Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 9 Part Two

Simon and Guy departed quietly, giving detailed explanation to only a select few. At Guy's request, Basil had remained behind and was, at that moment, seeing to the departure of the guests. Guy wished them to be on their way, for in his current frame of mind, he was no longer willing to play the generous host.

They rode in silence. But Sir Guy's expression spoke volumes. He was set on retribution, and if the fierceness in his eyes was any indication, this would not be an act tempered with mercy. Both had agreed that this punishment would be done with fists, rather than weapons. The use of weapons would carry too great a risk if the heat of the moment burned beyond control. Their intent was to intimidate...not to murder. Judging from the swift pace they were making towards the Château LaCroix, the Earl was prepared to carry out their plan. And yet, Simon could not help but wonder if there were lingering doubts in Sir Guy's mind. Would he harbor regret in punishing the man who had saved his grandson?

One good deed does not absolve other crimes, Simon reminded himself. Criminals needed to be punished. Nothing more, nothing less. Still, he could not help but wonder if Guy truly felt the same.

What a strange, complex manner of creature these Gisbornes were. Of Sir Guy, he had heard tales that he'd once served the notorious William Briewere, Sheriff of Nottigham. Such a position would not have been given to a person of soft heart, and at first glance, Guy seemed very much a man of darkness. More often than not he was aloof, with a face that bore no hint of tenderness. He seemed to have a penchant for dark colors in his wardrobe, favoring shades of deep blue, black, or grey. Even his horse was raven in color.

And yet, despite his intense demeanor, Guy of Gisborne was a man who seemed to bend easily to the will of a woman. Lady Cassia spoke to her husband as though they were equals. She was respectful enough to hold her tongue in front of others, but clearly she did not submit to him. And what a strange way she had about her! Rather than being reviled by her daughter's foolishness, she came to her defense, going so far as to accuse her husband of cruelty. Was it not the place of a wife to be obedient in every way? She was not to question her husband, even in moments of uncertainty...and yet, the Countess was not shy about showing her displeasure and anger. Nor was she shy in expressing her affections, in ways both obvious and subtle. He recalled the kiss she'd bestowed in his it had startled him so. He hadn't received such a gesture since...

He shook his head, refusing to allow foolish musings and distant memories to distract him. They were coming upon the estate. Simon turned to Guy, speaking for the first time since they had departed.

"Are we to assume the Baron knows nothing of this duplicity?"

"The Baron is undoubtedly ignorant of activities that have occurred in his absence, and I find it highly unlikely that the Baroness or her cousin have suddenly confessed their sins."

Simon nodded in agreement. Just before they had set out on their mission, Guy had angrily confided that he'd been wary of the relationship between Rene and Isabella, but he'd held back his feelings, mostly for the sake of Theodora. Simon had not been surprised to learn of Guy's reservations, for they were his as well. It seemed that both he and the Earl were of the same mind, each of them seeing what others did not. No one else had suspected deceit in the Viscount and the Baroness. But Guy had seen it, as he had. Perhaps they were more alike than he realized.

The thought was on his mind as they both dismounted, handing their horses over to the grooms. Simon had heard the Baron LaCroix described as a portly fellow with a penchant for drink. The portrayal was given life as the man himself stepped across the manor threshold, holding a goblet in his hand as he spread his short arms wide in welcome.

"Sir Guy! To what honor do I owe this unexpected visit? And who is this gentleman who accompanies you?"

Simon answered quickly, impatient to see to business. "I am Simon Jean Carré, Marquis of Laroque."

The Baron attempted to bow...difficult as it was, with his size. As he rose, he held up his goblet. "Will you not come in for a bit of spirit?""

"Forgive me, Baron," said Guy, "But we come not to visit."

Simon spoke with haste. "We must speak with your wife's cousin."

The Baron raised his brow. His expression was blank. "Cousin, your grace?"

"The Viscount, Rene of Bergeron," said Guy. "He has caused offense and we will see his actions reprimanded."

The Baron shrugged. "Apologies, Sir Guy. But I know not anyone of that name."

Simon and Guy looked at one another, both realizing in an instant that Rene's deception ran much deeper than they could have imagined. Guy spoke up.

"I think perhaps we should make inquiries to your wife. She was in attendance at my home these last several days, accompanied by her cousin."

Shaking his head, the Baron seemed to grow irritated. "I say again, Sir Guy. I know of no such person..."

His speech halted suddenly. The three men looked at one another...none speaking. Then, the Baron's expression transformed. All cheerfulness fled. Crimson spread through his entire face, and he flung his goblet aside. He turned from his guests, marching across the gravel walk to storm back into the manor, bellowing his wife's name.

Simon and Guy followed, and as they entered the hall, they saw the Baroness at the top of the stairs. She was the picture of beauty, dressed in a flowing gown of white.

White, Simon thought. The color of innocence. How very ironic.

As he watched her, even from a distance, he could see how her expression changed. It became a look of frozen disbelief. Seeing the two of them...hearing her husband's fury...she was most certainly aware of the chaos about to ensue. And yet, she put on a brave face. Attempting to smile, moving with calm and fluid grace, she came to meet them at the bottom of the stairs.

"Your grace. And Sir Guy. What an unexpected surprise."

She was given no quarter as the Baron clenched her arm in a fierce grip. "Who is Rene of Bergeron?"

Isabella stammered in reply. "He is no one of importance, husband. Merely a distant relation who came to me in your absence."

Her reply was met with a fierce slap to her cheek. She shrank away in fear, clutching her face. Tears rimmed her eyes, but her husband did not relent.

"Do not lie to me!" He took her by both arms, shaking her. "Who is this man you have in my absence? Tell me who he is and where you harbor him!"

She broke into sobs, desperately trying to explain herself. "I do not harbor him, I swear it! He has departed on his own terms, but I know not where he goes! He is nothing to me!"

He brought his arm back, prepared to strike another blow...but Simon reached out to stay his arm. Despite his disgust with the whole matter, he found he could not watch the abuse of a woman. He pushed the Baron's hand back at him.

"Beating your wife will achieve nothing. Your time will be better spent searching for the brigand who has caused this trouble."

The fire in the Baron's eyes did not diminish. His jaw was clenched in rage...but he relented, even as his words were uttered with a dark, dangerous tone. "As you wish, your grace."

Simon exchanged a look with Guy. They both turned away, leaving the Baron and his wife to conduct their business in private.

As they mounted their horses, departing quickly, Simon tried to comprehend what had just occurred.

The Viscount was a fraud. Good God, was he even a Viscount at all? Everything about him was now in question. How many lives had he turned upside down? How many women had fallen prey to his wickedness?

Evelyn would have to know of this...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 9 Part One

Simon said nothing as he watched Evelyn leave his side in the chapel. But his eyes followed her as she came to stand beside her father...and he carefully observed their conversation. Evelyn looked to the departure of the Viscount and the Baroness, and her expression grew morose.

She mourns his loss.

He knew her preference for the company of the Viscount. He had observed it last night, seeing the soft looks she granted Rene. Those fond glances had made him uneasy enough. But why did these sullen expressions...full of trouble and sadness...seem to strike deeper offense in his heart than the ones before? Why did he find himself wondering if his threat to Rene had been harsh enough? He inhaled deeply, forcing himself to be calm. Whether or not the Viscount had heeded his warning, it now seemed to not matter. It was obvious that both the Viscount and his Baroness were soon to be on their way, and he told himself to be grateful for small miracles.

