Friday, January 28, 2011

Rebel Mine Chapter 12, Part Two

Peace, at last. No barrage of guests to attend to...no chaos and heartache of a child gone astray. Even the weather seemed to bring a sense of calm, as a light rain fell like a lullaby. Guy might have felt at ease...were it not for the knowledge of one last obstacle to the peace and contentment he craved to restore.

After traversing the manor one last time, he made his way towards his bedchamber. He passed Evelyn's chamber as he went...and his foot stilled at the sound of gentle voices in conversation. Evelyn was there, of course. He was so happy to have her home again, and to have matters settled between them. She talked in joyful tones with Thea...and with her mother. Hearing Cassia's soft voice, he felt a sweet pain in his heart. How he loved to listen to her when she was happy. There was no sound in the world that he treasured more.

But his happiness was overshadowed by a dark memory. He could not forget the scene between them last night...how her eyes had become so fierce with pain and anger. She had spoken with such bitterness, her words wounding him deeply. But the worst had come late that night. He had waited, most impatiently, for her to come to bed. She had been terribly frightened about Evelyn, and understandably so. He had been fully prepared to endure all manner of punishment for his part in causing her despair. If she wanted to strike at him in anger, or even to lash at him with more cruel words, he had been willing to accept them. He deserved punishment for his harsh words to Evie, for it was his thoughtlessness that had caused her to run away. He had imagined the scene after the eruption of angry passion and pain...that she would fall into his arms, weeping, and he would comfort her. They would comfort each other, as they had done so many times in their life together.

In his bare feet and nightshirt, he had taken to pacing the floor of their bedchamber, hounded by his fears about Evie, and half-mad with longing for Cassia. But the night had gone on, and she had not come. Patience had never been his greatest virtue, and fraught with concern, he had gone in search of her. When he found her in Evelyn's room, asleep, he had been sorely tempted to join her there, to be of comfort to her and to find comfort from his own fears. But if she found some measure of peace, he could not take that from her. He left her there and returned to their bedchamber, although he found little sleep. Without her beside him, he was ever restless and melancholy.

The dawn had brought the blessing of a message from William. Evelyn was safe, and he was sending her home straight away. The entire household seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Cassia had wept with joy at the news, and he'd expected to share in her happiness. But she'd quickly occupied herself with Evelyn's arrival, shunning any attempt at words of conciliation. Nothing could calm her until she had their daughter home, and now that it was done, she seemed determined not to let Evelyn out of her sight.

So be it, he thought. If it pleases her, I will not interfere.

With heavy steps, he went to their bedchamber. As he entered, Francis...his groom...came to help him prepare for bed. He sat in a chair, lifting each foot as his boots were removed. The right was taken off as usual. But when his left was removed, he felt a stabbing pain searing from his ankle and traveling upward. The sensation was not new. It was as familiar to him as anything else, and it was as painful as it had ever been. Lord, it was hard to fathom...that twenty years had gone by since his accident. He could still recall being thrown from his horse...of his foot being violently twisted in the stirrup. He shuddered at the memory of the dark and icy waters closing in on him...

He shook his head at the horrid memory. Francis looked upon him, concerned.

"My lord," he said, "Shall I fetch hot water?"

Submerging his ankle was one way to ease the pain...but it was not the one he preferred. Still, he nodded, sending the manservant away on the errand. The door closed quietly, leaving him alone. For a small space of time, he sat with his head back against the chair. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the painful throbbing in his foot, but it seemed only to increase in its intensity. He heard the door open behind him, but he did not open his eyes, assuming it was Francis returning already. He heard the latch fall as the door was closed. A soft voice fell on his ear.

"Francis tells me you are ailing."

His eyes opened instantly. He turned his head, seeing her there with her maidservant. As Celeste went to fetch her mistresses' nightdress, Cassia slowly came to his side. Despite his pain, he wanted to leap to his feet and throw his arms around her. He was but a moment from doing so...but he turned his eyes to the fire in the hearth. What if she denied his affection? She had been through so much these last two days. He was desperate for her love and attention...but feared his own selfishness would be too much. He answered her in a reserved tone.

"It is nothing. An old complaint."

He felt at war with himself. She was heavy with child. She deserved complete devotion and caring. But he had always been weak when it came to her. Even after so many years together, he craved her affection to the point of desperation. He knew he was a selfish beast for wishing it, but he couldn't help himself.

Cassia gestured to her maidservant. "Celeste, veuillez apporter un tabouret."

Guy watched as Celeste brought a cushioned stool to him. He placed his foot on it, waiting and watching as the servant dragged a chair close. She helped her mistress to sit. With a kind word and a gesture of her hand, Cassia sent her maidservant away from them...and then she placed her hands on his foot. He felt himself melt as the warmth of her touch worked its magic. As she massaged his ankle, he stifled a sound of pleasure, leaning his head back. He was only able to reply with a gruff sound when she said his name.

"Guy," she repeated. The seriousness of her tone made him lift his head. He met her eyes. There was a sadness shining there...the same light of sorrow he had seen in his daughter's eyes. He wanted no more of that. She tried to speak. "Last night, I spoke while under the spell of despair, and I..."

"No." He would not allow her to say more. "Say nothing, Cassia. I need no apologies. I do not want them."

She tried again, but he shushed her. The sorrowful light faded from her eyes. He could see that a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Oh, this darling woman of his. She was concerned for him. For him. With his thoughtless behavior and careless temper, he had been the source of great suffering for them both. And yet she sought pardon for words she had justly uttered...words she had no need to beg forgiveness for. If anything, it was he who needed to seek absolution.

As they looked at each other, he could see her forming of a little smile. They needed no words, no pleas of understanding from one another. She turned her eyes away, giving her full attention to nursing his ankle. Francis returned with a pitcher of steaming water and a wooden bucket, and while Guy soaked his foot, Celeste helped her mistress to stand, moving with her behind a screen to prepare her for bed. Cassia spoke aloud.

"Evelyn seems to have a glow about her tonight."

Guy's eyebrow rose in curiosity. "Really?"

There was a smile in Cassia's tone. "I think, perhaps, her betrothed may have some part in her mood."

Coming from behind the screen, she moved to the bed to sit. As Celeste loosened Cassia's hair and brushed it, Francis helped Guy remove his surcoat and undershirt. Sitting there, clad only in his breeches, he felt a sense of tranquility wash over him. For the first time in days, he knew he would sleep well. Cassia seemed quite interested in discussing Evelyn and Simon, and he gave small replies to all that she said. But truly, he wanted only to slip into their bed and bask in the calm that was blessing them. Evelyn was safe, God be praised. Their guests were gone from the house, and he and Cassia had made their peace. Such blessed moments were a gift...and most often, short-lived. He did not want to waste them.

He removed his foot from the bucket. The heat from the water, and the warmth of his wife's hands, had reduced the pain to a dull ache. That would do well enough for the moment. He ordered the water removed and dismissed Francis for the night. As he came to bed, Celeste finished her work. Eager to be alone with his wife, he waved the servant away and moved under the covers. Cassia eased herself into bed, and when she was settled, he placed his head near hers on the pillow. His hand caressed the roundness of her belly.

