Friday, April 29, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 22, Part Three

Just a short one for now. I'll have a much longer post this weekend.

Simon slowly let loose his grip. He felt as though a quake had rolled the ground underneath his feet. Lord Rene Jean-Bastien. The vagabond...the worthless, belly-scraping snake who had nearly ruined Evelyn now bore a title? For a brief moment, he struggled with the notion that both men were one in the same. It was impossible. It had to be. But the realization came over him that it was, in fact, very much the truth. And his anger boiled as his mind absorbed another revelation.

The deviant bastard had been corresponding with Evelyn.

It was all he could do to keep from throttling the terrified boy in front of him, if only as a way to unleash his fury. But digging down deep into his soul, he held to his sense of self-discipline. The messenger was not at fault. He did not deserve to be punished simply for doing his job. But he would answer questions. That much was certain.

“Loosen your tongue, boy. How many letters has your master sent you with?”

“This is the third, my lord.”

Three letters, he thought. Jesu, three letters. Had the two of them been sending messages of love back and forth while he was away? Releasing the boy from his grasp, he tookseveral furious strides back and forth, wishing he had his sword in his hand. He could hack the shrubbery to bits and pretend it was Rene. He turned to the servant.

“Give me the message,” he demanded.

With a shaking hand, the boy handed over the rolled parchment. Simon gripped it tightly in his fist, torn between the thought of tearing the message to bits or pouring over every disgusting word of love. His mind worked quickly, even in the haze of red-hot anger.

Reaching into the small purse on his belt, he found several coins and thrust them into the messenger’s palm.

“Return to your master, boy. Tell him the lady has received his message.”

“My lord?”

“Do as I say. The lady Evelyn has received the message. You saw only her maidservant, and you fulfilled your duty. You spoke to no one but the lady’s maid. Do you understand?

With a nervous nod, the boy turned and fled. Clenching his teeth in fury, closing his eyes, Simon crushed the letter in his hand.

Evelyn and Rene. Just the thought of them together made him sick. His memory took him back to his first days of being at the estate. He could recall, with painful clarity, how the two of them had looked at one Evelyn’s eyes had shined with such affection for the rogue who was attempting to seduce her. Anger and jealousy had bitten him then, but in the way that a man became protective over a valuable commodity. That was how he had seen her in those a prize to be had.

But another feeling dug at him now. A painful, sickening feeling that he could not name.

How could she betray him this way?

He took to pacing again, thinking of how joyous these recent days had been. Each time he had looked at Evelyn, she had looked back at him with such love and adoration. No one had ever looked at him that way before. He thought of the way she kissed him with such she had pressed her soft little body against his, shyly during their first embraces, but now with great eagerness. Good God, it cut like a knife to imagine that it had all been a lie.

But was it?

Some nagging part of him cried that he should not believe it. Evelyn was not some evil, scheming wench. Just as he had recalled the affectionate looks that she’d given to Rene, he now remembered her shattered look at discovering his betrayal. The destruction of innocence. What a cruel, vicious act to be witness to. Roughly, he ran a hand over his face, wishing to hell he could get his hands on Rene.

That will come soon enough, he vowed to himself.

A plot was already forming in his mind. But first, he had to speak to Evelyn. He had to know the truth, no matter what followed. He turned in the direction of the manor, intent on finding her and discovering the truth.

As he moved towards the house, he saw a feminine figure coming his way. Fate seemed to have a strange sense of humor, sending Evelyn out to meet him in this way. She was walking slow at first, but as she approached, her steps grew swifter. How lovely she looked as she came to him, a glowing expression of joy on her face.

“There you are,” she said. Her eyes searched him, as if she could already sense that something was not right. Still, she was cheerful. “I was told you had headed to the stables. I thought perhaps I might join you on a ride.”

Saying nothing, he stared at her for a long moment, searching her features for some sign of deception...and praying he would not see it. He knew his face must have looked stony and devoid of feeling, but he could not help his harshness, even when her smile waned at seeing his expression.

“Simon, what is it? Something troubles you. Please tell me what it is.”

He could feel the muscle twitching in his jaw. Without answering her, he held out the parchment roll. With a curious look, she accepted it. With a wary eye, he watched as she opened the letter. And her face turned ashen as she read it. Her hand came up to cover her mouth.

“Good God,” she cried, and she turned to look at him. “How did you come to have this?”

He could find no reason to beat around the bush. “I intercepted it,” he replied. “It is the third letter you’ve received, is it not?”

Evelyn’s reply was quick, and spoken with great conviction. He had expected something softer...something more feminine, for lack of a better word.

“Simon, you must hear me. I did not invite this.” She looked at the paper as though it gave her great offense. “He has the audacity to write to me, after all he has done.” She turned back to him again, her eyes flashing with resolve. “This means nothing to me. You must believe me.”The strength of her passion left him at a loss for words. He felt his anger dimming as he realized that she spoke the truth, and when she came close to him, clutching his arm, he was moved by the softness that now came to her expression.

“I love you, Simon. You, and no one else. I will burn this letter, as I have burned the others. And you will bear witness to it, so that you have no doubt of my feelings for you.”

He reached out, taking her hand. As he looked into her eyes, he felt a weight lift from his shoulders. “There will be no need for such a display.” Gently, he placed his other hand on her cheek. “We shall forget this incident.” Drawing her close, he placed a soft, lingering kiss on her lips. She clung tightly to him, leaning into him with an almost forceful manner. When their mouths parted, she pressed her cheek against his breast.

“Forgive me, Simon. I never meant to conceal the news of his letters. But I was so afraid of what might happen if you learned of them. I feared you would think me unfaithful.”

Pressing his lips to her hair, he shushed her softly. “Speak of it no more. Let it be forgotten, from this day on.”

She sighed, and he could feel how deeply relieved she was. She continued to hold to him, and he allowed it, content with the feeling of her warm body against his. He suddenly felt like a fool for doubting her, and he swore to himself he would never again lose faith in the woman he loved.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 22, Part Two

Sitting at the supper table, Simon examined the faces surrounding him. All were filled with warmth and merriment. For a brief moment, he wondered at their tender expressions. Before leaving court, the men had all been in agreement not to further delay the news of impending war. It was better to tell their spouses sooner rather than later, to soften the blow and allow them to adjust to the news.

How strange it was to find all of the ladies so calm. And yet, even as he pondered it, he came to realize that he should have expected as much. When it came to the Gisborne family, there was little that was conventional. And looking around the table, seeing his soon-to-be family members, he realized he did not wish them to be any other way.

He looked at Evelyn, who sat across from him. She was speaking to Thea. They were engaged in animated conversation, and he found it strangely delightful to watch them.

How wonderful it must be to know such closeness, he thought to himself.

She was fortunate to have such love. What would it be like, he wondered, to truly live in the embrace of such a devoted family? Since he had met them, the Gisbornes had treated him with great kindness and generosity. But what would it be like to be one of live and laugh with them, and learn their inner most secrets? His gaze fell upon the mistress of the house. She was the heart of this family. He had sensed that from the first. But where did such a woman come from? She carried herself with the pride and dignity of any noble woman. Her manners and deportment were impeccable. And yet, she was so wonderfully different from others he had known. She was compassionate and loving, but when inclined, she could be quite bold. In her, he could see the genesis of Evelyn. He could now understand how such a spell had been cast over Guy of Gisborne. It was now clear to him how a man, so seemingly dark, could surrender so easily to a woman. And he realized that, just like Sir Guy, his heart was no longer his own.

I have been vanquished by love, he thought. He smiled to himself, silently noting…

Oh, what a sweet conquest it has turned out to be.