Be pleased that the rogue is departing, he thought. Once he has gone, her favor will turn to you, as it should.

He wanted to be pleased. And for a moment, he was satisfied with the thought that he would be rid of his rival.

But why did he feel an overwhelming need to be certain of it? Why did he have the compulsion to follow Rene and force him to speed his departure?

Because of Evelyn, he realized. It was quite possible that she would attempt to stall Rene's leaving. Clearly, she did not want him to go. And the thought of it nearly made him angry. She was young and impressionable...but the time had come to cease such naïve behavior. She was to be his wife, and he would remind her to whom her loyalty was bound.

The meeting with Sir Guy's men would wait. A meeting with Evelyn was of greater importance.

After we have broken fast, he said to himself. Then we shall speak...


Something was wrong.

Simon had seen Evelyn rise quietly and quit the room. And he had seen Sir Guy follow soon after. It had taken much discipline to remain where he sat, half-heartedly giving his meal attention, while he wondered at the absence of father and daughter. For some time, he listened to the conversation around him...trying to ebb his curiosity. But as the space of time became larger, he found he could not help himself.

I will be idle no longer, he thought. He moved to rise from his chair...but the Countess rose first. The guests quieted as they listened to her.

"My lords and ladies, my husband has sought the pleasure of the morning air and I must join him. Please, continue to partake of our hospitality."

She smiled, and a moment later she quietly departed. The guests returned to their meal and conversations, content in their doings. But Simon was intent on solving this growing mystery. With a brief word of explanation to his father, he rose to his feet...quietly following the Countess out of the hall.


The sudden departure of the Viscount and the Baroness. Evelyn's displeasure. And now the Earl and Countess were exchanging words in private. It was not difficult to conclude that all of these matters were intertwined in some way. And somehow, Simon deduced that Rene was responsible for all of it. But what offense had he committed?

As he paused at the entrance to the garden...the place where the Countess had found her husband...Simon wondered if he'd made a mistake in allowing Rene to remain unscathed. A good pummeling might have humbled him. And as he listened to the conversation between the Earl and Countess, he cursed himself for not having made the proper correction.

"It is as I suspected," Guy said, his tone hushed but furious. "The Viscount had intentions towards Evelyn...and he dared to act on them."

"When?" asked Cassia. "How?"

"Just now. Near the courtyard. He kissed her."

"Oh my." There was a concerned pause. "Was it...a vulgar act? Did he force himself on her?"

Guy replied, his voice somewhat calm. "No. He only kissed her cheek." His tone raised in anger again. "But that is not the issue! She is a woman betrothed, and she allowed another man to lay hands on her!"

Cassia sighed. There was a moment of silence between them. Then, her words were quietly spoken. She seemed to be seeking reason as she questioned him.

"What explanation did she give for her actions?"

Another pause. A short, cool reply. "I did not seek one."

"You did not allow her to justify herself?"

Guy's voice rose again. "What justification could there be in so blatant and foolish an act? She may very well have ruined her chances with the Marquis."

Now it was Cassia's voice that grew strong, rising with the first hints of anger. "Forgive my boldness, Guy, but at this moment, I give not a flying fig about the matter of an engagement. What did you say to Evelyn?"

He did not reply, but she pummeled him with angry questions.

"Did you berate her? Did you set upon her with your beastly temper, as you are so foolishly apt to do in moments of anger?"

Still he said nothing. Cassia demanded to know, "Where has she gone?"

At last he spoke, with a tone that was considerably humbled. "I do not know."

There was another moment of silence. And then the Countess unleashed her full fury on him.

"Guy of Gisborne, how could you be so cruel? Evelyn has never before caused you offense. But at the first small impropriety you strike her down with absolute malice, giving no thought to any feelings save your own!"

She paused, giving a slight groan of discomfort.

From where Simon stood, hidden by a hedge, he had intended to remain unseen and only to listen to their conversation...not to watch. But hearing the sound of the Countess in some sort of pain, he allowed himself a glimpse. He watched, seeing Lady Cassia as she placed a hand on her belly. Guy came to her instantly, fraught with concern.

"What is it? Is it the child?"

Simon was stunned when the Countess slapped her husband's hands away, lashing out at him.

"Do not touch me! And do not speak to me! I must find our daughter and attempt to undo the damage you have caused her."

She stormed away from him, and he followed close behind.

"Cassia, wait..."

Simon took several steps back as the gate flew open. Lady Cassia passed through in an angry flurry, and Simon was startled when she allowed the gate to slam back before her husband could make his exit. He watched Sir Guy emerge, stand still for a moment, and run his hands over his face and through his hair. The time seemed terribly wrong to intrude upon a man's privacy. But after hearing all that had occurred because of Rene, he could not remain silent, even for the sake of decorum. With a firm tone in his voice, he stepped forward.

"My lord, I must have a word with you."

Guy looked at him for a moment, his expression deeply troubled and frustrated. But Simon could see that his presence was the least of the Earl's worries.

"Forgive me, your grace," said Guy. "I cannot speak with you now."

Simon understood his concerns, but they shared a pressing matter, and he would not be off of it.

"It concerns the Viscount," he said.

Guy's expression changed, becoming intense and focused. "What of him?"

"I overheard your conversation, Sir Guy. And I must confess that my suspicions have now been confirmed."

Guy raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "Your suspicions?"

"From the first," said Simon, "I have felt a strange concern pressing on me in regard to your honored guest. I have held my tongue thus far, but I fear I can no longer do so."

Guy sighed, his shoulders dropping slightly. "If you have been offended, your grace, then I offer my sincere apologies."

Simon shook his head as he gave a stern reply. "The fault lies not with you, nor with your daughter. It lies with the Viscount. And I would seek your help in seeing the matter settled."

They looked at one another. No words were necessary...their agreement to see justice done affirmed in silence.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Another Book Giveaway!

Goodreads is generously doing a giveaway for my book "Oh, That I Had Wings."  If anyone is interested, here is the info...

(This Goodreads giveaway is for U.S. residents only, but if you're interested in entering and you live outside the U.S., just drop me a line and I'll enter your name on my own giveaway list.)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Oh, That I Had Wings (Paperback) by Sarah Pawley

by Sarah Pawley

Giveaway ends January 20, 2011.

See the giveaway details

                            at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 8 Part Two

Simon pressed his forehead against the door, closing his eyes. He clenched his jaw, and by sheer force of will, eased his breathing. But his heart would not cease its wildness. His limbs and body trembled with intense energy...the same as he felt just before a battle.

What has she done to me?

He moved to the window, throwing open the shutters to find relief with the night air. It cooled his flesh...but did little to ease his mind.

In the past, he’d prided himself on recovering quickly from the distractions of pleasure. It had been months since he’d been with a woman, but he’d not dwelled on the fact, nor had he longed for it...until now.

She was barely a woman, but enough of one to possess the sensual, tender qualities that roused a man’s senses. Through her nightgown he’d felt the warmth of her flesh...the soft, lush curve of her breast pressing on his arm. Her hair had been loose, falling over her shoulders in rich, dark waves. And her scent...Lord, it was so sweet. A light, floral fragrance he could not define. What was it? Rose? Jasmine? Perhaps lavender?

