The Soldier’s Secrets
Brigitte Dubois will do anything to keep her family safe. When she is blackmailed by her father-in-law, his quest for revenge leaves her no choice. To protect her children, she must spy on the man who may have killed her husband. But Jean Paul Belanger is nothing like she expected. The dark, imposing farmer offers food to all who need it, and insists on helping Brigitte and her children.
Everything Jean Paul did was in the name of liberty. Even so, he can never forgive himself for his actions during France’s revolution. Now a proud auburn-haired woman has come to his home seeking work and has found her way into his reclusive heart. But when she uncovers the truth, his past could drive them apart…
More about the French Revolution
(Excerpt from Chapter 3)
Jean Paul drew in a breath of fresh morning air and looked out over his work. His land. His fields. Today he needed to weed the lower field and check the—
“Bonjour?” A voice called from up near the house.
He glanced at the sun, barely risen above the trees in the east, and hastened through the rows of radishes and tomatoes. Was there an emergency in town? A task for which the mayor needed him? Someone must have good reason for calling before the sun had been up an hour.
“Bonjour?” The voice called echoed again, it’s light, feminine cadence accompanied by a pounding sound.
Who could it be? He frowned as he trudged around the side of the house.
And there she was, standing beside his cottage door as though she’d appeared from the mist. She wore the same threadbare dress and apron as yesterday, and her hair was once again tucked sloppily under her mobcap with stray auburn tresses hanging down to frame her cheeks. Her skin was paler than milk from a cow, and the features of her thin face sunken with weariness.
And yet she seemed beautiful somehow, in the delicate way only a woman could be beautiful when tired and hungry. He took a step forward, the urge to aid her twining through him. He’d hustle her inside where he could give her food and let her sleep. Offer her—
His movement must have given himself away because she turned to face him, then bit her lip.
“Citizen, forgive me. I thought you were…” Her eyes slid back to the door.
“Inside, hiding from you?”
Her cheeks pinked, a truly lovely shade, and a much better color than the deathly white that had stolen over her when last they’d spoken.
“Non, citizen. I don’t have a need to hide from women—or men. Farmers start their days early.” He surveyed her again, her thin, willowy body and slender shoulders, the hollowness in her cheeks and her bone-like fingers. “As do you.”
Her cheeks turned from soft pink to bright red, and she dipped her gaze to the ground. “I came to see about the post again. Perhaps you’ve changed your mind and are willing to hire me?”
“You need food, not a post.”
“Wait here. I’ve soup you can take.” He headed toward the well along the side of the yard and reeled the bucket up, his leftover food from yesterday’s evening meal cool and fresh thanks to the water.
Footsteps padded on the earth behind him. “I didn’t come for food. I came for a post.”
He hefted the bucket out of the well and headed for the house. “And I told you yesterday, I’ve no need of a maid.”
“The deplorable taste of your bread convinced me otherwise.”
The side of his mouth twitched into that foreign feeling of a smile. The woman might be slight of body, but it took a speck of courage to tell him his food tasted horrid while he prepared yet another meal for her. “`Tis true, I’ve no knack for making bread. Though on days when I head to town, as I did yesterday, I purchase some.”
He opened the door to his cottage, and rather than try to force her inside as he had yesterday, he left the door open and set the soup on the table. He ladled the thickened liquid from his bucket into a second pail, then reached for the loaf of bread from the baker’s, tore it in half and wrapped it. The meal should suffice her for today, mayhap even tomorrow if she rationed it.
“I don’t need your charity.” She stood in the doorway, arms crossed over her slender chest.
He moved to her and held out the food. “You look as though you’ve not eaten for a month.”
“I don’t claim to eat well, but that’s a situation I can remedy myself. If you hire me.”
Having a woman in his home would be like salt on memories that were far too raw. Corinne’s smile when he made her laugh, the shine of her hair in the lamplight, the taste of her lips beneath his and feel of her face in his hands. How many days had they toiled together, working side by side in the fields? How many nights had they spent in each others’ arms in the little house at the back of his property? How many times had he come through the door, tired and dirty, to find a fresh meal and smiling wife awaiting his return…
“Citizen?” The woman in the doorway cleared her throat.
“Non. I can’t hire you.” He dipped his head toward the food he still held. “Now take this and make haste.”
She looked into his eyes, her vulnerable gaze trapping him. She was so much like Corinne. Oh, her hair might be tinted with red and russet rather than blond, and her eyes might be a soft brown rather than blue. But she held herself the same—with strength and dignity.
Nothing good would come of having her about this house. Besides, if he did offer work, he hadn’t any place to put the woman except for the cottage at the back of the property. The one he’d shared with Corinne.
He’d not darkened the door of that building since his wife’s death, and he had no intentions to start now. The structure could sit and rot until it fell down for all he cared. Mayhap it already had fallen down. He didn’t know, and he didn’t plan to check.
“What about for bread?” the woman asked.
“What mean you, ‘for bread?’”
“You could hire me to make your bread.” She swallowed, her throat working too hard for such a simple action. “And I’ll bring you a fresh loaf every morn.”
He ran his eyes slowly down her. “How do I know you’re not a worse baker than I?”
Her chin came up a defiant notch. “I assure you, citizen, a slug could mix together some mud, bake it and create a more tasteful loaf than that which you shared yesterday.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Tell me, did you compare your previous employer to a slug? It might explain why you’re in need of a post.”
Her face flushed, as though she hadn’t fully realized what she’d been saying until he drew attention to her words. “Pardon me, but I’d best be on my way.”
She turned, leaving the food in his hands.
She stopped just outside the door, the sun’s tinted rays bouncing off the back of her mobcap and turning her skin a silky gold.
He thrust the food forward. “You’re forgetting something.”
“I told you I don’t take charity.” She kept her back to him, her spine as rigid as the stately oaks that grew along the river. “I work for my food.”
She wasn’t like the other widows he offered food to, the ones with little mouths to feed and run-down cottages to keep. The ones that would burst into tears if he dared ask compensation for the goods he offered.
“Do you live near enough to bring me bread every morn? I’ll not hire you if it means you must walk to and from town.”
“I live quite close, merci.”
His mind ran through the houses between his farm and Abbeville. Where could she possibly shelter? He’d not seen her until yesterday, so she couldn’t live too near. But if she was at his door before the sun had fully risen, she couldn’t live that far, either. `Twas almost as though she’d been dropped off by the afternoon sun yesterday and planned to stay for the rest of her life.
But if her rigid posture was any indication—and the rather noticeable fact that she still showed him her back rather than her front—she wasn’t going to volunteer where she stayed.
“Let’s strike a bargain, shall we? You can bring me bread on the morrow, but only if you take my food today.”
She turned slowly, her forehead drawn into a series of subtle furrows. “Have you flour, or am I to purchase some in town?”
“I farm wheat, remember?”
She licked her lips, dry and cracked yet somehow compelling. “I’ll need oil and yeast as well.”
“Let me package some for you.” He turned back toward the shelves that held his foodstuffs, trying to stop that unfamiliar smile from peeking out the corner of his mouth.
The Wyoming Heir
Text Copyright: 2014 by Naomi Rawlings
Cover Art Copyright: 2014 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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