A/N: Welcome to the newest chapter! I had to post this!
I want to thank: ForeverACharmedOne, MissMisc3, TinkerbellxO, nuckythompson, dionne dance, Leyshla Gisel, XantheXV, music is life 99 xxx and CharlieCats. Thank you for commenting! It means a lot.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Libertine.
'There is a lust in man no charm can tame: of loudly publishing his neighbor's shame: On eagles wings immortal scandals fly,
While virtuous actions are born and die.'
She put the last pin in her hair and then she gazed outside the window. The sun had just risen. She pulled her eyes away from the glass and gazed at the small mirror in front of her. She smoothed down her skirt and swallowed hard.
Did she really want to do this? Did she really want to do as he asked? Did she want to get lost in his web?
She didn't know him in person but she had heard all about him. Earl of Rochester; married man, but unfaithful. A gambler, womanizer and a drunkard. Spending his money on wenches and drinks. Insulter of the King. Carrier of the smallpox but lucky enough to recover from it. Cruel and a mocker.
But there was the other side as well; the one everyone tended to forget because of his escapades.
Great poet but with a tendency to lower his standards just to prove the opposite. Great theatre patron and tutor of the greatest actress the London stage had ever seen. Incredibly intelligent, witty and talented in the art of judging others by merely gazing upon them.
Chantal shook her head in confusion and when she looked into the mirror again she noticed her sister behind her.
"Good morning. Why are you up so early?" her sister asked pleasantly and Chantal bit her lip before she turned around.
"I have business in the theatre, Anne." She murmured as she picked up her cloak and pulled it around her shoulders tightly. Anne paused and her green eyes widened in shock.
"So early? Oh! Are they giving you a part at last?" she almost jumped with joy but Chantal shook her head.
"No. I just have to help around a bit. I'll be back as soon as I can." She smiled as she patted her sister's hand and then walked out of the small parlor. She exited the house and as soon as she stepped into the small porch she leaned against the door for a moment. She took in the calmness of the street and then straightened. If she didn't go the curiosity would eat her up alive. She had to know what he wanted.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed away from the door and started walking down the street. She arrived at the theatre a few minutes later and sure enough a carriage was waiting for her in front of the closed doors. Not wanting to linger in case she changed her mind she walked in and the driver took off into the unknown.
She realized a little too late that the carriage was heading out of London and when the coach turned towards Oxfordshire she tensed up. She had no idea that the Earl was not residing in London. She leaned back and tried to relax but she couldn't. It would take quite a bit to go and return. It would take her all day! What if she was late for the theatre?
Chantal shook her head, took a deep breath and looked outside the carriage window. She had to gather her thoughts before they overwhelmed her. She had a tendency to panic a little too easily. She was sure it was a condition.
So, he kept coming to London and returning to Oxfordshire almost every day? Was he not tired of it? She paused and mulled over that thought. She was pretty sure that he was going to the playhouse for Mrs. Barry but she could be wrong. The woman never accepted him for more than a few moments and when they were together they were constantly arguing. From backstage she had often noticed Lord Rochester's glares towards the actress so she was certain that he did not go there for the joy of her company and insults. No, he was going back there for something else entirely. Especially since the actress had given up her child so easily in order to pursue her career.
The coach came to a sudden halt and she almost fell over. She groaned but when she looked outside and eyed the grand manor her eyes widened.
"Oh my." She murmured as she looked at the grand park that surrounded the house. The carriage door was opened for her a moment later and she stepped outside, still shocked at the beauty of the place.
"This way, madam." A servant approached her and she looked at him.
"Where are we?" she asked because in all honesty she had never left London before.
"Woodstock Park, madam. Please follow me." The servant, a young man no older than twenty, smiled at her and she could do nothing more but follow him.
She tried to keep up but the beauty of the gardens kept attracting her attention. Two large dogs barked and ran towards her and she jumped before she leaned down to pat their heads. The male one nuzzled her hand but the female one growled and bared her teeth at her. She laughed. Women were always jealous and dogs were no different it seemed.
The two large molosser hounds moved away and she hurried up to catch up with the servant who was holding the manor door open for her.
Chantal hesitantly stepped in and the scent of ink and sandalwood assaulted her senses. She inhaled deeply and the servant motioned towards the large parlor.
