Monday, June 20, 2011

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 27, Part One

As he left the room, Rene winced, holding his jaw. He’d forgotten how hard Louis’ punches could be. Growing up, he and his brothers had gotten into many a brawl, and it seemed that very little had changed. Just as it had been then, he was the loser, left to retreat and lick his wounds.

In the hall, he started towards his old bedchamber. Everything was out in the open now. What would be the harm in seeking out a comfortable bed, and maybe a bath?

As he came around the corner, he passed the open door of a chamber. Glancing in, he saw Marie and the housekeeper, who were changing the linens on a bed. He sighed, watching Marie as she worked. All of a sudden, he felt the need for a female companion...someone who would listen, and maybe offer him comfort, though not necessarily in a sexual way. At the moment, he was in too low of a mood for that. But what kind of man would just walk up to a woman and start droning on about his troubles? He was not a child, and she was certainly not his mother. Still, there had to be a way to seek her attention. And when the throbbing in his jaw seemed to intensify, the answer came to him.

Stepping into the room, he sent the housekeeper away. Marie gave him a smile, but continued with her work as she spoke to him.

“Is there something you want, my lord?”

He cringed at the use of his title. Coming from her, it just seemed strange. “I would prefer the use of my name, if you would oblige me.”

Without looking up, she re-worded her question. “Is there something you want...Rene?”

Why did he so delight in the sound of her saying his name? As wayward thoughts crept into his mind, he shook his head, trying not to let his baser instincts distract him. He asked her...

“Do you, perchance, know how to make a poultice?”

She rose upright from her chore, looking at him with interest. “I think I can manage to make one. Why?”

He started to answer. But the pain in his jaw kept him from it, and he groaned as he pressed his palm to his face. While part of his mind was focused on the hurt, another part of him wondered if Marie would come over and try to console him. In his experience, it was what most women would do, and it was one of the things that so attracted him to the female species. She did come close to him, pulling his hand away so she could look at his jaw. Her reaction was tender...and yet, very true to her character.

“That looks very painful. What act of stupidity did you commit to deserve it?”

He raised a curious eyebrow. “Why do you assume I did something stupid?”

She gave him a knowing smile as she replied. “Because all men are fools. And I would be a fool to think otherwise.”

He could not help but smile at her honesty. And it compelled him to do what he had wanted to do from the first. With a sigh, he confided in her.

“My brother felt the need to test the strength of his right fist. My face proved a good target.”

It did not surprise him when she softly laughed. He looked at her, seeing how there was a hint of mischief in her hazel eyes. It was very becoming, and he realized that it was the first time he had looked at her this closely. She had a sweet, pleasing expression. He had known many women, and most of them had been stunning beauties. But Marie had a face that could only be described as adorable. Her appeal did not lie in her great beauty, but in her elfin-like features...her button nose, her high cheek-bones, and most of all, her teasing smile. He had to wonder if she possessed some sort of mystical ability, as all elves did. At that moment, she was charming him completely, seemingly without any effort.

“Come,” she said. “You will need to tell me where to find certain ingredients.”

He led her from the room. They walked side by side through the corridor, towards the stairs that led down to the kitchen and store rooms.

“So, Rene. Do tell me. What caused your brother to use his fist on you? I am curious to know.”

“I accused him of deception and he answered with a well-placed strike.”

“What deception do you suspect him of?”

“It is a long and complicated tale. One that would require time to tell.”

“So tell it, then. We will be in one another’s company from now until I have made the poultice. I would like to hear what transpired between the two of you.”

As they made their way to the kitchen, he instructed a serving girl to bring Marie the materials she needed. As she crushed comfrey leaves in a bowl, Rene watched her work, and he told her of The Duke’s offer to train him. She listened quietly as she mixed the crushed leaves with boiling water, using a pestle and mortar to make a paste.

“It seems you have no option,” she said. “Tell me. Have you any skill with a sword?”

“Of course,” he replied. “I am a nobleman. We are practically born with a sword in hand.”

“Then why not become a soldier?”

The question was much too direct, and he was unsure of how to answer it. His youth had been misspent in many ways, but he had been trained in the basics of horsemanship and weaponry, the same as any other young gentleman. But after so many years of non-practice in such skills, he wasn’t entirely sure how much he would remember, should the occasion call for it.

“Are you afraid?” she asked.

That grabbed his attention, and he answered with a rather indignant reply. “I am not a coward, if that is what you are implying.”

Her response was a sly little smile. “If that is so, then why do you not accept The Duke’s offer? To refuse will only mean your end, sooner or later.”

She was right, of course. What else could he do but accept the offer? He could take the chance of running, but as Louis had said, he would eventually be hunted down. Luck was incapable of lasting forever...even for a skilled criminal like himself.

As Marie tested the temperature of the mix, waiting for it to cool, she shrugged.

“Do what you will,” she said. “Your life is yours to live, however you see fit.”