He shook his head, cursing himself for his weakness. For such unleashing of desires and sensations, there would come a time. When they were wed, he would allow himself to know his wife. Until then, he would hold fast to his sense of discipline. Perhaps, in the morning, he would delay in riding about the grounds with Evelyn. Perhaps he would, instead, spend time in a practice bout with Lucien and the rest of Sir Guy’s men.

He was a man of resilience. A soldier. And he would not allow a woman...even his break his self-control.


Evelyn eventually found rest...only to be roused by the noises of early morning. The servants began their tasks before dawn, although they did so with hardly a sound. But Evelyn knew the movements of her mother’s lady maid. Celeste would be laying out her mistress’s clothes, stoking the fire, and so on. In the chamber next door, there were also the slight sounds of movement...her father, most likely, and his manservant. Guy was often an early riser. And on this day, everyone seemed to follow him. Gabriel woke up first, crying to be fed. His fussing brought Thea awake, along with Claudia, who slept on a pallet in the solar. Cassia rose but moments later, and soon the chambers were full of quiet but bustling activity.

As her maid helped her dress, Evelyn became lost in thought, unable to forget her encounter with Simon. And she was expected to join him soon for a ride. The thought of it made her heart turn over in her chest.

Lord, curse me with the ague, she thought.

Illness would be a grand excuse for being confined to her room, where she could remain alone with her thoughts and avoid Simon altogether.

But then, illness would bring her mother’s concern, and with it, her cures for sickness. As much as she loved her mother and cherished her wisdom, the thought of enduring her medicines was enough to turn her away from feigning poor health.

When they all were dressed, they gathered together in the hall with Guy, Lucien, and Owen to depart for morning prayers...and were met by the Duke and the Marquis.

“Ah, Sir Guy,” said Basil. “Good morning.”

Guy nodded, smiling. “Good morning, your grace. I see you and your son are both early risers.”

While Basil and Guy exchanged friendly words, Evelyn kept her eyes fixed ahead of her, not wanting to look at Simon...and yet, she could not help herself entirely. She could not feel his gaze upon her as she had before. And with a slight flick of her eyes to him, she realized he had his head turned away. He was not making the slightest attempt to look at her...and for a moment, she wanted to know why.

Does he now scorn me? She wondered. Have I offended him in some way?

She shook off the thought, telling herself to be happy that he kept his distance. Perhaps last night had been a momentary occurrence...a brief flame of intense feeling that was now extinguished. And perhaps with the ritual of atonement, all of her sinful feelings would be forgiven. She took comfort in her thoughts...until the Duke approached her. She bowed her head, and gave him a polite smile. He was pleasant and cheerful.

“It would please me to witness my son and his bride together. Come, Simon...escort your lady to the chapel and kneel beside her in prayer.”

Evelyn wilted in disappointment, silently hoping that Simon would refuse the request. But instead he offered his arm, and knowing that all eyes were on them, she placed her hand on his sleeve. As they walked together, she took some consolation in the fact that, all along the way to the chapel, not once did he speak to her or give glance in her direction.

When prayer was finished, Evelyn crossed herself and rose to her feet...and turning to the rear of the chapel, she saw Rene and Baroness LaCroix. Happiness washed over her, even as Simon...who stood at her side...served as a reminder of discretion. But as she observed the Baroness, Evelyn sensed that something was amiss. Isabella held an unrolled parchment in her hand, and as her eyes scanned it, her expression became quite serious. She leaned close to Rene, speaking to him. He nodded. Together, they approached Guy and Cassia...and Evelyn could not be still a moment longer. Her concern grew quickly, but she knew not to act with haste. She looked at Simon, giving him the kindest smile she could manage.

“Beg pardon, my lord. I must have a word with some of our guests.”

She moved away from him, not seeing the furrowing of his brow as he watched her go.

As she made approach, Rene and the Baroness departed...but before they moved from the room, Rene turned his eyes to her for a moment. He gave her a slight smile. But in that gesture, there seemed to be a hint of regret. He turned away, leaving with the Baroness...and Evelyn’s heart sank. She turned to her father.

“Papa, is something wrong?”

Guy lifted his chin a slight degree, gesturing to the departing couple. “The Baron of LaCroix returns home this evening. His wife departs immediately to welcome him, and the Viscount accompanies her.”

Evelyn wanted to cry out in despair. No! She thought. He cannot go. Not so soon. She wanted to rush after plead with him not to leave. And were it not for the presence of judging eyes, she would have done it. He was so dear to her. He could not go...not without saying farewell.

She would wait until everyone was at table. Then she would slip away for a moment while they were all distracted, and seek him out...


Evelyn stood beneath the archway leading to the courtyard and stables. From her vantage point, half-concealed in shadow, she could see the Baroness’ grooms preparing her carriage for departure. And close by, Rene stood with his horse, adjusting its bridle while a stable hand prepared the saddle.

She wanted to weep at the thought of his departure. He had been so wonderfully different from anyone she’d known before. Who would she seek out for a witty remark and a comforting smile? Oh, it was so unjust! She had a terrible urge to take up a stone and hurl it at him, to punish him for hurting her so...for allowing her to lose the company of a dear friend.

As she watched him, she saw his head turn slowly...and his eyes met hers. They stared at one another for several long moments. He glanced about, looking for anyone who might be watching. Then he was moving towards her. She stepped back into the shadows. A moment later he was standing in front of her, and she swallowed the lump in her throat.

“You are leaving,” she said.

He nodded. “I must. My stay here is no longer appropriate.”

Her voice cracked with despair. “Why?”

He shook his head. “Being here has clouded my judgment. I must move on lest someone grows curious about my true circumstances.”

“But where will you go from here?”

“Have no fear, mon ami. My cousin has provided for me thus far, and she will continue to do so.”


He pressed a finger to her lips, shushing her. He smiled, speaking softly. “It is unfortunate, but we must say farewell. And if you will allow it, I wish to leave you with a remembrance of me.”

She felt her heart flutter as he drew closer to her. He leaned in close, and she closed her eyes in anticipation. Then his lips brushed her cheek. The gesture was so light and a butterfly’s wing. He smiled in that wonderful way of his.

“Your first kiss, I presume. It is a chaste gesture, but one I hope you do not soon forget.”

Evelyn parted her lips to speak...but before she could utter a word, a burst of movement flew before her eyes. Rene was thrown back against the opposite wall.

“Papa!” Evelyn cried.

He held Rene by the shirt, pressing him to the stones of the house. Guy’s lip curled in anger as he drew his face close to Rene’s.

“You dare to touch her? MY daughter? A woman promised to another?”

Stunned and frightened, Evelyn stepped forward. “Papa, please...”

His eyes were fierce as he punched a commanding finger at her. “You will be silent!”

She shrank back, her eyes wide with disbelief. Guy turned back to Rene, pressing him hard against the wall.

“Your benefit to my family is your only salvation here and now. Were it not for the memory of that deed, you would be without the use of your limbs. And seeing how I have left your extremities unbroken, I suggest you make haste and be gone from my sight.”