He turned to look at Evelyn. When her eyes met his, he felt a tugging sensation at his heart. He suddenly wished she was not sitting across from him, but at his side, where he would hope for a brush of his hand against hers. It would all be accidental, of course. There could be no intentional touching of hands. It was not good form for an unwed couple.

Damn propriety, he found himself silently muttering.

He had to console himself simply with looking at her, taking in her lovely smile and shining eyes. They shared a long, lingering exchange of glances...until they were interrupted by a soft cry from lady Cassia, who dropped her wine goblet on the table.

“Good heavens,” she said. Everyone watched her for a moment. And when she placed her hands on her belly, Guy suddenly came to his feet. Evelyn, Thea, Owen, and even Lucien rushed forward to help, along with Celeste and several other servants. Simon felt the need to rush in as well. But seeing the crowd that had gathered around lady Cassia, he took a step back. It was a sudden scene of madness, but there seemed to be no place for him. He could only observe as Cassia’s loved ones fought to care for her, and even in her current state, she was the picture of a strong mistress. While those around her were chattering with alarm, she calmly gave orders.

“Owen, ride with Lucien to fetch the midwife. Thea, tell Marie to prepare hot water. Celeste, go with Violette. Find clean towels and sheets and bring them up.”

Guy and Evie helped her up the stairs, and Simon followed behind them at a distance.

Good heavens, he suddenly thought. Should I be following them? Is this not inappropriate for a gentleman to be witness to?

He was quite certain it was not his place to be there, watching the first happenings of childbirth. And yet, he could not walk away. There was an odd curiosity and excitement he felt as he observed the rushing about. Everyone seemed so controlled, even in the hurry of things. In a strange way, it reminded him of the first stirrings before a battle. The course of events was running rather smoothly thus far, but he realized it was a deceptive calm. This was merely preparation for the event to come, and even he, novice as he was about children and childbirth, knew the great dangers that were possible. Simon looked at Sir Guy, who held his wife’s hand quite firmly as he guided her towards the bedchamber. His face was filled with great fear and love all at once, and seeing it, Simon could not help but pity him. He stood in the doorway, feeling quite helpless as he inquired...

“Is there nothing I can do, my lady?”

Cassia shook her head. Her calmness astounded him. “No, your grace. It is in God’s hands. And those of the midwife, if and when she ever arrives.”

“I will remain until she comes,” said Guy. With a resolute expression, he looked at her. “Do not attempt to push me out in the hall before the appointed time. You know I will not go.”

She seemed amused by his stern determination. “You have not gone on previous occasions. Why would I expect you now to do otherwise?” She placed a palm on his cheek. “My love, I would have you by my side if I could.”

A look of sadness and frustration passed over Guy’s face as he responded. “Yes, I know. Were it not for the damned women pushing me out, I would not be torn away from you.”

Simon looked at Evelyn, who sat beside her mother, holding her hand. She was just about to speak when Thea came swooping in, followed by Marie, who was in turn followed by two servants girls carrying buckets of water. Celeste and Violette appeared a moment after, carrying armloads of sheets and towels, and in a heartbeat the room was buzzing with activity. Realizing he was probably in the way, Simon stepped out in the hall. He found a chair, but did not occupy it for long. It seemed wrong to sit still and do nothing while such an event was taking place. But what was there to do? He had offered his help, but had been declined. Feeling quite useless, he returned to the doorway of the room to observe, albeit from a distance. It was not long before more persons arrived in the form of Lucien and Owen, who were followed by a stout little white-haired woman and a young girl. The midwife took immediate charge of the situation, and Simon was shocked not only by her forcefulness, but by the reaction of those she gave orders to. She first looked at Owen and Lucien.

“Be gone, be gone,” she told them. “You have done your part. Now make yourself scarce. You are naught but a waste of space now.”

Simon found himself being looked over. She gave a little snort and commented on him.

“You are a fair one, boy. But not fair enough to be permitted here. Take yourself away and find some occupation besides lurking in doorways.”

She hurried into the room, followed by her young helper. When Cassia saw the midwife, she smiled with relief.

“Louisa, I am most glad to see you.”

Louisa smiled proudly. “Of course you are, love. But no time for talk. Come, we must bring this babe into the world.” She turned to Guy. “Say farewell to her, my lord. I must begin my duties and I cannot be cursed by your masculine presence.”

Guy was reluctant to loosen his grip on Cassia’s hand, but she kissed his cheek and reassured him.

“Go now, my love. All will be well.”

Evelyn spoke up, offering him comfort. “Do not worry, Papa. We will take good care of her.”

Louisa added with an indignant snort. “Of course we will care for her! I have not brought you an ill child yet, have I? I intend for your fifth born to be as robust and healthy as those who came before. Now go.”

Simon watched as Guy was ushered into the hall. When the door was closed against him, Guy stared at it for a long moment. Then he turned away, going to a chair near Simon. As he sank into the seat, he mumbled aloud.

“I am too old for this.”

Uncertain of what to say, Simon kept silent. But Guy spoke again.

“One day, your grace, you will be in such a position as this. I advise you to be prepared for it, for never in your life will you know such apprehension.” He ran a hand over his face, giving a tense groan. Lucien came to stand near them. He leaned against the wall. His sigh was heavy.

“I would rather face an enemy on the field than to endure such a wait as this.”

Owen, who was standing further back from everyone else, spoke with an anxious tone.

“Papa, do you think I should go to Toulon and bring William? Mama will wish to have him here.”

Guy shook his head. “Not while the rain persists. Your mother would not want you traveling in such conditions.

For a few moments, Owen walked back and forth with his arms folded, until he could no longer contain his anxiety.

“Forgive me, Papa, but I cannot remain here. Feminine concerns bother me terribly. I shall be in my chambers. Please send for me the moment you learn anything.”

As he left, Lucien watched him go, and he commented with a slight smirk.

“He needs a woman.”

Simon couldn’t help but smile at the comment. “You wish him subjected to the enigma that is woman? How cruel a fate for him.”

Lucien chuckled. “It is an inevitable fate. One we must all accept, if we are to secure our legacies.”

Guy lifted his head, looking at his son-in-law.

“You know well enough, Sir Lucien, that matters are not so simple. When it comes to having a woman, there are complications that go far beyond the bringing of heirs.”

They all fell silent, knowing what he meant, but not daring to say it. Among their fellow men, it was not appropriate to speak openly of love. Certainly, it would not do to admit that they were all hopelessly devoted to their mates. In truth, it was common knowledge to all, but it was an unspoken truth.

Simon leaned back in his chair, resting his head against the wall. He was aware that soon enough, it might very well be Evelyn on the opposite side of a door, bringing a child into the world. Like Sir Guy and Sir Lucien, he would one day be sitting in this way, hoping and praying that his wife and child would survive the dangers of childbirth. A realization came to him then. He had much in common with these men...more in common than just being a nobleman and a soldier.

Somehow, he had become a part of a family.


Phillip Auguste Gisborne was small, but judging from the strength of his lungs, he was robust and healthy, just as Louise had said he would be. His birth occurred in a rather short span of time...just under six hours, and for his relieved parents, his arrival was bittersweet.

Cassia looked down at her newborn son. Now that he had been given his first feeding, he was much calmer. He opened his little mouth wide, yawning, and seeing it, she began to cry.

“Beloved,” Guy said, “What is it?” He was sitting beside her in their bed. Everyone had gone, leaving them in peace. As he looked at her, it became clear that her tears were those of sadness. He brushed her hair back from her forehead, and drew her closer to his side.

