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 cheek...how 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...