Age of Edward Contest

Your pen name: kisvakondok

Title: Let Joy Reign Supreme

Type of Edward: American Revolutionaryward

If you would like to see all the stories that are a part of this contest visit The Age of Edward 2010 C2 Community.


A/N: I did not plan on entering the contest, this started out as a drabble for my friend's, scarletoctopus's birthday but turned into this and she let me enter. Happy birthday Annie! ILY

First and foremost I want to thank Belle Dean for cheering me on and telling me I don't suck in a convincing way. I 3 her. I also need to thank my marvelous beta storytellerslie and KCerena. And goldenhair2 for helping out with the French.


THIS STORY CONTAINS SUBJECT-MATERIAL THAT MIGHT INSULT THE DEEPLY RELIGIOUS (think Madame Bovary)


Le Havre, Upper Normandy, France

September, 1780

As the Empress of China glided into the port of Le Havre, the grand vessel subtly garnered the onlookers' attention. Though storm weathered, she was still majestic. Two storms tried to chase her and her passengers to a serene, secret sea grave while crossing the Atlantic, but she held her own; she might have been shaken, but broken she was most assuredly not.

The young man standing on the deck, also managed to catch the eye for a while longer than was necessary, especially that of women and some of the more "Greek-tasted" among men. He was not wearing his wig, as would have been proper; in fact, Zephyrus had had an ample amount of time to fashion it to his liking. Not that this dashing young man would've paid half a mind to such ridiculous and ancient deities in connection to any weather related phenomena, much less his hair.

Even despite the indecently laissez-faire state on top of his head, his disheveled clothing and the dark shadows under his storm green eyes, it seemed that his appeal was something that could not be abolished by his blatant disregard for propriety or even that of fashion. Well, at least, not here in Le Havre, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont thought to himself with a wry smile as he saw ladies of different ages gazing at the gentleman. Paris would be a different question, and he most assuredly would not be gazed at in admiration in Versailles.

To be honest, which was something decidedly unsightly in his circles, De Chaumont could have sent someone else to receive the latest attaché of the United States, but he had heard too many besotted anecdotes to be satisfied with anything less than meeting this man in person. More to the point, his pride required that he prove these accounts at least partly false. He also itched to leave behind Versailles and Paris, but now that his absence was nearing to a week, de Chaumont found the countryside painfully dull. All the towns, villages and people he encountered felt like faint imitations of each other: provincial, poor and repulsively unsophisticated. A few miles away from Paris and he felt like he was in a different country.

The man on the vessel, who du Chaumont guessed to be Mr. Cullen, placed a wig on top of his head as the vessel was about to dock, and looked around, spotting de Chaumont's carriage surrounded by his cortège. He seemed to recite a few lines to himself, and then with two more men he descended the ramp, officially stepping onto French soil. De Chaumont reluctantly opened the door of the carriage, which cocooned him from the stench and the filth of the port. He put on his most charming expression as the men approached.

"Monsieur Cullen!" he exclaimed. Mr. Cullen, surprised by his forward manner, put his right hand forward to greet de Chaumont with a smile and a handshake.

"Monsieur de Chaumont, je présume?" When de Chaumont looked into this man's eyes, he knew without doubt that the stories he had heard of Mr. Cullen were all true: he saw the unbridled purity, goodness and naiveté of an honest, decent man. The Frenchman also knew that his goodness was not incorruptible; he had the air of a man who lived a simple, easy life, free of trials, misery and desolation. De Chaumont was a firm believer that without facing darkness and despair, a man's true character was only a product of his upbringing; the genuine inner qualities remained deeply hidden until pain forced them to the surface.

It would not be an overstatement to say that de Chaumont was greatly displeased by the overgrown, inexperienced child sent to further the American cause; a cause so close to his heart that he had spared neither his own personal fortune, nor his own vessels to assist it.

"I am, Mr. Cullen, what a tremendous pleasure indeed to meet you, enfin! Please, let us speak in English. I care not for French, my mind seems to be much sharper when I have to force myself to look for the words."

After the somewhat unorthodox introduction and some hassle with luggage, cargo letter clearances and the like, de Chaumont assured Mr. Cullen that he would personally guarantee the safe transport of his belongings by offering him the opportunity to travel in his carriage. Mr. Cullen accepted.

They spent the first few minutes of the journey with papotage, discussing the weather, the journey and the discomforts one customarily had to endure on such long trips across the ocean.

"I firmly believe the key to bringing mankind together is to improve transport; both that of people, but more importantly, of information," said Mr. Cullen.

"Ah, your country is taking steps in the right direction then. After all, the United States has its own post office. You must feel terribly accomplished." Mr. Cullen felt a hint of patronization in de Chaumont's voice, though the resentment at his person could have easily been missed because of de Chaumont's utterly compelling courteous façade, he felt perhaps it might be better to grab the bull by its horns.

"May I be frank, Monsieur?" Considering the lack of decorum during their introduction, Mr. Cullen felt de Chaumont would overlook this little impertinence.

"I would find it terribly vulgar, but absolutely justified."

"I am conscious that you are not pleased with my person, you probably find me unsuitable and too inexperienced for a position of such key importance, but I assure you, sir, this task did not come to me easily, and I earned it not without merit. I'm well aware why I am here, and though I don't have a deep knowledge of the court and its inner workings, nor did other aspirants – I am a thorough and swift learner. My appearance may deceive you, but I do believe it is something that could very well be of advantage to us and our cause if exploited wisely."

De Chaumont was caught slightly off guard by this man's searing and blatant honesty, and being caught off guard was not something that he was used to. He was not converted on the matter entirely, far from it, but he had to admit to himself that Mr. Cullen probably wouldn't have much difficulty convincing ladies of the importance of the cause, one way or another. A seasoned politician, he knew not to underestimate this most fickle yet fierce and passionate class of shadow rulers, but in all honesty he hadn't given the aspect much thought. Monsieur Franklin was holding his own formidably with the intellectuals; the ladies enjoyed his company too, but he had to admit to himself that Mr. Cullen could present an entirely new angle.

"Forgive me, Monsieur Cullen if that is the impression my dreadful manners have left you with. I am sincere when I tell you that the thought of your inadequacy never crossed my mind; I do trust your country to give adequate consideration to such a decision," he said with a sincere smile. Mr. Cullen understood that de Chaumont would likely not admit finding him lacking, and this was as close to an apology as he would get; at least he knew he had assuaged his fears for the moment. Mr. Cullen also noted, with a hint of pride, how the Frenchman referred to the United States as a country, rather than a colony. He started fingering the pin of the American Flag on his lapel to quell his nerves, though he felt that with de Chaumont he had already won a small victory.

"Ah, what a wonderful pin. Did you bring any more with you? I'm sure we could sell them at the ball to be held in honor of Monsieur Franklin next week; they do like these souvenirs so much!"

"My fiancée gave it to me. I don't have any more, but I did bring small flags for that purpose."

"Ah, a fiancée, merveilleux! Do tell me about her," he urged with a nostalgic smile.