"I have missed you, beloved."

She smiled, placing a sweet kiss on his lips. "I have never left."

"We have not shared a bed in many days. Nearly an entire week. First our guests forced us apart, and then last night..."

She hushed him quickly. "I do not wish to speak of last night."

He smiled, thinking how incredible her powers of persuasion were...how they had always been. And he was content not to argue with her. She adjusted her position for comfort, turning to her side with her back to him. She kissed his hand, pulling his arm around her shoulders. He pressed himself against her soft figure, delighting in her warmth and her scent of lavender. If she wanted no conversation, he would grant her wish...most willingly.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rebel Mine Chapter 12, Part One

The golden limestone wall, so familiar, came into sight...and lying behind it was the Gisborne estate. Evelyn took in a deep breath, trying to undo the nervous knot that had formed in her belly. Pulling the reins, she brought her horse to a halt. She felt Simon’s eyes upon her. He was examining her...probably wondering if she thought to bolt. For a moment, she closed her eyes.

God, give me strength, she silently prayed.

A sudden voice broke her thoughts. It came from somewhere high and near. Looking up and about, she saw a familiar figure at a distance, sitting atop the wall. Owen called out to her.

“Evie! Thank God. You return at last!” He jumped down from his perch. As he approached, Evelyn could see his stern expression. His tone was almost fatherly in its way...which was typical of him when he was concerned. Rather than expressing his worry for her, he was trying to play the dominant older brother.

Dear Owen, she thought. He has missed me. It gave her some comfort, but it did little to alleviate her tension.

“The entire household has been in turmoil,” he declared. “Mama has sent me to watch for your arrival. I have been on this bloody wall half the day, waiting for you.”

Simon, who had been quietly sitting by, leaned slightly forward. Evelyn watched the slight lift of his chin...and a strange thrill came over her at hearing him speak in his masterful way.

“Waste not a moment more, young Owen. Make haste, and tell them that we approach.”

Evelyn watched Owen’s expression as it softened into submission. If there was one thing that pleased him, it was being dutiful to his betters. Being a squire, he was eager to prove himself to those of higher rank, and he bowed in obedience. As he hurried away, Evelyn turned to look at Simon. He met her gaze, saying nothing. And yet, there was a telling gleam in his bright green eyes. He had guided her here. And now, she had to complete the journey on her own. Breathing deep, closing her eyes, she recited a phrase that was familiar to her...words she’d heard from Owen time and again. She spoke the words softly to herself, aloud.

“We must persevere to the end in any enterprise begun.”

A moment of silence passed, followed by Simon’s voice, giving her comfort.

“To live by the code is to live wisely, my lady.”

She wished to reply. She longed to linger, if only to allow herself more time for preparation. But in her heart, she knew that to delay was to make her chore more difficult.

I will persevere in the enterprise, she said to herself. And determined to make good on her vow, she urged her horse forward, passing through the stone arch that led to the manor.

Simon rode at her side, and as they approached, they could see the members of the household hurrying from within. At the forefront was her mother, with Celeste and Thea both making attempts to slow her progression, for the sake her of her delicate condition.

The moment had come, and Evelyn prepared herself for it with a final deeply drawn breath. Simon dismounted beside her, coming to assist her. As he helped her down, she gave him a nervous smile. He had been so noble through all of this, and she wished so much to thank him. But there was little time for words of kindness. He had hardly set her to the ground before her mother was there, holding tightly to her.

“Evie! Oh, my darling!” Her hold was fierce, but Evelyn welcomed it...and she was not at all surprised to find herself suddenly grasped by the shoulders, pushed back slightly by her mother’s hands. Cassia’s words became scolding.

“Oh Evie, how could you be so foolish? Do you know what heartache you have caused me? I should punish you severely for scaring me so!”

For a moment, Evelyn feared it as a true threat...until she found herself in another close embrace. She felt her mother’s kiss on her cheek.

“Thank God you are safe.”

Evelyn pressed her cheek against her mother’s shoulder. She felt the sting of tears in her eyes as guilt washed over her.

“I am sorry, Mama. I never meant to frighten you so.” A sudden realization came over her. She put her hand over her mouth, giving a gasp. “Oh, Mama. The babe.”

What if she had worried her mother so terribly that it had caused harm to her unborn child? She broke into French, unable to help herself in her sudden sense of panic.

“Oh, je ne jamais pardonnerait moi-même si elle venait à nuire à cause de moi! Pardonnez-moi!”

Before she could go on, she felt her mother’s hand upon her cheek.

“Hush, my darling. This child has endured many a crisis of late with only an occasional twinge. I feel it must certainly be a female to have such tolerance.”

Evelyn gave her a little smile. She was soon greeted by everyone, who welcomed her home with happy faces and words of greeting. But there was one notable absence. She turned to her mother, seeking explanation.

“Where is Papa?”

Cassia’s expression became solemn. She held Evelyn’s hand. “He is in the solar. He wishes to see you in private.”

Evelyn felt her heart race with apprehension. She turned to look at Simon, who stood quietly by. He was such a pillar of strength and wisdom. He had been by her side, guiding her home and encouraging her to face her time of trial. Now that she was here, she should have been prepared to stand on her own. But she was suddenly troubled by the thought of being without him. His presence gave her strength, and she wasn’t quite ready to relinquish him yet. Timidly, she made request of him.

“Your grace, would you be good enough to escort me to my father?”

Simon took a step forward. For a moment, she thought he would decline, as she saw him look from one person to another. It was impossible to read his thoughts. Did he wish her to go alone? Was he afraid to show his gallantry in front of others? Mentally, she prepared herself for the possibility of his rejection. But then, he offered her his arm. If she’d been bold enough, she would have given him a kiss of gratefulness. Instead, she placed her hand on his sleeve, allowing him to guide her into the house. As they ascended the stairs, she looked down to where her hand rested on his arm. It seemed too distant a gesture...too detached. They had shared pleasant and close conversation, even exchanging moments of amusement. They had shared a kiss. She longed to know that closeness again, in some way. She knew it might be too bold, but she could not help herself. Removing her hand, she twined her arm around his. Using his strong figure for support, she leaned against him...and she was overjoyed to find him allowing it.

“Thank you, my lord, for all you have done," she said. "I shall be greatly indebted to you.”

His tone was cool. “It is merely a duty, my lady.”

How she wished he would call her by her name, as he had done yesterday. Why did she feel that he was once again growing distant? She sighed as they came to the top of the stairs...and her thoughts turned to her father. He was waiting for her, just beyond the door. She wanted to hold fast to Simon, but she could feel him gently extracting himself from her hold. With a nod of his head, he left her. She looked at the door, feeling her heart beating fast. There was no escaping this. She closed her eyes, uttering a last entreaty for strength. With a nervous hand, she reached for the latch.

