(Author's note : Please excuse my English, it's not my mother tongue)

Chapter 19

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he looked around and saw her walking through the living-room, greeting friendly the staff along her path. He could only see her from behind but he was nevertheless overwhelmed by her beauty and the grace emanating from her.

How has his clumsy brother been able to seduce a woman like her?

He was scrutinizing her longingly, fascinated by the plunging neckline she wore in the back that discreetly revealed the arch of her lower back. His imagination got hot and the craziest thoughts, able to make the Marquis of Sade blush, crossed his mind. Staring at her libidinously, he passed his tongue on his swollen with gluttony lips and quickened his pace in her direction, the few meters that separated them seeming to last an eternity.

She was very close to him now and seemed occupied with a maid. He happily exhaled and stretched his arm toward her shoulder, letting his fingers glide on her milky and divinely soft skin. She jumped with surprise to this contact and quickly turned to him, this action causing a head-on collision between his head and the multicolored mass she was holding between her hands as he slightly bowed as a mark of curtsy.

Damn it, what is that ?! - he yelled, stirring like one possessed, running out of air.

Calm down! - Candy cried out – You're ruining my bouquet!

She had just received a very beautiful bouquet from Patty and this boor was destroying it! Stepping back, she released him from her defensive weapon and struggled not to laugh in front of the comical spectacle the young man offered her : he had flower petals in the mouth and also in the hair, hanging from his big ears. And to give a full picture, some pollen covered his fattened nose and surrounded with a saffron halo his eyes that he had close together, making him looking like a goat escaping from a pen she would have devastated. Annoyed, he wiped the petals glued to his mouth, mumbling some swearwords, luckily barely audible. However Candy noticed some of them and thought she was dealing with a very strange person.

Her amazing gold glitter green eyes looked at him with interrogation and suspicion. His tall and thin figure reminded her of someone without being able to give him a name, the ungraceful features of his face making it harder. Destabilized, the stranger proudly lifted his chin, pretending to ignore how ridiculous he looked, but his nose began to itch quickly.

Bloody allergy! - he thought, repeatedly sneezing loudly.

Sniffing and red-eyed, he straightened up while pulling on the bottom of his jacket, trying to recover some dignity. Wishing to greet her with a hand-kissing, he noticed that hers were still busy with the bouquet and had to content himself with a respectful head-nod.

Will you excuse my bumptious manners, miss... - he finally said between two sneezes – I did not intend to scare you... Let me (Achoo!) introduce myself. Rodolphe Grandchester, at your service. (Achoo!)

You... You're Terry's brother? - Candy said, raising her hand to her mouth to dissimulate the mocking smile that was appearing on her lips. She painfully held a hiccough, prelude to a burst of laughter.

Sort of... - He answered with a contemptuous pout. He had been discreet but it had not prevented her from noticing it, making her feel very irritated. Truly, they were all as bad as each other in this family! All that she needed now was to meet Sybille and her future mother-in-law to complete the picture of this devilish threesome!

Therefore, it was with evident pleasure that she answered, with her most angelic voice :

I'm very pleased to meet you, Rodolphe, even in such a funny situation... (with a maliciously ingénue air, she waved even more the bouquet in front of him, which increased his sneerings).

(Achoo!) It's my pleasure, miss... Miss? - he asked, pretending to ignore her name.

Candice... Candice White Andrew, Terrence's fiancée... At least, just about to be...

This big idiot is Terry's brother? My Goodness, he's as ugly as his sister! I hope he's not as deceitful as she is...

Very pleased to meet you... - He said as he tried to steal her hand to kiss it. She tried to resist but not wanting to look rude, she resolved to subject herself to the torment, drawing a pout of disgust as his lips brushed her skin. When done, she pulled back her hand with a tensed smile that painfully hid her embarrassment.

How was she going to get rid of this clingy one?

Fortunately, she saw Cookie coming with his wheelchair pushed by Lucille, the pretty nurse. Seizing the opportunity, she jumped on him and without giving him any choice, she introduced to him the annoying half-brother, with the energy of despair.

Cookie, let me introduce you to Rodolphe, Terry's brother! - she cried out with the same theatrical enthusiasm of a huckster on a fair stand.

Him, Terry's brother? - he mumbled, skeptical, looking at him up and down as he wondered if he was not dealing with the scarecrow that he had seen before in the middle of the castle vegetable garden.

