While it is a novella, I have no intention of ever publishing it now; at the time, I enjoyed writing it, but it is definitely not my best work. However, I hope you will all gain some enjoyment from it! :)
I will be posting it chapter-by-chapter, sometimes with two chapters to a post depending on how long they are.
So, without further ado, the first two chapters of Until Midnight.
by Rebeka Borshevsky
Where It All Begins
When Maman told us we would be purchasing another servant, I did not expect my late stepfather’s daughter to be the unfortunate victim. Upon returning to the mansion after my usual afternoon carriage ride through Le Parc de Roses, I found my stepsister scrubbing the floor of the main hall. Light poured through the high, narrow windows, illuminating Elle’s golden curls.
I stopped, staring. “What are you doing that for? It’s the servant girl’s job.”
Elle looked at me with her mournful blue eyes, and my jaw dropped in that unladylike manner Maman detested. “Why?” I whispered.
She swallowed. “Papa left everything to your mother,” she said, her voice choked. “I have not a penny to my name.”
I blinked. Monsieur Renard must have been very ill—and Maman at her most manipulative. Stooping beside her, I said, “I’ll give you money.”
Her shoulders sagged. “Do you have any money to give?”
I gnawed my lower lip. “No,” I conceded. Maman was the one who doled out allowances.
She nodded. “There you go.” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and sucked in a deep breath. “I will make the best of it.”
I left her there crying into the soapsuds and stormed into Monsieur Renard’s study. Maman sat at his old desk, twiddling a quill between her fingers as she studied accounts. “Eloise Gertrude D’Arcale, what did I tell you about stomping your feet?”
“What did you do to him?” I snarled, ignoring her reprimand.
She arched a perfectly shaped brow. “Do to whom?”
“Monsieur Renard! There’s no possible way he would have left everything to you and nothing to his only daughter!”
Her eyes flashed. “Why not?” she asked. “I am his wife and the mother of his children.”
“You don’t act like one to her,” I said. And we weren’t his children—just his stepchildren.
She sighed, tapping the end of her quill against the desk. “This is about that coachman again, isn’t it?”
I stiffened, a flush creeping over my neck. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She snorted—a delicate snort, as was becoming of one of her station. “He approached me to ask for your hand in marriage,” she said.
Idiot. I bit back a scowl, hiding clenched fists behind my skirts.
“I refused,” she continued, watching me from the corner of her eye.
I’d expected as much. If mon père was still alive, he would have welcomed the match. Michael was an honest man, a hard worker, and most of all, he respected me. Papa would have preferred I marry a good poor man than a rich cruel one who would only parade me around to feed his own vanity.
Maman’s sights soared far higher than Papa’s modest wishes for my future.
I shrugged. Michael had refused on the grounds of honour to elope with me. So here we were, waiting. But I would not allow Maman to see how much her words affected me and let her win yet another battle.
“I’m sure he will be sorely disappointed,” I said.
Her lips twitched with a frown when I did not give her the outburst she’d wanted. I almost smiled.
A Noblewoman and Her Coachman
The next afternoon, following lessons with my tutor, I ventured into the city. Unlike most noblewomen, I sat atop the box with the driver for the company. I gripped the seat as the carriage jolted over the cobbles, swerving around sharp corners and sending my hat flying into the air. I snatched it back, pulling it over my trundled curls.
We passed girls selling flowers on corners, clothed in bright-coloured rags. Shops lined the street—dressmakers and candlestick makers and the bakery. The rich aroma of fresh baked bread made my mouth water. I leaned out, inhaling deeply and closing my eyes to savour the flavour. Warmth fell across my eyelashes, the sun smiling down on us from his court in the bright blue sky.
Beside me, Michael sat as straight and stiff as a horse whip. I ignored him, focusing on the greenery of Le Parc de Roses as it appeared to my right. Birds chattered from the trees, squirrels dashing across the vibrant lawns. It was the nicest spot in the city of Avive, full of benches on which to perch and peruse a book. Many an afternoon I had done just that, lost in another world as la Seine gurgled past my feet on its path to the palace.
We turned through the gates onto a side avenue of Le Parc, the trees casting cool shadows over our heads. It was quiet and private here, so I dared remove my hat and use it to fan my face.
Michael slumped back, scuffing his toe along the rim of the box. “She said no.”
“I told you not to ask her.” I pulled a book out of my satchel and flipped through it.
“What was I supposed to do? Elope with you and be dragged to jail for abducting a noblewoman?”
I scowled. “It’s hardly abducting. I would go quite willingly. I am twenty-one years old, for pity’s sake. I’m surprised Maman hasn’t despaired of marrying me off and forced me into servitude.” My tone was sharper than I’d intended.
Michael’s expression softened. “I’m sorry to hear about Elle,” he said. “The poor girl.”
“Penniless,” I spat. “And Maman lavishes money on dresses and makeup for Ilyse and I while refusing me the only thing I want.”
Michael shifted. I knew he wanted to wrap his arm around me to offer comfort, but it was improper when we were alone and had not even the hope of a future betrothal. I looked into his tanned, laugh-lined face. His dark brown hair was streaked with sunlight. His brown eyes regarded me with the same intelligent thoughtfulness as always, but this time there was an element of sorrow.
“I fear I may have to request being moved to a new family,” he said quietly.
My throat choked up. The mere finger-length of distance between us suddenly felt far wider. “Why?”
“Because if I continue in your employ, I fear I may do something we’ll both regret later.” He sighed. “I want to marry you, but to have you dangled in front of my face and told I can’t—” He looked at me, his face grave. “It’s torture for a man in love.”
I nodded. “I understand,” I said. “I—” I broke off. I would not tell him how much I’d miss our daily rambles in Le Parc de Roses, chatting about politics and literature and music while laughing at the nobility’s ridiculous sense of fashion these days. To ponder what we’d lose would only make everything more difficult.
“How….how long do you think it will take you to find a new situation?” I croaked.
“It depends. It could be anywhere between a day and a month. But I will start looking now.”
I turned to stare at the trees, which all blurred together as we went by. Something fell into my lap.
A copy of Love and War by Petrov Skimov, a prevalent writer from the empire of Rus to the east. When his novel had first been translated, it had been all the rage.
I’d read it in its original form, before it became a hit in Avive and the rest of Freanc.
It was the book that brought Michael and I together. When I had passed the stable and spied a lowly coach boy reading the novel in its difficult Rusian language, my interest had been piqued. We’d maintained a close friendship ever since, but it wasn’t until mon père had died and Maman married Monsieur Renard that I realized how much Michael meant to me. He had come with us to Monsieur Renard’s mansion, and I’d naively believed we would somehow be together forever.
Now I gripped the novel in my hands and clutched it to my heart.
“‘Love without war in the soul is not love at all’,” Michael quoted.
I sniffled. “‘And love that bests that war is the best one of all’,” I quoted back.
“This is not the end yet,” he said, taking the reins in hand. “Unless we let it be.” And with a cluck to the horse, we sprang forward into a gallop. My hat flew off and my curls tumbled from their careful pins on top of my head. This time I let them all fall and leaned forward to kiss the wind.
Til Next Time...