The thought of home and his Rosalie had Mr. Cullen beaming with bliss. "Her name is Rosalie Lillian Hale, I have known her all of my life; she is the daughter of my father's good friend, Thomas Hale." His green eyes danced with happiness. "She is a sight to behold, the most beautiful girl you've ever seen, Monsieur, eyes as blue as the summer sky and golden hair. I hope she will come and visit if I'm required to stay for long."

"It is with great pleasure that I hear of her," de Chaumont said jovially. "But you might be inclined to be less effusive in your praise when you speak of her in the presence of ladies. They might find themselves inconsolable, encountering such a profound and lovely gentleman only to find his heart is safe from their charms." Mr. Cullen understood what Chaumont was saying and he had no intention of presenting himself as a lovesick fool. He certainly wouldn't be above charming ladies, though with some measure of distaste, if it could further the cause; but his heart was taken.

The two day long journey from Le Havre to Paris, apart from exhausting Mr. Cullen even further, both amazed and aghast him. He marveled at the beauty of the countryside; cultivated lands as far as the eye could see, and a great abundance of people. In his homeland, one could travel days on end without meeting a soul. Yet here, there had hardly been a mile during their voyage that they did not encounter another carriage or a group of peasants. The state of these men was appalling, their clothes were soiled, their faces hollow with hunger, and as they neared the capital of the world's mightiest country, their numbers increased and the signs of malnourishment on their faces grew more pronounced.

This was decidedly not how he had imagined it. How could he expect France to fund their war for independence when it so clearly had problems feeding its own people? When they entered Paris, it became worse; crowds of people bustling, shouting expletives at the gilded carriage navigating through narrow streets. He smelled the nauseating stench of the open sewers running down the middle of the road. If it was so deeply revolting within the carriage, he shuddered to think how he'd be able to endure being outside, much less having to live here.

De Chaumont seemed blissfully unaware as he held a delicately embroidered handkerchief to his nose and remarked that he customarily liked to pull the curtains when passing this area. Mr. Cullen mutely contemplated whether he could recall a more revolting place he'd encountered during his twenty-five years of existence, when the carriage stopped to be admitted through the wrought iron gates into the Jardin des Tuileries.

He was thoroughly astounded, not only by the sharp contrast to the outside, but also by the utter, unparalleled opulence that greeted him. A lovely, intricate park, a perfectly manicured lawn with colorful flowers artfully planted in geometric patterns, perfectly sculpted marble statues and lavish fountains. People dressed in sumptuous clothing in vibrant, lively colors ambling around, flying kites and having picnics without a care in the world.

"Welcome to Paris, Monsieur Cullen," said de Chaumont with a self-satisfied smirk, snapping Mr. Cullen out of his reverie.

They soon arrived to what de Chaumont referred to as his "humble abode," a rather immense and lavish mansion near the Tuileries. A mansion he had graciously offered to Monsieur Benjamin Franklin when he'd first arrived, but which Mr. Franklin refused in favor of another one of his "humble abodes" just outside of Paris, in Passy. As de Chaumont led him around the magnificent, baroque residence, he explained that he understood Monsieur Franklin's preference for the suburban setting, but that he believed that Mr. Cullen, being of a more vigorous age, could most certainly find pleasure in residing here.

Then, quite unexpectedly to Mr. Cullen, they stumbled upon Mr. Franklin in the library. He was dressed simply, almost obscenely so compared to the other people he'd seen in the park. He had binoculars on and a strange furry hat on top of his head, Mr. Cullen observed as he merrily got up from his armchair next to the window to greet his fellow countryman with a handshake.

"Edward, my boy, how nice to finally meet again," he said, enveloping Edward in his warm, fatherly embrace. They exchanged a few pleasantries with de Chaumont, who conveniently had important business to attend to. After he excused himself, they talked of more serious matters, discussing the state of the war and the latest victories of the French fleet against the British. They had to admit their prospects were looking quite bright, more so then they could've ever dared to hope in the beginning, but they both knew that victory had not been earned yet, and that without the help of French militia and funding their chances would be considerably thinner.

"It is of paramount importance that we make sure the French keep supporting us, Edward," said Mr. Franklin, sitting back into the armchair. "I know many think by relying on their support so heavily we are only trading the chains of Great Britain for those of France, and some go as far as to state those of Great Britain suit us better, but trust me Edward when I say, that there are no chains that suit us anymore. The King considers the United States a country, not a mere colony. Indebted to France we may be after the war is over, but at least we shall be indebted as a country, not a colony."

"I find myself inclined to believe the same thing. Bright as the prospects of independence may be, now is not the time to be overconfident," Edward said with a grave look on his face.

"So astute, my boy," said Mr. Franklin with a smile. "I keep calling you by your Christian name as if you were a child, yet here you are, in France, sent here on a mission to charm fortune from the world's greatest monarch, to support our cause. Your father should be proud."

"Oh, but he is. He wasn't overly eager to have me cross the Atlantic and be given such a great responsibility, but this is a cause worth risking everything for in my mind, and in his too. He understands and supports me. My mother is another matter entirely," admitted Edward with a smirk on his lips.

"I received the good Mrs. Cullen's letter," Mr. Franklin chuckled. "She was not keen on you being taken away from her just before your marriage, I hear. Well, nonetheless, congratulations are in order. Freshen yourself, you're coming with me to Passy, I have organized a little soirée in your honor." Mr. Cullen felt quite exhausted and when Mr. Franklin saw that he was about to decline he insisted. "It is imperative you attend, for I'm not sure how you'd fare if you were to be thrust amongst these people the first time Louis requests your presence in Versailles. You shall not be overwhelmed," he said with humor in his voice.

Mr. Cullen was made to change clothes twice, awkwardly declining de Chaumont's footmens' offer to help him dress on both occasions; at first he put on his most elegant attire, but Mr. Franklin explained that the French preferred to see Americans as rustics, hence his plain attire and fur hat. He insisted Mr. Cullen do the same. When he forgot to put on his wig he demanded it to be left that way. Mr. Cullen obliged.

The ride to Passy was not unlike the ride from Le Havre to Paris, but he had to admit that Passy was indeed a quaint little suburb, although not quite as lavish as the Tuileries. Mr. Franklin's mansion was much simpler than the residence de Chaumont so graciously provided him with in Paris, though it would still be considered rather ostentatious by American standards.

"I suggest you take a nap, Edward. It will be a while until our guests appear since being on time has been deemed unfashionable by the powers that be. You're looking rather fatigued, boy." Edward didn't even pretend to contemplate turning down the offer, and as soon as his head hit the pillows, he succumbed to his dreams, sleeping in a real bed for the first time since leaving America months before.

Later, even after waking fully, Edward's mind was still foggy with sleep and he rubbed his eyes in an effort to rid himself of his weariness. It was almost dark outside and he wasn't sure where he could make himself presentable. As a rule, his hair was even more unkempt than customary after sleep, and he wasn't sure how Mr. Franklin's acquaintances would react to his lack of wig, let alone having such a disheveled mess on top of his head. He decided to find a place where he could remedy his situation before venturing into company.