My dear Cookie, Rodolphe does not know yet about your sea adventures, and I'm sure these would interest him, am I wrong, Rodolphe ? - she said, fluttering eyelashes to him.

Well... - that latter spluttered, disconcerted. If there was one thing that he did not care about, were the tipplers achievements fisherman's sweaters on them!

Great! I'm sure you are going to get along! - she said with a knowing wink to Cookie who looked at her with big desperate eyes.

Standing on her tip-toe and stretching her neck towards the bottom of the room, she cried out:

Oh! I've just seen Mrs Hughes passing by! I'm sorry but I've to leave you. Something important to fix quickly with Mrs Hugues before the guests arrive. I can't stay longer with you though delightful your company is, I'm sorry...

Looking falsely contrite, she nevertheless turned around and walked away at a brisk pace, without looking back.

- But... - Both young men complained, stunned.

She was not very proud of what she had done but this Rodolphe really made her uncomfortable. Her instinct was to stay as far as possible from him, instinct that, in the past, had saved her pretty often. She had decided to listen to it, even if it meant to offend the youngest of Grandchester.

She went to the kitchens that were located in the basement, not to hide away and wait for the ceremony but to look for a vase for Patty's bouquet. This latter had added a little note that Candy had just enough time to read before being interrupted by the hideous "little brother", note into which she wished her a wonderful engagement party and hoped to see her again in America soon. Did it mean that Patty had decided to go back there ? What would happen to her relationship with Alessandro ? She was eager to know more about this and promised herself to get news in the following day. Those last two weeks had elapsed so fast!

Thoughtful, she bumped into Mrs Hughes, the housekeeper, just going out from her office. To the strange look on Candy's face, she immediately understood and said:

You must have met Mr Rodolphe, haven't you Miss?

Candy nodded frenetically, pressing her bouquet against her by way of consolation. A knowing smile appeared on the old woman's face.

Come in – she said, passing a compassionate arm around Candy's shoulder while pushing her inside her office – I think that a glass of Porto will be welcomed to pass this test. Personally, I tend to drink some of it more than is reasonable when the Grandchester children are here...

A long sight went along with these words in which sarcasm and resignation could be felt. Candy's heart squeezed when realizing that Mrs Hughes' life did not seem to be very easy every day with such masters, and she promised herself she will talk about it with Terry, calmly. Some encouragement wouldn't hurt her and she welcomed with gratitude the glass of liquor that the housekeeper handed to her...

It was the end of the afternoon and the party was in full swing in the castle garden. The staff was however on the alert, watching the sky regularly after noticing heavy black clouds increasing far away. With a bit of luck, they would disappear thanks to the light breeze that had just risen, but vigilance was required because a sudden storm could always break. Though everything had been planned in that case, the watchword had been given to prevent the guests from being surprised by the rain. But for now, the big tents that had been settled in anticipation, only welcomed people looking for some shade or some rest after several dances on the dance floor. The meal, delicious, and especially wine, had somewhat broken the last guests' resistances, still stupefied by this engagement between the Duke of Grandchester's son and this young American girl without any blue blood. Prejudices were still persisting in the aristocracy and difficult to fight, even for a couple such modern as Candy and Terry's one. But, when Candy had appeared in the grand salon, murmurings had risen in the audience with a brouhaha of rapture and admiration. Surprised by her beauty and her grace as she moved forward Terry, they couldn't have done nothing but acknowledge the quality of her person. The men, subjugated, had followed her with their eyes, not without envying inwardly the young fiancé who was proudly standing next to his father, a smile of satisfaction on his lips. They had not met each other all morning, and like most of guests, he had discovered her, sublime, in this dress that suited divinely her curves and whose hem brushed the floor with a slight rustling. Yellow suited her beautifully, exalting the color of her skin that had gotten some colors with summer weather, and enhancing the green of her eyes that she had kept all along focused on him for not being disturbed by those strangers' gaze who were staring at her. He had taken her hand and smiled at her tenderly, guessing her anguish.

