The heart in Elias’s chest dropped into his stomach, instantly nauseating him. What treachery was this?
His first thought was to stop the driver and have him turn back directly. Perhaps the baron had not noticed his daughter’s absence yet. It was still early, after all. Chances are he hasn’t yet discovered Elias was gone. Sitting up abruptly, he reached to pound on the front wall to demand the driver’s attention.
A piteous plea stopped him in mid-air. “Wait!” He could hear her struggling to free herself from her entanglements under the seat. In one fluid movement, Elias relocated to the other side of the coach and reached for her hand to help her up. Breathlessly, she begged again as she pulled herself onto the seat, “Please, monsieur.” Her eyes were wide and frantically shifting around the coach.
Elias could do nothing but stare at her in evident horror. His mind raced with the ensuing consequences. Surely, the lady knew what her deceit would mean for them. Her father would assume he had taken her. There would be nothing he could say to prove his innocence. Unless he returned her before her absence was noted, all was lost. He opened his mouth to insist on going back, but Jaime’s whispered appeal cut him off.
“Monsieur Talb, please don’t take me back. I cannot marry Seigneur Dubois. I promise I will take my own life if I am forced into such a marriage. Take me to Paris—I’ll find a ship to take me to England or America.” Tears were already streaming down her face. The sight of them turned his resolve to mush.
“Once again, mademoiselle, your impetuous behavior has endangered us both. Do you realize what will happen to us if we are found together?”
Her eyes flashed at him, and in spite of her tears, Elias thought he saw the light of willful strategy, as if she knew exactly what she was doing. But she was a woman, how could she devise such a scheme? Her gaze held his as she spoke. “It could not be worse than what would happen if I had stayed behind.”
Elias sat in silence, processing her words. Her behavior was so forward, so unexpected. First, sneaking to his room in the still of the night, and now stowing away in his carriage to escape to Paris in the company of a man she hardly knew. His initial impression of her intelligence seemed off base. Unless—she had intimated to him her ability to make her father believe certain decisions were his own.
“How did you know I would leave this morning?”
“I saw it in your eyes last night. You are an honorable man as I said. I knew if you were telling me the truth about how I affect you, you would not consent to escorting me—in order to flee from temptation.”
“And so you believed the best course of action would be to hide in the carriage of a man who admittedly cannot guarantee the safety of your virtue with him?”
“I am depending on this man’s honor.”
“Mademoiselle, this man’s honor requires—my honor will not allow me to travel alone with you under these conditions.”
“We will be traveling for several days.”
“Is it the days which are bothering you, monsieur?” She tilted her head and blinked her long eyelashes slowly, directing her gaze back at him. “Or is it the nights?”