"Through here." He called and she walked up to him quickly.
As soon as she stepped in she saw a woman sitting in an armchair. In her arms she held Elizabeth.
Beth. Chantal quickly corrected herself before she smiled.
The maid looked up and her plain features lit up in a small smile.
"How is she?" Chantal asked quietly but before the maid could answer footsteps approached.
"Take the child away, Nellie." The Earl's voice was firm and not remotely warm and Chantal stiffened before she slowly turned towards him.
His eyes did not fall upon her but she bowed her head nonetheless. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw him. His hair was falling over his shoulders, his white shirt was partially hidden beneath his robe and he wore a pair of breeches that fell low on his hips. He looked as if he had just woken up.
The maid quickly stood up and bowed before she took the baby away. The Earl's eyes followed the wet-nurse's form until she was gone and then he walked to the large door. He closed it firmly shut and Chantal looked up at him from beneath her eyelashes. He rubbed his hands together as if he was applying something on his skin and only then did she notice that his hands were a bit slick with something.
"Sandalwood oil, Ms. Paige." He spoke up and her heart thundered against her chest at his severe voice, "For the spots." He outstretched his ringed hand and as she leaned closer she saw the tiny marks the illness had stained his skin with. They were barely visible but she saw them nonetheless.
"And it is not polite to stare." He murmured and she flushed a bit.
Abruptly his hand reached out and grasped her chin. The scent was even stronger that way.
His eyes locked with hers and she held her breath when they left her eyes to roam her face.
"I must admit you're brave to walk in here, Ms. Paige." He drawled as he let go of her chin and started circling her instead. She tried hard not to cower.
"Brave?" she echoed as she forced herself to be still under his scrutiny.
"Indeed. Coming into my manor without questions, following my command like you're one of my wenches and then having the audacity to look me in the eye while I gave you no permission to do so." He breathed as he paused behind her and spoke into her ear, "Stare right ahead, Ms. Paige." He murmured before he stepped back and walked over to the large French doors. He grabbed the curtains and pushed them aside. The early morning sunlight came through the glass and fell upon her, warm and comfortable. England needed more sun than it was getting.
Lord Rochester walked back to her and started pacing around her again. He circled her two, three, four times until he came to stand right behind her.
Chantal stiffened and as his breath fell upon the back of her neck every hair on her body stood up on end.
His hands fell upon her shoulders and she frowned when he grabbed the two ends of her cloak and started pulling it back. He pushed it off her shoulders and he discarded it quite unceremoniously on the floor before he came to stand in front of her.
He studied her and at her guarded expression he smirked.
"Nervous, Ms. Paige?" he quirked an eyebrow and when she gave a small nod he chuckled, "You must acquire the ability to hold your ground against public observance, Ms. Paige." He murmured, "When you're on stage every single person in the theatre will have their eyes trained upon you. Especially the gentlemen." He added as an afterthought and she grimaced.
"I've no need for male attention, my Lord." She snapped and he smirked.
"Nevertheless, you shall have it. It's irreversible." He noted and it was her turn to cock an eyebrow.
"Are you paying me a compliment, sir?" she asked and he snorted.
"Hardly, my dear. Beauty upon the stage is not enough." He drawled dryly and she flushed.
"But vanity is good." He added and she looked at him with irk.
"I am not vain!" she exclaimed and he tilted his head to the side.
"You must be when you look upon a mirror and see these eyes." He told her simply and she sputtered for a moment but he had already moved passed that.
"Come." He beckoned her towards the desk near the fireplace and she followed albeit a bit suspiciously but not before she leaned down to pick up her discarded cloak.
"What do you want from me, my Lord?" she asked him and when he offered her a seat she declined and remained standing.
Lord Rochester calmly took his seat behind his desk and then he reached out for a few books. He set them in front of him and then reached for the wine bottle to his left. He poured himself a glass, filling it up to the brim before he looked up at her. He took a long sip before he even bothered to reply to her.
"Sit down, Ms. Paige. Have you no manners at all?" he asked her with dancing eyes. He enjoyed her discomfort!
"Not until you answer me." She replied with vehemence.
