The musketeers had showed up just after supper time, when the shadows had grown long across the field outside; and she had only just started lighting the candles in the drawing room for Lady Beatrice's before-bed reading.
The middle aged woman had recognized them instantly when she'd led them in; she had not—clearly not having spent enough time in the sprawling city of Paris since she'd been freed. Though she had no intention of returning.
Beatrice knew them better than just musketeers however, and had even let slip Monsieur Athos name without the title.
He hadn't seemed to notice.
From that though, it was clear their history may have been longer than she had assumed when he'd tipped his hat in the dusk light outside the door, flanked by three other imposing male figures— hands on there hilts, and said. 'Good evening Madame, we are here to see your Lady'.
They'd spoke in hushed tones for a short time, about the poisonings she'd heard about from the palace servants at the bazaar that morning.
Lady Beatrice had allowed her to hover in the corner with interest, until she realized it had been an hour since the men had arrived and she'd yet to offer them food, only drink. And so Anais had made off quickly to the kitchen to see what the cooks might have left out.
There hadn't been anything but a few tart cups left to set in the cold room, so she'd whipped up something quickly. Lemon tarts to go with the tea she would offer.
When she'd returned they was speaking even quieter amongst themselves, and the man that appeared to lead them had glared at her for the interruption as she swept into the room.
She pointedly ignored him.
A former slave and now servant. She was used to those looks.
They may have guards about the estate, especially in times such as these, but she was not about to leave her lady alone with unknown men. Not until she knew they meant no harm.
So she set them out on the table with a small smile for each of the men, and a wink for her lady. Who'd grinned widely at her —just before a scolding shout rung through the warm drawing room.
His voice cuts through the air like a knife landing with a warning thud next to your ear, and it has the same effect. Everyone in the room pauses, and turns to stare at the man, Aramis, who follows Athos's suspicious eyes to the tart in his hand.
"Athos!" Lady Beatrice's voice in response is almost more offended than Anais is.
Though like any distrust directed at one's person she feels the punch deep in her gut.
"Anais isn't-she would never-"
It's only then that she realizes what the distrust means on a conscious level.
"You-you think I've poisoned them?" Her voice is more surprised than anything else, and her brows shoot up into her hairline, though only for an instant.
Anais looked between the four men, two looked ashamed, all downcast eyes and tight lips. The youngest, a pretty youth with long dark hair and denser eyelashes than any woman she'd ever seen—an artist's muse embodied, and the other striking curly haired bag of —previously grinning, muscle.
The two others Athos and Aramis, held her gaze with two very different expression in their eyes.
The leader, eyes held a dark shade of mistrust and disapproval, as she suspected however; there was also most definitely a hint of irritation she felt, pointed at the idea that she'd interrupted some business that was.... over her status.
The other, Aramis—apparently, tan skin, wind swept chestnut locks, and dark smiling eyes; seemed as unwaveringly amused as he had been at her entrance.
The idea of nibbling a bit of poisoned fruit tart, clearly not enough to dampen his mood. Though behind that and what kept her eyes lingering on his, was a an odd bit of affectionate sympathy. A care you found in the eyes of very few when directed at mere acquaintances, or servants at that; as it was currently at her.
She smiled back, and a few small lines crinkled the corner of his dark eyes as she stepped towards him.
She knew she was being bold.
Too bold, for her status in company other than Beatrice's.
Poison —though, seemed such a dramatic accusation that she felt it required a dramatic defense.
And from the look in Aramis' eyes as she approached, she could tell drama was a second language to him.
"May I?" was all she had to ask with a short glance down at the tart in his hand; and that was all the incentive he needed.
His smile widened, and he raise a brow as he began to hand her the tart, seemingly as not to be too presumptuous of her intention— but they both knew she wasn't about to take it.
She lean in and stole a bite. Careful not to brush her lips against his fingers though Slowly as she met his eyes. There was a faint hint of surprise there amongst the amusement, and a trace of something more promising and primal behind even that.
The room was silent, and she felt rather accomplished in the shocked horror of the moment; and the now wide grin set into Aramis' mouth as he watched her swallow the lemony morsel.
Beatrice let out a unladylike snort behind them.
They both glanced over at his leader and the now pursed line that was his mouth, and at the corner of her eye she saw Aramis shrug and press what she'd left of the tart into his mouth.
It did draw her eye back to him at the nonchalant way he drew his thumb between his lips to lick away the leftover pastry, while holding her gaze all the while, before another shrug and a brazen wink.
"Delicious," he deemed, before turning away to pour himself some more rum as he continued, "Honestly gentleman, the arsenic gives it an added kick."
Beatrice clicks her tongue at the tasteless joke, snapping Anais from her heady stuper.
Still, Aramis was grinning when he turned back towards them though, with two cups now.
He does not hesitate in offering her one with a smile.
Nor does she hesitate in taking it gratefully.
She doesn't correct him either, but for a wink and small raise of her glass.
The youth and the muscle take that as a stamp of safety , and the two tarts they'd had in each hand are gone as quickly as they appeared.
She leaves them not long after to their business. Because, though she ignores it most of the time, she knows when she is not welcome.
From her room she can hear them talking late into the night, though even when there voices rise it is still muffled enough through the floorboards that she cannot make out any distinct words.
She finds it's more difficult than it should be to keep her curiosity in check, and even finds herself leaning unconsciously towards the door when it's seems things are getting heated.
