“I’m aware of the risk I took in coming, but you needed help.”

Elle shook her head. She knew she was on the verge of hysteria. She had spent the last two months creeping among assassins, trying not to think of her broken heart. She had been injured and chased across the country, and now Severin chose to come prancing into a territory that was dangerous—if not downright deadly—to him? “You told me to leave. You said you never wanted to see me again,” Elle said, tossing her head.

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“I was wrong. We can talk about this later, Elle. We need to get you to civilization,” Severin said, still brandishing the blanket as he sidled closer.

“No, no, no! We will not talk about this later! You need to leave, now.”

“I’m not leaving without you.”

“SEVERIN! I broke your curse, I put up with being yelled at, and I conned my way into an assassins’ guild for you. Isn’t that enough? Can’t you just leave me alone?” Elle said, covering her eyes with her gloved hands.

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“I’m not asking you to do anything more for me, Elle. I’m asking you to let me serve you,” Severin quietly said. “I said it before, but I will say it as many times as you need to me. I was wrong. I was too pigheaded to see the truth. So now will you let me protect you?”

Elle lowered her hands. “The assassins—,”

“I can take care of a few ragged attackers. Even if you haven’t shaken all of the assassins off your trail—which I suspect you have—they will be in no condition to face me, as frozen and unprepared as they are. Trust me, Elle. You have done much for me, let me protect you,” Severin calmly said, holding out the blanket.

Elle’s shoulders heaved as she stared at Severin. She abruptly tipped forward, falling against him. “You broke my heart you big cat,” she muttered as he wrapped the blanket around her.

“We shall see,” Severin enigmatically said, scooping Elle up in his arms.

Elle pressed her face against his cloak, shielding her face from the stinging wind. “How did you find me?”

“Magic. And an enchantress,” Severin said, boosting her onto Fidele’s back.

Elle shivered as Severin mounted up behind her. “I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Can Fidele carry us both?”

“For a time. I brought an extra mount, we’ll switch when we have to. Sleep, Elle.”

Elle didn’t have the strength to protest. She fell asleep listening to Severin’s beating heart, joy warming her from the inside out. Severin had come for her.

Chapter 15

Partners in Life

Hunger woke Elle, gnawing at her stomach like a crazed animal.

Elle slowly opened her eyes to find there were three people in her room. A woman stood at the fireplace at the far end of the room, a second woman stood at the door, and a man stood at Elle’s bedside.

Elle blinked blearily at the man, who was stirring some sort of tea concoction. He was stout with a jolly face and warm eyes. “Duval?” she said, her voice rusty.

Duval smiled, a gesture that lit up his face. “The Mademoiselle is awake,” he announced.

The woman at the door ran into the hallway. “Elle is awake!” she shouted.

The woman at the fireplace, Emele, flew across the room. “Elle!” she said, crying and laughing at once.

Emele hugged Elle, barely giving her time to sit upright. “I’m so glad you’re here! I’m sorry for what I said,” Emele said, squeezing her tight. “I missed you so much.”

“And I missed you,” Elle laughed

“If I could intrude for a moment, but Mademoiselle Elle has been through much. If you would drink this restorative tea—,” Duval started before he was plowed over by Bernadine.

“Elle!” Bernadine said, her voice as warm and inviting as her morning pastries. “We’re delighted that you have returned.”

“Where am I?” Elle asked, looking around the room. She didn’t recognize it. It was a bedroom for certain—one larger and even more lavish than her chateau room—and it was decorated in golds and sedate reds.

“You’re in Chanceux Chateau, darling,” Bernadine chortled, affectionately smacking Elle as if she were the silliest thing in the world. (The smack jolted Elle with its force.)

“But this isn’t my room,” Elle said.

“It is now,” Emele said, seating herself on the edge of Elle’s mattress.

“But, what about my old room,” Elle stammered.

“It’s still there,” Bernadine nodded.

“I don’t understand,” Elle said.

“What these two ninnies aren’t telling you is that His Honor himself ordered this room cleaned for your use,” a strong voice drawled from the door.

Elle smiled. “Heloise.”

“Elle,” Heloise nodded with a snappy nod. “Duval, are you well?”

“Quite right,” Duval muttered, fixing his askew glasses. “Now if you’ll excuse me, but Mademoiselle Elle really needs to be—,”

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