Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 25, Part One


A cold rain had started to fall. Simon glanced out the carriage window, examining the dreary afternoon. He was glad now that he had followed his instincts, which had told him to seek shelter at the sight of storm clouds gathering. But he had more reason than mere weather to bring him into the vehicle.

He looked down at Evelyn, who was nestled against his side, asleep. Lady Evelyn Jeanne-Carre, he thought. My sweet, cherished wife.

It seemed surreal. He had been prepared, from youth, to marry and have a mate. But he had never expected to feel such things as he felt for her. Such a tumult of emotions gripped him when he looked at her. Before her, he had thought of love merely as a soft, whispy feeling reserved for saps and fools. He had never imagined that love would grow into a mindless passion...that he would desire a woman so much, he would be blind to everything else. Even now, he was tempted to brush his fingers across the softness of her cheek. Just the simple act of touching her was enough to set his heart to leaping in anticipation. But no. She was resting, and he would not disturb her. Leaning his head back against the carriage wall, he intended only to close his eyes for a moment. But soon he was lost in thoughts of the day...and especially the night...that had just passed...


Sir Guy had granted them a chamber at the far end of the guest wing. It was furthest from the activity of the hall, where most of the wedding guests would be entertaining themselves until well after midnight. As Simon made his way to the room, he was followed at a distance by a small group of ladies, who whispered and tittered among each other. Witnesses, he silently cringed. It was a deplorable custom that was called for by law. But as he approached the bedchamber, he was reminded of a private conversation he’d had with his father-in-law.

I cannot keep the witnesses from their duties. But for the sake of an elderly father’s senses, do me this favor. Forbid them from being in the room. Allow them to listen at the door, if you must. But do not permit them to ogle at your marital relations. I spared my beloved wife that humiliation. I wish the same peace of mind for my daughters.

He had not considered limiting the intrusion in such a way. Witnesses would hear the actions from within, and that would suffice, and even if it did not, there would be the evidence writ in the bed linens. That would be proof enough that the marriage had been consummated.

As he came to the door he turned to the ladies, who blushed and snickered. He spoke in a quiet but firm tone.

“You have come far enough, ladies. From here, I must deny you further admittance.”

Their eyes grew wide with shock, and their expressions filled with disappointment, but he paid it no mind. Turning away from them, he reached for the door latch. For a moment he paused, as his heart increased its beats at the thought of the woman waiting for him on the other side of the door. He took a deep breath, and lifting the latch, he pushed open the door.

The room was lit only by the fire in the hearth. It bathed the room in warm light and dancing shadows, filling the air with a sensual tension. His eyes were drawn to the large curtain-draped bed, where Evelyn sat. As he came closer, he saw that her hands were folded in prayer. She was nervous, of course, and she was looking to heaven for aid. Her black hair was loose, falling over her shoulders and down her back, and contrasting with her white nightdress. She was so innocent, almost angelic...and her beauty took his breath away. He found himself clenching and unclenching his hands. His neck and shoulders had never felt so tense. God almighty, why was he so unnerved? It was not he who was the innocent, about to venture into intimacy for the first time. He took a deep breath to calm himself. Evelyn needed his love and guidance. It would not do for him to show his own uncertainty. He made his way to a small table. Sitting down in a chair, he removed his boots, setting them aside. Rising to his feet again, he reached for the tray that had been set up with a wine flagon and two goblets. For himself, he wanted no wine to dull his senses. But he poured a cup for Evelyn, knowing that a few sips would help to ease her tension. When he turned from the table, his eyes met with hers. She only looked at him for a moment before casting her eyes away, focusing on her hands that she was nervously clasping in her lap. He smiled tenderly, bringing her the cup. He came to stand before her, and held out the goblet.

“Taste the wine,” he said. “It will help to soothe you.”

With a lightly trembling hand, she took the cup and sipped from it. After a moment, she handed the cup back to him. He put it aside, and reaching down to take her hands, he pulled her to her feet. He wished her to feel at ease with him...not intimidated by him, as she must have felt when he was looming over her. Now that she stood before him, he could see in her eyes that her fears had lessened, though they had not faded entirely. She leaned against him, pressing her cheek to his breast. They entwined their arms around one another, and as he pressed his lips to her hair, she spoke in a timid voice.

“I fear I will displease you.”

He nearly laughed at that, but dared not, for fear of causing her greater concern. With gentle, loving words, he did his best to comfort her.

“I would be the greatest of fools to find fault with you. There will be no passing of judgment, my love. Not now, not ever. When we are together, we will know only the greatest of joy. I give you my word.”

He wanted no more hesitations. Slowly, he brought his lips to her ear, brushing it with a warm, tender kiss. Brushing her hair aside, he softly kissed her neck. He could feel her pulse beating wildly, and her breath became rapid. Lifting his head, he looked into her eyes. There was fear there. But behind it, he could see her longing. She wanted him, even though she feared the unknown. To conquer that fear, he needed only to be patient and gentle. And that was just what he intended to be. Cupping her cheek, he tilted her head slightly back, and bringing his lips to hers, he kissed her.

It deepened quickly, their lips parting almost at the instant they touched. Silently, he gave a word of thanks that she was not unschooled at kissing. The practice they had enjoyed during their courtship was making it easier for her, and he was grateful for it.

As they savored the taste of one another, their hands instinctively moved in exploration. Through his own clothing, he could only feel a slight sense of her hands on his back. But through her thin nightdress, his hands felt the incredible warmth of her soft body. For a moment he lost himself to the pleasure of touching her, eagerly stroking her shoulders and back. Of its own volition, one hand moved up her ribcage, gently cupping her breast. Her surprised gasp was enough to give him pause, serving as a reminder that she had never been touched in that way. He knew he would have to reign in his own desires, in order to keep from frightening her. But he needed to touch her, if only to rouse her passions and prepare her for what was to come. Drawing back from their kiss, he searched her expression for signs of fear. To his relief, he saw that her blue eyes had darkened with pleasure. She seemed to sway slightly, and it pleased him that she was not afraid. But he wished to be certain.

“Have I frightened you?” he asked. To which she shook her head. Her reply was soft and tender.

“I am overwhelmed. But I trust you, Simon.”

God almighty, how he loved her. She was putting all of her faith in him...and he swore he would not disappoint her. Taking a slight step back, he pulled his tunic over his head, casting it aside. Loosening the ties of his undershirt, he quickly removed it as well. Standing before her, half-undressed, he saw how her eyes grew as she examined him. He took her hand, placing it over his heart.

“Touch me, Evelyn. Do not be afraid.”