Cassia muttered sadly. “Oh Guy. This will be our last. I will never be a mother again.”

He kissed her temple. Pressing his cheek to her hair, he spoke gently.

“My love, do not be sad. We will have no more of our own, but we will have the joy of many grandchildren. Already we have Gabriel, and I am certain he will not be the last for Thea and Sir Lucien.”

She sniffled, saying nothing.

“I am not altogether happy with the thought of it, but Evelyn will soon be married. She and Simon will certainly have children of their own. And though I am not pleased with losing Evie, I look forward to the prospect of grandsons. And granddaughters, of course.”

At last, she managed something of a smile.

“I must confess, I am pleased at the prospect of many grandchildren. Perhaps even Owen will one day grant us the gift of his family.”

Guy smiled, kissing her cheek. “Perhaps,” he replied.

Cassia looked up at him. As her eyes met his, her lips formed into a sly little bow of amusement.

“Do you know what pleases me most?”

Seeing her teasing he had seen so many times before...he dared to inquire, “What pleases you?”

There was a twinkle in her eyes as she answered.

“I find great delight in seeing you as a grandfather. You have always been a dutiful and loving father, but there is something very darling about you as a grandfather.”

He sighed deeply. But he smiled. “I cannot deny that I have grown soft in my old age.” He brought his face close to hers, whispering. “But please, do not tell anyone of my weakness.”

She could not suppress her grin. “I hate to disappoint you, my love, but I have a feeling that many already suspect it.”

He gave a little scoff. “Well then,” he said, “At least allow an old man his delusions.”

Cassia responded with a soft laugh. And Guy kissed her, ever so sweetly.


The fortnight was nearly over. Two days more, and he would be wed.

As he stood in the barn, assisting a stable-hand in the grooming of his horse, Simon found himself humming. Of late, he had felt a greater sense of contentment than he’d ever known, and strangely enough, he was not ashamed of it. What reason was there to conceal his feelings, when everyone around him was also reveling in joy?

Sir Guy and Lady Cassia were overwhelmed with happiness at the healthy arrival of their son. Lady Thea and Sir Lucien were all a flutter over Gabriel, who had given them his first genuine smile. Even Owen, who had recently been quite grim, seemed to find a degree of pleasantry. The morning after Phillip’s birth, Owen had made another inquiry about departing for Toulon, and when he was granted permission, he seemed strangely eager to depart. But of all the happy faces around him, none pleased him more than Evelyn.

The time they could manage together had grown more limited these last few days. Not only did she have the business of preparing to be a bride, but she had dedicated herself to looking after her mother and newborn brother. There were plenty of others to help, of course, but Evelyn seemed to take pleasure in doting on them. The only lengthy amount of time they had was at prayer, mealtimes, and during the night’s respite of entertainment, and even then, they were not alone. Beyond a few polite words, there was little private conversation shared between them. He might have been highly frustrated by their lack of togetherness, were it not for the stolen moments they managed.

The corner of his mouth rose as he recalled the times they had met each other in passing. When she was with someone, it usually being her sister, he was granted a tender smile. But if, perchance, he found her alone, she was not shy about coming into his arms. The kisses and embraces they shared were brief but deeply passionate, and he found himself dearly hoping for “accidental” meetings. More than that, he found himself becoming impatient for the days to come, when they would not have to restrain their growing desire for one another. Lustful thoughts often came over him when they were forced to part. He found himself thinking that, were it not for the restraints put upon them, he would have pulled her into the nearest room to delight in a heated tumble.

Only a few days more, he reminded himself, And then we will be denied no longer.

He sighed, trying to turn his mind to other matters. Such thoughts of Evie were powerful and stimulating, but also frustrating. Performing a task, either in the field or elsewhere, helped to ease his mind. He concentrated on running the brush over Percy’s neck. As he worked, his eye caught sight of someone just outside the stables. It looked like a young groom, or perhaps a page. Clearly, he was a servant, judging from his clothes. But there was something odd about him. It might have been the way he stood, keeping himself behind the trees, as if to avoid being seen. From the way he kept turning his head, it was quite obvious he was waiting for someone.

Why would a servant be lurking in such a fashion?

There was something unsettling about the boy. And, recalling the trouble that had often found its way to the Gisborne estate, he decided that this problem would end before it had the chance to start.

He was careful in his approach. Walking in the opposite direction, away from the suspicious stranger, he made a long circle around until he was behind the boy, who was completely unaware of anything. With the silence of a stalking cat, Simon came upon his prey. In a swift leap he pounced, clamping his hand around the boy’s mouth to keep him silent.

“Be still or I will silence you permanently. Understand?”

The boy nodded, and Simon slowly removed his hand. Turning him around, he took the young man by the shirt and looked him in the eye. His words were fierce.

“Why do you lurk about, boy? Speak up, or I will see you horse whipped for trespassing!”

The youngster, so much smaller than Simon, was petrified. “Please my lord, do not hurt me! I am only a messenger doing my duty!”

Still holding the boy’s shirt, Simon gave him a slight shake. “What message do you bring, and for whom?”

“I bring a message for the lady Evelyn! My master instructs me to give it to her maid servant first, and she will deliver it! I beg you, my lord! Do not harm me!”

Simon clamped his hand back over the boy’s mouth. Knowing he would get nowhere with threats, weak as this youth seemed to be, he spoke as calmly as he could.

“I will not do you harm. Understand?”

After a nervous nod, Simon released his hold.

“Speak,” he demanded. “Name your master.”

With a gulp of anxiety, he gave his answer.

“My master is the Baron of LeFontaine. Lord Rene Jean-Bastien.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 22, Part One

The housekeeper called out to Evelyn, who was just coming in from the garden.

“My lady, you must come and see!”

Evelyn handed her basket of freshly clipped red roses to a passing servant, who curtseyed and carried them away. Evelyn followed Marie up the stairs, asking no questions. These many days past, they had all been running about so hurriedly that there was little time for hesitation.

The entire estate was alive with activity, more so than usual. Additional servants had been brought in to help with tasks. They were kept busy making grapevine wreaths, into which they wove ivy and rosemary. Baskets were woven for centerpieces and filled with wildflowers, as well as herbs to ward off evil spirits. The floral arrangements were bright and bold, with flowers chosen for their striking colors. Bright blue irises, blood red roses, orange tiger lilies, and numerous other flowers were gathered in spectacular arrangements.

But grandest of all was the clothing being tailored for the occasion...brocades and velvets in bright, jewel-tones colors. Evelyn had not seen her wedding gown yet. It was to be a surprise gift from her mother and father. Thea had been handed down their mother’s wedding dress, and Evelyn had decided long ago that she wasn’t jealous in the least. She looked forward to having a new wedding gown that she could give to her own daughter one day. As she came up the stairs with Marie, she felt a sudden giddiness and anticipation, sensing that she was about to experience one of the greatest moments of her life.

In the doorway of her bedchamber, she stopped suddenly. With a gasp, she pressed her hands to her mouth. The sight of her wedding gown, newly arrived and laid out on her bed, made her tremble with awe and excitement, and she rushed forward to examine it. The bliaut was sapphire blue silk with gold accents and trim, so beautiful that she was almost afraid to touch it. The under gown was purest white, with roses embroidered in pale pink, and the sleeve hangings were made of delicate white lace. With her hand she covered her heart, feeling its excited beats.

“Oh, Mama,” she said. “I knew that it would be lovely. But I never imagined it would be as beautiful as this.”

Cassia, who sat in the window seat, brought a handkerchief to her eye. She dabbed away a tear, trying to smile.

