Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Baron's Lady - Intro, Part Two

After a steaming hot bath and a change of clothes, she felt a hundred times better – more prepared to handle things. The matter of Rene had been pushed to the far corners of her mind, and it was there she intended it to stay. At supper, he would be sitting with the other servants in the hall, albeit at a distance. All she had to do was avoid looking in that direction. But there were more pressing concerns to contend with than an errant stable-boy.

Appearing at the dining table, without her husband’s escort, she took her place at his side. He had started the meal without her, gathering at the table with several of the knights in his charge. Although he did not command his own garrison, Gilbert saw to the training and care of a number of soldiers belonging to his overlord. The men were often invited to dine at the main table, and unlike the civilized meals at the Gisborne table, the meals at the Chateau LaCroix were almost guaranteed to, at some point, erupt into chaos. As Isabella held her wine goblet up to be filled, a stripped chicken bone landed beside her trencher. Curling her lip in distaste, she used her knife to push away the repulsive scrap. It was not uncommon for discarded food stuffs to be tossed about in such a way. She supposed that it should have been a matter she was quite accustomed to. But she could not shake the feeling of disgust it aroused in her, and somehow, she doubted she would ever grow immune to such slovenly behavior.

As she ate, she did so in silence, although the atmosphere around her was hardly peaceful. The men were engaged in sport of various kinds, from drinking games to contests of gluttony, to matches of strength that had several of them shouting all at once. Gilbert seemed to be greatly entertained by the spectacle. Between copious amount of drink and food, parts of which remained behind in his beard, he laughed with great enthusiasm. Isabella sighed as she brought her goblet to her lips, hoping he might fall into a stupor, as he sometimes did after a heavy meal. If he became so indisposed, she would have reason to escape his company for the night, and silently she prayed for such a blessing.

The noise around the table suddenly erupted into an angry shouting match. A moment later a fist fight ensued, and the other men rose to their feet in raucous encouragement of it. As the aggressors throttled one another, their swings and shoves threw them into the other men. And as several fell back, one of them tumbled against Isabella. The shove sent her body sideways. And the wine goblet in her hand went flying, its contents splashing right into Gilbert’s face. He sputtered in shock, and was silent for a moment, before his expression contorted in anger. Before Isabella could prepare herself for his reaction, a douse of wine splattered against her face.

“Clumsy wench!” he cursed her. Slamming down his now empty cup, he bellowed for a servant to refill it. Then he looked at Isabella with a cold sneer. “Take yourself off to bed. Your company is no longer needed or wanted.”

A rose color of shame tinted her cheeks, but with what dignity she could manage, she rose to her feet and quit the room. It wasn’t until she was safely out of sight, and within the security of her bedchamber, that she allowed a few mortified drops of moisture to fall from her eyes. She would not allow a grand flowing of tears. Gilbert was not worth such an effort. But she could not help weeping about the humiliation she felt. Soaking a rag in the water basin, and wringing it out, she cleaned the remnants of wine from her face.

A voice, gentle and quiet, broke the silence.


Turning quickly, she gasped. Rene stood in the hallway. He was staring at her, with something of a curious look on his face. Her ire rose. Taking a cautious step back, she scolded him.

“How dare you intrude upon my presence?”

He remained where he was, not daring to come further. But he spoke again, this time with gentle concern in his tone.

“Forgive me, my lady. I have no wish to cause offense. But I thought you would be pleased to know that the foal will likely be born tonight.”

The sound of his voice was so pleasant, so soothing. Somehow, she felt that all she had to do was ask for his consolation, and he would gladly give it. And in her heart, she had a deep longing to confide in someone…anyone, truly. Even a mere servant.

But she could not bring herself to take comfort from him. Her pride would not allow it. Turning her back to him, she gave him a cool reply.

“Thank you, monsieur Jean-Bastien. Now if you please, I wish to be alone.”

There was a long moment before he answered, and his words held a strangely soothing tone. “As you wish, madam.”

A pang of regret struck her heart. In spite of herself, she turned towards him, overwhelmed by the need to speak and unburden her soul. But Rene was gone. And she felt an odd sense of pain at the loss.


Despite the warmth of the Mediterranean climate, the Chateau LaCroix was often drafty, particularly at night. Despite having quarters that were smaller than the main bedchamber, Isabella was thankful that her room had a large fireplace. When a generous fire was burning, it made the chamber very warm and comfortable. She was sitting before that fire, lost in thought, when a knock came at her door. It startled her for a moment. As she rose to her feet, slowly approaching the doorway, her heart began a nervous beating. Why did she fear that if she answered the door, Rene would be the one she found on the other side of it? And why, if she was truly a woman of sound mind, did she secretly hope it was him? Closing her eyes for a moment, she willed herself to be calm and composed as she opened the door.

It was not Rene, but instead, it was a page who stood there. The boy lowered his head.

“My lady, I have been sent to inform you that your mare has birthed a fine colt.”

For the first time that evening, she at felt a small sense of happiness. She waved the page boy away. Summoning her maid, she was soon wrapped in a cloak, and slipping from the room, she made her way down the back staircase. It was doubtful that Gilbert would know or care about her brief absence. And even if he did know of it, what then? What harm was there in going to the stables – even if Rene was there.


Stepping out into the courtyard, Isabella heard a faint rumble of thunder. It sounded distant, so she wasn’t concerned. She was quite certain there would be time to get to the stables, see the foal, and return to the house before the storm descended. As she approached the stable doors, a groom met her. After a bow, he led her to the stall, where she saw Rene waiting within. The groom moved off, leaving her alone with him.

Dual feelings battled within her at seeing him. His kind smile, given to her as he held up the lantern for illumination, generated a warmth within her that she could not suppress. And yet, that very same smile created an odd feeling of tension. Why did he look at her in that way? She sensed that he knew he was troubling her, and found something pleasing in the act. Shaking her head, she tried to focus on the gangly creature that was standing near its mother. Isabella smiled, looking at the newborn colt with great joy.

“What a handsome fellow he is. And not a trace of white do I see. His coat is pure black, as was his father’s. How lovely.”

In the moment that followed, she felt Rene’s eyes on her. She had felt that same gaze before, but it was often given in moments when she could distract herself from it. When given among the presence of others, it was easy to ignore. But here, with only his company, it felt entirely different. Inescapable. And it could not go on. Stiffening her posture, she spoke in a haughty tone of voice, directing her eyes forward.

“Monsieur Jean-Bastien, why do you examine me so? It is most inappropriate.”

There was a sweetness in his reply that moved her, despite her inner struggle to resist his pleasantness. His words were soft and kind.

“Your smile, my lady. It has captured my attention. Such a gentle expression suits you well.”

Gathering her inner strength, determined to put him in his proper place, she turned to him with a haughty look and a sharp reply. “You are too bold. It is not your place to flatter.”

Her scolding seemed not to affect him or his manner. He answered in that same way – softly and sweetly.

“Forgive me, my lady. I did not intend to give offense. I merely wished to compliment.”

A momentary sting of remorse pained her. If only he would act as he was meant to, she would not have to rebuke him so harshly. Why did he insist on showing her such kindness, when they both knew it would come to nothing?

“Do not make such attempts at pleasantry,” she said. “They are most unwelcome.”

His reply was a rather bold one…and something of a challenge.

“Are they truly unwelcome?”

Stunned by his daring question, she could find no quick response. In truth, how could she not desire words of admiration? God knew, Gilbert offered nothing in the way of pretty words or tender sentiments.

“You are not experienced with compliments,” said Rene. “Am I wrong in assuming so?”

How does he know such things? She wondered. How does he see so well into my soul? For a moment, she considered a soft, truthful response to his question. But a sudden wave of prideful courage came over her.

“You and I should not be having this conversation. It is most indecent.”

He shrugged. “Is it indecent to converse with a fellow human being? I find such a notion to be most absurd.”