With shy hands she touched him, running gentle fingers up his arms and over his shoulders. His breath quickened at the touch of her hands lightly skimming his chest, exploring the solid muscle. His self-discipline was tested by her tender ministrations, and yet, he managed to keep himself in check. But when her hands moved lower, touching his abdomen, he was lost. Drawing her body firmly against his own, he took her mouth in a deep kiss. She clung tight to him, bringing her hands up to run through his hair. Locked in an embrace, he gently lowered them to the bed, being careful not to bring his full weight down on her. He lifted her slightly up, adjusting her against the pillows. Untangling himself from her hold, he withdrew from her lips, despite her whimper of protest. Keeling at her side, he lightly brushed his fingers along her jaw, tracing a path down her neck. He lowered his head, placing a heated kiss in the hollow of her throat. His lips travelled lower, until he came to the collar of her nightdress. He raised his head, meeting her eyes for a brief moment. Then, he grasped the ties of the gown, giving them a pull. The material fell open, revealing the soft paleness of her skin. But it wasn’t enough for his eyes. He wanted to see more of her. He needed to see all of her. Reaching down, clasping the hem of her nightgown, he slowly raised it up until it was gathered around her waist. He could see the rapid rise and fall of her chest...and the anxiety in her eyes. He paused in his actions. Slipping his arms around her, he held her close, whispering softly to her.

“Are you afraid? If so, we will cease.”

In his current state, he thought he would go mad if she made him stop. He uttered a silent prayer of thanks when she shook her head. He knew that, despite her unspoken bidding for him to continue, she must have been anxious. Moving his hands beneath her gown, he gently caressed her back, easing the tension he felt there. When he felt her touching him in the same way, lightly moving her nails along his spine, he was overcome with need. Clutching her gown in his hands, he gently but quickly pulled it up and over her head, untangling it from her arms and discarding it to the floor. Looking at her, revealed to him in all of her nude glory, he was in awe. He found it difficult to speak, he was so moved.

“My God,” he whispered. “Evelyn, you are so beautiful.”

He touched her cheek, marveling at the perfection of her. And she was his. Only his. A feeling of possessiveness came over him, and drawing her tender body against his, he claimed her mouth with a passionate kiss. She responded instantly, twining her little tongue with his as she kissed him back, and he wrapped his arms around her, lowering her back to the bed. He wanted to explore her body, to discover every inch of her lush beauty. But his desires were threatening to undo his tightly held discipline. He had to have her, and soon, or else his mind and body would shatter. As he kept their mouths fused together, his hands worked between them to untie the lacings of his breeches. Breaking their kiss for a moment, he squirmed out of the confining material and kicked it aside. Moving over her, he settled himself between her legs, and she gasped at the contact. He could feel the tensing of her body, in response to this new and awkward position. Looking down at her, he gave her a little smile.

“The pain will be brief,” he whispered.

A flicker of fear came to her eyes, and he felt a pain in his heart. Lord, he hoped she didn’t think him a brute when he took her. But there was little he could do to ease his way. Reaching between them, he pressed a warm hand to her belly, caressing her. She responded with a soft moan as his hand moved lower. Her breathing came in gasps as he found her tiny nub of flesh, and artfully he stroked it. In response, her body arched with pleasure. As she rode the wave of sensation, he readied himself to take her, entering her passageway with only the tip of his manhood. Covering her mouth with his, he drank in the delicious taste of her, and with his fingertips he stroked her again. She gasped once more, this time as their tongues explored each other’s mouths. And he pushed forward, breaking through her virgin barrier.

She whimpered in pain, and he held himself still within her. She had broken their kiss to take in a sharp breath, and he pressed his mouth, slightly open, against her neck, his breathing harsh. Never in his life had he felt such ecstasy and torment. She was so tight around him, her body holding him fiercely. He wanted so badly to move, but he waited, letting her adjust to the feeling of their joined bodies. When at last she seemed to relax, he withdrew slightly and pushed forward again, and she gave a soft cry. For a moment, he feared he had hurt her. But then, he felt her warm mouth against his shoulder. Her fingers pressed firmly into his back, clutching him...encouraging him, it seemed. He could no longer remain still, and withdrawing again, he thrust himself into her. Using a slow but steady pace, he moved within her, mindless with the pleasure of her sleek, heated passage clenched around him. Feeling her soft thighs grasping him, he plunged deeper, wishing to prolong the ecstatic pleasure for as long as he could. But he could feel the end approaching. He parted his lips against hers, taking her mouth in a ravenous kiss. He thrust twice more into her eager body, pressing himself firmly against her womb as his release overtook him.

Aftershocks rippled through him. As they both struggled to catch their breath, he withdrew from the warmth of her body, and shifted his weight to one side. But he kept her close, wrapping his arms around her. Overwhelmed, both in body and mind, he could not keep his eyes open, and he soon fell asleep, holding her close to his heart...


This arduous journey they were making was very difficult for her. He wished there was an easier way to get to Guillemot, but it was nearly sixty miles northwest of Marseilles, and the way home was a long, rough road that was now worsened by bad weather.

But not once had Evelyn uttered a complaint. Nor had she expressed a desire for special accommodations. He had intended to fill the carriage with brocade pillows and thick furs, to offer her comfort on the long journey, but she had refused them.

“I cannot sit as though I were a princess,” she had said. “If I ride in opulence while those around me do not, it would be most pretentious.”

He could not feel the same compassion that she seemed to feel for the servants who would accompany them to Guillemot. He had argued his point with her, insisting that she was now a Marquess, and there was nothing inappropriate about her traveling in style and comfort. But she proved to be more stubborn than he realized, and in a way he was not accustomed to. Her sunshine and happiness, so abundant on their wedding day and during the night following, had faded. She did not become pouty, or ill-tempered, as would a spoiled child who did not get their way. Rather, she became much too subdued for his liking. It made him uncomfortable when he spoke to her and received only brief, quiet responses. And in the end, he had consented to her wishes.

But once they were home at Guillemot, he swore he would not be swayed from his desire to see her elevated in status. She would have nothing but the very best, even if...on brought her displeasure.

Against his side, he felt her stirring. She pressed closer to him, and he could feel that she was shivering. Though she was already wrapped in her own cloak, he removed his own and draped it around her, and readjusting their positions, he settled her into his arms so that her head was against his shoulder. As he looked down at her, she opened her eyes, and looking up, she smiled at him. Seeing how he had covered her to spare her from the cold, she became concerned.

“Are you not cold without your cloak for warmth?”

He shook his head. “I have endured worse conditions, I assure you.” His tone began gently, and then became stern. “But you would not be suffering so, if you had been less quarrelsome...”

She quickly interrupted his scolding.

“If you recall, I told you I would be much trouble. And so I am.” Her expression, at first determined, became playful. “Do you now wish to return me and bargain for a new bride?”

He could not remain stern with her. When she was in his arms this way, he knew only the most pleasant of sensations. As a little smile crinkled the corner of his mouth, he lowered his head so that they were nose to nose. He whispered softly.

“I think I shall keep you for a while.”

As he brushed her lips with a sweet kiss, his mind was flooded with thoughts of more substantial affections. Lord, how he wanted her. But a cold, cramped carriage was no place for romance. He heaved a frustrated sigh, but tried to appear pleasant, speaking gently.

