Emile gently pulls the reins, bringing Georges, his brown Stallion, to a slow trot. He can feel Elle’s warm hands pressed tight against his lower torso.
She whispers into his left ear, “Where are we, Emile?”
Emile looks around. Night has fallen over the Rhone-Valley. Twinkling white stars appear in the dark sky and the last remains of daylight over the eastern horizon rapidly sink beneath the tall blue hills of the Rhone-Alps. The gentle rolling hills shine almost as white as snow underneath the bright moonlight and the potent smell of lavender drifts from the fields nearby, and fills the air around the two lovers. Elle and Emile are aware that they are all alone, but that does not frighten them. In fact, the silence is rather comforting.
“We must be at least ten miles south of my manor, if not more,” Emile says. He carefully slides himself off his horse without kicking Elle. Elle clings to his free arm while he leads Georges to the bank of the river.
“I am enjoying this so much that I could stay here alone with you all night,” she says.
Emile pats Georges on his back as the animal greedily drinks the water. He then turns his attention away from the horse and slips his arms around Elle’s tiny waist. He gently runs his fingers through her long, thick, black curls. “Elle, I could stay here all night and all day alone with you, but I fear what Robert Couchon would do to you when he finds you,” Emile says.
The smile instantly fades from Elle’s face. She tries desperately to hold back the tears that spring to her eyes. “I do not want to spend another day at that horrid vineyard, and I certainly do not wish to endure another beating.”
“Shh.” Emile places his index finger on her cherry lips. “You will not be there for much longer.” He brushes his lips against the smooth skin of her forehead.
Elle backs away from him. “Emile, you have said that every night for the past five years.” Tears stream down her ashen cheeks.
“Elle, look at me,” Emile says. He takes her hand and holds it in a firm grip. “I really want to enjoy this moment with you.”
“Then, why don’t you take me back home with you?”
Emile lets out a deep sigh. Just as he is about to explain himself to her, he hears the sound of men’s voices in the distance. The forlorn look on his face is replaced by one of fear.
Elle, though, does not hear the voices as she is too caught up in her distress. When she sees the horror-stricken expression on Emile’s face, she gives him a puzzled look.
“What on earth is wrong, Emile?” she says.
Emile tightens his grip around her wrist. “We must leave—now.”
By now she can hear the men’s voices—revolutionary soldiers—and they are headed in their direction. They both can even hear the faint rumble of the wagon’s wheels on the dirt road and the jingle of the horses’ harness. Without warning, Elle feels Emile’s strong arms around her back and upper thighs. As if in a dream, her body is lifted up into the air and placed on the backside of Georges. Within seconds Emile is seated in front of her.
“Hold onto me tight, Elle.” His whisper is loud enough for her to hear his words and to respond to his request.
As Georges races over the vast landscape, the sound of the men’s voices rapidly disappear. Before long, the lovers veer off the road and onto the dreaded lane that leads to Robert Couchon’s vineyard.
“Wow, that was a close call,” he says in a loud whisper.
Elle does not respond. Her stomach churns when she peers up at the large stone manor before them. The window near the top of the tower is the attic where she eats and sleeps. The tiny, stuffy room has been her home for nine years.