“Sir, I am in earnest and will bid you good night.”
Flustered, Trudie looked about as if seeking another means of escape. Unaccustomed to wearing such voluminous petticoats, she tugged at her skirts. She stopped. “Will you not miss the pairing event yourself, sir?”
Leopold grinned to himself at her attempt to rid herself of him. “I have no interest in the pairing.”
“Oh,” she responded with disappointment before deciding to ask an impertinent question of her own. “Why, then, are you at Chateau Follet?”
“I came to retrieve something of mine.”
“Ah, well, I pray you will convey my apologies to Madame Follet, and, as the hour is late for me—”
“You’re married,” he said, directing his gaze at her wedding ring. He had taken care to remove his when changing.
She thrust her right hand over the left. “I understand it to be of little consequence here at the chateau.”
“None,” he affirmed. “Nonetheless, you must be discontented in your marriage to come here, lest you came with your husband.”
Her bottom lip quivered. He had clearly touched a nerve.
She squared her shoulders. “What marriage is not touched by discontent?”
Her response, though arch, lacked conviction. He took a step farther into the room. “So your husband is not here. Have you a paramour here?”
She retreated a step. He could see her mind churning to find the appropriate response. He had never known Trudie to prevaricate—till recently—and a less mannered woman would have called him out for his prying.
“No,” she answered. “Did Madame Follet request these questions?”
It was not a poor attempt to put him in his place. Finding her response rather droll, he took another step forward. “I merely think it curious that one would come all this way to Chateau Follet and not partake of its purpose. Do the activities frighten you?”
She retreated a step. “A little. They are…beyond what I am accustomed to.”
“But they interest you.”
“My friend persuaded me that it would be a fine experience.”
He pressed his lips into a line. It would seem she had, at one point, considered her participation at Follet. “Do you believe her?”
Trudie faltered. “Sir, you ask questions of a rather intimate nature.”
“You were ready to submit yourself—your body—to a perfect stranger. My questions are harmless in comparison.”
He should have been relieved that she had opted to go to bed instead of pursuing a liaison, but he found himself wanting to know how far she would have gone if she were not fatigued as claimed. He advanced another step.
“Do you believe your friend?” he tried again.
“I believe—I believe her knowledgeable in these matters,” she said. “She has been here before and praised the enjoyment of it.”
“And you wished to sample the pleasures here for yourself.” At her guilty expression, he felt both a wave of sympathy and anger at her willing betrayal. “Worry not. As one who has indulged in the offerings here many a time, it would be hypocritical of me to censure you. Indeed, I praise your pursuit of the fleshly pleasures. Much courage is required, particularly of your sex.”
Her countenance softened. “It—it would have been an adventure unlike any for me.”
“The adventure can still be had.”
She fussed with the lace at her décolletage. He eyed the lush swell of her breasts and felt a tug at his groin.
“Perhaps, after a cup of tea or coffee, you can overcome your fatigue,” he said. “Why come all this way to return empty-handed?”