Monday, February 28, 2011

My Lady Gisborne, Chapter 16

Evelyn jumped, startled by the sound of her father's fist slamming the table. He stood up. As he took to stalking back and forth, he fumed in a foreign tongue.

"Dio Dannazione!a me perché provengono questi problemi?Per quale motivo? Sto maledetto a soffrire per il resto dei miei giorni? Fottuto inferno! Se trovo che bastardo io personalmente romperà suo collo!"

Evelyn heard Simon's hushed question, spoken with a curious...almost an amused note, as he inclined his head to her. "I see Rome has influenced your father's speech."

She sighed, a despondent sound. "He rarely speaks the language. He talks so when he is particularly upset. When we were children, he spoke in such a way as to shelter our ears from unfit language. But clearly, some words cannot be disguised."

Her understanding of Italian was not very adept, but there was little need for translation. Anger was anger, in any language.

She and Simon had returned to the hall in a quiet manner, giving the pretense of a few stolen moments together. After the evening's entertainment was done, Simon had approached Guy and quietly requested an audience with only family members present. With a curious light in his eye, Guy had dismissed the servants and performers, as well as the members of his garrison who were ever present. The family had gathered together, listening as Simon broke the news.

Now Guy was in a rage. From what little Evelyn could understand, her father had a desire to see Rene's neck broken. She looked to Simon, who sat beside her. He seemed to be deep in thought, perhaps forming his own plan.

So much for a planned holiday, she thought, lamenting the next few days she had hoped to spend happily with Simon. Now, here they were, wrapped in yet another web of trouble.

As Guy walked the floor in anger, his fingers furiously rubbing his temples, Owen spoke up. His brow was furrowed, his mouth set in a serious and stern line.

"There should be no debate on the matter. The woman must be returned to the convent at once."

Thea, ever at odds with whatever Owen had to say, gave her own opinion.

"Baroness LaCroix has been our friend and neighbor for many years. I think we should consider her circumstances before we make a hasty decision."

"She shamed her husband," said Owen, his eyes cast on Thea with a harsh light. "She dishonored her class and herself by committing adultery, and then she escaped from her confinement. Why should we harbor such an indecent woman in our house? We might all be excommunicated...possibly even imprisoned for lodging a convict."

The voice of their mother, always the calm in the center of a storm, was soothing to Evelyn's ear. Cassia spoke in her strong but steady way.

"No matter what she has done, it is not our place to judge her. God will see to that one day. For the moment, I agree with Thea. I believe we should consider being of aid to a woman we have all known as a friend."

Guy stopped in his march, coming to stand at the front end of the dining table. He crossed his arms. His tone was calmer now...his words spoken in English...but his anger had not diminished.

"I am the master of the house, and I say that Owen is correct. Why should we harbor her? She knew the consequences of her actions...the punishment they would bring if discovered. Why should we be of aid to her? Such indulgence may lead to our own ruin."

"Sir Guy, if I may say..." Simon stood, his presence taking command of the room. He spoke in a commanding voice. "I think perhaps you should meet with the baroness before making a decision to remove her from your house."

Basil, who had been relatively quiet thus far, sighed as he gave voice. "My son, what possible difference could that make? Sir Guy is correct. To keep her here would bring only shame and dishonor."

"I do not condone her actions," Simon replied. "But neither do I approve of abuse towards women."

Everyone looked at each other with curious glances. Cassia was the first to respond.

"What abuse do you speak of, your grace?"

Simon's expression became rather grim. "Two days ago, my words kept the baroness from her husband's hand raised in violence. But sadly, words alone could not tame his wrath altogether."

No one gave reply to his declaration. Evelyn looked from one face to another, seeing their expressions as they realized what Simon meant. His words continued to hold them in thrall.

"It is my opinion that Lady Isabella has received just punishment, and will continue to endure it. She will be stripped of her title and wealth. Her name will be spoken of with distaste and ridicule. And her husband has seen to it that she does not forget his displeasure. To give her to the law would merely be a way of playing to the crowd. They find base entertainment in the misery of a fellow human being."

Galvanized by his chivalry, Evelyn rose to her feet, standing by his side.

"I agree with Simon," she boldly declared. "Yes, Lady Isabella has done wrong. But there are times when we must remember our humanity. I believe that on this occasion, we should do not what our fellow noblemen expect of us...but what we know is right."

Simon's influence roused the women of the room. Thea rose to her feet, her face and features set with more stubbornness that ever.

"His grace has spoken, Papa. We must not dishonor him."

Guy reached out with a furious hand, knocking his trencher and cup from the table. As he stormed from the room, a tense silence fell. Cassia sighed, pushing her wine goblet aside.

"I shall speak to him later," she said. "But now, I will go to Isabella."

"As will I," said Evelyn. She went to her mother. Along with Thea, they helped Cassia rise from her chair. As they walked with her towards the stairs, Evelyn looked back at the men. The duke's expression was unreadable, as if he were quite uncertain what had happened. Owen was sitting with his arms folded, frowning with displeasure. And Simon was standing in observance. His arms were folded, much like Owen's. But his stature was one of confidence. He turned to look at Evelyn, giving her a slight smile. She smiled back...a look of adoration...and followed her mother and sister upstairs.


Tears fell down Isabella's cheeks. Cassia sat beside her, holding her hand. Thea, holding Gabriel, sat beside Evelyn in the window seat. Together they watched and listened as the she spoke in a trembling voice.

"I have destroyed everything. My marriage, my status. And now, I shall never again see my son."

She broke into sobs, crying against Cassia's shoulder. But just as quickly as she leaned on her, she pulled away.

"Oh Cassia, forgive me," she cried. "I grieve on the shoulder of an expecting mother. I am the lowest of women to burden you so."

With a smile, Cassia patted Isabella's hand. "You have just cause for your unhappiness. To hold it within would be unwise."

"But to unburden myself to you, in your condition..."

Cassia responded with an amused expression. There was a sparkle in her dark eyes. "You speak as my husband speaks. He seems not to understand that after four children, I am hardly delicate. I like to think I am quite resilient."

Isabella gave a little smile. Cassia called for Celeste, telling her to fetch clean garments and have a bath prepared for their guest. As she left, Evelyn rose to her feet. A thoughtful expression crossed her features. She crooked her finger to her chin, thinking.

"Mama," she said, "Perhaps we could send her to stay in Toulon."

Cassia looked at her, saying nothing. She seemed to be considering the thought. The idea sprouted more fully in Evelyn's mind.

"She could claim sanctuary if she were to live at William's parish. He could find her an occupation, something that would not be too difficult."

Thea spoke up. She rested Gabriel against her shoulder, rubbing his back. She looked at her sister with a doubtful eye.

"Evelyn, a noblewoman cannot work as a servant."

"I am a noblewoman no longer," said Isabella.

They all turned to look at her. She drew away from Cassia. Righting her posture, Isabella reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes.

"I have made a shambles of my life...but I yet live. If I must lower myself to the position of a servant, I will do so. It will be my penance for the sins I have committed." She lowered her head in shame.

Evelyn came to stand before her, looking at the once proud Baroness LaCroix. Not so long ago, she had felt such jealousy of this woman. And she had sometimes felt the return of unpleasant feelings, though they had not been given voice. Now, she could only feel pity. Strange, it seemed, how circumstances could change so quickly. In a gentle voice, she offered her comfort.

