You Only Love Once

By: Caroline Linden

Prologue


Outside Paris, 1793

The soldiers came late in the day, grim and unwavering. Everyone had expected them, but their appearance, led by a cold-eyed Revolutionary who had once been a neighbor, was stil shocking. The master of the house, the Comte d’Orvelon, went out to meet them while his wife frantical y made the final arrangements.

“Quickly,” the comtesse whispered. Melanie, her trusted maid, was rubbing her hands in the ashes of last night’s fire. Soot already smudged her face beneath the turban of the Revolutionists, but now Melanie crouched beside a basket and brushed dirt onto the perfect ivory cheeks of the baby who sat within, trying to pul her tiny foot into her mouth and ignoring Melanie’s efforts to dirty her.

“My darling,” the comtesse said on a choked sob as she watched. “My baby…”

“I wil guard her with my life,” Melanie promised, dusting off her hands on the plain linen apron she wore. No longer dressed in the comtesse’s cast-off silks, she wore a commoner’s dress, with dirt under her nails and the sash of the Revolution knotted across her chest. She looked like a common peasant—as she must, if this was to work. “No, Madame!” she cried softly as the comtesse reached for her infant daughter. “You mustn’t!



But her mistress lifted the child, smearing dirt and ashes on her own face and dress. “I wil not see her again for a long time,” she murmured, holding the child’s cheek to hers and stroking the baby-fine hair.

“Perhaps never. Let me hold her just a moment…”

Melanie glanced at the kitchen door in a panic. Soldiers hadn’t made it into the garden yet, but they would. Jacques, the coachman, lurked just outside the door. He caught her eye and made an urgent gesture; they must hurry. She nodded to him and turned back to her mistress, but bit her lip nervously. It wasn’t in her to defy her lady, so fair and so generous and now in such danger. The baby giggled and grabbed at her mother’s hair, and a tear slid down the comtesse’s cheek. Melanie said nothing.

“Marie.” The comte had come into the deserted kitchen. He had aged ten years in the last two months, since he had been accused as an enemy of the Republic. White streaked his dark hair, and his skin had taken on a gray pal or like that of a shut-in. Once so urbane and handsome, now he was disheveled and worn. The Revolution had not been gentle. “Marie, they have come. I have told them we wil go wil ingly, to al ow more time—” He caught sight of Melanie and inhaled sharply. With three long steps he crossed the kitchen.

“Why are you stil here?” he hissed. “You should have been gone by now!”

“Oui,

Monsieur,”

she

murmured,

barely

remembering not to curtsey to her master. “We are going.”

His eyes darted anxiously around, snagging for a moment on Jacques, who again made a gesture to hurry. “Marie, they must go,” he said in despair. “You must send them now, or the chance wil be lost.”

The comtesse sniffled, and dragged her sleeve across her eyes. The part of Melanie that had served her loyal y and efficiently cringed at the sight, but she said nothing and put out her arms for the child. The mother bowed her head over the baby’s, whispering something into the tiny ear. Melanie looked away, only to catch sight of the anguish that contorted the comte’s face for just a moment. Without a word he laid his hand on his daughter’s dusky curls. Two fingers bore the pale stripes of rings that had been worn for years, and were now discarded. Confiscated. Stolen, she thought bitterly. For a moment the parents huddled together over their only child, saying good-bye to her even as the Committee’s soldiers waited outside to take them to prison. Fierce hatred burned in Melanie’s heart, banishing her tears as she took the little girl into her own arms.

“Here.” Madame pressed a smal linen bag into her hand with a soft clink. It contained a king’s ransom in precious stones, careful y pried from their settings.

“Use them careful y, Melanie. They must take you al the way to London. Do you remember the name?”

“Oui, Madame.”

“Say it!” Madame had made her memorize

everything, refusing to commit a single word to paper.

“Lady Simone Carlisle, Grosvenor Square, London,”

Melanie whispered in a rush. Jacques stuck his head through the door and said her name. “We wil wait there for word from you.”

“God wil ing,” Lady d’Orvelon murmured. They al knew there was a strong chance word would never come from her or her husband. He had been accused of treason, and judges were sentencing traitors left and right to the guil otine. The comte had tried to send his wife away, but her pregnancy and childbirth had been hard; she had not recovered enough to travel, and now it was too late. They stil clung to hope; the comte had renounced his title, ceded most of his lands, wore the Revolutionary cockade. That might sway the judges, but the comte had known from the moment he and his wife were accused that they might die.

But their child…The girl cooed and tugged at Melanie’s sash, and she held the baby tighter. Jacques had promised to get them safely to the coast, no more. He had his own family to protect. Madame and the comte were trusting her to spirit their only child to safety, to England, to Madame’s cousin Lady Car lisle. If God were just, the parents and child would be soon reunited, but if not…“Madame,” she tried to say, but her voice broke.

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