy, innocent little mouse who wore them. The Marquise de Merteuil knew a potential pupil when she saw one.

            She raised her eyebrows at the girl, smiling pleasantly again. "So, we must see what we can devise for your amusement."

            Cecile smiled gratefully, clearly too uncomfortable to be listening properly. The Marquise let excitement well within her, imagining how the Vicomte would react when he met her.

            A short, plump footman carried in a silver tray bearing a calling card. She read it, nodding at him to leave, before turning to Madame.

            "Valmont's here."

            "You receive him, do you?" the other woman enquired incredulously.

            "Yes," the Marquise replied naturally. "So do you," she then added with an exultant expression.

Madame de Valanges, as the two older ladies sat to receive the Vicomte, explained quickly to her daughter about his infamous reputation, fanning herself and also her temper. Cecile remained standing, to the Marquise's satisfaction. That way her lush body would be on best display for the Vicomte to admire.

            When Madame had finished speaking, Cecile replied perplexedly, "Then why do you receive him, Maman?"

            "Well…everyone does," her mother defended herself, fanning faster.

            The Vicomte strode in, having been announced, his confidence making the Marquise's heart miss a beat. Never one to betray the strength of her own feelings, however, she accepted his greetings sedately, offering her hand to his lips with effortless self-control. Likewise, he behaved a perfect gentleman towards her, which he certainly was not in private.

            "You remember my daughter, Cecile?" Having greeted him herself, Madame de Valanges gestured reluctantly towards the willowy teenager.

            "Well, of course," he said cheerfully, shooting the girl a devastating glance. "But who could have foretold she would flower so gracefully."

            The Marquise let her triumphant smile spread right across her carefully powerdered face, aiming it momentarily at Madame as she exhaled angrily. All around Paris knew of Madame's liaison with the Vicomte when they were both young and notorious. It would undoubtedly destroy her were he now to turn his infamous attentions towards her fine progeny.

            The day was turning into an even bigger success than the Marquise had imagined it would. She turned back to Valmont as he began to speak.

            "I wanted to call on you before I leave the city."

            "Oh?" she retorted. "I'm not sure we can allow that. Why should you be leaving?"

            He had positioned himself beside an unsuspecting Cecile, and was now gazing blatantly at her pert little breasts. "Oh, you know, Paris in August. And it's time I paid a visit on my aunt; I've been neglecting her disgracefully."

            Madame de Valanges grinned suddenly at this. "Oh, Madame de Rosemont has been good enough to invite us to stay at the château! Won't you please give us our warmest regards?"

            "I will make a point of it, Madame," Valmont answered smoothly, returning his eyes to Cecile's chest.

            This is too perfect! the Marquise thought.

            Madame de Valanges could no longer contain her irritation. "I think it's time we brought you home."

            Cecile's eyes darted this way and that as she sensed finally the Vicomte's scrutiny. "I'm used to being in bed by nine at the convent."

            "So I should hope," Valmont quipped, every bit as pleased with the girl as his friend had hoped he would be. He felt the Marquise's eyes upon him as she showed her guests out of the door, leaving them alone finally.

            As Valmont sat, she swayed across the room towards him, laughing heartily. An heroic enterprise, using Mademoiselle de Valanges, was most definitely in order. The one thing left to do was obtain her companion's expert contribution.

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Cecile went to her bedchamber that evening knowing that some change had taken place in her life – and that an even more important one would take place soon. Since she had been plucked from the order and simplicity of the convent and flung so carelessly into the intricacies of Parisian society, she had felt as a fish out of water. That morning had made things a million times more complicated.

            Perhaps it was the way the Marquise de Merteuil had looked in her direction, her voice and actions kind and motherly but her eyes telling quite a different story. Almost as if she were planning something for her.

            And then the Vicomte de Valmont. As silly as it was, the sight of a man staring so freely at her left her terrified, so unused to such attention was she. The only men she had encountered in the convent had been priests. Gentleman in society seemed to take liberties with women even with their eyes, before all the other things she had heard whispered about and hinted at even happened…those things that made her blush even as she knew next to nothing about them.

            Sliding into her bed and pulling her nightgown down to her ankles, she found herself unable to erase the image of Valmont's lascivious stare from her mind. Even she could recognise his handsomeness and the lustful promises carried in his posture, yet she cursed herself for it. He was even more brazen than most men who looked at her that way. So why could she not force herself to forget him?

            The Marquise seemed to be an upstanding woman, and she obviously treated him as a friend. It was all too confusing. He had looked at her, Cecile acknowledged again, as she had willed him with all her heart to stop. She could not speak to her mother of her fears…or were they even fears? She was suddenly horrified, and at the same time perversely fascinated, as she felt heat tingling over every inch of her skin.

            She smiled, curling further down beneath the sheets. These feelings were wicked, and yet exciting. Society might not prove so frightening to her if perhaps she allowed herself these thoughts, just once in a while.