“You will be a most beautiful bride,” she said.

As she wiped her eye a second time, Evelyn went to her. Her mother had been very emotional of late. Cassia kept insisting that it was merely a part of her condition...that she had been prone to tears during all of her pregnancies. But Evelyn was certain there was more to it than that. She took her mother’s hand.

“Do not cry, Mama. This is to be a happy occasion.”

With a soft sigh, Cassia kissed Evelyn’s hand. “I am very happy, my darling. Do not mind the foolishness of an elderly expectant mother.”

Evelyn smiled. She started to say something, but a knock on the door...and a baritone voice...kept her from it. Guy came into the room, holding a small wooden box in his hand.

“Under the current circumstances, emotions are expected to run rampant, are they not?”

Coming to his side, Evelyn leaned against him. She felt his arm around her and a kiss on the top of her head. These last several days, she hadn’t seen much of him. They had all been so busy with the wedding preparations, there had hardly been time to think, much less share quiet moments together.

“A cart has just arrived from Guillemot,” he said. “The Duke has sent a various assortment of goods in anticipation of the wedding feast. Peacocks, doves, geese, quail...along with numerous other offerings. When all is said and done, we shall have enough food to feed the king’s army.”

Evelyn had only heard a portion of his words. Those referring to Guillemot. Which, in turn, made her think of Simon. There had been no word from him. In the rare moments of quiet, she had prayed for a message. Why had he not written her? Were it not for the distraction of the activity around her, she was certain she might have gone mad.

Her father must have sensed her feelings, for he blessed her with words she’d been waiting so long to hear.

“I have word they should arrive in only a few days.”

Her head lifted quickly, her eyes growing bright with eagerness as she looked up at him. He gave her a little smile, and leaning back in the embrace, he handed her the box he’d been holding.

“This is a gift from your betrothed.”

She eagerly reached for it. But, as if to tease her, he pulled it back. His smile grew.

“I think you should first sit, daughter.”

She hurried to the window seat, placing herself beside her mother, who smiled with delight as she observed them.

“Close your eyes,” said Guy.

Evelyn did so, reluctantly. She waited for the box to be put in her hands. But there was nothing.

“Count to ten,” he said.

Confused, Evelyn opened her eyes. And then she heard her mother laugh.

“Oh Guy, do not tease her so.”

Evelyn saw the mischievous look he wore when he at last handed over the box. She smiled, and looking down at the gift, she felt giddy with anticipation. Lifting the lid, she took in a breath of absolute shock.

“Mama! Oh, Mama! By all the stars in heaven!”

Her fingers caressed a necklace, the likes of which she had never seen. It was a double strand of pearls, with each pearl connected by clasps of gold. In the center of the strand was a large sparkling sapphire, surrounded by a webbing of gold. It was breathtaking.

She had hardly recovered from the shock when a servant came to the door. It was a page, who bowed respectfully.

“My lord, The Marquis has been seen near the village. He will arrive shortly.”

Evelyn rushed to her feet, clinging to the jewelry box. She looked to her mother, and they shared delighted smiles. When she looked at her father, he was wearing a curious expression.

“Well. It seems your betrothed is full of surprises. Come. Let us welcome him back.”

He turned away, and Evelyn threw her arms around her mother, kissing her cheek.

“He has come back to me, Mama!”

Cassia nodded, and gave Evelyn a gentle push, even as she smiled.

“Hurry then, Evie. Make yourself ready for him.”

Evelyn needed no encouragement. Celeste, who had been standing nearby, came to help her mistress. Violette came to Evelyn, and together they hurried to prepare for Simon’s arrival.


At long last, a familiar white charger appeared at the end of the drive. Evelyn fought the urge to go bounding forward, to rush to him in all of her excitement. There was so much she wanted to say to much she wished to know. But most of all, she wanted to throw her arms around him and feel his strong body against her own. He seemed to be taking his time in his approach, or perhaps it was her eagerness to see him that made her feel that way. When at last he came near, it was all she could do to remain still and poised, as she knew she was expected to be. He looked down at her with those maddeningly beautiful eyes of his.

“My lady Evelyn,” he greeted her, with that voice that made her shiver all over. “What a pleasure to see you again.”

She curtseyed, lowering her head. “My lord.” When she looked up, he was dismounting. She waited, trembling with anticipation, as she watched him make his greetings to everyone. And then, at last, he came to her. When he took her hand, her nerves were thrilled by the feeling of his skin against hers. It had been much too long since she had known his touch, and she could not contain her delight. No matter what decorum dictated, she hadn’t the will power to behave entirely.

“I am so glad to have you back.”

She felt her face flush with hot embarrassment. The bold words had slipped out before she could catch them. But to her relief, Simon did not seem bothered by her audacity. He seemed rather amused, giving her a slight smile, and when he offered his arm, she took gladly took it. She expected him to lead her inside. But he surprised her when he turned to Guy.

“My lord, will you permit Lady Evelyn to accompany me on a short walk? I have been on horseback all day and my limbs are in need of movement.”

With a nod from Guy, they turned and walked away from the house. He seemed to be leading her towards the garden, and she was happy to be returning there with him. She had spent many days there, thinking of him, while he was away. How wonderful it felt to be returning there with him.

As they walked along, she could feel a sense of tension between them. For a moment, she wondered if she had been too audacious in her welcome of him. Perhaps, despite his smile, he had been somehow bothered by her behavior.

“Forgive me for speaking too soon of my own feelings. I should have inquired about your travels. Was your journey...”

Her words were suddenly silenced by the heated press of his lips to hers. For a moment she was stunned. But then she melted against him, bringing her arms up to twine around his neck. When they parted for a moment, she was breathless with joy, and she smiled up at him. His eyes were full of tenderness, and he gathered her close in his arms. As she leaned her head against him, holding him with a fervor that matched his, she felt her feet leave the ground for a moment.

“Oh Simon,” she sighed, free now to express all that she felt in her heart. “I have missed you so.” Closing her eyes, she pressed her cheek firmly against his shoulder. She could not be certain, for the sound was very low, but she thought she heard a sort of growl coming from him. There was something thrilling about the sound. His words filled her with a wild feeling.

“I have thought of you every day, Evelyn. Every moment, to be truthful. You have changed the very nature of me.”

His admission stunned her. “Have I done that?” she asked.

He nodded. “You have.” Leaning back in her arms, he smiled down at her. “My interest in politics waned considerably while I was at court. When compared with the joyful madness of the Gisborne household, I found matters at court to be strangely dull.”

Her mouth curved up in delight. He pressed his forehead to hers in a gesture of sweetness. Feeling bold, she clasped his face and kissed him. “You have brought me such happiness,” she said. “There will be no greater joy for me than to have you for my husband.”

His expression slowly changed, becoming solemn. She felt a sense of dread coming over her.

“Evelyn, there is something you must know.”

When he took her hand, leading her to a garden bench, she felt a desperate need to pull away from him, knowing that if she allowed herself to be seated, something bad was sure to follow. He pulled her to the bench, despite her reluctance. She saw the troubled look in his eyes, and heard the ominous tone of his words.

“While at court, there was a great amount of heated discussion.” He paused, seeming hesitant to speak. But after a moment, he went on. “We think it possible that a conflict is in the near future. Nothing is certain...”

“A military conflict?”

He gave a slight nod. “Yes. I tell you this because I do not wish you to be unaware. But please, do not be overly concerned.”

She lowered her head, not wanting his eyes to distract her. He was attempting to soften a subject, perhaps hoping that her youth would render her blind to the truth of the matter. But she knew more than he realized.

