(1311-08-28) Brief Advantage
Summary: Raphael receives a gift from Iphigénie and comes again to take tea with her. But will he reveal his suspicions of her greatest secret? (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 07/09/2019 - 09/09/2019
Related: Other scenes with these characters.
iphigenie raphael 

Garden — Maignard Residence

The garden is girded by a high wall of plain grey stone, lined with trellises which climbing roses and honeysuckle are being trained in the strictest Kusheline style to ascend. It is chiefly laid out as a parterre in which beds of colourful flowers are separated by low, angular, meticulous box hedges and raked pathways of dark gravel, about a bronze fountain celebrating a Maignard ancestor.

The spreading canopy of a mature elm tree provides shade over a small lawn and its own more haphazard growth of bluebells, crocus, borage, and nasturtiums, arisen during years of neglect, kept because of their great interest to the plethora of bees whose buzzing sets the air aquiver as they partake of their floral feast. Their home is a neat stack of wooden hives in the far corner beyond the elm, amongst bushes of lavender and fennel, rosemary and sage.

Spaced along the house's rear façade three sets of heavy dark doors lead into chambers well-lit by mullioned windows of thick, distorted glass.

A week's silence from the Maignard Residence ends with the delivery of a plainly-wrapped parcel, early one morning so that Raphael has it with his breakfast. Its dimensions immediately suggest a picture, not quite two feet square. An awkward burden for a Thorn to be seen toting about under his own arm, hence Iphigénie's discretion in assigning it to a lackey.

Bounded by an ornately carven and gilded frame — tarnished to a degree, according to what seems to be the Maignard taste — which hardly unfits it for a chamber in the Rose Sauvage, the painting's subject is a starkly lovely northern beach. The rock formation that spills down from a sheer cliff-face to shape one corner of the bay, has about it a suggestion of unsmiling faces that grows more marked the longer the eye lingers to pick out their features; toward the distant horizon, the setting sun casts a reddish glow across the darkening green waters.

It is accompanied by a brief invitation to tea, which offers Raphael his choice of afternoons whilst making no reference to Iphigénie's gift or its significance. He already knows.

Under her elm tree he finds what he must already expect: Marius Lefebvre nó Mandrake, returned from his travels to sip tea from the extra cup always set out for him. Iphigénie’s wandering consort occupies one corner of the sofa, with his long dark hair tied back and his powerful tanned torso left bare in the afternoon’s heat; he has an arm draped in a loose and friendly headlock about the lady herself, who sits sideways and snuggled back into him, reading aloud from a small book she holds up in both hands. Her attention is so taken up by the text, or perhaps simply by her situation, that Marius’s eye is the first to take in Raphael’s approach across the flower lawn. He purrs a word to warn her; her gaze flicks up from the page to see that it’s quite true, then down again that she might get to the end of the sentence even as she’s shifting to sit up properly, her consort’s arm uncurling from her but his hand providing unobtrusive support at her lower back to aid her in coming comfortably to a new position.

She’s dressed in a dark red pleated linen gown Raphael has seen but seldom, which worn thus without a corset betokens a day of rest at home. Between its neckline and her sharply-defined collarbones a hint of black linen suggests, to his lately learned eye, which shift she has got on beneath it. What he certainly hasn’t seen before is a curious new necklace: a band of thin, buttery-soft leather in the darker of her favourite reds, not quite an inch wide, too delicate really to serve as a collar but fitted to her pale neck in a manner unavoidably suggestive of restraint. The dainty silver buckle at one side is adorned with the likeness of a honeybee, faithfully wrought; from a small silver ring above the hollow of her throat, a glittering chain descends beneath her garments, presumably to keep some treasured trinket close to her heart.

Her last words perhaps reach him in his approach, spoken in Hellene with a soft and careful clarity. And then she shuts the book and lays it down, and essays a little adjustment to her skirts now that she’s sitting quite upright next to her consort still half-lounging.

“Monsieur Raphael,” she says pleasantly, meeting his eyes; “please, do join us.”

Raphael shows no particular surprise in finding that they are indeed three for tea. “Kind of you, as always, to invite me,” he replies, smile found just in the very corners of his mouth, but also in his eyes. He inclines his head also to the consort: “Monsieur Lefebvre,” he greets, “I trust your return travel was without incident.” He comes to take a seat of his own in a chair, and when he is seated he drops his eyes momentarily from Iphigénie’s face to take note of her new piece of jewelry. “Ah,” he says. “One more bee to join the hive.”