He shoved him hard towards the front walk, and Evelyn watched helplessly as Rene hurried towards his waiting horse. Behind her, Guy’s voice spoke in quiet fury.

“I never thought to know such shame. Not from you, Evelyn.”

She turned to him, the sting of his words cutting her to the quick. His face was dark with rage...his jaw clenched. But then, his expression began to change. The harsh lines began to soften. His grey eyes...a moment ago burning with anger...dimmed, as sorrow eclipsed all emotions in his expression. She felt her own eyes burn with tears, for he had never looked at her with such a look of pain. Her father, whom she loved so dearly, suffered from a heart that was breaking...and she had caused it. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she made a small, nervous step towards him. She reached her hand out to touch his arm. But he pulled away, refusing her gesture. He turned his back on her, walking away...and slowly, she fell to her knees, weeping.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 8 Part One

Sleep was elusive, and Evelyn sighed at the frustration of it. Her mother and sister slept soundly. Even Gabriel was quiet in his cradle. But she sat silently in the window alcove, letting the night breeze soothe her.

Tomorrow, she would be alone with Simon for the first time. How would she know what to say? It was not like having a conversation with William or Owen, or her father. Or even Rene, for that matter. He was generous in giving a smile or making a jest. He knew how to put her at ease.

But Simon was so serious. Was he capable of laughter? It was difficult to imagine him in a jovial mood, making merry and enjoying the company around him. She recalled how he had been tonight. He had attempted conversation with her, but the tension between them had been so palpable. Even when her mother and father had joined them, speaking in their usual friendly way, it had seemed that Simon was uneasy.

And then there was the way he looked at her. Even while she’d remained close to her family...her mother in particular...trying to avoid his gaze, there had been moments when her curiosity had overwhelmed her. She had stolen brief glimpses in his direction, wondering if he was looking at her. And nearly every time, their eyes had met. She had turned away quickly in those moments. But as the night had progressed, she had sensed his scrutiny more and more. Had he been judging her, the way one would judge a desired prize? It was entirely possible, for she was to be his wife, and in being a bride, there was a harsh truth to face…

With marriage came the loss of all her freedoms. Once they were wed, she would be expected to bend to his will. And what if he thought of her as a servant, as Owen had said? What if he forced himself on her every night? She was not a fool. She knew what fornication was, even though it was a subject forbidden to speak of. Even her mother, free-thinking as she was, had avoided discussion of the subject. But Thea had once whispered to her about it, describing what went on between a husband and wife. It sounded horrifying, but Thea had taken great delight in teasing her with the details, even as Evelyn stopped her ears to avoid hearing more.

She sighed in frustration. It had been so long since she’d been content. As much as she adored Rene, it had to be said that he’d created a whirlwind of excitement in her life. Perhaps too much excitement. Her heart overflowed with longing for him, but he could never know of the turmoil he’d created. She was expected to save her heart and soul for her give him her absolute devotion. But how could she give her heart to a man like Simon?

She wanted to free her mind from these burdens. But rest seemed determined to keep its distance.

She narrowed her eyes in determination. She was forbidden to make her own choices with many things, but who was to keep her from seeking a good night’s rest? A cup of wine might soothe her. Rising from her seat, she slipped quietly into the solar. On a table there was a wine jug and two goblets. Tipping the flagon over one of the goblets, she was disappointed when it produced only a tiny amount of wine. She muttered to herself.

What have I done to incur such aggravation?

The house was silent. All of the guests were asleep, and thanks to the copious amount of spirits they’d all consumed, it was doubtful any of them would be stirring before morning. What would be the harm in going down to the wine cellar to find a fresh flagon of wine?

All was deep in shadow as she slipped out. Only two small flames burned, each in a wall opening at either end of the hall. But she knew her way well enough, even in the dimness. Moving quietly along, she rounded the corner...and collided with a hulking figure. Thrown off by the other person’s weight, she stumbled. An arm, strong and muscular, kept her from falling. For a moment, stunned by the incident, she did not realize who was holding her...until she raised her eyes. Simon’s gaze met hers. His voice was deep but soft, whispering.

“You should not be about in the night...alone.”

She might have rushed away, mortified by the thought that she was indeed alone with him...clad in only her nightgown. But how could she think of going when her senses were so overwhelmed? He was so powerful. She felt it as she leaned on his arm. Then, for a moment, his hands were on her upper arms as he helped her right her stance. Lord, his hands were so warm. How could a man of such cold disposition generate such heat? Her breathing increased in tempo. When he released her from his strong but gentle hold, she remained where she stood, unable to move. How did he have the will to walk away...seeming so calm...when she was trembling inside and out? It wasn’t until he paused at his door, turning to look at her, that she saw the look in his eyes. His eyes, his expression, seemed on the verge of wildness. Lord in Heaven, she thought. Will he devour me on the spot? She stood there, waiting, certain that something momentous was about to happen.

But he turned his eyes from her. Without a word he went into his room and closed the door, leaving her in stunned silence.

Several moments passed before she gathered enough sense of mind to return to the bedchamber. When she came in, all was the same as it had been just a short time before. Around her, all was quiet and still. But inside her, all of her feelings suddenly came alive at once. The beating of her heart was wild enough, but her mind was spinning so madly she feared she would fall to the floor. To keep herself from it, she made her way to bed, crawling under the coverlet. She hid her face against her pillow, fearing that someone might see her eyes and know her feelings.

And what she felt was wicked. She’d never felt these feelings before...not even with Rene. Her entire body felt alive in a way she’d never felt before, and in silent thought she cried out...

Merciful heaven, what has he done to me?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 7 Part 3

As the gentle sounds of Evelyn’s lyre filled the air, Basil whispered to his son, who stood at his side. “It appears that your bride is a very fine lady. Quite splendid, I would say.”

Hearing his father’s approval of Evelyn, Simon gave a slight nod in agreement. She was, indeed, a lovely and talented creature. And judging from the admiring looks given by the guests, they were all equally taken with her. It remained to be seen if she possessed charm and intelligence, for he had not spoken with her yet. But that would come soon enough. When the performance was done, he would be among the first to compliment her. Perhaps that would ease her manner, for he had seen the light of fear in her eyes.

He knew he was not a warm man. Other men found it easy to be gregarious and communicative, but he had never been comfortable with casual conversation. Action, particularly that done with a sword, came to him more naturally. Having spent most of his youth in the house of his uncle...a man with a passion for battle and all things related to it...his conversations had mostly been with other knights or knights in training. On occasion, there had been women brought to them as a reward for their dedication, but such women were not expected to converse.

But Evelyn would be his wife, and though some men wished to instill fear in their mates, he found that to be a foolish notion. What good would a wife be if she cowered at his feet? He needed a partnership that was built on trust, for when he departed to war…and such an event was inevitable…he needed to be certain that matters at home would be attended to. A reliable mate was what he desired, and to achieve such a bond, he would have to learn about her. They would have to converse, despite his uneasiness with such matters. And he began searching his mind for a favorable topic.

But his thoughts were suddenly given pause. His eye caught sight of the Viscount…and from where Simon stood, he could see the soft look on Rene’s face.

Simon felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. He knew a rogue when he saw one, and Rene’s gaze was giving a blatant look of admiration.

Scoundrel, he thought, feeling the heat of his temper rising. Before the night is over, he will know his place.

