Walking through the Moulin Rouge on Pierre’s arm had never made Aria uncomfortable before. Then again, she had never before traded information for favors. With Monsieur Renaud’s proposal fresh in her mind, she couldn’t help but wonder why someone so well-connected would need her help at all. Questions raced to the front her mind only to be washed away by a torrent of others. Agreeing without much information had been foolish, she knew that, but if so many others had failed to find something useful before her, Aria wanted to be the one to find something of use to him. She didn’t understand that and her head hurt trying to force it to make sense.
The maids milled about the service corridor carrying trays of tea and small pastries or whatever else the ladies of the night needed. Aria smiled sweetly at the maid standing expectantly beside her own door. “Good evening, Brigitte,” Aria said.
Brigitte said nothing; she wasn’t expected to speak.
Aria herself spent several years as the maid to one of the courtesans, Mademoiselle Janelle. Aria had been contracted to attend to Janelle’s needs, whatever they may be. Most nights she had only been expected to help the woman prepare for her clients and bring tea and biscuits as needed. Some nights she had been permitted to spend the evening with the woman. Janelle taught her the sadness of being a courtesan, but also the possibilities that door opened; Aria never thought she’d miss the woman as much as she did.
Aria entered her room first, Pierre just behind her, with Brigitte trailing behind. By the time the maid joined her behind the partition, she’d already liberated the envelope.
“Monsieur Andreu, I believe this is for you,” Aria said with a small smile. “I do hope it helps you.”
Pierre kissed her hand as he took it from her. “I as well.”
The sound of Aria and Brigitte removing the many layers of her evening gown filled the room while Pierre read through whatever it was that Aria “found.” Brigitte carefully hanged each piece of clothing back in the armoire where they began their day as Aria slipped a nightgown over her chemise and drawers. When Aria emerged, Pierre sat on the small sofa, wide eyes skimming the pages in his hands. Even her presence wouldn’t easily distract him.
“Brigitte, could you please bring us a pot of tea?” Aria asked pulling pins from her hair.
“Of course, Mademoiselle,” Brigitte slipped from the room a moment later.
Aria sat next to Pierre, collecting the pins in her hands until all her strands were finally freed. “Is it what you wanted?”
“Oh, Aria, it’s even better than I could have dreamed!” He moved his head as if he was looking at his companion, but his eyes never left the page. He was entranced and nothing would bring him back until he was satisfied.
“How so? Will you share it with me?” Curiosity loosened the knot forming in her stomach. How much had Monsieur Renaud given just for someone agreeing to assist in his search without even the promise of success?
How much was a son worth?
“These are just a small sampling of his contracts, some of which are expiring soon. And,” he smiled broadly as he kept working through the pages, “he’s written down what he’s been charging this whole time. No wonder the man is so successful! He hardly spends anything to ship wares, even to England, and charges his clients little more for the effort. He has so many clients it all practically pays for itself. So long as nothing goes wrong he’ll make a profit.”
Aria smiled. “So now you have a small sampling of your competitors’ expiring contracts with how much Monsieur Renaud charged to ship his wares, as well as a new contract with one who will be able to ship to England for you. You could quite a bit of damage to Monsieur Renauds’ business, unless I’m misunderstanding something.”
The door creaked open as Brigitte carried in a tray with a teapot and two cups with cream and sugar should they need it. Pierre didn’t glance in the maid’s direction, far too concerned with his papers to be bothered by the help. Aria felt much different. She couldn’t help but blush when she caught Brigitte’s eye; it was hard when that maid was a former close friend.
Pierre finally pried his eyes from the papers in his hands, beaming at Aria like a boy winning a prize. “You understand perfectly.” His lips pressed to Aria’s wrapping his free arm around her to pull her as close. Her hand caressed the soft warmth of his cheek, allowing herself to taste him timidly. Pierre tasted of champagne and strawberries and cigars; Aria didn’t mind it.
Aria smiled up at Pierre demurely when she parted from his lips.
Pierre chuckled. “My apologies. I suppose I shouldn’t let my joy sweep me away like that.”
Aria forced herself to focus on Pierre. “No need to apologize. You have every right to be happy.” She kissed his lips one last time before putting the pins away in her vanity and grabbing a hair brush. Her hair would tangle terribly if she didn’t do something about it now.
Pierre sighed contentedly before standing to pour their tea. “You’re excused,” he said to Brigitte who silently slipped out the door.
As Aria finished brushing out her hair, Pierre returned to sit with her, steaming cup of tea in hand. Aria stared into her cup for a moment before finding the courage to ask, “Were you being serious before? In the carriage, I mean…that…that you’d buy what I desired for bringing something useful?”
Pierre lowered his cup. “Of course I was. I wouldn’t dangle such a thing for entertainment. Is there something you’d like?”
Aria shook her head lightly. “No, there’s not. I wanted only to ask. No one has ever offered such a thing to me before.”
Pierre chuckled. “Like I’ve said before, I have no one in my life to shower with affection and trinkets; I enjoy it. I would fetch whatever you fancied just because I could and because I want to. But I also know it makes you uncomfortable to accept my generosity at times. If I need to use your first successful soiree as the reason I spoil you, so be it.”
Aria sipped her tea until it was finished. She couldn’t help but smile; she’d never met a man like him, and she wasn’t likely to again.
Pierre kissed the crown of her head as he stood taking her cup and saucer with him. “Mademoiselle Ariadne, I do believe I best let you rest. I’m afraid I now have much to do and so very little time with which to work with.”
“I understand,” Aria said standing. “Will I see you tomorrow?”
“No, I’m afraid not, but you’ll have the day to yourself. Unless you’d like for me to arrange something for you?”
“That’s all right. I’m perfectly content staying here tomorrow. This has been quite an interesting week; some time to myself would be lovely.”
With a chaste kiss and a nod, Pierre departed the Moulin Rouge.
Aria wrapped a blanket around herself and started for the door. Habits were so very hard to break, especially when they were habits formed from such a young age. She had always tried to meet Philip on the roof to relax, decompress, laugh; she feared that may never happen again. With a sigh, Aria’s hand released its grasp on the doorknob, securing the lock instead.
It took over an hour for sleep to claim her restless mind.