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 see...in 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 talk...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.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Art of Criticism

I love Pixar. Wall-E is at the top of my list, but there is something profound about this scene from "Ratatouille."  Maybe it's because, as an artist, I've been on the revieving end of a few critics. Whatever the reason, this scene is one of my personal favorites.

You'll need to scroll down and pause my playlist to hear the clip...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 6 Part Two

The summer breeze was pleasant...the sky blue and pure. And everything was tranquil. It had been quite some time since she’d enjoyed a peaceful day, and with all of the guests occupied in one way or another, Cassia had chosen to steal time for herself. Accompanied only by her maidservant, Celeste, and one of the family wolfhounds, she sat herself among her beloved lavender fields. As she made her healing oils, the sound of a horse’s approach made her smile. She did not have to look to know who it was. She’d given instructions not to be disturbed, and only one person would overrule her command. Without looking up, she greeted him.

“Hello, husband. How did the hunt fare?”

She heard the jingling of his spurs as he dismounted. He made a snapping sound with his fingers...a signal of dismissal given to Celeste, who took her leave and departed with the guard dog following her. He had sent her companion away, so he was either seeking intimacy or consolation on some matter...perhaps both. As he approached, she heard him give a weary sigh...and there was her answer.

“I know that sound,” she said. As he sat down next to her, she leaned over to kiss him. “What is on your mind, Guy?”

He leaned down, pressing his cheek to her belly. “If only we knew from the first the great troubles that lie in wait, we would never leave such a haven as this.” He sighed again. “I no longer have the strength for it. Healer that you are, create some potion that will ease my way.”

She smiled and laughed. “I fear no such magic has yet to be found.” Setting her flowers and medicine jars aside, she ran her fingers through his hair. “What vexes you, Guy? Tell me.”

Again he sighed. “What are your thoughts on the Viscount?”

“The Viscount?” she asked. For a moment she considered his question. “My love, I must be truthful. I have granted him only a passing interest in my mind. I have been much concerned with Thea and Gabriel...and William.”

William had departed at sunrise that morning, needing to return to the duties of his parish. They had all bid him a fond farewell, with her anguish as a mother bringing tears to her eyes. But there was little time to grieve the loss. With a daughter in need of consolation, an expectation of impending company, and a houseful of guests, there was much too much to think of.

“What are your thoughts on him, husband? I am aware of his worth in regards to our grandson. But I sense that your opinion of him is changed in some way.”

He hesitated for a moment before answering. He sat up, and taking her hand, he brushed the top of it with his thumb. “I observed him in conversation with Evelyn. They seemed very much engaged in their discussion, even exchanging smiles and occasional laughter.”

“And? What is it you suspect him of?”

He let out a breath. “There is something unsettling in his manner...something of a...”

Again he hesitated, and she prodded him for an answer. “Something of a what?” she asked.

“A carnal nature.”

Now she smiled, laughing softly. “Surely you jest.”

“I do not.” His expression grew serious, and to ease his manner...the familiar manner of his temper rising...she drew his arm around her. She felt his body ease as she leaned back against him. He wrapped his arms around her, resting his head on her shoulder.

“A man knows such looks,” he said. “Even when they are given in a subtle manner.”

“Those that are familiar with such looks have often given them,” she said with a smirk. “Is it not so?”

Such playful reminders of what he had once been...his sordid past...would have, in times gone by, made him scowl in shame. She had always been able to relieve him of such darkness by showering him with affection. But now, there no need for such soothing. Of late, such teasing more often elicited a smile rather than a frown. Peeking up at him, she saw the corner of his mouth rise.

“Tis true,” he said with a sigh. “One scoundrel can detect another. But let me remind you...” He became serious once again. “I am a reformed scoundrel, converted by you into a respectable husband and father. And if Rene of Bergeron thinks to sway my innocent child, he shall suffer a father’s deepest wrath.”

She could not keep her amusement from showing. His protectiveness had always been so endearing...never failing to delight her. Her eyes twinkled with merriment.

“You will be discreet, will you not? No breaking of bones within sight of our guests? They may not look favorably on such a show of brutality.”

Their foreheads touched, their noses brushing together. He chuckled softly, pressing his lips to hers.

“I make no promises, wife.”


Early the next morning, just after Mass, a rider came pounding down the road towards the manor. His simple garments were those of a groom, and after sliding fast from his mount he bore the news of the party that was soon to arrive.

Evelyn’s maidservant seized her by the hand, sweeping her up the stairs to her room, where she was fitted with the very best dress she had...a gown of midnight-blue silk embroidered with silver threads. Her hair was formed into thick clusters and pinned back…her head crowned with a pearl-rimmed cap. Around her neck was placed a silver chain with a ruby pendent, and she’d hardly gathered breath before she was rushed downstairs again. All of the guests were gathered, including Rene, who said nothing as she passed...but she could feel his eyes on her. All of their eyes were on her, and she felt her heart pounding madly beneath her ribs.

