I met Leander Merritt at one of Maman’s musicales the year I turned twenty-four. She and Beau-Père had long since allowed me to attend, and it amused me to watch the young soldiers make their shy way over to sign my dance card. They were somewhat in awe of Maman, because of her work after the earthquake, but her card filled long before mine. It was both a privilege and an obligation to dance with the hostess.
I wore short gloves to dance; my fingers were calloused from playing the violin. I had played Papa’s precious instrument since my sixteenth birthday and was the envy of the little orchestra whenever they let me sit in. The instrument was made and signed by Francois Chanot, with his signature rounded body and extended sound holes. The scroll at the head turned backwards to better accommodate the tuning pegs. Papa’s violin was rare, unusual -- and had the warmest, most beautiful tone I had ever heard.
That particular evening, I had joined the group to play “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” an old piece, but one that showed off my skill.
I noticed the soldier watching me; his wavy black hair contrasted with fair skin and blue eyes. He was one of the most handsome men I had ever seen. I felt a blush rise to my cheeks as he smiled and bowed slightly; he knew I’d seen him.
After the song, I put my violin away and rejoined the party. That handsome soldier approached me, a cup of punch in his hand.
“Lieutenant Leander Merritt,” he said by way of introduction. “I thought you might like some punch.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I am Veronique LeMaître.”
“Please, call me Lee. How do you know the Rochambeaus?”
“Madame Rochambeau is my mother; my father died when I was young.”
I felt stiff and wary in my manners; no man had ever affected me this way before -- not even Amedeo or Samuel. I was as awkward as a schoolgirl.
“May I sign your dance card, Miss LeMaître?”
“Veronique, please. And yes, absolutely.”
He pencilled in his name for the last waltz.
”You are the most beautiful woman in the room,” he whispered, his breath warm on my ear.