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Cantering across the fields, she felt her spirits rising. How fitting it was that today was a holiday. It was Michalmas, and after a morning spent in worship, all were permitted to spend their day as they wished. Most of the servants took the opportunity to visit loved ones, leaving the house in a very quiet state. Isabella found pleasure in the sunshine and open air. As she moved along, her mind wandered to thoughts of Rene. How was he spending his holiday?
As if designed by fate, she found her answer, lying on a grassy knoll. She knew it was him, despite the hat that covered his face as he rested there. She could not resist approaching him. He drew her in without effort…without words or action. Riding up to him, she looked down at his lanky body, stretched out in a lazy fashion.
“Is this how you choose to spend your day?”
In a leisurely movement of his hand, he removed his hat, and looking up at her, he smiled. “Good afternoon, my lady.”
He was so dashing, so arrogant, even when giving a mere greeting. She tried her best to temper her delight as she responded.
“Most people would choose to spend their day of freedom with family or friends.”
He shrugged. “I have neither. So what would you have me do?”
In her heart, she felt a pang of sympathy for him. But was his account genuine? If only there was some way to know for certain.
“Am I to believe a rogue’s tale?” she asked. “You say you have no friends, no family. You say you once had a title. How am I to know the truth?”
Sitting up, he looked at her with a serious turn of expression. “If you require proof, I can provide it.”
Intrigued, she gave him a curious look. “How might you do that?”
She watched as he reached into his shirt, removing a ring suspended from a thin chain around his neck.
“Come,” he said. “See the evidence for yourself.”
Taking in a calming breath, she considered what the consequences would be if she took the bait. Would he do something untoward? Her good sense told her to turn her horse and ride away. But a strange sense of daring gripped her. And she found herself getting down from her horse.
Cautiously, she approached him, lured in by the shiny little object he was dangling. Boldly, she snatched it away. Examining it, she was surprised to find it as genuine proof of his former status.
“This is a signet ring,” she said. “I have seen this seal.”
He nodded. “The seal of the house of Jean-Bastien. Do you think it a coincidence that I share the name of a comte?”
Handing the trinket back to him, her curiosity grew. “You are a puzzlement, Rene. But how am to know that you did not steal such a ring, and that the name you claim to own is not truly yours?”
He laughed then, a soft and delighted sound of utter amusement. It was so difficult to be cross with him when he was being so jovial.
“My lady,” he said. “You have quite an imagination. And I daresay, a sad inability to lower your guard.”
Such a statement stung. And she replied with a sharp answer.
“With a man such as you, I am wise to be cautious.”
As he came to his feet, her instincts told her to flee. But she remained where she stood, watching him as he drew closer to her. There was a curious look on his face.
“Baroness, might I make an inquiry that has been on my mind for some time?”
It was dangerous to indulge his curiosity. But she could not help herself.
“What do you wish to know?” she asked.
He came closer, until they were nearly toe to toe. His voice was soft.
“Does your husband kiss you as he should?”
His question was too bold, too shocking…and it frightened her, because it had touched upon such a personal subject. She took a step back from him.
“That is not for you to know.”
He slowly advanced on her with a little smile. “Therin lies my answer.”
She tried to step away, but she found his hand holding her arm in a firm but gentle grip.
“You are afraid of me,” he said.
He was touching on too many truths. It did, indeed, make her frightened…not of him, but of herself. She tried one last effort of being bold.