It is absurd, she thought. Here was a handsome, charming gentleman, one who offered her his kindness and generosity, and her pride dictated that she treat him as what he was…someone of lower status. Someone she had no right to have friendly feelings for. And yet, she could not help being swayed by his gentleness. Such softening of her feelings must have shown in her features, for he looked at her and spoke with eagerness.

“Ah, I see we are not entirely in disagreement. Your words declare me an offense to your person, but your look says otherwise.”

With a small sigh, she relented…but only by a small measure. “Monsieur Jean-Bastien, I will not attempt to deny that your kindness is appreciated. But I…”

“Will you address me by my given name? I find formality to be so disagreeable at times. When I was a boy, I found my title to be quite burdensome.”

Her mouth fell slightly open. Had she heard him correctly? Surely not, she thought. But how could she know for certain unless she asked? Looking at him, her eyes were shining with curiosity.

“Title? What title?”

At that moment, she was too overwhelmed with interest to care about propriety. Despite her pride, she longed to know the meaning of his words. But he stunned her by a sudden change in his behavior. Turning away from her, he moved out of the stall, passing by her as he replied in a cool manner.

“Forgive me, madam. I have spoken too much,” he said. “As you have reminded me, conversation between us is most inappropriate. So I will bid you a pleasant evening.”

He began organizing tools, perhaps as a way to convince her that it truly was his intention to end their conversation. But how could he be so cruel as to leave her dangling so? Following him, she took on a firm stance and tone of voice.

“Do not be impertinent!” she scolded him. “You began your tale with the intent of intriguing me. And you have succeeded, owing to the failure of my common sense. So speak, if you please.”

He seemed hesitant to do so. He was teasing her, she came to realize. She might have struck him for it. But he answered soon enough, unwittingly saving himself from the force of her hand.

“I was born of a noble family,” he said, “But I was ousted for my behavior.”

Her eyes grew large with surprise. “You are jesting,” she declared.

He shrugged. “The details are rather dull, my lady. And the hour is late. Perhaps I should save my tale for another day.”

A little grin crinkled the corner of his mouth. Smug bastard that he was, he was delighting in this game he was playing. She fought the urge to throttle him for his behavior. With an indignant glare, she lashed out at him.

“Monsieur Rene, you are a most troublesome lout.”

Turning away, she took an angry stride towards the door…pausing when he answered her with a cheeky remark.

“So I am, my lady. But it has been said that I am a charming lout.”

How hard it was not to respond to him in some way…not to laugh, or turn and look at him. She was almost certain he wore a look of triumph, having bested her as he had. Somehow, she managed to walk away. But she could not keep from smiling as she hurried back towards the house.


She narrowly escaped the storm, crossing the rear threshold just as the rain came pouring down. As her maid servant came forth, helping her to remove her cloak, Isabella wore a hint of a smile. In her mind, she heard a small voice of rationality, reminding her of the danger that would come if she forgot herself. She would be foolish to grow fond of Rene, who was a very great threat. His arrogance made him more so, for it seemed he was fearless in this game he played. It seemed he took pleasure in it. And God help her, she was finding it difficult not to be drawn in by his wicked ways.

A short time later, as Therese helped prepare her for bed, she thought of the words that had passed between herself and Rene.

Title, she thought. It seemed laughable to believe that a lowly servant had once been someone of importance. The idea of it seemed too ridiculous to imagine. But then, if it was not the truth, why had his declaration seemed so unprompted, as though he had made an unwanted slip of the tongue?

Once she had donned her nightdress, she waved Therese away, wanting to be alone with her thoughts. Easing herself into the softness of bed, covering herself to the waist with the coverlet, she sighed at the inevitability of her own defeat.

He had found her weakness. She craved companionship, as she had so little of it in her life, even though she had several female friends and acquaintances. They satisfied a basic need for socialization, but there was so much more that she longed for. The casual conversation shared at parties was not enough.

Though her marriage was an empty, cold existence, she was not ignorant of affection between a man and a woman. She had distant memories of being pursued, at age twelve, by a boy from a neighboring household. It had been so long ago, but it felt like only yesterday. Rowland had stolen sweet kisses from her, and they had played silly games of pursuit. In her girlish dreams, she had imagined marrying him. But such dreams had never come to fruition. Gilbert was the husband chosen for her, and there was nothing to be done about it. It was of small concern that he considered her as little more than a part of a business transaction, for in truth, it was what she was. She had always been aware of such a fact. But she could not forget those fleeting moments of affection she had once cherished. And now, it seemed as if Rowland had somehow been restored to her…in the form of a bold-as-brass stable boy.

Frustrated by her own foolishness, she shook her head, and snuffing out the candle, she buried herself under the covers with a great huff. In the morning, she would think of some way to save herself from her own weakness. But for now, she hoped to find refuge in the peaceful realm of sleep.


A hand shook her shoulder. She brushed it away, trying to prolong the warm, safe, pleasurable delight of dreaming. But the hand was insistent. As was the voice.

"Madame, le Seigneur est parti. Il a quitté il n'y a pas longtemps."

“My lady, his lordship has gone. He departed a short while ago.”

Isabella forced her heavy eyes to open. Her dream had been so pleasant. But this news was worth waking for.

"Merci, Thérèse,” she said. “Est-ce que le Seigneur a dit quand il reviendra?"

“Thank you, Therese. Did the baron say when he would return?”

"Non, Madame. On ne disait qu'il part vers Morgiou"

“No, my lady. It was said only that he departs for Morgiou.”

Morgiou was a long distance away…nearly fifty miles. There, Gilbert would be occupied with his mistress, among other things, and it was unlikely that he would be in a hurry to return.

Isabella felt a spring of happiness bubbling up inside of her. But she was careful to temper the flow of her feelings. Even Therese, her faithful maidservant, could not be witness to her expressions of extreme delight over Gilbert’s departure. She was careful to maintain a dignified air as Therese helped her wash and dress. As the last laces were tightened, she spoke calmly to her servant.

“C'est dire que Henri va rompre mon rapide ici. Il peut superviser le repas à ma place.”

“Tell Henri I will break my fast here. He may oversee the meal in my stead.”

Therese nodded. “Oui, madame.”

There was a certain pattern to every day…a rhythm for everything, even for the simple matter of having meals. As a noblewoman, she had certain duties that were expected of her, although Gilbert thought her unequal to any task beyond sewing, gardening, and the like. His steward, Henri, was his preferred choice for handling household matters, and this morning, Isabella was glad to let him do it. She felt a great need to think only of herself…within reason, of course. It would not do to rush madly about with a great smile, declaring to the world about how joyous it felt to be free of a tyrant.

But she would enjoy a quiet meal without incident. Perhaps she would enjoy a leisurely bath in the middle of the day. She certainly intended to go riding, and at the thought of horses, her face grew warm.

She had dreamed of Rene last night. Even in her dreams, she had been shocked by his sudden appearance…and even more shocked to realize she found pleasure in his presence. Pleasure that was more than friendly.

He had kissed her without invitation. Those kisses had fallen on her face and lips with soft, tender sweetness – reminding her of those long ago days with Rowland. They had only been brief kisses, but her heart had beaten wildly with each one. And then, it had ended. But the wondrous feeling remained.

She pressed her palms to her cheeks, feeling the warmth growing there. But a smile grew with it.

It was wrong to feel such things. But suddenly, she found herself unable to care. Happiness was swelling in her heart, and she felt content to let it flow at will. Rene was a contributor to that happiness, whether or not she wished him to be.

Hang all rules, she thought. I have been a captive to misery for too long, and I will have some joy in this life.


Cantering across the fields, she felt her spirits rising. How fitting it was that today was a holiday. It was the day to honor Saint Denys, and after a morning spent in worship, all were permitted to spend their day as they wished. Most of the servants took the opportunity to visit loved ones, leaving the house in a very quiet state. Isabella found pleasure in the sunshine and open air. As she moved along, her mind wandered to thoughts of Rene. How was he spending his holiday?

As if designed by fate, she found her answer, lying on a grassy knoll. She knew it was him, despite the hat that covered his face as he rested there. She could not resist approaching him. He drew her in without effort…without words or action. Riding up to him, she looked down at his lanky body, stretched out in a lazy fashion.

