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You only see her now, after she’s ruined, spine echoing the wide curve of her stomach as she slumps awkwardly down on the warped mattress, too exhausted and relieved to compare it to her lilac sheets at home. Here, she has no status. All the girls are alike—excused from society for a visit to study music or art; someone staying with a cousin of a cousin; a school friend of Mother, with a spare room and a house out of town. Spending time away from home is good for the complexion—a year is all that’s needed. Less than a year, eight or nine months, even. What could happen in nine months?

She slides her hand down her back, the pressure forcing her tired spine to pull itself straight and then inward, her dignified shoulders falling back into their accustomed straightness. Her bearing is proud, dignified, the way she could no longer hold herself after her evanescence from the war-battered French elite. She doesn’t look down on the other girls here, with shoulders cloaked in French lace, girls without lineage as respectable as hers. Nor does she look up to those poseurs, as she forced herself to do once the swelling just beneath her waist became impossible to hide under tasteful ruched silk.

She imagines her slender nose and his full red lips, taunting her with “milady” and “will you be needing anything else?”; his dark hair and her gentle curls, cropped short to reveal her aristocratic neck. How would it look on a boy? She knew it would be a boy; René wanted a boy, and if a country laborer’s son could become head footman in the Barrineau château, he could father a son with the oldest daughter of the Barrineau line. And he had, she thought, stroking the baby through her skin, the ruination of a family, the only visible trace of their love.

Mme. Barrineau hadn’t said a word since she’d caught her eldest daughter leaning over the washbasin nearly seven months earlier, the girl pressing sweaty hands against her slightly swollen belly and retching painfully. There hadn’t been anything to say: She and Luc were so in love. They’d been engaged for months and were soon to be married. Her mother could even have transferred René to the new staff as a wedding present, with little loss to the family. A Barrineau must have a respectable household.

She and Luc should have been married long ago; it was plain they adored each other. Such a good match, everyone thought—everyone except for her. But then came the war. She told her mother she knew they should have waited, as the wedding wasn’t far off; but of course she’d never guessed the plane would be shot down.

Ah, but truth is twisted and promises are lost in the brambles of love. She knew this as well as anyone.

But she was here, and so was their baby, son of the footman and the aristocrat’s eldest daughter. She and René were bonded by the very thing that kept them apart, as he kept the Barrineau silver clean and she sat on the old, warped bed. One hand on her back and the other on her forehead, shielding her from the setting sun as it cut through the threadbare curtains, followed by a tentative Bach prelude.



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