I've been working recently on a new secret for Étienne. It's not exactly "new" and it's not exactly "secret" but it deepens the emotional reaction he has to a friend's suicide at the end of the first book in my series.
Everyone in my fiction universe knows that Étienne was quite the ladies man in his youth-- everyone except his mother. His grandmother, his wife, his mother-in-law, his friends, most of the media. They all know. His older brother often jokes, with a certain jealously, that Étienne's adolescence unfolded like a porno.
Comments like this peppered their conversations in younger days:
“I can’t help it,” Étienne said. “If they would just keep their clothes on I could say no, but once they’re naked, my resolve falls apart and I make love to them.”
“This is what I don’t understand,” Edmond replied. “How do you manage to get them naked without trying?”
That's why everyone was quite shocked when 19-year-old Étienne fell in love with Basilie Saint-Ebène and settled down. He directed all that sexual energy toward his wife and whatever was left over he funneled to clients as flirtation to make them feel beautiful and buy the clothes.
Most of the women in Étienne's life still talk to him. Many of his former lovers are now clients who receive deep discounts. This bothers his wife somewhat-- that he surrounds himself with these women to which he has such emotional bonds.
And then there's Ghislaine. Étienne was 17 or 18-years-old when he met Ghislaine. They were friends and lovers for several years and had a very open relationship. Ghislaine had been the one who cooked the stew for Étienne and Basilie's first date (and seduced Étienne on the kitchen floor the night of). But the antics stopped when Étienne realized Basilie was "the one." And he and Ghislaine parted ways, mostly because Basilie made her uncomfortable. She died in the early 1980s when she ODed on heroine.
That's the established "what was."
But what if Étienne didn't break it off so cleanly. What if Ghislaine loved him deeper than she cared to admit? While engaged, Basilie and Étienne spent a great deal of time apart, on separate continents. What if, occasionally, Étienne visited Ghislaine "for old time's sake."
Now, in the story line, Basilie gets frustrated with her family and shortens her engagement and marries Étienne a year ahead of schedule. The pending marriage is announced in the paper. What if this is Ghislaine's only notice that the marriage has been moved? She'd be livid. And what if, two weeks before the wedding when the announcement appears, she confronts him and he takes he to dinner to talk it out and somehow they end up in bed again.
They agree it's over, afterwards, but Ghislaine misses him and in her search to fill the void, meets new friends-- the ones who introduce her to heavier drugs. And what if Étienne, with his wife still primarily living abroad (after erroneously assuming Étienne would apply for a visa and join her), watches this disintegration.
Étienne and Basilie married mid-August 1979. Basilie left in September, returning for "Thanksgiving" (which of course isn't Thanksgiving for her). What if Ghislaine ODed the first week in November and Étienne blames himself?
Similar to how he feels about his friend committing suicide now... Oh, yes, that sweetens the conflict. Because it's as if he were killing the women he loves... And he can't complete confide in his wife...