"I admire the passion for knowledge in all things in a woman but your persistence is starting to set my teeth on edge so kindly take a seat." He told her in a very low voice and Chantal glared at him before she sat down. She clasped her hands on her lap and satisfied by her obedience he leaned back in his seat but not before he slid the books towards her.
"I want you to read those. Study them." He motioned towards the books, "Dryden, Shakespeare, even our little Mr. Etherege."
Chantal looked at him with smugness, "No need, my Lord. I know them all-…"
"By heart, yes." He cut her off and she faltered at the unadulterated reprimand in his eyes and voice, "That does not mean that you understand them." He clarified while enunciating every word.
Chantal swallowed hard, "You mean it's obvious that I don't understand them." She murmured.
"By your recent delivery of Katharina's speech I am certain of it, yes. I don't want you to learn them word by word. I want you to understand the emotions behind the words. The reasons that drive the characters to utter every word and phrase. Am I clear?" he whispered quietly.
Chantal's fingers brushed over the books, "No, I am afraid I don't understand. What do you want from me?" she looked up at him in the eye and he frowned momentarily.
"I want you to stop being the wet-nurse and servant and become an actress. Isn't it obvious?" he cocked an eyebrow, seemingly in confusion.
"Why me? Why has your Lordship chosen me?" she asked in a strong voice.
"I beg pardon?" the Earl was interested now.
"Do you know how many actresses want a part in the playhouse's productions? At least ten and the half of them are prettier than me, my Lord. Perhaps you should choose someone else for your tutoring project." She made to stand up but his hand clamped down on hers from across the desk. She gasped at the force of his hold.
"You are the understudy, not them." He said darkly.
"What does that mean? No one knows if I can act or not! You said it yourself, I am not good." She said as she tried to tug her hand away from his gripping fingers but he held her fast and hard, his ring digging into her skin.
"And you won't be as long as you don't do as I say."
Chantal paused, "You wish to tutor me." She murmured, "Why?"
The Earl let go of her hand and leaned back, satisfied when she did not flee.
"You want the truth?" he asked her casually and she blinked.
"Always." She replied promptly.
"Odd thing for an actress." He told her coldly and she frowned.
"Perhaps." She whispered and he sighed.
"Because I'm bored out of my wits, Ms. Paige. Because my only real recreation is the playhouse and because the current protagonist makes my skin crawl." He said blatantly and she gulped.
"Not because you see hope in me." She clarified and something inside her snapped at the insinuation behind his reason.
"Would it matter to you if I did? You seem quite convinced to remain as you are." He remarked dryly.
"That is not true." She raised her voice and rubbed her temple, "The other actresses, even the chorus girls, are fighting over the roles like dogs after a juicy bone. I am not the only one helpless in our stage, my Lord."
"Yet you're the only one with the potential and you're throwing it away." He told her with a wave of his hand.
"Like you did before your last exile?" she asked and immediately she regretted it.
His eyes darkened and flashed and he stood up, "You have cheek, madam, I'll give you that. But I'd advise you not to speak about my private matters so blatantly." He walked around to her and she stiffened when he placed both hands upon her chair and leaned down, "Do you accept or not?" he asked her lowly and her gaze flickered away from his burning gaze and settled upon his intricate robe.
"I am not sure." She whispered at last and he remained silent.
"Very well. I shall give you time. In the meantime, take these and do as I said. Study them." He pushed the books on her lap and she held onto them with both hands.
"I have them-…'
"I have notes that might help you." It seemed like he was almost forcing himself to speak the words. His features were angered.
Chantal nodded and stood up from the chair, "My Lord." She bowed her head and stepped back. When she was near the door she heard his voice.
"If you decide to accept my offer you must know that I have some rules, Ms. Paige." He called as he walked towards her with his robe billowing behind him.
Chantal turned to him, "Yes?"
He approached her and leaned close into her face. She held her ground as his handsome features stared down upon her critically.
"Number one, you do as I say without questioning me. Number two, you come to me any time I call upon you. Number three, you do not meddle with my child. Number four…" he trailed off as he eyed her face with intensity, "You speak to this to no one." He finished and Chantal raised an eyebrow.
"I see. I have a rule of my own if I decide to agree to your generous offer, my Lord." She said as she took a deep breath.