Though she knows there is a hint of protectiveness for Beatrice in that action, when she sets down her book to listen —she also has a feeling that at least three out of the four of those men would be up in arms before anything happened to her. And that Beatrice, that fantastic lioness of a woman, could most definitely take care of herself.
She is near sleep when the voices die down, and she hears all the patrons head to there rooms, and even Beatrice's door above her close.
Or she thinks she does. Because a few minutes later there is a soft wrap on her door.
She cannot help the frown of confusion that sets itself into her face, and she pulls a sheet over her shoulders as a shawl and saunters over to her door.
She feels safe enough with so many guards around to open her door a creek without asking who it is prior.
There is a mass of chestnut curls in the doorway in front of her, and when he turns his dark eyes towards her, she is met with an unwithheld smile. Which she mirrors instantly.
"Monsieur?" she offers politely, as his eyes drop down her form in the most respectful appraisal she'd ever been party too. Its smooth and non too brash, but also not sly or slimy in the slightest . Really more of an appreciation, than an appraisal at all.
"Madame," the title rolls off his tongue, and the slight bow and tip of his hat, brings an familiar flush to her cheeks and tingle to her belly and skin.
"May I inquire as to what occasion has brought you to my door..." she quirks a brow, that is answered quickly with a mischievous smile as she finishes, ".. so late at night?"
He removes his hat, and somehow his locks bounce back into place, like he had taught them the trick himself.
"I have come to apologize for my Captain's brash suspiciousness."
She opened her mouth, but he shakes his head pleadingly, and so she closes it politely to wait for him to finish.
"Please, Madame, you made us food, an unnecessary and kind gesture to strangers such as ourselves, and were met with a rudeness."
She can tell that this is obviously not the only reason he is at her door at this hour, but there is an unquestionable genuinity to his voice, that almost makes her feel guilty in questioning his motives. Almost.
He smiles softly and bows to her, a sweeping gesture, graceful and dramatic as the man presenting it.
"I was raised to rectify such an insult. So please accept my sincerest apology."
For a long moment she is shocked, because it sounds— by its branded practiced nature, that he was raised to do such, and she feels the need to acquiesced his supplication.
"It is no insult," she assures him as he straightens, and meets her eyes, "I understand your Captain's... hesitance."
He smiled, and as it seemed to be, it was contagious.
"Than you are far more understanding than most, for we find ourselves in unpleasant situations more often than not over his pestering."
She laughs a little at that, and his eyes crinkle at little as he watches her.
"I'm sure he is only being a good captain, and looking out for his men."
"He is," his agreement is whole hearted.
"Even if he could have a little more tact going about it," she adds, and his nodd is something of adamant exasperation.
They share a short chuckle between them, and she fixes her shawl over her shoulders when a cool breeze rustles in from her open window. The bushes rustle with the wind and send the sweet scent of lilacs to envelop them.
She clears her throat, when their eyes linger on one another for what she knows is too long to be considered appropriate. And the quirk to his lips tells her that he does too.
"I was about to retire."
He nods, and though his smile does not leave even for an instant, he tips his head farewell.
"Very well, Madame, I shall not keep you from your sleep. Sweet dreams."
She is shocked when he turns to leave so easily. Shocked, and pleasantly surprised, and curious, as to whether it is a tactic that works on as many woman as she would suspect.
"Does that work on all the ladies?"
There is a pause before he pivots slightly; the smile has still not left his mouth.
"A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."
She grins wider at that, "A kiss is all that you came to my door looking for?"
The grin accompanying his reply is positively sinful.
"I came to apologize for my captain, as I said."
But there is a gleam in his eyes now. Feisty and promising and she is not so tired anymore. But not so inclined to give and this game either.
"Oh, yes, right."
There is a lull in their conversation which neither of them is willing to fill, for the odd feeling that it would be losing this small bit of challenge. Both searching a way to break it without giving up that bit of power.
He is the first too, and she smiles a bit triumphantly, and he allows her this, though she can see the small amused narrow of his eyes as he speaks.
"But now that you've mentioned a kiss..." he whispers from the dark hall, taking a step back into the light from her room, his skin a warm honey from the candle light.
"So I have," she allows. Though it was him that mentioned it.
He steps into the very perimeter of her personal space to lean against the doorway.
She can feel the heat of him leaking through his clothes, radiating off him like a flame, in contrast to the brisk breeze from her window behind her. All of this she only noticed now, under the warmth of his eyes.
He stands there a moment before her and there is another short bout of silence as she holds his gaze and pulls her lip into her mouth; an action he watches with avid attention.
The sweet-bitterness of fruity wine still clings to it.
His hand, gloved again, catches hers slowly, and he does not look away from her eyes as he brings her chilly fingers to his lips. They are scalding against her skin, and his impeccably tended beard tickles her hand in the most pleasant of ways and sends an unadulterated tingle down her belly.
The flickering of the candle adjacent them is visible in his eyes as he leans in a little closer towards her, melting the space between them, her fingers still pressed to his lips.
The words are a whisper, and he releases her hand slowly, and not completely until he has turned and can no longer hold it.
His hat is set back atop his head then, and he has made it a little ways down the hall by the time she's regained herself.
She huffs a little, knowing he had baited her into offering more than she'd like, in a completely different way than expected.
"It is Mademoiselle, Sir."
He stops, and turns again, meets her eyes another long moment before quickly swooping his hat into another grand, gallant bow.
Likely to hide the wide grin she can all but feel on his face.