This is too much, she thought to herself. I cannot do this.

She wanted to run and hide. She wanted to weep with fear, knowing that her entire future was about to be presented to her. She knew it was her duty, as a daughter, to be a smiling and joyful bride. But she was terrified, and she could not hide it. Her only comfort was her mother’s hand, which clasped hers in a firm but gentle grip. Guy led the way as the entire household stepped out in welcome.

They could hear the approach of the party...the clattering of hooves and rumbling of coach wheels, the baying of hounds and the sound of trumpeters announcing the arrival. Riding out in front were two flag bearers, and for Evelyn they symbolized the importance of her future family. Her fiancé was the son of a Duke, which meant that someday she would be a Duchess. She had been schooled for her high position, but seeing these symbols before her, she wished with all her heart to remain as she was…The Earl of Gisborne’s child, content in her role as a quiet and obedient daughter.

But she knew there was no returning to the safety of her girlhood. Her journey as a noblewoman was set, and it began with the halting of the gilded carriage.

A footman descended from his perch at the rear. He placed a stool on the ground before the doorway of the carriage. As he drew back the velvet curtain, an aged but stately gentleman emerged. Stepping down to the ground, his deportment was regal…his stride strong, giving no hint of age despite his crown of snow-white hair. He was not so very tall, but he carried himself with such pride that his height seemed more than it was. Basil Jean Carré, Duke of Laroque, had arrived, and everyone bowed in great respect.

As Evelyn rose to her feet, she waited with great trepidation for another figure to emerge from within the vehicle. As Guy and the Duke shook hands, the Duke’s servants began rushing to their duties of unloading the carriage...but no one else came forth. Evelyn looked at her mother, who smiled, but was clearly just as uncertain about the situation.

As Guy and the Duke approached Evelyn and Cassia, they both took on a dignified air. Cassia’s hand was lifted...introductions were made, small pleasantries exchanged. And then the Duke was standing before Evelyn. She dropped a deep curtsey, and upon rising, her knuckles were brushed with a polite kiss.

“My lady Evelyn,” he said. “You are a true beauty. My son will be very pleased with so fine a bride.”

“Tell us, where is the Marquis?” asked Guy. “We expected to welcome you both this morning.”

The Duke began walking with Guy, as Cassia and Evelyn fell in step behind.

“Simon will be along shortly,” was his answer. “He insisted on seeing to a matter of personal importance, but he will not be long in coming.”

Evelyn felt the weight of trouble ease, but it did not dissipate entirely. The Marquis would arrive before the day was over, and her heart still trembled with anxiety at the thought of meeting him. But at least their first introduction had not been rushed. The meeting with the Duke had been a sort of practice. And Basil of Laroque had kind eyes, as well as a warm, pleasant voice, and if the Marquis was anything like his father, he could not be so very bad.

There was still time to prepare, and when at last she met her intended, she swore she would be ready.


In the family box, Evelyn sat between her mother and father. Now and then she peeped around to Rene, who sat at the far end next to the Baroness LaCroix. They were honored guests, but it seemed to Evelyn that they had suddenly been put at arm’s length. Isabella didn’t seem to mind. Having recovered from her trauma, she watched the joust with great enthusiasm, reacting with great dramatics when two knights clashed with lance and shield.

Lucien was the favored contender among the knights. Thea, with Gabriel bundled and resting in a sling against her, sat beside her mother. Her expression was filled with deep concern for her husband, but she declared repeatedly that no one could best him.

Cassia’s eyes were on Owen, who was acting as squire for Lucien. She squeezed Guy’s hand.

“Someday soon, we will watch our son in such a fight as this.”

She said nothing further, but Evelyn knew her mother’s feelings on games of combat. She despised them, fearing their obvious dangers, and Evelyn understood, for she herself did not enjoy the violence and noise. But they were a ritual of noble society that one could not escape, and all they could do was shut their eyes and endure.

Another knight rode upon the field, mounted on a fine white charger. The challenger sat strong in the saddle, clearly a man of considerable height and breadth. His colors were green and gold, but Evelyn did not recognize the crest on his surcoat, and with his helmet visor down, it was impossible to know who he was.

The two soldiers lined up in their positions. The crowd became hushed as the lances were prepared. Then the horses cantered towards each other, gathering speed as they came closer and closer. The green knight’s lance rammed Lucien’s shield with a violent crash and splintering of wood...and a collective gasp came from the family box as Lucien was thrown from the saddle. He hit the ground hard but was on his feet in an instant, for already his opponent was upon him. Again and again their swords and shields met with brutal force, with neither fighter willing to back down. On went the raging battle for what seemed like an eternity...until a second of hesitation from Lucien allowed the green knight the advantage. He hooked Lucien’s ankle and dropped him to the ground, jabbing his sword-tip to within a hair’s space of his opponent’s throat.