“Go back to sleep, Evie. We will soon be home, and this trip will be but a happy memory.”

She settled into his arms, and he vowed that when they got to Guillemot, he would see that she was properly warmed...again and again, if necessary.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 24, Part Two

The rouncey moved swiftly along. Aided by the smooth gait of the horse and the quiet darkness around them, Rene relaxed. For a time, he lost himself in thought.

In his head, he had counted the number of days that had passed, estimating it to be three or four. It was difficult to be certain, there having been no window in his cell to mark the rising or setting of the sun. The ride to Avignon had taken nearly a day, and after that, he had marked the passing of days by the routine of bread and water given to him twice a day.

He shook his head, wondering why he was even giving thought to his brief time spent in prison. He knew he needed to plot his next move. He had survived on his own all these years. Even in lean times, when he had been without work, he had relied on female companions to aid him. But now, being a Baron with a known name, he would not have the safety of anonymity...of being a nameless wretch who could appear and disappear at will. He had but one choice.

Louis would aid him.

His brother could help him make his way to some distant place. Perhaps he could go to Spain, or Rome. He still held a title, and he was not known in those lands. Even with only a modest sum of money, he could make a new life for himself.

But what would become of Marie?

He had always had a fondness for women. But this one certainly stood apart from the others. Despite having known her only for a few hours, he felt a need to know something of her and her plans for her own welfare. She had aided him, and he knew he needed to return the favor in some way.

“Marie?” he asked.

She sighed. “Yes?” she said, her voice sounding weary.

“When we part company, where will you go?”

Again, she sighed. “I do not know. But you need not be concerned with it. I will manage.”

Those words seemed to say a lot. She was a survivor, much like himself. She had a story, and it was probably an interesting one. Curious, he urged her to speak.

“Tell me, Marie. How long have you managed?”

“Since I was thirteen years old,” she replied, in a matter-of-fact way. And then, in a tone that seemed a bit too casual for his liking, she said, “My father sold me to pay his gambling debts.”

The revelation was shocking. What kind of man would sell his own daughter? It was a revolting thought. And yet, the way Marie spoke, it seemed she was not deeply affected by the crime. He thought to himself...

Perhaps she is making up a tale.

“Surely you jest,” he replied.

Her reply was firm. “I do not.”

So it was true. He had heard many tales from many women. They had confessed to him the cruel circumstances of their lives, but this was truly one of the harshest tales he had heard. As he had with those other women, he offered her his comfort and understanding, speaking gently in the hopes that she would confide in him.

“It must have been a horrific experience.”

He fully expected her to lament. But she surprised him when she scoffed.

“My father was a drunkard. I was glad to be shed of him. His debtor was a jovial fellow, and he treated me well. Unfortunately, he was also a notorious gambler. I was working in the castle to help ease his debt.”

“And where is he now?”

She shrugged. “I am not certain. I have not seen him for many days.”

“Do you fear something has happened to him?”

Her reply was a blasé one. “I am not his keeper. He has provided for me, but I have no claim on him. He is not my husband, and we owe each other no loyalty.”

“But what if he should return and find you missing? Does that not trouble you?”

“Why should it? He has many female companions. One less will not do him harm.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but could find no words. For a few moments there was silence between them. After a time, it was she who posed a question.

“Where will you go?”

His answer was quick. “I will go to my brother. He will aid me.” He had no doubt that with Louis’ help, all would turn out well. Perhaps for the both of them.

“Perhaps he will aid you as well,” he said to her. It was his hope that she would welcome his thoughtful gesture. Instead, he was stung by her rejection.

“I do not ask for your help. I am no damsel in search of a knight.”

Lord, she was a tenacious creature. Clearly, the usual acts of kindness would not sway her. Perhaps it was better to think in a different way...from one survivor to another.

“You are right. You are no damsel,” he replied. “But neither are you a fool. You are intelligent, and so I think you should take advantage of a situation that presents itself.”

There was a long moment, in which he assumed she was thinking over his suggestion.

“There is sense in that,” she at last replied.

He smiled, feeling quite pleased with himself. “Of course there is sense in it.” He felt no need to hide his smugness. And Marie’s sharp reply came as no shock.

“Do not boast, horse thief. Now please, cease your chatter until our journey ends. I am quite tired, and I need to sleep.”

As he felt the pressure of her weight leaning against his back, his smile deepened. He hardly knew this woman. And yet, he felt like he had known her all of his life. Was it really possible to have so instant a connection with someone? It seemed impossible. But it could not be denied.

Was Evelyn his destiny...or was it someone else?


Rene brought the rouncey to a stop in front of the stables. He looked across the way at the house, thinking what a welcome sight it was. Sighing deeply, relieved that he had made it home, he turned his head slightly. He spoke in a hushed tone.

“Marie,” he said. “We have arrived.”

He felt her stir. After a moment, she mumbled in a sleepy voice.

“Thank heavens.” Sliding from the horse, she stood stretching her limbs as Rene dismounted. He examined her as she stood looking up at the house.

“Impressed?” he asked, as he released the horse into a fenced pasture. “I suspect you thought me to be of humble origin.”

“Avignon Castle is much grander in scale.”

He shook his head, unable to contain his amusement. “Mademoiselle Marie, you are a cheeky wench.” He took her by the arm, carefully leading her up the gravel drive. As they neared the manor, her voice took on a concerned tone.

“Are you certain your brother will allow me here?”

Rene nodded. “I have no doubt about his hospitality.”

“He takes in criminals and runaways on a frequent basis, does he?”

“Hardly that,” he replied with a grin. “But he is my brother. He is a generous soul, and he will not turn us out.”

At the door, the night watchman came to stand before them. He pointed a spear at them, ordering them to identify themselves. When Rene spoke, the guard knew him instantly, and he fell to one knee.

“My lord,” he said. “I did not realize it was you.” He bowed his head for a moment, and then he looked up again. “How did you come to be free?”

Rene bid him to stand. “It is a long story, Gerard. I must see my brother.”

Gerard nodded. “Of course, my lord.” He opened the front door, allowing Rene and Marie to pass. As they crossed the threshold, they were greeted by a footman, who was quicker to recognize his master than the night watchman. As the servant hurried off to fetch Louis, Marie turned to Rene.

“So, you are a nobleman. Should I address you as such?”

“Rene will suffice.”

“I am not certain I am comfortable with first names. Particularly with a man I hardly know.”

“Call me Baron, then. As opposed to horse thief?”

She smiled. “Very well then...Baron.”

He returned her lovely smile. He was about to speak when Louis appeared on the stairs. His brother stood there staring, clearly shocked. As Louis slowly came down the stairs, he looked from Rene to Marie, and back again.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Rene shook his head. “I could not sit in that hellish hole. I freed myself...with the aid of my companion.” He looked to the woman at his side. “This is Marie.”

Louis looked her over, and politely, he bowed to her. “My lady,” he said. And then his eyes quickly shifted back to Rene.