She took up a cloth and her mixture, bring it to him. As she gave him the cloth to hold, she gently applied the paste to his jaw. He found pleasure in her tender touch, and the way she looked at him with a playful expression. He knew that look. She was attracted to him. He could see it in her eyes. He wondered if, perhaps, it was a strong enough attraction to develop beyond friendship. As she finished with the paste, he asked…

“Marie, are you happy here?”

Her reply was a shrug. “Mostly,” she said. “Although I must confess, I rather miss Etienne. He was not perfect, by any means. But he was often a comfort to me.” Taking the cloth from his hand, she carefully placed it over the smeared paste, and applied a slight pressure.

“Would you consider a new companion?” he asked.

She smirked. “Do you mean to ask if I would be your mistress?” She instructed him to hold the cloth in place. As she turned away to wash her hands, he responded to her question.

“To be honest...yes, that is my intent. Although, I have never cared for the word Mistress. It seems to imply something indecent.”

To that, she laughed. “In the eyes of most, a mistress and a companion are one in the same. Neither can be called decent, by any means. And besides...what of your great lady love? The one who you were, as you deemed yourself, ‘A great fool’ for?”

He sighed, thinking of Evelyn. She had meant so much to him. But what good was there in pursuing her now? Obviously, it was futile. She had probably forgotten him by now. And even if she did have any feelings left for him, her husband was clearly determined to sever any and all ties between them. The pursuit of Evelyn’s heart was, in the end, not worth all of the trouble it had brought him.

“That cause is lost to me,” he said. “It is best to forget her.”

“Not an easy task, if you had feelings for her. Did you?”

“I did,” he admitted. “But no longer.”

Her reply was both skeptical and amused. “Really…”

He could hear it in her voice that she doubted him. But he was tired of dwelling on the past. He wanted to start anew, and he hoped that Marie would a part of that.

“So, what say you?” he asked. “Will you be my companion?”

It was not surprising that the answer she gave was a challenging one, accented with one of her little smiles.

“I shall have to consider it. Now, if you will pardon me, I must return to my duties.”

As she started to leave, he reached out to gently hold her arm. “That is not necessary. Why not stay and pass the time with me? After the day I have endured, I could do with a bit of pleasant company.” He hoped she would say yes. But to his disappointment, she shook her head.

“Apologies, but it is your brother who is my employer. I serve him, and I have much to do. Now, be sure to hold the compress to your jaw for at least a good while longer. It will lessen the swelling.”

He wished to detain her, but she slipped from his hold, and he just couldn’t find the right words to make her stay.


The choice had been made. He could hardly believe he had come to such a decision, but it was done.

Rene reclined on his bed, hardly able to sleep although it was just after midnight. He had not yet told Louis or The Duke that he would accept. Such a decision was monumental, and having come to it, he wanted at least another day to mull it over.

It was amazing to think of all the turns his life had taken. But this latest predicament was turning out to be the strangest of all. How strange it was that his enemies, who he had spent so much time running from, would now be his masters...and he had made the choice to serve them.

He briefly wondered if he had lost his mind, accepting such a fate. But thinking on it, he realized that Marie was right. Taking the job was a wise choice. It was stupid to think that he could go on running, trusting in his luck to get by. It had served him for many years, but how long would it be before his misdeeds caught up with him? Perhaps this was fate’s way of granting him the chance for a new start.

There was a knock at the door. He looked up, expecting perhaps that Louis was paying him a night-time visit. Instead, it turned out to be Marie. The moment he saw her, he knew why she had come. He felt a slight constriction in his throat when he saw her latch the door, and as she took a slow walk towards him, he felt his senses reel. Coming to the side of the bed, she stood with her arms folded, looking down at him. There was no shyness in her manner. He became aware of the way she was looking him over, as if to size him up. After many years of giving women that very same examination, he now found himself the receiving end of it...and it was strangely arousing. Her eyes traveled over him, and she spoke in a cool tone of voice.

“I have thought it over, and I will accept your offer. But I have a few small conditions.”

Pushing himself up, he gave her an interested little smile. “Conditions?”

“Firstly, this is not an arrangement of the heart. Love has no place in this relationship. Affection is pleasing and quite welcome, but there will be nothing more substantial.”

He chuckled at that. “You will find no argument from me on that point.” With growing interest, he watched her as she took a seat on the edge of the bed. Her gaze was direct.

“Secondly,” she said, “I will not be at your beckon call. I have work that is to be done, and I will not shirk my duties just because you find yourself in need.”

That condition did not strike him as pleasurably as the first one.

“So, you will only be my companion at night?”

Her reply was, at first, a pointed look. But then, her expression softened slightly. “In matters of pleasure, I will come to you only after nightfall. But if you wish to have my company during the day, I will allow it so long as it remains platonic.”

He pursed his lips, balking at the thought of such a limited relationship. But Marie, not seeming to notice his displeasure, went on with her demands.

“Thirdly, I am not your servant, and you are not my master. If I choose to break our agreement, you will accept the fact and move on.”

Now it was he who folded his arms. He turned his head away, thinking on the matter. He was not so much interested in controlling her, for he had never been one to make demands of a woman. There had never been the need, for they had always succumbed to his allure...except for Evelyn, of course, but that was a different matter altogether. What troubled him with this woman was the idea that she was setting the course of events. With her, it seemed that his powers of persuasion were useless. And he was not so comfortable with it. He looked at her with a sour expression.

