Evelyn gave a light rap on the chamber door next to her own…the one that Thea and Lucien were occupying during their stay. She found she could not sleep, even though her maidservant had already helped her prepare for bed. She needed company, and dressed in her nightgown and robe, she waited outside the bedchamber next door. At her knock, she heard Thea bid her to enter. She did so slowly and quietly. The hour was late, and she had no wish to disturb the baby should he be sleeping. As she slipped in, she found joy in the sight of Lucien and Thea standing over the cradle, admiring their son. Thea turned to see who had entered, and she gave her sister a welcoming look. Evelyn returned it, speaking softly as she took a step forward.
“I came to bid you both good night. Is Gabriel asleep?”
Lucien gave a sigh. It was a weary sound. “Our son is silent and content. If only we all knew such peace.”
He mentioned no one in particular, but Evelyn knew who he spoke of. Guy was somewhere in the house, undoubtedly still upset, and with good reason to be. Lucien, ever loyal to his lord and master, was not pleased at the upset that Isabella’s presence had caused. But Thea did not share in his displeasure.
“Mama will soothe his ill temper,” she said. “I am certain of it.” Carefully, she reached down to tuck the baby’s quilt closer around him. Lucien gave her a sly look.
“Are you ever doubtful about her powers of persuasion?
Thea did not miss a beat. “No,” she replied. Her mouth formed into a sly little curve. “Take care, husband, to never underestimate the influence of a Gisborne lady.”
He sighed…but now his look was one of amusement, even as he responded with a mocking reply. “Devil, thy name is woman.” He leaned down, whispering to Gabriel. “My son, do not enter into marriage. Your life will be shortened by it.”
As Thea whispered a sharp reply to her husband, Evelyn watched the two of them together…and her imagination painted a picture that sprang to life before her. It was herself she witnessed, smiling down at a beautiful babe in a cradle. And Simon was there beside her, his face filled with an expression of love and pride.
Thea’s voice penetrated her musings. She shook her head, bringing herself back to the present. Her sister looked at her with a curious smile.
“Evie? Are you in another world, perchance?”
A blush colored Evelyn’s cheeks. Her expression becoming sheepish as she sat on the edge of the bed.
“Forgive me, sister. I was lost in thought.” She knew her behavior seemed odd, but she could not help it. Thea and Lucien had such a loving relationship. How she longed for that kind of closeness…with Simon.
But how did one achieve such a connection of the heart and soul?
At times, her betrothed seemed so stirred, so eager to be near her and hold her in his arms. He had initiated the kisses they had shared, and each time had been more passionate than before. Then why did he seem so intent on escaping? It troubled her more and more, and her smile turned to a near frown as she thought of it. She sighed.
As Thea whispered words to Lucien, he glanced back at Evelyn. The corner of his mouth turned up. Evelyn wondered at his strange look, and she watched with interest as he kissed Thea’s cheek. He turned to leave the room, a little grin on his face as he passed by.
“I believe I shall take a breath of the night air,” he said. He looked between Thea and Evelyn, smirking. “Hens, you may commence clucking.”
The door closed. Thea came to sit beside Evelyn, who gave her sister a questioning look.
“Hens?” she asked.
A smile came to Thea’s lips. “He gives us leave to speak in private. So tell me, Evie. What thoughts weigh on your mind?”
For a moment, Evelyn thought to remain silent. Thea was, at times, teasing to the point of cruelty. To confess feelings of such depth...to ask questions of such a sensitive nature...was to risk mockery. But her thoughts and feelings, swirling in her like a wild wind, could not be contained.
Thea seemed to sense her urgency, giving Evelyn’s knee a light push. Thea’s eyes shined with curiosity, her grin mischievous.
“Out with it, you silly goose.”
Evelyn let out a short breath. Her gaze fell for a moment. “Promise not to tease me, Thea.” She toyed with the ring on her finger...the ring that Simon had given her. It was there, reminding her of him. She looked up. “I would seek counsel from Mama, but I feel that my confidence will be better shared with my sister.”
Thea’s face became tender. She crossed herself, vowing to be kind. And Evelyn could no longer suppress what she felt.
“I wanted to speak to you of Simon.”
She waited for a sharp remark...and was surprised by a sweet expression.
“Oh Evie,” said Thea, taking Evelyn’s hand. “I misjudged your husband-to-be. You have found a most honorable man. I wish you every happiness with him.”
A memory of the kiss came to Evelyn, causing her cheeks to flush. A smile spread across her face. Thea grew quite interested in the sudden expression of delight, and she leaned in close, excitement in her every feature.
“Tell me the cause of your smile, sister. I must know.” A quiet moment passed. Before Evelyn could reply, Thea supplied a guess. Her face was alight with anticipation. “Has he kissed you?”
When Evelyn nodded, Thea clapped her hands, giving a squeal of delight. She took Evelyn’s hands in her own. “Were you frightened?”
