Divine Fire

Divine Fire by Melanie Jackson

Book: Divine Fire by Melanie Jackson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Melanie Jackson
Tags: Fiction
instruction came before marriage,” Brice added. “After all, in those days, far too many men were raised by the-hand-is-quicker-than-the-eye method of foreplay.”
    Damien laughed, his dark eye crinkling at the corners.
    “Or ‘ look, mum, no hands .’ The English were often accused of being bad lovers—cold ones,” he said.
    “But I don’t agree that the trouble is climatic so much as cultural and literary,” Brice said fairly. “The isle has produced more than its fair share of romantics—and look at the Scots! They have even worse weather, so we can’t use that as an excuse.”
    Damien smiled. “I agree. If the French aren’t thought of just as unpolished, but as lovers, I think we can thank the lovely Ninon for giving them such a splendid reputation. That is one part of her legacy that lives on.”
    “Probably. But how can we know? There is no direct evidence, no firsthand testimony that I can find. Not even a curriculum from her school. Of course, I should be used to it by now. The same thing happened with Byron when I began. All those early biographies are useless, concoctions of lies by people trying to profit from their association with him—sycophants, glory-stealers, would-be poets, women scorned.”
    When she paused long enough to indicate that he should speak, Damien answered, “I agree.” Again, as had happened once or twice last night, she sensed part of him was far away, looking at something related to the topic under discussion but not quite ready to share the insight with her. It was frustrating. She could eavesdrop on the dead through their artifacts, but not on Damien Ruthven.
    “I suppose it is dumb to be irritated with the dead, but they muddied the water for us scholars. And I hate having to know people secondhand.” Brice shoved her escaping hair back behind her ear. She had not mentioned her suspicions that Damien had a copy of Byron’s memoirs, but she made an indirect plea for him to share his information. “It’s like being a tourist. I am traveling through Ninon’s life with a biased guidebook that never allows me the chance to get off the bus and experience, or even understand, who these people were. Even when I have a supposedly direct quote, there is no way to know if it is accurate, or in what context it was written or said. If only more of their letters had been preserved. As it is, these secondhand accounts are too diluted to be of much use. It gives me a rough outline, but the subtle shadings are missing. I need—want—more.”
    Damien’s gaze returned to her face and his thoughts to the present.
    “Would you…” He paused, then said to himself, “But perhaps it’s unwise. It is early in our relationship to burden it with a matter of trust.”
    “Would I what?” she prompted. Then she added: “And please know that I enjoy being burdened with confidences. At least, historical ones.”
    “You would enter a conspiracy with me? You of the honest face?” He smiled a little.
    “I know I don’t look as if I could conspire against poached eggs, but I assure you that I am quite able to participate in a discreet relationship.” She hoped he would understand the double meaning of that remark.
    Damien nodded, suddenly serious again.
    “Miss Ashton, if I share this with you, you must never say where you heard this story or came by your material. I would need your promise.”
    Brice’s senses came on the alert. “Brice,” she corrected. “Yes. What is it? Something about Ninon? Or Byron?”
    “Both,” he said. “And I mean it. I want your word. I will let you have copies to work with, but you must think of some plausible tale of how you attained them that does not involve me. I do not want to be mentioned in any context. Academic attention isn’t a complication I want or need. Frankly, I wouldn’t share this material now, except I suspect you may have some insights into a matter that has eluded me, and I would value your opinion.”
    Brice thought about

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