"Do not fear, my lady. My brother is the same as he ever was...noble and kind. He will see that you are well cared for."

Their eyes met. Isabella smiled, thanking Evelyn for her graciousness. Evelyn returned the smile with her own, and in that moment, they became friends. She turned to her mother.

"I shall speak to Simon," she declared. "He will be glad to know we have come to a swift conclusion."

Cassia replied. "Be certain he informs your Papa as soon as possible. If he does not hear good news soon, I fear he will go mad."

Evelyn smiled, stepping from the room. She did not have to search for Simon, for when she turned from closing the door, he was waiting there for her. He gave her a curious look.

"We have settled the matter," she told him.

He raised an eyebrow in interest. "So soon?" He offered her his arm, which she took gladly. They walked along the hall, taking their time as they conversed.

"We will send Isabella to Toulon," she explained. "William will see to her welfare, under the protection of the church, of course. It will not be so strict as the abbey, but I believe she will be set on the proper course."

He made a sound of uncertainty, and remarked. "Let us hope that this time, she remains on said course."

Evelyn gave a nod. Then, her thoughts turned to him. He was a man of power and great influence. He could have condemned Isabella. And yet he had granted her protection. She looked at him, studying the masculine beauty of his face.

"Simon, why did you defend Lady Isabella? Your word could have easily returned her to the convent...or worse."

There was a hint of amusement in his response. "Would you rather I had done so?"

She smiled, his teasing reply warming her. "Certainly not," she said. "But other men would have had no qualms about doing so." Twining her arm more tightly around his, she pressed herself as close as decency would allow, wishing to share a deeper connection with him. "I am curious to know your thoughts, Simon. Please tell me why you acted so."

"I live by the code, Evelyn. It is imprinted on my soul. There are those who would twist such a set of laws to their own advantage...perhaps even ignore them altogether. But I would dishonor myself if I were to do so."

"You would protect a woman, even at the risk of your own reputation?"

"I would," he replied.

They came to a pause. He turned to her, looking deep into her eyes. She felt a familiar stirring in her soul. Her heart beat faster. His hand gripped hers, warm and strong.

"For any woman, I would give my protection." He reached up, placing his right palm on her cheek. "For you, I would give my life."

She felt a weakness in her knees. Were it not for his left hand, which had slipped around to press the small of her back, she was certain she might have fallen. As he brought his face close to hers, she closed her eyes in anticipation. When his warm lips pressed to hers, she eagerly reached up to put her arms around his neck. Her fingers came up to play with the soft waves of his hair. Something inside of her came unfurled. She wanted more than this. There was warmth and excitement in his gentle kiss, but there was a strange hunger growing within her. But she knew not how to express it. The feeling was wild and wicked, and while a tiny portion of her brain wondered at her wantonness, her body ached with a nameless need. A whimper of frustration escaped her. She longed for more. If only Simon knew of her feelings.

His hand moved gently from her cheek, coming to hold the back of her head...and then, she felt a bolt of sensation as his tongue lightly touched her lips. Of its own volition, her mouth opened slightly, as if to gasp in shock. But the gasp became a heated sharing of breath...a heated kiss that ended much too soon. He broke the connection, and she trembled as he pulled her close. She could have sworn that she heard him groan in frustration. His cheek was pressed against her hair, his lips near her ear. His voice sounded rough...almost angry.

"What you do to me, Evelyn."

Had she done something wrong? She started to ask. But he pulled away, bidding her a soft good night as he left her.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 15, Parts Two and Three


With his hands cupped around his mouth, Rene shouted the warning. He rang the bell at the front gate. With maniacal energy he shouted again, yanking the rope so the bell clanged repeatedly...and then he hurried away from the gate, where the sisters were sure to come. Across from the moat bridge, a giant oak was ablaze. He watched it burn, the flames shooting skyward and lighting the night with an eerie orange glow. The application of the pitch had worked perfectly. Poured over the branches and lit with the spark from a flint, it had ignited fast and burned quickly.

There soon came cries of shock and the sound of people rushing. He slinked away from the scene, moving along the abbey wall. He rounded the corner.

Another tree was there. He scaled it, coming to the top of the abbey wall. From over his shoulder, he took a rope ladder, and hanging a wrung over a raised wall block, he let the rest fall down into the courtyard below. Pursing his lips, he emitted his familiar bird call...and down below he heard her hushed response.

"I am here."

The shine of the moon gave enough light so he could see her silhouette moving. Slowly, she climbed the ladder. When she reached the top, he helped her to stand steady. When she glanced down, she wavered and clung to him in fear. Her voice trembled.

"Oh, Rene. I shall faint from this height."

For the first time that day, he smiled, whispering in her ear. "There is no time for fear, dear Izzy. We must go, quickly." Taking up the ladder, he threw it over the outside of the wall. Isabella clung to him. She shook her head, fearful, insisting she could not climb down.

"I will go first," he said. "If you should lose your footing, I will soften your fall."

He heard her angry whisper in return. "Only you would jest at such a time."

He gently squeezed her hand, a gesture of reassurance. He smiled to himself as he moved down the ladder. She soon followed after him, and at the bottom of the wall, he stepped back to wait for her. When she came close, he reached out to lift her to the ground. Her arms went around his neck. Her breath trembled with relief. But he allowed the embrace for only a moment. Pulling back, he took her by the hand.

"Come. We must away." He hurried her along, moving into the shelter of the woods.

"What of the fire?" she asked. "Will it spread to the Abbey?"

He shook his head. "It is doubtful. The flames are not close enough."

"Where do we go?"

It was a moment before he answered. His tone was uncertain...and yet, determined.

"To find sanctuary...with a friend."


Evelyn sat beside Simon, watching a fool performing juggling tricks. The entertainment was meant to ease the minds of those present, particularly the ladies of the house. By now, word had spread of the men's imminent departure. The news was met with much sadness, but Guy insisted upon spending the next few days in merriment. He had ordered entertainment after supper, and tomorrow, if the weather permitted, they would all spend the day picnicking.

She glanced over at Simon, and a little smile came to her lips. It was amusing to think of him taking on such a venture as a picnic. He seemed to be one who was incapable of leisure. Even on their tour of the grounds, he had been in constant motion, both in body and mind. But perhaps he would surprise her, as he had before. There seemed to be many mysteries about him. Discovering his secrets might prove to be a very entertaining venture.

She leaned in to speak to him. But Oliver, a young footman, appeared behind her. He seemed rather troubled, his voice giving a slight tremble as he spoke in a low voice.

"Pardon, my lady Evelyn. May I beg a word with you?"

She nodded, rising from her chair. Something was amiss if s servant came to her rather than going to her father or her mother.

What on earth could it be? She wondered.

Simon's hand suddenly reached out, gently holding her wrist.

"What draws you away?" he asked.

His expression was one of concern. Since that afternoon, he had occasionally glanced at her with such a look. Wishing to ease his mind, she smiled at him, shaking her head in reply to his question.

"It is nothing of great importance, I am certain."

As she walked away, she wondered...

Does he have suspicions in regard to Rene? It was likely that he did, for he was not a foolish man. But the last thing on earth she wanted was to trouble him further. He had been exceedingly understanding thus far. Most men, particularly ones of his rank, would have long since broken such a vexing arrangement. She recalled the lighthearted conversation they had shared...the sweetness and amusement between them.

