The injured young woman that Michel Belanger finds in the woods is certainly an aristocrat, and in the midst of France’s bloody revolution, sheltering nobility merits a trip to the guillotine. Yet despite the risk, Michel knows he must bring the wounded girl to his cottage to heal.
Attacked by soldiers and left for dead, Isabelle de La Rouchecauld has lost everything. A duke’s daughter cannot hope for mercy in France, so escaping to England is her best chance of survival. The only thing more dangerous than staying would be falling in love with this gruff yet tender man of the land. Even if she sees, for the first time, how truly noble a heart can be . . .
Excerpt (from Chapter 3)
“Can you hear me, girl? Are you awake?”
The deep voice filtered through Isabelle’s haze of dreams, reaching, clutching, tugging, until it pulled her up, into the bare room lit with day. She blinked at the farmer who towered over her.
Isabelle licked her lips, dry and parched as sun-baked dirt. “What . . . what do you want?” She barely recognized the rusted sound of her voice.
“To see if you would awaken.” Concern shimmered from his eyes—green eyes, the color of dandelion stems. “You’ve slept another three days. And when you started thrashing . . .”
Her eyes drifted closed. The farmer should have let her sleep. At least Marie still lived in her dreams.
Isabelle jerked her eyes back open. Marie. England. The promise. She had to get up. Had to find her way to the shore. She could die once she reached England, so long as she kept her oath to Marie. So long as the La Rouchecauld name didn’t die in the clutches of the Révolution.
The man bent low over her, the smells of earth and sun and animals radiating from him. “Can I do something to ease your pain?”
Isabelle propped herself up. Pain seared her ribs, but she nudged her pillow against the headboard until she reclined in a semi-sitting position. “You have been most kind to me, citoyen. Please, tell me where I am?”
“About a kilometer east of Abbeville.” The man measured his words, speaking slowly.
Abbeville. The name settled into her memory. Oui, the town she’d been approaching the night of her attack. She was just east of it—so close to the sea. “How far, then, to Saint-Valery?”
He shifted closer and crossed his arms over his chest. “Why do you ask?”
She swallowed. Was heading to a city on the sea too obvious? Did he know that once there, she would board a ship? Since the British and French warred over the sea, she couldn’t go straight to London, but she could sail there via Sweden or Denmark, the only two neutral countries on the continent. “I’ve an aunt waiting to receive me.”
It wasn’t a lie, not really. Tante Cordele still awaited her in London.
His gaze held hers. “An aunt. In Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. Convenient.”
Her chest tightened. “You don’t believe me?” He knew everything. He must. Otherwise he wouldn’t look at her thus.
“Why should I believe a stranger?”
“Because I . . .why . . . it’s . . .” Her throat burned. Certainly, it had more to do with being thirsty than telling an untruth. But what else had she to say? He’d saved her life. He deserved the truth, if only the truth wouldn’t get her killed—and him as well. Surely she was protecting him by concealing the truth.
She forced a smile. “I beg you, sir. Simply give me the distance to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme.”
Hope surged through her. Only a day’s walk from Abbeville to the Channel. By this time tomorrow, she would be at the port. She gripped the quilt and looked at the man before her. “I am most grateful for your kindness, but I must away.”
“Aye, you must away. But you’ll not leave afore you’ve healed.”
Isabelle frowned. True, her head throbbed and her ribs pulsed with pain, but still . . . “I’m well enough to walk to Saint-Valery, thank you.”
“You’ve not tried standing, yet you can walk to Saint-Valery?”
“Of course.” She flung the bedcovers back with her bandaged hand. Pain sparked in her fingers and flashed up her arm.
Jerking back, she gasped and stared at her wrapped forearm. She trailed her other hand up the wood of the splint that ran along her injured arm beneath the cloth. Surely something was amiss for her injury to smart like this after two weeks’ recovery. “This . . . it’s not healing properly. You must call the physician back. Who tended it?”
His eyes narrowed. “I’m rather handy with setting bones.”
“You jest. You could no more set my arm than stitch the queen’s drapes.”
He leaned close, placing his hands against the bed frame on either side of her so she couldn’t move. His eyes bored into her, hard and controlled. “I remind you the queen’s been executed.”
Isabelle closed her eyes. The queen’s drapes? What was she saying? The blood in her head thrummed against her temples, but a headache didn’t excuse her carelessness. She’d kept her appearance as a peasant for five years, but if she didn’t mind her tongue, she’d give herself away before she left this wretched bed.
“Repeat after me.” The farmer’s breath warmed her cheek. ‘Thank you.’”
She opened her eyes and swallowed. “Your pardon?”
“Thank you for setting my arm.” He held her there, locked between his arms as he studied her. “Put voice to it, woman.”
“If you’ll give me some space, citoyen. I can hardly think.”
He straightened and crossed his arms, but she felt just as smothered as she had when he loomed only inches away.
“I . . .” She looked at her throbbing arm. She should tell him thank you. Physician or not, he had saved her, thereby putting himself in more danger than he understood. And at least she didn’t have to answer a physician’s prying questions about where she’d come from and why she’d been traveling alone. Oui, she owed the man before her much more than a thank you. So why wouldn’t the words come? She should be thankful to be alive, to have a second opportunity to reach England and fulfill her promise to Marie.
“Is the word so hard? I’m sure a crooked bone is much worse than dying in the woods.” His eyes flashed, a green fire that looked nothing like dandelion stems. “Or do you expect me to apologize for saving your arm?”
Warmth rushed to her cheeks. “Non, I’ve no need of an apology. I just . . .well, I . . .” She cradled her throbbing arm against her chest and searched for words.
“Still going to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, are you?”
“I can walk fine with a broken arm.”
He backed to the wall, shifted his weight against it, and crossed one foot over the other. “Be gone with you then. Hurry on, I’ve animals to attend.”
Now? He expected her to rise from the bed this instant? She swallowed. He must, for the man watched her as though she were a court jester or some other form of entertainment. Very well.
She flung the covers off with her good arm and scooted to the edge of the bed. Pain clenched her ribs. Biting her lip, she ignored it and stretched one leg to the floor.
She would walk out of his house. She simply had to get off the bed first.
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The Wyoming Heir
Text Copyright: 2014 by Naomi Rawlings
Cover Art Copyright: 2014 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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