He could not shed the villain’s blood here and now. But he would certainly protect what was his.

As Evelyn’s performance ended to the sound of enthusiastic applause, Simon moved close to Sir Guy and Lady Cassia, knowing that Evelyn would seek them out. She was smiling as she rose from her seat, graciously accepting pleasantries from her guests. As he drew close to her, and she turned to look at him, he saw her smile dim slightly. But he wasn’t deterred. He stood beside her, looking her over and seeing the way she folded her hands demurely in front of her. He spoke as calmly and gently as he knew how.

“Your talent is very fine.”

She raised her head for a moment, looking at him. He found himself captured by the loveliness of her eyes. Such a soft shade of blue, he thought. She gave him a small expression of pleasure.

“Thank you, my lord.”

He found that her smile, slight as it may have been, was quite pleasant. If only she were more adept at conversation. In his experience with ladies, he’d found that they were usually quite skilled at talking, but she seemed unable or unwilling to do so. For several moments they stood side by side in awkward silence, until a subject at last entered into his head.

“Are you fond of horses?” he asked.

She lifted her head again, only now, there was a light of curiosity in her eyes as she spoke. “Yes, I am.”

He had hit upon something to interest her at last.

“Perhaps on the morrow, if the weather permits, you will do me the honor of riding with me, to give me a tour of the grounds.”

With a slight flush of color in her cheeks, she nodded in agreement. “I would be pleased.”

They had managed a brief conversation, and she had agreed to spend time with him. He was pleased with his progress. But what to do now? Once again he found an awkward silence growing between them.

 But they were soon joined by Sir Guy and Lady Cassia. The Countess smiled, her expression warm and welcoming.

"Your grace, how do you find our company? I hope it pleases you.”

Simon nodded respectfully. “Your hospitality is very fine, my lady. And your company as well. Lady Evelyn has offered to show me your estate tomorrow. If that is agreeable to you, of course.”

Guy wore a pleased expression. “I think that would be very well. Some ladies harbor a dislike towards horses. But my daughters are creatures of good taste, having shown a fondness for their animals from an early age.”

There it was again, Simon realized...that look of softness on Sir Guy’s expression. And as the Countess looked at her husband, there was a profound and deep look of pleasure in her every feature. As Guy looked at his wife, Simon saw the reflection of Lady’s Cassia’s expression...full of tenderness and deep affection. For a moment, Simon wondered if they realized how openly their feelings were displayed. But even as he pondered the question, the answer was obvious. He’d heard rumors, from his father and others, that the two were enamored of each other even after many years of marriage. Now, he could see that it was indeed true. And that love seemed to extend to their children, as they spoke of them with great fondness.

“If I do recall,” said Cassia, “Theodora sat upon her first pony at the age of three.”

Guy raised an eyebrow, amusement in his expression. “She sat upon it...and promptly threw a tantrum when she was taken away from it.”

Cassia smiled, holding back a giggle. Then she looked at Evelyn, touching her hand. “Our Evie was never prone to such fits of temper. She has always been a proper young lady. Obedient and lovely.”

Evelyn was smiling at the compliment. They were all wrapped up in a pleasant glow of togetherness...and Simon felt terribly uncomfortable by the tide of sentiment. He felt a desperate need to escape the situation, and he prepared to make his departure...until he saw the approach of the Viscount and the Baroness.

Without conscious thought he took a slight step forward, moving slightly closer to Evelyn. Speak out of turn if you dare, he thought. I would welcome the chance to cause you bodily harm.

It turned out to be the Baroness who spoke first, complimenting Evelyn on her talents.

“I do wish I had such an ability. Unfortunately, I was never gifted with a musical ear.”

Rene smiled, speaking sweetly to her. “You have other talents, cousin.”

Simon watched the two of them closely...particularly Rene. It seemed that the Viscount’s eyes lingered on his cousin for several moments too long. You have other talents, cousin. Simon held back a snort of contempt. Cousin indeed, he thought, with a dawning awareness. He did not have confirmation of his suspicions...yet. But there were ways of drawing out information. He looked at Isabella.

“Baroness,” he said. “I understand your husband is away for a period of time.”

There was a moment of surprise in her expression. It came and went quickly, but was not unnoticed by Simon. The Baroness nodded in reply to his question.

“Yes, he is busy managing his estates. His business often keeps him from home.”

Her eyes shifted slightly, her discomfort with the conversation quite apparent. Simon could not say if anyone else noticed it. But he saw it clearly, and to further confirm his suspicions, he inquired further with a pointed remark.

“You must be quite lonely at times.”

He saw the color brighten in her cheeks. But her voice remained calm.

“At times, I do find myself so. But I find comfort in friends and neighbors.”

“And in family,” said Rene. “One must not forget the value of our blood relations.”

Audacious bastard, Simon thought. Here this man stood, spouting the ideals of family, when it was likely he was nothing more than an opportunist. Why and how, he could not be certain yet. But he intended to find out.

“I take pride in saying that I think of you as family,” said Evelyn. “You have done such a wonderful deed for us. Do you not think so, Papa?”

“Undoubtedly,” said Guy. “We shall be forever grateful to him.”

Simon saw the slight overcast that came across the Earl’s expression. Did Sir Guy harbor doubts as well? It seemed there was quite a mystery to be solved here.

But certain facts were becoming quite clear to him. The Viscount had ambitions. Possibly indecent ambitions. And it seemed that Evelyn, young and naive as she was, had been taken in by him. Examining her expression, Simon could see the enchantment in her features when she looked at Rene.

His hand went to his side, gripping the handle of his dagger. Who this whelp bedded and lied to was of little importance. But if he thought to charm Evelyn with more than a smile, he was stupidly mistaken. And there were ways of dealing with fools.

For the remainder of the evening, he kept Evelyn within his line of sight, even as he conversed with Lucien, Owen, and a few other men. And he was careful to observe the actions of the Viscount. Rene kept a distance from Evelyn, but Simon suspected it was not his intention to do so. The Baroness seemed to cling tightly to him, perhaps concerned that he would stray in search of a new conquest. Perhaps she sensed, as he did, that there was an attraction between the Viscount and Lady Evelyn.

With impatience, he waited for the night to come to its end. As the guests drifted towards the stairs and their various resting places, Simon watched Rene. He took notice of the room he entered…and slipping into his own chamber, he waited for the house to quiet.

Moving with stealthy steps, he found his way to Rene’s door. He listened for movement. Hearing only silence, he carefully wedged the door open, peering in to look for signs of wakefulness. All was dim and silent, the room lit only by a single wall sconce. The figure in bed was laying still, his lips slightly parted as he breathed deeply. And in one swift move, Simon stepped forward to clamp his hand over Rene’s mouth. His other hand gripped his dagger and brought the blade to the Viscount’s neck. His voice was low and dangerous.

“Move, and the blade will find its mark.”

Rene nodded. Simon could sense his terror, but he did not alter his tone.

“I know not your exact scheme, brigand. But do not covet that which is mine. Bed any whore you please, but you will keep your distance from Evelyn. Is that clear? I do not wish scandal brought upon Sir Guy and his family, so this incident will remain within these walls. Do you understand?”

Rene nodded again, and before lifting the blade, Simon uttered a final admonition.

