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 response...by 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.
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 her...to 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.