He walked along the corridor, but his memories of the layout were unclear. He was reluctant to open closed doors, but he hoped he'd find a washroom somewhere on this floor. As he neared the stairs, he heard a faint humming noise; a woman's voice sweetly swirling around him. The tune was something remotely familiar, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He thought it might be a servant doing some kind of chores, and hoped she would be amenable to helping him out. As he neared the door of the room he realized that it must have been the study, but what he saw inside was something he was completely unprepared for.

There, seated in an armchair, sat a young girl in a white undershirt, her brown hair gently flowing down onto her shoulders, partly obscuring them. Edward gazed at her profile. She absently rested her chin on a ripe green apple grasped in her left hand, and was thoroughly immersed in the book she held in her right. He didn't know how much time had passed while he stood, staring at the unsuspecting maiden, but his mind seemed to rouse from being so utterly transfixed as she slowly lifted the apple to her mouth and bit into it. The juice flowed down her chin until she wiped it with her sleeve, never taking her eyes off the book. When her moist tongue slid out from behind her pink pouty lips to savor the remnant of the taste, Edward must have made some kind of noise because she stirred with an alarmed look in her eye, not unlike that of a doe poised to run for her life. As her eyes landed upon Edward, a faint blush appeared on her cheeks that grew more pronounced until it overtook most of her face, when she cast down her eyes timidly.

All of this had taken a second, probably even less, during which something inexplicable happened to Edward. The feeling that overcame him was uncontainable, agonizingly foreign and irresistibly overwhelming. This was not like his adolescent infatuations, his idealistic daydreams of love, nothing like the sensible and familiar devotion he had for his Rosalie, nor like his lust filled fantasies of girls he'd only caught arousing glimpses of in passing. All these emotions were rendered pathetically faint, laughably forged and somehow absurdly meaningless. This sensation reduced him to something foreign and primal; he didn't merely want this girl; he needed her, more than his next lungful of air, more than he needed the skin that bound him together, sealing the flesh to his bones. He wanted to possess her, to own her; to never let another man ever set eyes on her again, to take her away to a place where the rest of the world would cease to exist, until they faded into one person.

The only visible reaction to his inner turmoil was the flaring of his nostrils and the darkening of his eyes. The maiden pretended to go back to reading the book, though her heart fluttered in her chest like the wings of a bird trapped in a cage for the first time. After it became obvious that the handsome intruder would not leave, still flushed, she spoke, without sparing him a second glance. "Apportez-moi du vin," she said, pointing to a glass, trying desperately to keep her tone even, but faltering at the end. The impertinent man did not move. "Êtes-vous sourd?" she asked in an annoyed tone that, paired with her mannerisms, implied that she thought Edward to be a servant of some sort, "apportez-moi du vin!"

Edward tried to rein in the absolutely preposterous impulses that had him thinking that he was most assuredly going mad, as he tried to explain his situation. Perhaps the journey really had taken its toll on him too much to be able to face polite company until he was properly rested. "Je suis désolé, Mademoiselle, j'ai pensé…"

The girl gasped and her hand flew to her mouth, her eyes getting round again. Edward was still waiting, in vain, for the overwhelming feeling to pass. His eyes had yet to leave her since they'd caught sight of her. "Mon Dieu! I'm so terribly sorry, Monsieur Cullen, what must you think of me?" she exclaimed with a faint accent. Her blush intensified as she tried to cross her arms across her chest. "It's just that, have you ever tried reading Virgil in a corset?" The question took Edward off guard, but despite his surprise his eyes kept smoldering at her.

"I can't say I have, Mademoiselle."

"I would strongly advise you against it, Monsieur," she said with a mischievous grin. Now that he looked more deeply into her eyes, Edward didn't feel like this undoubtedly dangerous creature was as young as he'd previously assumed her to be. Her eyes held some sort of ancient sadness that made her seem much older than her physical age. "Though Monsieur Franklin never had the displeasure either, he's accommodating enough to let me use his study for such purposes every once in a while. I hope you'll be able to keep this our little secret, but some writers even give him manuscripts to read before publishing them. He keeps them there." She pointed to a shelf behind Edward.

They didn't say anything after that, and while she tried to avert her attention to anywhere but him, Edward was still entranced by her. His mind was telling him that he needed to leave this room, to run away as fast as he could until he found himself again and could erase her face from his mind. Yet, he was afraid that it was too late; that he would remember her forever; and something stronger than his will forced him to stay as the silence stretched between them.

"Could you… I hope I'm not burdening you too heavily when I ask you to fetch me my maid, Gabrielle? You would have me in your debt for life, Monsieur," she crooned, looking up at him from under her lashes. The sudden change in demeanor from that of a playful girl to a self-assured temptress left Edward somewhat confused.

He ambled out of the room with a strange kind of intoxication weighing on his mind, and slowly descended the steps to find Mr. Franklin in the salon intently reading a letter. Edward's thoughts were filled with the girl he had just left, and he didn't realize he had muttered aloud until Mr. Franklin responded.

"Oh, you must have met the duchess. I'm deeply sorry I didn't warn you, but to be honest I wasn't sure she'd attend."

"Well, she was in your study… rather… under-dressed."

"She is a bright young mind, but by her own admission, can't stand to read while wearing a corset. Though I never had the displeasure of having to wear one, I imagine it must not be too pleasant."

"It is extremely improper for a young maiden of her standing to be reading such… lewd… literature, while being so indecent… in a stranger's home." Edward couldn't believe that this girl had got him not only to voice his disagreement with his superior, but to give him what could almost be considered a chastisement.

Mr. Franklin just smiled with good humor. "Dear boy, if I were you, I'd not pay much mind to the duchess' impropriety. I'd say by the second marriage women have earned their right to some measure of indecency."

"She's married?" Edward asked, appalled. A tenseness spread over him as a heavy, painful feeling settled in the pit of his stomach.

"Very well in fact, though it's hardly been a year since her second marriage. The duchess has quite the colorful history despite her young age," he said with a disapproving tinge in his voice, which Edward sensed was not directed at the duchess. "I shall admit that I have come to enjoy some of the locals' customs, a relentless penchant for gossip being one of them, but I'm afraid in this case, you'll not be hearing anything from me, son." He felt awful but at the same time, deep down he knew that he'd not rest until he gathered all the information he could.

Soon, people started arriving. Some stumbling, and some gracefully stepping out of their opulent carriages, bringing with them the lush air of perfumes and champagne, and filling the house with zealous laughter, keen conversation, and meaningful looks that they knew others would catch. The men all wore rice-powdered wigs and pants that ended just below their knees. The women were dressed in very elaborate, lavish dresses, with wide crinoline stretching under the embroidered silk. Their limbs, hair and necks were adorned with shining jewels which caught and recast an occasional ray of moonlight. Their complexions were all masterfully decorated; in these night-time lights they all looked like pretty porcelain dolls that by some magic came to life.

Everyone approached Mr. Franklin with veneration and awe. Despite his simple manner and the obvious plainness of his attire, it seemed that he was deeply respected by these people. They received Edward with keen interest, the women flashing coy smiles at him as he leaned down to lay a kiss upon their hands. They asked him about his impressions of France and Paris. Edward had the sense that they seemed to take everything he said of their city as personally as if he was talking of their child or outfits, so he neglected to voice his more unfavorable observations. Several of them were also eager to know of his home country, many of them considered the United States to be a forward country, and something of a utopian society where all men were equal with no monarch to look over them. The notion that they would entrust common folk with running a country was considered rather optimistic at best; ridiculously absurd at worst. They were fascinated, though most only to the point of considering it a splendidly exciting social experiment.