“Is this how you choose to spend your day?”

In a leisurely movement of his hand, he removed his hat, and looking up at her, he smiled. “Good afternoon, my lady.”

He was so dashing, so arrogant, even when giving a mere greeting. She tried her best to temper her delight as she responded.

“Most people would choose to spend their day of freedom with family or friends.”

He shrugged. “I have neither. So what would you have me do?”

In her heart, she felt a pang of sympathy for him. But was his account genuine? If only there was some way to know for certain.

“Am I to believe a rogue’s tale?” she asked. “You say you have no friends, no family. You say you once had a title. How am I to know the truth?”

Sitting up, he looked at her with a serious turn of expression. “If you require proof, I can provide it.”

Intrigued, she gave him a curious look. “How might you do that?”

She watched as he reached into his shirt, removing a ring suspended from a thin chain around his neck.

“Come,” he said. “See the evidence for yourself.”

Taking in a calming breath, she considered what the consequences would be if she took the bait. Would he do something untoward? Her good sense told her to turn her horse and ride away. But a strange sense of daring gripped her. And she found herself getting down from her horse.

Cautiously, she approached him, lured in by the shiny little object he was dangling. Boldly, she snatched it away. Examining it, she was surprised to find it as genuine proof of his former status.

“This is a signet ring,” she said. “I have seen this seal.”

He nodded. “The seal of the house of Jean-Bastien. Do you think it a coincidence that I share the name of a comte?”

Handing the trinket back to him, her curiosity grew. “You are a puzzlement, Rene. But how am to know that you did not steal such a ring, and that the name you claim to own is not truly yours?”

He laughed then, a soft and delighted sound of utter amusement. It was so difficult to be cross with him when he was being so jovial.

“My lady,” he said. “You have quite an imagination. And I daresay, a sad inability to lower your guard.”

Such a statement stung. And she replied with a sharp answer.

“With a man such as you, I am wise to be cautious.”

As he came to his feet, her instincts told her to flee. But she remained where she stood, watching him as he drew closer to her. There was a curious look on his face.

“Baroness, might I make an inquiry that has been on my mind for some time?”

It was dangerous to indulge his curiosity. But she could not help herself.

“What do you wish to know?” she asked.

He came closer, until they were nearly toe to toe. His voice was soft.

“Does your husband kiss you as he should?”

His question was too bold, too shocking…and it frightened her, because it had touched upon such a personal subject. She took a step back from him.

“That is not for you to know.”

He slowly advanced on her with a little smile. “Therin lies my answer.”

She tried to step away, but she found his hand holding her arm in a firm but gentle grip.

“You are afraid of me,” he said.

He was touching on too many truths. It did, indeed, make her frightened…not of him, but of herself. She tried one last effort of being bold.

“You flatter yourself, and I find it appalling.”

He responded with an upward curl of his lip.

“I think your pride speaks for you,” he said. “And I wonder how it would be to hear words from the Baroness LaCroix herself.”

She was rooted to the spot where she stood, unable to move. His face was drawing near hers, and she knew he would kiss her. Her heart hammered like mad as his lips fell softly on hers. The shock of it was only momentary, as he stirred feelings in her that set her senses reeling. It was over nearly as quickly as it began, as he pulled back and broke their contact. Somehow, she managed words of reproach, spoken breathlessly.

“You are a revolting cad.”

His reply was swift. “And you are a beautiful woman who deserves more than what that swine offers you.”

He was right. And oh, how she wanted to tell him so. Instead, she felt a wave of fear take over her. She backed away, shaking her head.

“I cannot do this,” she stammered. “Please, just leave me be.” Before he could stop her, she rushed to her horse and rode away, fearful of what might happen if she stayed.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Meeting Richard Armitage...A possibility?

I will admit it. I've dreamed of meeting Richard. I've imagined exactly what I would say, how I would act...and how I would NOT act. I'm sure that if my wish of meeting him came true, I would fall apart and forget how to speak, or I would talk so fast that he wouldn't understand what I was saying. I would like to think I could keep it together, but knowing my luck, I would make a fool of myself, and polite though I know he would be, he would probably think I'm a lunatic. But the chances of ever meeting him are pretty much nil.

Or are they?

We all know that RA will likely be doing promotional work in the US when "The Hobbit" premieres next year. There will be big events in major cities, most likely New York and Los Angeles. He'll be promoting on talk shows and such. But there is a slight possibility that he'll actually be a place a bit more accessable, at least for me.

I will explain...

Just outside of Chicago, (Where I grew up) there is a unique movie theater venue called "Hollywood Boulevard" and their sister theater, "Hollywood Palms." It is a fantastic place to see a show. You can order dinner and have a drink while you see your movie, and the building itself is worth the price of admission. So much to see, you need a camera. If you're ever in the Chicagoland area, you really should visit.

"Hollywood Blvd. Lobby"
They are a hot spot for movie premieres, and it's a tradition for celebrities to stop by when they are in town. Not only that, but for big movie premieres, (i.e. Twilight, Harry Potter, etc.) they usually have a cast member doing a meet and greet. Last year, during "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," they had none other than Draco Malfoy himself. And that leads me to my point...

Who will they have for "The Hobbit" premiere? It isn't likely they will get Martin Freeman or Sir Ian McKellan, but is there a chance they could book *Gasp* Richard Armitage??

It's not altogether out of the realm of possibilities. They've had some of the biggest names in Hollywood in their venue, including...

Jennifer Hudson
Jane Russell
Tony Curtis
Debbie Reynolds
Burt Reynolds
David Carradine
Dan Akroyd
Michael Madsen
Shirley Jones
Tippi Hedren

I won't list them all, as it would take too long. But to make a long story short, they deliever the star power. So maybe, just maybe, they'll manage to get a certain dwarf? I've already been in contact with them, trying to figure out who they will get (And making a certain suggestion.) So far, they say it's too far in advance to tell. But they can be sure, they haven't heard the last of me. I'll be making inquiries over the coming months, and I will definately keep everyone updated as to what their plans are.

Maybe they'll get the hint that a Thorin meet and greet would be a TREMENDOUS success. Maybe I'll finally know if I can keep it together.

A girl can dream, right? :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The Baron's Lady" Intro, Part One

Hello, dear readers. I've finally gotten my writing groove back on track, and here is the newest Gisborne story. This is the introduction, so it will be a little longer than the posts that follow. I will try to post at least once a week, if time permits. Also, this isn't the absolute final edition of the story. It will have some tweaks made before it's published, you're getting a first look. I hope you enjoy it!


Marseilles, France
October, 1212

Owen raised himself up in his boots, trying to look a little taller. He was not a short young man…not by any means. At roughly six feet tall, his height was considerable, compared to some. He only wished he could match his father’s impressive stance. Guy of Gisborne was a man of great height and breadth, and his presence was always felt when he entered a room. Owen was hopeful that one day, he would achieve such greatness. He had always favored his father in looks, sharing his dark hair and grey eyes. And he was, after all, a Gisborne. He was a baron, and the heir to a handsome estate. What woman would not want his favor?

Owen looked around at the many guests in attendance, all of whom were there to celebrate his sister’s wedding. That morning, Theodora had married Sir Lucien Caier de Neuville, and the celebration was continuing long into the night. The entire manor was alive with merriment, and Owen stood among a small group of fellows, admiring the many young ladies that were present.

He had not decided on a bride. His sisters had been matched with their husbands since childhood, but he had the luxury of selecting his wife. It was a decision he intended to consider carefully, but he knew there were several years yet before he had to make a definite choice. He was nearly seventeen, but still a squire. Marriage would not be a requirement until he achieved knighthood, and that would not be until his twenty-first year. There was plenty of time to choose…and plenty of time to appreciate all of the feminine beauty that surrounded him.