Evelyn shrugged. “The first time, yes...a little.”
Thea’s mouth opened slightly. She gave a little gasp. “He has kissed you more than once?”
With a nod and a giggle, Evelyn replied, “He has kissed me three times. And this last time, he...” She paused, feeling utterly sinful for discussing such a thing, even with her sister. But Thea was insistent on hearing it all. Her eyes grew large with expectation.
“Do not deny me, Evie. You must tell me more.” She lowered her voice...but in her familiar manner, she spoke boldly. “Did he use his tongue?”
A giddy squeal escaped Evelyn, and she clasped her hands over her mouth. Thea wore a devilish grin as Evelyn elaborated.
“Oh Thea, I thought I might swoon from it. I have never known such delightful sensation.” She giggled again. But her smile lessened after a moment, recalling when Simon had removed himself from their embrace.
“What is it?” asked Thea, seeing the change in Evelyn’s expression, which grew concerned.
“He parted from me so suddenly. He seemed displeased.”
Thea gave a knowing little smile. “He was not displeased,” she replied. “He was more likely frustrated.”
“But for what reason?” Evelyn begged to know. “Did I err in some way?”
Shaking her head, Thea answered calmly. “Tis’ not your fault, Evie. His frustration comes from being denied.”
“Denied?” Evelyn wagged her head in confusion. “What has been denied him?”
“His bride, of course.”
The passing of a long moment did nothing to give Evelyn understanding. Thea made an attempt at explanation. She drew her legs up, curling them under herself as she shifted closer to Evelyn. Her tone was one of wisdom and insight.
“Do you recall our conversation some time ago, when I first made attempt to tell you of marital relations?”
Evelyn felt heat flood her face, all the way up to her ears. But she nodded.
“You should know, dear sister, that in matters of...” She paused, searching for the appropriate description. After a moment, she tried again. “In matters of a physical nature, men find it difficult to maintain decorum.”
Evelyn was intrigued. “How do you mean?” she asked. She tucked her own feet in, moving closer…savoring her sister’s knowledge and experience.
“Men are beasts by nature,” Thea said, bringing her voice to a lower tone, knowing that others might be listening. “They have little mastery of their baser instincts. Even my darling Lucien, kind-hearted as he is, can be quite demanding of his husbandly rights.”
Evelyn was speechless. She found herself hanging on Thea’s every word.
“Most men maintain their self-discipline for the sake of civility. But believe me when I tell you that they all chafe under the restraint. Even Simon.”
Shocked, Evelyn sat in silence, comprehending everything. And Thea was not nearly done.
“I have seen how he looks at you, Evie. His gaze is most intense. It is not surprising that he desires you. But he is aware of his duty as a gentleman. Difficult as it may be, he must temper his affections until you are man and wife.”
As the amazement passed, Evelyn fought for a way to understand and learn. Shocking as these revelations were, she did not intend to waste such knowledge. She shook her head at the thought of Simon’s unhappiness.
“I do not want him to be discontent,” she said. “I wish to please him. How am I to do so?”
Thea expelled a slow breath. Her look was one of sympathy. “I am afraid there is little to be done. You must both be patient until you are wed.”
“And then?” Evelyn was eager to know all, no matter the depth of wickedness. But even Thea gave limit to her wisdom.
“There are secrets even sisters do not share,” she said. She smiled, squeezing Evelyn’s hands. “God willing, your wedding night will be a joy…a sacred thing between the two of you.”
A knock on the door gave them both pause, allowing them to compose themselves. Lucien entered a moment later, examining the two of them together.
“If you are quite finished with your sisterly bonding, I should like to retire for the night.”
Evelyn and Thea exchanged little smiles. As she rose from the bed, Evelyn could not help giving Lucien an inquisitive look…and as she felt a giggle bubbling up inside of her, she sprinted from the room to avoid a display of foolishness.
But once in her room, she let loose a round of helpless giggles. Oh, it was positively wicked…this knowledge that Thea had given her. But now she understood something of men, particularly of Simon. They were all weak when presented with female temptation.
As she crawled under her covers, her expression sobered. The last person she wished to acknowledge was Rene, but he was suddenly in her mind and she could not help thinking of him.
Perhaps he was a victim of his own weakness. Yes, he preyed on others to survive. But why had he not made some attempt to right his wrongs? Opportunity had presented itself, when he had rescued Gabriel. He might have achieved a status reserved for heroes, rising far and away above his adversity. If he had not been lying in sin with Isabella, he would not be a fugitive on the run. A feeling of pity and anger swirled in her heart as she thought of him.
Handsome, clever, utterly foolish cad.
She shook her head, wishing to forget him entirely. Simon was not such a fool as that. When faced with temptation, he was steadfast and strong. She closed her eyes and prayed, thanking heaven that she had veered from the path to which Rene had tried to lead her. She was glad to be rid of him. Simon was all that mattered to her now, and she could hardly wait to return to him when morning came.