Hearts Beguiled

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Authors: Penelope Williamson
Tags: v5.0 scan; HR; Avon Romance; France; French Revolution;
all his meals in the cafe downstairs, she thought, and felt strangely sad to realize he had no one to cook for him.
    A set of heavy mahogany bookcases lined the wall beside the door. He had, she saw, every single one of the thirty-six volumes of Buffon's Histoire Naturelle, as well as a complete set of Diderot's Encyclopedic Most of his books were scientific tomes, or treatises on travel and geography. But here and there she spotted a novel, mostly untranslated English titles, and she was pleased to see her favorites by Fielding and Defoe. Next to the bookcases, maps of the stars and constellations had been tacked onto the wall. She saw that the charts had been corrected where he had made discoveries of his own.
    The slam of a door downstairs startled her, making her suddenly aware of the passage of time. She looked around the cluttered room with despair, if the ring was in here she would never find it.
    She decided to look for it in the bedroom first.
    His bed was a large but plain, uncurtained affair, fashioned simply with a bolster and a good feather quilt. An impressive, classically styled armoire filled one wall. Opposite squatted a marble-topped commode table with two drawers faced with mother-of-pearl marquetry. The top of the commode was empty but for a large silver candelabra. The only incongruous note in the room was a stuffed owl on a perch near the window facing the gardens. In contrast to the laboratory, this room was sparse and neat.
    She laid the door key on top of the commode and pulled open one of the drawers—
    Oooooh.
    Gabrielle whipped around, so startled by the strange noise that she emitted a tiny, high-pitched shriek. She pressed a shaking hand to her chest in case her heart decided to burst right out of it, but the room was empty and now utterly silent.
    "Who's there?" she called tentatively, then cursed herself for a fool. After all, she was the intruder here.
    A breeze drifted through the broken panes of the window, cooling Gabrielle's sweating face. The feathers stirred on the neck of the stuffed owl. Then, slowly, his two glazed yellow eyes blinked at her.
    Warily she approached the bird. She started to reach out to touch him, to see if he was real, when he blinked again.
    Gabrielle snatched back her hand, then began to laugh. It was just like the man, she thought, to keep an owl for a pet. Like a wizard straight out of English folklore. She pressed the back of her wrist against her mouth to stop the laughter, sure she was getting hysterical. Resolutely she turned her back on the bird and began to search the drawers of the commode, although it was difficult to do with an owl watching her, well . . . owlishly, she thought with another warbling, nervous giggle.
    Her ring was not in the top drawer, but she did find something that made her pause. It was a case filled with mercury molds used to make copies of the red wax seals which closed letters. She wondered whose secret correspondence Maximilien de Saint-Just had been steaming open and then resealing.
    In the second drawer she found a large Chinese wooden casket elaborately carved with warriors in strange armor fighting with swords. She lifted the hinged lid. Inside was a heavy black pistol gleaming with oil. It looked well cared for, and used. She hefted it. Was it loaded?
    A small velvet bag lay in the casket with the pistol. She emptied the contents on top of the commode. A scattering of foreign coins, a man's diamond stock pin, a miniature of a young woman. And a single ring—the ruby ring he bought that morning.
    She picked up the miniature.
    It was of a girl at the first bloom of womanhood. Her hair was very pale, powdered probably, for her eyes were a deep rich hazel. She had a round, full mouth that quirked up at the corners, dimpling one cheek. There was something familiar about the girl, but Gabrielle couldn't place her. She wondered if this was the girl destined to receive the ring, or if she was an old love; if she, perhaps, was the

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