He felt a light jab in his ribs. Looking at the man next to him, he saw his brother-in-law smirking. Lucien stood head and shoulders above most men, but his striking physicality stood in contrast to a friendly and jovial soul. Owen was his squire, but it was a position he took pleasure in. They were very close, sharing many a confidence and frequently jesting with one another.

“I see your eyes are wandering,” said Lucien. “Do you spot a lady fair among the crowd?”

Owen shrugged. “I am in no rush to choose. And besides, I am yet young. When it comes to female pursuits, I am in no rush to form a permanent attachment.”

Lucien’s amber eyes shined with masculine playfulness. “You wish only to dip your wick, eh?”

Owen grinned. “Something to that effect.”

Lucien might have spoken with a lewd tongue, but it was common knowledge that he was deeply in love with his new bride, and when he spoke in such a bawdy manner, it was only to keep a manly presence among other men. He was smitten with the woman he had married. No one dared tease him about it, of course, out of respect for his pride. But Owen was quite certain that when it came to men who fell in love, he and most of his comrades shared the same thought.

Poor bastards.

Not all men were doomed to fall in love with their wives. But it seemed that the ones who did were bound to lose their sense of self. Oh, they would keep up appearances, of course. They would manage their estates and serve their sovereign when called upon. Such men would still act as men when it came to hunting, hawking, and other sports. But behind closed doors, they would become helpless creatures indeed. Lucien was one of those unfortunate souls. How else to explain his total devotion to someone like Thea? He shuddered at the thought of it. And Lucien noticed.

“Something troubles your mind?”

Owen shook himself from his thoughts. “Nothing of consequence,” he replied. “Besides, I have no wish to offend.”

In response, he was given a hard slap to his back. Lucien smiled. “You are among family here. Speak!”

With a shrug, Owen expressed his thoughts. “Can you really love a woman like my sister? She’s a shrew.”

Lucien chuckled. “To you, perhaps. But to me, she is a gift. And besides. What is life without an occasional challenge?”

Owen’s shrugged. “She will certainly provide you with that.”

He and his older sister had always been at odds. It was horrible to admit, and he never would have said so out loud, but he and Thea were very much alike in their personalities. Their quick tempers and bluntness of opinions had often caused them to butt heads. It was a fortunate thing, then, that they had a source of calm to ease such tempests.

Owen glanced over at his beloved mother. Cassia Gisborne was the strongest woman he knew, and yet she managed to have a gentle, calming influence on those around her. His younger sister, Evelyn, was very much like her, and it was certain that one day, Evie would make a most lovely and suitable wife. It was an unspoken truth among everyone, but no one was more influenced by Lady Cassia than her husband. She and Guy stood together, talking. It was clear to see, watching them, that their conversation was an intimate one. Whatever they spoke of, it was a subject meant for only the two of them, as was evident from the way they looked at one another.

In their particular case, he could understand the idea of love. It had always seemed to him that fate had intended them for one another. They were, after all, his mother and father, and he could not imagine two people being more perfectly matched. That was how it was meant to be.

He was glad for their happiness, of course. But he couldn’t imagine himself being so content. Not in terms of devoting himself to another person. His devotion had always been to the knighthood…to the code shared by his brothers in arms. He could think of nothing nobler than giving his heart and soul to the crown.

But his heart and soul were one matter. The rest of his being was an entirely different issue. Of late, there seemed to be a war raging between his noble ambitions and his baser human instincts. And he secretly feared that his instincts were gaining the upper hand.

As a boy, it had been a simple matter. Girls were the enemy. He had been polite to them, but only to a point. Now that he was a man, things had changed considerably. As before, women were to be admired for their beauty, and treated with the utmost respect. In looking for a bride, a man was expected to choose a mate of the finest pedigree. But manhood had taught him that not all women were perfect. Sometimes, what appeared on the surface was only a polished veneer.

As his gaze drifted over the crowd, it came to stop on a familiar face. A neighbor, she was, and a friend of the family. The Baroness LaCroix seemed to be all that a man could desire. For a woman, she was rather tall. It was impossible to tell, due to her long flowing gown of burgundy velvet, but he was sure her legs were long. Lord, there was something arousing about a woman with long, shapely legs. His experience with women was limited to the occasional soft company that visited the barracks, but it had been a thorough education, and he had quickly made his mind up about his favorite female feature.

As for the rest of the baroness, there was nothing to find fault with. She was slender, with nicely rounded hips and a small but pert bosom. At first glance, with her blonde hair and fair skin, she had a delicate appearance. But it was off-set when one actually met her. Her eyes were a deep shade of brown, and they looked upon a speaker with a direct and almost fierce gaze. She moved and spoke with a most confident air. She was, indeed, a glorious sight to behold.

But she was a forbidden temptation. She was a married woman, to begin with. But if the rumors were true, she was not at all pleased with her husband, and was seeking company elsewhere. Looking at the portly baron, who was standing a considerable distance away from his wife, one could almost pity Isabella for being shackled to him. He was, in truth, an uncouth and slovenly fellow.

Lucky bastard, Owen thought, To have a woman like that in his bed.

He shook his head to regain his senses. It was wrong to have lustful thoughts about such a woman. After all, lust was a sin. His own brother, a respected student of the church, had written sermons on the evils of fornication and other vices.

No one knew the truth of the matter, and so they were all polite to Isabella when in her presence. But secretly, she was the subject of many a whispered conversation. Looking at her, it wasn’t hard to believe that she could entice any man she set her sights on. She was the ultimate temptress. His gaze was fixed on her, and he could not look away. As she conversed, she smiled softly, and he found himself imagining what it would be like to kiss her. Her mouth looked so soft and sensual, her full lips a delicate shade of rose color.

He chastised himself for his immoral thoughts. Good God, man, he told himself. Come to your senses.

Even if the stories about her were only hearsay, it was better not to think of her. A man of honor tried to avoid such dubious company.

But being honorable was not always easy. His mind had perfect intentions, but his body and mind were in constant rebellion. And as far as temptations went, Lady Isabella was proving to be a real danger to his good sense. He moved out of her line of sight, determined to put such a woman far from his thoughts.


Isabella sipped her wine, only half-listening to the conversation among her circle of friends. Unlike many of her female companions, who gathered at these celebrations solely for the purpose of socializing, her own reasons were of a much more personal nature.

A steward appeared at her side. “More wine, my lady?”

Smiling, she held out her cup to be filled, thanking the young gentleman. It wasn’t customary to be gracious to a servant, or even to acknowledge their presence. But in the Gisborne home, there were many things that defied convention.

She adored the Gisborne home. There were certainly dwellings that were larger, and more lavishly appointed, and while the Gisborne estate was by no means small or plain, it was without the austerity of other manor houses. When walking through its doors, a guest felt an immediate sense of warmth and serenity. The floor rushes were always fresh, scented with varieties of dried flower petals and chamomile leaves, which gave a sweet air to the rooms. An army of servants was on hand to cater to every whim, and their duties were performed with the utmost respect and kindness. This was to be expected, of course, from any underling. But Guy of Gisborne’s servants seemed genuinely pleased with their duties, perhaps because their master did not allow them to be abused, and their mistress treated them with great kindness.

Turning her head, she set her gaze on the lord and lady of the manor.

They were, each in their own way, rather unusual. Guy of Gisborne was, in a word, animale. It was a bold description, perhaps. But Isabella could not think of a better way to depict the man who walked with such a predatory stride. When surveying his domain, he had a raptor-like quality, not just in the way he both held his head and turned it, but in his very direct and piercing gaze. His pale blue eyes looked most intently upon a speaker, often causing them to look away. There were only a select few who did not feel intimidated by him…and only one person who could soften the fierceness of his features, seemingly without effort.

Lady Cassia was not, at first glance, an extraordinary beauty, although she certainly possessed several fine qualities. Her hair was thick and wavy, its shade a lustrous chestnut brown, and it contrasted in a lovely way with her creamy complexion. But it was her eyes, perhaps, that were her most stunning feature. They were dark and deep in their color, and when she smiled, her eyes shined with a marvelous and joyful light. And it was that light that transformed her into a most exquisite creature.

