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.