I shall be quite troublesome.

I welcome the challenge, my lady.

She could only hope that he truly meant it.

Oh, if only Rene had never come back. He had caused such trouble already. Now, just by being in her thoughts, he was endangering the trust she was trying to forge with Simon. Eager to return to his side, she pressed the footman to tell her of his concern.

"What is it, Oliver? I do not wish to be away for long."

He replied in a hushed tone. "My lady, there is a friar outside. He says he must speak to you, and only you. He says it is of great urgency."

Rene, she fumed in silence. Who else could it be? Oh, he would be the ruin of her! She clenched her teeth in muted fury. For a moment, she considered fetching Simon. He would have no qualms about getting rid of a troublemaker...of that she was certain.

But to do so would only invite further calamity. No, she thought. I will allow Rene one last chance. Just one, and then I will set the wolves upon him. Steeling her nerve, she spoke calmly.

"Where is he?"

Oliver gestured his head towards the front door. "Just outside, my lady. Should I accompany you?"

She wagged her head. "No, Oliver. Thank you. I shall speak to him myself."

Yes, I shall speak to him, she fumed to herself. If I do not strangle him first.


She paused in the vestibule, closing her eyes as she asked herself...

Lord, what madness has possessed me?

To venture out, alone, when it was probable that she would be watched...It was beyond foolish. But what choice did she have? She swore to herself that this time, she would be rid of Rene, once and for all. There was nothing he could say that would soften her heart.

Stepping out into the night, she looked around...and there he was, at a distance, standing at the corner of the house. The night torches were not especially bright, but she did not need illumination to know it was him. She advanced quickly, her voice an angry whisper.

"How dare you show yourself here? Remove yourself this instant or I shall have you arrested for trespassing!"

He brought his finger to his lips, trying to shush her. Oh, the audacity! she thought, growing angrier.

"Do not tell me to be quiet! I should box your ears here and now, you degenerate! You are fortunate I do not scream like a madwoman and set the entire household upon you!"

He broke into her rant, speaking quickly. "I need your help, Evelyn."

His request gave her pause, if only for a moment. Her declaration was firm. She narrowed her eyes at him. "I will not help a criminal."

"But you will help a noblewoman in need of aid."

Her tongue faltered, not understanding his meaning...until he stepped back, turning his attention to someone in the shadows. The figure slowly came forward. Evelyn gasped.

"Baroness LaCroix. Good heavens!"

Even in the flickering shadows of torchlight, she could see the change in Isabella's features...the abuse she had endured. It pained her to witness it. She could not find words.

"Evelyn," said Rene, "I am on the run. I can fend for myself. But Isabella has no refuge. No one to care for her. I beseech you to help her."

She reclaimed her voice. Her anger rose again, and she glared at him.

"How can you place such a weight on my shoulders?"

"Because I know you are a true lady," he whispered, a plea in his voice. "You are good and kind. I beg of you, please help her."

A moment of silence fell...and was promptly broken by an unexpected male voice.


It was Simon calling. Evelyn felt her heart race with fear. She looked at Rene, and Isabella. All three looked at one another...and then Rene was gone, fleeing into the darkness. Isabella took a small step back, and Evelyn turned to face Simon, who was approaching quickly. He came to her, placing a light but firm hold on her arm.

"Evelyn, I can be silent no longer. First your tears in the garden. Now you wander away under strange circumstances. I demand to know..." He looked over her shoulder, and his mouth fell slightly open. He closed it. And cast his eyes directly on her.

"What goes on here?" he demanded.

She looked into his eyes, fearful. "Simon, please do not be angry. 'Twas not my fault."

Isabella stepped forward. "She speaks the truth, my lord. She did not know I was to be left here."

"Left here?" he demanded. "How?"

"Rene granted me my freedom."

At the mention of Rene, Simon's eyes glittered with rage. He moved towards Isabella.

"He steals you from the abbey, risking your life for a second time. And then he abandons you here, setting the weight of responsibility on the Gisbornes?"

Isabella lowered her head, saying nothing. Evelyn watched as Simon looked at the Baroness. He turned away, growling in a rage of frustration. He soon took to pacing back and forth. If he wished, he could order Isabella away, or have her detained and sent back to the convent. Who could blame him for his anger? If he chose to give such an order, there would be no changing his mind.

But would he send her back?

She had seen his expression upon looking at the seeing her face in its current state. He had pity for her suffering. But would he let his compassion cloud his judgment?

He stopped, gripping the back of his neck.


Her senses were heightened, waiting to hear what he would say. She took a slight step forward. Without turning, Simon spoke in a firm tone.

"Take Lady Isabella to your room, using the servant's stairway. Then, make haste and return to me."

For a moment she was stunned. But there was no time for dallying in wonder at his actions. Others would soon wonder where they had gone. Taking Isabella by the hand, she pulled her along. As they carefully entered the house through a rear side door, the baroness spoke quietly.

"The marquis is a surprising man. He risks much in allowing me here."

Moving up the servant's stairway, Evelyn kept her eyes and ears open for anyone who might cross their path. She replied in an urgent whisper.

"We are all at risk, Baroness. You, above all. We must pray that no one else discovers your presence."

The baroness paused suddenly, bringing Evelyn to a halt. They looked at one another, and Isabella's eyes were full of fear.

"Will your family turn me out?"

Evelyn found it difficult to answer. "I do not know for certain."

They looked at one another for a long moment. Remembering where they were, Evelyn turned her thoughts back to her mission. Moving once again, she entered the hall leading to her room. It was blessedly quiet and empty. Moving swiftly to her door, she opened it and led Isabella in. As quickly as they had come, Evelyn prepared to leave.

"I must go," she said. "Stay here. Rest, if you wish. I will return soon."

Isabella nodded. Evelyn took her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. Then she turned, slipping back into the hall. She leaned against the door, crossing herself. God had granted her many favors of late. She could only hope he would continue being so generous.


Simon was waiting for her when she returned. As she approached him, a wave of feeling came over her. A memory came to her of the first time they had met, just a week ago. How wrong she had been to fear think him cold and unfeeling. She had misjudged him so grievously. His selflessness overwhelmed her, and as she came to his side, she lowered her head.

"Forgive me, Simon."

His voice was gentle and calm. "What offense have you given that warrants an apology?"

"I feel that somehow, I am at fault. Had I been more diligent from the first, Rene might have turned his attention elsewhere. He would not have returned." She raised her eyes to him. "And you would not be risking scandal."

He reached out, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. His warm touch sent shivers down her spine. How she adored the sound of his soothing, and yet so confident and strong.

"We did not ask for this trouble, Evelyn. But we will shoulder it."

A torrent of emotion came over her. She wished so much to tell him all that she felt for him...the love that was growing strong in her heart. Words of sweetness formed on her lips. But before she could speak them, he took her hand.

"Come," he said. "We must return to the hall."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 15, Part One

Rene crouched behind the forest shrubbery, looking at the building in the distance...the imposing structure that was the Abbey of St. Victor. Its outer walls were built high and thick. Surrounding it was a moat, which was probably as deep as it was wide. Such a fortress was meant to shut out the world beyond...and to confine the life within.

This was Isabella's prison.

