SIXTINE Book I / Chapter 2
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
“It’s bad luck for a bride to see the groom before the ceremony,” my great-aunt said.
But what could happen on such a beautiful morning, in Paris? The Tuileries Gardens was awakening, bathed in the liquid gold of sunrise. The glass pyramid in the Louvre courtyard sparkled like an upside-down diamond, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I was about to wed the man of my dreams, and the reception would take place there that evening, in a huge, luxurious private hall.
Everything was perfect.
As I crossed the empty cobbled street toward the museum entrance, the breeze carried my mother’s voice, when she read me the fairy tales I loved so much.
“And they lived happily ever after.”
How proud she would have been. True love was all she had ever wished for me, like the one she had known with my father. But my mother was long dead, and my father long vanished. Gigi was my only living relative, and I was making the old woman worry needlessly. But I had barely seen anything of my own wedding preparations. My fiancé had insisted to organize most of it himself, and I gladly let him, too afraid to be unable to come up with something grand enough for him and his wealthy entourage in just a few short weeks. Didn’t I deserve just a little peek?
At the entrance of the glass pyramid, a tall, muscular security guard with a military haircut and a receding hairline despite his young age, sat at a small desk next to a metal detector gate. He looked up lazily at the ID I was showing him.
“Hello, I am Jessica Desroches.”
He rose to his feet a bit too quickly, fiddling with something under the desk. A worn, torn gossip magazine crashed on the floor. On the cover was the long-lens photo of my fiancé and I, stepping out of a yacht in the South of France. Big red letters spelled “ENGAGED!! Billionaire Seth Pryce proposes to model after only 45 days.”
The guard pretended I hadn’t seen it and carried on checking my ID with a studied seriousness. His cheeks were flushed with light purple patches.
“It was eighty-seven days, actually. But who’s counting,” I said, smiling.
It burned my tongue to add that I was not the fame-seeking, gold-digging glamour model that I was painted out to be. Neither was I the poor, helpless orphan who needed to be rescued by a knight in shining armor. I was a broke but hard-working law student who occasionally made ends meet with a modeling contract or two. I was the book-loving girl who had fallen for a guy fifteen years older than her, met in the Ancient History section of the New York Library at closing time. A guy who could make terrific Asian dishes while discussing obscure principles of philosophy. A guy who had a knack for throwing extravagant parties, yet liked to hold my hand when he slept.
A guy who also happened to own a mining operation worth seven billion dollars.
But 87 days was enough to learn how pointless it was to try and change people’s mind about who we were. People wanted a fairy tale, and we were giving it to them. And truth be told, I had originally come to New York to figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life. Meeting Seth, and our ensuing whirlwind romance, had postponed the questions. I still had plenty of figuring out to do, after the wedding.
“It’s my girlfriend’s,” the guard mumbled, glancing down at the magazine. “These mags, they publish such lies. The reception will be held in the Mornay Wing, which is still being prepared. Erm, I don’t know if... Well, we were not expecting you this morning, Miss.”
“I know, it’s a surprise. Don’t tell Seth,” I said conspiratorially. His cheeks turned redder.
“Okay,” he said, finally relaxing. “But isn’t it bad luck to see your fiancé before the ceremony?”
“That superstition dates back from ancient times, when the bride was kept hidden by her family until the ceremony for fear that the groom would find her ugly and change his mind. I know I haven’t known my fiancé for that long, but he has had a look at me.”
“And no sane man would ever change his mind when seeing you, Miss.”
“You’re too kind.”
I don’t know why I felt compelled to add, “Anyway, I wanted to see, just to make sure.”
I regretted my words instantly. He gave an imperceptible nod, his lips tightened into a shy smile, a look of compassion in his eyes. He probably understood what I meant better than my own fiancé. He gave me directions to the Mornay Wing, but I was no longer listening; I realized with startling clarity that it was not mere curiosity that had brought me here, despite Gigi’s warnings.
It was the need for evidence. A proof that it wasn’t all too good to be true.
I thanked the guard and felt his gaze on my back as I hurried towards the museum and its maze of empty corridors. At first I followed a sign to the Mornay Wing, guided by what I thought was the distant hum of voices, of furniture being moved, of glass against glass. I walked through several halls, passed countless Greek and Roman sculptures, my shadow reflected in long glass vitrines gleaming with gold. Soon, the only sound around me was of my footsteps against the vast marble floor. It was barely seven o’clock in the morning, and the museum wouldn’t open for another two hours. I couldn’t see any sign, or anybody who could help me.
I was lost.
I was considering swallowing my pride and retracing my steps back to the friendly security guard, when I saw the silhouette of a man over the balustrade of a grand staircase, on the floor above.
“Excuse me,” I shouted.