“Heed my warning, Viscount. And consider yourself fortunate. Few men I’ve encountered have been granted a second chance.”

He took the blade away. When he removed his hand from Rene’s mouth, he heard him gasping for air. He was slightly disappointed not to hear weeping, but maybe he had lost control of his bodily functions. Simon thought to himself…

The stench of his own piss should serve as a proper enough warning.

And he slipped quietly out of the room.

Rebel Mine, Chapter 7 Part 2

Just a short post today.  More to come tomorrow!

Evelyn felt a breathless sense of déjà vu. Only this sense of bewilderment was different. It was more potent than her meeting with Rene. She’d been dazzled by him, to be sure. He’d stolen her senses. But Simon...

She grappled for the words to describe what she now felt. When Simon’s fingertips had touched hers, heat had spiraled up her arm. The warmth had spread through all of her limbs, and even now, as she stood within the circle of her family, her entire being seemed aflame.

Good Lord, she thought. What I would give at this moment for a cool breath of air.

Her thinking was muddled, but she tried to focus on the company around her...particularly Thea. Since the tourney, she had made her feelings about Simon abundantly clear. Evelyn heard her give a sigh of displeasure as she spoke, yet again, about her future brother-in-law.

“What a rotter you have been paired with, sister.”

With her mind still awhirl, Evelyn could not decide on a reply. But her mother seemed quite taken with Simon. She had said so at the tourney, and she expressed her approval now, wearing a little smile.

“Oh Thea, how can you say such a thing? He is all that one could hope for in a match.”

Thea scoffed. “He strides like the cock-o-the-walk. No doubt he sees in Evie a child bride, fit to be molded into a subservient creature who will follow his every command.”

Owen, who stood between Guy and Thea, shrugged as he sipped a goblet of ale.

“For what other purpose does one acquire a wife?”

Evelyn saw her father crack a slight grin. Cassia sighed, though her expression remained light. But Thea, ever at odds with her brother, snorted in disgust.

“Owen, you were born a swine and grew only larger.”

His expression grew serious. “A wife has no say in matters of finance or business. She cannot go to war, nor can she debate on political matters, so what purpose can she have except to serve her husband?”

Thea narrowed her eyes at him, her voice becoming cross. “God intended woman to be a helpmate...not a servant.”

Owen, being slightly taller, leaned in as he spoke...using his height to pose his challenge. “And what a benefit she proved to be. Because of woman, mankind was banished from Eden.”

“Temper, temper,” Guy interrupted, his tone calm but firm. “This banter is amusing in its childishness, but I think our guests may find it distasteful in tone and subject.”

Owen and Thea both apologized, though that did not keep them from exchanging looks of disdain. Guy departed, with Owen following, to join a discussion among a group of guests. Thea departed as well. She had managed to part briefly with Gabriel, leaving him in the hands of their old nurse, Claudia. No one else was to be trusted, and even she was not to be left with him for long.

Evelyn watched them go, noting that Simon and the Duke were among the men that her father and brother joined in conversation. Her gaze fixed on her betrothed for a moment, and instantly she felt her face grow warm. She drew closer to her mother...and Cassia instantly sensed her daughter’s discomfort.

“Darling, what is it?”

Knowing that other ears were listening...even private conversations had a way of being heard among the nobility...Evelyn lowered her voice to a whisper.

“Simon troubles me, Mama.”

Cassia smiled, speaking softly and gently. “Does he?”

Evelyn gave a little nod. She lowered her eyes. It felt shameful to be so cowardly, but she could not help her feelings. And she knew her mother would not scorn her for it.

“His manner is so unsettling. And his overwhelms me.”

Cassia’s smile deepened as she took Evelyn’s hand. “My darling girl. You are yet young. You know not the ways of men...their mannerisms in particular. ‘Twould be improper, here and now, to offer you an explanation. But be assured that one day, you will understand such a look and welcome it.” Gently, she placed her palms on Evelyn’s face, lifting her gaze to meet her own. “I love you, Evie. And your father loves you. He would not force you into a union with one whom he did not trust.”

Evelyn tried to smile. “I know, Mama. But at times, I feel uncertain of so many things.”

Cassia leaned in, kissing Evelyn’s cheek. “You must find your courage, Evie. It will be your greatest weapon in times of trial.”

She knew her mother spoke wisely. What would be, would be, and someday soon, she would not have her beloved mother to turn to for every concern. She sighed, despondent at the thought. Then her mother took her gently by the arms, urging her to right her stance.

“Begin your pursuit of courageousness here and now,” said Cassia. She signaled for a maid, instructing her to bring Evelyn’s lyre. Evelyn’s eyes grew large at the prospect of playing before all of their guests, but Cassia patted her hand gently. “Help the Marquis to see that you are more than a beauty. Allow him to see and hear your accomplishments.”

Evelyn’s heart beat fast, and as Cassia moved away to speak to Guy, Evelyn closed her eyes and tried to breathe deeply. Then a voice came from behind her.

“Mon ami, are you well?”

She turned to see Rene, who was smiling, but with a slight expression of concern. She felt a wonderful sense of relief at having him near. Somehow, his confidence had a healing effect, and she returned his gesture of friendship with a smile of her own. She lowered her eyes for a moment.

“I must confess, am I not as well as I would hope to be. I must express my musical abilities for our guests, and my heart is wild with fear.”

His words were kind. “Do not be afraid. I believe you will do very well.”

She looked up, smiling at him. “If only I could borrow your confidence, I would be very well indeed.”

He shrugged. “Play for me, then.”

“For you?” she said, stunned. And he nodded.

“When you perform, act as though you play for an audience of one.” He gestured to himself. “For moi.”

She took in a breath, still held back by her fear...but feeling its grip slackening under Rene’s support. Then he spoke low and soft, leaning slightly closer to her.

“I would be deeply honored by the gesture.”

She looked up at him. Those eyes were so full of a certain something she could not describe. And she found herself having a terribly selfish thought.

If only it were he to whom I was betrothed.

It was a thought so shameful, she almost hated herself for it. Her father had chosen her husband, and she knew that in thinking of another, she was being dishonorable. But she could not help it. Rene was so wonderfully charming and delightful. It was difficult not to smile when she thought of him. But Simon was so much the opposite. He stirred feelings within her that she did not understand, and she wasn’t certain she wished to. Her feelings for Rene were so much simpler, even though she knew that such thoughts were wrong.

But in that same moment, she found herself realizing that her thoughts were just that...her thoughts, and not her actions. It was impossible to quiet the mind when it was intent on being so active. And what was the harm in thinking of Rene? He was a rascal, but he was also a good man, and here he was at her side, offering her such kindness and understanding.

When her lyre was brought forth, she turned to look at Rene...and seeing his familiar smile, she felt her anxiety melt away. For him, she would give a marvelous performance. Her family would be pleased, and hopefully, Simon would be as well. But it was Rene she truly wished to delight.

How right he had been in his description of himself.

Wiley and quick as a fox...

Walking to the stool that had been placed in the center of the room, she sat upon it and prepared to play. And a little smile rose in the corner of her mouth.

All that I need, I take. Food, money…and many a heart. Is yours spoken for?