He had only just learned of her whereabouts from the keeper of the inn where he had recently stayed. Good God, he thought. He could not imagine Isabella in a place such as this. She was a well-bred noblewoman. She had never done work beyond the occasional stitchery or other simple duties. Here, she would not know the comfort of her rank, for she was a sinner condemned. For the rest of her days, she would be expected to do serious penance for her crimes.

Not if I can help it, he thought.

There was not a fortress built that he could not manage his way into. It was a notion of mind over matter. Climbing the walls was one route he had considered. But in the bright light of day, it was too great a risk. He had thought again...and a more intelligent solution had come to mind.

Stepping out from the shelter of the trees, he raised the hood of his friar's robe. His stolen friar's robe. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was aware of the fate the afterlife held in store for him. This falsehood alone...imitating a man of the cloth...would likely grant him a place in hell. But he could not think of that now. Isabella was here because of him. He would see that wrong righted, even if it meant the condemnation of his soul.

He kept his head lowered as he approached the iron gates. Peering at the courtyard within, he could see it was quiet and empty. At this hour, near sunset, all in residence would be at vespers. Tugging the bell rope, he wondered how long he would remain in wait...and he was surprised when a prioress soon arrived to question his presence. He spoke in a quiet, gentle manner.

"Good day, madam. God save you."

The nun was serious and direct. "Make haste and state your purpose, sir. You interrupt vespers."

He nodded. "I beg pardon, sister. I am sent by the Baron LaCroix."

Her eyes grew with interest...and suspicion. "For what purpose does he send you here?"

"The Baron sends me to counsel his wayward wife."

Her expression was cold. "Her counseling shall be done well enough within our walls. We have no need of outside influence."

Crone, he thought. She would not be easy to sway... but he was not fearful of a challenge.

"The Baron sends me," he said, giving a pleading sound to his tone. "To have his request denied will cause him great offense."

She was unmoved. Her voice was flat and cold. "I cannot permit you here, sir. You must return from whence you came."

He had prepared for this circumstance. His pleasantry would not sway her...but perhaps she would respond to other inducements. He reached into his robe, removing a small purse. He held it out to her.

"A donation to your house, madam." He placed it in her palm, noticing the changing light in her eyes. "Perhaps it will amend any inconvenience," he said, "And allow me to see to my cause."

He could see the change in her expression. Perhaps she was displeased with her own decision, but it was clear she would relent. A moment passed. He watched as she produced a key. Turning it in the lock, she opened the gate to admit him...and all the while her eyes scrutinized his every move. He was careful to maintain his placid facade as he followed along behind her.

"Lady Isabella is in seclusion," she said. "You are permitted only a brief audience."

His reply was cool. "You are most generous, madam."

She led him down a long corridor. It was deep in shadow, illuminated only by the occasional window slit. They seemed to walk on and on, and with each step, Rene felt the isolation press heavier upon him. At last the prioress paused before a heavy oak door. She turned to him.

"Make haste with your counsel. I must return to vespers."

Rene lowered his head, acquiescing. The prioress opened the door, stepping back so he might pass. The door did not close entirely as he entered the room, but the thought was only a passing one. His attention was drawn to the occupant of the room. She was seated on a cot, facing a narrow window. She was dressed in a simple gown of pale grey coloring, but he knew her willowy figure, and her long blond hair. It was parted and hung loose. He had expected something like this, for he knew that to live within these walls was to accept the vow of poverty. But nothing could have prepared him for what he saw when she turned to look at him. He found it difficult to speak.

"Isabella," he gasped.

His lovely Izzy, as he had always called her. The mark of her husband's anger was shockingly evident, and it sickened him. Her face was marred with fading bruises. Her right eye was swollen. If this was the result after a few days of passing time, what horror had she first endured?

For a moment, she looked at him with an empty stare. He realized that his hood shadowed his face...that she did not recognize him. He drew the hood back, whispering her name again. Her eyes came alive with recognition. And she began to weep. She shrank away from him, trying to cover her face, but he grasped her hands. She tried to pull away, but he drew her close, putting his arms around her until she became calm. He whispered in her ear, aware of the presence just outside the door.

"Oh, Izzy," he spoke softly. "Forgive me. I never wished for this. I will make it right. I swear it."

After a moment, she spoke quietly. "There is nothing to be done," she sniffled. "My fate has been decided for me. My life is in the hands of God, and I must endure his punishment. For my sins, I suffer his wrath."

With defiance in his eyes, he shook his head. "You will face God in the next life. Here and now, there is no fate but what we ourselves make."

She pulled away, keeping her head lowered. He whispered to her.

"I will come tonight. You will know my signal when you see it. As soon as you can, come to the south wall. I will be there, waiting."

She started to speak, but the chamber door opened. Their time was at its end. He rose to his feet, quickly replacing his hood and making the mark of the cross. The prioress was waiting for him, with that same suspicious look. But he gave her little notice. The first part of his plan was nearly complete. He could only hope the next phase would go as smoothly.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 14, Part Two

A page met Simon in the hall, and led him up the stairs to Sir Guy's quarters. There, in the solar, was the Duke and Sir Guy, along with Sir Lucien and Owen. No women were present...not even servants. Simon could sense the seriousness of all involved. The tension was heavy in the air. As he stepped further into the room, his father looked at him.

"Ah, there you are," Basil said. "Come."

Stepping to his father's side, Simon examined the faces of those around him. Guy sat at his desk, looking down at a parchment he held. Owen and Lucien stood on either side of him. Their sober expressions told him that this matter, whatever it was, would be much more important than he had realized. Basil folded his arms, speaking in a solemn voice.

"We have just received a message from the King's ambassador. We are to travel to court three days hence."

Simon's brow raised in interest. "For what purpose?" He looked at the parchment in Guy's hand.

"To discuss rumors of war," Basil replied.

Simon looked back to his father, giving a shrug. "Such rumors are nothing new," he said. "Why travel to court?"

Even as he asked the question, he wondered where it sprang from. When had he ever questioned a request from the King? Basil did not seem particularly phased by the odd question. He replied with the same seriousness.

"It is believed that his majesty's enemies make plans to move against him. Phillip calls upon all men of rank to come to court, so that the matter can be more deeply discussed."

All of the men looked at one another. Sir Guy, who had kept his eyes lowered and focused on the message, at last looked up. His voice dropped to a low tone, nearly a whisper.

"We cannot be certain how matters will unfold," he said. "And until we know more, I do not wish the details to be discussed in the presence of my wife."

"Nor I," said Lucien. "Theodora has been through much of late. I will not have her further unsettled by fears of war."

"Mama is with child," said Owen. "Such grave news could upset her."

Guy rose to his feet. "It is settled, then. Our journey to court will be discussed as a matter of politics...nothing more. No further detail is to be given. Are we all agreed?"

They all looked at one another, nodding silently in agreement.

The thought of war sent a familiar surge of euphoria through Simon's blood. It had been months since his last foray into battle. It had been days since he had fought his brief fight against Lucien in the tourney. Lord, where had his mind been? Precious time had been lost. Had his skills waned? Before his journey to court, perhaps he would spar with Sir Guy's soldiers and sharpen his skills. He would prepare for the imminent fight...for it would come soon. His instincts, and his logic, told him it was a foregone conclusion. War was not just a matter of defending one's lands. It was a sport of Kings. When the King went to war, his subjects were expected to follow, without question.

So why, then, was an unsettling feeling brewing within him?