“I am not ignorant of these things, Simon. I know the wanderlust that is in a soldier’s blood. You desire glory on the battlefield. When there is a hint of battle in the air, you come alive with the hope of joining the fight.”

He seemed intent on soothing her fears. “There is little that is definite,” he said. “We...”

She broke off his words, shaking her head sadly. “I have always known what comes of journeys to court.” Turning away, she tried not to let him see the sad shimmer in her eyes. “Mama has never shielded me from the truth of these matters. You are a servant of the crown, and when the time comes, I must give you to his majesty without question.”

“Evelyn, listen to me.” He gently clasped her arms, turning her to face him. “I am a servant to the crown. And not so long ago, that was my only ambition. But you must know that since I’ve found you, I desire something more from this life.”

She felt his hand cupping her cheek. His eyes brightened with a strange kind of fire. She felt the increasing rhythm of her heart as his words fell over her, softly and tenderly.

“I love you, Evelyn. The feelings I have for you are more than strong. They have come to dominate me so that I hardly know myself as I used to. I only know that I want to be with you.” He kissed her, his lips warm and firm against her own. His lips traveled over her cheek, and he uttered soft words against her ear. “If I am to die, I wish to carry beautiful memories with me.”

His confession of love flooded her heart. And his talk of such sacrifice nearly broke it. To silence keep him from uttering such terrible things, she placed a long, hot kiss on his mouth. Her breath quickened with urgency and longing. Her words held a hint of command.

“Do not talk of dying.” She leaned her head against his shoulder, giving an involuntary shudder. “I cannot bear to hear of it.”

She was surprised to hear him make a sound of amusement. Raising her head, looking at him, she saw that the corner of his mouth had risen.

“You Gisborne ladies are a stubborn lot,” he said. “Must you always have your way?”

His smile was catching, and she returned the expression. “In regards to the one I love most, the answer must be yes.”

Drawing his face close to hers, he replied with a little sigh of mock defeat. “Very well, then. I consent.” His smile was grand...his eyes full of fire, and he kissed her sweetly, talking between repeated brushes of his lips to hers. “We will not speak of dreadful things. We shall live only in the moment.”

With a joyful little noise, she sought another kiss. But a sudden gust of wind blew through the garden walk, carrying leaves and blowing them in all directions. They turned their heads away until it had passed. Looking up at the sky, they saw that it had grown ominous with clouds.

“We had best go in,” said Evelyn. “I sense a storm brewing.” She turned to him, and he turned to her. She sighed, her heart overflowing with happiness, and it was reflected in her voice. “I might have remained here for hours with you.”

He smiled, stealing one last kiss before he took her hand. “We will be soaked to the skin if we tarry much longer.” Standing up, he pulled her along with him. They rushed for the front door of the house, making it safely under the cover of the archway just as the rain came pouring down.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Lady Gisborne, Chapter 21

Their time at court had come to its end. Nearly a month, spent partly in hours of useless mingling...and the rest of the time spent around the royal table, listening to the shouts and curses of men as they clamored for a reason to start a war.

Royal spies had learned of a plan to draw Phillip away from his court, to lure him southward and keep him occupied there, while England’s army attacked from the north. But the English Barons were reluctant to act, delaying any attempt at action. Phillip had made the decision to wait...but for how long, he had not made clear. He was confident that the enemy would move, probably sooner rather than later. The men were told to return home, to see to the matters of their families and estates. War would come. They had only to wait for the call to arms.

Upon hearing the news, Guy had wasted no time in ordering the preparation for his return home. In the hall outside his guest chambers, he paced back and forth as his belongings were prepared.

Standing outside his own door, just down the hall, Simon watched Guy closely. There was an energy surrounding the Earl this morning. These weeks at court, he had been bleak in every way possible, always scowling and muttering to himself. He prowled the palace halls and grounds in a way that had others keeping their distance. But now, he seemed filled with eagerness and anticipation. As Simon observed Guy, Basil came from within their shared chamber.

“Home will be a strange sight to see,” he said. “But it will be a welcome one, of course.”

Hardly listening, Simon nodded. “Yes, father.”

He could feel his father’s gaze. Of late, he had often felt those eyes searching his face. A concerned question generally followed, along with words of wisdom. But in this instance, Basil gave no inquiry, perhaps thinking it best not to pry. His only gesture was to give Simon a light slap on the back.

“I will see how the servants progress,” he said.

Simon watched him go. Then, he turned his eyes back to Guy...and his mind to other matters.

Their plan was to return to Guillemot. They had been away for nearly two months, and there would be much to do when they returned. Not only would they need to catch up on matters regarding their estate, but there would be preparations made for the inevitable.

But Simon had no intention of remaining at Guillemot.

For many days, he had struggled with his personal desires. He wanted Evelyn for his own, but circumstances had conspired against him. The arrangements of his marriage had been set in place for many long years. He was to marry Evelyn the day after she turned sixteen, and to alter the arrangement might mean offending Sir Guy and his family. That, he did not want.

But now, war was on the horizon. It would certainly come, perhaps tomorrow...perhaps months from now. He had no way of knowing how much time he would be granted. He only knew he did not want to waste a moment of it. There was a chance that Sir Guy would refuse his request. But it was a chance that Simon was willing to take.

He approached in a cautious way, careful to conceal the tension he felt. He reminded himself that this was not a matter of asking for a lady’s hand and hoping for words of acceptance. They had brokered that deal long ago. Evelyn would be his wife. Of that there was no question. But to go to a man...a father...and ask that he give his beloved daughter in a hurried fashion? What father would look favorably upon that? He kept a calm, quiet demeanor as he came near.

“My lord,” he asked, “May I have a word with you?”

Guy was intensely focused on hurrying the activity around him. He gave Simon only a momentary glance, and a terse reply. “What about?” he asked.

“A personal matter,” said Simon.

Guy looked at him for a long moment. Simon could sense Guy’s if he knew what they would speak of. Without saying a word, he stepped into his chamber, and Simon followed. Guy folded his arms, casting his glance outward at some fixed object. Simon realized it was best not to delay the matter any further. He paused only a moment, and made his request.

“Sir Guy, I would like to marry Evelyn immediately.”

Guy slowly turned his glance to look at Simon. There was a curious expression on his face. His mouth was set in a serious line. “Am I to know your reason for this request?”

Simon chose his words carefully. His reasons were many for hastening the marriage, and not all of them were motives the Earl would want to hear...although Simon was sure Sir Guy was aware of them. He certainly could not say aloud how much he desired Evelyn in his bed...that he had lost sleep at night due to lustful dreaming. But his amorous intentions were not his only reasons. There were other, more profound matters at stake, and he spoke of them. Emulating Guy, he folded his arms and adopted a serious stance. His words were bleak.

“My lord, you know very well the nature of war. In all that is uncertain, there is but one assurance. Many of us who venture to battle will not return.”

A silent moment passed, and Guy replied, “Will you come to the point, your grace?”

Simon let out a breath...and said what he had long held back.

“I wish to wed Evelyn as soon as experience the joy of my marriage, however brief a time I may have to know it.”

Guy’s response was an immediate disgruntled sound. He rubbed a hand over his face. Walking to the fireplace, he leaned a hand on the mantle and stared down at the grate.

“Are you aware of the burden you put upon me?”

Such a question was rather unexpected. Simon examined Guy, curious. “My lord?” he inquired.

Guy replied in a quiet, gloomy tone.

“For nearly twenty years, I have often attempted to quiet a small voice that whispers at my ear...reminding me of the inevitable. I have been aware, from the moment they came into this world, that my daughters would be lost to me. Theodora was first, of course. I was able to endure that sorrow because of its gradual nature, and I thought to find the same unhurried progress in losing Evelyn. Now you come to me and ask me to make haste in giving her up?”

