A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Twenty-Four

Aramis had never pushed his horse this hard. The other didn’t understand the rush, Alexandra had escaped and was waiting for them, but there was something gnawing on him. An urgency to get to her as soon as possible, a sinking feeling in his gut, that they might be too late. Too late for what? She wouldn’t go anywhere, she’d told Philippe she’d wait where the boy had left her. They knew exactly where she was. Safe and unharmed. So why did he keep spurring his horse, riding all the way from Paris without stopping. It wasn’t good for the animal, he knew that, it wasn’t good for any of them, but he had to get to Alexandra.

He breathed a sigh of relief as they reached the narrow road with the slope gently rising behind the line of birch trees as the sun started it’s descent toward the horizon. They were close. His heart stuttered as he saw the horses roaming on the road, their reins dragging in the dust, their manes flowing as they threw their heads and neighed. He exchanged glances with his three companions and they slowly approached. Something wasn’t right. His heart stopped as he first smelled blood and death, then saw three bodies lying on the slope by the road. And then everything went blank as he saw a man stradling a bound woman amid the corpses, her hands bound behind her so she lay on them, her dark hair fanning on the grass, her pale eyes staring unseeing into the fiery sky.

A red haze descending on his vision, he heard a distant roar, knew deep inside it was his own, and then he was off his horse, his sword plunged into the man’s writhing back. He heard the gurgling sound of death, and the haze slowly lifted, until there was only her filling his vision. Alexandra with her beautiful face covered with blood.

“God,” he whimpered, and pushed the bastard off her. His eyes widened as he saw the front of her gown, her torso, was covered with blood as well. “God, no. Alexandra...”

Her eyes were still staring unblinking at the sky above her, and he felt something inside him shrivel and die. He was too late, she was gone. They’d killed her, they’d mercilessly ripped her from his life. He bowed his head, his hands balled into fists, as he silently vowed that she’d be avenged. Somehow, even if it took him a lifetime, everybody that had a hand in her abduction, in her death, would pay. And the Cardinal would suffer the most. The promise made, he leaned over her, and tenderly cupped her cheeks.

“Aramis?”

He brushed his fingers over her eyebrows, feeling the sting of tears in his eyes. He could swear he heard her voice, barely a whisper, on the wind, as if her spirit was saying goodbye. He didn’t want to say goodbye, not yet, not ever.

“Aramis?”

It wasn’t the wind. It wasn’t a trick of his mind. It was her voice. He frowned as she slowly blinked up at him, her eyes focused on him.

“Are you real?” she whispered.

He choked out a laugh, feeling tears spill down his cheeks, as he pulled her up, ran his hands frantically over her. “There’s so much blood,” he muttered as Athos cut her bonds.

“It’s not mine,” she told him, rubbing her wrists, the skin scraped from the rope. “I’m all right.” She grabbed his hand, tucked her other hand under his chin to force him to look at her. “He didn’t hurt me.”

He stared at her, her words making no sense.

“You came in time,” she whispered. “You saved me.”

Oh, God! She’d protected herself, the blood was from the men. And he’d saved her from the one who’d overpowered her. She hadn’t suffered her mother’s fate, she hadn’t been raped. “Oh, God,” he choked out, hauled her into his arms, and buried his face against her neck. “I thought I lost you,” he breathed against her skin. Her arms came around him, and he shuddered. Feeling her embrace him...It was the best feeling in the world. It was here that he belonged. In her arms. “I love you,” he murmured.

“But...”

He lifted his head, cupped her cheeks. “I love you,” he repeated, his voice strong and steady. “I thought I’d never be able to tell you.” He stated into her wide eyes, wanting her to understand, to believe him. “I love you.”

He pressed his lips to her forehead, closed his eyes on a silent prayer of thanks. Then he tucked his cape around her, lifted her into his arms, and took her to his horse where he reluctantly transferred her into Athos’ arms. His friend relinquished his hold on her as soon as Aramis was in his saddle, and they set on a much slower way back to Paris.


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