The chamber was dim. Most of the curtains were drawn, allowing little illumination, which added to the somberness of the room. Evelyn stood just inside, afraid to move further. Her father sat in his chair, facing the window. She was certain he was aware of her presence, for she saw him turn his head slightly, as one detecting a noise. She waited, hoping he would give her greeting, or at least call her forward.

He said nothing.

Her heart was crushed by his silence. But somehow, she managed to speak.

“Papa, I am here.”

She waited...and at last, he replied, though it was only with a word.

“Evelyn.”

Her name was spoken quietly and calmly...and it struck her heart in a most painful way. Tears welled in her eyes. There was a hint of sadness in his tone. He was ashamed of her still...she was certain of it. Her steps felt leaden as she slowly moved forward, approaching his chair. At his side she knelt down, sitting on the floor. She lowered her head, unable to look up at him. She felt the lump grow larger in her throat as his voice came in a low, soft tone.

“You have caused us great pain, Evelyn.”

She was deeply cut by the tranquility of his voice. It wounded more deeply than angry words ever could. Tears spilled down her cheeks.

“Forgive me, Papa.” Sorrow stole her ability to say more. Silently she wept...and she hardly heard him when he spoke to her.

“Why do you kneel so at my feet?”

She lifted her head, uncertain of his meaning.

“You are a Gisborne. A woman of rank. And I will have no daughter of mine kneeling as if lowborn.”

Slowly she rose, coming to stand before him. Unable to stifle her emotions, her voice broke.

“Oh Papa,” she cried. “I so very sorry.”

He shushed her, and gently took her hand. “We will speak of it no more. You are my daughter, Evelyn. There is nothing in this world that will ever diminish my love for you.”

Every bit of worry, every measure of tension, melted instantly away. She felt herself crumbling, not with pain, but with liberation from her fears. Her tears, given full sway, came fast and furious. Placing herself on his knee, she put her arms around his neck and pressed her head against his shoulder, weeping. She felt like a child again, letting him hold her as she spoke between intakes of breath.

“I was so afraid. I thought you might never forgive me.”

She felt the gentleness of his hand on her back, soothing her...just as he had always done when she was in need of comfort. His voice was kind and gentle.

“It is I who should beg forgiveness. It was wrong of me to judge you so harshly.”

She shook her head. “No, Papa. I was foolish in my feelings for Rene.” She sniffled, trying to calm herself, even as her tears continued to fall. She took a deep breath in an attempt at calm speech. “I allowed him to rob me of my good sense.”

Guy spoke quietly. “You are now aware of his crimes?”

“Yes,” she replied. “The Marquis told me all. I will never again be so unwise.”

His gave a soft sigh. “We grow and progress by fault, daughter. Some lessons are difficult, and quite often painful. But they must be learned all the same.”

His wisdom, his soothing voice...both were so comforting. She longed to remain in his embrace, recalling how, as a child, she’d so often fallen asleep in his arms. But he shifted his weight, urging her to straighten her stance. He reached up, brushing the moisture from her cheeks.

“Go now, and rest yourself. I believe you are in need of it.”

She nodded and smiled. Leaning forward, she embraced him again and kissed his cheek. “I love you, Papa. I love you very much.”

His voice took on a masterful but teasing note. “That is enough of that. If one were to hear this conversation, they would think me softhearted.” He scoffed...but the corner of his mouth rose. She loved him more than words could say, and she leaned in again, bestowing him with another kiss to his cheek. She bid him good night and left him, exuberant in her certainty that all the world was right once again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rebel Mine Chapter 11, Part Two


For quite some time, Evelyn sat quietly before the fire. She closed her eyes, pressing her fingers to her lips. They tingled so strangely...and yet, it wasn’t unpleasant. It was wondrous and thrilling...and the sensation seemed not content to remain on her lips. Tingles traveled everywhere, into places she’d never felt such stirrings. She held herself tightly, trying to suppress the wild feelings. But the effort only heightened the sensation all the more. She recalled how it felt to be held in his arms. Good heavens, what would it be like to feel his kiss and warm embrace both at once?

She felt herself becoming both giddy and terrified. These feelings were like nothing she’d known before, and somewhere in her mind she knew they were just the start of something more. She thought of her sister and the conversation they’d once had. No wonder Thea seemed so intent on making her listen, despite her protests. There was a wild delight in learning of these feelings...as if she’d been granted knowledge of a very great secret. Was this was just a taste of things to come? Though her heart beat fast with anxiousness, she could not help but wonder when such a moment would come again.

Simon, she thought, as a soft sigh escaped her. Why had her feelings changed so suddenly? Perhaps this was how it was meant to be, after all. Perhaps she had been the greatest of fools not to see it from the first. Or perhaps, she had simply been outwitted by the most clever...nay, the most devious...of men.

Her delight faded as memories came fast upon her. From that moment when she’d first set eyes on Rene, her senses had flown. He’d openly declared himself to be a rogue...a skilled thief who stole hearts and coin in equal measure. And like a simpleton, she had allowed herself to be bewitched.

The squeaking of the door, coming from behind her, shook her from her thoughts. She turned to look, seeing William as he returned from church.

“Evie,” he said. “The hour grows late. You should be abed.” He handed his cloak to the housekeeper. “Where is the Marquis? Have you settled him in a chamber?”

The servant nodded. As she departed, he came to stand beside Evelyn. She stared into the fire, having barely heard him speaking. His entrance had roused her somewhat, but her thoughts quickly returned to all that had happened. It took William’s hand on her shoulder, gently nudging her, before she found her voice.

“I have been blind, Will.”

He reached out, offering her his hand, and she took it gladly.

“I defended a man who was not worthy of defending.”

“You speak of Rene?” he asked.

She nodded. “I would not like to dwell on details, brother. I wish only to say that my eyes have been opened. I see his deception clearly now...and I see my duty before me. I will go home at first light. And I will see everything settled.”

William leaned down, placing a gentle kiss on top of her head.

“My dear little sister...ever sensible and intelligent. I wondered where you had gone to. Mama and Papa will be most pleased to see you returned.”

I hope so, She thought. I truly do hope so.

*****

The dawn had yet to break, but Simon rolled over and sat up, rubbing a hand over his face. The bed was too narrow for a man of his size. The floor would have been preferable, but at the risk of insulting his host, he had used the bed and rested himself as best he could.

But being a soldier, having been accustomed to rising at strange hours and surviving on little sleep, the few hours of rest he’d managed would suffice. He got up and went to the basin, where he doused his face with water. Running his hand over his jaw, he frowned at feeling the stubble already forming. He wasn’t content with having his face unshaven. Even during times of war, he kept a grooming regimen. But there was little that could be done about it under these circumstances.

Striking a flint with his dagger, he created a spark to light the tallow candle at his bedside. It was still very early, but he would go now to fetch Evelyn and see her ready to depart. He would get her home as quickly as possible. His mission would soon be accomplished, and his life could return to some sense of normalcy...if there could be such a thing again, now that she was in his life.

Her chamber was just across from his. Impatient to be on their way, he gave only a light rap on the door and a moment of pause before opening it. Holding up the candle, he let the light fall over the occupant of the room. And he found his mouth curling in odd amusement at her pose.

