Celeste, Duchesse de Saint Tours, is forced into hiding when she is falsely accused of the murder of her husband. Her distant cousin, Marcel Daunou reluctantly agrees to hide her in plain sight on his farm. However, she must learn to live as a peasant farmer in order to complete the deception, a feat which appears next to impossible to the haughty Duchess. Especially knowing that the unsettling Marcel is watching over her at every turn.
Marcel knows that he places his loved ones in danger when he agrees to hide Celeste. However, his committee has agreed to hide her in exchange for a large sum of money that will assist their gravely poor community, and since she is family, he takes responsibility for her. But revolutionary fervor is running high and Marcel knows if the Duchess is found out, she will be marched back to Paris, and to the guillotine. And his family will face harsh retribution from the agitating revolutionaries for hiding a member of the despised nobility.
Forced to work together, Celeste and Marcel discover a passion that they cannot resist. And Celeste discovers a feeling of belonging and acceptance from the people of the village that she has never felt before.
When her well-meaning lawyer appears in the village and gives her identity away, it isn’t only Marcel that Celeste stands to lose – it’s her life as well.
Can a noble Duchess and a peasant farmer find a happily ever after?
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Find a review of this book from Australian Romance Readers Association here.
Celeste ducked her head to avoid the low door frame as she was ushered into the cellar. Standing up on the other side, she faced around a dozen sizeable men squeezed into a tiny room. And they were all staring at her.
Unable to catch more than snatches of their rumbling conversations, Celeste consoled herself with determining the mood of the room by what she could see in their candlelit faces. Out of the dozen men, she could make out only two who regarded her with any kindness.
One was an old man. Celeste thought he looked the oldest in the group. Perhaps age had rewarded him with understanding, because he seemed to be arguing her case to the stony-faced man beside him. Celeste graced him with a small, grateful smile, and he winked back.
The other kind eyes belonged to her cousin.
The rest looked her over with various expressions—thoughtfulness, curiosity, embarrassment, even hostility. The words “murderess” and “duchess” reached her ears, and she inwardly cringed. The contempt in their voices seemed the same whether they were speaking of one or the other. Her stomach gurgled. Thankfully, it stayed quiet enough that the muttered conversations of the men covered the noise. They didn’t need to know she hadn’t been able to eat all day.
Certain that catching the eye of the hostile men would betray her trepidation, Celeste avoided their faces after a single glance. Appearing assured and self-contained in front of the peasants was paramount, even if her stomach was roiling and her heart pounding. She blinked rapidly, willing herself not to cry.
An unpleasant, dizzy feeling passed over her, and the conversation around her dulled as a greyness entered her vision. She almost lurched, feeling as if she had lost her balance for a moment. Thankfully, the dizziness passed as quickly as it had appeared.
“We’ve come to a decision, madame.” Her cousin’s deep, serious voice boomed through the room, despite him speaking quietly. Monsieur Daunou reminded Celeste of a bear; enormous, black-haired, and barrel-chested, with onyx eyes that had glinted with suspicion when he first spoke to her earlier, but which seemed to have softened in the candlelight of the timbered cellar.
Celeste tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. Even running her tongue over her parched lips was impossible. All her actions of the past days—her horror at learning she was accused of murder, her hurried exit from Paris, and the agonizing tediousness of her journey to the tiny village of Danguin, had led to this one moment.
Time seemed to stand still. The candle, guttering only a moment before, shone clear and bright. The smoke from the men’s pipes hung motionless in the air. She stood perfectly immobile, even the soft swish of her dark-green worsted travelling dress against the stone floor stopped. For a long moment, the only thing Celeste was aware of was her heart, beating an unsteady tattoo. She held her breath, her eyes meeting Monsieur Daunou’s for a suspended moment that felt like forever. Then a half smile crossed his face.
“We’ve decided you can stay. The price’ll be five hundred louis.”
She let out her breath, closing her eyes as she did so. Her entire body unclenched. From what seemed a long way away, she heard her own voice.
“Thank you, messieurs. I appreciate your consideration.”
And with that, all the emotions of the past days crashed in on her—the fear, the distrust, the apprehension, along with the new feelings of giddy relief and happiness. She heard herself say in a strange, slurring tone, “I wonder if I could have something to eat, please,” before she felt herself falling, and the world went black.