“I must talk to you immediately,” he said. But Rene held up his hand.

“Soon, brother. Soon. But first I must be shed of these clothes, and my belly demands food.”

Louis replied impatiently. “It cannot wait. We will talk while you bathe and eat.”

“If you insist,” Rene replied. “But please, see that Marie is cared for.”

Louis nodded. He called for the footman, who led Marie away. And then he took Rene by the shoulder, leading him up the stairs.


“Have you gone mad?” Louis demanded, as they entered his chamber. Rene blinked, stunned and confused by his brother’s angry tone of voice.

“Not that I am aware of,” he replied. But Louis was not amused.

“I told you I would take care of your situation. I was preparing to strike a bargain with a friend who would aid me in securing your freedom. Now you have destroyed everything.”

“You expected me to sit in that place? I think it is you who has gone mad.”

Louis’ eyes were dark with anger. “Are you so blind? Do you not see that by coming here, you endanger my household? Possibly even my life? If you are discovered here they will imprison us both.”

Rene understood his brother’s anger, and he did not blame him for it. But he had no alternative, and he pleaded earnestly. “I will be gone tomorrow, brother. But I ask you. House me for one night.”

Many long moments passed between them, and Rene wondered if he had misjudged his brother. But then Louis’ expression softened slightly, though it remained stern.

“I will let you stay. But at first light, you will leave. I will think of a place to send you, but you must go without an argument. Is that understood?”

Rene nodded. As he peeled off his stench-ridden shirt, a group of servants came in. One came with a tray of fruit, while two others rolled in a wooden tub, and two more brought buckets of water. As they warmed the water by the fire, Rene hungrily bit into an apple, while Louis quizzed him.

“Who is the woman?”

Rene smiled. “She is an opportunist, brother. A clever, sharp-tongued little witch. She led me out of the castle...only to demand that I bring her with me on my escape.”

Louis gave him a shocked look. His eyes grew wide with disbelief.

“So you were duped? And now you are saddled with a bit of female baggage? Good God, man. Why do you not think with the correct head? It is your stupidity with women that brought you this trouble to begin with.”

Ignoring the comment, Rene stripped off the rest of his clothes and sank into the bathwater. As he started to scrub himself clean, he commented on Louis’ remarks.

“She is no Evelyn, I assure you. She is a saucy wench...too saucy to make a proper wife. But she would make a delightful mistress, if I was so inclined.”

“And you are not?”

Rene shook his head. “I will not lie. The idea of her company is tempting. But if what she has told me is true, she had been ill-used by men in the past. I could not, in good conscience, treat her in the same manner.”

Louis gave a loud snort. “If you have found your conscience, you must be under the spell of a witch.”

With a chuckle, Rene finished his bath and stood, taking a towel from the servant. As he dried himself and put on a loose shirt and breeches, he looked over at Louis.

“What room is she in? I will speak to her before I sleep.”

Louis rolled his eyes. “She is in the chamber at the end of the hall. Do what you will with her. I am going back to bed.” He turned to go, but Rene called to him.

“Will you keep her here? Take her on as a maid, or give her some other task? I owe her an occupation, if nothing else.”

The reply was a grumble, and a dismissive wave of the hand. But Rene smiled as he watched Louis depart, knowing that his brother would do what was right. In the morning, all would be settled. When all was said and done, he and Marie would go their separate ways. He could not guarantee that she would accept whatever role Louis offered. And he could not force her into a new servitude. But at least, for tonight, he could be sure she was settled and content.


At her door, he gave a light tap. “Marie, it is I. Are you awake?”

From within the chamber, he heard her soft reply. “Yes. Come in.”

He slowly pushed open the door. At first he did not see her, but he heard a sloshing noise coming from within, and thinking nothing of it, he stepped further into the room. “I wished to know if...”

He paused in shock as he saw, from behind a screen, her nude silhouette. She was stepping out of a bathtub, and though she was behind a screen, there was no disguising her feminine attributes. When she stepped out from behind the screen, she was wrapped in nothing more than a towel, and he turned away quickly.

“Good God,” he uttered. He had seen women in much less, but with her, it seemed somehow wrong to look. But she only laughed at his shyness.

“Come, come, Baron. Do not play innocent. My body is surely not the first one you have ever seen.”

He stammered for words. “Of course not,” he replied. “But...”

“But what? I am no blushing maiden, and you are no innocent schoolboy. Let us not play a charade.”

From the corner of his eye, he dared to take a peek, and saw that she had slipped into a linen shirt. It came just above her knees, revealing her long and shapely legs. He felt a lump of heated tension rise in his throat.

“What is it that brings you to my door?” she asked, as she toweled her hair dry. Then she added, with a sly little look. “Should I guess at your reason?”

What a naughty-minded little minx she was. But he reminded himself that this was her way. It was doubtful that she knew how to behave as a lady should...and as tempting as her innuendo was, he would not take advantage of it.

“I merely wished to inquire about your welfare,” he said. “Are you comfortable?”

She ran her fingers through her hair. “Quite.” She reached for a pear from the bowl on the bedside table. As he watched her sink her teeth into the flesh of the fruit, he felt a strong surge of lust. It was wrong to feel such things for her, but a long time habit was difficult to break. He knew his thread of decency was a thin one, but he managed to hold on to it.

“If you are content, then I shall leave you.”

He took a few steps away...but the sultry sound of her voice made him pause.

“Is that truly what you wish to do?”

Lord, he wished he could give in to temptation. But not here. Not now. And not with her. He forced himself to move to the door. He bid her farewell as he left.

“Sleep well, Marie.”

He heard her soft reply. “Good night, Baron.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 24, Part One

Hello Everyone! I'm back, and the story can continue! Thanks for being patient. Part 2 of this installment will be posted later this weekend, hopefully by Sunday. It's still being edited, but for now, you can catch up with Rene. If you recall, the last time you saw him, he was thrown in jail...

The stench of his cell made him want to wretch. He could feel tiny vermin crawling all over him, but with his hands still tightly bound, it was impossible to scratch every itch. A single hanging lantern, suspended from the ceiling by a rusty chain, provided a dim light, but it seemed better not to see clearly. It was wretched enough to smell his prison room. He didn’t need to see the details of it. He could hear the sounds of mice and rats...their hideous squeaks and their nails scraping the beams overhead. Never in his life had he been in such a hellish place.

But even in the midst of his captivity, his mind was working fast.

Other prisoners might have been content to sit in fear and submission, praying for a miracle. What good was that? No one was coming to help he would just have to help himself.

There was only one sentry outside of the cell. Since his captors had imprisoned him, he hadn’t seen or heard a soul, except for this one guard. He was a stout, short man with a nasty temper, which he’d already unleashed several times. At the slightest disturbance, he would rap the bars of the door and shout a threat, usually with an expletive.

Rene realized what an advantage that could be, if he played it just right.