A roar went up among the crowd, and their cheers only grew louder as the green knight offered his free hand to Lucien and brought him to his feet. As their horses were led from the field, both men walked towards the family box...and Evelyn was stunned when the Duke rose to his feet. There was a warm smile spreading across his face as the green knight stepped up before him, and when the soldier removed his helmet, the ladies in the box softly gasped. His hair was soft brown and slightly curled. His face was so very masculine...a jaw that was nearly square, a strong chin that had a slight indention, and a straight nose just above full, sensual lips. His eyes were his most striking feature...a deep shade of green with flecks of gold.

He bowed before the Duke, and the two men shared a strong embrace. Basil clasped the knight’s shoulder, turning to face Guy and his family.

“Guy of Gisborne, may I present my son...the honorable Simon Jean Carré, Marquis of Laroque.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 6 Part One

The next installment is with my Beta and will be up soon...Enjoy!

The stables came into sight...and Evelyn wished they could turn back. She had only just begun to enjoy René’s company, and now she would be forced to share him with others. It seemed terribly unfair. After all, the two of them had a special connection, more now than before. She knew it was an unseemly feeling to have, but she felt that he was her friend now, and that others had not earned the right to be close to him. They did not know him as she did. And more importantly, no one else shared a secret as they did. Not even his cousin, the Baroness, knew what had happened with Adele.

And yet, the Baroness was his one remaining relation...or so it seemed. As Isabella saw them and made her way in their direction, Evelyn felt a pain of sadness in her heart. No matter what confidence he shared with her, it could not compare to the intimacy shared by blood. The Baroness was permitted to be near him for good lengths of time...to talk to him as she pleased...even to place her hand upon his arm when they were together. Evelyn knew it was wrong, but she could not help feeling the sting of envy when, upon seeing René, Isabella smiled warmly and hurried to his side.

“There you are, cousin. We were all beginning to wonder at your disappearance.”

Evelyn met Isabella’s eye. They both exchanged polite smiles and curtsies, and then Isabella touched René’s arm. As they walked together, Evelyn fell in slight step behind them. She tried to tell herself not to feel what she was feeling...a terrible, gnawing pang of jealousy. She wished at that moment for a measure of Thea’s bold nature. Her sister would have had something daring to say...something that asserted her control over the situation.

As her eyes followed the ground in front of her, Evelyn spotted a lizard crawling along the pebbles of the walk. She knelt down, scooping up the little beast. She’d never been afraid of creeping creatures. Most ladies ran in fright from them.

Her gaze rose, looking over the Baroness’ proud stance. What would it be like to see her squirm and squeal in fright? For a moment she shut her eyes, seeking forgiveness for her wicked intentions. Looking down at her closed hand, she contemplated the naughty trick she thought to play.

I shall open my hand, she thought, And perhaps he will make his escape. Where he chooses to land is no fault of mine.

The creature did make his escape...leaping right onto Isabella’s shoulder. The Baroness didn’t notice it, of course. But Evelyn could not contain her smirk, knowing it was only a matter of time until the discovery was made. And it came much sooner than Evelyn expected.

The lizard crawled from silk to bare skin, and Isabella shrieked.

“What is it? What is it! Help! Something attacks me!”

René spotted the lizard and snatched it off...but Isabella’s reaction to seeing the creature was more crazed than having it on her person. She screamed and dashed away, flailing her arms in disgust and horror. As René tossed the lizard aside and came to her aid, trying his best to console her, Evelyn at first felt a bubble of laughter rising inside of her. But it was tamed when Isabella started to cry. Her hysterics brought on the attention of those awaiting the hunt, and soon they were all surrounded by curious guests. Guy stepped to the front of the crowd. His brow was crinkled in frustration, brought on by the possibility of yet another crisis.

“What calamity befalls us now?” he demanded.

René stepped away from Isabella as several ladies took over the task of consoling her. He smirked as he looked at Guy.

“A moment of feminine hysteria, my lord. Brought about by a very dangerous and evil lizard.”

Most of the men chuckled, shaking their heads, while the women clucked their tongues and fussed over Isabella’s frazzled state.

Evelyn watched in silence, and a horrible thought suddenly came to her. What if, as the hostess, she was expected to escort the Baroness back to the house? She would have to remain with her to offer consolation, while the men and a few of the bolder ladies went out on the hunt.

Oh bother, she thought. Why did I not control my impulsiveness? Now I shall suffer for my foolish behavior.

She tried to prepare herself for the task, certain that the command would come at any moment. And she would have no choice but to obey it.

But then, like a sweet soothing breeze, René’s words swept over her.

“My Lord Earl, might I solicit Lady Evelyn to show me your collection of feathered beasts? I am quite eager to meet them before we commence with the hunt.”