“Entirely uneventful,” the Mandrake man drawls, sitting up straighter next to his consort to replace the cup of tea he was sipping from in its saucer on the corner of the table.

There’s a third cup waiting for Raphael and Iphigénie perched upon the edge of the sofa sets about pouring for him, the pot held securely in both her hands— though the lid clatters when her consort’s arm snakes about her uncorseted waist, his own hand splaying out across her belly. “Monsieur Raphael, good afternoon,” Marius goes on. “I understand I owe you thanks,” and his dark eyes glitter with amusement, “for keeping Iphigénie well-entertained in my absence.”

Leaving the talk, just for the moment, to the two men in her life, Iphigénie sets down the teapot and lowers her eyes to Raphael’s cup as she stirs into it the faintest taste of honey.

Raphael nods at the confirmation that the trip was a safe one. “Ah, but it was my pleasure,” he returns, still smiling though his tone is one of affable respect as a professional rather than competition. “It has been a privilege to be received in your fine home, so well appointed.” With so many helpful fittings and objects.

His hosts glance at one another. “I suppose it is our home now,” murmurs Iphigénie, with a slight sideways smile at her consort. Then she lays down the silver spoon in the saucer and looks to Raphael as she offers him his cup, lifted toward him over a longer distance than usual given the half-bare bulk of Marius Lefebvre in the way. His arm moves easily with her, his hand bestowing a casual caress even as she bestows that cup of honeyed tea.

“We’re making it our own,” is his drawled opinion.

Sitting back into his half-embrace Iphigénie touches the buckle of her red leather choker with a tender fingertip. “You like my new bee, then?” she inquires of Raphael. “I might not wear it outside the house,” she chuckles softly, “but I think it very pretty for the garden.”

Raphael leans forward to accept the tea, his own movements made with the easy grace of long experience in having so many of one’s gestures watched. “Naturally,” he confirms to Iphigénie. “It is finely worked and I am sure it harmonizes well with some of your other jewelry. The perfect piece for the garden provided it does not bewitch the living bees.”

Iphigénie again lowers her eyes, but without quite hiding her smile.

Beside her Marius drawls, “You need not be too concerned. She has the colony already under her thrall.” His hand falls away out of sight, though his arm lingers still around Iphigénie’s narrow back; he inclines his head toward Raphael and purrs, “Have you ever seen her walk unclothed amongst her bees?” He lifts an inquisitive eyebrow. “They don’t touch her.”

“Monsieur,” murmurs Iphigénie, not quite reproving. She bites her lower lip.

“Not even with all her botanical qualities?” Raphael asks with a tone of mild interest. “Astounding.” He now sips the tea he’s been given, glancing aside toward the hives to see whether he spots any in the air in that direction.

“Isn’t she.” Though that, at least, is not a question; and upon uttering it Marius releases his consort and rises, barefoot in his laced-up black leather breeches. “A pleasure, Monsieur Raphael,” is all he says in taking his leave, though as he rounds the sofa in departure his hand comes from behind to ruffle Iphigénie’s white head as she shakes it at him.

For a few seconds she watches him go, toward the house and the open door of her chamber. Then she sits back amongst the cushions on her sofa and regards Raphael, her hands folded in her lap and a faint smile shaping her red mouth. There’s a watercolour look about her again today, as she sits in the dappled light filtering through the elm’s canopy.

There’s always a bee or so, of course. Faint, vibrating disturbances in the air.

“You must be delighted to have him back,” Raphael comments to Iphigénie after a moment enjoying the tea and watching the flight pattern of one particular bee after Marius has excused himself. “Are you returning to some sense of normalcy?”

That’s so plain, Iphigénie just answers with a wry smile.

Then she breathes out a soft ‘mmm’ and sits up again, and reaches for her own neglected cup of tea. “Nothing here is quite normal yet,” she admits; “we hadn’t time enough to arrange it so in the few weeks he was with me before, when the state of my health seemed to be shifting each day and astonishing us a little more each time…” She sips from her cup, and immediately puts it down and reaches for the teapot to see how much hot is left therein. “But, you know,” this with one of her mischievous glances, flicked up at him as she pours, “I don’t really mind being taken by surprise.” The pot empties before her cup fills. Alas. She sets it down and drinks anyway, the brew warmer now than the cold tea she found in her cup, if not quite hot.

