Châteaux and Shadows
Emmanuel, Chevalier de Cantière, youngest son of a baron, is happiest raising horses far from his complicated family. When news comes his mother is deathly ill, he races to her side only to find she has apparently recovered and moved on, leaving behind her companion, Catherine.
Catherine de Fouet blends into the background, saving up so she’ll never have to wait on waspish, scheming old ladies like the baronesse again. She has no interest in a resentful gentleman, estranged from his mother, no matter how broad his shoulders or intriguing the wounded soul behind his handsome face. She just needs someone to escort her back to Versailles.
But Catherine is suspected of poisoning the baronesse. She rebuffs a pushy courtier who tries to use blackmail to make her his mistress, and her reputation hangs by a thread.
The chevalier wants more than anything to protect this woman whose prickly exterior hides sweetness and passion. They need his family to help him through court intrigues—almost as much as they need each other.
Page Count: 288
Word Count: 72955
“Of course. There aren’t a lot of gentlemen I trust, and he is exactly the sort of man who doesn’t care whom he hurts. That means his horses. That means the maids in his home. And that means you.”
“Me? How could he hurt me? He spoke kindly to me and flirted a little. I did not return the favor, really. He was a friendly diversion in an otherwise dull evening. Tomorrow, he will flirt with some other girl, and it won’t matter to me. In a few months, his father will announce his engagement to a rich girl. Or maybe he’ll marry a slightly older lady with a fortune. But no matter what happens, I will know he is a gentleman who is kind to his grandmother and to some unknown young lady.”
She spun on her heel and marched away. It took Manu a few seconds to catch up, but he grabbed her elbow to stop her. “Stay away from him and all his friends. It will only lead to pain. Not just physical pain, not just heartbreak, but the end of your reputation, the end of all your prospects.”
Her eyebrows went up; she was going to say something sarcastic. “You’re protecting me? Are you my brother? My father? My cousin?”
Manu opened his mouth to say that yes, he would act as her brother. But he snapped it shut and shook his head. “I’m not wise in the ways of the court.”
She sniffed in derision.
He scowled. “But I’ve spent the last twelve years with men of every class. I wouldn’t sell d’Oronte one of my horses. I wouldn’t sell your future to him, either.”
“It’s not your future, Emmanuel; it’s mine.” Her voice was as low and lethal as a short knife in a dark alley. “Maybe I don’t care anymore about my reputation. Maybe I’d like to flirt. Maybe I’d like a dalliance before I move to my property in Normandy and live the rest of my life alone.”
Manu stared. Alone in Normandy? He thought she liked the court.
She turned her back and marched to the next door, which she yanked open. She shut it softly behind her, showing remarkable restraint.
He remembered he was going to sleep on his mother’s drawing room floor and went in after her. He locked the door and squinted into the dark room. Her bedroom door flashed slightly as it opened, and he said, “Mademoiselle de Fouet.” Her dark form paused in the doorway, but didn’t reply. “Catherine.” After all, she had just called him Emmanuel, hadn’t she?
She was just a shadow. He hoped it was her and not a maid. He opened his mouth for a long moment before deciding what to say.
“I would sell you a horse.”
A soft sniff, then the shadow went in, and the door clicked shut.
“Bonne nuit, Mademoiselle,” he whispered, defeated.