“I am not certain if I want such an arrangement.”

He wondered if maybe, just maybe, she would see his discontent and consider altering some of her demands. But he was not at all surprised when she stood up, clearly intent on leaving.

“Very well then, let us forget the matter.”

Without pause, he reached out to take her by the wrist, delaying her.

“I can adjust to the idea.”

He looked up, meeting her eyes. When he sensed that she was relaxed, he let go of her wrist. She returned to her seat on the bed, and she looked at him with a cool expression.

“Good. We are agreed, then.”

For a moment, he wondered if he should make the first attempt at seduction. He certainly wasn’t afraid to do so. But before he could try, he was rendered still by the way she tossed her hair. Such a subtle gesture...but good God, it was powerful. The day had brought him much trouble, but it seemed that the night was destined to treat him much more favorably.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Lady Gisborne, Chapter 26

As he slowly came awake, Simon felt the warmth of Evelyn’s soft body against his own. Her back was against him, and he could tell from her gentle breathing that she was asleep. He could not help smiling at the thought of it. After the afternoon they had spent together, it was no wonder she slept so soundly.

In the past, he had thought he would be satisfied with a prim, docile woman for a wife. But now that Evelyn was his, he could not imagine having someone else. She was all that was required, in terms of knowing how to be a proper lady, and yet she was so wonderfully different. It was not in her nature to disguise her feelings, and she had proven that many times over since he had first met her...this day, more than any other.

He strengthened his hold around her waist, drawing her closer against himself, and his body reacted instantly to the intense pleasure the contact brought. He was sorely tempted to coax her from her slumber, using his fingers to stroke her smooth, soft skin and letting his lips follow every place that he touched. With growing excitement he thought of how her hands had quested over his body with such eagerness, rousing his passions to a fever pitch. He loved the sound of her name on his lips, whispered over and over again. She was the sweetest of temptations.

And because of that, he knew he had to go.

There was important business to tend to, and he had to see to it immediately. If he stayed, there was a chance she would wake up, and if she did, he knew he would be tempted to lose himself in her charms all over again. With a sigh of resignation, he removed himself from her warm curves. As he dressed, he reminded himself that they could continue with these sensual delights later. The notion cheered him somewhat, as he thought of the way that anticipation often added spice to an occasion. As he left her sleeping peacefully, he ordered a maid to bring Evelyn food and anything else she needed. Then he left the room, heading off in search of his father.


He found his father in the hall, taking supper. Being quite famished after such an active day, Simon was quick to join him. As he washed his hands with the cleansing bowl, his father spoke calmly to him.

“You appear at last. Did I not state that I wished to finish our conversation as soon as possible?”

After drying his hands in a towel, Simon took his seat and replied matter-of-factly.

“Evelyn was in need of me. She is my primary concern now, and she will come before all other matters. But I am here now, so speak as you wish.” As he hungrily tore into a hunk of roasted pheasant, Basil came directly to the point.

“I told you the contents of the message. Rene Jean-Bastien has escaped. We must act immediately.”

Simon sighed as he sipped his wine. At first, he had been furious to learn of the news. But his anger had been strangely brief, for it seemed that no amount of fury, however spent, would bring an end to the problem. There was but one way.

“We will find him,” he stated. “And this time, I will have him executed on the spot. I grow tired of hearing of him.”

He vowed he would personally supervise the execution, just to be certain there were no tricks. And he was certain that his father would be in agreement. But Basil’s words were shocking.

“I think perhaps he should be kept alive.”

Simon held his cup aloft, suspended by surprise. He started at his father in utter bewilderment.

“For what purpose?” he demanded to know. “To be incarcerated again, only so he might perform some criminal magic that allows his escape? I wish to be done with him, once and for all.”

Now it was Basil who sighed. “Do you truly believe you can be done with him? He has proven, time and again, that he cannot be contained. One might wonder if even death can hold such a man.”

“It would satisfy me to find out,” Simon snapped. Angrily, he used his knife to stab a bit of venison, imagining it to be Rene. Good God, how he despised that man.

Basil stated, “I think perhaps I might have a better use for him.”

Simon looked up. “And what is that?” He was not for certain he wished to hear the answer, which his father gave in much too calm a fashion.

“I will find him, detain him, and put him to work.”

Simon stared at his father, watching as Basil casually drank from his cup and enjoyed his food. He intended no disrespect, but he could not help wondering if the man had lost his senses. Simon’s voice was low but fierce.

“Have you run mad?”

Basil shook his head. “No, I have not. In fact, I am at this moment admiring myself for my cleverness.” There was a tiny smile forming on his lips, but Simon could not find the amusement in any of this. His voice rose with his temper.

“You think it clever to invite a vagabond and known criminal into our household?”

Basil replied with a shrug. “He has proven to be a man of daring deeds and quick mind, much like a fox who cannot be caught by the best of hounds. I will use such ability to my advantage.”

“How do you propose to do that?”

