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 aloof...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 husband...to give him her absolute devotion. But how could she give her heart to a man like Simon?
She wanted to sleep...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?