"Even if it were a successful venture, Monsieur Cullen," said a heavily accented, slightly pudgy man with sly eyes whose name Edward couldn't recall, but suspected it began with G. "Supposing people wouldn't end up in chaos without a ruler approved by God, France is not ready for such societé for… 'ow to say…"

"I believe the Monsieur Guillotine thinks it would take us centuries to be able to catch up to fair America." The mischievous voice, laced with irony, came from behind Edward, but he didn't need to turn to know that voice, it would probably be burned into his mind forever. She had a white wig on, like the rest, an artificially paled complexion with blush artfully applied to her cheeks. She stood in a lavish cream colored gown, and Edward couldn't help but notice the rather visible effect the fervently abhorred corset had on her bosom, lifting it up in a way that begged his attention, and, as he noted in extreme irritation, other men's too.

"Mr. Cullen, may I present Madame Isabelle Marie de Choiseul, Duchess de Lorraine," said the pudgy man, who smiled repulsively sweetly at her while bowing slightly.

Isabelle.

He was almost tempted to voice her name out loud, let it roll around on his tongue. It fit her perfectly, though he wasn't sure why.

"And, beloved Duchess, may I 'ave ze 'onor of introducing Monsieur Edward Anthony Cullen, second commissioner of ze United States to France."

"Tout le plaisir est pour moi, Monsieur Cullen." She smiled coyly, extending her hand for a kiss. "I'm delighted indeed. Mr. Franklin has spoken so highly of you, I feel as though we'd already met," she said, batting her lashes innocently. When his calloused hand touched her delicate one, his heart faltered and then started pounding violently. It was a rather unpleasant sensation, yet he wouldn't let go of her for the world. He leaned down and lifted her hand to his mouth without averting his eyes from hers. Just before his mouth touched her supple skin he drew in a sharp breath. He thought he heard her breath stutter slightly too. Hands as soft and smooth as silk, he thought, delighting at the connection. When his lips left her skin, and he realized the impropriety of his thoughts, he dropped her hand as if it burnt him like a brand.

"Yes, well," he finally managed to utter. "I can't say he extended the same courtesy to me, Madame."

"Well, no, of course," she said with a fake earnest expression. "I'm dreadfully boring, Monsieur," she declared with a smile that said she was anything but.

"Monsieur Cullen and I were just discussing 'ow France is not ready to become une république, n'est-ce pas?" said Guillotine, who insisted on speaking in English despite his faulty vocabulary and his tendency to switch to French whenever he got aggravated by his inability to express his thoughts adequately.

"I believe the esteemed Guillotine thinks we are naively optimistic in removing God from government and putting our trust in our fellow countrymen," Edward said, hiding his irritation with a smile.

"Mais non, Monsieur, eye was jus saying, democracies tend to end in chaos. But then again, perhaps Americans temperament is better suited for it than Greek or French."

"Dear Guillotine, after creating the world in seven days, and giving his only son to die for our sins, maybe it is too much to ask of God to get involved in running France too," said Isabelle with a teasing edge.

"Le système républicain est une possibilité in ze new world, but France would never accept a ruler not endorsed by God."

Mr. Franklin chose that moment to insert himself into the conversation. "My dear friend, Joseph, I know that scientists are not supposed to be men of great faith, but have at least a little in your countrymen. Surely not in a decade, but maybe in a century France will be ready to place some more power into the hands of the men who comprise it. Duchess, it's a pleasure, as always," he said, laying a quick kiss on the back of her palm. "I know it must be terrible for you, spending the evening here with the most fierce supporters of the war for independence." The tone of his voice was joking, and he proceeded to turn to Edward in a mock conspiratorial manner. "The duchess is not so keen on France funding our war; she thinks France can't afford it. That is a very particularly oxymoronic claim coming from someone who's part of the queen's inner circle. Marie Antoinette's spending habits would lead us to believe France can afford anything."

"Mr. Franklin, I am deeply alarmed that you'd base your assumptions of France's financial stability on the queen's shoe-purchases," Isabelle uttered, faux shock taking over her features as Mr. Franklin laughed good naturedly at her teasing. "Monsieur, I'm not against America's independence. Au contraire, I find the prospect of an emerging democracy as fascinating as any sentimental soft hearted romantic. We both know that the noble intent of funding this war – establishing a country where all men are truly equal, and everyone has power over their own destiny – is just a self-indulgent cover for the king and his advisors' petty attempt at getting back at England. Their pride cannot bear the defeat from a country where the king isn't even master of his own subjects. It is somewhat ironic that they'd align themselves with a kingless country to get back at them."

"Isa-," Edward caught himself before he could address her in such an informal manner, internally chastising himself. "Madame, may I ask you a question?"

"Nothing would cause me more pleasure, Monsieur," she said with a coquettish smile.

"Suppose there was a young gentleman with a tight allowance, who bypassed a poor starving beggar everyday. Since his own funds are rather scarce, he does not give the beggar money, but saves it for himself. However, other people are not generous either, and a day comes when the beggar is on the brink of death from malnutrition. On this day the gentleman is accompanied on his walk by a lady who he's trying to impress, and to display his generosity he sacrifices the money for his dinner, in effect saving the beggar from starvation.

"Now, his motives were rather impure; he deceived the lady in question to make her think he is generous to a fault, when in fact, he is not. However, he did save a man's life. Would you have him undo his act, and let the beggar die? Would you not agree that even impure motives occasionally lead to good things?" As Isabelle listened, her eyes sparkled and an amused expression appeared on her face. When he presented his case, her smile widened and she raised her hands and clapped. By then a number of guests had gathered around them to listen in on their conversation.

"Most impressive, Monsieur," she said. "Would you propose then, that the poor beggar, America, has much more to lose than France, the deceitful?"

"This was not an analogy, Madame," Edward retorted. "Merely my attempt to prove that it isn't the motive that matters; the things we accomplish are not judged on the intent we had in mind, but the result. Your king shall not be judged on what he planned to achieve as a king; he shall be remembered by what he actually accomplished. I'd pick a man who'd done good deeds, even if not always with the best intent in mind, over an idle idealist with good intentions who'd never done anything." After Edward's invigorating speech, Guillotine proposed a toast to him. Which, of course, was followed by several others, and the chatter continued with more laughter.

Edward couldn't help himself, and his eyes shifted back at Isabelle every few seconds as she talked to more people. He watched as she walked up to Mr. Franklin to bid him goodnight, in all probability as he kissed her hand, before she turned and walked to the door. In that moment he lost all sense of decorum, and the thought of not knowing when, if ever, he'd be able to see her again had him following her out the door. When he reached her in the hall, she stopped, standing with her back to him.

"Monsieur Cullen," she said with a smile in her voice. "Unless you turn around and go back to the salon, you're going to get hurt."

"What?" he asked in utter puzzlement. Then he tried to come up with a feasible reason for following her. "I'd like to apologize for letting our argument get a little out of hand, I hope you're not resentful. I do apologize if I insulted you."