She knew her father would not refuse René’s request, and she was delighted when Isabella was escorted back to the house to recover from her ordeal. With René and the other guests following, she took great pride in showing off the mews that housed her father’s prized collection of hunters. Her own cherished pet was a Merlin she called Matilda, and the bird rested proudly on Evelyn’s fist as they ventured out on the hunt.

Guy offered René the use of one of his best falcons, but as the journey commenced, René and Evelyn became so engaged in conversation that the pursuit of game became secondary. He told her of mischievous tricks he’d played as a boy...of standing on the battlements of his manor and tossing fruit at passersby. She told him of her short time with Thea under the tutelage of Duchess Jeanne-Thérèse Lalande...and how it had nearly ended in disgrace for the family.

“Thea was an impossible pupil. She refused to be disciplined. In fact, she was quite hostile with our benefactress. And in the end, we were both sent home before our schooling was completed. Mama and Papa were quite angry, of course...and ashamed. But they have never been capable of lasting anger where Thea is concerned. So they settled on a governess to complete our education.”

René shook his head and chuckled. “How fortunate you are to have such understanding parents. They obviously care very deeply for you and your siblings.”

She sighed. “If only everyone could know such love.” She stole a glance at him. His expression had hardly changed, losing little of its sunshine. But she sensed that he was disguising what he felt, and she wished for him to speak of it. Perhaps he needed encouragement to do so.

“What a pity that your own father was not so kind,” she said.

He looked at her with a crooked grin. “I hold no anger towards him. I think perhaps I should be grateful to him for granting me such freedom...the freedom to make my own way in the world.”

“But such freedom has its price,” she replied. “You were fortunate to find kindness in your cousin.” Her jealousy was again stoked by the thought of Isabella. But she maintained her dignified air, for fear of offending him with her selfishness. She tried to sound composed. “She must be quite fond of you. To take in a poor relation...in essence, rescuing you from a dire fate. You must be very grateful.”

From the corner of her eye she saw him nod. He seemed to hesitate, as if to contemplate her words.

“Indeed,” he at last replied. “She is the kindest and best of ladies.”

She knew it was not her place to question a gentleman, particularly on so personal a matter. But she found she could not help herself.

“Will she provide you with some means of living? Surely you wish to return to a more stable way of life.”

He shrugged. “I am not so certain of that. There is a grand kind of freedom in a vagrant existence. No rules, no boundaries. No expectations.”

“And no certainty. No knowledge of what trouble the next day might bring. And what of the moral implications? Surely you must feel some sense of remorse from your misdeeds.”

His expression became dim...almost gloomy, as if he was becoming displeased.

“Our conversation has taken a strange turn, Evelyn. I am not certain I am comfortable with it.”

She turned her head away, shameful of letting her emotions get the better of her. He had a right to his privacy, and she knew it was improper to pry into a man’s affairs. Her face flushed with shame.

“Forgive me, my lo-” She paused. “I mean, René. I did not mean to be so bold.”

She did not look at him, for fear that she had caused him offense. But in his reply, she heard his familiar tone of lightness and mirth. When she dared to look at him, he was giving her a sly little smile.

“I am not offended by boldness, my lady. In fact, I quite encourage the practice.”

Warmth flooded through her soul, making her smile a giddy smile...until her father approached on his dapple-grey. She immediately checked her posture and composed her expression, giving herself a dignified air as he came to ride beside her. His eyes were kind, but his expression was stern.

“You fall behind on the hunt, daughter. Have you lost interest?”

She shook her head. “Forgive me, Papa. The Viscount and I were engaged in conversation.”

René might well have been a guest of honor, but Evelyn knew she was nearing a dangerous line. Her attention had lingered too long on a man who was not her betrothed, and her father’s look made her quite aware of her mistake.

“Save such tête-à-tête for The Marquis,” he said. His tone was firm. “He shall be upon us very soon, most likely on the morrow.”

She lowered her gaze as she replied, “Yes, Papa.”

Guy moved ahead, though he glanced over his shoulder at the two of them. Evelyn was careful to maintain her serenity for the remainder of the expedition. But while her demeanor was calm, her heart was all a flutter...her mind in a whirl.

Her betrothed, Simon of Laroque, would make his appearance in just one day...maybe less. He was a man of wealth and prestige. He was considered to be a very good match for a woman such as she.

But how could any man compare to the one who already had her heart?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm On A Writing Frenzy!

I'm taking advantage of my free time and writing like a madwoman. So be on the lookout for several postings over the next week or so.  I'll be posting as soon as my lovely Beta looks over what I've written.

Thanks to everyone for reading!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 5 Part Two

With his arms crossed, René stood by the window. By the light of a candle, he surveyed his domain...and he wondered if a man could be more fortunate than he.

A few noble couples were given their own quarters, but all others shared space.

He was the exception.

Sir Guy had given him a guest chamber of his own, and as he looked around at his fine accommodations, he was reminded of a time when such a space would have truly belonged to him.

