“Your foppish brother is here,” Vincent remarked, but scarcely had the words left his mouth than his young daughter was already bounding down the stairs. Unfortunately for Celeste, her mother shared her uncle’s love affair for heavy lacing and satin, and the small girl was practically floating in layers of fabric as she stumbled down the steps. If she fell now, it wouldn’t be the first time, but her mother was always just a step behind her to catch her. Despite her full hands, she found it in her to turn back up the stairs, shooting her husband a scathing look.
“You knew what you were getting when you married into this family,” Christine snipped tersely, “He’s a part of it, too. You can wait upstairs if you don’t want to behave like a proper gentleman. Let him see Celeste.”
Vincent needed no second bidding, and with a light sniff of his nose he took his leave, closing the door to his private study behind him. He loved Christine dearly, but her brother was just too much. His parents would never have approved his marriage had they known; it was his duty to keep the matter private.
Louis, for his sake, couldn’t care less if his sister’s husband was present or not when he arrived at the door. He was here to see Celeste, and his rouge lips broke into a smile as he was admitted into the manor and his niece threw herself across the room towards him. She wrapped her arms around his legs and pulled herself against him into a hug; she barely reached above his knees.
“Louis!” she cried, and he laughed. Towering over her his little niece, he bent over her to give his sister a peck on the cheek, before he directed his attention to the bundle of lace and satin restricting his limbs.
“Ah, ma mignonne
, you are looking well.” This earned him a little scowl from Celeste, who released him just long enough to tug at a frilly bonnet pinned into her hair.
“I would be even better if I could breathe
,” she insisted, “I look stupid!”
Louis shook his head and ‘tut-tutted’
through his teeth, shooting her a little look from beneath his long lashes, “Language, chérie
! Little girls shouldn’t be saying things like that!”
She grumbled again, and he laughed, stepping out of her reach and sweeping into the sitting room with only a few long strides. All the while he kept one arm crossed behind his back, his torrent of blonde hair concealing his one hand suspiciously beneath their tight curls. His little niece didn’t fail to notice it, and she bobbed after him.
“Louis, what are you hiding?”
“Hiding, ma chérie
?” He paused in the center of the room, turning just enough to shoot her an innocent glance through the waves of his fringe. Celeste frowned at him and crossed her arms; from the doorway, her mother observed them with a small smirk on her rosy lips.
“You’re hiding something, Louis, I know you are!” Celeste insisted, and her uncle’s eyes widened as if shocked by her accusation.
, I never hide anything from you!” he gasped, his remaining free hand placed delicately across the lace that spilled from his collar. Now his niece was directly in front of him, all wide-eyes and imploring gazes,
“Then show me what it is!” she whined. Occasionally her eyes would flick to try and catch a glimpse beneath the curls, and Louis found himself watching his sister cross the room towards them in favor of caving to those wide eyes.
“You are such a tease, Louis,” Christine remarked, chuckling.
It was with a sly wink that he responded, “Always, dear sister,” as he leaned into a small bow. Reaching beneath the cuff of one glove, he flicked his wrist and deftly procured a bright red rose in his hand. With a nod to her amused gasp, he reached across and tucked it behind Christine’s ear.
“For my lovely lady,” he said, and his sister shook her head at him with a smile. Always the charmer, Louis
, “There is not another woman I love on this planet more than you.”
Before his sister could interject with a comeback, Celeste had already leapt up to grab at his legs once more, “What about me?” she cried. Her little hands tried to gain purchase on his long boots, and he almost swayed off balance as she bumped him eagerly.
Louis kneeled to face his niece at eye-level at her cries, and was quick to reach out to her, tucking a loose curl behind her ear to calm her down. “Oh, chérie
, I could never forget you! I love you too, with all my heart.”
And he pulled his arm out from behind him and held out a box of bonbons for his dear niece. He was all blue eyes and batting lashes, begging her forgiveness for his brash choice of words, until her little hands went out for it. Then he held them up over his head, grinning broadly.
“Ah-ah, ma mignonne
! If you want the bonbons, you have to give me a kiss first.”
Now Celeste made a face. “A kiss?” She stuck out her tongue, “But you’re a boy
.” She drew out the word like she were talking about slugs, or slimy beetles, or the freckly brat down the road that liked to pull her hair. And Louis tilted his head in a coy gesture.
“Well, technically, yes … but with some differences..”
That earned him a slap on the shoulder from his sister, but she was all smiles as she kneeled beside them in her layers of ribbons and lace. With little more prompting, Celeste caved and dove for her uncle. Her short arms pulled him close around the neck, and she pressed her face to his powdered cheek as he smiled. He toppled to the side, bracing himself with one hand as she peppered his face in delicate little kisses, and felt a warm glow inside him. Surrounded by family—by his two special girls—he could almost forget the rest of the world, and the troubles he’d left just outside their doorstep.
When his niece released him she rubbed a hand over her nose fitfully, frowning when it came away powder-white. Still smearing her face, Louis smiled warmly and handed her the box as all three sat down on the rug.
“Happy Valentines Day, my Most Special Girls.”
For those wondering how Louis celebrates Valentine's Day ... he doesn't. It didn't exist in the 1600s, I believe, not to the same extent as it does today. But if he did, it would go something like this.
Many thanks to Brendan Julian, Louis's VA, for the suggestion. It's charming when his voice knows him better than I do ...--Sak
Louis Despatis and Co. © Myself, Shamine A. King