On his part, oddly, he had felt very at ease. This engagement ceremony only meant a rehearsal to him . The grand premiere would only take place in a few weeks, to which would attend and participate people he respected and loved, unlike those who were there and whom he only felt contempt and indifference for. Him, who had always been looked condescendingly because of his origins reveled in their discomfited faces before the insolent happiness he displayed to them. All these arranged marriages to keep their rank and their wealth paled in comparison with the true and unconditional love that united him to Candy. Their faces tensed with jealousy and restrained frustration seemed to him like the best of revenges, and with proudly glittering eyes, he had listened to his father Duke, introducing in glowing terms his future wife in front of the whole aristocratic society. She had greeted them shyly while avoiding her brother in law's staring on her that she had seen out of the corner of her eye, standing next to his glorious sister and mother. God knew how much this man made her uncomfortable! Fortunately, a little behind, were Slim and his companion who were smiling at her benevolently, and she immediately felt better. Distracted, she had listened to the Duke celebrating her presence, praising her family and her adoptive father, William Andrew. The day before, Richard Grandchester had told her about his wish to talk about her adoption in order to stop tongues wagging. She had not seen any problem with it, having as for her never tried to dissimulate this filiation. But being accepted by this very noble man in front of the British aristocracy had made her even prouder of Albert and his choice of making her as his daughter.

The introductions done, they all had moved to the very close family chapel in which waited the priest, coming directly from Edinburgh to celebrate Mass then, after it, the young couple and their closest relatives had been gathered apart for the engagement benediction. Slim, the only member close to Candy, had read a biblical text, then several prayers had been said. The priest had pronounced the words of conclusion and had ended with a song to the glory of Mary. Against all odds, Terry had gone out from it very overwhelmed because, when he had put the engagement ring to Candy's finger, he had realized that what he had so ardently hoped wasn't an impossible dream anymore. It didn't matter that the ceremony took place in front of his idiot brother and his stupid sister, or under the sly glance of his step-mother. Candy's watery eyes on him had swept everything. She was officially his future wife and he had had all difficulties to control his joy.

The engagement meal went around a sumptuous buffet that allowed the young fiancés to greet the guests, and talk more easily with them, but also to escape from the most annoying ones. There were so many people that it was easy to pass from one to another with a little word of apology for not offending them. However, all this attention did not leave much time to the lovers to find a moment alone. Often separated, they would discreetly glance to each other with a sigh. Candy was particularly catching the attentions, regularly asked by these gentlemen for a dance or an innocent talking. Rodolphe, keener than ever, several times went for a dance, dance that she could not refuse without risking to look rude. Each time, taking profit of the opportunity, he used to hold her strongly against him, his hand pressed against her lower back, preventing her from any movement of dodge.

His breath ever more intoxicated burned her cheeks turning red of the torture she was enduring, and she turned her head, feeling disgusted. Fortunately, there was always a pretender persistent enough to force him to give up, the British manners imposing themselves over his primal urges, and he unwillingly released her, with the unpleasant feeling that she was stolen from him.

Now, he was more displeased than usual, knowing that he could not ask for more dances for having exceeded his quota overmuch, though being her future brother in law. He began then to wander among the guests, holding his glass of whisky, having since a while dropped Champagne, too light to his taste. He noticed Cookie who was talking with Slim and his companion, a very attractive middle-aged man, whose beautiful white teeth shined through his blond beard. He glanced at them disapprovingly while passing in front of them, pursing his mouth with indignation.

How can those two parade themselves in public? Like if we ignored what they are for each other? I wonder why my brother dared to invite those... those two poofs? He's really more disturbed than I imagined! How can Candy have feelings for such degenerate?

He looked at Terry, his bastard brother, and jealousy invaded him, making the air stifling. As he observed him talking, he surprised his hand discreetly brushing Candy's as she walked near him. He perceived the eloquent gaze she gave him in return, inviting him to her conquest: this fleeting exchange did not leave any doubt about the unmorality of their relationship...

Shaking with rage, he felt the demon of concupiscence penetrating all his being, and he needed a long moment to recover his mind, thanks to another glass of whisky that he had intercepted as the waiter passed. He heard someone laughing and turned his head towards the said noise. It was Candy, obviously enjoying what her lover was whispering to her ear. Livid, he clenched his fist, staring at her, laughing. She looked so beautiful, and how he desired her!...

Someone went near him, so close that he could feel her breath against his ear. He knew well this voice, so familiar that it could guess what was tormenting him, and he frowned annoyingly.

You should stop eying her intently, bro, whether not you might have troubles... - Sybille said, mocking.

Leave me alone, will you? I don't care about your sarcasms! You are in front of a desperate man!

The young woman snickered shrugging, hiding her unattractive face under fan that she waved in front of her mouth whose cutting remarks could cross the paper with the vigor of a poisoned arrow.