Simon found it difficult to respond. He knew how deeply Guy of Gisborne cared for his family. He had seen, firsthand, how tightly knit the Gisbornes were. But he knew that his own ambitions, however painful they would be to endure, would be for the best. He answered, and though firm, he tried to be kind.

“Forgive me, my lord. I sincerely have no wish to cause you grief. But if my future is to be fleeting...God forbid...then I must prepare for it.”

Several long, tense moments passed as Simon waited for a reply. At last, Guy inquired...

“Do you love her?”

Simon’s answer came instantly. “Yes.”

“Do you truly love her?”

With a nod, Simon answered firmly. “I do.”

For a few moments more, Guy remained leaning on the mantle. Then he pushed back. He turned, making his way back towards the hall, and he gave his answer as he went.

“I must consider the matter.”

He disappeared from sight, leaving Simon to wonder if he would ever truly understand Guy of Gisborne.


It was nearly noon before they were set to depart. Simon mounted his horse, preparing to leave without an answer from Guy. He had not seen him for some time. Had he made his decision? And if so, when would he give it? As he waited, none too patiently, Simon made a decision of his own.

He would see Evelyn, and soon. There was, of course, the business to be done at Guillemot. But he would see it done quickly, and then he would return to the Gisborne estate. Whether as a mere visit, or as a precursor to their marriage, it mattered not to him. He would return to her, one way or another.

As he gathered his reins in his hands, he heard his name called from afar. Turning his head, he saw Guy approach on his great black stallion. He rode up beside Simon.

His words were spoken quietly...but they were powerful and direct.

“You will wait until a fortnight passes. I will approve of nothing less. Go home, see your affairs settled...and then, return to Evelyn. She will be waiting for you.”

With that, he turned his mount away and followed his caravan towards home. For a moment, Simon sat in quiet contemplation and slight awe, absorbing what had just happened. He slowly moved his horse towards his father’s carriage, where Basil was watching from within...his hand holding the curtain back as he examined Simon’s expression.

“Has Sir Guy given you his decision?”

A hint of a smile graced Simon’s face. With a glimmer in his hazel eyes, he gave his reply.

“We are to prepare for a wedding. In a fortnight, I shall be a married man.”


In disbelief, Evelyn stared at Violette’s extended hand...and the rolled parchment in it. It could not be. Nearly a month had passed since the first message. For weeks, she had dreaded the arrival of another letter from Rene...and now, her fears had come true. With a tense hand, she took the message from Violette, dismissing her with a wave. Finding a chair, Evelyn slowly sat down. After a nervous outlet of breath, she unrolled the message and began to read.

Rene had gone home. Judging from his signature, he had reclaimed his status. And he was expressing his gratitude to her.

After a few moments, she lowered the paper to her lap...trying to comprehend the enormity of the information.

What a great turn of fortune for Rene. Despite all that he had done, she could not help feeling for him. He was a libertine and a criminal. But he was also an ordinary human being, with wants and needs. After roaming about for so many years, scraping by as would any stray dog, he had been granted a second chance. And she was glad for him.

But why did he insist on praising her so, and with such romantic undertones in his language? It was discomfiting, to say the least...and she could not allow her soft-hearted nature to sway her. That mistake she had made before, and she refused to do so again. As before, she took the letter to the fireplace, and cast it upon the burning embers.

This is how it must be, she thought. Simon is to be my husband...and the only man who shall have my loyalty.

As the paper turned to ashes, she heard the sound of heavy steps rushing past her door. Curious, she went to the doorway and looked out in the hall. Emile...her father’s steward...was heading to the master chamber. Evelyn knew her mother was resting there. And if Emile was hurrying to her, then she knew that something important was happening. She slipped from her room and followed him. She stood outside her mother’s room, listening.

“My lady,” Emile said, “The master’s caravan approaches. He should be home within the hour.”

A flood of joy and excitement came over Evelyn. As she flew back to her room, Violette met her in the hallway, approaching her lady with a concerned look. Evelyn wore a great smile as she took the maid’s hands in her own.

“Papa is coming home! And Simon will surely be with him! I must hurry and prepare for their arrival!”

She took Violette by the hand and pulled her along, trembling with anticipation.

As Violette helped her change into a better dress, Evelyn found herself biting back the urge to demand more speed in the preparations. She felt the same intensity of excitement she’d known as a child, when she had waited impatiently for her father to return from a journey. She smiled to herself as she remembered how, on more than one occasion, she had slipped away from her nurse to run down the road and meet his carriage half way. If only such behavior was not forbidden, now that she was a grown young lady. What a sight it would be if Simon saw her acting with such abandon. She shook her head.

No, she thought. I will maintain my senses. I am a child no longer, and I will not act as one.

When at last Violette finished her work, having placed a band of violets around the crown of her lady’s head, Evelyn rushed from under the maid’s hands. In the hall, she saw Celeste assisting Cassia, and it gave Evelyn pause. Her mother had grown larger in the last month, so much so that she had spent most of her time off of her feet. Active as she liked to be, Cassia was finding it difficult to do much more than take short turns around the house. Evelyn and her mother had always been close, but these past weeks they had spent nearly every day together. She came to her mother’s side, concerned. While Celeste held one hand, Evelyn held the other.

“Mama, should you be about? Perhaps you should wait in your room where you will be more comfortable.”

Cassia shook her head. “No, my darling. I have not seen your father in many weeks. I will be there to greet him as soon as he arrives.” She smiled at her. “You will do the same for Simon, will you not?”

Evelyn could not keep from returning the gesture. She felt so blessed to have a mother who understood her feelings. Her mother was not dismissive or scornful, as many others would be. Feeling an overwhelming sense of happiness and love, she kissed her mother’s cheek, and Cassia’s smile deepened as they helped her down the stairs.

Everyone was soon gathered outside to await the arrival. Cassia sat in a chair, with Thea and Owen standing beside her. Evelyn was close to them, and her eye became fixed on her brother. Lately, there seemed to be a change in him. Isabella was gone now, escorted to Toulon by two of their most trusted servants. Evelyn had expected Owen to be very happy at her departure, as bitterly as he had complained about her presence. But since she had left, he had become almost a different person, going about his duties and actions in a strangely quiet way.

She shook off her suspicions, thinking that his business was his own. Her attention was distracted by Thea and Gabriel, who was gumming a little stuffed toy that his mother had made for him. Evelyn smiled, reaching out to stroke his downy head.

“Lucien will be so happy to see you both,” she said. “And he will be so surprised to see how his son has grown.”

Thea smiled proudly, placing a kiss on Gabriel’s head.

The sound of hounds came from afar. All heads rose, looking towards the road. Evelyn’s heart beat fast with anticipation as her eyes searched the horizon for the first glimpse of a familiar white steed. It was a black stallion that first greeted her eyes. Lucien was beside him, and she smiled at the sight of them, particularly her father, who had chosen the freedom of his horse rather than the confines of the carriage. She could guess his reasons for it. Not only was the weather very fine, but his horse was swifter...allowing him to near his loved ones that much sooner. He rode up and quickly dismounted, handing his horse off to a groom. His first gesture, of course, was to his wife. They embraced in full view of everyone, speaking sweet words to one another. Lucien kissed Thea and their son, remarking with pride on the weight his son had gained. While they shared those tender moments, Evelyn looked to the road again. Her heart sank as no white stallion appeared.

Why does he not appear? She wondered. Is he delayed in some way?

