The Marquis's New Clothes(2)

By: Lila DiPasqua

“His jeweled ring. One of the ones given to him by the King.”

“Oh, Louise, you didn’t.”

“I did!” Louise flopped down onto the nearby chair, dropped her face into her palms again, and wept audibly.

Aimee shook her head, dismayed. Of all the predicaments Louise had landed herself in, this one was by far the most shocking. “Didn’t it occur to you that Renault is the King’s Lieutenant General of Police? A man who is overzealous when it comes to the duties of his post and would arrest his own mother for the most minor infraction?”

Louise looked up. “Well, not at the time, but it certainly has over the last few hours . . .” She choked on a sob. “What am I going to do? My life is over! He’ll throw me in one of those horrible cells without batting an eye. If he’s angry enough, he could have orders drawn up against me, and I’ll be held without trial—for who knows how long.”

Aimee took in a fortifying breath and let it out slowly. She walked over to her distressed kin and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Everything is going to be fine. We can remedy this problem. This really isn’t as great a dilemma as you think it is.”

Her cousin swiped away the tears on her cheek. “Oh, but it is.”

“No it isn’t. You will return the ring with a sincere apology—”

“I can’t.”

“You’re right. The man is so rigid and uncompromising, he won’t understand,” Aimee said as an idea occurred to her. “I have it. You’ll sneak into his rooms and put the ring back, without him being the wiser.”

“I can’t do that either.”

Aimee frowned. “What do you mean, you can’t?”

“I lost the ring.”

“You what?”

Louise rose from the chair. “Well, it’s not entirely lost. I know where it is. Sort of.”

“Where in the name of God is it—sort of?”

“I had it with me when I was in the Hall of Mirrors yesterday. It was very crowded, as usual. I was bumped from behind, and it fell out of my hand and into the pocket of one of the courtiers.”

“Do you know who?”

“I do. The Marquis de Nattes.”

Aimee’s heart missed a beat. “Adam de Vey, Marquis de Nattes?” she questioned, hoping she’d heard wrong.

“Yes. Exactly.” Her cousin grasped Aimee’s hands and squeezed them. “Aimee, I can’t let Renault learn what I did. If the ring is found on the Marquis de Nattes’s person, Renault would never believe he stole the ring. He has one of his own from the King. You must help me get the ring back before Renault discovers it missing. He’ll not stop until he uncovers the thief. Me!”

This was only getting worse. She didn’t like the direction this conversation was taking. “What exactly are you suggesting I do?”

For the first time since Aimee entered the room, her cousin smiled. “You know as well as I do the Marquis de Nattes would be receptive to any attention you would give him. Since Marc died, he looks at you ‘that’ way. You could easily get close enough to him to search his clothes.”

Aimee’s brows shot up. “Have you gone mad? You want me to encourage that libertine just so I can dip my hands in his pockets in search of your ring?”

“Precisely. And perhaps you can search his armoire in his private apartments, too. The man does have a rather extensive wardrobe . . .”

“No. Absolutely not.” Adam de Vey was the worst sort of man. The very type she detested. He was no different than her late husband. Beautiful as sin. A master at seduction.

And completely faithless.

A man who believed women were interchangeable. Who cared nothing of what he did to a woman’s heart. Only what he did with her body.

It was no wonder that the Marquis de Nattes and her late husband, Marc, Comte de Gremont, had been friends. They were of like mind and poor character. Since Marc’s death on the dueling field three years ago—a duel over his favorite paramour at the time—Aimee thankfully had had nothing more to do with her late husband’s licentious friends.

Louise’s bottom lip began to tremble, her eyes welling with fresh tears. “Renault will show me no mercy. He cares nothing for me at all now. If—If you don’t help me . . . then I will surely be arrested, Aimee. You won’t let that happen, will you? You’ll help me, won’t you?”

The pitiful look on her cousin’s face tugged at Aimee’s heart fiercely. She wanted to help her, but . . . she’d noticed the lingering looks Adam had given her since Marc’s death, too. The last thing she wanted to do was to make him believe she’d be receptive to him.