The Earl looked amused, "Is that so? Let's hear it." He crossed his arms over his chest and Chantal hesitated for a moment before she averted her eyes and replied.
"I shall never be your lover, my Lord. I won't allow it." She said at last.
His response was a husky chuckle and then his hand was on her throat. He curled his fingers around her slender neck and her eyes widened when he brought his lips close to hers.
"We shall see about that, madam." He breathed with scorching eyes before he abruptly released her and stepped back.
"Alcock!" he barked and even Chantal jumped at the volume of his voice.
The door was pushed open a few moments later and a servant appeared.
"Me Lord?" he asked as he eyed Chantal curiously.
"Escort Ms. Paige outside. She shall take the carriage back to London." Rochester ordered before he turned away from both of them. He came to stand by the window but Chantal didn't want to linger.
She followed Alcock out of the study and when they passed through the garden she saw him gazing at them from that very same spot by the window. She averted her eyes from the window and did not look back at the manor until she was in the carriage and on her way back to London.
As she settled into the seat and the driver took off she noticed that the sun was high up on the sky but she felt cold.
She looked down at the books and a feeling of excitement rushed through her like lightning. What if he could really help her? He was a powerful man and the King's constant forgiveness was enough proof that he could do as he pleased with little consequence. If he had made Barry what she was after she had been fired from so many productions who told her that he couldn't help her? And she wanted the help, craved the attention of someone with his wit. She was thrilled with the knowledge that someone had noticed her potential, however big or small that was. She believed in herself or at least she thought that she did until he came out and claimed how little she had grasped Katharina's character.
She flexed her fingers around the books and leaned back against the seat. Even as she the carriage drove away from Woodstock, she had already made her decision. She would accept and she would try hard to meet up to his expectations no matter how high those were. Because despite all his faults the man was a genius and she would take anything he offered because if she wanted to stop being the creature she was she was going to have to do his bidding. But even as she decided she couldn't shake the feeling of fear that came along with the thrill and excitement. Because she knew, she just knew that he had deeper motives. He was not just bored. No, he was planning something and she feared that she'd find out too late.
The inn at Covent Garden was crowded as Molly Luscombe, Chantal and Mr. Harris sat down at a table by the corner. Chantal took a look around her. Most women from the theatre were there and their giggles and voices were already filling the air. She winced at the loud cackles because she knew what all those girls wanted. The theatre was not paying well. What better than find wealthy men ready to hand their coin in their palms for a night of pleasure? It was sad really. The playhouse was not supposed to be a whorehouse. Shakespeare and fornication should not be forced to co-exist.
"What will you have, lass?" Molly broke through Chantal's thoughts and she pulled her eyes away from the women. She blinked and looked at the other woman.
"No, you will have ale." Molly waved her answer off and Chantal looked at the other woman with a frown.
"Why did you ask me then?" she leaned close and Mr. Harris chuckled.
"Because I am buying and ale is cheaper. Got a grandson to raise." Molly replied before she stood and left to fetch their orders.
"How did you think of the play, Ms. Paige?" Mr. Harris asked and she frowned.
"Mrs. Barry stumbled over her words…" she didn't know what else she should say.
The man nodded, "Indeed. She's getting tired from The Tempest's rehearsals." He murmured.
"Then she should let someone else take a part." Molly slapped the three mugs on the table before she sat down, "She should stop licking up the patron's boots as well. Everyone knows what's between her and Betterton." She said with a small grimace.
"You're her favorite in the theatre, Molly." Chantal was a bit surprised by the woman's words.
"So? It doesn't mean I like her." Molly shrugged before she took a sip from her drink.
"Molly, you're not certain." Mr. Harris twirled his ale a bit.
"Certain? Well, my eyes have seen a thing or two. I know what I'm talking about." Molly nodded and Chantal sighed.
"It's not fair though." She muttered.
"Life's ain't fair, love." Molly patted her back.
Chantal took a sip from the ale and resisted the urge to gag. It was terrible that's why it was so cheap.
Suddenly there was a sudden gasp and a giggle and she looked towards the door. Her eyes widened and she wanted to hide under the bloody table.