She was on her side, with her knees bent. One arm was dangling over the edge of the bed, while the other arm was wrapped around a pillow, where her cheek was firmly pressed. The coverlet was twined around her in an odd fashion, wrapped around her chest and middle, but with her lower legs and feet exposed. He’d thought surely that proper ladies were proper in every way...even in their sleep. He’d expected to find her seeking repose in some elegant and angelic fashion. And yet, this strange sight was somehow very fitting for her. He was half tempted just to sit and watch her. But knowing that he must see to his duty, he reached out and shook her shoulder. She mumbled in her sleep, opening her eyes a fraction. Suddenly she bolted up with a gasp, clutching the blanket to herself. He found her reaction rather amusing. He kept his voice low.

“You had best get used to the sight of me in the morning. It will soon be a part of the everyday. Come now, make yourself ready. We must go.”

He left her, allowing her the time to prepare. As he went, he thought about his own declaration. She would indeed see him every morning, just as he would see her. He found a strange kind of pleasure in the prospect. And somehow, he found little embarrassment in admitting such a feeling...so long as no one else knew of it.

I have declared it to myself, he thought, And that will suffice.

*****

They departed just as the sun was coming up. They rode for a long while with neither saying a word. Occasionally, Evelyn stole a glance at him. Last night, he had grown warm and kind right before her eyes. And his kiss...she could not forget the delight of it. But now, in the light of day, he was serious and aloof once again. She turned her eyes back to the road ahead. Perhaps it was better not to think of him...but to think of those who awaited them at the end of their journey.

She was certain that her mother would receive her with tears and open arms. There would be words of correction as well, of course. But forgiveness and understanding would be given unreservedly. The thought of her mother’s arms, warm and gentle...of her voice so soothing, whispering loving words...was nearly enough to calm her worries.

But what of Papa? She thought. Perhaps he would forgive. But would he ever look upon her in the same way? To lose his love and respect, even in only the smallest measure...her eyes burned with tears at the thought of it.

“Gather your courage, my lady.”

Simon’s voice was sudden. She turned her head to look at him, seeing how he kept his eyes forward. But there was a change in his countenance...the same softening she’d witnessed last night. And his tone, though not particularly gentle, was not harsh. It was strong... heartening.

“Fear is but a feeling. You must master it, just as you master feelings of anger, or sadness, or hunger.”

He was speaking as a soldier. She knew something of warriors. Her father, after all, commanded a garrison. And Owen was always speaking of the “code” he was expected to follow as a knight in training. It seemed rather amusing to her that Simon would impart such wisdom on her, as he had done last night. A little smile formed on her lips as she lowered her head, replying with modesty.

“I do not think myself capable of such courage.”

“Because you have little practice,” he said. “You have rarely left the sanctuary and comfort that lies beneath your mother’s wing.”

She could not deny such a truth. Even now, she longed for her mother’s guidance and wisdom. Thinking of it, her sense of protectiveness was roused. Her voice rose slightly in defense of herself.

“My mother is a very great lady. Is it wrong that I should love her so? Did you not feel the same about your mother?”

It was a long moment before he answered. His words were spoken in a quiet, serious way.

“I have only distant memories of her. She was stricken with smallpox, along with both of my brothers, when I was a boy.”

Evelyn turned her eyes away, ashamed that she had touched upon such a tender subject. William had told her something of Simon’s mother. But this was most unexpected...and terribly sad.

“Pardon,” she gently said. “I was not aware of it.”

He said nothing in reply. And for a good deal of time, as they rode along, she remained quiet, fearful that she had wounded him in some way. But soon, her curiosity began to grow. He was such a puzzlement. At times, he seemed so cold. And yet he was capable of tenderness. Was it possible there were remnants of a boy in him...a boy who had known love, but had lost it too soon? There was a possibility that exploring the matter further would anger him. But her curiosity overwhelmed her. With trepidation, and a soft voice, she made her inquiry.

“Do you not think of her at times? Surely there must a part of you that recalls her presence.”

His answer was abrupt. “I have never spoken of it, nor shall I now. It is best left in the past.”

She lowered her eyes. “Forgive me for broaching the subject.”

For a moment, she thought he meant to say no more. But she was surprised when he spoke again, sounding rather philosophical about a subject so dark.

“Death comes to us all. I find no reason to grieve when one is taken from this world and admitted to the life to come.”

Taken aback by such a declaration, she could not help responding with an urgency in her tone.

“That is not as it should be. Yes, death is imminent for us all. But God has blessed us with life. It is a most generous gift, one we must repay by living our days to the fullest. When it ends in an untimely way, there is no wrong to be found in mourning.”

She expected him to respond in an angry or dismissive way. But he surprised her with a slight smirk, and a light-hearted reply.

“The wisdom of your mother, I take it?”

A shy little smile came to her lips. Her words had come in a rush, urged by her inner passions. She had not meant to speak so freely. But it seemed that Simon was amused by her momentary loss of control. His expression was almost cheerful, and she could not help returning his mood in kind.

“My mother’s wisdom is a part of me, ‘tis true,” she said. “But remember that my brother is a man of the cloth. Enlightenment flows not only in my blood, but is pressed upon my mind. You have fair warning, my lord.” Looking at him, her eyes shined with mirth. “As a wife, I shall perhaps be troublesome. Do you feel fit for the task?”

His answer was warmly amusing. “I welcome the challenge, my lady.”

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Richard Voting Time Again!

Another contest we know Richard will win, but hey...
voting for him is our duty, isn't it?


Friday, January 21, 2011

My Blog's New Look

I've changed by blog, so I hope it doesn't confuse anyone! As you can see, I'm going for sort of a Guy of Gisborne theme. I think he approves of it...:)


I'll have the next installment of my story ready and posted by Monday, for those who are interested. Thanks for being patient!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rebel Mine Chapter 11, Part One

"Your grace," said William. "I am deeply honored. Will you come in?"

Simon crossed the threshold. "Thank you, Father."

"I am quite surprised by your visit. But pleased, of course."

Almost in sync, they turned to look at Evelyn. She managed a stiff, nervous courtesy, and Simon bowed...while his eyes met hers with a purposeful look.

"Forgive me, your grace," said William. "I must depart for church. If you require anything, my housekeeper will assist you." As he gave instructions, ordering food and drink, Evelyn took a small step forward.

"Will, perhaps I should accompany you to church. I am not inclined to miss prayers."

Simon stepped in her way. He spoke with authority. "I think perhaps on this occasion, you will make an exception." He turned to William. "Do not fear, good Father. I will watch over her."

With an apologetic look to Evelyn, William nodded in compliance.

"Your grace," he said in reply. He left quietly, and as the door closed, Simon turned. He did not look at Evelyn. And yet he addressed her with a firm tone.

"Well, well. Lady Cassia's assumption was correct. You did seek refuge with your brother." Removing his gloves, he dropped them on the table. He sat down in a sturdy wooden armchair, stretching his legs and crossing his ankles. As he folded his arms, his gaze rose. He looked her over. "I see you are quite well." His eyes narrowed, and his expression became serious. "Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for your poor mother and father."