Cassia was a woman who was loved. When she smiled, it was clear that her happiness came from within. She had the deep devotion of her children, who were fiercely protective of her. For her generosity and kindness, she was near and dear to her friends, and her servants. But most of all, she had the love of a husband who absolutely worshipped her.

Guy of Gisborne drew near his wife, and as Isabella saw his approach, she turned her eyes away. Her smile faded. It was sometimes difficult to watch Sir Guy and Lady Cassia together, particularly on a happy occasion such as this. They often shared certain looks when they were together…looks that were subtle, for the sake of decorum. But there was no mistaking the powerful meaning behind each shared glance. One had only to watch Sir Guy’s expression, and it was clear to see how besotted he was. How they were. As passionately as he looked at his wife, she was equally enamored with her husband. And the thought of it tore at Isabella’s heart.

She thought of them as kind and gracious neighbors, and Lady Cassia was one of her good friends. But how could she not feel envious of them? Especially when she thought of the beast she was chained to. With a despondent sigh, she took another sip of wine.

A close friend, Lady Emmaline Beauchard, was seated beside her. At twenty-three years old, Emmaline and Isabella were the same age, and they shared much in common…most notably, a dislike for their husbands. While Isabella’s husband was fat and slovenly, with a quick temper and a taste for drink, Lady Beauchard’s husband was fashioned like a reed, with a demeanor that was nearly as stiff. Beyond his duties to the crown, his time and attention were devoted to his prized Arabian horses, and there was little else that gave him joy. Hearing her companion’s little sigh of displeasure, Lady Beauchard whispered to her friend.

“Isabella,” she asked, “Are you unwell?”

Isabella, taken from her thoughts, tried to smile. “I am perfectly well, Emma. Only lost in thought.”

Her confidante examined her with soft hazel eyes. “I know a look of sadness when I see it, my friend.” Lowering her voice to a whisper, Emma spoke of the trouble she knew Isabella was thinking about. “He sits a great distance away, and yet he still burdens you.”

They dared not say names out loud. It was audacious enough that they should speak of their husbands in a negative way.

“If only we had the freedoms that men have,” said Emma. “You and I would certainly be happier for it.”

In the corner of Isabella’s mouth, a tiny smile formed. “Were I granted the gift of choice, I would use a most discerning eye.”

She and Emma shared a laugh. In private moments, they had often spoken about what they dreamed of, particularly when it came to men. They both knew that there was no hope of finding another mate. It just wasn’t done, not even if, heaven forbid, they were to become widowed. But no one could keep them from imagining the joy of something better.

As Isabella turned her attention away from Emma, her eyes fell on the face of young Owen Gisborne. For a few moments, her attention was held by his striking profile. He was every bit his father’s son, right down to the angular facial features and the black, unruly waves of hair that fell over his forehead. Like his father, he had a proud air about him. He was arrogant, even. All of his features might have come together to make him a sensual, alluring creature…were it not for the fact that he was only a boy. He was not yet seventeen, and hardly enough of a man to consider him in any way.

Suddenly, he turned his head, meeting her eye. She quickly looked away, hoping that he hadn’t seen her staring, and she chastised herself for having such immoral thoughts.


Theodora and Lucien rushed, hand in hand, through the crowd of well-wishers gathered in the courtyard. Flower petals, tossed into the air, slowly showered down on them. Lucien assisted his bride into the open carriage, and then he stood, holding a small velvet purse. Emptying the contents into his palm, he pitched the coins aloft as the guests cheered, and a moment later, the coach departed.

Lady Cassia, watching through tears, clung close to her husband. As she dabbed her eyes with a kerchief, she stole a glance at him. Her heart swelled, moved by the expression on his face.

He was trying so hard to be cool and composed. This was indeed a happy occasion. But the joy expressed was intended to be about the gaining of finance and security…not about love. It was what marriages were supposed to be about. Guy of Gisborne had chosen his daughter’s husband long ago, and by all accounts, he had chosen well. Sir Lucien was a knight of great wealth and reputation. Both he and his bride were young and healthy, so it was expected that they would soon have a family. There was little more that a father and mother could hope for.

Cassia was pleased by her new son-in-law’s status, but his goodness of heart made her happier than any amount of money or property he possessed. He genuinely loved Thea, and though it was painful to lose her eldest daughter, Cassia was joyful for them both. She knew that Guy was happy too. But at that moment, such a feeling was buried deep in his heart. Right then, despite his attempts to hide it, he was overwhelmed by despair. Gently, she clasped his hand, and in a soft voice, she tried to console him.

“She will not be far away. The Chateau de Neville neighbors us. It is less than a half-day’s ride from here.”

In response, he looked at her and tried to smile. But he did not speak. Seeing the lump in his throat, she realized he was doing all that he could to keep his composure.

My darling husband, she thought. What a wonderfully soft-hearted creature you are.

She did not tell him so. Not when there were so many eyes watching and ears listening. But he was in need of consolation. It would not do, of course, for him to be seen accepting her comfort. But there were ways around such rules.

A soft sigh escaped her. “My heart is heavy as well,” she said to him. It was not a complete untruth. She did feel a certain sadness that their beloved first-born daughter was now a woman grown and married. But Guy felt it more keenly than she did. He cared very deeply for his family, and it showed in his expression as he looked at her. But it was Evelyn and William, standing near them, who first voiced their concerns. Coming forward, Evelyn took Cassia’s hand. In her gentle way, she inquired after her mother’s health.

“Mama, are you all right?”

William looked over his sister’s shoulder. “You look quite sad, Mama. Is there anything we might do?”

Cassia smiled at their sweetness. She stroked Evelyn’s hand, and touched her palm to William’s cheek.

“I will be well,” she replied. Turning to Guy, she looked up at him, speaking softly. “But I would be more agreeable if I could escape the sea of humanity for a time.”

He met her eyes, and they needed no words. They knew each other so well, each able to read the other, as though their thoughts were written on one another’s faces. Guy turned to Owen, who was standing beside him.

“My son, your mama needs a moment of peace. We will both retire for a rest, so I must insist that you stand in my stead. See to our guests needs.”

Owen nodded eagerly. “Of course, Papa. I will organize a fox hunt. I am sure our guests will be most eager for it.”

Guy gave him a hard slap on the arm, and as she so often had, Cassia observed their “affection.” Such gestures between them were not unusual. She only wished there could be something softer between a father and son. With her daughters, she shared an openness of caring and love, frequently sharing embraces and kisses. But such tenderness was not to be expressed among men, except perhaps with William. He was a deacon of the church, hoping to soon be ordained as a priest, and it was perfectly acceptable for a man of the cloth to be gentle in nature. But it was not so with other men, particularly those like Owen, who lived and breathed the knighthood. Saddened by the thought of it, as she had often found herself to be, she let out a long, soft sigh. Guy, sensing her trouble, drew her closer to his side. He looked down at her.

“Perhaps we will go for a ride, so we might enjoy the morning air.”

She smiled at him. “That would be lovely.”

They rode out together, Guy on his black stallion and Cassia on her grey mare. Once out of sight of the manor, they left their horses behind, choosing to enjoy a long and leisurely walk. Reaching up to lift Cassia from the saddle, he kissed her lips as he set her on her feet. There was a sad glint in his eye, even as he expressed his gratitude to her.

“Thank you for creating such a ploy to grant me my freedom.”

“It was equally desired by me,” she replied, taking his arm. “Today has been trying for us both.”

As they walked, heading towards a sunny spot that overlooked their estate, Guy grumbled. “How I do loathe weddings.”

Despite the surliness of his tone, a slight smile remained on her lips. Leaning into him, she spoke with a tone of amusement.

“Surely, husband, you do not loathe the thought of all weddings. I would hope that at least one would remain a happy event in your memory.”

Looking up at him, she saw how his expression softened and warmed, and he put his arm around her waist, drawing her closer.

“I think of that occasion as the most blessed day of my life. Especially when I recall our wedding night.”

