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The Devil Does Not Ride Us Anymore

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Rebecca de Winter emerged from a cab in front of the Hôtel Côte d’Azur. She smiled beatifically at the doorman, and the desk clerk, and the porter, and the bellhops, and the elevator operator, and a chambermaid she passed in the hall, only letting the expression drop once the door to her suite had closed and she was finally alone with her husband.

Max looked up from the letter he was writing and winced. “No good?”

“This one proposed a vegetarian diet, no alcohol, no sugar, no salt, an hour’s bathing in blue light every day, and a series of coffee enemas.” She unpinned her hat and ran a hand through her hair, then laid it upon his shoulder. “Finish your letter. I’m going to take a stroll before lunch.”

He took her hand in his, kissed the palm, and closed her fingers over it. The smile she gave him was smaller and more carnal than the one she’d worn as a visor on her way in, and made her a different woman entirely.

“Is one o’clock all right, or do you need more time?”

“One. In the main dining room; let’s see who else is here.”

“Why should we care?”

She shrugged. “You never know. Perhaps we’ll meet someone amusing.”

*

Twenty minutes’ walk brought her to the cliffs. The wind tugged on her coat, whipped her hair, scoured her face. She breathed deeply, pulling the cold and the tang of salt into her lungs. She’d stood here with Max, on their honeymoon, in the circle of his arms. If she closed her eyes and concentrated, she could almost remember how that had felt, being wrapped in his warmth … but now there was the tumult and bite of the air, and was that a tremor, deep in the ground? ... The ocean beating upon the precipice, ceaselessly eating at the living rock ...

“No, stop!”

Rebecca opened her eyes and turned. There was a woman standing about five yards downhill, just where the path disappeared around a bend into a grove. The interloper had a sketchpad under one arm; evidently she had come in search of a view and found more than she had expected, and her free hand fluttered like a white bird against the dark trees.

“I beg your pardon, are you speaking to me?”

She let one brow arch as the woman — a girl, really — clutched her book two-handed and came nearer.

"I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude, it’s just I, I don’t know if you realize how close you are to the edge. If you were to stumble, or if the ground were to give way ... "

“Hmm.” Rebecca made a show of examining the stretch of turf between her shoes and the escarpment, then turned her head to give her companion a subtle once-over. Gawky, badly dressed, and that hairstyle did her no favors, but oh, such a face, and the clothes couldn’t hide the fact that she would stand straight and slender. She was also blatantly staring.

“Well,” Rebecca drawled, turning to face her would-be rescuer, “You may have a point. Why don’t you walk with me to a safer spot?”

“Oh, I — yes, certainly.”

*

Rebecca paused just outside the lounge and squeezed Max’s hand. “There she is. Third settee on the right, with the plump lady wearing too much rouge.”

He groaned.

“Why Max, do you know them?”

“I’ve met the older one. Edith Van Hopper, from New York. You aren’t going to like her.”

Rebecca shrugged. “Is she desperately tedious?”

“She’s a snobbish, tactless vulgarian.”

“All right, I’ll amuse myself by sticking pins in her and seeing how long it takes her to notice while you coax her companion into the open.”

Rebecca let go of his hand but stayed close as they passed from the lobby to the lounge. From the corner of her eye she saw the Van Hopper woman light up at the sight of them, while the girl, sweet thing, glanced from her patroness to Rebecca and blanched. She managed to wipe the expression of horror away when the older woman turned and said something that sent her to her feet and headed for the lobby. Rebecca turned as she passed. “Hello! I’m so glad to run into you again.”

“Oh!” She had stopped, and was blushing. “Hello.” Behind her, Mrs. Van Hopper was watching the encounter, mouth open, brow wrinkled.

“Darling, look, here’s the charming creature I was telling you about. Allow me to introduce my husband, George Fortescue Maximilian de Winter.”

The child went positively starry-eyed. “How do you do?” she said, and then wobbled as though unsure whether the situation called for a handshake or a curtsey.

