For as long as she could remember, the Marquise had been lonely.
There was never anyone as clever as her. There was never anyone as curious as her. There was never anyone as passionate and full of life as her.
And so there was never anyone as angry, frustrated, and bitter.
Once she learned she was to be a Marquise, she found herself well pleased with her marriage. After she had been married for two days, the young Marquise found that her title suited her better than her husband.
The days in between her wedding night and the morning of the Marquis de Merteuil's funeral were a part of a time that she preferred not to remember. It was only in the hours in between the final breath of a lover's lapse into unconsciousness and the first shaft of light on the floor of her bedroom that the Marquise would find herself unable to think of anything else. Trapped between memories of slaps and reprimands ever so tentatively she would lay her hand on the chest of the sleeping man. It did not make the shadows go away, but it kept her rooted firmly in the present: in what was hers now only.
She never fell asleep before a lover, as a rule.
The Marquise had of course heard of the Vicomte de Valmont long before she met him, as well as his way with women. There came a point where he came up so often in conversation that his very name drove her to irritation.
Then she caught herself and realized that the emotion she was experiencing was in fact jealousy. She knew that even if she were to have as many men as the Vicomte had reportedly had women, the world could never know-- and should it know, she would be scorned rather than praised.
As it appeared the man was unlikely to go away, the Marquise determined to make him a notch on her bedpost for her own personal satisfaction.
This was all, of course, before she met him. That was a night she never wanted to forget.
He was handsome from afar, of course, she had guessed that much. But she was not really impressed until he met her eyes after kissing her hand. There was a spark behind those eyes that was like nothing she had ever seen before.
The Marquise disguised her surprise quickly, and fell into the usual routine of inane chatter and subtle gestures. Valmont met her step for step, and she understood that she had found herself an excellent sparring partner.
However, it did not do to be too easily conquered, and so she bid him a perfectly respectable good night.
Two days later she received an ardent letter from the Vicomte, and nearly burst out laughing. Men, she supposed, could afford to be so sloppy, but as she informed him a month later in bed, had she been who he assumed she was, the letter would have produced no effect whatsoever.
At that, a lazy smile spread over Valmont's face. "Ah," he replied, "but you are assuming that I believed you were who you professed to be."
Not a sparring partner, she realized, but an equal. That spark in his eyes had been the recognition of a kindred spirit.
She found herself almost relaxed in his arms. It was an experience that was completely new to her, and she marveled at it. Valmont, she determined, was not quite so clever as she, but curious, yes. Full of life, oh yes, and boundless stores of creativity.
"I don't believe I shall ever meet another woman like you," Valmont murmured into her ear one night as they lay tangled together.
In response she arched her head towards him. "How many women have you told that to?"
He chuckled, and she felt the vibration in his chest. "Not nearly enough."
Somehow, it didn't matter.
She should have been afraid when she woke in the morning and realized she had drifted off to sleep while he was running his fingers over her hip. She should have constructed an immediate plan to drive him away for her own safety.
Intellectually she was aware of this, but the Marquise could only feel a peculiar serenity. To rest her hand on an indent in her sheets and know he had lain there-- sprawled really, he was hardly elegant once his feet left the ground-- it warmed her, somehow.
Valmont, she realized, kept the night terrors away. He was everything she might have yearned for in a husband. She exerted complete control over him, and he was thus incompatible with a time when she had been powerless.
The Marquise could not resist inviting him to her salon publicly. As pleasing as the Vicomte was in affairs private, she found talking with him an even rarer pleasure. He spoke to her as an equal, and promised to keep nothing from her if she would do the same. Of course, she did not think too hard about her own promise, knowing she would lie as soon as it became necessary.
On the other hand, his candidness delighted her. His numbered lists of the charms of his other bed-partners were not nearly as amusing as his summaries of their faults. He even persuaded her to catalogue her own lovers similarly.
Teasingly he asked her once for his own standings.
"As for faults, you flatter shamelessly and repetitively," she replied. "I won't bore you with your better qualities."
"Don't you want to know yours?"
The Marquise raised her eyebrows. "I'm afraid that would require you to break your oath of honesty."
"Not at all." Valmont smiled endearingly at her. "You are my ideal woman."
Her reaction must have conveyed disbelief, for he clasped both of her hands and pulled them to his chest. "Really! I adore you, I worship you."
She smiled, and glanced at the door. "Shall we retire?"
"I thought you'd never ask, darling."