"Oh no, quite the contrary. I was flattered you considered me worthy of an argument." She turned with a smile on her face.

"Very much so." Silence settled between them, during which Edward desperately tried to look away from her breasts, and wracked his mind for something he could say. "So, you're leaving already?" was the brilliant thing he came up with. Isabelle just nodded, biting her lip coyly. "And, ehm… when will you, I mean, will you be visiting Mr. Franklin soon?" he asked, finally.

"Well, I'm not certain, maybe next week."

"Oh, well, it was my pleasure, Madame." He smiled to hide his disappointment and reached for her hand. Bringing it to his lips, he kissed it, bitterly thinking it might be a very long time until he'd be able to repeat this action.

"Farewell, Mr. Cullen."

"Farewell, Isa-, I mean, Duchess," he said awkwardly. He turned around, quietly muttering about what a fool he had made of himself, and contemplating the quickest way to complete intoxication, when he heard her.

"Mr. Franklin told me you live by the Tuileries," she said conversationally.

He turned around in an instant. "Well, yes."

"It is a beautiful place, don't you think? I love to take walks with my daughter there in the afternoons," she said, turning around and leaving him standing there in the hall. A daughter?

The evening passed in a blur of faces and discussions that Edward had difficulty recalling. He usually wasn't one for petty gossip, but he was aching for anything he could learn about Isabelle – the Duchess, he corrected himself, not wanting to make a fool out of himself yet again if they were to meet. Of course, asking anyone about her directly was out of the question; that would be most unwise. He knew that the best source of secrets and gossips did not lay with the ladies present anyway, but the servants.

Later that night, after arriving back to Paris and retiring to his quarters, he encountered a maid, about fifty years of age, removing the bed warmer from under his covers. He engaged her in casual conversation, approaching the issue in a roundabout way, and asking randomly about the guests. He knew that giving himself away in her presence would spread like wildfire. At least he had a use for his French for the first time since he arrived. Danielle, the maid, enjoyed the attention immensely, and opened up to Edward slowly, delighting in her position of knowledge, but not to the point of being obnoxious. Finally, he asked about the lady who left early, hoping that Danielle would not need strong encouragement to tell him everything she knew about her.

"Ah, the duchess, you mean. You know, Monsieur, I'm not one for gossip, I swear on the Virgin's heart. But she is such a tragically fated girl, though a skillful one, I must say. Not the worst combination. You see, she was rough as a peasant when she came to Paris from Provence, penniless and widowed with a child at seventeen. Madame de Taggart told me she could hardly read, was graceless, and her manner left much to be desired. She was made to marry her cousin at fourteen because of her family's dire need for money, but of course, when her husband died she inherited nothing. You see, it seems her curse is her inability to produce a male heir."

"Marry her cousin? At fourteen?" he asked, appalled.

"Well, marrying a cousin is only possible if his holiness, the bishop, sees it fit. But it's fairly common for noblemen. Who knows how, but the duchess came to live in Paris with the Comtesse de Boisfaily who used to be intimately acquainted with Louis XV. You see, they say the Comtesse took her as a lover in the beginning. She presented her in court and educated her in many ways. If you know what I mean, Monsieur," Danielle said with a disapproving tinge to her voice. Edward wondered exactly how it would be possible for a woman to take a female-lover or if he'd misunderstood. "Well, then she seduced the duke. The duchess was his mistress for two years before she managed to convince him to marry her.

"You see, she just had a miscarriage. From what I hear, it displeased the duke greatly. He already had to disown his only son during the seven years war; so he needs the duchess to birth a boy soon. He's over sixty five, you see."

"Well, that is… rather appalling," Edward said, his mind trying to cope with the information.

"Ah, that is nothing compared to the Duchess of Savoy. You see…" But he hardly listened to the rest, only nodding and humming appropriately. He was tired, and hhhe soon bid Danielle good-night.

Despite the weariness weighing on him, he spent the night wondering if he should meet her, even though he knew his mind was already made up.

By midday he was out in the park of the Tuileries, writing in his journal and observing people. He tried to convince himself that he just came out to escape the unpleasant atmosphere of de Chaumont's "humble abode", swarming with servants watching him, trying to anticipate his every need, and that he wasn't here hoping for an encounter. His sweaty palms and bouncing leg told a different story though.

A few hours later he did spot her, standing next to the fountain. She was peeking into it and pointing out something in the water to the fair-haired child beside her. That must be her daughter, he thought. Isabelle wasn't wearing a wig, but had her hair styled from her own luscious brown locks. Her dress was simpler too, though it would still be considered rather ostentatious in his home country; it hugged her upper torso so tightly, and revealed so much of her décolletage. They were accompanied by another woman, one that he couldn't recall meeting before, so he kept his distance, and observed her playing with her daughter. It was charming really; she behaved as if she were another child, not a mother.

When Isabelle finally spotted him, a slow smile spread across her face and she started leisurely walking towards him.

"Monsieur Cullen, what a pleasant surprise," She curtsied and extended her hand to Edward who promptly stood to greet her, dropping his journal in the process.

"Duchess de Lorraine," Edward said, kissing her hand.

"May I introduce my daughter, Marie Janette de Bernis?" she asked, pulling the timid child in front of her. "Marie, what are you supposed to do?" Marie looked up at her mother shyly then at him, before stepping ahead a little and performing a flawless curtsy.

"Tout le plaisir est pour moi," she said earnestly, then promptly looked back at her mother proudly. "Puis-je aller à Versailles maintenant?"

"Now, Marie, I'm sure Monsieur Cullen would appreciate if you spoke in his mother-tongue," Isabelle smiled down at her.

"What do I say in English, maman?" she peeked at Edward then looked back at her mother.

Edward kneeled down and smiled at Marie. "Why don't you just call me Edward? We usually greet each other by asking 'How do you do?'" Marie looked back at her mother before smiling at him and performing another curtsy.

"'ow do you do, Monsieur Edward?" she asked, beaming at Edward. "Did I do it right, maman?" Isabelle leaned down and planted a kiss on her cheek, and Edward couldn't help but notice the advantageous view it afforded of Isabelle's bosom.

"You were marvelous, Marie."

"Can I go to Versailles with you now?" she asked.

"I told you, mon coeur, when you're older," Isabelle said, straightening up.

"But I want to! Please, maman, I promise I'll be good," she said, her eyes tearing up as she clung to her mother's skirt.

"It'll be fine, we'll get you another puppy, Marie. Don't be difficult. Annette!" As soon as she uttered her name, the accompanying woman appeared. Isabelle instructed her to take Marie home, revealing that apparently Edward had promised to show her de Chaumont's library.

"Please don't leave yet, maman," cried Marie from Annette's arms.

"I won't, Marie. I'll be home for the evening. Shall we, Monsieur?" she asked, linking her arm into Edward's.

"You promise?" Marie asked, hiccupping.

"Yes," Isabelle said without turning to face her daughter.

As they walked towards the mansion, all Edward could concentrate on was the warmth where her body touched his. He knew he should be discouraged by meeting her daughter, but he wasn't.