Guilt shined in her eyes. She lowered her head, speaking softly. "William has rushed word to them, your grace. They will soon know I am well."

His tone was stern. "They will not know it for certain until they see you in the flesh. And I intend to present you to them first thing tomorrow."

"But your grace," she protested, "I have come to see my brother. I cannot leave him so quickly."

She wrung her hands. Her voice held a note of concern, as if she feared facing the consequences of her actions. But if she thought to find him sympathetic to her plight, she was mistaken.

"We will depart at first light, and I will have no argument. You may go with dignity, riding upright. Or, you can be bound with rope and carried over my saddle, much like a sack of goods fresh from market. I leave the decision to you."

She lowered her head again. "I will go willingly, your grace. There will be no need to force me."

Looking at her, he almost felt guilty in witnessing her gesture of submission. But he reminded himself that it was inevitable. When they were married, she would have to accept her status. She would no longer enjoy the liberty of being an unwed woman...and the thought made him feel rather sorry for her. Knowing how she had lived an indulged life, free of cares, he could see how the transition would be difficult. He tried to speak gently.

"You have made a wise decision."

A silence fell between them. She seemed unsure of what she should do next. He let out a breath, taking the opportunity to examine her. Her shyness was quite apparent. For a moment, he found her innocence endearing. There was a lovely rose color in her cheeks...a look that was quite becoming.

But had she looked upon another with that same innocent expression?

Since he'd first seen her with Rene, he had tried to suppress his jealousy. But it seemed the more he tried to contain it, the harder it fought to be expressed. Perhaps the time had come to assert his position as her husband-to-be.

"Come here, Evelyn."

He saw how her eyes widened slightly. He could imagine that his command, spoken in his powerful tone, was frightening to her. Perhaps she feared that his demands would be of a lascivious nature. In truth, he was not certain what his actions would be. He only knew he wished to draw her closer, and when she neared him, he found himself at a loss. He felt a great desire to touch her in some way...to relive that feeling of warmth he'd known for those brief moments in the manor hall. But to do so here, in the home of a priest...her brother. It would be most improper. He wanted her to come close. But he needed a purpose...some reason to draw her near. He hastily thought of something.

"Assist me in removing my boots."

She looked quite stunned at his command. And he himself was surprised by the decree that had come into his head. But, unable to think of something better, he held to it. He lifted his foot to her.

"Under most circumstances, my valet would attend to such matters," he said. "But there will be times such as these when I must rely on my wife to serve me."

He examined her, wondering at her thoughts. She always seemed so reluctant to be near him. Was it just her innocence...or was there something more?

"Will you object to your position as my wife?"

There was a hesitation before her reply. "No, my lord."

Her answer might have satisfied him...if it wasn't for the doubts he found swirling around in his head. Did she wish her husband to be someone else? The answer seemed clear enough, and yet he asked the question. He watched as she placed his boots aside.

"Would you be more agreeable if Rene was your lord and master?"

She paused for a moment. And when she spoke, her answer was maddening to him, for it seemed her intent was to dodge his question altogether.

"I do not understand your meaning."

He could not contain his frustration. He leaned forward in his chair, speaking in a calm but bitter voice. "Do not think me a fool, Evelyn. I have seen the way you look at him."

Turning her back, she would not face him. She held herself, clearly taking a defensive stance. For the first time, there was a hint of power in her voice.

"You are mistaken, your grace. Rene of Bergeron is merely a friend...

"He is a deceiver...a charlatan. And you have been nothing more than a pawn in his game."

She shook her head. "You do not know him."

His voice grew stronger, his anger provoked by her stubborn defense of a worthless creature like Rene. And he forcefully declared...

"He is not the cousin of the Baroness!"

Her mouth fell slightly open. He was almost certain she was set to deny his accusation. To keep her from it...to firmly implant the truth in her mind...he spoke quickly.

"Your father and I went to the Chateau LaCroix. The Baron knew nothing of a Rene of Bergeron. While Isabella endures God knows what for her unfaithfulness, her lover...your friend...roams free, indifferent to the destruction left in his wake."

Her eyes shifted. Judging from the rapid rise and fall of her chest, her breathing had accelerated. He could see her grasping for some sense of reason...some way to avoid the pain of the revelation she'd been hit with. But truth was often a cruel thing, sparing no one...not even an innocent girl. As she walked away from him, slowly moving to a chair in front of the hearth, he waved away the housekeeper as she brought the tray of food and wine. As he filled a goblet for himself, he looked over to where Evelyn sat. She was leaning forward, with her hand pressed against her lips. Watching her, he found it difficult not to feel pity for her. Compassion was not a feeling with which he was comfortable. But there was something about Evelyn that was bringing out the empathy in him. Lord, it was a horrible thing to admit...that despite his upbringing, despite his being one of the finest soldiers in the King's army...he was, when all was said and done, only a man. He had his weaknesses, like any other.

Thinking on it, he decided to himself that, if there was only one person allowed to view this flaw of his, it might as well be her. She would soon be his wife, after all. But how did one act with a woman in need of consolation? He knew little about female needs and behavior.

Men did not shed tears. They did not ponder treacheries in an attempt to understand their meaning. They acted on their anger and moved on. And sometimes, they drowned their troubles with wine. Perhaps she needed to embrace a different ideal...one that would encourage her strength.

"When the soul is purged of weakness," he said, "Pain is often an unfortunate consequence."

To that she gave no response. He let out a breath, thinking of what he should do. Looking down at the wine, he picked up the flagon and filled a goblet for her. Picking up his own cup, he moved to her side. Saying her name, he held the drink out to her. When she waved it away, he became insistent.

"I will have no quarrel. You have received a shock. Do as men do and dull your sorrow with drink."

With reluctance, she took it from him. Holding it with one hand, she used her other to wipe a tear from her eye. Her tears were expected...but her silence surprised him. He looked down at her, curious.

"You say nothing."

She sighed. "I have no wish to cause you offense. I am aware that men are often troubled by the sorrows of a woman."

There was truth in her words. And yet, despite his own reservations about sentiment, he felt the need to offer her a small kindness.

"Perhaps on this occasion, one can make an exception."

She gave a small shake of her head. "That is good of you to say. But I have caused more offense today than ever in my life. Dramatics will only affirm what a fool I have been."

"You wish to conceal your feelings?" He pulled an empty chair close to hers. Sitting back, he sipped his wine. "I find that difficult to believe, considering the passionate nature of your family. Judging from your actions, you are a true Gisborne."

"Yes, I am a Gisborne," she said, with an air of pride. "And yes, we are passionate. Mama has always encouraged our independence." Her spirit seemed to dampen slightly. "But such fervor is not acceptable in polite society. For the sake of decorum, I have always tried to suppress the nature that flows in my blood."

"You have no wish to mirror your sister, then?"

For the first time, she smiled. It was small, but it was not a forced politeness, such as she'd given before. This was a genuine look of amusement...and he found himself pleased that it was given to him.

