hope that you might agree, isn't it?"
She took a deep breath. "Tell me your plan."
March 27, 1814
Nicholai and Lisette stared in astonishment. Natalya pretended not to notice. Only the two spots of color on her cheeks betrayed her awareness of the humbling leap she'd just taken. Meanwhile, James alone seemed oblivious of the dinner table conversation. He was more interested in the wedge of caramelized apple tart that had just been put before him.
"What are you looking at?" Natalya finally demanded of her aunt and uncle. "There's no need for shock. I've only agreed to hear the man out, not become his mistress."
St. James lifted his brows mildly. "What a relief."
"Pray, sir, tell me your plan without further insults!"
After a well-timed pause, he began to explain. "The difficulty of my situation is that Auteuil and Poujouly—the prison warden and his assistant—know my horse, and they'll be looking for me alone. The perfect solution, as I see it, would be not only a disguise and a different horse, but also a wife to travel with me. Knowing my past—the year in prison, and before that, the war—they'd never think to look for me with a wife."
"Well, they would be right, wouldn't they. It's ludicrous!" Natalya's turquoise eyes registered stunned surprise. "I guessed that you were mad, sir, but thought perhaps I'd judged you in haste. Now there is no doubt that I was right all along."
"Right about the fact that you judge too hastily?" he replied innocently. "I fear I must agree; but it's heartening that you are examining your character defects—"
"If you play with me, Mr. St. James, I shall leave the table without listening to one more word of your so-called plan," she ground out between clenched teeth.
"Then spare me your sharp-tongued interruptions," Grey said coolly. "I can assure you, Miss Beauvisage, that my reference to needing a wife was in no way a declaration of love and proposal of marriage for you. I only need someone to pose as my wife, for a mere week, perhaps, and although it would be pleasant if that person were also someone whose company I enjoyed, it would seem that I am not in a position to set such conditions." He paused, fine nostrils flaring slightly, and took a sip of calvados. "You and I can help each other. We both need to get out of France, and the odds are against either of us doing so alone. Together, we can be successful. I'm not asking you to do me a favor. We would each benefit equally." He shrugged. "I suppose it depends on how much you want to leave this country at the moment."
Natalya took a deep breath. "I do. I do want to go, so badly that my heart aches with the yearning for America and my home. I apologize for my rudeness. Please, tell me more."
Nicholai, hearing the throb in his niece's voice, leaned forward to give St. James his complete attention. "I should warn you—you'll have to convince us all," he murmured.
Grey smiled. "My plan is fairly simple. Since both of us speak French well, we can travel as a married peasant couple, which would draw little or no suspicion. I'm certain Auteuil and Poujouly expect me to travel to Paris and thence to England by way of Calais. Or else they hope I will go to join Wellington." His long fingers caressed the stem of his glass. "It wouldn't occur to them that I might go right back over the ground we've just covered, which is why I've chosen St. Malo as our destination. As you know, it's very near Mont St. Michel, where I was imprisoned."
Natalya, caught off guard by the sudden flash of his grin, smiled back. "Could we sail from St. Malo, then?"
"Absolutely. I couldn't do so when I first escaped from prison because Auteuil was right behind me. Also, it may take a bit of scheming to get to a British ship, but I'll have no problem once that damned warden and his henchman are disposed of. It may even turn out that my own ship will be lurking somewhere off the coast. If so, we'll bribe a fisherman or a
The Return of Chase Cordell