"Marie seems like a delightful child," Edward remarked.

"She is. I seldom get to see her, that's why she's so needy at times like these. Versailles is not a good place to raise a child," she said with melancholy in her voice.

They walked in complete silence the rest of the way. Edward tried to find some topic of conversation, but it seemed futile. His savage desire never left him, yet he restrained himself – barely. He feared that if she kept touching his hand, he would lose all sense of decorum and do something to disgrace himself, or scare Isabelle away for good.

When they arrived at the house, he ushered her in and took her to the library. He reluctantly let go of her arm, and continued to fight the urge to keep touching her.

"Well, I can't say I know this place too well, de Chaumont only showed me in passing, but…" he said while fingering a book left open on the desk. She watched him with a smile as she bit her lips impishly.

"Such honest eyes," she said, sashaying up to him. Edward's heart was beating out of his chest and his hands balled into fists. She came close, so close he caught a hint of her scent, wafting up his nostrils, burning its way up as it went. He couldn't identify it, couldn't decide if it was floral or maybe like the apple orchard in September. It blurred his thoughts together like colors of melting paint, and shattered his resolve like crystal on marble tiles. There was only her and his raw need to take her. The moment her hand reached up to caress his face, he kissed her with a passion that bordered on savage violence. Grasping her around the hips, he pulled her into him as though he wanted to fuse their bodies together.

She returned the kiss with wild fervor, grasping his hair in her dainty little hands, her body molding into his like warm wax. His hand found its way to her breasts – those temptresses that teased him and left him sleepless all night; he couldn't help but delight at the way their weight felt in his hands. Encouraged by her sighs, he palmed them roughly as she kissed and nibbled on the skin of his neck to stifle her sounds of pleasure. They both began to fumble with the constricting ties of her dress, before Edward succumbed to his aggravation and arousal, and simply tore at the precious fabric until it gave way. She let it fall to the floor and bunched the remaining petticoats up over her waist as she leaned over the desk onto her elbows. She looked back at him, her expression a daring challenge, but pleading with him at the same time. He undid his breeches, tearing his shirt out of them, moving it out of the way.

He entered her swiftly, in one stroke, and delighted in her surprised gasp. She wasn't the tightest he'd ever felt, but it was incomparable; the moment he was fully within her, he felt like his heart was about to burst out from his chest. He started to move, driven by his savage instinct to claim her. He'd never taken a woman this way, and he never thought he would, but here he was now, leaning down on top of her, burying his face in her neck, breathing in her maddeningly potent scent, and listening to her helpless sounds of pleasure as the table rattled with each thrust.

The end found him so powerfully, and he held onto her so desperately, almost violently, that he feared that he might have lost his mind, he feared that this woman might be the devil and had just taken away with his soul with his release.

He lay there, panting, thoroughly repulsed by what he'd done, but not regretting it.

After what felt like a small eternity, he straightened up. Unexpectedly, the deeply ingrained inclination to be polite resurfaced, though obviously he had some serious deficiencies to make up for in that regard. He tried to think of something to say as Isabelle straightened up, but with her his mind was unsurprisingly blank.

"Duchess, I…" he said awkwardly, but she put her finger on his lips and smiled at him.

"Don't spoil it," A small giggle escaped her lips. "And you may call me Bella when we're not in public. May I call you Edward?" she asked with open, bright eyes. He nodded, puckering his lips slightly to her finger.

"Bella," he said, tasting the name on his tongue, his hands caressing her face. "I… find… I'd never thought I'd-"

"Do you regret it?" she asked, smiling, her voice warm, like she knew he couldn't possibly.

He didn't reply, just started kissing her. He claimed her three more times that afternoon, lastly in front of the fireplace, on the rug made out of a skinned tiger. His eyes flickered to the blazing flames while he was inside of her, and he couldn't help but fear them like never before, and buried his head into her shoulder as if she could shield him somehow.

He held onto her tightly, basking in the warmth of her body and the flames, his exhaustion chasing him into slumber.

When he came to it was cold; the fire had died down and he was alone. He looked around, but he couldn't find Bella. He got up and got dressed swiftly, wondering where she could be. He was met outside by one of the servants, who told him with a sly smile that the duchess had urgent matters to attend to, and did not have the heart to wake him from his slumber in the armchair by the fire with his book. He then left Edward.

He was rather unnerved by the fact that the servant seemed to be aware of the nature of their activities. Also, he felt exceedingly ashamed by his betrayal of his Rosalie. His feelings of disgust and disappointment at himself left him feeling nauseous. He'd only ever engaged in such lewd activities with two women, women who took money for their services, but he stopped visiting houses of ill repute as soon as his engagement to Rosalie was finalized. Now he felt despicable to the core.

What he felt most mortified about, however, was how the heaviest concern weighing on his mind was still about Bella. About how she seemed experienced and unashamed, about how easy it was to her to offer her body to him, about how glaringly obvious it was that this wasn't her first affair.

When he went back to the scene of his crime, the library, he caught a hint of her scent and his traitorous arousal came back to life again. He rubbed his face roughly in frustration. He looked back at the rug and he saw a book lying on it; she must have been reading it while he was asleep. Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

He spent the next two days brooding, promising himself that he'd never again do such a thing. He was utterly appalled and revolted by the book the Duchess left behind. No wonder she turned out this way, he thought to himself bitterly. He tried not to think of what she might be doing, lest he go insane with jealousy. He couldn't help but think that she might be sitting in her boudoir with someone like Valmont, laughing at his naïveté.

Three days after their rendezvous, Mr. Franklin sent him a letter, informing him that the King requested his presence in Versailles in two days, and Edward would be introduced in court officially then. Edward took the news with indifference, already being quite disillusioned with the court without ever being introduced to it. He reminded himself that he was here to convince these people of the importance of liberating America from the Brits, and that he was quite adept at that. It was what he was sent here for, after all.

He was undoubtedly unprepared for the opulence of Versailles; nothing he had ever seen or imagined could outrival its lavishness. The grounds were carefully cultivated into parks miles before it even came into view, and when they finally arrived in front of it, he was awestruck by the colorful, striking grounds, decorated with statues and fountains. Throughout the grounds sumptuously dressed people walked around and there were dozens of luxurious carriages, some with as many as four or six magnificent horses leading them.

The palace itself was enormous, majestic. It was symmetrically adorned with intricately sculpted statues between huge windows. He had to admit, Louis XIV, the Sun King, had built a palace that was a testament to his absolute power and love of extravagant beauty, but, at the same time, Edward thought it was almost arrogant in its utter opulence. Its dimensions and overindulgent sophistication suggested that the king held himself above mere mortals; thought himself more a deity than a King.

While they made their way to the King's quarters, ushered along by de Chaumont, several noblemen and their cortège, Mr. Franklin was greeted by several people. He proudly introduced Edward to all of them as if he were his own son. Everyone greeted Edward with an air of impassiveness, but he could see the curious interest in their eyes.

The King, despite all his divine power and lavish attire, seemed rather ordinary and unpretentious in his manner. He was better informed, and more inquisitive about the state of the war and the news Edward brought, than he'd previously expected.

