The Marquis's New Clothes(42)

By: Lila DiPasqua

“No one will recognize me,” Emilie cut her off abruptly, not wanting to remember that night. Or talk about it. She knew Marthe meant well. Unlike her husband, the Marquis de Sere, who had been more interested in Emilie’s inheritance than in her, Marthe’s concern for her was genuine. “After such a lengthy absence, no one will think for a moment that I’d be in attendance. Besides, everyone wears masks at all times and even costumes. Isn’t that so?” she asked Pauline. Her layered mode of dress wouldn’t look odd here.

“Yes. The ladies especially. They make every effort to maintain their anonymity—with both elaborate masks and outfits. I find men don’t make as much of an effort to conceal their identities, but they, too, wear the required mask. And no one, absolutely no one, is permitted to unmask anyone here. However, if during a carnal encounter, in a private setting, one chooses to reveal oneself, then that is between the lovers at play.”

Marthe slapped her hands over her ears. “I can’t listen to this.”

Pauline’s smile broadened at Marthe’s discomfort. “There are plenty of men here to choose from, Emilie. Many of them were not there that horrible night.”

Pauline’s response made Emilie’s heart flutter. There was a very special man somewhere in the Comtesse’s home, one who wasn’t part of that incident a decade ago.

Vincent d’Alumbert.

He’d mentioned in his letter that he, too, would be in attendance at the masquerade. She’d only ever seen him once, from afar, a long, long time ago. She was so eager to see him up close and in person. More than she could ever admit. Probably more than she should.

But she couldn’t help having tender feelings for him. He and his letters were a source of joy. She felt so very close to him, having forged a connection with him she’d never had with anyone else. There was nothing she couldn’t ask him. Or tell him. And she’d divulged plenty.

Given what she was attempting to do—indulge in debauchery—it settled her nerves just knowing he’d be present. On hand to offer advice if she needed it.

Pauline donned her silver-colored demi-mask with white plumes, then approached, placed her hands on Emilie’s shoulders, and looked her firmly in the eye. “Are you absolutely certain you want to do this?” she asked.

Emilie tamped down her fears and self-doubt and steeled her courage. “Yes.” Just once she wanted to be desired. For the next few days, she was going to step into the world of make-believe. With the aid of her masks, be transformed into someone else. For the first time ever, she wasn’t going to be looked at as a misfit. Or damaged. She wouldn’t be Emilie Embers. Singed Emilie de Sarron. Or equally as detestable, The Ugly Little Duckling—cruel names she’d endured all her life.

She deserved to be wanted. Kissed. Touched. Held. Every woman did, no matter her plight.

“Very well. Then let us begin.” Pauline took Emilie’s demi-mask of gold and red from her hand and tied it in place. “There’s no time like the present.” Looping her arm with Emilie’s once again, she led her to the door. “You don’t have to worry about approaching the men. They’ll no doubt approach you.”