He could not remember a time when he had felt reservations in regard to his duty. But as he left Sir Guy's chamber, he thought of the looks on the faces of the Earl and Sir Lucien. Their eyes held no lust for blood, as so many men had when faced with the prospect of a battle. There was no excitement in their thrill at the notion of conquering the enemy. Sir Guy and Lucien spoke of the code, and surely they would do right by their King. How could they not? To refuse would be treason. But they thought not of themselves. They thought of their wives...their families. Sir Guy and Sir Lucien had much at stake.

As do I, he realized.

It was an astonishing that fell over him like the shock of ice cold water. Just outside, waiting in the orchard, was the promise of his future. How could he go, knowing that he might not return? His sons and daughters, yet to be born...his legacy, was wrapped up in Evelyn.

How could he leave her, when he was only just coming to know her?

He had no choice. He sovereign had called, and he would answer. All he could do now was make the most of the next few days.

As he came upon the orchard, he saw her sitting there on the bench, just where had had left her. But there was a change. She wiped her eyes...and he realized that she had been weeping. He had left her in such a fervent state. What offense had caused this? He hurried to her side. When she saw his approach, she straightened her posture and dabbed her eyes, making an attempt to correct herself. He recalled her making that same attempt at propriety only two nights ago. Sitting beside her now, he spoke gently.

"I am not offended by tears, Evelyn. Tell me the cause of your distress."

She looked up at him. His heart ached at the sight of hurt in her eyes. Reaching out, he tenderly touched her cheek. Shaking her head, she tried to smile.

"It is nothing of importance. Merely thoughts of...unpleasant things. But please, do not concern yourself with it."

He slowly removed his hand, allowing her several moments to compose herself. He believed not a word of her declaration. Clearly, something had happened in his brief absence. But he felt it best not to press her on the matter. If she wished not to speak of it, perhaps the matter was best left alone. There were other matters at hand.

"Evelyn," he said, "I must travel to court."

She looked up at him, stunned. "Why? How soon?"

"Three days from now. We are called on matters of politics. I am certain it is nothing of significance."

Her eyes widened with concern. "We? Who goes with you?"

"My father, and yours. Along with Owen and Sir Lucien."

There was a moment of silence as she absorbed the news. Her reply was soft and quiet. "Mama will be most unhappy to hear of this, as will Thea. They will miss their husbands very much." She raised her eyes to him. "And so shall I."

Her gaze held his. He felt the familiar warmth rising between them. But then, her eyes lowered. She reached for his hand, clasping it in both her own. She bowed her head, and her soft lips kissed his fingers...a gesture of such sweetness, such gentleness, he was uncertain how to respond. He had known many emotions in his life, but this was something different. Something new. It was a tender, delicate feeling...a sweet pain that ached just under his left rib. Slowly she moved closer. Her head came to rest against him. And without conscious will, his arms came around to hold her. His heart beat fast...not with excitement, not with passion, but with something more. Something profound...


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rebel Mine Chapter 14, Part One

Her head had ceased its spinning. And yet the sensation of weightlessness went on. Was she sat upon a cloud? It felt as though she was. She pressed her palms to her cheeks, feeling the warmth that flowed there...and a tiny giggle escaped her lips.

How had it happened? Just this morning, her heart had ached with sadness, fearful that Simon's attentions would be few and far between. But what a splendid day they had shared...and then his kiss.

What might have happened if Owen had not interrupted? For a moment, her brow furrowed in anger. When she saw him again, she intended to let him know of her displeasure...with force, if necessary.

But her anger dissipated quickly. How could she remain unhappy...wasting time on thoughts of Owen...when thoughts of Simon were so joyous, overwhelming everything?

She rose to her feet, too exhilarated to remain still. Folding her hands, pressing them to her lips, she smiled to herself. Never had she felt a feeling like this...not even with Rene.

She thought of him, and cursed her own foolishness. He had nearly brought her to ruin. Perhaps not in the physical sense. Other than the kiss on her cheek, he had not made an attempt to harm her. But his bold behavior could have cost her nearly everything. Were it not for her beloved father and for Simon, she would have never known the extent of Rene's deception.

She shook her head, wishing to forget him. Simon was her betrothed...the man that God had intended for her. These feelings for him were pure, untainted by worry of what their consequences might be. So why, then, was she standing here alone? She could be with him. And she felt that she should be with him. He would soon be her husband, and her place was at his side.

Her mind was in a whirl, her heart aflutter as she thought of being near him. Yes, in the company of others, there would have to be proper behavior and polite words between them. But she was certain that when the moment was right, she would find her way back to his arms. She hurried her steps...but suddenly, she froze.

Rene. He appeared from out of nowhere, blocking her path. He looked at her with a little smile...that sly expression she had come to know. He began to speak.

"Evelyn," he said. He paused, as if he was uncertain how to continue.

Anger welled up within her. He dared to act the coy gentleman...the lying, scheming bastard. His words fell from his lips in a seemingly concerned tone.

"I know I should not be here, but I needed to see you. I worried for you, Evelyn."

She slapped him, hard across the cheek, silencing him in an instant. He staggered back, shocked...and she advanced without mercy.

"Deceiver!" she spat. "Lying, whoring, deceiver!"

He tried to speak, but his attempt drove her rage further. She swung at him again, wishing she could take out every ounce of her anger and pain on him. When he caught her hands, trying to still her, she struggled wildly to free herself, spouting furious words. He tried to speak over her, and only her sudden onset of tears gave him allowance.

"Evelyn! What has come over you? What has happened?"

As tears spilled down her cheeks, she found her voice again.

"Do not take me for a fool! You are a liar! The Baroness was your lover all along, you despicable, disgusting wretch!"

"Evelyn, I..."

"Do not deny the truth! You whored with her, and then you left her to her husband's wrath without a thought for anyone but yourself!"

His eyes widened slightly. His voice grew quiet. "Isabella..."

He seemed genuinely stunned, as though he did not know what had happened. Oh, he was the worst of libertines and criminals! But she could not think anymore of the Baroness. Her own heartbreak, brought by his betrayal, blinded her to all else. His hold had slackened, and she flung him away. The sight of him was sickening to her. She turned to flee...but he reached for her, clutching her arm.

"Evelyn, wait!"

She pulled at his hold. They struggled with one another...until he suddenly shouted at her.

"Listen to me!"

His outburst stunned her into silence. She looked at him, seeing his eyes. They were filled with a strange that seemed like concern. Genuine concern. If only she could believe it was real. And yet she listened, prepared at the slightest provocation to strike him again.

"I did not know of the discovery. I thought Isabella to be safe. I would never wish harm on any woman. You must believe me."

She sneered. "Why should I believe any word that falls from your tongue?"

"Because it is true!"

Her words were vicious. "You know nothing of the truth. You are so wrapped in your own web of deception that you can no longer distinguish between what is true and what is not."

"Evelyn," he said, almost pleading. "Please let me explain."

"Was all of it a ruse? Was it? Was every word you spoke to me a lie?"

"No, Evelyn. I..." He paused again, struggling with his words.

"Tell me the truth! Tell me now or I will see you thrown in jail where you belong!"

A long moment passed. She was certain he would spout more tales, and she readied herself to deny his every word. He spoke. And his calmness gave her pause.

"My name is René-Jean Bastien," he said. "I pretended to be a Viscount to avoid discovery, because of my affair with Isabella and because of my former employer, who wished me ill. His daughter accused me of seduction. But..."

