Mercedes laughed politely at Monsieur Dorleac's joke, but her eyes were devoid of any real joy or pleasure. These social gatherings drained her of any energy she already had, and she was disgusted by the blatant profligacy and hedonism made public during these weekly events. How does one endure it? To think a woman could ever want such a thing; she had it all, and she couldn't have been unhappier. She felt a guilty pang and inwardly recanted to God.
'My son is safe, and for that I am grateful.' Only a week earlier, her son had been kidnapped and would have been killed if it were not for a man she had heard as the Count of Monte Cristo who had saved him. This man she would meet and eagerly thank for the rescue of her son, for he was everything to her. He was the only reason Mercedes still vowed to stay in her loveless marriage.
As if on cue, she heard her husband introduce her from behind. "And may I present to you the Countess Mondego." She sighed inwardly and turned to greet yet another guest, an unendurable smile plastered on her face. When she first laid eyes on him, she felt her breath come out in a shaky gasp and her heart shuddered. The man who stood before her was adorned in an elegant embroidered coat which fell down to his knees and a dark vest that narrowed inwards to fit his lean body. He was tall and had a built frame, and stood with a dignified manner. One gloved hand curled over the hilt of a jeweled cane, while the other rested on his hip confidently. His thick, black curls framed his face, and matted his head perfectly so that not a single wisp of hair fell out of place.
She took in his appearance for merely a second, because her eyes were focused on his face, his slightly olive skin tone and high cheekbones. His eyes captured her attention immediately, for they were black as coal but flickered with amusement and a strange sense of longing. Edmond, she unconsciously thought to herself, but she shook the notion from her head. It only brought back painful memories that she could never truly extinguish, but only suppress with a heavy heart to the back of her mind.
"Merecedes." Her husband repeated impatiently, and she was brought back to her senses to the realization that she had been openly gaping at the stranger for quite some time now. "Excuse me," She breathed and took a careful step forward as she began to feel faint. She saw Albert stiffen to attention from the corner of her eye and she straightened her shoulders and walked steadily, as if to assure him she was all right. "Mother, the Count of Monte Cristo." He reminded her gently, and she lifted her head and nodded with a small "oh." This was her son's savior? She knew God worked in mysterious ways, but this man was merely a ghost of her past sent to torment her and only prolong her suffering.
"Madame," He acknowledged her, his serene and distantly familiar voice wrenching at her gut. She nodded absentmindedly in return, and he waited for her to speak. "You would have to be a mother to know the service of which you have done for my son and me." She started, her voice sounding very small. She swallowed and took a deep breath. He stared at her patiently, a small, cryptic smile twisting up at the corner of his lips, and she felt her heart cry out for him to say something, anything.
"Monsieur, I shall never forget you." She promised him quietly, sounding very dazed. At this, he raised his hand and politely stopped her. "Please, Madame, 'twas nothing." He gingerly took her hand and brought it to his lips, murmuring "I am sure that within a month's time, you will not even remember my name." He kissed her hand softly, his eyes never leaving hers, and she unconsciously leaned into him as he did so.
There was a moment of complete silence between them as they stared at one another somewhat passionately and she was sure he could hear her heart thumping in her ears. Everything about him resembled her Edmond, from his dark caramel eyes to the slender curve of his jaw. Sure, he had aged much and was adorned in a wealthy man's robes, but he was essentially the same man. She just glanced at Fernand's curious but seemingly indifferent glare and was sure that he did not recognize their mutual friend. She could be hallucinating, as she had been too often since his—she winced—departure, but this time was different. This time she knew.
The Count's eyes were still on hers when he said very quietly as if he were telling her a secret, "May I steal your wife?" Mercedes's heart leapt and she began to feel faint again. His thumb very lightly stroked her finger and she herself slipping away in his gaze again. "I'm sorry?" Fernand cleared his throat, purposely interrupting their private moment. They both turned towards him, and there was a tense moment where she held her breath in anticipation.
"For the waltz, of course." The Count clarified frankly and Mercedes let out a small "hunh," with a bright smile lighting up her features. He smiled, pleased to see that she was in good spirits now , and the corners of his eyes crinkled up in satisfaction. She felt her face heat up and averted her eyes towards Albert, who was grinning from ear-to-ear at the Count's evident charm. Fernand was hardly pleased, however, and didn't attempt to hide his distaste as the Count led his wife to the floor. "Isn't he wonderful, Father?" The boy gleefully patted him on the shoulder, but Mondego only sneered.