Chapter 3

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Someone up there likes me, he thought.

Rain was pouring down, soaking him to the skin. But he reveled in it, rather than seeing it as a real hindrance. As he ran his hands through his hair he smiled, giving thanks to the heavens for sending the sudden that would wash away any hint of his trail.

On two points, however, he did have concerns. He couldn't sleep out in such weather. And he was hungry. After half a day fleeing from his pursuers, he'd worked up quite an appetite, and the fruit he'd sampled from the orchard had been burned off hours ago. What he desired was a hot meal, a warm bed...perhaps even a bit of female company. And he was quite sure he knew just where to find all three.

Moving forward through the dark, his keen sense of direction led him to the top of a familiar hill. The entirety of the Chateau LaCroix was impossible to make out in the rain and blackness, but there were faint shimmers of candlelight that shined like tiny beacons, drawing him forward as a moth to a flame.

One window in particular...and the terrace before it... he knew better than any other. The notion that it was two stories up was no concern. A trellis of ivy was easily scaled, even with the wet of the rain, and with ease he slung himself over the balcony rail, squatting cautiously on the stones just before the half-drawn curtains. Peering in, he saw the occupant of the room sitting upon a stool. A maid stood behind her, stroking the lady's long blond hair with a brush, and it seemed they were the only occupants of the room. But he could not be certain. So he lay in wait, hoping for the proper moment. And it came sooner than expected. The maid was dismissed with an impatient hand. When he saw the chamber door close, he inched closer to the entry. Pursing his lips, he emitted a soft bird call. The lady turned her head sharply towards the sound, rising from her seat, to move carefully towards the sound. She drew the curtains back, and seeing the person crouched in wait before her, she folded her arms and looked down at him. He grinned up at her, water dripping from his nose and chin.

"Lovely weather tonight, is it not?"

She was silent, glaring at him with fiery green eyes. He folded his hands, giving her his most earnest and needy expression.

"Oh lovely Baroness. Might you spare a meager place on the floor for a drenched, tired, hungry soul such as I?"

Her eyes narrowed. "I would sooner have a foul-smelling, flea-infested stray dog admitted to my presence."

There was a moment of silence between them. Then he leaned back on his haunches, and positioning his hands and arms just so in front of him, he whined as if he were, indeed, a pitiful hound. She snorted in contempt.

"Ugh! You are certainly the most pathetic of creatures. The lowest of the low."

He only grinned...and was rewarded when she took a step back, allowing him in. But he did not come far, knowing she would not be pleased if he soiled her Aubusson rug. He remained on the stone floor until she brought him a towel with which to dry himself. Then she stood back with her hands on her slender hips, scowling at him.

"René-Jean Bastien, why do you creep about my terrace?"

Looking her over with a heated gaze, he took in the sight of her supple figure. Her sleeveless nightdress, made of the finest white silk, hardly disguised her feminine attributes, and she didn't seem concerned about her modesty. As he rubbed the towel over his face, he gave her a tender and appreciative smile.

"I missed you, love. And I knew you could not cast me out on a night such as this."

Folding her arms defensively, her scowl grew deeper. "If you missed me so, why have you not come to see me in nearly two months?"

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