“I hope the painting amused you, monsieur,” she ventures then.

The painting. Raphael smiles, a somewhat different sort of smile than he often shows. Perhaps in order to give some thought to what he will say next, he drinks from the cup. “It is a fine painting,” he says at last, looking up to her face, “And I am grateful that you were so kind as to send it. The waves must crash hard indeed against such a beach.”

“In the winter especially the noise can be deafening,” Iphigénie admits. “That is Rothéneuf, monsieur— a few miles east along the coast from my son’s port,” she explains. “The picture was a gift to me many years ago from a friend of the time, who painted it. Though to be truthful with you,” another mouthful of tea and she sets it down, leaning her forearms against the edge of the table as she inclines toward Raphael, “I’d forgotten all about it until I was thinking upon my dream and I realised it was the same beach.” She raises her eyebrows at him. “I wrote to have it sent from our house in Elua. I’d far rather you have it, monsieur, than I.”

“Ah,” Raphael replies. “How interesting. It was good of you to take the time and trouble to send for it. I found it very interesting. In contemplating it — to tell you plainly, I find it restful to look on after a long evening of going over contracts — I must admit I almost began to see the cliffs resolve themselves into faces.”

“But there are faces,” Iphigénie points out simply, “carved into our cliffs. Some of them so weathered by now that one can hardly distinguish a nose, or a mouth — others sheltered enough that one can see them quite well still. They are ancient, monsieur, and no one knows who carved them. Naturally they appeal to many an artist’s romantic soul,” she teases, counting him amongst the susceptible; “in Maignard lands there’s hardly a house where one won’t see hanging at least the lady of that house’s own attempts to capture them. I don’t draw, though,” of course not, when she can hardly write, “so I’ve spared my friends that at least.”

She bows her head and laughs quietly, and drinks more of her tea. “I recall well I am in arrears, monsieur,” she adds, looking up at him with a gravity which upon close examination is feigned, “and I have one more gift in mind for you, but I fear that that too will take a little time.”

It is Iphigénie’s face in which Raphael takes an interest now, sipping his tea again as he listens to what his host has to say. “I regret I have never traveled there,” he says. “But somehow,” he says, leaving a little space before his next remark, “I wondered if I had seen your face there.” That much said, he moves on to the next matter with a smile. “As I have said more than once, I am a patient man. And I find it hard to worry that you would forget much of anything.”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Perception: Great Success. (8 1 8 1 1 4 5 8 2 5 2 8 3 5)
<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Presence+Composure: Success. (6 3 1 6 4 4 4 7 4 4 3 4 2 5 5 6)

Something flickers across Iphigénie’s painted countenance when, studying Raphael as she often does for the simple pleasure of that sight, she sees her scrutiny returned with a different, more pensive character. “… It is a long way to travel,” she murmurs noncommittally, “even for a man so patient; and here you are privileged to serve already amongst great beauty.”

And then she summons light laughter. “I am not quite so venerable as that, nor so mysterious. And I forget a great many things, I regret to say. Paintings, for an example,” and her smile brightens into another tease. “Though I hope I retain yet a clear enough recollection of where my duty might lie— as well as my pleasure.” This with a deferential tilt of her breeze-tousled white head toward the Thorn who has lately taken such responsibility for the latter.

Raphael doesn’t answer as quickly as he might, holding his host’s gaze rather than laugh along with her or immediately fall into the banter she invites. But at length he nods and sips his tea once more. “Well, as I said when we last met, Valerians are such popular subjects for paintings, particularly in the spaces I frequent. Perhaps I look to see them everywhere.” His smile is mild. “I am sure you mistake neither duty nor pleasure whatever the case.”

“Then I hope you do see us so often, monsieur,” Iphigénie teases, “and we you.”

The maid Nadège is a meagre kind of cavalry; but with Raphael already in graceful retreat from his point, her advent upon the lawn with a fresh supply of hot water produces a similar result. (She was ordered by Marius Lefebvre, a man imbued with the exquisite domestic instincts his consort lacks.) The women occupy themselves in brewing a second pot of tea from the same leaves, a small thrift of Iphigénie’s which hasn’t any particular bearing upon the taste of it.