Rising from the wooden bench, he went to the door and stuck his chin between the bars. Pursing his lips, he began whistling...and was instantly answered with a nasty reprimand.

“Shut your hole before I shut it for you! And get away from that door!”

A moment of silence passed. Until Rene began again. The angry guard got up from his chair, and using his baton, he slammed it at the bars.

“Get back from this door and shut your mouth, unless you want me to come in there and thump your skull!”

Rene stared him in the eye, challenging him. “You lack the stones.”

The guard’s eyes flashed with growing fury.

“Do not tempt me, boy.”

With a tiny smirk, Rene’s words were spoken in a low, taunting voice. “Was your mother a goat, or just a common whore?”

The key turned in the lock. Moving back against the wall, Rene waited for the moment to strike. The door flew open, and he didn’t hesitate. Flinging his bound hands around the guard’s neck, he yanked the rope tight. They struggled violently for several minutes, until Rene hit his captive’s head against the wall. The body went limp. He let a few moments of caution pass before dropping the guard to the floor. It was unlikely he was dead. He would soon wake with a horrific headache, and the shameful realization that his prisoner had got the best of him.

But there was no time to think of that now.

Working quickly, he searched the guard’s clothing, hoping to find a knife or dagger. He found a blade in the guard’s belt, and holding the hilt between his knees, he sliced his rope bindings in two. There was little time to rejoice in his freedom. Quickly, he traded his own clothing with the guard’s. Lord, the smell of the garments was pungent and disgusting. But he would endure it. He knew he had to. Dragging the body over to the wooden bench, he hefted it up and rolled him on his back, giving him the appearance of being asleep. Taking the keys, he let himself out and locked the door behind him, looking about to see if the commotion had brought any attention.

All was still and silent in the corridor.

He moved along carefully, hoping he wouldn’t come across anyone. He had no way of knowing his surroundings. Was it day or night? Which direction should he take? There was no way of knowing. But there had to be a way out, and he intended to find it. By the time his captors realized he was gone, he would be well on his way home.


The torch-lit corridor seemed to go on and on, eventually reaching a hub that branched into two passageways. Rene looked from one to the other, struggling to make a decision. And then from the darkness, a dark-haired serving girl appeared, carrying a bucket of water. She was startled for a moment, but recovered quickly and tried to pass him, keeping her eyes lowered. She was a young woman...perhaps fifteen or sixteen. She had a pretty face and a slim figure, and in an odd way, she reminded him very much of Evelyn. But this girl had none of Evelyn’s sunshine. He knew something of servants, particularly those of low status, who were often called upon to do much more than carrying water. As she passed him, he reached for her arm. She did not flinch, but as she slowly looked up at him, there was an expectancy in her eyes. He wondered if she thought to be used by him, as she had probably been used by many men. In speaking to her, he was kind in his manner and tone.

“Are you quite familiar with this place?”

For several moments, she said nothing. She just stared at him, her large brown eyes full of suspicion, searching his face. Sensing her uncertainty of him, he tried again, gently.

“I will do you no harm. Tell me, quickly. How do I leave here?”

Still she said nothing. Still studying him, she put down her bucket. Moving towards the left passageway, she gave him a curious look. But at the entrance she paused as if to wait for him. As he followed her, he wondered at her behavior. She seemed so wary of him. And yet she was giving him aid. Curious, he intended to ask questions of her. But to his surprise, she spoke first.

“You are not a guard.”

He was stunned by her declaration. She moved rather quickly down the corridor, and he tried to keep up with her. He was intrigued, and asked her, “What prompts you to say I am not a guard?”

She glanced over her shoulder at him. “I know all the men who are in employ here. You are not one of them.”

A slight smile came to his lips. “Perhaps I am new.”

Her reply was a shake of the head. “You are not forceful enough to be a guard.”

“What am I, then?”

She shrugged. “I am not quite certain. But if you seek a way to leave these walls so hastily, you must not have come here willingly.”

They descended a stairway, and she paused at a partially open door. As she put her eyes to the opening, Rene spoke in a whisper, aware that there might be others near.

“Since you seem to be both clever and helpful, tell me. Where am I?”

Turning her head slightly towards him, she answered. “Avignon Castle.”

Avignon, he thought. That meant, he needed to take a southwest route. Home was roughly ten miles in that direction. He could not be sure which road to take. But perhaps his young guide would know.

“I need to go southwest,” he said. “Which way is it?”

She turned to him. “The kitchen door faces the south. From there, you can determine your path, can you not?” He nodded. But then, a problem presented itself.

“How do you propose to reach the door? Will we not be seen?”

She gave him a half-hearted smile. “You are dressed as a guard. If you keep your eyes lowered, I doubt you will be noticed.”

For a long moment, he let his gaze linger on her. He owed her a debt, and he wished he could give her something in return for her assistance.

“If I could repay you, I would. But I fear I must leave you with only my heartfelt thanks.”

She looked at him with a curious expression. “Where will you go?”

He started to say. But decided against it. “Perhaps it is best I do not say. If you are questioned, I would not wish you to be implicated.”

“I will not be. Because you will take me along.”

Her words threw him completely off guard. “What?” He stared at her, giving a slight shake of his head. She looked him directly in the eye, her expression fierce and determined.

“As I helped you in your quest, you will help me in mine.”

He was stunned by her boldness. “And your quest is?” he asked.

“Merely to leave this place. I cannot travel alone...not in the night, especially.”

She had used him for her own purpose. Had there had been no graciousness in her actions at all? He was not comfortable with being bested by a woman, and he narrowed his eyes at her. “What if I refuse to have your company?”

Her answer was quick and sharp. “I will scream and bring the castle guards upon you. Then where will you be? Drawn and quartered? Or perhaps you will want your head removed and displayed upon a pike?”

Her nerve was appalling. But he had no time to argue, and he could not risk capture by refusing her. He muttered an angry response.

“Fine! I will bring you along, but once we arrive at my destination, we will part company. Is that understood?”

She shook her head. “Take me by the arm,” she said, her voice still hushed. “Walk through the kitchen with me, pretending to use a rough manner. The servants have seen me with other guards in such a way. They will not suspect your actions to be unusual.”

It seemed like the scheme of a mad woman. But there was no alternative. Using one hand to grasp her arm, he threw open the door with the other. He dragged her along quickly, more out of a need to rush than a need to give a great performance. Before he knew it, they were outside. As he stepped into the night air, he released his hold on her and stepped further and further into the open field around them. He dropped to his knees to take in the clean air, forgetting for a moment about his companion...until she slapped the back of his head.

“Rise, you fool! We may already be hunted! If you wish to live, get up off of your knees. Or stay, if you would rather die. Your choice does not have to be mine.”

She is an audacious wench, he thought. But she spoke wisely. And he was not a fool. He hurried to his feet, and together, he and his companion fled into the night.


Rene quietly led a horse out of its stall, in a barn far off of the main road. As he came to where his companion was standing in wait, she gave him an inquisitive look.