"Theodora has never permitted herself to be molded," she said, "Even if society dictates it to be done. She is fortunate to have such a tolerant husband."

Her pleasant look faded. She turned away, lowering her head to cast her eyes on the floor. Her voice was small.

"Do you now regret your choice of wife?"

He took another sip of wine, turning his eyes to the fire. "Except for myself and your family, no one knows of your indiscretion. And I have no intention of feeding the gossip mill. So I see no reason to alter our arrangement."

Glancing at her, he saw a look of relief in her expression. Now that she knew Rene's true nature, perhaps she was prepared to turn her feelings in the proper direction. Suddenly, he had a mental picture of Evelyn with Rene. The kiss they had shared had been chaste...but it had been a kiss, none the less. Another man's lips had pressed to her cheek.

A man, indeed, he said to himself, fighting the urge to snort in disgust. Rene was nothing. A criminal...a vagabond. She needed to know the kiss of a real man...the only man who mattered.

"Close your eyes, Evelyn."

At first, rather than closing, her eyes grew large. He could read the nervousness there...the uncertainty of his intent. But in a calm, gentle tone, he asked again. She hesitated for another moment, before doing as he requested.

He rose from his chair, placing his cup on the mantle. He took her cup from her hand...noting her slight start when his fingers brushed hers. Putting her cup aside, he came to stand before her. Gently, he pulled her to her feet. He lifted her chin with a bent finger, examining her. What a soft, lovely countenance she had. He'd noticed it from the very first. Cupping her face gently, he lowered his head. Her lips were soft and warm against his, with a hint a wine lingering there. She made the most delightful little sound...one that roused something primal within him. He was tempted to deepen the kiss, to linger in the moment and explore the sweetness of her. But gently, he broke away. She was a girl. Her first kiss had to be tempered, despite his desire for so much more.

Her hands were clenched, her arms held slightly up, as if she'd been preparing to reach for him. For a moment, her eyes remained closed. Then they fluttered open, and she stared up at him with a look of astonishment. He looked down at her, speaking in a soft tone.

"It is late, Evelyn. Perhaps it is best that we retire."

A look of shock passed over her...and he could not help being amused by it. Innocent as she was, it seemed her thoughts could not help taking an indecent path. He was quick to settle her mind.

"I am certain your brother has a chamber for you. I will speak to the housekeeper and arrange a place for myself. The morning will arrive quickly."

He left her then. He had no doubt that her senses were roused...as were his own. And in such a state, it was best to be away. He had made his point. She would cease to think of Rene.

Now, he had only to gather himself together...somehow.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

I love the Muppets. I love Queen. Putting the two together?
Priceless.

(Be sure to mute my music player to hear this)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rebel Mine, Chapter 10 Part Two

As they stood beneath the archway of the manor entrance, Simon turned to look at Lady Theodora. Of all the Gisbornes, he'd expected that she would be calm and composed about this entire situation. After all, one could not lose their good sense in a crisis if they expected to accomplish anything. And from the first, Lady Theodora had seemed quite formidable...in the way she carried herself, and the bold way she spoke. But now, as they stood together, she surprised him with the softness in her tone.

"God speed, your grace. I pray you will find her quickly." She lowered her gaze. "I have often admonished Evie for her childish ways. And time and again, she has reproached me for my tempestuous nature." When she lifted her head to look at him, her eyes were shining with emotion. "But she is most dear to me, despite our differences. If she should not return to us..."

"Do not fear, my lady." He paused, realizing his interruption was rather abrupt. He tried to soften his words. "Evelyn will soon be returned to you. I give you my word."

He left her then, preferring not to linger and see the distress that was evident in her mien. There was something about it that made him uncomfortable...something that tugged at a spot just under his left rib. Sentiment was not a feeling he was accustomed to, and he wondered why it would choose this moment to present itself. He muttered to himself in frustration.

An emotional lot, these Gisbornes are.

He'd never known anyone like them. They battled and loved with equal passion. Now, it seemed that their melodramatic tendencies were becoming an influence. For a moment, he found himself sharing their concern. Beyond the familiar borders of the estate, all manner of man and beast lurked in wait. What if Evelyn was pursued by wolves? They were known to be about. Or what if a band of miscreants saw her riding alone?

He shook away the thought, determined to concentrate on the journey ahead of him. But thoughts of Evelyn pursued him. She was proving to be a most troublesome wench. For one who was supposed to be obedient, she certainly had rebellious tendencies. Wandering the darkened halls in her nightdress and bare feet...befriending rouges...running away from home. And how could he forget her greatest transgression.

She has known the affections of another.

Was it jealousy that stirred in his breast? He thought it impossible to be envious, when he had known his betrothed only a few days. But then, he recalled his nighttime encounter with her. Much as he wished to forget it, he could not help remembering how warm and soft she'd felt in his arms. And she thought to bestow those charms on another?

Never, he thought. Not so long as I breathe life.

Soon enough, he would reveal the truth of the matter...that the man who had charmed her so was nothing more than a liar and a fraud. It would be hurtful, do doubt. But in the end, she would see the benefit.

As his horse was brought to him, he gently patted the animal's neck. Some men sought the company of their fellow human beings, but there was a certain comfort to be found in the companionship of an animal...particularly one who had carried him into a battle, time and again. Octavian was aggressive in a tourney charge or on the field of war, and Simon sometimes wondered if his horse enjoyed the thrill of the fight as much as his master. Whether he took pleasure in it or not, the beast did his duty without hesitation, requiring little in return besides a warm stall, a good grooming, and a bag of oats...along with the occasional carrot. As Simon adjusted the bridle, he spoke quietly to his companion.

"Be thankful you are an equine, my friend. You lead an existence free of complications."

A soft snort was the reply, followed by a snuffling against his master's shirt. For the first time in a long while, Simon found something to amuse him, but he kept his smile slight. He had a mission to undertake. There was little time for frivolity. Mounting up, he took a deep and determined breath. He would find his flighty little bride and return her to her worried family...but before he restored her to them, he vowed to settle a few matters between them.

Obedient, he thought, recalling the word they'd used to so fondly describe her. He snorted, thinking to himself...Not nearly obedient enough.

*****

Toulon was a seaside town, much like Marseilles. It was not surprising that William had chosen to be schooled there, where he could both tend to his studies and satisfy his love of the sea. Just beyond the bustle of the village, where the land knew no commerce and had little habitation, Evelyn stood on the slight ridge above the beach, looking down at the sand below. The shore appeared to be empty, making her fear for a moment that William's housekeeper had been mistaken. He was not here.

What am I to do now? She wondered. Going back to the house was the logical choice. There, she could await his return. But being impatient to find him, she chose to remain where she was, searching her surroundings in the hopes of seeing him. At last, a figure appeared in the distance, emerging from behind a rocky outcrop. She knew that reed-like figure, garbed in simple brown robes. Lifting her skirts, she moved quickly but carefully down the stepping stones set in the bank, calling out to him.

"Will! Oh, Will!"

