Chapter 27, Part 1

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As he left the room, Rene winced, holding his jaw. He’d forgotten how hard Louis’ punches could be. Growing up, he and his brothers had gotten into many a brawl, and it seemed that very little had changed. Just as it had been then, he was the loser, left to retreat and lick his wounds.

In the hall, he started towards his old bedchamber. Everything was out in the open now. What would be the harm in seeking out a comfortable bed, and maybe a bath?

As he came around the corner, he passed the open door of a chamber. Glancing in, he saw Marie and the housekeeper, who were changing the linens on a bed. He sighed, watching Marie as she worked. All of a sudden, he felt the need for a female companion...someone who would listen, and maybe offer him comfort, though not necessarily in a sexual way. At the moment, he was in too low of a mood for that. But what kind of man would just walk up to a woman and start droning on about his troubles? He was not a child, and she was certainly not his mother. Still, there had to be a way to seek her attention. And when the throbbing in his jaw seemed to intensify, the answer came to him.

Stepping into the room, he sent the housekeeper away. Marie gave him a smile, but continued with her work as she spoke to him.

“Is there something you want, my lord?”

He cringed at the use of his title. Coming from her, it just seemed strange. “I would prefer the use of my name, if you would oblige me.”

Without looking up, she re-worded her question. “Is there something you want...Rene?”

Why did he so delight in the sound of her saying his name? As wayward thoughts crept into his mind, he shook his head, trying not to let his baser instincts distract him. He asked her...

“Do you, perchance, know how to make a poultice?”

She rose upright from her chore, looking at him with interest. “I think I can manage to make one. Why?”

He started to answer. But the pain in his jaw kept him from it, and he groaned as he pressed his palm to his face. While part of his mind was focused on the hurt, another part of him wondered if Marie would come over and try to console him. In his experience, it was what most women would do, and it was one of the things that so attracted him to the female species. She did come close to him, pulling his hand away so she could look at his jaw. Her reaction was tender...and yet, very true to her character.

“That looks very painful. What act of stupidity did you commit to deserve it?”

He raised a curious eyebrow. “Why do you assume I did something stupid?”

She gave him a knowing smile as she replied. “Because all men are fools. And I would be a fool to think otherwise.”

He could not help but smile at her honesty. And it compelled him to do what he had wanted to do from the first. With a sigh, he confided in her.

“My brother felt the need to test the strength of his right fist. My face proved a good target.”

It did not surprise him when she softly laughed. He looked at her, seeing how there was a hint of mischief in her hazel eyes. It was very becoming, and he realized that it was the first time he had looked at her this closely. She had a sweet, pleasing expression. He had known many women, and most of them had been stunning beauties. But Marie had a face that could only be described as adorable. Her appeal did not lie in her great beauty, but in her elfin-like features...her button nose, her high cheek-bones, and most of all, her teasing smile. He had to wonder if she possessed some sort of mystical ability, as all elves did. At that moment, she was charming him completely, seemingly without any effort.

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