“I will train him as a soldier.”

Simon wanted to laugh at the ludicrous proposition.

“And you believe he will accept such a fate? You do not believe he will find a way to flee and return to his life of crime?”

“If he attempts it,” said Basil, “Then we will follow your line of thinking and have him executed. It will merely be a loss of time, and nothing more.”

Disgusted by the whole conversation, Simon pushed his trencher and cup aside.

“Forgive me, father, but I cannot agree with your plan.”

His father replied in a haughty tone. “It is not a matter for you to accept or refuse, my son. It is my experiment and I shall accept the consequences of it.”

“But I must endure his presence if you allow him here! You will force me to live in the presence of a man I despise?”

Basil returned with a commanding reply. “Better to have him here, where he can be guarded, than to have wandering about with the ability to surface at any moment.”

Simon pushed back from the table. “It is a mistake, father. And I cannot be held responsible for my actions if you allow him here.”

He rose from the table, infuriated. Never in his life had he been so angered by his father’s actions. They had occasionally disagreed on matters, but this felt like a betrayal, and he could not stand to remain in that room with him for one more moment.


As he entered the room, he saw Evelyn seated at a small table. She was all dignity and properness, sitting with her back straight and a dignified expression on her face as she ate her meal. When she looked up, seeing him, she brightened instantly.

“There you are,” she said. Rising to her feet, she came to his side. “I was wondering where you had gone to.” Reaching up to touch his face, she pulled him down to place a soft kiss on his lips. Her sweet affection soothed him, but only for a moment. When she pulled back, her smile began to fade as she saw the look in his eyes.

“Simon, what is it?”

He took her hands in his own. He tried his best to remain calm, even as his frustration threatened to overwhelm him.

“Evelyn, there is something I must tell you. It is not pleasant, and it will perhaps anger you, but you must know of it.”

Her blue eyes widened slightly, but she looked at him with complete trust and love.

“Very well,” she replied. “I will listen.”

He kissed her fingers, grateful for her calmness. Taking her hand, he led her to the bed, where he made her sit. As he took to walking back and forth in front of her, he tried to think of a way to simplify the facts. But the matter of Rene was so very complicated. When he arrived, he would bring with him a sort of history that could be quite damaging. Simon knew that the only way to avoid disaster was to tell the truth. All of the truth. Looking at her, he saw how her eyes were set on him, waiting for him to speak. He took a deep breath, and began.

“My father has made a decision on a certain matter. A matter which involves many things, but particularly, you and I.” For a moment he hesitated, hating the mere mention of a certain name. But it had to be said. “It is about Rene.”

He saw the way Evelyn’s mouth opened slightly in surprise. But she said nothing, allowing him to speak.

“He is...” He stopped himself from bringing up the immediate concern. There was so much of the story to tell. He sighed, speaking low...more to himself than to her...with his eyes cast away. “Before I talk of the present, I must talk of the past.” After a moment he returned his gaze to her, though it occasionally drifted as he moved to and fro.

“On the night of our betrothal, I observed you and Rene. It was clear to me that there was feeling between the both of you. Your feelings, I could see, were quite innocent. But his feelings...” A surge of anger rose up within him, momentarily stealing his speech. He willed it down, forcing himself to continue. “I took great offense to his blatant admiration of you. And later that night, I saw his mistake corrected.”

He saw the stunned look that came to her face. In a low, quiet voice she asked, “What passed between the two of you, Simon?”

His reply deflected her question. “The details are not important,” he said. He felt her eyes examining him, and he bristled at the question that followed.

“Was it your actions that caused him to leave so suddenly?”

He shook his head. “I cannot be certain of that.” That, he knew, was not the truth. But he went on before she could inquire further.

“After he departed, and even after he left Isabella in the care of your family, I was happy to forget him. And I was successful in extracting him from my thoughts...until I learned of his letters to you.” He paused as he came to the matter that could be a point of contention between them.

“I had him arrested, Evelyn. It was my intention that he would remain locked away for the rest of his days.”

He waited, thinking she would perhaps become angry, not just for his concealment of the information, but because of his malicious intent towards someone she had once cared for. She surprised him when she calmly rose to her feet, and with her hands clasped together, she walked a small distance away, as if she needed to contemplate what he had told her.

“Why do you reveal these things to me?” she asked. “When you learned of his letters, I swore that they meant nothing to me. And you swore to forget them. Why do you make confessions that are best left unspoken?”

“I want no secrets between us, Evelyn. Especially when I know that Rene...” He paused again. She turned to him, an anxious look in her eyes.

“Rene, what? Tell me.”

He sighed, feeling his anger rising again. “My father is bringing him here. He is bringing Rene here, and I can do nothing to stop it.”

“Why does he bring him here?” she asked, taking a returning step towards him. “For what purpose?”

He took to pacing again, too agitated to remain still.

“I do not pretend to understand his reasoning. He has come to the conclusion that Rene is somehow capable of redemption. That his gift for survival somehow earns him clemency after a lifetime of wickedness.”

He waited for her to say she agreed with him. But when she said nothing, he turned to look at her. She had turned her head away. She seemed to be lost in thought, and a feeling of dread came over him.