She saw how he hurried his movements, coming towards her quickly. He was clearly stunned to see her, and yet his smile was welcoming. As they came close, he took her hands in his.

"What on earth brings you here?" He looked over her shoulder, an air of expectancy in his expression. "Where is Papa? Does he await me at the house? And surely Mama did not accompany him, not in her delicate condition?"

Her happiness at seeing him quickly diminished. Her voice grew small as she lowered her head. "Mama and Papa did not accompany me."

"Owen is with you, then?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I came alone, Will." There was a moment of silence as he absorbed her reply. There was a hint of tense amusement in his voice.

"Surely you jest, Evie. A young woman does not travel a distance of some thirty miles without an escort."

She felt a lump forming in her throat. Her relief and happiness at finding him was no more, eclipsed by the circumstances that had brought her to him. Sadness and shame made her silent, and her distress roused his suspicion. His tone was gentle but stern.

"Evelyn Gisborne, what madness is this? You are a sensible girl. You are aware of the dangers that await travelers on the road. What possible reason could you have for such a foolish act?"

Her voice broke in anguish. "Oh, Will! I have disgraced our family and myself! I cannot right the wrong I have done!" She leaned against him, pressing her cheek to his shoulder. She felt the gentle drumming of his hand on her back.

"Wrong?" he asked. "What possible crime could you commit? Never before have you erred. I do not think you capable of it."

Her tears rendered her speechless, and she sniffled into the cloth he handed her. As he took her by the wrist, leading her away, he spoke in his familiar gentle tone.

"Come, sister. We will return to the house so you might collect your senses. Then we shall speak of this horrendous offense of yours."

*****

Evelyn watched as William scribbled out a note on a sheet of parchment. His movements were hurried as he created the message, informing their mother and father of their daughter's whereabouts. Dusting it with pounce, and blowing on it gently to remove the excess powder, he rolled and bound it. Handing it to a page, he gave his instructions with a firm tone.

"Make haste with this. It is of utmost importance. Deliver it promptly and you shall be well rewarded."

Evelyn lowered her eyes to her bowl of pottage. After calming herself, and taking a seat beside William at his dining table, he had listened quietly as she told him all. Now, as she ate, she could feel William's eyes looking her over. His tone was calm, though concerned. He gave a small shake of his head.

"I am at a loss, Evie. Am I to act as a priest, hearing your confession without passing judgement? Or should I act as your brother, and scold you for your improper behavior?"

She kept her eyes cast down. "My day has been most trying, Will. Please do not speak harshly."

He sighed. "You must know that such a request is very difficult. Mama and Papa must certainly be beside themselves with worry."

Her conscience nagged at her. The first moments of passion and shame had driven her flight, making her blind to the dangers beyond the enclosed safety of the estate. Only when she neared Toulon did her good sense return, making her aware of her mistake. But having traveled so far, the thought of trying to return had become a frightening prospect. Now, in the security and comfort of her brother's home, other worries came to her. William was right. Their mother and father were surely in a state of turmoil at this moment. Guilt weighed heavy on her heart, and she grasped for some way to ease the pain.

"Your message will set their minds to rest," she softly said.

William's tone became stern...almost fatherly. "You know that will not suffice."

She took in a shuddering breath. "How can I face Papa? You were not there. You did not witness the shame in his eyes when he looked at me. He might never again think of me as he did before." It grieved her deeply to recall her father's words...his look of deep pain and disappointment. William's words, spoken softly, only bent her heartstrings further.

"Papa loves you very much, Evie. You must know that he favors you above all of us. Despite his anger, I am certain he grieves for you now, as any father would if his child were to go missing. And Mama's heart is breaking at this very moment. Will you allow it to continue?" He paused, his decision clear. "You must return home and relieve them of their distress." She looked up at him, concerned. "But what of his grace? He will certainly learn of my offense to him. And if he chooses to break the match, Papa will be terribly dishonored. I fear I have destroyed all hope for a proper marriage."

He wagged his head. "You cannot be certain of it. And until the moment of truth is upon you, you must hope for the best...even as you prepare yourself for the worst."

Wiping a tear from her eye, her shoulders slacked in despair. "Will, how can I have such a man as my husband? He is so serious in his manner. He seems so cold."

"You have lived such a sheltered life, Evie. Mama and Papa have been abundant in their affection to you, as they have been with all of us. But you know not what a gift it is to be so loved."

As the housekeeper cleared the food away, William poured a cup of ale for himself. He offered her a cup but she declined it, watching him as he sipped. He was preparing a tale for her...she could see it in his eyes.

"I have not had the pleasure of meeting your betrothed, but I have learned of him through Papa. The Marquis knew his mother only briefly. When Simon was seven years of age, he was sent to live with his uncle. He was groomed as a soldier in training. His destiny was to be a warrior, and he was bred with such a temperament. You cannot expect such a man to be soft-hearted."

She felt a pang of sadness at hearing that. It certainly explained his manner, helping her to understand how he had come to be as he was. But others had endured suffering, as he had. Other men had survived the pain of a cruel upbringing, and they had kept their sense of kindness.

"Rene bore a similar tragedy," she said. "His family abandoned him many years ago, and his temperament is so..." She halted her speech, realizing that she came close to revealing too much. What she had said gave William concern, and he looked at her with a curious expression.

"How do you know this?"

Her answer was brief, spoken quickly. "He admitted me into his confidence."

"And then he took advantage of you."

Her anger, spurred by his accusation, caused her voice to rise. "It was not an act of sin. I know it was not. He bid me farewell, and his gesture was one of kindness."

"But he is not your husband, Evelyn."

She held herself defensively, clamping down on the wish to shout in defense of herself and Rene. He was her friend...a person most dear to her. Why could no one understand her feelings?

William, seeming to sense her frustration, rose to his feet.

"Perhaps this conversation should have its end. The matter is no longer important. Your day has no doubt been vexing, sister, so perhaps you should rest. I must journey to church to prepare for Vespers."

He called for the housekeeper, instructing her to show Evelyn to a bedchamber. She lovingly kissed his cheek, and followed the servant. As she was guided away, there was a knock on the door. Evelyn gave it little thought...until she heard the deep voice that spoke.

"I am Simon Jean-Carre, Marquis of Laroque. And I have come to collect Lady Evelyn."



Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rebel Mine, Chapter 10 Part 1

Guy took a ragged breath, looking at the manor looming before him. It had always been such a welcome sight...the only true home he’d ever known. The gravel drive, edged with primrose, had always held special meaning for him...a path leading to a loving sanctuary. Even through times of turbulence, joy abounded within the manor’s stone walls.

But now, trouble pressed heavily upon him. Scandalous whispers would soon flourish because of Rene and Baroness LaCroix, but they were the least of his concerns. Evelyn would be most distressed to learn of this news, and with a heart already wounded, how would she bear it?

He felt a sharp pain, born of guilt, lodged in his breast...and he did not know how to ease it.

