Seigneur Pepiot would have no time to entreat him to escort his daughter to Paris, and Elias could put as much space between him and the source of his torture as possible. Though guilt harangued him at the thought of leaving her to the fate of marrying the old gluttonous nobleman, he reasoned many women have survived much worse.
She is just a woman, after all. But even as the thought flashed through his mind, his heart convicted him. Jaime was more, and he knew it. There was nothing he could do about it, however, and Elias was convinced his best course of action was to leave and get her out of his mind.
When his carriage was ready, Elias left a note to thank Seigneur Pepiot for his hospitality and to leave his regrets that he must make haste to Paris to meet his associate. Then he boarded the coach and signaled the driver to depart.
Grudgingly the horses jerked forward under the weight of their burden, and it wasn’t until the carriage was rattling down the rough road to Paris that Elias allowed himself to breathe again. He sighed in a mixture of relief and regret as he struggled to turn his thoughts from the enchanting Jaime and her dismal future.
A dark heaviness descended on him, and he closed his eyes. He didn’t want to leave her, but what choice did he have? To stay would only be placing himself willfully into the grasp of temptation he knew he couldn’t withstand.
The jostling of the carriage made sleep difficult, though he was exhausted from the restless night. He kept his eyes closed; hoping sleep would overtake him, allowing the constant rhythm of the carriage rumbling over the ruts in the road to lull him.
A deep pothole trounced the coach, causing Elias to bash his head against the wall. His own cry of pain was brief, and under it he heard a gasp of breath which wasn’t his. A voiceless shriek coming from under the seat beneath him, where typically the blankets and extra supplies were kept. He rubbed his bruised head and leaned far forward, hanging over the edge of the seat to peer at what or whom was hidden there.
There, peeking out behind the layers of wool blankets, were two big brown eyes with golden flecks, blinking back tears.
“Mademoiselle?” Elias stammered in disbelief.
“Oui,” came the timid reply.