Following the ball at the Winter Palace, Emperor Gaspard de Chalons
invites Lady Trevelyan to his chambres where they both remove all masks
and allow the other to see their true selves, vulnerable and naked.
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Evelyne leaned against the railing of the balcony. The ball was winding down, though the merriment continued at the Winter Palace. She heard footsteps approaching, to then reveal leaning beside her the new Emperor of Orlais, Gaspard de Chalons.
‘It’s been quite the night, hasn’t it, Inquisitor?’ he said with his Orlesian accent.
‘Indeed, it has,’ she replied.
‘I cannot thank you enough for putting your trust in me. I assure you, our alliance will be most beneficial to you.’
‘It was my pleasure.’
‘Hmm.’ Gaspard studied her for a moment, his blue eyes searching for something, though she could not tell what – his mask concealed much of his face.
He walked to the far edge of the balcony. He looked back at her. ‘Come with me, Inquisitor, where we may speak more freely before anyone notices we are gone.’ His tone was inviting. He did not wait for a reply, however; he jumped over the railing and onto a dais below.
Feeling a thrill she could not yet place, Evelyne followed him down several platforms to the garden, and then up again to another balcony and into a lavishly decorated room.
‘This your bedroom?’ she asked, feeling amused.
‘One of them,’ he replied. He closed the drapes and took a few steps towards her, his hands clasped behind his back. ‘Here we may speak freely and uninterrupted.’
Evelyne had to admit she was intrigued. All evening, she had been eyeing Gaspard and had noticed his gaze had been intent on her as well. She, herself, had been hoping they could speak more openly without any prying eyes or eavesdroppers.
‘And what is it you wish to speak about?’ asked Evelyne.
‘You are a woman of many talents, Lady Inquisitor, and the face of the Inquisition. But we all wear masks, do we not?’ He walked closer to her and stopped beside her when his shoulder nearly touched hers; he looked at her. ‘Who is the real Lady Trevelyan, I might wonder? Behind her mask, when she is vulnerable and…exposed?’
From this close, Evelyne could smell the man’s cologne. It was an earthy musky scent that was subtle and rather pleasant.
She looked down at her hand, the dormant anchor barely reacting with but a brief glow of green. She looked back at Gaspard. ‘I wonder what it would be like to relax again. I’d like to enjoy my time with others and not have to worry about what strange circumstance I walked into that now tethers me to this title.’
‘Yes, I would assume the responsibility the anchor imposes upon you would be quite heavy.’ This close, she could feel his breath when he spoke, and she did not dislike that.
‘And what about you, Gaspard de Chalons? Who are you when you are vulnerable…and exposed?’
‘I am a man of simple pleasures. I am not complicated. I much rather play chess than lead the armies of Orlais.’
He removed his mask, boring his eyes into Evelyne’s. His face was scruffy but there was a softness to it, and there was longing in his eyes. His cheeks bore harsh scars from many years of battle, yet the tenderness with which he looked at her spoke of a gentleness that relaxed his face with its fine lines of his years.
Evelyne swallowed, daring to hope that what she had felt throughout the evening, the pull that tugged at her towards him, he had also felt towards her.
‘I would like to enjoy the company of one beautiful woman without the worry of how that might affect our reputations if we were to be seen together.’
Her breath caught in her throat. Gaspard turned and walked to a small table, placing his mask on it. He deliberately removed the metal plates of his armour, then walked back to her, his gaze intense, and his thick lips quirked into a momentary smile. He stopped short of her face, his breath hot and tantalising. Evelyne felt a tingle run through her body that rested at her pelvis and her heart quickened.
‘So I ask if I may discover the real Lady Trevelyan. Who are you when you are vulnerable and…naked?’
Evelyne whispered, letting her desire seep into her voice. ‘You’ll have to undress me to find out.’
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