As her father came to her, she tried to smile. He gave her a kiss on the forehead, and as she looked up at him, she could see an odd glimmer in his eyes. There was something he was about to tell her. He started to speak, but she hurried with her question before he could begin.

“What is it, Papa? Has something happened? Why is Simon not with you?”

He hesitated for a moment before he replied. “The Marquis and his father have returned to Guillemot.”

She was certain her heart had truly been crushed, for she could feel the pain in her breast. Tears of disappointment burned her eyes, but she tried to look away so her father would not see them. When he reached out to gently lift her chin, she was not sure what he meant by the gesture...until he spoke again. His eyes seemed sad. And yet, there was a slight smile on his lips as he answered.

“They will return to us in a fortnight. A short time for a bride to prepare, but I am certain you will manage.”

The earth seemed to roll underneath her feet. But there was hardly time to recover from the shock of the announcement. Events were suddenly thrown into a swift pace, and she had no choice but to move with them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 20, Part 3

Rene stared at the blank parchment before him. It sat there, on the desk, almost mocking him…daring him to write to Evelyn. With a determined scowl he picked up the quill pen…only to drop it back in the writing box. Resting his elbows on the edge of the desk, he locked his fingers together and pressed his lips against his knuckles, letting out a huff of frustration.

His mind was burdened with worry, wondering if Evelyn had read the first letter. He knew she had received it. But there was no way of knowing if she had read it. And even if she had, were her feelings softened by it? There was so much more he longed to say. So much had happened in the last few days, he was only now coming to grasp the reality of it. For the first time in six years, he was “lord” Jean-Bastien. Monsieur Rene. A nobleman.

According to some, he ought to have been thrilled by his turn of fate. Louis had taken their father’s title of “Comte,” and Rene was, once again, “Baron Rene Jean-Bastien.” Louis talked of granting him a small estate a few miles away...the estate he had been promised before his exile. Now that he was a man, it would be his in truth. All should have been well and merry for him.

But his feelings about nobility had not changed. He had no desire to rise in society, or to mingle with men of power and influence. The return of his status and the reclaiming of his fortune were important to him for only one reason. He wanted to be worthy of Evelyn’s love.

She had cared for him once. He recalled the day they had spent on the hunt, following the falcons. She had unwittingly opened a vulnerable spot in his soul. They had started in a fashion he was accustomed to...speaking to a lady, encouraging her to confide in him and express her thoughts and feelings. But Evelyn had somehow turned the conversation to him. Her blue eyes had been so soft and affectionate. Her tender heart had opened to him, trying in her gentle way to soothe his unseen wounds. Other women thought mostly of themselves, wanting and needing a man who would give them comfort and affection. Since he had first gained knowledge of females, he had been happy to oblige them with that attention. In exchange, he had found pleasure in their bodies and sweet companionship in their company. The women in his life had eased his loneliness, and until Evelyn, he had been content. In her, he had found a granting of genuine affection he had long forgotten. Many women had wanted him. Some, he knew, had lost their hearts to him. But how long had it been since someone had truly caredabout him? Had he ever seen, in any woman’s eyes, such a light of true affection?

No, he thought. Not a one has cared for me so. Not since... He was aware of a presence in the unseen presence, but a powerful one. Knowing precisely from whence it came, he slowly raised his eyes to a gilded painting. Like the one in Louis’ chamber, it hung over the fireplace. And as in that work of art, his mother was part of the subject. But this painting did not have its tone darkened by the old master of the house. This was a sunny portrait of a mother with her three children. Looking at it, he felt a well of emotion rise in his throat.

She had loved him unconditionally, even when his behavior had bordered on shamefulness. He could imagine her here, now...loving him, despite the reputation he had earned for himself. These past six years, he had lived without thought for consequence. His recklessness had been born of having nothing to lose...of having no one who cared what manner of life he lived. He had never given thought to what his mother would think of him...until now.

What a selfish degenerate he had become. What a dishonor for a mother, looking down from heaven, to see her favorite child so sullied. He felt so low. If only he had returned sooner, she might have been spared this disgrace. He turned his eyes away, ashamed. He looked at the parchment again. A flood of feeling...of strange inspiration...gripped him, and he reached for the quill. He dipped it in the inkwell, tapping the rim of the jar to remove the excess ink. Putting the pen to paper, he began to write...

My dearest Evelyn,

I hardly know how to begin. Perhaps it is best to express my disbelief as to the strange workings of fate. Of all the places on this earth for a vagabond to wander, who could have foreseen that he would find himself at the very place where his life began?

You have brought me home, Evelyn. Although my return has brought me unexpected sadness, it has, as well, allowed me to begin my life anew. And you must believe me when I tell you I am no longer the scoundrel you banished from your presence. From this day forward, I shall endeavor to be a man worthy of so great and generous a lady.

Your humble servant,

Lord Rene Jean-Bastien, Baron of LeFontaine

His heart was full. There was so much more he longed to say...words more affectionate, more ardent, than what he had written. But he was no fool. Such passionate sentiments might be too much to convey at present. For now, he would temper his heartfelt words. And perhaps, in time, there would be something more between them...


Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 20, Part 2

Rene looked around at the collection of stone crosses and grave markers. Louis stood just behind him, and after a long silence, he spoke quietly.

“They all departed this world peacefully. And Papa had but one regret...that he did not live to mend the rift with you.”

Rene swallowed a lump in his throat. “So he no longer hated me, then?” His eyes were fixed on his father’s marker. It was weather-beaten and faded...a painful reminder of the passage of time. Louis came to his side.

“His anger seemed to fade with time. And when Mama died, she begged him to make peace with you, even if only in spirit. When his last words were spoken, your name was upon his lips.”

With a nod, Rene looked skyward. The clouds parted, revealing a patch of azure blue sky. In his sadness, he felt a strange sense of peace. He sighed.

“I am content, then. And I shall see them again...and Gustave as well, in the life to come.” His eyes lingered on the graves for a few moments more. Then he turned away, slowly returning to the house with Louis at his side.


He spent the entire day with Louis, talking of things both past and present. The end of the day found them sitting together before a blazing fire, dining and drinking in a leisurely fashion. The wine helped to ease the mood, lessening the sadness they both felt. Rene leaned his head back, letting out a deep sigh. His thoughts turned away from the loss of his family. He had come here with the intention of finding peace. But that intention, true as it was, had not been born on its own. He sighed...his heart quickening its beats as he thought of the person who had, unknowingly, set him on this course of redemption. He spoke partly to his brother, and partly to himself.

“I have fallen in love, Louis.”

Louis sounded amused in his reply. “You? In love?”

Rene raised his head. He looked at Louis, and saw the expression of surprise on his brother’s face. “Is it an impossible notion?” he asked.

Louis shrugged. “In all honesty, I cannot say. You have been away for so long. I remember a spoiled boy who found delight in tormenting the opposite sex.” He poured himself another glass of wine, and Rene returned his head to its relaxed position.

“That boy grew to be a man,” he replied. “One who found much pleasure in the company of women. Their beauty...their generosity, when given proper attention. All have allowed me to survive in this difficult world.”

“And suddenly you have found one who suits you?”

A sound of wonder came to Rene’s voice. “Oh Louis, if you could only see her. Her beauty radiates from within, complimenting a face and figure blessed by heaven. And her voice! I wish you could hear her speak as she does, with the sweetest of tones.

There was a smile on his brother’s face. Rene knew it was there without seeing it.

“Is she yours to have?” Louis asked.

His moment of joy, brought by thoughts of Evelyn, was dashed when he was faced with the facts of the matter. His reply was grim.