She had wanted him to tell her the truth....and yet, it was horrifying to hear it. She tried to pull away again, but he would not let her go.

"What I said about my family was not a lie! I was born a nobleman. And my father did disown me. All that I said of him was true."

So this was his story...sad, twisted, and revolting. She glared at him, her eyes cold.

"And you are a criminal. That was never a lie. You are a thief, and a vagabond, and I wish I had never met you."

His look was one of pain. But she could find no mercy in her heart.

"Release me this instant," she demanded.

She was stunned when he did as she commanded. But her iciness remained. Her voice was harsh with it.

"Get out. Now. And never allow me to set eyes on you again, or I swear you will pay the price."

He slowly stepped back, looking at her with an expression she could not describe. For a moment he paused...and then he turned, disappearing over the orchard wall.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rebel Mine Chapter 13, Part Three

She sighed, a dreamy sound, looking up at the trees and the blue sky above. "At times, I feel as though I walk in Eden."

Her description, so apt, brought a little smile to his face. "An understandable thought," he replied. They walked a few paces further, each finishing the remainder of their bits of fruit. The rinds tossed aside, Simon watched as Evelyn took her plucked iris blossom from her waistband. She held it to her nose, inhaling its fragrance. Comfortable moments of silence fell. He thought perhaps she had lapsed into pleasant reverie. But when she spoke, there was a noticeable difference in her tone.

"I will be sad to leave here."

The joyfulness had gone. He examined her, seeing the change in her expression...the sudden loss of warmth and sunshine. He waited, uncertain what to say or do. The quiet tension, heavy with sadness, was too much. He tried to console her.

"You will be the Lady Evelyn Jeanne-Carre, Marquess of La Roque. At Guillemont, you will have nearly a thousand acres at your service. If it pleases you, you may plant and reap to your heart's content."

"Guillemont?" she asked. "That is your home?"

He nodded. "Soon, it will be yours as well." His steps stilled. Slowly, he turned to her. She was standing still, as he was. But her head was lowered. She clutched the iris blossom, mindlessly brushing its petals. Such a sight troubled him...and he could no longer remain passive. It cut him deeply to see her this way, so sad at the thought of leaving her beloved childhood home. Gently, he reached for her, clasping her arms in a delicate hold. His words were soft.

"Evelyn, look at me."

Slowly, she raised her head. Her eyes were shining with tears. His heart swelled.

"You will be my wife. I have promised you my devotion, and you shall have it. But I wish for your happiness, Evelyn. Say you will marry me willingly...that you give me your heart, as I give you mine."

His gaze held hers. A summer breeze, rich with the scents of the garden, drifted around them...warming the very air they breathed. In her eyes, he saw a change. Gone was the sadness. A little flame, born of intense feeling, was kindling there. Her breathing grew rapid. Her lips parted slightly...and his speech was lost.

Sweet heaven, how she bewitches me.

Her eyes softly closed. He could resist no longer. Drawing her to him, he sought the wondrous feeling of her lips. So soft, so sweet. It was better than he remembered. With gentle pressure he tasted her lips, gauging her reaction...mindful of her innocence, even as all of his senses thrilled to the feeling of her. He felt her hands slowly exploring his upper arms. A tiny moan escaped her. He parted from her, fearing that he had moved too far. She seemed to waver. Her eyes were half-closed. Was she near to swooning? Had he overwhelmed her? His voice was raspy with concern...and desire. He could not disguise it, though he tried his best.

"Forgive me, Evelyn. I forget myself. Have I frightened you?"

A little shake of her head. She was not alarmed. And yet she seemed so overwhelmed. He was not certain how to act...until she looked up at him, her eyes searching his. The fire burned brighter in her eyes. She whispered softly, almost boldly.

"I am not frightened, Simon."

His name fell so warmly from her lips. His resistance crumbled, and he pulled her to him once more. His heart beat wildly as he tasted her again...still with gentleness, but now, his hands moved from her shoulders. With gentle caresses he touched her back, supporting her, slowly drawing her into an embrace. A thrill ran through him when he felt her arms around him, holding him as he held her. Never had he known such a feeling as this. He felt possessed. Nothing else existed but Evelyn. And he wanted more of her...

He let his hands wander gently upwards, over her shoulders and neck. Her skin was warm under his fingertips...the soft feel of it raising the heat in his blood. His palms tenderly cupped her face, giving him greater ease. Spurred by her welcoming the tentative exploration of her hands on his shoulders, and the press of her lips to his...he longed to deepen the kiss.

But a sudden moment of clarity washed over him.

Lord, what has come over me?

He wanted to remain in her arms. She was a maid, but her passions were strong. She was pressing her body against him. Did she know of the wildness she was stirring within him? It was all consuming...and it could not go on. With a surge of his strength, he pulled away from her. Her little mewl of protest was exhilarating...and it gave him even more reason to cease. She was clinging to him. Gently, he loosened her hold, taking her hands in his. He closed his eyes against a still raging desire. He struggled to calm himself.

"Evelyn." His voice was low, spoken with a ragged breath.

Her eyes slowly opened. She parted her lips, as if to speak. But a sudden voice called from afar, breaking the spell between them.

"Your grace!"

It was the young Baron, Owen. Simon ground his teeth in frustration. He was prepared to unleash his anger at the disturbance...until he heard the urgency in Owen's voice. Owen hurried to them, and fell to one knee before Simon.

"Your grace, The Duke and my father ask for you. It is a matter of great importance."

Simon took in a deep breath, speaking as calmly as possible...even as his eyes remained on Evelyn. "I shall join you presently."

Owen nodded, looking between them. Sensing his intrusion, he left them...but Simon hardly noticed the young man's departure. He looked at Evelyn, who was looking back at him with dazzled eyes. Taking her hand, he led her to a bench near the orchard wall.

"I must go," he said. "Perhaps you should remain here...for a few moments, at least."

She nodded her head, silently agreeing.
Watching her as she slowly sat, he was tempted to take a place beside take her hand and inquire if she was well. Had he frightened her in any way? She had seemed so eager. But would she now regret his advances?

He forced himself to go. He would see to this matter of "importance." And then he would return to her, without delay.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rebel Mine Chapter 13, Part Two

“Your lady appears troubled. You should say something to her, and with some degree of pleasantry.”

It was a reprimand, but Simon was not surprised by it. Several times in the past few days, his father had spoken of Evelyn with much fondness. It seemed he had a tender spot for her. Now he was displeased by what he considered to be cool disregard. Simon spoke in defense of his actions.

“I am merely thinking of formality, father. One must keep a sense of decorum when in the presence of their host.”

Basil’s tone lost none of its edge. “Yes, but you might at least grant her a friendly look. From the way you hold yourself, one would assume you did not care for her at all.”

Simon sighed deeply, saying nothing.

But his father’s assumption could hardly have been more wrong. In truth, it took great discipline not to look at Evelyn. Each time he saw her, she seemed to grow more beautiful. In this morning’s light, she looked so regal. It was difficult to remember that she was still a young maiden. She was still an innocent, and he had to behave in the proper fashion.

If only she didn’t make it so difficult. Just a few days ago, he had thought himself the most disciplined of men. But just a short time in her company was proving otherwise. Last night, he had admitted to himself his concern for her feelings. He cared for her a great deal already. And there was not so great a shame in that. After all, she would be his wife, and it was his duty to protect and honor her.