“You are in agreement with my father?” he asked. “You believe that Rene is capable of change?”

Looking at him, she answered in a quiet and tender voice. “I believe in God’s law...that no man is beyond redemption. But...”

For a moment he became furious, incensed by the thought that she might disagree with him...and blinded with anger at the thought that she might feel sympathy for a man he detested. He took an angry step towards her.

“But what, Evelyn? Do you still harbor affection for him? Tell me the truth.”

Her eyes widened in shock at his accusation. “I have told you the truth!” she insisted. “Must I tell you again that I have no great feelings for him?” When he did not reply, her voice filled with determination. “Very well then!” she declared. “I will say it once more! Rene Jean-Bastien is nothing to me. You are my husband, and the only man who has my heart.”

“Why then do you sympathize with him? Why do you not accept him for the deviant that he is?”

“Simon, you must understand...”

“I understand that you are too calm about his coming here, and it causes me to wonder if there is more to your feelings than you care to admit!”

In an instant, he regretted the charges he was hurling at her. The pained look in her eyes, the absolute if he had physically struck her. And worst of all, her eyes shined with tears. He hated himself at that moment, and when she turned away from him, he was taken aback by the animosity in her voice and in her movements.

“I will not hear more of this.” In a furious stride she made her way towards the door. He followed quickly, concerned of her intent.

“Where are you going?” he demanded, and her answer struck him cold with fear. She reached for the door latch, intent on leaving.

“Guillemot is a large house. I am not yet familiar with it, but I am certain I will find elsewhere to sleep.”

He pushed his hand against the door to prevent her from opening it. He was stunned that she would take such an action against him, and he was not about to let it happen.

“Do not go,” he pleaded.

She moved away from him, refusing to look at him. Her voice was both pained and furious.

“I will not share a room with a man who wrongly thinks me deceitful.”

They were treading ground that he was not altogether comfortable with. Sentiment and soft words were difficult to express, but he knew he had to try. “I do not think you deceitful,” he said.

Her voice rose. “If that is true, then why do you speak to me with such suspicion?”

“Because my jealousy has spoken for me!”

The sudden outburst took them both by surprise. He had not meant to shout, but it came from somewhere within himself, and could not be contained. As he looked at her, he saw the anger drain from her face, replaced by a look of bewilderment. But on his own face, he felt a rising flood of shame. He could not look at her now, having admitted such a weakness as jealousy. Moving across the room, he pulled out a chair and sank into it. Without turning to her, he muttered...

“Go, if you must. I will not force you to endure the company of a man so small.”

He waited to hear the opening and closing of the door behind him. But there was only silence for several moments after. Nervous curiosity gripped him. He wanted so badly for her to stay. And yet, he could not blame her if she chose to leave. Tension built within him as he waited for her decision. He thought he heard her drawing near, but he feared to look. Then, he heard her soft voice close behind him. It had lost its edge, becoming once again the sweet and tender voice he knew and loved so well.

“I do not think it small of you to admit such feelings.”

Only from her lips could such words touch his heart. She accepted him, even in this state of unmanly vulnerability. He had given her the chance to flee, to seek a hidden place and pour her heart out over his unkindness. And perhaps, for a few moments, she had considered it. But she had returned to him now. And in her words, she proved her incredible dignity and grace.

“You are my husband, Simon. No matter who may come into our lives, no matter what may happen, my heart is yours...and only yours. It will never beat for another.”

He felt her hand upon his shoulder, and then her slight weigh as she leaned on him. Without a moment more of hesitation, he reached up to clasp her hand in a firm but gentle grip.

“Forgive me, my darling.” He kissed her soft, slender fingers, placing his palm against his cheek. Her arms wound around his neck, and she placed her cheek against his. She spoke softly to him.

“You need never doubt that I love you, husband.”

He sighed, now a sound of contentment...his anger and jealousy vanquished by her tender affections and words. “I do not doubt it,” he replied. And then his voice took on a teasing note. “But I certainly would not object to hearing it said, quite often, so I do not forget.”

Her sweet sound of amusement warmed his heart and stirred his senses.

“Then I shall say it frequently,” she declared, “Simply to remind you.”


The afternoon was warm and sunny. Rene looked up at the smiling sky, visible through an opening in the trees surrounding him, and he had to smile along with it. He sat on the bank of a creek, fishing pole in hand. The creek ran through shady woodland, not far from the small abode where he now sought refuge.

How fortunate am I? He said to himself. And then he answered himself instantly. Very fortunate.

The dwelling was a place he knew well. It was a one room house made of stone, built for him and his brothers as a sort of gaming lodge for children. They had sometimes camped there overnight, and it’s location beside the creek made it a delightful retreat from the world. Best of all, in their youthful opinions, had been its long distance from the main house. It was several miles away, and far off the main path. Sitting there now, Rene found amusement in the idea that it now served as a genuine hiding place.

Louis was making arrangements to set him up in a better place, much farther away, but for now, this was his sanctuary. And to be truthful, he rather liked it. He had the basics of living, and Louis was within riding distance if he cared to visit. He didn’t expect to be here for long, but for the moment, he was content to spend his time relaxing.