How have you become infatuated with this country-girl? She has no grace and no elegance! Just good enough to pass the petits fours!

Your ill faith blinds you, sis! She's just sublime, a real goddess! And listening to you criticizing her so badly proves how jealous you are!

Me, jealous? - Sybille cried out with porcine growling.

Yes, jealous like all the women here! Watch how they look at her out of the corner of their eye, talking in a low voice, using scathing commentaries on her incomparable beauty. They scrutinize her, searching a default that does not exist. She is amazing...

If you say so... - she sighed – But though amazing, you should look for another prey because, this one, in spite of all your attempts, only has eyes for Terrence...

So saying, she turned on her heels, leaving her brother to his unrealistic thoughts, who, grumbling, watched her impressive behind go away.

We'll see about that, sis! We'll see about that...

The so much feared moment finally happened... In the distance, the increasing thunderstorm, like attracted by the happy sounds, began to show up through a rumble. Then pushed by the wind, its progression sped up, obscuring the sky and pushing away the sun behind thick clouds gathering above the castle and threatening to break at any time. At the first rain drops, people got invited to come inside followed by servants holding umbrellas. In no time, a torrential shower fell on the garden that surprised two latecomers, who hastily took shelter under the tents. The wind was so strong that the tents threatened to fly away, making knock down the glasses on the tables and fly the napkins. Cookie, the said latecomer, stuck to the site with Lucille, was getting more and more worried. In their haste, his wheelchair had got stuck and they had preferred taking a shelter under a tent rather than being soaked to the skin. Their situation becoming more and more unpredictable, the young nurse decided then to face the rain and look for a helping hand.

I'll be back as fast as possible, Mr Dicks! Don't worry! - she said as she walked away, keeping a firm hand on her nurse-cap whose long tails whipped her face and hindered her sight. Getting into the castle, all trickling, she was surprised by serenity of the place. The orchestra, gathered in the grand salon, was playing again and the guests had returned to their talking that had been interrupted shortly by the storm. Walking around like a lost soul, she ended by meeting Candy who was busy avoiding her undesirable future brother-in-law who was harassing her with his pervert eyes.

My Goodness, Lucille! You are soaked! - she cried out, horrified – But, where is Mr Dicks?

He stayed under the shelter of a tent, Miss. His wheelchair is stuck. I've ran here to ask for some help. It's really shaking outside!

The young woman's description was far from being exaggerated. The guests had already moved away from the windows, the rain lashing with such violence that there was concern that they might break. Candy looked around in search of Carson or any other servant. But the whole staff was busy bringing towels to the soaked guests. No further time could not be wasted! She saw Terry who was talking with a gray-haired and rounded goggles old man. They both seemed to know each other very well because Terry looked very at ease with him.

Sorry to interrupt... - she said as she pulled him by his arm.

Oh, Candy! Let me introduce you to Mr Davies, who was my piano teacher...

Pleased to meet you, sir... - she answered while taking Terry apart, without any concern about the rudeness of her gesture. There was something more important to worry about!

What's wrong? - Terry asked, surprised by her strange behavior.

Cookie is outside! His wheelchair is stuck and he can't move back here!

Outside? Under this pounding rain? Poor man! Let's rescue him!

Without further delay, they ran outside and cried out in fear. The wind had torn the tent roof, letting pass the water that was pouring in buckets on the poor Cookie, laying down on the floor, his wheelchair knocked beside him.

I tried to stand up... - he moaned as Terry lifted him, huffing away. Carson, alerted in his turn by Lucille had joined him, and with his two vigorous arms helped his master to settle in his chair the young disabled who let out a cry of pain.

My poor Cookie, your falling might have worsened your injuries – Candy said, passing an affectionate hand on his forehead – Hang in there, we'll be safe in a few seconds.

Putting together their strengths, they began to move their rocking load towards the castle, not without weathering a new gust that almost unbalanced them. At last, after numerous efforts, they reached their destination, exhausted and soaked to the skin. Their bursting into the grand salon, as they were stained with mud, didn't go unnoticed.

God heavens above ! What happened to you?

It was Beatrix, followed by her snoop daughter, who was calling out to them. The whole guests had turned around with an interrogative and misunderstanding air on their face. Terry looked down at him and realized his miserable appearance. His dropping clothes were wetting the carpet, creating a ring around his feet. For her part, Candy was not to be outdone. She had her hair messed up and her dress was stained with dirt. They looked like they had both crawled in the mud.