But he had not counted on being so attracted to her.

Kissing her had ignited a fire within him. It had taken every ounce of his will not to pull her closer and press himself against draw her deep into a kiss that would leave no doubt of the passion he was starting to feel for her.

But, somehow, he had managed to refrain.

Until they were wed, he had to maintain a certain distance. They could walk together, talk together...even share an occasional tender moment. But he could not allow himself to be swept away by feelings that, even now, were threatening to break his self-control. He spoke to himself, repeating words from the code as he fought to strengthen his resolve.

In giving and receiving love's solaces, let modesty be ever present.

He would not be controlled by his baser masculine instincts. And what was a tour of the grounds, after all?They would be on horseback, which would keep them a safe distance apart.

His father’s voice, again spoken in a quiet but forceful way, broke his thoughts.

“Decorum is one matter. Deliberate indifference is another.”

Simon felt a nagging at his conscience, knowing his father spoke the truth.

Finishing the last of his ale, he pushed back from the table. He was aware that he was being watched as he approached Evelyn’s chair. As he paused just at her side, she looked up at him.

Sweet heaven. Those eyes. His senses reeled at the beautiful blue clearness...and the anticipation he read there.

“My lady,” he said. He offered her his hand.

Her soft palm graced his without hesitation. As she rose to her feet, decorum dictated that she place a light hold on his arm. But for a brief moment, he could not relinquish her hand. A pulse of heat flowed from where their palms touched. Looking into her eyes, he could see that she felt it too. Somehow, he managed to release her hand. He placed it where it ought to have been, resting on his sleeve. As he guided her from the hall, he found that her presence...warm and close by his side...was already working its magic on him. He wanted something more than politesse allowed.

“Where shall we begin, my lord?”

He was so lost in his thoughts that her question startled him. He breathed deep, inhaling through his nose and letting it out again. He would be civil. But devil take it, his soul was demanding something more, and it would not relent.

“Perhaps we should begin with first names,” he replied. “Evelyn.”

He looked at her. Her expression warmed, softening into a tender smile. Lord, how was it possible for such a simple gesture to be so powerful? His defenses were helpless against it. The corner of his mouth rose. She gave no answer to his reply. Instead, she curled her arm around his, just as she had done the morning before. As they walked together, he welcomed the feeling of her slender figure pressed against him.

This shall suffice, he told himself. For now...


Simon had worried about what would transpire when he was alone with Evelyn, but he quickly found that no moments of temptation transpired, as they became involved in an engaging conversation.

He had expected small talk. But when Evelyn made a statement about his beautiful she thought the beast to be...they were soon having a deep discussion about a subject they both enjoyed. There was little time for heated moments when such simple pleasantry flowed freely between them.

They traveled the hills and valleys for most of the morning. Compared to Simon’s own lands, the Gisborne estate was rather moderate in size. But he marveled at the abundance of life within its boundaries, and he found many pleasant surprises along the way.

“Do you see those stone arches there?” said Evelyn, pointing out ahead of them. “Do you see how they come from the hills, and lead down to the manor? They are aqueducts.”

Simon raised an eyebrow in surprise and interest. “Are they? The same structures such as the Romans had?”

Evelyn nodded. “The very same. When William first journeyed to Rome, along with my father, they studied ruins of the city. William was fascinated by their architecture. He convinced Papa to have such a system built. There is a great spring in the hills, and the aqueducts bring the water to us in abundance.”

He looked upon the structures with wonder. Not even on his own grand estate did he have such a luxury as that. It was marvelous.

Never had he seen so many varieties of flora and fauna. An enormous flock of sheep followed their shepherd in one meadow, while horses grazed in another...proof of their quantity of livestock. The estate had a fine stock of honeybees as well, and their falconry was most impressive. After returning to the house for a small midday meal, they walked the grounds just outside the manor. Evelyn took a great delight in showing him the garden...and he found himself delighting in listening to her.

She pointed out a row of small, bushy shrubs, with feathery grey-green leaves. “That is southernwood. The leaves are used to cure fevers. And this is wormwood. It has many uses, but Mama values it most as a repellant for fleas.”

Coming to a collection of beautiful purple-blue blossoms, she leaned in to smell the flowers that grew tall and elegant, nearly waist high.

“Ah, the iris,” she sighed. “A most lovely flower. Its roots make a very good ink. It has the aroma of violets.” She smiled, looking up at him. “I always found that rather amusing...that an iris smells of violets. Do you not think it so?” She plucked a bloom, holding it to her nose. “Mama finds this flower to be most versatile. The leaves serve purpose in making rush-mats, or in patching thatched roofs. And, not only is it fragrant and pleasing to the eye, but it yields a dark blue liquid that does well in spot removing. It is also a salve for teeth and gums, and a dye for cloth.”

He was captured by her descriptions, and the lovely, intelligent way she spoke. Her sudden halting took him by surprise. A blush came to her cheeks, and she looked away.

“Forgive me. I feel I speak too much. You must think me a long-winded school mistress.”

He shook his head. “Not at all,” he said, giving her a pleasant look. “Continue the lesson, if you please.”

With a smile, she turned her attention to shining green shrubbery, running her fingers over the leaves. “A shame the peonies do not bloom all year round. When mixed in wine or ale, they make a useful agent for keeping away bad dreams.”

Wishing to encourage her, he pointed to another flower. “What is that one?”

She answered with enthusiasm. “That is a gillyflower. It makes a delightful spice for meals. And those around it are violets, of course. They provide a lovely oil for a bath.”

He took in a breath of the clean, scented air. “Everything seems to have a distinct purpose here. A reason for being.”

“This is all Mama’s doing.”

Her smile was one of love and pride. It was the look she always seemed to have when speaking of her mother. It touched him deeply.

“She comes from a long line of healers. I hope to one day be as wise as she. And as worldly. Mama and Papa have traveled quite often. To Rome, as I have said. To Spain. Even to Greece.”

They came upon the orchard. Evelyn pointed to a great tree, heavy with round, golden fruit.

“Have you ever partaken of an orange?” she asked.

He shook his head. How delightful her eyes and features were. She was so eager, so joyful, as if she wanted nothing more than to please him. She pulled a fruit from the tree, and requested use of his dagger. As she sliced the fruit in half, and then into quarters, he watched the delicate dance of her fingers. He was entranced...and all the while, she seemed completely unaware of how her movements were affecting him. The scent of orange filled his nostrils, giving him a momentary distraction. She handed him a slice of fruit. He held it to his nose, delighting in the delicious smell.

“What a delightful fragrance,” he said.

She smiled. “Wait until you taste it. But do not eat the outer layer. That is called the rind.”

He tasted it, and a pleasant smile came to his lips.

“Good?” she asked.

He nodded. “Delightful. Very sweet. I must say, I have known nothing like it.”

I have known nothing like you, he thought. His lips nearly formed the words...but she spoke first, and he became quiet once more, listening to her...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rebel Mine Chapter 13, Part One

Rene felt a slight weight pressing on his chest. Widening his eyes in an attempt to shake off sleep, he glanced down at the petite, blond-haired figure resting on him. Who was she? Had she given her name? He could not recall. Their time had not been spent in conversation...that much he remembered. She was likely one of the wenches who worked at the tavern next door. He recalled something about her being sent to him by her master, but beyond that, his memory faltered.