It had been several days since his arrival, and as expected, a party of lawmen had come just yesterday to question Louis. They had done a search of the entire estate, inside and out, and they had questioned all of the residents. To say the least, it had been a tense day, as they had stayed from early morning until night. But this morning they had moved on in their search. Rene had remained hidden, even after Louis had sent a servant to bring the news of the party’s departure.

He turned his head at the sound of an approach. Looking up, he saw the page again, and nodded when the boy bowed to him.

“My lord,” said the page. “The Comte wishes you to come to the house.”

So soon? Rene asked himself. He had thought it would take longer to be summoned, but he told himself not to dwell on small details. He was a smart man, and he knew that the wisest thing he could do would be to count his blessings.


As he entered the house, moving towards the stairs that would lead him to Louis’ quarters, he caught sight of Marie. She was busy working with the housekeeper, polishing furniture, and she did not see him. He smiled at the sight of her. She seemed happy enough with her new servitude. He had not seen much of her over the last few days, as she had been busy with her chores, but he thought of her quite often. He liked her, bold little thing that she was. It was a pity that they could not know one another better. Perhaps in another time, and another place, they might have meant something to each other.

He shook his head to lose his wistful thoughts. What good would it do to form such an attachment? She would go her way in the world, and he would go his. It was best not to dwell on it.

Opening the door to his brother’s room, his eye first caught sight of Louis. But as the door was fully opened, and he stepped inside, he saw that his brother was not alone. Shock came over him as he saw before him a familiar figure. Basil Jean-Carre, Duke of Laroque, was standing there, looking at him. Going on instinct, Rene attempted to flee...but was stopped by his brother’s hand. He fought the hold, but Louis had always been stronger. Holding Rene by the collar, Louis spoke words of calm.

“Settle down, brother. There is no danger.”

Rene became wild-eyed. “No danger?” he cried, pointing at Basil. “This is the very same man who saw to my imprisonment, and you tell me to settle down?”

“He comes to make a proposition.”

Rene battled his brother’s hand, and finally Louis relaxed his grip. Rene took a cautious step towards the door, prepared to run if he thought it necessary. “What is this?” he demanded. He looked from one man to another. “Have I been made a pawn in some deception?”

Looking at Louis, he felt a terrible pang of betrayal and anger. “Have you deceived me, brother?”

Louis shook his head, but it was Basil who answered. He stood with his arms folded, examining Rene with an inquisitive look.

“Your brother has not deceived you, boy. He has protected you, as would anyone loyal to their blood. It is doubtful, however, that he can forever guarantee your safety. But I might.”

A moment of silence passed. Basil took a step towards Rene, who took a step back. Basil spoke in a calm, even tone.

“I am a fighting man by profession. My soldiers are among the best in the king’s army, and I am forever in search of new prospects.”

He suspected the Duke’s intention. Still, he could not be certain without asking. “Am I to believe that you see, in me, such a prospect?”

“I see a man of intelligence and cunning,” said Basil. “A soldier is required to have more than brawn. He must have an excellent mind as well...a gift of tactics and quick thinking. I see such promise in you.”

Rene scoffed. Nothing was so simple...certainly not in his experience. People always had ulterior motives, especially when they held such high position as Basil of Laroque. Rene eyed him suspiciously.

“You would have me believe that the same man who condemned me to prison would now offer to be my savior?” He snorted in contempt and disbelief. “You play at some game, my lord.”

In reply, Basil shook his head. “I assure you, I do not. But if you require proof of my honesty, allow a few days to pass while you consider the matter. I will reside here, partaking of your brother’s hospitality, and you shall find that no lawmen or soldiers will descend upon you while I await your decision. If, however, you make the choice to refuse my offer, your fate will be quickly decided...and I can assure you, it will not be a pleasant end.”

Resentment filled Rene’s tone. “So then, I am to choose my fate? By imprisonment, with the possibility of execution...or as a soldier, to die on a field of war?” He was a moment away from cursing the Duke. But Basil remained calm, confident in his power.

“I leave the decision to you, baron. I would make certain to give it ample thought.”

Without further comment, he left the room, followed by his manservant. After he had gone, Rene turned on Louis, giving him an angry shove.

“Traitor! You lured me into a trap!”

Almost before the words were out of his mouth, a punch to the jaw knocked him to the floor. Louis stood in fury over him.

“Ungrateful lout! You are fortunate he did not take you off immediately! And how dare you accuse me of treachery, when you come to my home and put my entire existence in jeopardy!”

Rene held his mouth, making the attempt to stand up as Louis continued to rage at him.

“He came here, searching for you. If I had not allowed him to discover you, he would have hunted you down like a dog. What certainty do you have that your luck would continue? And what certainty do you have that your reckless, deviant behavior would not come back to destroy me, as well as yourself? Think on that, you worthless, self-centered fool!”

Shocked, Rene watched Louis leave, and he jumped at the sound of the door slamming in anger.