“It appears you are no novice at stealing,” she observed. “Was that the reason for your incarceration?”

He shook his head. Thinking of his deep affections for her had led him here...he sighed. “My only crime was being a fool.”

There was a tone of regret and sadness in his voice. But his companion’s reply was sharp.

“So you are a liar, as well as a thief,” she remarked.

He couldn’t help being amused. He looked her over, seeing the way she stood with her hands on her hips. She was no fool, he had to admit. It was clear that she would not be taken in by a tale of woe. She saw past that, seeing him for what he truly was, and she was not afraid to tell him so.

“Are you always so shrewd?” he asked.

She corrected him. “I would rather you say I am ‘forthright.’ It has a more pleasant sound to it.”

As they neared the road, he looked at her again, more curious than ever about the little sprite who had granted him his freedom.

“Speaking of names,” he asked, “What is yours? I would like to know who it is that reads me like a finely scribed document.”

She did not look at him as she answered. She was too busy looking about, perhaps to be certain they were not being watched. “I am Marie, if you must know,” she replied. “And what of you, horse thief? Do you have a name? Or do you go by more than one? In your profession, aliases are a job requirement.”

She was so damned direct. And it was impossible not to be entertained by her. A smile twitched on his lips. “I am Rene.”

Now she looked at him, and her eyes searched him up and down. “Lovely!” she said, with mock enthusiasm. She then became more serious. “Now that we know one another, let us end the chatter and move on before we are found out.”

It was a reminder of their precarious situation, and he heeded her words. Climbing up on the unsaddled mare, he reached down for Marie’s hand. She was small and light, and swung up behind him with ease. When her arms went around his waist, he felt a familiar little that always came to him when a woman was so close. But any ardor he felt was quickly cooled by her sharp tongue.

“God’s nightgown, you are foul smelling. Wherever you land, do the world a courtesy and take a bath.”

He shook his head, wondering where on earth such a spirited creature came from. He gave the horse his heels, moving on. It would not be a long journey home, but perhaps in that short time, he would learn something about Marie before they parted ways. If anything, she was an interesting creature.

One he was certain he would not soon forget.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 23, Part Two

Within the manor walls, a flow of energy was growing. The sun had only just begun to cast her light on the world, but already the house was roused in preparation for a grand event. At the center of the activity, watched by her mother and tended to by her sister and two maids, was the bride-to-be. Already wearing her wedding dress, she stood in the center of the room, under the hands of Violette. With an expression of concentration, she braided two small sections of hair meant to circle the crown of Evelyn’s head, while the rest of her lustrous black locks would fall down her back. Orange blossoms would be entwined in the wrapping of braids. To adorn the creation, there would be a gold circlet with a pearl pendent. And from that gold circlet, there would be a veil made of delicate silken threads. Evelyn took a deep breath, feeling a heaviness that had little to do with the volume of material she was adorned with.

“Look at how my hands are trembling.” She held her hands out for her mother and sister’s examination, showing how they shook with nervous energy. Thea, who was carefully observing the work being done, gave a little scoff at her sister’s anxiety...even while there was amusement in her tone.

“Dearest Evie. It is I, your matron of honor, who should be nervous, as well as your ten bridesmaids. Should evil spirits come to call, it is we who are meant to serve as fodder.”

Cassia, who sat only a small space away on the edge of the bed, smiled at her older daughter’s wisdom. Then, she reached out to gently squeeze Evelyn’s hand, offering her comfort.

“My darling girl, the condition of uneasiness is merely a bridal custom. I trembled quite badly when I was presented to your father. But once the vows are spoken, your tremors of fear will ease. I am certain of it.”

Evelyn returned her mother’s affection, giving her a little smile. She was so glad that her mother was well and would be attending the ceremony. Phillip’s birth had been such a quick and uncomplicated event. She had spent several days resting afterwards, and was still being cautious in her activities. But she had insisted on being a part of the wedding plans, and there was nothing that would change her mind, as they all knew. Thinking of her mother, she also thought of her father, and her smile waned. These last several days, he had been so quiet and gloomy, and she was quite aware of the reason for it. It troubled her to think that he was suffering in any way.

“How is Papa?” she asked, concern in her tone.

Cassia sighed. “He is well enough, in spite of the circumstances. He did not sleep well last night, but that is to be expected.”

At the mention of their father, Thea smiled, recalling her own days as an anxious bride.

“You are fortunate, dear sister. If you recall, only two days before Lucien and I were wed, Papa disappeared. He played at falconry, swearing before his departure that he would not return unless I gave up my ambitions of being married.”

Evelyn could not help but smile at the memory. Thea, of course, had been beside herself with fear and anger, worried that their father would refuse to do his rightful duty and give her to Sir Lucien. But in the end he had returned, and what might have been a calamity had turned into a beautiful occasion. Now, they all smiled at the memory of it. But Cassia was quick to temper their joy, not wishing to make a mockery of Guy’s feelings.

“He is much calmer on this occasion. But do not be mistaken, Evie. This is a very trying time for your father. For us, the smiles and tears we shed today will be expressions of hope and joy. For your father, it will be a difficult day. But know this. Behind every scowl, there is love.”

Evelyn smiled, even as a tender feeling pulled at her heart. A new world was set to open before her, but the old would always be there to welcome her back. Yes, she would soon be Simon’s wife...Lady Evelyn Jeanne-Carre, Marquess of LaRoque.

But she would always be Guy of Gisborne’s daughter.


A crowd of guests, both of high and low estate, were gathered in the yard of the church, awaiting the arrival of the bridal carriage.

On the porch step, Simon stood beside Guy. Owen and Lucien, serving as groomsmen, stood nearby with William, who was to perform the ceremony. It was a blessing and an honor to have the presence of a priest, rather than a simple village friar. Simon hoped such luck would bode well for his marriage. The Duke, who stood nearby, was not a member of the groom’s party, but he conversed pleasantly as they all spoke quietly amongst themselves...except for Guy. He had hardly said a word since their arrival at the church, only a short while before. Simon turned his head slightly, examining his future father-in-law. Anxious as Simon many thoughts as were rushing through his head...he could not help taking note of Sir Guy’s appearance. His undershirt and tunic were moss-green, with his tunic’s braiding around the neck, armholes, and hem having gold threads. His usual black breeches and boots were replaced with a less severe shade of soft brown. For once, the Earl was without his dark shadings. But his expression was filled with its typical grimness. He stood on the step, silently staring at some unknown object in the distance, and Simon could sense that behind the scowling face, there was a deep sense of sadness. Simon pitied him, and for a moment, he considered offering some words of consolation. But he fought the urge. It would be unseemly for two men to speak soft words, and he was certain that even if he were to brave the attempt, Sir Guy would feel insulted and shamed, and anger would certainly erupt. The only consolation he could offer was a vow he made to himself...that Evelyn would never want for anything, and she would be given more love than any woman could ever hope for.