She felt the strengthening of his hold on her, and it gave her a warm thrill, even as she playfully scolded him. “Naughty wretch.”

Such playfulness never ceased to delight or…or to stir her senses. His bawdiness had grown more subtle over the years, but their desire for one another had never waned. If anything, their love was deeper now than it had ever been, although its expression was not as volatile as it had once been. In those first days, although he had been the happiest of men, Guy had always lived with a sense of fear. There had been little hope of convincing him that calamity did not wait around every corner. Time had gradually mellowed him, allowing him to spend more time enjoying life rather than worrying so. And yet, he still had his melancholy moments, particularly when it came to his daughters.

As they came to their favorite spot, where a fallen tree provided a comfortable resting place, he sat down, and she placed herself on his knee. As she leaned her head against him, he sighed deeply. His tone was mournful.

“Our nuptials are the only ones to bring joy to my heart. It pains me to think that Evelyn will one day marry. I have just lost one daughter. How can I bear to lose another?”

She saw the way he lowered his head. They had been through such scenes countless times of late, and she had spent many a day and night trying to comfort him about the inevitable loss of his beloved daughters. But she had brought him here to take his mind off of that matter.

“What of Owen?” she asked.

He lifted his head. Seeing the slight look of confusion in his expression, she realized she had chosen the right approach for a change of subject. Guy shook his head. “What of him?” he replied.

Pressing her cheek against his breast, she kept her tone light. “He will one day marry as well.”

Guy’s tone of response pleased her. His heart was soft for his daughters, but it was full of pride for his sons. Owen, especially.

“Yes, of course Owen will marry,” he said. “But he will remain at home. And, God willing, he will be blessed with many heirs. That is certainly a drop of sweet in much that is bitter.”

Sitting up a little straighter, she felt a sudden weight on her heart. It was not a heavy burden, but it was enough to dim the brightness of her mood. While Guy’s spirits seemed to have lifted, she felt her own spirits sinking.

“Perhaps so,” she replied. “Although I must confess, my thoughts of Owen have brought me much concern of late.”

His arms gathered her closer. She had brought him here to soothe him, but now it seemed that their roles had reversed, and in truth, she was glad of it. When he urged her to share her troubles, she did so gladly. His voice was warm and gentle. He placed a soft kiss on her temple.

“Tell me your thoughts, my love.”

She felt fortunate to have a husband who asked of her thoughts and feelings, and she was glad now to confide in him. Giving another small sigh, she spoke of their youngest son.

“I fear his nature, Guy. He has never been a boy of great warmth or tenderness.”

For the first time in many days, there was a note of amusement in Guy’s tone. He had not always been swift to correct Owen’s behavior, which was sometimes more aggressive than it needed to be. Guy seemed to take pride in his son’s brash tendencies. As he pressed his cheek against her hair, he spoke proudly of Owen.

“He is a young man, beloved. And one day soon, he will be a knight of fearsome ability. I find great pleasure in such a prospect.”

She felt him becoming more at ease. But she felt herself growing tense, and a hint of frustration found its way into her words.

“He is passionate about his duties, yes. But will he express such passion for the woman he chooses?”

Guy chuckled lightly. “It is perhaps difficult to hear, my love. But passion is not a requirement of marriage. Although, I have been glad to find it in ours.”

He had, indeed, become lighter of mood, as she could tell from his words and soft tone of voice. But she could not share in his amusement about Owen and the subject of matrimony. It was not a woman’s place to question such matters, and this she knew. But Guy had never chastised her for voicing her opinion. He had often said that he expected such behavior of her, and that to find her docile and quiet would cause him great concern. There would be no need for that now, as her feelings rose and demanded voice, although she spoke calmly at first.

“I am aware that marriages are not made for love,” she replied. “They are made for financial gain, and for the assurance of the male lineage.”

Guy nodded, his reply matter-of-factly spoken. “That is how it is, yes.”

She could contain what she felt no longer, and her voice rose in defiance.

“It is a most foolish thing!”

He lifted his head, the movement quickened by the suddenness of her outburst. But the corner of his mouth rose. She knew he reveled in her outspokenness, and she could see in his eyes that he was quite delighted at that moment. But pleasing him was not her present intention. The aching in her heart was quite real.

“It pains me to think that my future daughter-in-law may not know the happiness that I have known. How can we be certain that Owen will provide his mate with the love she deserves?”

She lifted her head to look at him, and there was still amusement shining in his eyes. His reply was calm, his intention clearly meant to soothe her.

“He is not a monster, my darling. He is not incapable of feeling.”

“I am aware of that,” she replied. “He has his rare moments of goodness, although he would swear by oath that he is incapable of such actions. But I want him to be a good husband.

Guy laughed again, kissing the top of her head.

“Whomever Owen chooses, we must accept it. It is not our life to live. It is best left in the hands of fate.”

She scoffed. “Fate is not always to be trusted.”

He chuckled again, kissing her forehead and cheek. Despite her attempts to remain passive and sullen, she soon found herself smiling. When he was being so amiable, so delightfully sweet, how could she remain melancholy? And how, under his loving influence, could she not return his fervent affections?


The carriage hit a hole in the road, rattling the passengers inside the vehicle. One of them, being quite heavy in size and deep in sleep, hardly noticed the jostling. The other rubbed her shoulder, which had taken the brunt of the impact when she collided with the inner wall of the carriage.

At home, a favorite mare was preparing to foal, and Isabella very much wanted to be there to see it. It was her hope that the event had not occurred in her absence, but if perchance it did, at least she could take comfort in the knowledge that the mare’s caretaker was very capable. Thinking of that nice young gentleman, she smiled to herself.

Rene Jean-Bastien had such a gift with horses. And with people. He had an uncanny way of putting one right at ease, whether or not one wanted to be at ease with a common stable-hand. Recalling how, at first, she had dismissed him as nothing more than another lowly servant, she felt a slight sense of remorse. Despite her initial coldness towards him, he had never played the submissive worker. He was respectful, of course. But when he spoke to her, it was always with an air of such pleasantness, such warmth and kindness, that she could not help warming to him. They had never gone beyond exchanging a few words of politeness, mostly relating to the well-being of the horses. But a few moments in Rene’s company was preferable to the endless hours spent with the man now sitting beside her.

Gilbert snorted in his sleep. Isabella glanced at him for a moment, but when he reached down to scratch himself, she turned her head away in disgust.

Dear God, she silently prayed. Let him soon be gone away to his mistress.

It did not trouble her that he preferred the company of his mistress, although she sometimes wondered how any woman could tolerate his boorish company, let alone lying with him. She shuddered at the thought of it, recalling the horror of her wedding night, and the memory gave her even more cause to hope for his departure.

As the carriage slowed, Isabella heard Gilbert make a grumbling sound. She senses, without looking at him, that he was waking up, and it was her hope that he would refrain from speaking to her. But a severe pinch to her upper arm proved her wrong.

“Addle-headed dolt,” he muttered. “Why did you not wake me?”

Wincing at the pain of his correction, she still managed to give him a demure and proper response. “Forgive me, my lord. I thought it best to let you sleep.”

He grumbled a cold reply. “Do not attempt that which you were not meant for. Thinking is a masculine endeavor.”

His criticism stung, but the hurt was only momentary. She was accustomed to his cutting remarks, and when he got out of the carriage and left her behind, she was happy to see him go. Leaning out, taking the hand of a groom who assisted her, she stepped down with a weary sigh, and turning her head, she observed the stable-hands tending the carriage horses.

There he stood, loosening the harnesses. His head was turned away from her, so it allowed her a moment to observe him. He was young. Eighteen, if she remembered correctly. His features were quite fine. He was of middling height, with a muscular but lean figure, and a face that was boyishly handsome. With his blonde hair and green eyes, and a lovely dimpled smile, it was impossible not to notice him. Or to be drawn to him.

Oh, I am a fool, she thought. To crave the company of such a man.