“I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,” Max said, shooting Rebecca an impish glance as he took the girl’s hand with just a suggestion of a bow.

“Max and I are going to have some coffee. Won’t you join us?”

“I … would like to very much, but …” she said breathlessly, gesturing vaguely behind her, then starting at the realization that her employer was approaching.

“You naughty girl, you didn’t tell me you knew the de Winters!” The dreadful woman simpered at Max. “How lovely to see you, just when I was beginning to despair of finding any friends here in Monte. Though I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting your charming wife.”

“We must rectify that omission,” Max said, and only Rebecca picked up on the dryness of his tone. “My dear, this is Mrs. Edith Van Hopper of New York. Mrs. Van Hopper, my wife, Rebecca.”

“Good afternoon,” Rebecca said, with her plummiest garden party vowels. The girl twitched, and Rebecca noticed Max noticing the reaction.

“I was just about to have coffee, won’t you join me? Go find the waiter and tell him to bring two more cups for the de Winters.”

Bitch, Rebecca thought, smiling even as she clenched one hand until her nails dug into the mount of Venus, tacky, nasty little social-climber, treating her as a servant, trying to dismiss her when YOU are only participating in this conversation on sufferance ...

“I’m afraid I must contradict you, you are both having coffee with us,” Max interjected, signalling a waiter as he deftly steered the party to a table. Rebecca let him handle the first round of small talk as she mapped out a campaign of division and conquest in her head.

*

A week later, Rebecca was lying in bed, watching Max fasten his cufflinks, when there was a knock at the main door of their suite.

“Shall I close this and let you sleep?” Max asked, one hand on the knob of the bedroom door.

“Thank you, sweetheart,” Rebecca murmured, and drowsed for a minute.

The words, “Darling, our little girl means to desert us,” snapped her into cold wakefulness.

“What? Surely not,” Rebecca said, scrambling out of the bed. Max was holding up her robe, and she slid into it. “What happened?”

“That wretched Van Hopper has taken it into her head to return to New York immediately.”

She darted to the vanity and began combing her hair. “I don’t care — if she goes — to New York — or Gehenna, as long as she leaves our pet behind.” She dropped the comb. “Max, don’t let her leave, I’ll be right out.”

“Right.”

Seconds later, Rebecca, eyes bright and clear thanks to drops, cheeks pinched into pinkness, entered just in time to hear Max ask, “Do you want to go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper?”

“No, I shall hate it, I shall be miserable,” the girl sobbed. “Mrs. de Winter, I’m so sorry to disturb you.” She jumped as there was another knock. “Oh! I’m supposed to be seeing about the train tickets. What if she’s sent someone to look for me?”

“I’ll handle it,” Max said, striding to the door.

“Nonsense,” Rebecca crooned. She guided the girl into a seat. “It’s just the breakfast we ordered. What’s this foolishness about you leaving?”

The girl hiccuped her way through an explanation involving a daughter and a granddaughter, at least one of whom had possible appendicitis. Rebecca listened with half an ear, admiring her handiwork. It was amazing what a difference properly fitted clothes and the right hat could make, even when the wearer was red-nosed and hunched in misery.

“... So we’re catching the boat on Saturday. I just couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”

Rebecca cocked her head. “Must it be goodbye to us?”

“I’m sorry?”

Rebecca looked up at Max, who took his cue. “If you must leave Monte Carlo, where would you rather go, New York, or Manderley?”

The girl sniffed and rubbed her nose. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s perfectly simple: Max and I are asking you to come home with us.”

Her look of confusion was adorable. “Do you mean you want a secretary or something?”

Rebecca let a smile bloom on her face, the private one she usually only shared with Max. “Something.”

Ten minutes later, Max poked his head into a idling cab and announced, “Mrs. Van Hopper, I must apologize. I’m afraid my wife and I have just pinched your paid companion.”