Murmurs of excitement flowed through the crowd. Simon and Guy turned to look. Coming down the path was the open carriage, led by two white steeds, and following behind it was a less ornate vehicle, carrying the members of the bridal party. All of the women were garbed in various shades of blue, but Evelyn stood out among them all. Simon’s gaze found her instantly, and he could not take his eyes off of her. Guy went to the carriage, and Simon watched, mesmerized by her loveliness as she was assisted to the ground.

While Thea and the many bridesmaids helped to prepare Evelyn’s bridal train, her mother and father spoke softly to her. Sir Guy kissed Evelyn’s forehead and cheek, and a moment after, Lady Cassia bestowed her affection on her daughter. She lowered the veil over Evelyn’s face. And then, she took a step back, and the Earl entwined his arm with Evelyn’s. As Guy led his daughter forward, there was a soft sound of delight from the crowd...and Simon took a deep breath as Evelyn came before him. Her eyes met his for a long moment. They smiled at one another. Guy came to stand between them, with Evelyn on his left and Simon on his right. William stood before them, opening his book. Simon took a deep breath, and the ceremony began.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in Paradise, and into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.”

After the moment of customary pause, he began again...

“I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, that ye confess it. For be well assured, that so many as be coupled together otherwise than God's Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.”

Simon felt William’s eyes upon him, and he felt his heart race as the sacred question was asked.

“Simon Jean-Carre. Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”

His answer was given without hesitation. “I will.”

William turned to Evelyn. And with a small, loving smile, he asked of her...

“Evelyn Elizabeth Gisborne. Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?”

Evelyn’s voice was small and soft as she replied, “I will.”

A moment passed, and they advanced into the church. At the altar, William turned to the assembly as they crowded in. Then, he spoke aloud.

“Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?”

All eyes were fixed on Guy, and when he replied, his voice carried a noticeable tremble.

“I do.”

Guy took Evelyn’s hand. He held it for a long moment...and it was clear to all that there was hesitation in his manner. Then, at last, he placed her hand in William’s. And taking a step back, he gave the bride and groom to their audience and the priest. William took Simon’s hand, and joining the couple’s hands together, he gave them the words to speak. Simon looked at her, and vowed...

“I, Simon Jean-Carre, take thee, Evelyn Gisborne, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, for fairer or fouler, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.”

William parted their hands. And then, he gave Evelyn her vows to speak, and she did so without hesitation.

“I, Evelyn Gisborne, take thee, Simon Jean-Carre, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonny and buxom at bed and at board, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.”

The wedding rings were placed upon the holy book, and William blessed them.

“Bless these Rings, oh merciful Lord, that those who wear them, that give and receive them, may be ever faithful to one another, remain in your peace, and live and grow old together in your love, under their own vine and fig tree, and seeing their children's children. Amen.”

William gave Evelyn’s ring to Simon. His mother’s ring...a slim band of gold, set with rubies...would now grace the finger of the only woman he felt worthy of wearing it. He felt a welling of emotion in his throat as he placed it on each according finger of her hand.

“With this ring I thee wed, and with my body I thee honor, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” At last, he slipped the ring on her fourth finger, and said, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

A moment passed as William gave a ring to Evelyn. Turning to Simon, she performed the same motions as he had given to her, and she gave him her sacred vow. Then, they turned and knelt at the altar, and William requested all heads to bow in prayer.

“Oh eternal God, creator and preserver of all mankind, giver of all spiritual grace, the author of everlasting life. Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy name that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, whereof this ring given and received is a token and pledge, and may ever hereafter remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

They rose from the altar, and after William offered a last prayer. Simon turned to Evelyn. He lifted her veil, and his breath was stolen by the radiant expression of joy she gave him. Wishing not another moment to pass, he kissed her gently on the lips, thrilled at the thought that now, she was really and truly his. Around them, applause rose up. As they left the church, a mixture of seeds and flower petals were showered over them by well-wishers. They climbed into the waiting carriage, and as the procession followed them back to the manor, they kissed again. They were surrounded by those who wished them well...but they only had eyes for each other.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Another Book Giveaway!

fReado is doing a giveaway for me. There are 5 Kindle books available. Good luck to all those who enter!

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 23, Part One

Evelyn’s words were soft with contentment. “Now that all is settled, shall we take our ride?”

Simon held her close. Her head was tucked under his chin, and the sweet scent of violets, emanating from her hair, was alluring. He wanted to be with her, more than anything. A ride together, alone, was an incredibly tempting idea.

But pressing matters weighed on his mind. Dark thoughts hovered, like a cloud, over his present sense of joy. Not wishing to distress her, he spoke in a gentle tone.

“That would be most enjoyable, but I am afraid I cannot. I must speak to my father about a pressing business matter.”

Disappointment was evident in her voice, and more so in her eyes, when she pulled back in his arms to look at him. “Can it not be delayed?”

He gave a small shake of his head. “Regrettably, no. It must be settled immediately.”

Her eyes lowered. Returning her head to his heart, she sighed. And when she spoke, he caught a hint of daring in her tone.

“Are you certain it cannot wait?”

He felt a thrill at the feeling of her hands caressing his back. A sound of delight and amusement escaped him, and he smiled at her boldness. “Stubborn wench. You try to tempt me.” He embraced her more tightly. Then he sighed against her hair. “Forgive me, but I cannot delay. My father awaits, and I cannot disappoint him.”

She sighed. Leaning back in his arms, she looked up at him again. “Very well. I suppose I shall see you at supper, then?” Her eyes were eager and hopeful, and he smiled lovingly.

“Certainly. And if it pleases you, we will take a stroll afterwards.”

At last, the smile returned to her lips, and being so glad to see it, he lowered his head to kiss her. She eagerly returned his affection, making a little sound of pleasure that threatened to overwhelm him. It took all of his discipline not to linger in her arms and deepen the kiss. But he pulled back, and after looking at her for a long moment, he touched her cheek.

“Go riding, even if it must be without me. The fresh air and time away from this wedding madness will serve you well.”

She nodded, giving him a smile. As she left his arms, he watched her go, wishing he could follow her, but knowing that there was something he must attend to.

Something he wished he had tended to weeks ago.

As he made his way to the manor, his mouth became a grim line as he recalled the night of his betrothal announcement.

I should have finished him then and there, he thought. Damn my hesitation.

He had made the mistake of letting his enemy go, and a wave of trouble had been unleashed because of his folly. But that would not happen again. He swore to heaven it would not.

Searching out his father, who had arrived just that morning, he found him in the same chamber he had vacated only weeks ago. As Simon entered the room, Basil looked up at him and smiled.

“I feel I am becoming too aged for all this traveling. I sometimes think I should claim infirmity and secure myself at home.”

Simon gave a little huff of amusement. “I fear you may have yet another journey to make, father.”

Basil looked at him, raising a curious eyebrow. Simon’s expression became deeply serious.

“I require your assistance in apprehending a criminal...”