It was the height of impropriety to think of keeping company with a man of such low status. But all she wanted was to spend a few lingering minutes with him. There was something about him that was so alluring. Would it be so wrong to inquire about the horses, particularly the mare? Surely there was no harm in that. But she knew she would have to maintain a certain demeanor – cool, calm, and if possible, indifferent to his delightful smile and charming nature. Approaching him, she saw him turn his head to look at her. And the moment he did, speaking to her in that warm way, she felt her resolve slipping.

“Good day, my lady. I hope your journey was tolerable.”

She felt a desire to tell him how miserable the trip home had been. It would be such a pleasure to unburden her thoughts and feelings to someone. God knew, she had much on her mind as far as troubles went. But he was not her friend, nor her confidante. In response to his question, she nodded, but gave no reply, except to question him.

“Has the mare foaled yet?”

He shook his head. “No, my lady. But I anticipate it will be very soon. Tonight, perhaps.”

Again she nodded, and again she posed a question. “You will inform me of it immediately?”

His smile was pleasant, as was his reply. “Of course.”

Oh, those eyes. That face. He was too tempting. Turning away from him, she walked into the manor, where the servants were bustling about as they saw to the lord and lady’s arrival. She turned to her lady-in-waiting.

“Therese, please draw me a bath. My poor muscles are in need of a hot soaking.”

“Yes, my lady.”

As she approached her dressing table, she paused suddenly. There, lying in the center of the table top, she saw a single red rose. Her room was often filled with flowers, as she found great joy in their scent and beauty. But this was altogether different. It had been placed there, deliberately. Who would have left such a token? Certainly not the servants. What cause did they have to do such a thing? As she pondered the mystery, a most daring possibility came to her mind.

Surely not, she thought. He would not be foolish enough to make such a gesture.

Her face flushed red as she realized there was little doubt that it was he. Who else would have the gall to do such a thing? With a slightly trembling hand, she seized the flower and stowed it in a drawer. Turning quickly, she hurried toward the stairs in an angry fashion.

Now she would speak to him. How dare he be so bold? And what did he mean by such a gesture? It was common knowledge that red roses were a symbol of love and passion. If anyone had seen the token Rene had left, they would surely have suspected something. What right did a common stable-boy have to play such a game of risk? It was infuriating to imagine what might have happened.

In the front courtyard, the carriage and horses were being taken away to the stables. Isabella spotted Rene as he walked with the other men, and turning to a passing groom, she ordered him to fetch Rene. When he came to her, she allowed him only a few polite words before she chastised him.

“You summoned me, my lady?”

“How dare you!” she snapped.

He raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “How dare I what, my lady?”

He dared to play innocent, when his hint of a smile and the gleam in his eye told her the very truth? It was difficult to hold back her urge to slap him. Her voice rose in anger.

“You know very well what I speak of! How dare you invade the privacy of my chamber and leave such a gift?”

Looking at her, his tone became soft. “Forgive me, madam. I thought perhaps it might bring a moment of pleasure to your day.”

“It is not your place to see to my happiness!” she scolded him. “Either remember yourself or I will have your employment terminated. Is that understood?”

He lowered his head. “Yes, my lady.”

She sensed that her attempt at discipline had done little to move him or strike the proper cord of fear. Never in her life had she known such an incorrigible rascal. She did not know whether to be angry or amused, but it seemed the latter was gaining sway over her, and that would not do at all. Before the wrong response broke from her lips, she turned and walked away, determined not to let him see the effect he had on her.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Gisborne Christmas

Hello, everyone! This is just a little Christmas story that was in my head. It takes place before the birth of the Gisborne children. I hope you like it!

December, 1194

Marseilles, France

Something curious was going on.

Guy closely observed his wife, who was helping her sister-in-law hang boughs of holly and evergreen. Every now and then, he saw the unusual way in which Cassia smiled. Not that the expression itself was an odd thing. Indeed, she was one of the most cheerful people he knew, with a mischievous sense of humor, and a laugh that tingled his senses and set his heart to fluttering. One of his greatest pleasures was kissing her while she laughed. When their lips met during a moment of glee, he always felt such a great rush of giddy pleasure.

But looking at her now, he sensed there was something else there besides her usual gaiety. There was a light of childish delight written in her eyes, and he began to suspect that it was more than the yuletide activities that had her in such spirits. She had a secret, it seemed. And the way she occasionally glanced in his direction, only to avert her eyes while trying to hide her beaming expression, it made him deduce that her secret had something to do with him.

It was too hard to resist such a look. Approaching her, he saw the way that both she and Rosalyn looked at him, each with a little grin. If there was one thing he could figure right away, it was the clear fact that they were in this conspiracy together. He wore his own little smile as he spoke to them.

“Ladies,” he greeted them. “Are you enjoying your festive chores?”

Cassia’s eyes twinkled as she replied. “Very much, my lord husband. Our first Christmas together will be an occasion to remember.”

He nodded in accord with her observation. “Indeed,” he said, while his curiosity ran wild about what was going on in her mind. Unable to delay a moment longer, he reached out to grasp her hand. “If you please, I wish to have a private word with you, wife. It is most urgent.”

Without waiting for a reply, he tugged her along as he left the room, seeking the outdoors as a more private place for conversation. Her expression grew concerned.

“What is it, Guy? Is something wrong?”

“Not to my knowledge,” he replied, moving down the front gravel walk. “But indeed, there is something of a mystery to be solved between us. Come, now. Out with it!”

“Out with what?” she asked, a note of faux innocence in her words. Looking at her, he saw the little smirk forming on her lips. But he was not fooled. He scolded her, but with a teasing note in his voice.

“Do not be coy with me, woman. You are harboring a secret, and you do a poor job of disguising the fact. Indeed, it is written in your lineaments at this very moment. Speak, or I shall find my own way of prying the information from you.”

He saw the way she smiled at his challenge. It was a game they often played. She would deny him in some way, and a chase would often ensue, in which he would eventually catch her and tickle her until she relented. But in this case, she relented sooner than usual.

“Very well, Guy. If you insist. But first, let us find a comfortable place to sit.”

They walked towards the beach, and she talked as they moved along.

“This Yuletide has been most delightful. I have not found such cause for celebration since I was a child, when Stephen and I would gather with the other children in Nottingham. After Christmas Mass, we would make merry in the square and play games. I enjoyed building animals made of snow.”

Guy scoffed. “I have no fond memories of Nottingham, or of Yuletides gone by. All were spent in various work related duties. But I have no wish to think of the past. I live only for the present.” They came to the shore, and he gestured to a log that served as a favorite resting place. “At present,” he said, “I wish to know the secret you keep from me. Here we are. Now, sit. And do not make further delay.”

They sat together, and he searched her expression, which took on a more serious note.

“Guy, have you noticed changes in me? I mean, besides my state of happiness.”

He thought for a moment, but shook his head in denial. “Nothing extraordinary.”

Her eyes grew slightly larger, as though she was trying to speak with them. “Have you not noticed the increase in my appetite? Or the slight thickening of my waistline?”

A slight smile lifted the corners of his mouth. He had noticed a bit of a change, but had attributed it to the blessings of their new life together. She was no longer a peasant, struggling to scrape together an existence. He was happy to see her with a healthy appetite.

“I confess,” he replied, “I thought there was indeed a minor difference. But I had no desire to make comment on such a change, for fear of causing offense.”

“Both are parts of a larger picture, Guy.”

He sighed. “Cassia, I still do not understand…”

Before he could finish, she took his hand and placed it on her abdomen. In an instant he understood. His mouth fell slightly open, words failing him. Her words grew soft.

“I am with child, Guy.”

For several long moments, he lacked the ability to respond. He had waited so long for this moment. They both had. But the reality of it was staggering, and he was thankful to be sitting down. As the initial shock subsided, he took her free hand and brought it to his lips. His desire was to envelop her in a fierce embrace, but his limbs seemed incapable of great movement. As he pressed a kiss into her palm, she looked at him with curious and smiling eyes.

“Are you happy, Guy?”

Overwhelmed, he struggled to express his feelings. “I am more happy than I can tell you. I hardly know what to say. You know I have no gift for words.”