Cassia was right, of course. His treatment of Evie had not been just. His youngest daughter had always been so devoted, so adoring of him, even long after her childhood. Thea had clung to him as a little girl, but she had grown independent, even distant, as the years went by. But Evelyn had been ever faithful and true, always attempting to please him as best she could...and at her first error in judgment, he had treated her with utmost cruelty. His anger over Rene’s disgraceful behavior had rendered him blind, not letting him see that his daughter was merely a pawn in a cruel game. He gave another deep sigh at the thought of it. And the sound drew Simon’s notice.

“My lord, are you well?”

Frustration tinted Guy’s response. “No. I assure you I am not.”

“But the treachery has made itself known. The revelation to Evelyn will be difficult, but it must be done.”

Given with an outlet of breath, the reply was bitter. “You know not the impediments, your grace. Fatherhood and marriage carry complexities you have yet to understand.”

Evie would not be the only female in need of conciliation. Until he made amends with his daughter, Cassia would not be pleased. And if there was an aspect of his life he wished to do without, it was the prospect of an unhappy wife. It was not often that she was truly angry with him, but when such unpleasantness unfolded, all of life seemed unbalanced. Though she was more capable of controlling her temper than he was, she could be just as passionate. There seemed to be progressions of her dark moods, one usually proceeding the next. He thought of her warning expression...used mostly on the children. Her right eyebrow would lift slightly. Her hands would settle on her hips, or her arms would cross. Such a warning was usually enough to discourage bad behavior, and as effective though it was, he could not help being amused by it at times. Less amusing were her bursts of outrage when the offense was more serious. He had committed such errors only rarely...the household objects launched in his direction being more than enough to keep him from such foolishness.

Then there was the silent treatment. He shuddered at the thought of that brutal hush she could inflict on him. Only twice could he recall her being so incensed as to stop speaking to him, and the remembrance of it was deeply painful.

He shook his head. Giving his horse his heel, he advanced forward up the walk, intent on seeing to the matter of peacemaking. Rene was gone, and God willing, he would be forgotten quickly. But even with that burden behind him, there was still the matter of Evelyn. He was not certain how he would set things right with her. In all of his years as a parent, he had never sought forgiveness from one of his children. What father on earth would be brought so low as to admit being in the wrong?

I shall admit to it, he decided. I do not lack the courage to acknowledge my errors, and they shall know it.

As he dismounted, he gathered his nerve with the setting of his shoulders and a deep intake of breath. He would seek Cassia’s advice on the matter. In witnessing his attempt to do what was right, she would be happy with him once again. She would comfort him. She would bolster his courage, and then, she would counsel him in his effort to heal his bond with Evie. As he crossed the threshold, with Simon in step behind him, he felt almost hopeful...until Thea came hurrying to him. Both her look, and her words, were fearful.

“Papa, we cannot find Evelyn.”

Guy gave his head a slight shake, not understanding. His feeling of hope was snuffed out, eclipsed by a quickly growing sense of dread.

“What do you mean you cannot find her? She must be about.”

Thea wagged her head. “We have searched everywhere. A groom said she departed for a ride. But she has not returned, and Mama has sent the men to look for her.”

He moved quickly, crossing the hall. “Where is Owen? And Lucien...has he gone as well?”

“Yes, Papa.” Thea followed behind, along with Simon. “Owen and Lucien rode out together, along with the Duke.”

“Where is your Mama?”

“In your chambers. Celeste and Claudia have been with her, as well as I. She wishes to conduct a search of her own, but we will not allow it for the sake of the babe. She is quite upset, Papa, and it concerns me.”

As they ascended the stairs, he felt the weight of fear growing fast over him. He opened the door to his bedchamber...and his heart was crushed by the sight of Cassia, who paced the room as Celeste and Claudia attempted to console her. She looked up at hearing their entrance. Her eyes met his...and her look struck him cold with fear. Turning away, she sat down on the edge of the bed, holding herself. He fought the urge to rush to her, to gather her in his arms and whisper words of comfort in her ear. In front of watching eyes, especially Simon’s, it would not do to display such passion. But he could not refrain from all that he felt. He went to her side, placing a hand on her shoulder. She stiffened at his touch, and it cut him deeply. Difficult as it was, he maintained his stoicism, quietly gathering information.

“Cassia, what has happened? A groom said Evelyn departed on a ride. Did he tell in which direction she traveled?”

She did not look at him. Her voice was calm, but cold.

“He was not clear on her intended direction. But he declared her eyes to be shining with tears.” For one moment she turned to look at him. Her gaze was pointed, silently accusing him. Then she turned away again, seeming to say without words...

You have done this thing. Our daughter has fled, and you are to blame.

It tore at his insides to imagine that she thought so ill of him. He felt so helpless at that moment, knowing that he’d caused her such pain. Her calmness was unnerving, for he knew she was containing herself only while within view of others. Even in times such as these, she gave the appearance of a true noblewoman...collected, calm and sensible, as she was expected to be. But he knew her too well. When they were alone, she would unleash her fury on him...and the thought of it terrified him.

Simon, who had been standing quietly by, came forward.

“My lady, might I make an inquiry?”

Guy stood, turning from everyone. He hung his head mournfully, saying nothing. But Cassia spoke quietly.

“Of course, your grace. Please speak.”

“Is there a particular place your daughter may be fond of? A place of sanctuary in times of trouble? Perhaps there is a relation she may turn to.”

A moment passed. Cassia lifted her head. She rose slowly to her feet. Guy turned to her, watching her expression as a light of hope crossed her features.

“Of course,” she declared. “Why had I not considered it sooner?”

She seemed to speak only to herself for a moment. Guy came to stand behind her, wondering at her sudden change of manner. He meant to speak, but she did so first.

“She might very well go to her brother. Dear William has always been her companion, ever since they were children.” She turned to Guy, her look fierce and determined. “You must go to him instantly and fetch her home.”

He nodded quickly, prepared to rush to the task. But Simon spoke up.

“Forgive me, Sir Guy. But perhaps you should remain here, to see to your wife and family. With your permission, I will travel to your son’s parish. I will bring Evelyn home to you.”

Guy and Cassia looked at one another, neither speaking. Guy gave a small nod, granting his permission. Cassia turned to the other occupants of the room.

“Claudia and Celeste, please leave us.” As they went, Thea came to her mother and embraced her. Cassia kissed her cheek. “My darling, please escort his grace downstairs. Direct him and see that he has all he requires for his journey.”

Thea departed with Simon, and as they went, Guy turned to his wife. His heart sank at the light of harshness in her eyes. He tried to comfort her with reassurance, speaking gently as he placed a hand upon her cheek.

“I am certain the Marquis is right. Evelyn is with William, and she is well. She will soon be returning to us.”

Her sudden movement, thrusting his hand back to him, lashed his heart. Her dark eyes were brimming with tears.

“What if he is mistaken? What if our daughter wanders lost and finds herself in danger? There will be no words of consolation I will hear from you then.”

She fled from his attempt to reach for her, escaping into the next room and slamming the door shut. He went to it, reaching for the handle...but he paused. Resting his head against the door, he closed his eyes, praying that he hadn’t destroyed everything in the world that he held dear.