He was not introduced to the Queen and her court as he'd secretly hoped and feared he might be; Mr. Franklin explained that she was rather dispassionate about the state of the war. They held a marvelous feast in Edward's, and consequently the American cause's, honor, with lengthy speeches given beforehand. Finally, they commenced eating, and Edward was astounded by the amount of food. Entrées, some of them masterfully arranged in aspic, all sorts of meats in various dishes, all served on gilded porcelain plates, or silver platters decorated heavily. What is more, the food was delectable; he ate more than he ever had in his life.

Soon after, the festivities continued outside, with a small orchestra providing jovial background music to desserts and conversation. Edward was in a particularly intense discussion about the British navy's weaknesses, when someone forcefully collided into him, almost knocking him off his feet.

"I do hope you'll apologize for your misstep," sneered the man who collided into him. He was quite imposing; well-built, tall, dark eyed. Edward was shocked by his discourtesy, the way he intentionally caused their collision and addressed him as if he were a mere footman. Edward was a diplomat and he wanted no quarrel, but he didn't want to appear gullible enough to cower back either.

"I would, Monsieur, if only I had made one," he said with a smile, garnering a few laughs from the people around. The man, who was almost half a foot taller, glowered at him.

"I would gladly challenge you to a duel, but your kind has no honor to defend, does it? Coming here, begging France for money like a dog," he said, referring to Edward's lack of nobility. Truth be told, Edward would have preferred a glove to his cheek to the insult hurled at him, and inadvertently his countrymen, but before he could retaliate de Chaumont intervened.

"Now, Jacob, where France spends its money is of no concern to Spain. You are not at home, you'd do well to remember that," he said, with unveiled fury in his voice. "What's more, you have insulted my guest and I demand an apology for him myself, or you shall have to defend your honor from me." Jacob, after someone from his cortège worriedly whispered in his ear, relented and apologized to Edward, spitting the words out like venom.

Of course, the little spectacle had everyone whispering in shocked delight. Edward was rather embarrassed, and tried to remove himself from the center of attention, but frankly, didn't know how he could've avoided the situation

"I see that Monsieur Ennegrecido 'as caught wind of ze news," said a tinkling voice next to him. He looked up and saw another perfectly groomed member of the court in her colorful clothes and rice-powdered wig.

He decided to take the bait. "What news, Marquise?" he asked the woman who he vaguely recalled being introduced to.

"Well, about Duchess de Choiseul's interest in you, of course." Edward was stunned at her forwardness, but didn't show it.

"What would give him that idea?" he asked casually. Taking a sip of champagne from his glass, he heard the woman's tinkling laugh.

"I must warn you, Monsieur Cullen, better people 'ave tried to keep secrets from Paris and failed. Maybe I am mistaken; nevertheless I'm afraid most people seem to believe you have an interest in ze Duchess. And you see, ze Spaniard 'as an 'ard time sharing 'er with ze duke, another distraction from 'im would be most unwelcome, I imagine," said the petite, slender woman.

"The Spaniard is her lover?" he asked, the rage in his voice barely concealed as he thought of another man's skin on her skin, claiming her like he did. His inner rage would've scared him, were he able to think rationally.

"Well, from what I 'eard, the duke was unable to make 'er conceive, then she met ze Spaniard…" she trailed off, looking at Edward through her lashes with a smile. "Though, I'm sure it's just a silly rumeur, n'est-ce pas? Like your interest in 'er," she said sardonically. Edward took another glass of champagne from a footman passing them by with a silver tray, involuntarily grinding his jaw in aggravation. "It is rather fortunate that you're not interested in ze Duchess, Mr. Cullen. She would be a very bad influence on you."

"Well, yes, fortunate indeed," he muttered.

She leaned closer to him and spoke into his ear softly. "I feel so sorry, Monsieur, that you've been so utterly mislead. Is there any way I can console you?" she asked.

Edward was utterly revolted, at first he thought it was with her, but he soon realized it wasn't just that. His mind recognized this place was like a pretty little dollhouse on the outside – pink and white, with roses painted on it – but empty, dark and hideous on the inside. He came here to further the good of his own country, the good of the American people. He didn't think it would be hard, this was supposed to be a cakewalk of balls, soirées, and conversations with rich, affluent, well-dressed people, where the greatest difficulty he would have was supposed to be a debate about the colonies. To fight this war he was prepared to witness and endure terrible things, but this just suddenly seemed too much to bear.

He suddenly understood how unfit he was for this place. How could these people take him seriously? How could he convince them, when he was so unlike them and had no desire to conform? His heart clenched thinking of the innocent sweet girl that he had seen in that chair, it seemed an eternity ago. Oh, just how wrong could he be, thinking she was pure and innocent, thinking she was something he could possess? Thinking she was something he would want to possess. He still felt the attraction, but it repulsed him even more now, if that was possible. After all, she was no better than the women he'd slept with before. There was nothing special about her giving herself to him, there was nothing special about him succumbing and taking her; what happened in the library that day was just another day – another lay to her. All that he saw in her had never been there, it was just his pathetically idealistic and naïve mind finding the perfect canvas and painting a beautiful picture.

He left the woman with a polite excuse and went to walk around, losing count of how many glasses of champagne he drank, but not caring about it in the least. He finally managed to slip away with a bottle, when a lady approached him.

"Monsieur, you must come with me," she said in French.

"No, I'm fine, really. Go back and enjoy, sweetheart," he answered her. "It is in my honor, you know," he whispered to her, slurring his words slightly.

"Monsieur, please. We do not have much time, people will see us," she said forcefully, practically dragging him away. Edward didn't mind too much, he felt defeated anyhow; disappearing from his welcoming fête and the people he should be convincing to fund the war would be the perfect way to commemorate this hideous evening, and cement it in others' memory too.

She took him inside the palace again, leading him through dark corridors and swirling, narrow staircases, using the passages for servants. Edward wasn't worried about where she was taking him, but started wondering if he should be. He hadn't quite decided on the matter when they walked through a small door. They arrived into a huge, magnificently ostentatious room, sparkling chandeliers hung from the ceiling and smoke swirled through the air. Edward couldn't help but note that the majority of those in the room were, in fact, female. They were laughing and chatting, some sitting around a big round table with champagne and plenty of skillfully decorated cupcakes and playing cards. After leading him to a lady at the table, the girl dropped into a curtsy and left.

Edward had taken part in a few naval battles and had had his fair share of dicey incidents, but being in a room full of rich, snobbish, powerful women – in dresses that cost more than he could realistically earn in years, and who obviously thought they were above him just by their right of birth – was quite possibly the most daunting by far. Be bowed his head to greet the lady. He was quite sure they hadn't been introduced.

"Mr. Cullen, I presume," she said with a devilish smile.

"I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Madame." He smiled awkwardly while the other ladies around them snickered and whispered to each other, their eyes flashing back at him every few seconds.

"I'm quite sure you're a stranger to disadvantage. You are the new diplomat, a prestigious position to anyone, let alone someone your age." The woman wasn't young, but there was still a childlike playfulness in her eyes. It was in sharp contrast with the leisurely, graceful movements of her hands, which were holding the cards, keeping up with the game easily. She had a wig that rivaled the most extravagant ones he'd seen so far. It was tall and decorated with all sorts of trinkets. It was almost comical, but even to himself he only admitted that quietly.