My Lady Gisborne Chapter 25, Part Two

A bump in the road jolted Evelyn awake, and she blinked, rousing herself. Looking up, she saw that Simon had his head back and his eyes closed. Her lips curved into a little smile as she studied him, thinking that there could not be a more handsome man in the world than her husband.

Husband. She blushed at the implication of the title. Gingerly, so as not to wake him, she snuggled against his warm body, longing to be as close to him as possible. She felt an ache deep inside herself, and she felt strangely unashamed in realizing that the feeling was desire. She was stirred and warmed, inside and out, by thoughts of their first night together, and more so, at the remembrance of waking up beside him for the first time...


As she stirred from her sleep, she felt pleasantly warm all over, and a little smile came to her lips as her memory stirred.

Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined such an act between two people. Thea had told her something of it, but the actual experience had been beyond description. In some moments, it had been terrifying. In others, it had been shocking. But above all, it had been the most thrilling experience of her life.

Was it wrong to wish they could be together again, and soon?

She turned her head on the pillow, looking at her husband, and a loving smile came to her lips. He was still asleep, and she took the moment to study him. What rugged, masculine features he had. And yet he was adorably boyish in certain ways, with the delightful way his brown hair had a curl to it, and the little dimple in his chin. Her eyes traveled down his body, to parts that had nothing boyish about them. Before him, she had never seen an unclothed man, but even her unschooled eyes could see what a fine specimen he was. She marveled at his beautiful bronze skin, remembering how warm it was to the touch...and how good it felt when their bare bodies were pressed together. His skin was nearly flawless, except for a few scars here and there. She looked at the long scar on his left shoulder, and a smaller one that was marked across his midsection. His marks were not surprising, considering he was a soldier. In her eyes, the scars only added to his appeal. And what an incredible contradiction there was between his solid, muscular physique and the gentleness of his manner. Even in those last earth-shattering moments, he had been wonderfully tender and caring.

Feeling giddy with happiness, she sighed, wishing he would wake up. She wondered if it would be wrong to reach out and brush her fingers across his skin. Feeling bold, she moved her hand the small space between them. But before she could make contact, he shifted slightly, and a moment later, his beautiful green eyes were looking at her. He smiled, and she returned it with a tender expression of her own.

“I am sorry if I woke you,” she softly apologized.

He reached out to brush her cheek with his fingertips. His words held a hint of amusement. “No apologies. I cannot think of a more pleasant way to be roused from sleep.”

He readjusted his position, scooting up to recline against the pillows. She wanted to follow his actions, and take refuge in his arms. But she feared that might be too bold. Kind and wonderful as he had been, he was still her husband. Was he not supposed to tell her what and what not to do, rather than she making her own decisions? For a moment she remained still, unsure of what her actions should be...until he said her name, bidding her to join him.

“Come, Evelyn. You need not be shy.”

When he held out his arms, she timidly came to him. As she started to lean against him, she did not realize she was holding the bed sheet to herself, until he carefully loosened her grip on it. As it fell away, he slipped his arms around her, drawing her gently down against his chest. Keeping her eyes from his, she sighed, wishing she was more knowledgeable about how she should behave.

“Forgive me, Simon. This is all so new.” She felt his hands caressing her back, as his words soothed her fears.

“I want no more apologies, Evelyn. I want our marriage bed to be a place of joy. There will be no boundaries between us. And as to your inexperience, that is nothing to find fault with.”

His gentleness helped to ease her worries. But there were so many questions she wished to ask. Shyly, she looked at him, and then turned her eyes away again. “Are there not rules that must be followed? Surely there must be. I have heard whispers that the church dictates when man and wife should...” A flush of heat warmed her face as she grasped for the right words. With a little smile, he provided them for her.

“Make love?”

Sheepishly, she smiled back at him. Make love, she thought. What a simple but elegant way to describe it. Looking at him, she saw how his amused expression turned into a haughty one. He pursed his lips.

“Such rules were likely written by ignorant and belligerent old men. Ones who have probably never known a woman, and would not know what to do with her if she were dropped head first between their legs.”

A look of both shock and delight crossed her features. Laughing, she swatted his shoulder. “You are shameful.”

He shook his head. “I merely speak the truth,” he replied. “Who are such men to dictate the behavior of a husband and wife?”

She smiled, leaning her head against his shoulder. She adored his sometimes bawdy way of saying things. But even more so, she adored the way he spoke to her fears. It made her feel as though she could tell him anything. She said softly...

“I love you, Simon.”

She lifted her head to look at him. A familiar light came to his eyes, and her lips formed into a sly bow.

“There is mischief in that lovely smile,” he remarked. “Pray, tell me your thoughts, wife.”

Bringing herself up so that their faces were just a space away, she gazed into his eyes. “I was recalling something that my mother once told me, about a certain look in a man’s eyes. Now I understand her meaning.”

That hungry look. He wore it now, and she knew it was meant only for her. He wanted her, and judging from the way his body was responding to hers, he was ready to have her at that very moment. It was a powerful feeling, to think that she roused him as much as he roused her. And it would be cruel to deny the both of them what they so deeply desired...