It was spoken for. She had given it to him. She had lost her heart to a true knave.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 7 Part One

The tang of perspiration was on his lips. His heart was thudding from exertion...the rush of victory flooding his veins. As he stepped back from his father's embrace, he looked around at the faces observing him. How shocked they were that he'd beaten their best knight. One woman in particular...a dark-haired beauty holding a child in her arms...looked to be growing angry. He deduced that she was the defeated man's wife, and she was not pleased that her husband had been bested.

But if she thought to be offered his sympathies, she would be disappointed.

To lose is to learn, he thought. So is the nature of defeat.

But he could some of their expressions...the first signs of delight. He had made a great impression with his skills. Sir Guy slowly rose to his feet. His expression was unreadable, but Simon was not surprised. From what he'd been told, Guy of Gisborne was not a man who was easily impressed. It would take more than one tourney victory to win this man's favor...and that was a challenge he welcomed. Guy bowed in respect, and Simon repeated the action. Then he extended his hand.

"My lord," he said. "At last we meet."

Guy accepted the handshake. Folding his arms, he examined Simon closely. "Quite a remarkable display of skill, your grace." He looked to the Duke, and Basil's smile was grand.

"My son has ventured to battle time and again. No man can hope to defeat him." His expression was full of pride as he spoke, and Simon listened patiently as he had so often done. The old man liked to tell of all manner of things involving his heir's accomplishments. To please his father, he proclaimed words that he and many of his fellow knights lived by.

"I find small joy in eating, drinking, or lying with women. When I see my enemy fall in trenches or to the grass, and hear the cries of the defeated, my blood surges with pride."

Lucien, who had removed his own helmet and stood just behind them, spoke in bold agreement.

"I would mortgage my estates to afford the cost of setting out to war."

Simon turned to look at him, offering a slight smirk. Lucien had not been easily beaten. But even when he had taken his defeat, it had been accepted graciously. There was respect to be given to so noble a knight, and he could already sense they would get along well. Turning his attention back to his audience, his attention was drawn to the young lady sitting just behind Guy. Just like Lucien's wife, this girl was a dark-haired beauty. But she was younger. And if one could tell her demeanor from her actions...the way she fixed her eyes on her folded hands, the way her face glowed with a blush...she was the very picture of a fair maiden.

This, he realized, was his intended. The thought brought him no extreme of feeling...neither excitement about her beauty nor disappointment at her tender age. Women had always been secondary to his military duties. But he was aware that this particular woman was of greater importance than those who had come before. She would run his household and serve as his partner at social functions. But more importantly, she would provide him with heirs....the continuation of his bloodline. To a woman of such significance, he could not give greeting in his current state, reeking of dirt and sweat. He turned to Guy.

"My lord Earl, I would beg departure for a short while. Perhaps until tonight when we dine? I should like to see to some matters of personal maintenance."

"Certainly," said Guy. "One of my valets will see you to your room."

He snapped his fingers, and a groom quickly appeared. Simon bowed to his audience. As he turned to leave, he caught the glance of the gentleman and lady sitting at the far end of the box. The woman smiled at him...but the man at her side gave him something of a scornful glance. It wasn't quite a dirty look, but neither was it pleasant. As he departed, Simon wore a pensive look.

Discourteous wretch, he thought. I shall be wary of that baggage in the future, for clearly he will be no friend of mine...


Much as he reveled in the grit and grime of battle, he found great pleasure in being bathed. While he hung his head, a maid poured hot water over his back and shoulders. She washed and rinsed his hair, and scrubbed his skin with a rough cloth, easing his weary muscles. For the most part, his time with women was spent sparingly. They could be a man's greatest distraction if he let them be...but they did have their usefulness.

As the maid's hands worked on him, he tried to imagine his wife seeing to a duty such as this. Lady Evelyn seemed like such a shy, delicate creature. He couldn't see her being bold enough for such a task. Such a thought elicited a sigh as he imagined the inevitable...their wedding night. He'd never bedded a virgin before, and he wasn't particularly fond of the idea. When he spent time with a woman, he wanted to share pleasure equally. What pleasure could be there be in deflowering an innocent? She would likely be terrified of everything he did, and when it was over she would shrink away in tears.

As he waved the maid away, he leaned back against the rim of the tub, sighing as he ran his fingers through his hair. There was always the prospect of having a mistress to satisfy his needs, but they were little better than wealthy whores in his opinion. This he knew from experience, and quite frankly, he was ready to be done with them.

He would school his young bride when the time came, and perhaps she would grow accustomed to his attentions and manage to please him once in a while...she might even produce a few sons for him, if all went well.

He knew all too well that a man did not get to his station in life by avoiding the difficult. The difficult was to be welcomed, and if there would be a challenge in molding his bride, then so be it.

As he stood, his manservant came forward with a towel to wrap around his waist and another to pat him dry. He cracked a slight smile as he tried to envision Lady Evelyn performing this service to him. How red-faced and shamed she would be at seeing him nude in the broad light of day.

He shook his head at his own foolish musings. They hadn't even met properly and already she was worming her way into his thoughts.

Damned female, he said to himself. But it was not an angry thought. It was simply an acknowledgement of fact. If he let himself be affected by something so simple as a woman, what kind of soldier would he be? His emotions were better reserved for more important occasions, such as the battlefield.

He sighed, wishing it was his gambeson and mail being fitted to him now, rather than a tunic and close-fitting surcoat. These social occasions were so wearisome. These were not his neighbors, but one group of nobles was no different from the rest. There would be gaiety and conversation, of both significant and mundane matters. Food and wine would be in plentiful supply, as well as all manner of entertainment.

So be it, he thought. As with all matters of importance, he would see to it without complaint. He and his father would not remain here more than a few days...perhaps a week at most. He would court his bride and become familiar with her. And then he would return to his estates, and more importantly, to his garrison. It was almost certain that during his absence, they had lost some of their sharpness. He would see that corrected the moment he returned. But for now, he had a duty to perform.

His manservant brought forth a carved jewel box. A gold signet ring was placed on the little finger of his left hand. A silver cross and chain was draped around his neck. When at last he was ready, his man retrieved another jewel box...this one smaller but no less elaborate. It was held aloft, carried with pomp and circumstance, as the servant followed Simon out to meet the gathered masses.


Looking down from the top of the steps, he saw the familiar collection of multi-colored bodies, gathered together and awaiting his entrance. With a powerful stride he descended the stairs. As he'd anticipated, when all heads turned to look at him, the room became hushed. It was to be expected, of course. Except for his father, Simon knew he probably outranked all members of this gathering. But while some men preferred to gloat about their prominence, he did not feel the need. He knew who he was, and he saw no reason to make an exclamation about it.

Only one person needed a declaration of his status...a show of his wealth and position. He looked for Evelyn, and saw her standing at her father's side. The Earl and his Countess were seated in two matching chairs, placed on a dais, with their family around them. Guy and Cassia rose to their feet as Simon approached, and as they all bowed to him, he bent low in return. Then, Guy extended his hand to his youngest daughter. Evelyn lightly placed her palm in his, and was brought to stand before her betrothed.