He shook his head, dislodging old memories. If there was something to dwell on, the present was a much more agreeable matter. A little smile came to his lips.

If there was truly safety in numbers, there was no better place to be than here. In a few days, he would be forgotten by those wishing to see his neck stretched. And now, by some odd stroke of fortune, his identity was that of a hero...not a brigand. Attention would be lavished upon him. Already he resided in an opulent apartment. Other rewards were sure to follow. Fame. Perhaps a bit of fortune. Certainly companionship of the female kind. Isabella was already waiting at the head of the queue with her amorous intentions barely in check.

Isabella was a favorite of his, and she would have his attention when the time was right. But there were others more deserving of his time and devotion.

Sweet, feisty little Evelyn. He could not recall the last time he’d met someone like her. The corner of his mouth twitched in amusement as he recalled her stubborn stance. He had to admire her courage. She wanted to be more than she was. More than a green little maiden...one who feared for her virtue. But such fear was quite unfounded.

She had a father, two brothers, and a very large brother-in-law. René was no fool. He knew that if he was stupid enough to accost her, those men would surely make a hen out of a rooster. He shuddered at the thought of it.

But seduction was not his intention. Nor had it ever been...not with one so young. But perhaps, for the short time they would know one another, they could be companions. He’d never had a female friend that wasn’t a lover, but there was something enticing about having a pretty little lady as his companion. The other ladies would so envy her, and he would delight in teasing them all by focusing his attention solely on her.

Gleefully he rubbed his hands together. His sojourn here was going to be very merry indeed. And when it was time to depart, he would do so with few regrets. One door might close, but another would open. Such was life. From somewhere in his memory came words of wisdom, though he could not recall where he’d heard them.

To regret is to hang oneself with his own noose.

He chuckled at those words. He’d escaped many a noose in his life, and he didn’t intend that to change now.


The household broke fast over a leisurely meal of bouillabaisse, roasted mutton, white bread and ale. Most of the guests were sleepy-eyed from the night before, but René felt energetic...and his attention was drawn not to the meal, nor to the woman at his side, but to Evelyn, who sat only a few spaces down from him.

He and Isabella had been given a place of honor near the head of the table, where they would be close to Sir Guy and his family. When the Gisbornes and Sir Lucien made their entrance, René at once looked for Evelyn...and was stunned by the sight of her.

Maybe it was the color of her dress...a deep shade of burgundy that seemed quite regal. Perhaps it was the upsweep of her hair, pinned into a neat chignon of shining black curls. Or it might have been the way she carried herself with such an air of pride and determination...as if she intended to prove something to him or herself. Whatever the reason, she had a more womanly character about her this morning...and it was very pleasing.

Before the meal began, Guy stood with his goblet lifted.

“Before we break our fast, I would ask all to raise their cups to my honored guest, the good Viscount of Bergeron.”

The guests lifted their glasses high and gave a merry cheer. René smiled, nodding his head in acceptance.

“As he is our honored guest," said Guy, "I will allow him the pleasure of choosing today’s sport.”

Rene smiled, thinking which to choose. “My lord,” he said, “On this fine day, I would take great pleasure in following the falcon.”

The guests applauded his choice, and a murmur of excitement rose among them. Guy nodded.

“Well then, the choice is made. A day of falconry it shall be. But first, let us appease our hunger with this fine meal.”

The feast began. And while René partook of the tangy ale and the fine meal...one of the best he’d had in a long time...he found could hardly take his eyes off of Evelyn. It seemed the interest was mutual, for every now and then, he caught her sending glances his way.

He wanted a few moments alone with her. Last night, their meeting had been rudely interrupted. But perhaps that was for the best, because now...if he was wise about it...he could meet with her in the light of day, in some location that would not provoke scandal.

As the meal ended, the guests stood and gathered in small groups of conversation, deciding who would partake in the hunt and who would remain behind to engage in other activates. While Isabelle was engaged in conversation, he stepped away from her for a moment, approaching Sir Guy. He spoke in a casual tone.

“My lord, before we commence with the hunt, I would very much like to look at your gardens. My dear Mama was partial to all matter of flora and fauna and she bred that same fondness in me.”

Guy shrugged. “If it pleases you, then by all means, explore as you wish.”

Giving a respectful bow, René strolled towards the side door...and as he went, he turned to catch a glance at Evelyn. Her eyes met his. And he knew that it wouldn’t be long before she followed.


In the garden, he plucked a red rose from a trellis vine. Lifting it to his nose, he inhaled its spicy scent, thinking that its beauty and color would suit Evelyn very well.

He heard a step on the gravel behind him, and he smiled as he turned. In the morning sunshine she was radiant, and with her gaze lowered in shyness, it only enhanced her charms.

Still, he didn’t want to foster improper thoughts. And he would begin by keeping their greeting formal. Rather than taking her hand, he bowed courteously.