The ceremony concluded, Iphigénie dismisses her maid with a cool, “Very well,” and then looks to Raphael again as they await the steeping of the leaves. “… And I think I said when last we met,” she pursues, “that I would tell you how you were pictured in my recollections.”

“There was that promise made,” Raphael recalls with a granite smile. “I suppose you intend to keep it?” Meanwhile there is still tea in his cup, and since more is steeping, he drinks from what he has.

Iphigénie affects to draw herself back from the table. “A promise is a promise, monsieur,” she reminds him gravely, and then with a smile relaxes again into her usual teatime demeanour as she conveys the poor tired tea leaves in their silver infuser from the pot to the dish that awaits them. She replaces the lid and then moves nearer to Raphael, into the place left empty by her consort’s departure, to replenish his cup more easily. The voluminous red linen folds of her gown drape further across the sofa’s length, and tighten about one thigh.

“Though the truth of your skill requires no amendment by imagination,” she admits as she holds the pot in her usual cautious, two-handed manner and pours tea for her visitor. “Not even,” and her face inclines toward his to bestow a wry and fleeting smile, “an imagination like mine. And so I’ve no revelations for you, have I, monsieur?” she inquires of him coolly. “Honey?”

“Perhaps not,” Raphael confirms with regard to the missing revelations. “I will take a small amount.” That’s for the honey. “After all, it hardly feels like your garden without at least the scent of honey. Has the week been kind to you?”

Which savour is supplied, of course, by Iphigénie herself, via her scent of honey and blood oranges and her honeyed soap he knows so well— but a little more won’t go amiss and so she provides it, calculated to Raphael’s restrained taste for sweetness.

“Very kind, monsieur,” she answers, above the soft chime of porcelain and silver. “I hope you’ve had opportunity to spend your time just as well, and in just such good company.” She lays down the spoon and inclines toward him again to present him with cup and saucer. “And I am glad you came today, monsieur,” she adds softly, “so that we might speak.”

“As perhaps you found in your own service, one both does and does not choose one’s company at the salon,” is Raphael’s reply, as he leans forward with a straight back to accept his refreshed cup. “Thank you,” he says, and then scans his host’s face briefly. “It sounds as if you have something you’d like to discuss.”

“Yes, monsieur,” agrees Iphigénie— but first she attends to her own cup, more generous now indispensing the honey yielded up by their small companions. When she has scalded her tongue, then, with her habitual haste to taste her tea when it is freshest and so hottest, she returns her cup to her saucer and rests her hand next to it upon the table.

“I would like to remain your patron, monsieur,” she explains, smiling faintly as if to say: who could blame her for nurturing so natural a desire? “But Monsieur Lefebvre has indicated that he wishes to keep me to himself for the time being. His right; truthfully, my pleasure,” she admits. “But perhaps later in the year, we might reflect again upon such questions.”

Raphael looks almost surprised to hear the topic that she brings up. “But of course,” he replies. “It was always my expectation that Monsieur Lefebvre’s return would imply such a shift.” He smiles over his cup of tea, pausing to sip from it. “But it is kind of you to express such interest. Of course if circumstances or preferences should change in the future then I welcome that. Still, as you know, I have the greatest respect for your bond with your consort. I take it by no means amiss should that bond be best served by exclusivity at the moment.”

Nothing in his answer surprises Iphigénie; they were raised in the same world, they speak the same language, they look to the same memories when interpreting the same silences.

Still she lowers her eyes in gracious acceptance of his understanding, and takes another sip of her tea before she looks up to him and speaks. “I thought that what bond there is between ourselves, monsieur,” she suggests gently, “might best be served by clarity. I would not like to leave you wondering where you stand with me, or indeed where you sit— there, I hope,” and she nods to his present chair, “taking tea in my garden whenever you should wish it.”

Raphael, whose highly correct speech did not admit much space for nuanced facial expression, now smiles, and it is a soft and fond expression. “It is good of you,” he says, “and appreciated. As is the tea.” He lofts his cup in a sort of salute.

His patron blossoms under that smile, returning it in kind and lowering her eyes for an instant before she raises them and her cup both, in reflection of him. “Of course, monsieur. There is no reason we may not keep company as friends,” she goes on; “and enjoy the pleasures of private conversation, which I must say I find—” She pauses; her own smile deepens. “Infinite.”