Rene was in his chambers, preparing a bag for travel. His page had returned this morning, informing him that his letter had been successfully delivered. But that news was hardly comforting. It had been too long since he’d spoken to Evelyn, and with still no response to any of his previous letters, he had made a decision.

He would go to her.

It would be a dangerous prospect, but he had to see her again. Louis had chastised him for being a fool, but he could not shake his feelings for her. Time had only served to sharpen the feelings in his heart, and her refusal to respond to his messages had strengthened his resolve to make things right between them.

From somewhere in the house, there came a commotion. Curious, he ventured into the hall and looked down over the railing, where he saw Louis speaking to a group of men. Rene felt a terrible feeling inside as he came down the stairs, and he fought the impulse to bolt. It would not bode well for him, or for Louis, if he ran, for if these men were ruffians, they would catch him quickly and the penalty he would pay would be a heavy one. As he neared the bottom of the stairs, he looked at Louis.

“Who are these men?”

Before an answer could be given, one of the men stepped forward, looking sternly at Rene.

“You must come with us for questioning.”

As hands took hold of him, Rene looked from one man to another. “What crime am I accused of?” he demanded.

The tallest man, clearer the speaker of the group, shook his head as he answered. “We can tell you nothing.”

As his hands were bound, Rene looked at Louis, who spoke with a determined voice.

“I will fight this, brother. You will not be prosecuted. I will make sure of it.”

As the men walked him from the house, out into the front yard, he saw two men on horseback...and immediately his stomach turned with fear. The Duke and Marquis of Larouqe sat on their horses, watching as he was brought forward. The Marquis moved his horse forward, and Rene prepared himself for whatever punishment Evelyn’s husband had in store. With his hands bound, and men surrounding him, there was little he could do but take it like a man. From his horse, Simon stared down at him with an icy glare. His voice was smoothly menacing.

“Did you think me a fool? Did you truly believe I would not discover your attempted seduction?”

A long moment passed, and Rene sensed a strike coming. He braced himself for it, and the next moment he felt the impact of a boot against his head. His neck whipped aside, his ears ringing as he staggered from the powerful hit. Simon’s words were a low, angry growl.

“Evelyn was never yours to have. You should have heeded my first warning, but fool that you are, you could not leave well enough alone. Now you will rot in prison.”

Despite his intense pain, Rene lifted his head, glaring up at Simon.“For loving a woman? I am to be jailed for the feelings of my heart?”

“You will be jailed for adultery,” Simon snarled. “And for the seduction of an innocent. And whatever crimes you have committed in your worthless life, they will come to light in the stinking walls of a prison cell.”

“Take him,” said The Duke.

Rene found himself unceremoniously dragged along, and a moment later he was tossed into the back of a jailer’s cart. There was no consideration for his newfound rank, but he didn’t expect it. All he could do was maneuver himself into a sitting position, and as the cart jostled away on the road, he could do nothing but rack his brain and try to think of a way to get out of this mess. He recalled his words to Evelyn, spoken on the first day they had met, and despite his precarious situation, he found a little smile coming to his lips.

Milady, I am the finest kind of criminal. Wiley and quick as a fox. I have been pursued countless times since I was a lad of thirteen. Six years have gone since, and they have not got hold of me yet.

If Simon of Larouqe thought he had won this game, he had sorely underestimated his opponent. This was not over yet...not by any means.


Evelyn’s room was lit by a candle in a wall sconce, and the fire in the grate. Wearing her nightgown, she stood staring at her wedding dress, which hung in the wardrobe. In the morning, she would be a bride. The prospect was both thrilling and terrifying. All day long, guests had been arriving and last minute preparations had been made. Now, at last, the house had grown quiet. All was as it should have been, but for one thing. Simon had not returned.

He had departed that morning, with his father, to tend to one last matter of importance before their wedding. He had promised to return as soon as possible, but as the night had worn on, she grew more and more concerned. Where could he be?

A light tapping came on the door. She smiled to herself, hopeful, and creeping softly to answer the summons, she found the housekeeper waiting.

“My lady,” said Marie, “The Duke and his son have safely returned. The hour is late, but I thought perhaps it best to tell you.”

Evelyn sighed with relief, giving her a grateful look. “Thank you, Marie. Sleep well.”

The housekeeper curtseyed, smiling in a motherly way. She departed, and Evelyn watched her go. All day long, she had asked to be summoned at the moment Simon returned, and at times she felt she was demanding too much of the servants who were already burdened with many duties. But there had been no fuss from any of them...only the generous, kind words she had always received from those who served the household so dutifully. She would miss the familiar faces when she left for her new home, and her heart pained at the daunting prospect before her.

She shook her head, refusing to dwell in sadness. There was a bright new destiny ahead of her, and she intended to journey towards it without a backward glance. Simon and Guillemot were her future, and it was best to concentrate her thoughts on them.

From her spot in the doorway, she could hear the soft sound of voices, which grew slightly louder as they ascended the stairs, though they were still hushed. Her heart thudded as she spied him, looking worn from the road. His hair, though short in the fashion that he kept it, was delightfully mussed. His clothes and boots were spattered with mud. She sighed, wondering how a man could look more attractive that he did at that moment. Lord, it was a shameful thought, but she wished they were married already so she could go to him. It would be so wonderful to take him in her arms right now and welcome him kiss him and tell him how much she had missed him while he was gone. There was a deep desire in her heart to care for him, as her mother had often cared for her father. She thought of the times she had seen them together after her father had returned from a journey. Her first actions, after tender kisses and embraces, were to demand that he be bathed, fed, and rested. If only she were Simon’s wife already, Evelyn would have hurried out and bestowed those generous gifts to him.

But one solitary night remained, and it was best to endure it and see it over with as quickly as possible. She turned towards her bed.

Another soft rap came on the door. Curious, she went to open it...and her heart thudded at the sight of Simon standing there. Seeing the smoldering look on his face, she wondered if it was literally possible for someone to melt. His voice was silky smooth.

“I gambled on the prospect that you would not yet be asleep.”

She smiled at him, struggling with the urge to throw her arms around his neck and bring his lips to her for a kiss. But with the possibility of eyes watching them, she knew they had to exercise restraint.

“I can hardly sleep,” she whispered, “Particularly when my husband-to-be is away.” Warmth filled her as she softly said, “I have missed you, Simon.”

His hand sought hers. For a long moment, he held it in both his own.

“I long for the moment when I will bid you sound sleep as I hold you to my heart.”

Shivers ran all through her body when he pressed his lips to her palm. She could feel the warmth of his breath against her skin, and her senses reeled from the sensation. He whispered words infused with longing.

“Good night, my darling.”

Slowly, he released her hand, his fingers lingering on her skin for a long moment. It was possibly the most difficult thing she’d ever had to do, but she whispered good night and slowly closed the door.

As she drifted back to bed, she knew she would find little rest between now and sunrise. Tomorrow, Simon would be hers and she would be his, and the moment could not come soon enough.