By the time I had reached the place where I had spotted him, I had lost his trace. All I could see was an enfilade of rooms, on both sides of the vaulted landing.
Another sign for the Mornay Wing gave me hope and I rushed through a few more empty exhibition rooms smelling of wood wax, old fabric and dust. My footsteps made the antique floorboards creak, piercing the silence with their echo. I hardly glanced at the Egyptian treasures on display, searching instead for more directions.
I saw the man from the staircase again. His tall, thin silhouette had just crossed a doorway a few rooms down. Although he looked to be dressed far more elegantly than any museum staff I had seen, I hoped he would be another security guard, who could escort me to the reception hall. I picked up the pace as I walked towards him, and glanced at my watch. I needed to be back in my hotel in time for the make-up artist and hairstylist.
Once I arrived at the place where I had seen him, he had vanished again. But something else caught my eye, just below the balustrade where I stood. It was so extraordinary that I was struggling to take it all in.
Fountains of white orchids and thousands of other flowers erupted from their arrangements to cover every inch of space, from the columns, banqueting tables and even the grand staircase across from me. Three hundred golden chairs sat empty under thousands of candles yet to be lit, within giant candelabras overhead dripping with crystal. Around them, in the courtyard of marble and sandstone, dozens of ancient sculptures seemed to stand sentry.
The Mornay Wing.
The same hue of blue ran like a silken thread through almost every detail, in ribbons, flowers, favors and monograms. A celebrity blogger had claimed that Seth liked the color because it was the same as my eyes. I knew it was not my eyes that had inspired him, but those of an Egyptian queen who died three thousand years ago.
I also knew that Seth had not chosen Paris and the Louvre Museum because I was born in France, but because it was home to the greatest of all the ancient Egyptian treasures, which have fascinated him since childhood.
Many things I knew, and yet so many I didn’t.
Why had Seth rushed the wedding?
Who were most of the guests?
I clasped the cold stone railing, wishing that thought away. The fault of those stupid magazines.
Suddenly, I was swept off my feet, arms were wrapped around my waist, knocking the wind out of me. The room spun and in a second all I could see was the ornate ceiling, and how close I was to the drop over the balcony. My whole body was already fighting back, when a hearty laugh exploded in my ears.
A kiss stopped my scream.
I stopped struggling, and smiled, willing my heartbeat to slow down and my lips to savor the familiar taste.
I was in Seth’s strong arms. Exactly where I wanted to be. Safe.
“Miss Desroches, your curiosity will get you into trouble,” he said.
“Spare me the bad luck speech, the whole world has already warned me.”
“With great success, I see. I knew I couldn’t keep any secret from you.”
“And if you don’t let me go, Mr. Pryce, you’ll be the one in trouble.”
He laughed as he released me, his dark eyes sparkling with amusement and just the right amount of lust. He stepped towards the balustrade and for a moment surveyed his work below.
Tanned, with short jet black hair, a thick neck and a square jaw, he looked to have been carved by the elements from some ancient piece of rock. Even in casual khaki pants and a simple white t-shirt, he radiated intensity and focused effort – from his muscular body sculpted by a punishing workout routine to the way he asked questions. He never wasted time in small talk. Or small anything.
“Do you like it?” he asked in an unexpectedly quiet voice.
“Well,” I sighed, still dazzled by the extraordinary display of sophisticated opulence in the hall below. “I didn’t think anything could be more spectacular than our engagement party, but here it is. You’ve outdone yourself.”
“But do you like it?” he asked again, more sharply this time.
The edginess in his tone made me look up to him. His face had gone paler.
“Of course I do, darling. It’s beyond what I could have ever dream of.”
“If you don’t like it, there is still time to change,” he interrupted, his jaws clenched. “I have people on standby, and you haven’t seen half of it yet. Tell me what you want.”
I was about to protest when he winced, his hand shooting to his side. The blood had drained from his cheeks. It had happened a few times in the past weeks.
“Are you alright?”
I gave him a gentle nudge with my shoulder. “Is someone having wedding jitters?”
He smiled. “Yeah. You could say that.”
I probably looked more concerned than I should have. He turned to me, still pale, and put his arm around my shoulders.
“Jessica, I want this to be a celebration worthy of our love, and the commitment we’re making to each other. I want this to be the best day of your life. Nothing less will do.”
“It is, Seth. I’m the luckiest girl in the world. But is it what you want too?”
His forehead touched mine and he stroked my cheek with his powerful hands. They were trembling.
“All I want is to be with you. Forever. And ever and ever.”
When he kissed me, I closed my eyes and surrendered to the sweet relief washing over me.
I had the answer I had come here to find.
The dream had become reality. I was marrying my prince.
Carry on reading Chapter 3 here.
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