“Bonjour, mademoiselle.”

She lifted her head long enough to give him a tiny smile. She curtseyed. “Bonjour, my lord. I trust you slept well last night?”

“Quite,” he replied. “But let us disregard titles. I would much prefer to be given my name. Will you do me the honor?”

He offered her the flower. As she timidly accepted it, her reply was softly spoken.

“I shall try...René.”

She said it with a bashfulness that amused him. He felt an odd sensation of feeling for her...a strong desire to set her mind at rest, and he spoke gently.

“Do not fear such an informality. After all, friendships should begin with first names. Do you not think so?”

When she gave no reply, he sighed deeply.

“Perhaps I might earn your confidence in another way, my lady...by allowing you to share in mine.”

Without waiting for her, he began a leisurely walk, certain that she would fall in step with him, which she did almost instantly. To put her further at ease, he clasped his hands behind his back, keeping them there as they strolled along.

“You are no talking fool, Evelyn. You have proven that already. And I trust you will keep your silence when I tell you this.”

He paused for a moment, wanting to test her reaction. Her eyes, her expression, were all eagerness as he spoke firmly and directly.

“Adele is not dead.”

Just as he’d anticipated, she was stunned. She was at a complete loss for words, so he was quick to elaborate on his shocking declaration.

“I released her with her promise that she would give herself to the sisters at the Abbey of St. Victor.”

Evelyn shook her head. Her words tripped on her tongue.

“I hardly know what to say.”

He shrugged. “I could not stand to see her punished. At least not in the way society would prefer.”

“But to allow her to escape proper judgment...it is wrong.”

His reply was firm. “We are not meant to judge. That is better left in God’s hands.”

For the first time since he’d met her, he heard the sound of her laughter. It was only a small gesture, softly given, but it was delightful to hear such a sound from her.

“What a strange moral reproach coming from you,” she said. “A man who I witnessed being chased by hounds. A man who freely and rather proudly admitted to me that he was an accomplished thief...and now, a man who walks in the clothes of a nobleman.” She sighed, shaking her head. “How do I know that this is not some grand scheme formed by a master criminal?”

He was silent for a few moments, contemplating the idea of revealing things he hadn’t spoken of in a very long time. But looking at her, he could see that her mistrust was easing with each passing moment. She needed to know something of him. Something tangible. Something real. And at last he spoke.

“I was born in Nice. My father was a Comte...a man of great wealth and importance.”

Evelyn looked up with a slight grin, as if she’d just been given a clue to a mystery she’d been eager to solve.

“So you are a nobleman. I suspected as much when I saw you so at ease among our company.”

He nodded. “I was born a nobleman. But being the third son, I was considered of small value. My eldest brother was the heir...my other brother the spare. That left me as little more than a male issue meant to hover in the background. I was educated, of course. And indulged upon, as any man of means would be...even a son with no real purpose. Without the burden of being a direct heir, I grew rather headstrong. I enjoyed mischief and merriment without fear of repercussions.”

She laughed again, this time with deeper amusement. “A trait that seems to have remained with you.”

He could not help but smile in reply. “Indeed.”

“So how came you to be a criminal?” she asked. “Surely a man of your rank and means would have no need to turn in such a direction.”

His answer was preceded with a little sigh as his memories came upon him.

“I was a great favorite of my mother. And I cherished her as she did me. So when she was insulted by a favorite bishop of my father, I defended her.”

Her eyes grew large with eagerness. “How did you defend her?”

“I declared the bishop a fat, disgusting prig. I demanded his apology and when he refused, I doused him with his own cup of wine.”

For a moment she brought her hand to her mouth, giving a gasp. “Oh my. You dared to reprimand a man of the cloth?”

“I was thirteen and quite reckless. But regardless of that, I was not content to stand by and see my mother dishonored...even by a man of great importance.”

She lowered her gaze, shaking her head again. “I fear to ask what the repercussions were.”

“The bishop was outraged and demanded my excommunication. My father was disgraced...and I was banished.”

“At the tender age of thirteen?”

He nodded. “A sad fact. And one I am not keen to dwell on.”

“So why confess such a story to me?”

“As I said, you are no talking fool. And though we’ve only known each other a short time, I have a certain sense about you...”

He hesitated, seeing the eagerness in her expression. It was adorable to witness.

“What is it you sense?” she asked.

The corner of his mouth turned up as he replied.

“Something special.”

She smiled, dropping her gaze again, and this time, he lowered his head to meet her eyes with his.

“You would not betray me now, would you? Just when we are beginning our friendship?”

Her head rose. Though her voice remained soft, she at last met his gaze with a hint of the boldness he knew she possessed.

“I will not betray you,” she replied. “You have my word.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rae is the Winner!

