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!"
"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.
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 light...one 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.