You experience no pain?

Elle shook her head. “No. It aches if I stand on it too long or if I jar it, but it’s getting better.”

Duval nodded. Good.

“Well?” Elle asked.

Duval twisted his lips. There is no way to tell how well the bone has mended, but I believe it is safe for you to try walking without your crutches provided you do not exhaust yourself. You will need to work at regaining your muscles and sense of balance.

“What about going home?” Elle asked.

You are not strong enough to walk back.

“No, but could I ride a horse, or go in a carriage?” Elle asked.

Duval glanced at Emele, who was twisting a handkerchief. Yes, he finally wrote. However, I recommend you wait until the end of the week to depart and work on regaining your strength until then.

“Would Saturday be an acceptable date?” Elle asked.

Duval wrote with the swiftness of a snail. I suppose.

“Excellent!” Elle said, smiling widely until she noticed Duval and Emele exchanging morose looks. “Come now, you two. It’s not like I’m dying.”

No, Emele wrote, but you are leaving us.

“I will come back to visit, I promise.”

It won’t be the same, Emele wrote, her lower lip trembling.

Elle’s lips twisted into a wry grin. “You mean after I leave the chances that I will break Severin’s curse are significantly lower?”

Duval’s mouth flapped like a flag, and Emele dropped her slate.

“Oh yes,” Elle said. “I know all about your secret plans.”

Emele covered her face with her hands.

Duval recovered long enough to write, How?

“Severin,” Elle said.

Duval hung his head, and Emele bent to retrieve her slate.

I did not mean to use you, Elle. The maid earnestly wrote.

Elle’s smirk softened. “I know, Emele. I do not doubt that you genuinely like me, but an eligible maiden was too good of a chance to pass up, I suppose?”

Emele considered Elle’s words before writing out a reply. No, it was not merely that you are female. Or perhaps it was at first, but I really began to hope when I learned what a compassionate, spirited person you are.

Duval added, Not just any girl is suited for Our Lord.

“No, I suppose not,” Elle said before she shook her head. “But I could have saved you the hope.”

You do not intend to fall in love? Emele timidly asked.

“No, but thanks to my profession as an indentured servant to the crown I have certain prejudices against the royal family.”

Emele rolled her eyes. Oh. Them. I assure you that His Highness is very different from his family.

“I’m not so sure about that,” Elle muttered

Emele started to write again, but Duval pushed her slate down presented his. We thank you for your honesty. In spite of what appears to be ulterior motives, we have enjoyed your stay at Chanceux Chateau.

Emele read Duval’s slate and nodded.

Elle smiled. “Thank you, both of you. I really will miss you.”

Emele blinked rapidly to hold back tears before reaching out to embrace Elle.

“You’ll crush your dress,” Elle reminded the ladies maid.

Emele fiercely hugged Elle closer.

Elle was thankful Duval made a swift exit and Emele retreated to tend to the fire after the moment was over, giving her time to collect herself.

Chapter 10


“It is too early for dinner. I trust you have a reason for closeting us here?” Elle said the following day when Severin led her into the empty dining room.

“I need to finish going through these missives,” Severin said. “I will never be able to read so long as I am apart from you. My servants have set themselves in a panic since your departure has been secured. If we are together they will undoubtedly leave us alone.”

“That fails to explain why we’re in the dining room,” Elle said, following Severin to the table—using her crutches.

Severin took up his normal seat at the head of the table. His back was to the fire and he set a stack of papers on the table where a bowl of a cut up, golden fruit was stationed. “The dining room is the best room for you to get physical exercise in.”

“I hope, Severin, that you are referring to the rehabilitation of my leg,” Elle said.

“Of course I am. What else would I be referring to?”

Elle used a crutch to point at the dining table. “The fact that I gorge myself on Bernadine’s dangerously tasty cooking?”

The corners of Severin’s lips curled for a moment. “In any case, you should walk around the room—without your crutches. It will be good practice.”

“I walk without Emele hovering and you get to read your letters in peace. It is a good exchange,” Elle said, leaning her crutches against the table.

“Go walk,” Severin ordered, immersing himself in his work.