Congrats to Rae, who has been chosen as the winner in the giveaway of "Oh, That I Had Wings." Just send me your contact info and I'll get the book out to you ASAP. :)

Thank you to all those who entered the drawing. I wish I had enough money to send a free book to everyone, but sadly, that's not within my budget. :)

The book is available on Kindle for the low price of 99 Cents, and of course the paperback is also available on Amazon and other online retailers.

But if you would like a free PDF version to read on your computer, I would be happy to send it to you. Just drop me a line and let me know!

My best to all!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Scenario 2 it is...with a little of scenario 1 thrown in

I'm writing the next installment right now, but in the meantime, I've decided that this is how Rene and Simon will look. If you want to imagine them for yourself, you might want to look away...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Help! I can't decide!

I've posted this elsewhere, but I thought I'd take my chances here too...

I can't decide which story scenario is better. I'm leaning towards one of the following, but I can't make up my mind. If anyone wants to give me an opinion, I would appreciate it.

Scenario #1

Evelyn's fiance comes to visit, but he dies during the festival, leaving her without a husband. She is promised to Rene, who is impovrished...but her parents don't find out until after the ceremony.

Scenario #2

Evelyn falls in love with Rene but is betrothed to Simon. After discovering that Rene has been having a love affair with a married woman, Evelyn rejects him and turns her attention to her fiance, who turns out to be a bad apple...

I'm leaning towards #2, but I don't know if I like the idea of putting Evelyn in a bad marriage, even though it makes for good drama.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rebel Mine, Chapter 5 Part One

In the master chamber, Thea was sitting on the edge of the bed, still holding Gabriel to her breast. As closely as she was holding him, it was a miracle that her mother had gotten her into a nightdress. Cassia sat beside her, speaking in her familiar soothing tones.

“They will find her. Do not concern yourself with that. Your son is safe, and that is what matters.”

Evelyn watched from the doorway. She’d been sent to join her mother and sister for the remainder of the night, as it was quite late and Guy insisted that she retire. Knowing what they did not, she took a small step forward, speaking quietly. “Mama, they have found her already.”

Thea turned fast, eyes blazing with anger. “I want her whipped until the flesh is stripped from her bones!”

Evelyn sighed. “She is dead, sister. She fell and struck her head in the pursuit.”

To that, Thea spewed viciously. “I hope her blood and brains were scattered! I hope the animals tear her traitorous body to pieces and feast upon her!”

Her shouting startled Gabriel, who began to cry. Cassia spoke gently but firmly.

“For the love of heaven, Thea! You upset your son with this madness and he has been through too much already.” She tried to take him, but Thea would not allow it. With a sigh, Cassia rose to her feet.

“Evie,” she said, “Sit with your sister and try to calm her. I will fetch her a goblet of wine.”

Evelyn went to the bed, sitting beside Thea...and her heart ached at seeing how her sister trembled. Putting an arm around her shoulders, she reached up to brush the wayward hair from Thea’s face, speaking gently.

“Do not be afraid. Adele is no more. She cannot return to harm him.”

Thea’s voice was low but sharp. “Do not speak her name again. And she may indeed be burning in purgatory for her sins, but how do I know there is not another to take her place?”

Unsure of how to respond, Evelyn chose to remain silent. As she leaned her head on Thea’s shoulder, comforting her, their mother returned. Evelyn exchanged places with her, watching as she forced the cup into the hand of Thea, who at first refused it. But Cassia insisted.

“I am your mother, and you will do as I say.”

Thea hesitated for a moment. Then she took up the cup and drank.

Evelyn took a spot at the window seat, observing them...wondering what her mother would do to maintain the situation. She soon knew the answer, as Thea’s eyes began to droop. Her hold on Gabriel slacked enough for Cassia to take him, even as Thea tried to make a weak attempt at a protest. Given the baby to hold, Evelyn watched as her mother made Thea lie down.

“Will she be well, Mama?”

Cassia sighed. “There is no way of knowing for certain. But the child is safe, praise God. And for now, your sister sleeps. So let us all do the same. It has been a long night, indeed.”

It seemed that Gabriel agreed, for now that he was in a calm and quiet embrace, he brought his tiny fists to his face and yawned. When she placed him in his cradle, he made no noise...only a silent suckling gesture in his sleep.

Evelyn helped her mother remove her garments, and Cassia returned the gesture. There would be no servants to tend to them this night, which suited Evelyn just fine. At times, it was pleasant to do without them, as rare an occasion as it was. They donned their nightdresses and blew out the candles, leaving only the firelight of the hearth.

The bed of the master chamber was enormous, enough to sleep three people comfortably. For the duration of the party this was where they would all be residing, while her father and brothers would share the room next door. It was done to allow their guests ample space, but Evelyn did not mind. She tried to do as her mother said, lying down to rest. All was quiet for a time.

But not long after she’d shut her eyes, she could hear voices and footsteps moving along the corridor. The guests were moving to their rooms for the night...and immediately she thought of the Viscount.