Mr Dicks was stuck outside under the rain – exhaled Terry with annoyance – As the servants were busy with the guests, Candy and I chose to act at once!

The result is up to your ambitions! Look at you! Dirty like this, you look ugly , believe me! - Sybille pointed out with her high-pitched voice.

It's true that under the protection of these walls you did not risk anything my dearest sister, unless the roof collapses on you and relieves my poor ears by shutting your trap, which remains a dream and an unfulfilled wish for me!...

Sybille furiously pursed her lips, making her reddish cheeks swell that dig more her sneaky eyes. She turned to her mother who, to avoid scandal, waved at her discreetly to calm down.

Well!... You'll have to reorganize your team, Carson! - the duchess cried out, casting a sidelong glance at her butler who mumbled some words of apology, looking down – It's not normal to have the Duke's son doing your work! - Come on, come on, hurry up, for Pete's sake! Bring all of this back to his bedroom (she had pointed disdainfully at Cookie when saying that). This has caused enough problems to us!... As for you, Terrence and Candice, changing yourselves and returning to our guests as fast as possible would be greatly requested. This joke has lasted far too long!

Then she turned on her heels, pouting contemptuously, and nodded at Sybille to follow her, who obeyed not without casting a mocking smile at her brother who had just been ticked off in front off everybody. How he hated this family!

If you want – he said, taking Candy's frozen hand – We can leave this house immediately! I'll do what you want!

This would be insulting to your father after all what he did to organize our engagement party. We owe him that much... - she answered with a soft voice – Forget Beatrix and forget your sister. They'll just be old memories very soon...

Everything seems so simple when I listen to you. But I wish I could give them a taste of their own medicine! - he said, raising his fist that she held on instinctively by pressing herself against him.

Tsssss! Tsssss! Calm down, they are watching us. This is not time for a scandal! It would turn against you. Let's change of clothes and meet each other in a few minutes, would you?

You're right... - he said with a tired voice – You're always right...

With this, he moved towards the first floor, meeting on his path Mrs Hugues to whom he asked to call for their family doctor to visit Cookie.

I want to be sure that my friend is fine...

Don't worry, My Lord, we'll take very well care of him. Do you want me to send a servant to your bedroom for helping you to change?

It won't be necessary, Mrs Hugues. I must admit that it is an habit that I lost long time ago and that I don't regret at all.

Mrs Hugues gave him a knowing smile then took the direction of her office while Terry headed back to his bedroom. He pushed the door and sat on the edge of his bed for a little pause. Then after few long sighs of resignation, he went to the bathroom. He looked at himself in the mirror and noticing how awful he looked, he decided to have a shower. The hot water was flowing along his numb from cold muscles and warming his body. He wished he could stay longer under the jet but he had to hurry, his guests being probably waiting for him impatiently. He dried himself briefly, then opened his wardrobe in which a more traditional suit was waiting for him.

What am I doing here? - he thought as he was tying a knot – I would do anything to be in New-York, far away from all these idiots!

He was feeling more and more homesick and his step-family, to be honest, did not improve his feelings. How impatient he was to leave that place! They had planned to go in three days, but his step-mother's behavior, his sister's unpleasant remarks and his brother's lustful glances on his fiancée had convinced him that they had to leave, even run away from these places he could not bear anymore. He had obviously noticed Rodolphe's suspicious behavior towards Candy. Many times he had wanted to make him understand, in his own way, that he had to stop any approach, but every time Candy had asked him to stay apart, guessing that it could turn badly at the least provocation of his stupid brother. Once again, she protected him from his reactions that could become terrible if the anger seized him. And when it was about his brother, he could lose quickly his temper so much he hated him.

It was settled! They would not wait three days before leaving. They would leave tomorrow... For never going back...

He adjusted one last time his tie-knot and opened the door. He could hear the soft music of the orchestra coming up from the big salon. A waltz... He was so impatient to dance one with Candy...

He went to the stairs and as he was starting to climb them down a shrilling cry echoed in the castle. A cry so strong and so terrible that it had reached the ballroom, interrupting the orchestra in the impulse. Terry's heart jumped in his chest, so violently that he was out of breath. He had never heard such a scream, so horrible, so dreadful that it would turn your blood to ice, but he knew in the depths of himself from which throat it had come out, and he ran, worried sick, towards Candy's bedroom...

End of chapter 19