“Well then,” she said, holding out her arms, “Express your happiness as you do best.”

Without hesitation, encouraged by her welcoming gesture, he gathered her to him in a firm embrace, kissing her repeatedly. She responded with little sounds of contentment and joy, and loving kisses of her own. But after a moment, he pulled back, a concerned look on his face.

“Perhaps I should not be so careless in my enthusiasm. I have no wish to cause you harm.”

With a small laugh, she reassured him. “My darling, I am not made of glass. I promise you, I will not break.”

She returned herself to the closeness of his arms, and he was too elated to refuse her, despite his reservations. Tucking her head under his chin, he held her just so as questions began to form in his mind. There was so much he wished to know.

“When will the child be born?”

“The exact date cannot be certain, of course. But Rosalyn seems to think it will be in late spring or early summer.”

There was relief in knowing his child would be born during such a pleasant time of the year. The thought made him smile, and he began to think of all the preparations they would have to make.

“We must celebrate such a momentous occasion. Stephen will certainly arrange a feast to honor this blessing.”

“I am certain he will,” she replied. “But I am more eager to share this happiness with you.” As she snuggled closer to him, he sighed with great contentment, and a note of amusement played in his words.

“I can hardly believe this news. To think there will soon be more Gisbornes in the world. Some might consider it a frightening prospect.”

She giggled at his self-deprecating sense of humor. Leaning back in his arms, she raised loving eyes to him.

“Oh no,” she said. “There is nothing frightening about the prospect of a Gisborne family. It is a wonderful, joyous thought.”

He kissed her again, and then again. “That it is, my love. That it is indeed.”


Later that night, while Cassia was bathing, Guy sat on their bed with his legs outstretched, leaning back against the pillows. Staring at the fire in the hearth, he was lost in thought. Questions flooded his mind, ranging from the imperative to the mundane.

Father, he asked himself, Or Pappa? Which would they call him, and how would it sound? It was difficult to imagine a child addressing him as such. He had grown accustomed to being called Uncle Guy, as Stephen’s son called him. But to be called father. It was a bewildering prospect.

He was so far into his thoughts that he did not at first see Cassia returning from the bathing chamber. It wasn’t until she called his name that he broke his reverie and looked at her. She always looked so lovely when she was fresh from a bath, dressed in her white nightgown, with her dark hair hanging down and curled slightly from being damp. But tonight, she had a special glow about her. She was lit from within, and it showed in her smile. His eyes looked her over as she came to her side of the bed, and when she crawled to her place beside him, he gathered her close. She leaned her head against him.

“What are you thinking of while you sit here all alone?”

“Many things.”

She gave him a curious look. “Such as?”

“What our child will look like, among other things. I hope the bairn favors you and not I.”

She took a playful swipe at him, hitting him lightly on the shoulder. “Oh Guy, why must you always debase yourself? I would be most pleased to have a child who looks like you.”

His mouth curled in a tiny grin. “Because you are in a fragile state, I will not spend energy fighting you.”

“A wise decision,” she replied, with a teasing inflection, “Because you must know I would argue my point until the bitter end.”

They shared a soft sound of laughter, and a few moments of quiet contemplation, before her words became more subdued.

“What more is in your thoughts, husband? I wish to know.”

There were too many thoughts to list. Even as they sat there, warm and content with each other and the happiness of the situation, his mind swirled with all manner of curiosity. But fearing that he might be a burden to her, he shook his head at her question. “It is nothing. Let us sleep. Good night, beloved.” He attempted to kiss her, in the hopes of drawing her attention away from him. But she pushed him back, and a familiar look of stubbornness came to her eyes.

“I do not wish to sleep,” she said. “Not yet.”

It was a losing game, but still he tried to be firm. “I think I must insist. You must rest well, for the sake of the babe.”

She responded with a stern expression, one he knew very well. She was determined, and when she had her mind set on something, she did not give up.

“Guy, you are being evasive. I cannot sleep until I know what you are thinking of.”

He let out a breath as he answered. “I was thinking of the many changes that will soon take place. Our lives will be forever altered by this event.”

“Yes, that is most certain.”

It was his hope that the vague reply he had given would satisfy her, and as a few moments passed in silence, he thought he had escaped her inquisition.

“Guy, if I ask you something, will you answer truthfully?”

She was gently relentless, as she had always been, and he knew there would be no rest until she discovered what thoughts were nagging at him. Reluctantly, he answered.

“I will try.”

Rising to her knees beside him, she turned so that her chest was pressing to his. They were looking at one another, their faces close. There was no escaping her now. He looked into her dark eyes as she posed, in that very candid way of hers, a most bold question.

“Do you fear the loss of your husbandly rights? Is that a concern that weighs on your mind?”

All at once he felt the need to laugh and to hang his head in disgrace. He wished to laugh in amazement at her ability to read him so well. What kind of powerful intuition had God given her that she would think to ask such a question? But his amusement was brief as he felt a terrible sense of guilt come over him. It was no secret that they enjoyed a very active love life. At times, he had wondered if he was too eager in expressing his desires for her. But she was always quick to remind him that he had not married a shy little violet. Her wants and needs matched his own with equal intensity, and he had always felt blessed to have such a union. But how could he now think of such a thing?

“I am a selfish brute,” he muttered, turning his head away. But she instantly forced his eyes back to hers, reassuring him.

“No, no. You are not a brute. We share an equal desire for one another. It is one of the greatest pleasures of our marriage. And I do not see why it should cease simply because I am with child.”

He loved and adored her so, and not just for the many blessing she gave him, but for the bold way in which she claimed him for herself. When she made such demands of him, it was quite the aphrodisiac. But they had another to think of now besides themselves, and it gave him concern.

“Is there not a danger in it?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I do not know for certain. Perhaps I will consult with Rosalyn on the matter.”

“Until then, for the sake of the child, I will refrain.”

A smile came to her lips, and she lovingly tweaked his chin. “You are quite charming when you attempt to be noble.”

“If I am to be a parent,” he replied, “I must commence becoming a more civilized man, and I think it wise to begin sooner rather than later. Next year at this time, I will be a fine example of a noble father.”

As she put her arms around his neck, his hands moved up and down her back, delighting in her warmth and softness. She looked at him in that wonderfully playful manner of hers, answering in a teasing way.

“That is a lovely gesture. But please, do not become entirely decent. That would not do for me. It would not do for me at all.”

They laughed together, celebrating their happiness with the warmth of hands, the strength of embraces, and the tenderness of sweet kisses.


Christmas, 1195

Guy and Cassia stood in the nursery, watching their two children crawl around the room. At eight months old, the twins were in constant motion, sometimes to the dismay of their nurse. Claudia was vigilant, but at times it was difficult to keep up with two babies who were curious about anything and everything. While William went after a toy, Thea pursued Gideon, who was one of the family Mastiffs. He was a huge dog, but experienced enough with children not to be bothered by their actions. Still, when Thea tried to crawl on him, Cassia came and lifted her away. And as Thea was known to do, she began to fuss at being denied what she wanted. Cassia tried to soothe her.

“Forgive me, my darling. But we must make haste. We do not wish to be late for Wassailing.”

With a smile, and a kiss to the baby’s cheek, Cassia handed her over to Guy.

“Cast your spell, Guy. While I see how our son fares.”

While she fetched William, Guy held Thea close to himself. Seeing him, she became calm. There was something about his face that she seemed to like, particularly his nose, which she was always reaching for. He smiled at the feeling of her two tiny hands, thinking what an exquisite little gem she was. He had ordered an assortment of expensive clothing made for both of the children, but he especially liked to see Thea dressed in ornate garments, as she was now. The green velvet dress, embroidered with gold thread, seemed especially perfect for the festive season. And there was so much to be festive about. As Cassia came back, holding William, Guy smiled at her.

“Let us to church,” he said. “We must give thanks for our many Christmas blessings..."

Not sure if I will continue with this. We'll see what the muse decides. :)