The Earl of Rochester walked in with his friend and he looked as immaculate as ever. His gold walking stick was glimmering in the candlelight and he was talking animatedly with the Earl of Dorset. The women reared their heads up like cobras at the sight of him.
Molly groaned, "Don't bother, girls." She muttered as she finished the vile ale in one go.
"Yes, our Lord has become picky." Mr. Harris remarked and Chantal looked away from the two Earls after they had seated themselves at a table.
"What do you mean?" she asked as she turned to look at the actor.
"He means that ever since his wife died of smallpox he's been careful in his choice of female company. He's looking for clean women; in short, he's looking for maids." Molly drawled.
"He won't find them in here." Chantal replied incredulously and Mr. Harris chuckled.
"Don't be so sure." He muttered as he motioned with his head towards a table to their left.
Three women were sitting there and a man. They were obviously sisters if one judged from the same hair color and light brown eyes.
Chantal's eyes turned towards Rochester who was in the process of drinking from a goblet but his eyes were trained on the two women. The man at their table seemed to be the plumper one's fiancé.
"I see." Chantal murmured when the two redheads noticed the Earl's eyes on them and flushed three shades of crimson. They were obviously inexperienced.
"That makes sense really." Mr. Harris noted and Chantal's eyes flickered to him.
"Is it? Seducing two girls for mere recreation? He's a widow and an Earl. He could find any woman he wanted and he could marry her. I see no need for this." She waved a hand subtly towards the women.
"Our Lord Rochester detests wives." Molly said in a low voice.
"Why did he get married then?" Chantal was beyond angry by then.
"Because she had a strong income." Molly replied calmly.
"Indeed. She was the richest woman in the county." Mr. Harris added.
Chantal scoffed, "What an adequate reason to marry."
"As adequate as any, Ms. Paige." The voice startled her and both three table occupants looked up startled. Rochester was looming by their table, leaning lightly on his walking stick. His mouth was pursed in devious amusement. He had heard them. Chantal didn't care. Men like him sickened her and they were plenty of others like him at court.
"My Lord." She inclined her head.
"I see London has not lost its essence." He remarked dryly as his eyes flickered towards the redhead at the right. He caught her eye and winked at her and she flushed even more. Chantal knew he was doing it on purpose by then.
"Essence?" Mr. Harris cocked an eyebrow.
"Shamelessly discussing other people's affairs." Rochester replied as he looked at Harris dispassionately.
"Only when they give reason to." The other man replied.
The Earl's eyes narrowed before his gaze fell upon Chantal, heavy and intense, "Do you agree, madam?" he murmured and she blinked.
"I do not like gossip. That's why I rarely come here." She replied.
He chuckled huskily, "Of course. Virgins and supposedly uptight women never come here but they make the mistake at some point." His eyes shone maliciously and Chantal didn't understand his unnecessary venom.
Feeling out of place and very irritated she stood from the table and walked around to him. He didn't even flinch but merely stared down at her with expectation. He enjoyed angering others and he was probably expecting her to attack him right back. He was famous for his quarrels all over London.
"Who ever claimed that I am either, my Lord Rochester?" she murmured loudly enough for him to hear her. He seemed to freeze and his eyes widened minutely before he smirked and eyed her appreciatively.
"Then you might want to join us." He looked towards the redhead who was restless by then, "Your fire must be rather arousing between the sheets." He murmured into her ear and his teeth bit down sharply on her earlobe. She jumped back and away from him while trying hard not to blush. He did not deserve it.
"I am afraid, my Lord, that my rather uptight and conventional appetites will bore you to death. Thus, I have to decline." She then bowed low, aware that everyone was staring at them by then.
She looked up at him from beneath her eyelashes and she saw no anger. Just amusement, heat and appraisal.
He took a step towards her and leaned down to her level, "There's Katharina, Ms. Paige." He whispered and his wine scented breath fell upon her nose and lips, hot and heady.
She looked up at him sharply before she turned and walked away. The Earl did not take his eyes off of her until she was gone.
End of chapter 3
Author's note: Thank you for reading. Please, please review before you go. It's my own joy and payment!
Oh and sandalwood oil was used to cure skin spots of all kinds. I looked that up! ;o)
Until next time, loves!
Xxx Lina ;o)