They had not spoken since she’d left him with Adele, and after his news of her death, he was swallowed up by the crowd of guests who were eager to hear his tale. They all sought his hand in congratulations, but she had not been given the chance. Now, she wondered if she might catch a glimpse of him. Peeking over at her mother, she whispered her name several times, testing to see if she was asleep. Silence was the answer, and ever so quietly, Evelyn slipped from the bed. Going to the door, she cracked it open just enough to see out.

In the gallery, several men were gathered together...her father among them. But where was the Viscount? Surely he would still be the center of attention, even at this late hour. Her father would have him near, would he not? For a moment she was uncertain.

Then her father stepped back a pace...and there was the Viscount. She leaned her cheek against the door’s edge, letting out a sigh. How very different he looked...nothing at all like the scruffy lad she’d first encountered. Earlier that night, when she’d first recognized him, the shock had been too great to let her be studious. But now, she was free to examine him in detail. His hair was trimmed quite short, giving no hint of the unruly mop she’d seen. The light beard was gone, revealing a handsomely tapered jaw and smooth, bronzed skin. In the firelight of the hall torches, his features were illuminated perfectly. A straight, slender nose...full lips...a strong chin. His frame was powerful, but not overly so. He had an athletic, graceful stance...and she smiled as she thought of him running across meadows and leaping fences. Strange, but for one who lived the life of a vagabond, he certainly knew how to look and act like a nobleman. How well he fit the image...how handsomely he filled out the garments of a wealthy man. His surcoat was dark green, his shirt a lighter shade of olive. His fawn breeches and brown boots complimented the other tones of his wardrobe, giving him a wonderfully earthy look.

The group moved off, and their movement of departure brought her nearer to her senses. But she couldn’t take her eye from the door. Not yet. It was a wicked thought, but she wanted just one more look before he left her line of sight. As she watched, he gave sudden pause. His head took a slight turn to the side, as if he were listening. Then she heard his voice in a soft whisper.

“Bonne nuit, mademoiselle.”

The low-spoken words made her jump. As she covered her mouth to silence her cry of surprise, she felt her face grow hot with embarrassment. She hurried away from the door, rushing to the bed to scurry under the coverlet. Had he seen her? Had he known she was there the entire time? How mortifying to think he might have caught her spying...and in her nightdress!

He was a reprobate...a naughty fiend who delighted in shocking her. He was here in her very home...and there was no escaping him and his wickedness.


We shall none of us have enough sleep.

Evelyn felt the bed shift, as it had several times during the night. Thea was up once again, walking back and forth with Gabriel. The door to the adjoining room creaked open as Lucien stepped in, and as he stood with his wife, Evelyn could hear him whispering words of comfort. She could not sleep, she said...she was too frightened of what might happen during the night. So he took her with him to lie down on a pelt before the fire.

He wasn’t alone in his concern. Not long after Lucien and Thea had settled in together, Guy came quietly in. As he sat on the edge of the bed beside Cassia, Evelyn closed her eyes, pretending to sleep, but it was impossible not to listen...or to peek through the slits of her eyelids. There was something wondrous about seeing her parents together this way. Very rarely did she see her father in simple garments, and seeing him clad in only breeches and a loose shirt, it was akin to seeing a warrior without his armor. His expression took on a lovely tenderness as he looked at his wife. He held her hand in his, leaning close as he spoke in hushed tones.

“I should rid the house of all our guests, because our daughter is not alone in fearing for a child.”

No! Evelyn thought. Papa, please do not do that. She almost spoke her protest aloud, until her mother whispered quietly in reply.

“This babe within me may question your fears, for it seems to lie quiet and comfortable... undisturbed by all that has happened.”

He leaned down to kiss her, and though they were both cast in shadow...leaving little to be seen in detail...Evelyn felt her face flush with warmth at witnessing such a private moment. She squeezed her eyes shut...but she could not keep from listening, eager to hear more.

“Thank God for the good Viscount,” Cassia whispered. “I feel that somehow, his presence was a matter of fate. And you must reward him, Guy. Reward him well for restoring our grandson to us.”

Guy nodded. “He will be my honored guest at the games. And he shall be gifted with both hawk and horse.”

Evelyn wanted to cry out in delight, but she remained still and silent, even after her father and mother bid each other good night and he left the room.

Turning away from her mother, she gave freedom to the smile she’d been suppressing. Rene...and she felt no disgrace in calling him by his given name...would have to stay if he intended to keep up his ruse. And she wanted him to stay.

Despite his seemingly duplicitous nature, he was the most fascinating creature she’d ever encountered. He stirred up such a torrent of conflicting feelings within her. Excitement and wariness...fear and delight. And delight was fast becoming the most prominent feeling of all.

Never before had she felt such a riot of her heart. And never before had she so longed for the coming of dawn.