It was perfectly true, but it had never, ever been said to Luc’s face before.
‘I suppose he’d have been apoplectic if he’d ever seen all these lights blazing…’ Star drifted into the chateau without a backward glance.
Bertille, the nanny, was young and warm and wonderfully appreciative of the twins. Only the meanest and most possessive of mothers could have objected to her assistance, Star conceded ruefully. A bedroom on the first floor had been rearranged as a nursery, and neither Venus nor Mars wakened again as they were settled into comfortable cots. As Bertille was to sleep in the adjoining dressing room, Star said goodnight and wandered back out into the corridor.
It was after midnight, and she was embarrassed to find the housekeeper had been patiently waiting for her to reappear. Self-conscious with such personal attention and the assurance that her humble wardrobe of clothing had already been unpacked for her, Star stiffened uneasily every time she was addressed as a married woman. Even so, it was quite a shock when the older woman opened the door of Luc’s bedroom and stood back, leaving Star little choice but to enter.
For the duration of their six-week long marriage, Luc had left her in a bedroom at the foot of the corridor. It had not occurred to Star that anything might be different this time around, but then she really hadn’t had time to consider the ramifications of returning to the chateau as Luc’s acknowledged wife. One of the bedrooms next to his, she decided, would be the most suitable choice.
However, sooner than be seen walking straight back out again, Star lingered. The vast and magnificent room was centred on the superb gilded four-poster bed which sat on a shallow dais. Luc had slept in that incredible bed since he was eight years old. And so might a medieval merchant prince have lived, with glorious brocade drapes, fabulous paintings and the very finest antique furniture.
‘Luc was never like other children,’ Emilie had once confided. ‘He was a very serious little boy.’
But what else could he have been? An only child, born to parents who had inhabited different wings of the chateau and led entirely separate lives.
Lilliane Sarrazin had died in a car crash shortly after Star had met her. Reading between the lines of Emilie’s uncritical description, Luc’s mother had been as committed to extravagance as her husband had been to saving, but had shared his essentially cold nature. Was it any wonder that Luc, with every natural instinct stifled in childhood, should be so reserved, so controlled, so inhibited at showing either affection or warmth?
And yet Star could remember times when Luc had broken through his own barriers for her benefit. He had comforted her when she was nine years old and missing her mother. He had done so again—fatally—when she was eighteen and a half…
Star’s memories slowly slid back over eighteen months to her last stay at Chateau Fontaine. Emilie, who could not bear to think badly of anybody, had worked hard to give Star the impression that Luc’s terminally ill father was really a caring man, whom she had misjudged at their only previous encounter. It had not been the wisest idea.
Shortly after her arrival with Emilie, Star had been summoned to her guardian’s sick room for a private meeting.
‘You’ve done very well out of this family.’ Roland Sarrazin regarded her with sour disapproval.
‘I really appreciate everything that you’ve done for me—’
‘Just be grateful that Luc took pity on you,’ the older man urged. ‘I had no intention of accepting you as my ward when I sent Luc to Mexico. But when he met your mother she was so drunk she could barely stand. Decency demanded that I do my duty by you.’
Devastated by that cruel, demeaning candour, Star spoke up in an angry defensive rush. ‘My mother was really dreading giving me up that day. She was terribly upset…it wasn’t normal for her to be like that!’
‘Your stepfather was a weak, pathetic wastrel. You have no idea who your father is and your mother is a drunk,’ Roland Sarrazin repeated with crushing distaste and contempt. ‘With a sordid, shameful background of that kind, how dare you raise your voice to me?’
Humiliated and distressed by that counter-attack, Star fled. She ran into the woods that surrounded the chateau to find the privacy to cry. Nine years earlier, Luc had taken her down to the riverbank there to tell her about Emilie and stress how very lonely and sad Emilie had been since losing her husband. Indeed, so successful had he been at impressing Star with those facts that she had been a lot older before she’d appreciated what a huge debt she owed to the older woman.