"The reason I requested your presence here, however, is entirely unrelated to your new title. To be quite honest we need your help here in a little game," she said, returning to the game.

"I'm not sure I understand," Edward uttered in confusion.

"See, it is a little game of wits, if you may. An exercise in debate. Would you consider yourself well versed in the art of persuasion?" she asked, prompting another round of giggles around the table.

"Well, to some extent, yes."

"Marvelous. The rule of the game is that every person has to pick an absurd, indefensible idea or notion. Her opponent has to defend it, who does it best wins. And I can assure you, the stakes are high. Unfortunately, there is a tie and we need your expertise to help decide for us, Monsieur Cullen. I hope that is not too taxing for you," the lady asked with a raised eyebrow.

"No, of course not," Edward said, playing along.

"You see, Comtesse de Provence has been made to defend Comtesse du Barry's choice of attire this afternoon," this prompted instantaneous laughter, "and that does seem rather impossible indeed. While the Duchess of Lorraine-" as soon as she uttered Bella's title he searched the table for her instantly, his mind catching up a moment later, reminding him how repulsive he'd found her just a moment ago. He turned his gaze away, looking back at the woman summoning him, watching with rapt attention. "-has had to attempt to defend the devil himself. She was adamant that you'd support her."

Edward felt rather irked for being dragged here on a whim of the duchess. "I might be adherent to new ideas, but I don't think I'd go as far as to defend the devil," he said looking into the duchess' eyes with contempt.

"Monsieur Cullen," the duchess cooed and he hated the instantaneous stirring in his loins at her uttering his name. "I wouldn't dream of defending the devil, the game is not about that. It would indeed be impossible to defend him, much less the comtesse's sense of fashion. We merely look for those who can argue their case best."

"Sounds like a losing game," Edward stated, garnering a few laughs.

"I have an affinity for those," she said with a smile. "My argument was that the devil is being condemned for our crimes. We were told we could not eat the apple, and the story goes that he tricked us into doing it. I said it was our own fault, that the desire to eat the apple was there all along. The devil didn't force Eve, and Eve never forced Adam. All the devil did was suggest something that we knew was forbidden; the rules were clear all along. It was an idea that lived in us already, he just voiced it out loud and we succumbed. We blame him for losing paradise, when it was our own doing."

"Our minds were innocent; he planted the seeds of doubt, which prompted our downfall." Edward said.

"The seeds of doubt can only be planted into a soil of curiosity. Did God not intend us to be able to question things, did he create us to do as we're told, no questions asked? I doubt it. He wanted us to chose, but we chose wrong. There were forces influencing our wrong choice, but influence, intention or motivation does not matter, does it?" she asked with a smirk. "In a court of law, a thief would not be absolved by his good intent. Intentions don't matter, because we are judged by our actions, are we not, Mr. Cullen?" she inquired, holding his gaze.

"Dear God, I'm bored already," said the woman who summoned Edward. "Trying to defend the Comtesse's clothes would be much more interesting. Isabelle, please lead Monsieur Cullen back to his festivity." She turned back to her playing cards without sparing Edward a further glance.

Edward waited for the duchess reluctantly, and he followed her, walking through opulent rooms filled with people, until they reached the staircase.

"You were most convincing there, defending the devil."

"It's just a game. We all say things we don't mean," she said. They were quiet again, an impalpable tension stretching between them as they walked. Would she try to get him to succumb to her? "I wanted to apologize for Jacob's little stunt. He has been a rather uncomfortable thorn in my side for quite a while." Edward knew that gossip spread fast, but he had no idea of the amount of truth to that statement.

"Well, I can't blame him too much," he said finally. "Was he the father of the child that you lost?" He knew his bluntness was the highest form of crudity, but he didn't see why he should pretend for her benefit of all people. She was speechless for a while.

"Well, I'm not used to such… vulgar honesty… but yes. I wanted to give the baron an heir of his own, but that is something that proved to be impossible." They continued walking until they finally reached reached the terrace, overlooking the long pool with the fountains and the beautiful parks. The orchestra was settling in their seats, poised to play, pretty people were laughing and conversing happily everywhere, champagne was flowing. It felt like the last day on earth.

"In this instance, the rumors were true. But I'd urge you not to believe everything you hear," she said as they stopped in the shadow of a grand marble statue. "You probably heard that I was Louis XV's lover's mistress before becoming intimately acquainted with the duke, that I'm a social climbing member of Marie Antoinette's cortège with sinister intentions… All I ask is a chance."

"You're not who I thought you were. It pains me to look at you and be reminded of the ways I've been deceived." She looked at him with a hurt expression, leaning in.

"Yet you still want me," she whispered into his ear, and her breath on his neck, yet again, acted like an antidote against his reason. She made him feel, so acutely that it seemed as though everything he had ever experienced before were merely cheap imitations. Edward tried to disagree, but her statement was true. He was disgusted with her, but that didn't change the fact that he still yearned for her like he did for no one else. "I haven't lied to you yet," she said, caressing his face, her lips so close to him, almost touching. "But I will." Her voice was calm, unwavering. "For both of our sakes. Because I like you too much, Edward, and I don't want you to hurt any more than inevitable. I shall try to protect you from myself as much as I can."

"Your dishonesty would hurt more than the truth," he said in a shaky voice. She laughed without humor.

"I doubt that."

"I want honesty," he said firmly.

"How about this for honesty, Edward? I've had many lovers before you and I'll have more after we're through." He pushed her roughly into the marble wall.

"Don't toy with me," he sneered.

"The night is too young for promises I can't keep," she said, pulling his head down, kissing him like she could erase her awful words.

He felt helpless and alone in their kiss. But he couldn't leave.

They broke the kiss abruptly when the fireworks started.

Edward had seen fireworks once before, but not like this, so profuse, so marvelously choreographed. The orchestra started playing a glorious piece accompanied by a choir of singers, and they watched the colorful lights explode and die a swift death in the sky, as they reflected in the pool of the fountain. So much beauty, he thought to himself. If only it weren't so utterly hollow. His eyes were drawn to the sky as Bella continued to kiss his neck. When the spectacle ended, he remained there, pulling her closer to his body.

"Come with me," she whispered, looking into his eyes, pulling him by the hands. "Please."

He knew that he would follow her. He knew that he would burn, and that she would crush him in the end, but he also knew that he'd rather bear the pain of that than leave.

So he followed.


A/N: I know that the American Revolutionary War ended 1783 but when you're in a war you don't know for sure when it's going to end. So you need to keep the money flowing, and keep the good relation up with France. If there were any historical inaccuracies that hindered your enjoyment of this fic I apologize I know how that feels and I tried to research throughly but I'm not a historian, I'm bound to make mistakes but I also took some very light liberties (Dangerous Liaisons was published only in 1783). But feel free to point out my shortcomings or share your opinions. I love concrit!

For those having me on author alert for Mating in Captivity, I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for the delay, but as you know I broke my arm in the summer, so I couldn't write. The next chapter is done, been beta-ed and will be out soon. Please don't give up on me just yet :D