“And much gentler to your shifts,” Raphael replies in good humor. “Indeed I am glad of your friendship.” He looks into his teacup a moment, then lifts his eyes and volunteers, “You know, when I returned to Marsilikos I did not envision forging such valuable friendships here.”

The remembered fate of certain undergarments only renews the fondness in Iphigénie’s smile, as she sips her tea. Then she admits: “Monsieur, nor did I when I came here. I know I’ve said to you before that my time in Marsilikos has exceeded my hopes,” she says more seriously; “I’ve been stronger and happier here than I supposed I would be again in this life. And as I care for you, monsieur, I’m pleased to know you too have received unexpected blessings in this— unusual city,” she murmurs. “Service, and friendship. What more might one desire?”

Raphael’s jaw muscles stand out for a brief moment but then he smiles fully and nods to acknowledge his understanding of her sentiment. “It is welcome to have both,” he says. “And indeed I am glad to hear of your strength and happiness here.”

Iphigénie puts down her cup and her hands retreat into her lap, to clasp there. “Monsieur, I think I misspoke,” she says after a moment, “for which I beg your pardon.” Her green eyes gaze into his, full of gentle intelligence and no mischievous wit at all, now. “I think you and I both arrived here suffering, in our different ways. I was speaking of the balm one might reasonably desire to find in this Terre d’Ange— no more than that. You’ve an ocean of silence about you, monsieur — and as you have not invited me to cross it, I do try not to disturb the waters.”

Raphael waves a hand as a gesture toward dispelling the mood he has brought to the conversation. “You must forgive me,” he says. There ought to be something witty to follow to put his host at ease and restore the conversation to its proper flow, but it does not come so instantly. “Of course I understood you perfectly. My mind occasionally…wanders, I find, these days, in certain moments. It is not so much that I am being secretive, but that… Well, those digressions should not trouble you. You don’t truly cause them. They arise. I’m sure you…understand what I mean.” His usually smooth speech is marred by a few pauses, but he does succeed in maintaining eye contact and the suggestion of a smile.

In her turn Iphigénie offers the veritable hand of friendship, laid palm-up on the corner of the table but with so discreet and deniable a gesture that Raphael may take it or not, as he pleases, and if he doesn’t she’s simply resting it next to her cup, as she considers.

“Of course I understand, monsieur,” she says gently, “and of course I am not troubled by what I sometimes see. I understand too the difference between privacy and secrecy. You hide nothing sinful or unworthy, only what is too justly precious to you to be sullied by custom.”

Raphael looks at first as if he intends to disagree, but upon further consideration it becomes harder to do so. “That may be true,” he admits at last. The hand he hasn’t taken yet, but he does see it. There’s a significant space in which he regards that hand before he does reach out to grasp it. His palm is certainly warm.

Iphigénie’s face doesn’t change when he takes her hand, but her fingers twine through his a little more intimately than usual, long and thin and cool even in late afternoon.

“When one acts in a rôle, especially,” she pursues, “it is normal and correct to set aside certain aspects of one’s own personal, flawed, fallible nature in order more fully to approach and emulate an ideal. But of course because of that all too human nature,” she smiles at him, a little sadly but with great compassion, “sometimes one does not entirely succeed in ignoring it. I understand perhaps better than some of your patrons how one might honour the rôle on one day, and the man on another. But,” and somehow this lengthening contact of hands and eyes has confirmed it for her, “I think you’ve worked that out, haven’t you, monsieur.”

“I find,” Raphael says gently, or perhaps it is carefully, “that one faces the greatest danger when he believes that he has truly worked out anything. But,” he says, voice striking a lighter yet by no means frivolous note, “I am grateful that you can understand my position in this way.”

“… If you mean,” and Iphigénie’s voice remains tender and not in the least playful, her eyes never leaving Raphael’s nor her stronger right hand ceasing its gentle pressure upon his, “that one may be a vessel for something that is sacred, and yet put on one’s stockings one at a time in the morning like anyone else— yes, monsieur, you know I understand intimately.”

“I do know that,” Raphael confirms softly, squeezing her hand in return. “And I am grateful, truly. It is a rare thing, that sort of understanding.” Only now does he withdraw his hand, but not with any sense of coldness.

