“What do you mean ‘it fell off’?!”
“I mean it must of fell off on them bumpy tracks a while back. Guess I mustn’t have tied it on as well I thought I did.”
They had been on their way to the Afonsine country estate when they’d hit a snag. Whereas Marielle’s bags were in perfect condition and all accounted for, Estelle’s was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh, Estelle! You do look funny! Rather like a drowned cat!”
“Thank you, Marielle.”
“I am… quite sure, My Lady.”
Thunder seemed to shake the earth. Estelle winced, as another thunderous boom rumbled in the distance before a streak of lightning cracked the air. She shivered, and wondered how the day could possibly get any worse. Except she already knew.
“Please don’t let him greet us, please don’t let him greet us…”
Estelle steeled herself for the torture that was about to ensue over the next three days. She hadn’t seen the Viscount for almost a fortnight, not since she had… expressed herself to him in the library of the Buckingham’s townhouse.
They would stay out of each other’s way for the next three days (not to mention the following months and years) and hope that one day they may come to forget what had occurred between them.
Even distracted as she was, Estelle couldn’t help but take in the sheer magnificence of the Afonsine Estate. The grounds were vast and richly textured with trees and, from what she’d heard, there was even a lake somewhere.
Nervously, she wondered whether she would even be allowed in, in her current, sorry state…
It was magnificent. Magnificent and huge.
It was all just so… overwhelming, and they hadn’t even walked in yet.
His voice echoed through the space, bouncing off the walls with aggravating clarity. Estelle’s eyes darted to his figure, her heart suddenly jerking awkwardly within her chest.
“Oh, how splendid this is, my lord! How delightfully splendid!”
“More guests, Vaughn? Oh, mon dieu!”
She had to blink several times before she actually believed that the woman was Vaughn’s mother. She had heard of the Countess’ beauty and elegance before now, and yet none of the descriptions she’d overheard seemed to do the real article justice.
“Oh, heavens, you’ll catch your death! We must get you out of those ruined clothes at once!”
Estelle swallowed as her heart sank further, the awfulness of the situation making her stomach churn. Again.
“I’m afraid I no longer have one, my Lady. It… it seems to have fallen from the carriage in the storm.”
“Well… this will not do at all.”
“I am truly sorry, my Lady, I can—”
The Countess exclaimed with a flourish.
“We cannot have a guest running about all day in rags!”
“Why, you will borrow my clothes!”
“I-I beg your pardon, my lady?!”
“My Lady, I-I couldn’t possibly—”
“And what else do you suggest, my dear? That I let you catch a fever?”
The Countess declared resolutely.
“Are we not the same height? You will borrow my clothes. Alors, Annette?”
“Trouvez mes vêtements anciennes, Annette. Tu sais… euh… les robes que j’ai portées à Paris quand j’étais plus jeune… et moins grosse. Mais seulement les plus belles, d’accord?”
“Bien! Now, take Miss…?”
“How wonderfully exotic!” Lady Afonsine beamed.
The maid bobbed a curtsy towards Lady Afonsine before nodding to Estelle, who duly followed her, smiling her thanks to the Countess.