Rue shook her head against his touch. “All three of my parents serve the crown with grace and integrity. If the Shadow Council trusts me with this, I will accept the responsibility. It is an odd birthright, but it’s mine. Besides, why do you care?”

Quesnel lowered his hands. “You are amazingly frustrating. Has anyone ever told you that?”

“Frequently. It’s part of my charm.”

Quesnel turned all French on her in an instant. His eyes back to twinkling. “Very well, mon petit chou, I think I should kiss you now, before you are corrupted by circumstances beyond our control.”

“Very melodramatic of you. And yet here I find it is you who is bent on my corruption.” Rue tilted her head, as if considering an offer of new gloves. Inside she was properly thrilled. They shouldn’t, of course, but Rue had never had a real kiss from someone she actually liked. And she suspected Quesnel might be pretty good at it.

She closed her eyes. “Very well then, do your damnedest.”

Quesnel, as it transpired, was a good kisser. All those fancy ladies, Rue supposed. Not that she had much fodder with which to build comparisons. But she certainly enjoyed it. His lips were warm and firm, but not too firm. Halfway through she could feel him smile in the creasing of his cheek against hers. Only Quesnel, she thought, would have the temerity to smile during an embrace.

His arms were gentle around her, strong enough to know she was supported, but not so tight as to feel confining. His hands curled about her waist, warm and strong. He took his time, exploring her lips with his, and eventually her body with those hands. He’s rather wicked, thought Rue happily.

Rue was a believer in experts. She felt it was always best to identify the expert and trust their abilities in the matters of shoe leather or embroidery work or opera singing. Quesnel had the reputation as an expert in the matter of seduction, so Rue committed herself utterly to his expertise. She supposed that made him a rake, but a good one.

She tried tentatively to imitate some of his actions. She was worried about being thought inferior in the matter of intimate relations. Or worse, prudish. Rue took seriously a statement Primrose once made in admiration when they were ten that Rue was “always game for a lark”.

Rue found she was battling Quesnel’s lips for dominance and was not sure about that. But she did enjoy running her own hands over his warm back, exploring the indented line of his spine and even – greatly daring – trailing her fingertips down to his posterior.


At which juncture Quesnel stopped kissing her.

Rue was disappointed.

“That’s more than enough of that,” he said. His voice was a little raspy and his accent stronger than normal.

“Oh, is it? Just when I thought I might be grasping the way of things. Did I bungle it? I haven’t had much practice.”

“Oh, chérie, I assure you you did very well indeed.”

“I did?”

“Hidden talents.” His violet eyes positively sparkled.

Rue was chuffed. “Marvellous. I always wanted to be good at something.”

“Well, don’t go practising with just anyone now, please?” Quesnel looked faintly serious again but only in a flirty way, which was reassuring. They were back on familiar ground. Or as familiar as just having kissed could get.

Rue paused, pretending to consider the suggestion. As if there were anyone else around suitable to further experimentation. “Oh, very well, if you insist.”

Quesnel grinned, showing dimples. “I do.”

Very daringly, Rue said, “I could take you on in a trial position, as a kind of tutor? You are, after all, years older than me and very experienced.”

Quesnel looked a little shocked.

Look at me go, thought Rue. More daring than the rake himself!

“Can I think about it?” he quavered.

Rue stuck her nose in the air, hurt that he hadn’t leapt at the chance. “Well, if you feel you can’t be discreet with my reputation…”

Quesnel’s eyebrows arched. “I think it is more that you had better be clear with me on the perimeters of the position on offer.”

Rue frowned. “Well, you know, courting and romance and stuff. I’d like to learn, personally, in a low-risk, scientifically experimental situation.”

Quesnel made a funny eep noise. “Low risk? Should I be insulted?”

Rue laughed at him. “Don’t be silly. You and I both know you have a reputation to maintain.”

“Oh, do I?”

Rue continued blithely on. “The reputation of not playing for real stakes and keeping your wagers small and, mostly, circumspect.”

“Ouch, mon petit chou. You wound me.”

“The truth, she hurts sometimes. So I think we could play this as a private game, don’t you?” Rue thought she should pucker up her lips seductively to get him to kiss her again. Then she thought she’d look fish-like. Or would she? This was why she needed his help!

Coincidentally, Quesnel looked not unlike one who had swallowed said fish. Apparently, his suave manners in the arena of romance paled before Rue’s bluntness. “I think it would be best if I headed to bed at this juncture. Alone. Good night, chérie.”

“Good night, Quesnel.” Rue was amazed to think she had actually scared him off.

She noticed that he walked a little funnily as he wended his way down the hallway to his own room.

Of course, later on, Rue could not help running back over the experience in her head, staring into the darkness despite her exhaustion and the lateness of the hour. Perhaps she shouldn’t go around attempting to arrange a liaison with her chief engineer. Then again, how else was she supposed to learn anything useful about romance? Quesnel had always flirted but never for one moment had she supposed him serious in his interest. He couldn’t fear for his bachelorhood, could he? She shuddered at the very idea she would set out to trap anyone in to matrimony. However, the only other explanation for his reluctance was worse. Surely he couldn’t be so very not serious that he wasn’t attracted to her at all? Had he be faking everything? Perhaps she was too respectable? Rue was tolerably certain she did not want to be accused of being another one in a long succession of Quesnel’s fancy ladies. On the other hand, she also didn’t want to be Mrs Lefoux anytime soon. She’d thought that she’d come up with a good solution. Why had he reacted so badly? Had she not made her feelings clear?

Most Popular