Simon took a few moments to examine her. She was a beauty, as he had managed to notice briefly at the tourney. But she was even more so upon closer examination. Her eyes were a soft shade of blue, accenting a delicate oval face. Her nose was slightly long but slender...not at all unattractive. Her hair was very dark, a rich and lustrous color. The figure she possessed was slender, but not so childish as he'd first thought. There was a small but nicely rounded bosom there, a slender waist, and slightly rounded hips. He had to admit, she did not lack in her feminine attributes. When her hand was placed in his, he noticed the soft slenderness of her fingers. Already she was distracting him, and they hadn't even spoken yet. Perhaps that was what was needed...a voice to break the silence. And he felt fortunate to have a speech already prepared.

"A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved."

Motioning for his servant, he had the jewel box brought forward. It was opened, and from it, he took out a sparkling gold and sapphire ring. The guests murmured with excitement as he placed the ring on Evelyn's finger.

"I give you this ring as a symbol of my affection. I pledge to you my fidelity and devotion. I promise you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions."

Still retaining her hand, he clasped it gently between his own. When he pressed his lips to her fingers, the guests applauded in delight. Their approval was but a backdrop to his presentation...his display of worthiness given to his bride. And judging from her expression, it had worked exceedingly well. She was speechless. Her eyes were fixed on his...and for a moment, he found himself unable to look away. The spell was only broken by the approach of the Earl and Countess.

"We are honored to receive you into our family," said Guy, giving Simon a strong slap on the back. "May you find much happiness in your new life." Then he turned to Evelyn, placing his palm on her cheek. "And may my daughter find the joy she so truly deserves."

As Guy placed a gentle kiss on Evelyn's temple, Simon watched the scene before him. He noted the change in the Earl of Gisborne's expression when he looked at his daughter. His features, which had seemed so harsh, became soft and kind. And just for a moment, there seemed to be a touch of melancholy in his eyes. It vanished as quickly as it had come. The softness soon faded as well, replaced with that solemn expression of his.

But if the Earl was determined to conceal his feelings, the Countess was not. He felt the twinge of a smile on his lips as he watched Lady Cassia kiss her daughter's cheek and embrace her. It was clear where Evelyn had inherited her looks, for Gisborne's lady was certainly a lovely woman. She was radiant, even being heavy with child as she was. Such a sign of health would, God willing, bode well for Evelyn one day. Watching the exchange of affection between mother and daughter, he smiled politely, waiting for the proper moment to speak.

But when the Countess came to him, placing her hands on either side of his face, he was taken aback. Her lips pressed softly to his cheek, and as she stepped back from him, smiling, he could find no words for a reply. She seemed unfazed by her actions.

"Your grace, I can hardly express my delight in meeting you at last. I hope you consider staying with us for an extended period of time."

Simon fought for a proper response...but his tongue failed him. Thrown off guard by the gesture of affection he'd received, he was glad when his father stepped forward and clapped him on the back. Basil began a jolly conversation, most of which Simon did not hear. He needed a moment to clear his head, and excusing himself, he stepped away from the crowd.

Out on the gravel walk in front of the manor, the night air served him well. With the calm and quiet to aid him, he forced the trivial matter from his mind. But as he turned back to the house, another matter presented itself.

In his line of sight was the same gentleman and lady he had seen earlier in the day at the tourney. Both were engaged in conversation, smiling and laughing. Recalling that the pair had shared the Gisborne viewing box, he wondered if they were of some relation to Evelyn and her family. If not that, then they were certainly of great importance. Either way, he had not forgotten the look of disdain the man had given him. Such a look was in need of explanation, and he would have it now.

Seeing Owen Gisborne, he approached the young Baron. The lad seemed like a jovial soul, and his abilities as a squire were quite impressive. When Owen saw Simon, his face brightened. He bowed deeply in respect, and Simon extended his hand in greeting.

"Baron," he said, "I wonder if you might satisfy my curiosity on a certain point."

Owen smiled, eager to please. "Certainly, my lord. What is it you wish to know?"

Simon looked towards the couple in question, lifting his chin in a gesture. "Who are they? Are they of some relation to you and yours?"

Owen shook his head. "No, my lord. The lady is the Baroness LaCroix...a neighbor of ours. And the gentleman is her cousin, Viscount Rene of Bergeron. He was of great assistance to my family, particularly to my sister Theodora. A worthless peasant attempted to steal my nephew, and the Viscount hastened to his rescue."

Simon nodded, taking in the piece of information. But there seemed to be some bit of the story that was missing. For a man he had never met, what reason was there for such a look of disrespect?

There was but one way to know. He turned back to Owen.

"Would you do me the honor of making an introduction?"

With a smile, Owen pardoned himself from his peers. Simon walked with him, striding over to where the gentleman and lady stood with a small gathering of other guests. They all turned at his approach, and as he came to stand before them, they bent and curtseyed respectfully. Owen introduced each lord and lady, all of whom greeted him politely. But when it came to the last of the men, Simon saw only a false expression of politeness...a slight smile that was clearly not genuine. Owen introduced him to the offender.

"Your grace, may I introduce a most honored guest...Viscount Rene of Bergeron."

Simon shook Rene's hand. But the moment their grips were locked, he knew he had made not a friend, but an enemy. The contempt was there in Rene's eyes, and were it not for the company around them, Simon would have called him out at that very moment. But considering the circumstances, he chose a calmer, more subtle approach.

"Does something trouble you?"

Rene gave him an odd look. "I beg your pardon?"

"You look rather displeased, Viscount. Is your mind burdened by trouble in some way?"

Rene shook his head. "Nothing of significance, your grace. A trivial matter, I assure you."

Simon nodded, believing not a word of it. He felt his ire rising, but like the disciplined man he was, he kept his temper in check.

"I understand you were of some assistance to the Lady Theodora."

Rene gave a slight smile. "Indeed," he replied. Isabella placed her hand on his arm.

"My cousin was very heroic, your grace. I am proud to call him family."

There it is, Simon thought. Observing Rene's expression, he saw how it softened for a moment with the attention of the Baroness. Jealousy was his grounds for disrespect. He thought himself deserving of complete adulation for his good deed, and now that he had a competitor for the attention of the masses, he was not pleased. Ordinarily, Simon would not have stooped to something so low and petty as jealousy. But this brigand had drawn his blade first. And so he would return the challenge.

"How very intriguing," he said. "I'm afraid I cannot aspire to such gallantry...except on the battlefield. And in the company of his majesty, of course. He has been an honored guest at my father's table on numerous occasions."

The response was what he anticipated. The guests drew a fraction of a space closer, their eyes widening slightly...clearly interested. His closeness to royalty was a matter of great fascination, for although all nobles traveled to court at times, it was doubtful that any of them had managed a private audience with the King himself. Clearly, Simon could see they were all at his command...all but one. Rene was growing more and more displeased, which Simon found to be quite satisfying. He could not hold a blade to his competitor's neck, but this would do very well for the moment.

As for the rest of his audience, they were eager to hear more...but he felt he had spoken enough for one night. He excused himself, moving off to rejoin Sir Guy and his family.

Later, when they dined, Simon proudly took his place near the head of the table, along with his father. Simon made a mental note of where the Viscount and Baroness were situated. They were placed further down in the seating arrangement...a clear sign that their status had changed. And Simon found the notion extremely pleasing. He managed to contain his smile, but his mind was brimming with satisfaction.

Rene of Bergeron, he thought, You must now learn a harsh truth...that there is but one guest of honor here, and your moment of glory has passed.