“It shouldn’t be,” is Iphigénie’s opinion, given as her released hand moves elegantly — as if it were her own idea, or at least the consequence of a mutual agreement — to take up her teacup and lift it to her lips. She drinks and then offers in an aside, “You must think, monsieur, that I am habitually careless. I am not. But sometimes— sometimes these matters arrange themselves with a momentum of their own. Whether it is my ill fortune or my good fortune,” she shrugs, perhaps not quite easy — though one would have to be a keen observer of her indeed to perceive such a nuance, “rests now in your hands, as I did myself.”

“No,” Raphael answers, “I do not find you to be careless.” His eyes move over her face. “But I hope you understand that I have the greatest respect for the vulnerability with which people entrust me. And for yours in particular.” He sets his cup aside even though it has not particularly been in his way. “I do not casually betray a trust.”

“And that,” Iphigénie says gently, “is why I have not been lying awake chastising myself for not” Her unoccupied left hand rises in a vague gesture, and then her fingers close into her palm and her hand lowers to the table. “One cannot do what you and I have done together,” she states, holding his eyes with her intelligent green gaze, “and remained closed off from one another. Do you know,” a lighter sigh, echoed by a hint of mischief in her smile, “how rarely I undress, even for the bees? But I decided some while ago to trust you, monsieur. Now I find I must extend that trust farther and more deeply than I supposed. Monsieur,” she says simply, “I shall.”

A solemn downward tip of his head acknowledges Raphael’s understanding of the gravity of this trust she is bestowing upon him. But as his chin lifts again he has already begun to smile once more. “And I think you understand very well that trust was met with trust. And also that it is greatly appreciated for its own sake. And for the sake of what it has allowed us…to share.” That brings a touch of the solemnity back, and firm eye contact. “It’s certainly not my intention to pry into your life. I understand what it is to have… Well, complexities in one’s past and present.”

Well— Iphigénie can’t help but take quiet pleasure in being pinned where she is by her Thorn’s decided blue-grey gaze. She looks back at him without shyness or pretense, content in the reassurances he offers her. “If you did have questions, monsieur,” she suggests slowly, “I would answer you as I could. Though perhaps on another occasion, when you have had the leisure to reflect. I would not add to your burden of privacy — but if I might in some manner ease your thoughts, I should wish to do so. I’d rather too that you speak to me than make any,” a soft stress upon the word, “general inquiries elsewhere… I am not afraid, monsieur, to keep sharing what we may, when what we’ve shared already has proven a benison upon us both.”

Raphael shakes his head. “I have never made inquiries about you and do not intend to do so. We can, one day, if you wish, discuss the matter, and I will tell you of my time in Elua in return. But if on the other hand you would rather leave it be and focus on other things, we never seem to want for conversation.” At this he flashes a more confident and perhaps flirtatious smile.

A slight shake of Iphigénie’s own head disclaims that first assumption. “I didn’t mean,” she murmurs, “that you might ask about me, monsieur — but sometimes people do relate odd ideas… not all of which,” she concedes in justice, smiling faintly, “are untrue.”

That smile, of course, deepens her quiet pleasure in the sight of so attractive a man taking his ease amidst the myriad green shades of her garden. “We don’t, do we?” she observes. “Ah, monsieur,” and she runs the tip of her tongue over her upper teeth and lets a soft, murmurous laugh escape her. “We might even discuss how often, for a perverse soul, the act of forbidding something lends it a fresh allure. Good fortune comes in so many guises.”

A slight tilt of the head lends some amusement to Raphael’s expression. “I imagine you rather enjoy that it does,” he says. “People like you and I do like the novelty of a new guise. Or so I imagine,” he concludes, that equivocation mostly playful. “Not to mention a prolonged wait now and again.”

Is he thinking what she’s thinking? Surely he is. “I feel you understand, monsieur,” murmurs Iphigénie, “how sweet self-denial can be, even before it comes to an end… Will you take another cup of tea, or shall we forbid ourselves that too—?” she teases.

“I’m afraid we may have to, in fact,” Raphael replies. “I admittedly do have an engagement that I ought to be leaving for soon. I hope you won’t mind my taking such brief advantage of your hospitality.”

Iphigénie raises her eyebrows at him. “Oh,” she teases, “now that’s too easy, monsieur.” She sits back and relaxes against her cushions, regarding him fondly. “But you must come and take brief advantage whenever you wish, of course. I’m usually here in the afternoons.”

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