Chapter 2: Inner Quarters
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Her villa is grand - grander than anything he'd ever seen and hoped to see in the city. There are antiques and oil paintings that must have resided there for centuries, the curtains drawn despite the sunlight bathing over the coastal front. The ceiling is arched, painted blue with speckles of constellations and the stars. The furniture is well polished, the wood almost glistening. He has to wonder how she manages to take care of the housework by herself, since she doesn't appear to have any servants. It must take eons.

"Does this entire estate belong to you?" He asks. "It's incredible."

"It has been in my family for generations." She smiles faintly, leading him further through its luxurious chambers. "My father, the Marquess left it to me when he died."

"I'm sorry to hear."

"Don't be." She chuckles. "He's been lying cold in the ground for eons. I quite enjoy it here - It's my own little world."

"It must get lonely on occasion, living alone like this."

"I'm not alone now." The Marchioness's eyes focus straight ahead as they walk through the corridor. "Besides, you find that if you live long enough within your own space, you grow to be well-accustomed to it."

There's the sound of metal pots and pans clanging, as well as a pleasant aroma coming from the kitchen. He looks through the stained glass of its double doors, and sure enough he sees the chef working, chopping pieces of meat, his face waxen and pale as he focuses intently on his craft. His dark eyes lift to meet his, an emptiness clouding them, and he quickly turns away before it gets a chance to reach him.

"What's the occasion?" He enquires, amazed by the handiwork of the decor that has transformed the dining hall - the centerpieces of white lilies all laid out, the tablecloth smooth across the long table and the porcelain all laid out and paired with silverware and wine glasses.

"A few friends of mine are arriving for a dinner party later." She responds simply. "We always hold one once a year on a night like this, and we take turns to choose the location. Though I have to say, I didn't quite account for your late arrival."

"I'll remain out of sight and out of mind of that's what you desire."

"Oh, no." The Marchioness smiles, red lips curving. "As my guest I demand that you attend. You'll enjoy what I have planned."

"I'm still thoroughly undecided, Madame, I'm not fit to consume such grand feasts, let alone be seated for one."

"Ah, but you're so thin." She says, the pink of her tongue slightly protruding outward as she licks her lips in a way that makes his face flare up. "We need to fill out the hollows of those rosy cheeks of yours."

His breath catches in his throat as he lets out a light chuckle.

"You flatter me, Madame."

"Flattery is one of the many skills necessary for hosting."

"But I'm certain I haven't met as many hosts as beautiful as you."

Her gaze deepens, as the corners of her lips twitch. "So forward. You know, there are many who wouldn't dare converse with me if they saw me at a masquerade ball let alone say such a bold remark."

"Perhaps, but I can guarantee that they are thinking of such things behind their stoic, respectable faces."

"And are you one of such people?"

"I'm a scoundrel, Madame." He says. "I have no use for dancing in circles to say what I mean."

"You've only just met me." Her lips stretch into an amused smirk. "You have no certainty of whether my beauty runs deep beneath my skin. I could be a conductor of cruelty, an instrument of torture. A grotesque creature."

"That's the thing, Madame, I'm aware I don't," He says. "My life is entirely in your hands, like a gamble in a poker game, and whether you have a better hand than mine to completely destroy me is unknown to my immediate knowledge. But for all that its worth, I trust you enough not to slit my throat in my sleep."

"Trust is a brittle, foolish thing."

"Perhaps. But you haven't killed me yet, have you?"