His head pained him with a dull ache, enough to keep him abed. But his mouth was terribly dry, and his bodily functions could not be ignored. Gently moving from under his companion, he made use of the chamber pot and the wash basin. From the flagon on the bed table, he poured the last of the previous nights wine into a cup, sipping it as he stood by the window. The cool water he'd splashed on his face had helped to revive both his senses and his thoughts.

He had arrived at the inn last night, with a substantial sum of money in his purse. Isabella had provided him with it, gracious thing that she was. Thinking of her, he recalled how she had clung to him and kissed him goodbye. She'd given him a bag of gold coins to provide for himself, and with tearful eyes, she had asked him not to forget her. Were it not for her husband, he might have stayed a little longer. But perhaps it was for the best. Their relationship had been growing too complicated these past several days. It was better to make a clean move on.

Now, if only certain troubles would leave him be.

What had happened with Evelyn? His last memory of her had been the sight of her in tears.

Sir Guy had obviously condemned her in some way, and it had taken all of his discipline not to go to her. But how could he have done that? Considering Guy's threats, it would have been beyond foolish to attempt consoling her. And the Earl of Gisborne was not the only threat to his very existence.

He could not forget the feeling of a knife being held at his throat. What kind of stupid fool would he have been to remain there when his life had been threatened? It was easier to walk away, as he had done countless times before. What difference was there between this situation and any of the others he'd encountered?

A great difference, he silently admitted.

There was a vision in his head that would not leave him. It had been there for many days...ever since he had sat in the crook of an apple tree, and looked down upon an angel.

She was there, in his mind, in all of her loveliness. The dark, lustrous hair that could be likened to black silk...her blue eyes, softly shaded the color of a summer sky. She had all the exquisiteness a man could desire. But there was more to her than physical beauty.

How sweetly shy she was. The blush of her cheeks was so lovely, and the way she turned her eyes from him, trying to hide a dimpled had touched something tender inside of him.

And yet, however shy, there was a boldness in her that could not be hidden. It sparkled in her eyes. Hells bells, she hadn't been shy about challenging his word. Even though he had sensed fear in her, she had stood her ground. And how could he forget the trick she had played on Isabella? His lip curled in amusement, and he stifled a laugh at the thought of Isabella, screaming like a madwoman when she discovered the lizard on her person. Evelyn had put it there...a childish trick, indeed. And he found delight in that rebellious quality.

He wanted to see her again. It would have to be carefully done, of course, but he was capable of discretion. He hadn't gotten this far in life without knowing how to handle himself. They deserved a proper goodbye. And he was not a heartless rake, leaving a woman he cared about without thought for her welfare. Her father might have disowned her, furious as he'd been. The Marquis might have called off the engagement and left her in disgrace.

Pompous bastard, he thought. She didn't deserve such cruelty...not when it was mostly his fault. He had put them both at risk, fool that he was. If nothing else, he needed to offer her his apologies.

As he dressed, the girl in his bed came awake. She had no modesty, that was for certain. She yawned and stretched as she sat up, giving no thought to the notion that her naked breasts and belly were uncovered. Looking at her, he had a strange desire to have her cover herself. But then, he shook his head at the thought, reminding himself that he was no saint. Who was he to pass judgment on others for their behavior?

After she'd dressed, he put payment into her hand...more than she expected, from the look on her face. He thanked her for her company and sent her on her way. He had no idea why, but he felt a strange need to do something right...something honorable.

Lord, that was a laughable thought. That he, an admitted scoundrel, was considering something of noble intent. Maybe some of Evelyn's goodness had rubbed off on him. Whatever compelled him, he could not be sure. He only knew he needed to satisfy this sudden attack of conscience. He would see Evelyn again. He had caused her much trouble, but somehow, he would make it up to her...


Simon and the Duke stood at table, waiting for their hosts to enter.

Evelyn walked with Thea, Owen, and Lucien. Guy and Cassia followed a few steps behind them. She had thought herself composed and ready, for the day had dawned warm and bright. The rain had gone, leaving a freshness in the air...the herald of a new start to all things in the world. She was determined to begin anew, first by presenting herself in proper fashion to Simon. Thea had always said that darker colors made a woman look more refined, so Evelyn chose a dress of deep emerald green. It was accented with swirls of black velvet on the sleeves and around the skirt hem. It was, in truth, one of her favorite dresses. She had her hair parted, braided, and twisted into a high chignon. To finish, she chose a simple gold hair circlet with a single pearl pendent in the front. It was lovely, but unpretentious. Recalling that first night of the party, when she'd stolen glances at Simon, she recalled how indifferent he had seemed to the wealth surrounding him. She sensed that he was not a man who was impressed with great extravagance. She could not be certain how best to please him. But judging from the short time she had spent in his company, she felt it best to be strong and sophisticated in her character. Examining herself in the looking glass, she had felt as though she'd achieved the appearance of a mature young woman. Despite the nervous flutters in her belly, she had been determined to look him in the eye, without fear and without reservation.

But when she saw him, the breath seemed to flee from her lungs. He was astonishing when dressed in red. It suited him in a marvelous way, accentuating the bronze color of his skin and the soft, russet tone of his hair. And his face...freshly shaven. How handsome it was. She found it impossible to look away, as his eyes seemed to be watching her as intently as she watched him. When he lifted her hand in greeting, she could not help looking at his lips. They were full and soft...and with a sensation of sudden warmth she recalled how they felt against her own.

How she managed to keep her composure, she did not know. When the meal was brought forth, she was aware of going through the motions. Mechanically, she sipped her morning ale and tasted her food. But her mind was consumed by thoughts most brazen.

When would he kiss her again?

Nothing had prepared her for the feeling of his lips on hers. It had been thrilling beyond words...and yet, it had been so brief. His hands had been so warm against her skin. She had been but moments from touching him in return. The initial press of his lips had been shocking. But that shock had instantly turned into something different...something powerful that swept away her fears and inhibitions. She had longed to touch his face, to feel its texture. His skin looked so smooth and warm.

But he'd broken contact, robbing her of the chance to know more of him.

She sighed deeply, lost in her thoughts of him...until she felt an elbow jabbed in her side. With a slight start, she blinked, glancing around. Owen whispered to her.

"Evie, you silly goose. Papa has asked you a question."

Embarrassed, she looked up to see everyone's eyes upon her. For a moment she worried that she had made a fool of herself in some way. But her father's expression was pleasant.

"The weather is very fine," Guy said. "Perhaps this would be a good time to grant the Marquis his tour of the grounds."

She felt her heart skip at the prospect of being alone with him. And she was not certain that it was fear she felt. She nodded her head.

"Of course, Papa. I would be pleased."

Lord, let him look at me. Her eyes drifted to Simon...but his head was turned from her. His reply was cool.

"You are most gracious, Sir Guy."

Disappointment swept over her. Where was the lovely hint of a smile? Where were the warm, tender looks he had given her? It seemed difficult to believe that the gracious gentleman of yesterday and this cool, stoic man of now were one and the same.

She looked away, trying to concentrate on her meal. But she had no appetite, nor the will to pretend otherwise...

Author's Note: Some important stuff coming up. :) I'll have it posted as soon as I can, hopefully by the weekend. Thanks for reading!