“She is promised to another.”

A moment of silence passed between them. And then Louis asked, more of a statement than a question, “But you would pursue her, despite her being the betrothed of another?”

Rene lifted his head. His eyes shined with determination as he looked at Louis, who raised an eyebrow in curiosity at his brother’s sudden excitement. Rene’s expression bordered on intensity.

“Her betrothed is not worthy of her. She is warm and vivacious. He is cold as ice...without humor and without character. The pompous bastard even threatened my life on one occasion.”

“And should I guess his reason for threatening violence? Perhaps it had something to do with your feelings for his lady?”

Rene did not answer, and Louis scoffed. “What can you expect when you covet another man’s property? You always were a selfish cad, forever wanting that which did not belong to you.”

Rene rose up in defense of himself, folding his arms. “Such as?” he demanded. And Louis was direct with his answer.

“Gustave’s collection of tin soldiers. You misplaced your own, and attempted to steal his.”

With a wave of his hand, Rene dismissed the accusation. “I was six years of age, you fool.”

“And what of Grandfather’s amulet?” Louis reminded him. “The one he bequeathed to me upon his death? You attempted to take it for your own and I corrected you with a black eye.”

He seemed amused by the memory, but Rene could find no delight in such useless reminders of his past behavior.

“Those are childish incidents. They cannot be compared to matters of the here and now. My feelings for Evelyn are genuine and most noble. I have never known such a tenderness of the heart.”

Growing frustrated by his brother’s seeming lack of support, Rene filled his cup and drank deeply of the wine, wishing to ease his displeasure. He was surprised when Louis came back with an inquiry that was not at all droll...but rather, quite serious.

“Does your lady return your love?”

The question doused any anger he had started to feel. A deep sense of sadness filled him, and it colored his words as he answered.

“She has spurned me. And the fault is mine.” He let out a ragged breath, and was thankful that Louis was silent, perhaps allowing him time to tell his tale of woe. He wished to speak of it. And yet, there was too much to say all at once.

“I will not go into details tonight,” he replied. “The story is much too long. I will only say that I was not truthful with her, and it has cost me dearly.” He hung his head, thinking of the way Evelyn had looked at him...her disappointment and disgust, as if she thought him to be the lowest creature that crawled. He could almost feel the sting of the blow she had made to his cheek.

Louis broke the silence, his voice calm and almost fatherly in its way.

“To be quite frank, she is not yours to have or lose.” He stood up, and coming to Rene’s side, he gave him a slap on the back. “You had best forget her, or the cost may be more dear than you realize.”

As he walked away, Rene raised his head. His eyes were filled with a determined look.

I cannot forget her, He thought. I will not forget her.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 20, Part One

Rene stared at the lion-head crest of the garden gate. He ran his fingers over his father’s emblem, carved into every gate, and set in gold on every door.

Good God. Had it really been eight years since he’d passed through this very portal, on his way to exile? The manor was two stories of golden-hued stone, with numerous windows. Except for the smaller ones of the kitchen, each window was tall and narrow, set in carved archways and made of stained glass..a display of his father’s wealth. He felt a flood of emotion and memories wash over him as he searched out a particular that had once been his own.

There, he thought. At that very spot. That is where I once looked out of a morning.

A footstep cracked the gravel behind him. He turned to find a young woman...a servant, judging from her clothing...who gasped at the sight of a stranger. Fearful she would cry out, he spoke softly and quickly.

“Do not fear. I mean no harm.”

Despite her size...she was slender and petite, and probably no older than twelve or thirteen...she was a bold girl. Picking up a branch, she held it defensively. Her eyes narrowed in anger. “How do I know you are not a madman or a criminal? Be gone, or I shall tell Master Louis to set the dogs upon you!”

He found her spirit amusing, and he couldn’t help but smile. To ease her mind, he gave a calm and gentle reply. “I know your master. I have come to see him.”

“If you know him, why do you not come to call at the front of the house?” she demanded. “Why do you take the garden path?”

“It was my favorite when I was a child. I suppose I was reminiscing.”

It seemed she was still uncertain, even though she lowered her weapon. She looked him over, as though she needed further convincing. She needed to be charmed. He stepped closer to her, a slight grin forming on his lips.

“You are quite the skeptic, my lady.” He leaned a hand on the garden wall. A knowing look shined in his eyes. “What if I were to tell you that your master, Louis...who has a long scar on his right cheek...received that mark as a child. It was given to him in a moment of carelessness with his younger brother, who was cast out at the tender age of eleven.”

Her eyes grew large with surprise. “How would you know of such a thing?”

He only smiled in reply. “Take me to his sitting room. I will wait there, for as long as necessary. And then, fetch your master. Tell him an old friend wishes to see him.”


Rene stared at the painting above the massive stone fireplace. It was a likeness of his mother and father. Oliver Jean-Bastien. Dark eyed and slender...pale-skinned and blond. The severity of his features had always been in contrast with those of his wife. Rene’s eye did not linger long on his father. But looking at the image of his mother...Madame Helene Jean-Bastien...he felt an ache in his breast.

In the portrait, her golden hair was twisted into ringlets. Unlike her husband, who wore a pinched and sober expression, Helene’s small mouth was slightly curved in a smile. Even through a portrait, she radiated warmth and graciousness, just as she always had in real life.

He heard the door open behind him. He rose to his feet...and turning, he looked upon his eldest brother. Louis had hardly changed at all. He had always favored their mother, having her hazel eyes and gentle features. But from their father, he had inherited height, and standing in the doorway now, he was quite imposing. He stared at Rene, with no hint of recognition.

“Who are you, sir? My servant said I was to meet a friend here. I see only a stranger. Explain yourself quickly.”

Rene felt a strange desire to laugh...or to cry. He was not sure which, as both emotions threatened to overwhelm him. It had been so long since he had seen a member of his own family. Somehow, he managed to speak. He held his arms slightly outward in display.

“Louis. Do you not know your little brother?”

A stunned expression flashed across Louis’ face. But it was brief. He eyed Rene with mistrust.

“You are not my brother.”

Rene took in a breath to calm himself. “I am Rene. I am your brother.”

Louis took a step forward, with a challenge in his manner. “If you are Rene, then tell me of our father. What secret did he harbor that only family and servants know of?”

The reply came instantly. “A deformity of his legs, caused by a fire nearly twenty years ago.”

Louis’ eyes flashed with astonishment. Their father’s scars had always been a matter of great secrecy. Few members of the household knew of them, except for his most personal attendants...and of course, his family. Louis came forward, embracing Rene in a firm hug. He spoke in a raspy voice.

“Good God, man. It is you.”

Rene’s words had a slight tremble. “I feared I would have no welcome.”

In the midst of the embrace, he felt Louis tense in a strange way. Rene felt a deep sense of foreboding...and his suspicions were confirmed by Louis’ words.

“I am all that remains, brother.”

Rene pulled back. He stared in disbelief. “Mama? She is...”

Louis nodded, and a look of deep sadness marked his features. “Two years ago. And Papa soon after.”

His mother and father...dead. It could not be. But the truth was there in Louis’ eyes. He felt his heart sink. He feared now to inquire about their brother...but he needed to know it all.

“What of Gustave?”

Louis hesitated for a moment...but at last, he answered. “Lost to smallpox, nearly four years gone.”

The shock fell hard and heavy on him. He groped for the chair, sinking into it. His words trembled. “I choose to return, only to find my family one.”

For many moments, he sat in silence. Then he felt Louis’ hand on his shoulder.

“Come,” he said. “I will take you to them...”