The Honorable Officer

The Honorable Officer by Philippa Lodge Read Free Book Online

Book: The Honorable Officer by Philippa Lodge Read Free Book Online
Authors: Philippa Lodge
Tags: Historical, Fairies, Marriage of Convenience
trouble. Here she felt trapped by the unfamiliar setting and possible threats.
    On the second day, a woman approached and set down what looked like a package but turned out to be a small child.
    “ Bonjour ,” said the other woman. “They call me Catherine the Great. That’s Pierre. He’s three.”
    “I am Hélène…ah, just Hélène,” she said, not wanting her identity to be spread around.
    “And that’s the Colonel de Cantière’s baby girl, they say,” said the other woman, crouching down next to Hélène’s chair. “Hope you don’t mind if I rest a minute. Capitaine Morue kept me up most of the night. A good sight better than having to take care of a bunch of rough soldiers, but he always comes off the lines with a raging case of love. You understand me, I’m sure.”
    Hélène froze in shock. Was this woman a whore? She cleared her throat. “Well, no, I’m sorry, but I… Well, I’m the girl’s governess and a distant cousin, not the colonel’s…um…”
    “Really?” asked Catherine the Great, sounding intrigued. “We all figured you were a good lady fallen from grace.”
    “No, I’m still…I hope I am, anyway…still just a poor relation, not a… There’s nothing wrong, you understand…” Her face flamed, mostly because there were about a thousand things wrong with this woman and the captain’s “raging case of love,” yet her body quickened at the thought of lying with Jean-Louis de Cantière.
    “And the baby’s not yours?” asked Catherine.
    “No, her mother was my cousin, and I have cared for her since her mother died.” She had been like Ondine’s mother almost from the girl’s birth.
    “Well, no wonder the colonel hasn’t come to see you since you got here. We thought you must have put off your fine silks and lace to come to the front. My brother’s a cook and said the story was you and he were going in and out of each other’s tents all the time when you were up near the lines,” said the other woman.
    Hélène wished she could read the other woman’s expression. Finally, she pulled out her lorgnette and looked the woman over. She was dressed better than Hélène, which wasn’t saying much, but her hair was a fright, and she was missing several teeth. Fine ladies didn’t always have better teeth, but they hid it better. In profile, at least, this was a beautiful woman, though her figure surely would have been improved by a corset and was better when she stood rather than crouching down like a peasant. Judging by her accent, she likely was a peasant. Catherine looked away from where her son was playing with Ondine, and her eyebrows went up at the sight of the lorgnette.
    Hélène shoved it into her pocket. “My eyesight is terrible. I know staring at people through my glass seems terribly rude, but I can’t see you without it.” She cringed inwardly. She hated admitting to her weakness.
    “Ah! Then maybe you haven’t noticed all the curious looks people give you,” said Catherine. “Everyone’s talking about you because you never look them in the eye. See, we thought you thought you were too good to speak to us. Some of the other mistresses were offended, you know. I’ll tell them about your eyes.”
    “Oh, please…” said Hélène, starting to ask her not to spread the word about her failings. But she didn’t want to seem like a snob. On the other hand, she didn’t want to become a close friend of whores. Maybe she was a snob. Finally, she said, “Please, tell them I am…shy. Also that I don’t see well, but I am shy. And we are leaving here as soon as the colonel can think of a place for me to take Ondine.”
    Catherine stared at her for a while, and Hélène lifted up her eyeglass again. Catherine grinned, and Hélène smiled back.
    “And please do come by again. Ondine is terribly bored with staying close to me so she doesn’t get lost. We don’t know anyone.”
    Catherine’s smile faded. Hélène was afraid she had offended the

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