It was well in the afternoon by the time Monsieur Andreu made his appearance in Aria’s bedchamber. There was much about her companion she still didn’t know, but she was always learning. If he set a time he was punctual to the moment. But more open-ended engagements, such as afternoon tea, could mean noon until nearly five in the evening. And that usually meant waiting alone with little to do until he decided to arrive.
“Did you stay up late?” Pierre asked. “You look dreadfully tired.”
Aria placed her cup on the saucer. “A little later than I should have, I admit, but I still feel plenty rested. Please don’t worry on my account.”
“I always worry; I have to. While I’m away, I do hope this won’t become a habit.” While Pierre’s expression may have been kind and warm, the tone of his voice was not. He didn’t sound angry, just mildly annoyed.
“It won’t, I promise.” Aria said.
Pierre said nothing for a moment. “Thank you.”
Aria took another sip of tea for lack of what to say. She didn’t like the sudden change of atmosphere in her room. At first it seemed pleasant, playful; now it seemed uneasy. Even as the memory of Philip almost kissing her lips came back, she couldn’t bear the thought of being considered less than faithful. A curious thought given this wasn’t an honest relationship.
“So,” Aria said, “where will you be going on this business trip? What is it for?”
Pierre’s mood changed completely, for the better. The congenial smile was back before his cup of tea made it back to its saucer. “I’ll be traveling to a little town called Dieppe on the northern coast. I’ve been working with a gentleman who might be willing to arrange regular shipping into England for me; right now it’s quite difficult. We’ve been discussing this for nearly a year now since Monsieur Renaud is trying to sabotage me.”
“Forgive me if I’ve asked before, but what do you ship?”
“The majority of it has been cheese, wine, imported goods, things of that nature. But I’d honestly like to be more involved in other industries, too. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to take business away from the competition.”
Aria chuckled. “You and Monsieur Renaud have been competitors for a while, then?”
“Since I started nearly a decade ago, yes. Someday he’ll lose his business either by death or as the cost of doing business. If I can sway some of them now, I’ll be a very happy man then.”
“Mm.” Aria took another sip of her tea. “Must be thrilling.”
Pierre nodded. “I like to think so, if nothing else than for the sights I see when I travel. Someday, I would like to take you with me; to show you some of the most spectacular sights in all of France.” Pierre finished his tea. “Unfortunately, that won’t be for some time, if at all.”
“How long will you be away? Not too long, I hope.”
Pierre chuckled this time, looking his companion over curiously. “No, not too long. I’ve planned for four days, but I’ll write if I need to stay longer. While I’m away, I’ve arranged for you to see an opera; I’m curious if you’ll like it as much as the play or not. I’ve also made arrangements for my maid to escort you around different gardens in the area, too.”
Aria stared wide-eyed. “That’s generous of you, Monsi—”
“Pierre,” he corrected.
“Yes…That’s very generous of you, Pierre, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable attending an opera alone; attending anything of the sort without you, for that matter.”
“You would rather stay cooped up here instead?”
Aria looked away pondering the question. No, she really wouldn’t rather stay here. But it was one thing to attend a play with Pierre and another to use his money to see an opera alone. She was his escort. It would be dangerous to pretend she was a noblewoman or some other woman with social standing. But she wasn’t.
“Aria,” Pierre reached across the table taking her hand in his. “I know it might make you uncomfortable, but I want you to enjoy life as much as possible. Perhaps it’s indulgent of me, but I haven’t had someone to spoil in my life for longer than I’d like. I know this arrangement will end in a few short months and we’ll go our separate ways, but…” Pierre sighed, looking deep into her eyes, “will you allow me to indulge you?”
Aria, captivated by Pierre’s endearment, couldn’t say no. The words were stifled even as she tried to coax them out. They never came. Instead her expression softened and she smiled letting her fingers be entwined with his.
“As long as it won’t hurt you.”
Pierre lifted Aria’s hand to his lips, kissing her knuckle. “I promise you, it won’t. I enjoy it. So, please, enjoy what I’m offering while it lasts because you may not have such luck again.”
Nodding, Aria took her hand back. “When is this opera? And when will I be treated to the gardens?”
“I have it all prearranged so all you must do is be ready on time. I have it all here,” Pierre set an envelope on the table. “My maid will also see that you do a little shopping, too. She knows what you’ll need.”
“Thank you, Pierre.”
Aria stood, moving their teacups and teapot to a small table near the door for the maid to collect eventually. Checking his watch, Pierre stood also. He always held the habit of being close to Aria, preferring to shower her with affection at his whim. He really was a man without a woman in his private company.
Just don’t fall in love, Aria thought.
“I still have a few last-minute things to care for, so I’m afraid I have to leave you for now. I cannot wait to hear what you think of the opera and the gardens.” Pierre brought Aria into an embrace kissing her lips for just a moment until he—reluctantly—pulled himself away.
“I wish for safe travels,” Aria said, “and I hope your meeting goes well.”
Pierre smiled and left her room.
No sooner had the door latched behind him than Aria picked up the envelope, sitting on the small chaise. There was no scorching love letter, much to Aria’s delight, but instead a schedule.
“Monday: Tea time and free time at the Moulin Rouge.
Tuesday: Walk through the Cours la Reine and shopping.
Wednesday: Walk through the Jardin du Palais-Royal and free time.
Thursday: Opera at the Palais Garnier.
Friday: Free time at a library or garden.
Saturday: Monsieur Renaud’s evening party.
Sunday: Free time at the Moulin Rouge.”
Monday finished without much ado: relaxing, dinner, reading, sleep. It was quite nice to have some time to herself to think about whatever she wanted—or needed—to think about. So she spent time pondering her arrangement with Pierre, her feelings toward Philip, and her unease about what would be expected of her during Monsieur Renaud’s evening party, assuming Pierre had an ulterior motive as Aria assumed—after all, what sort of informant would she be if she was never in a position to overhear business?