The rain stopped rather suddenly, and a bright shining of sun came through the carriage window. Evelyn blinked as her eyes adjusted to the sunlight, and looking up, she saw that Simon was studying the land outside the window. As she sat up, stretching her limbs, she smiled as he looped his arms around her waist. He inclined his head to her, and instinctively, she leaned in to kiss him. After many heated exchanges of their lips, he pulled back.

“We are near the village,” he said. “Only a few miles more, and we will be at Guillemot.”

She felt the blood drain from her face. She had so anticipated their arrival, but now, she was struck with a sense of great anxiety. Seeing the nervousness in her eyes, Simon took her hand. He kissed her fingers.

“Do not fear, my love. You will be the mistress of Guillemot, and the household will admire you as I do.”

She tried to smile, and longing for the comfort that only his affection could bring, she kissed him again. Against her lips, he spoke with some regret.

“I must leave you for a while. When we approach, I must appear on horseback.”

She felt a momentary pain of disappointment. But she nodded, understanding that a soldier’s proper place was on his steed. He gave a knock on the carriage roof, bringing it to a halt. After another long, lingering kiss, he left her, and she sat back against the seat, mentally preparing herself. She sighed, wishing her mother was with her, to give advice and consolation. But she knew that those days were now behind her. Her mother and father had raised her to be a strong, intelligent woman. They would be most distressed if they discovered her to be uncertain and fearful of her duties. She thought of her father, who had looked so sad when he had bid her goodbye. A sting came to her eyes as she thought of his words to her.

If ever you are in need, send word to me and I will come. His wife you may be. But you are, first and foremost, my daughter. I will never hesitate to hasten to your rescue.

His loving, valiant words had moved her deeply, and she had no doubt that he meant what he said. A typical father, once he had given his daughter in marriage, would consider his responsibilities finished. It was expected that a young bride would be the property of her husband, and that parental concern would cease. But Guy of Gisborne had never been content to follow custom in all of its forms. Even now, she could see him in her mind’s eye, taken to pacing either somewhere in the house or on the grounds, worrying about her. Her beloved mother would be worried as well, but not to the same degree. She would be more concerned about her husband, whom she would have to comfort and console.

She took a deep, steadying breath. It had always been her desire to please her mother and father. What better way to please them, to make them truly happy, than to show them how capable a woman she was.


Feeling confident and determined, she took a moment to look out the window.

She gasped in awe. The full scope of her new life was suddenly before her, and it took her breath away.

Guillemot was, in a word, immense. Just by looking at it she could guess that Gisborne Manor would fit inside of it at least twice, if not more. The castle was made of pale grey stone, with numerous towers and pointed turrets, which were covered with blue roofing tiles. The main house, and its many outbuildings, were accessed by a stone bridge with multiple arches, under which there ran a wide expanse of water. And what a setting it was all nestled in. From her distant vantage point, she saw that the estate sat low among lush green hills and dark woods. Unlike her birth home, which sat up high and stately on a hill, her new abode seemed to blend in with its surroundings. Simon had told her there would be endless space to call her own, and clearly, he had not exaggerated.

How would she be mistress of all of this? It seemed so overwhelming. But Simon was trusting in her to be a good partner and wife, to make his house a home and to run it as a proper noblewoman should. Digging into her memories, she sought a piece of advice that her mother had often given her.

Fear is nothing more than a feeling. It cannot harm you. And it cannot hinder you unless you allow it the chance to do so.

As the carriage rolled across the bridge, she gathered her courage, taking deep breaths to calm herself. And before she knew it, the vehicle was coming to a stop. Reaching up with her fingers, she checked her hair to be sure it was still neatly coiled. She pinched both of her cheeks to add a bit of color to her face. And just as she straightened her posture, the door opened. A footman was waiting with his hand extended, but all she could see was the crowd of people waiting just outside of the carriage. Taking the footman’s hand, she stepped down to the gravel drive, and Simon came to her side. He took her hand, and led her over to meet her household.

As she met each man and woman, she was careful to keep to her French tongue when speaking to them. There were several children among the crowd, and she took the time to speak kindly to them, eliciting several smiles. A tow-headed little boy, who could not have been more than six or seven years of age, offered her a fistful of daisies. Moved by the gesture, she took a moment to ask his name, and she learned that he was one of the gardener’s children. For his kind gift, she promised to soon give him something in return, and he beamed with delight.

As she was guided inside, a slender gentleman of middle-age, with kind dark eyes and a neatly trimmed brown beard, came to the Duke’s side. He bowed low, and presenting a rolled parchment, he spoke to his master in hushed tones. At first, Evelyn gave little thought to the occurrence. She was too busy taking in the enormity of the main hall, which seemed to have the aura of a great cathedral. It was vast and open, with large windows that allowed sunlight to pour in. When she turned to Simon, intending to comment on the beauty of the hall, she saw that he was whispering to his father...and the words they were exchanging seemed to be ones of urgency. Her heart went cold with fear.

Could it be a message from the king? Please God, do not let it be, she prayed. She remembered what Simon had said...that war could be declared at any time, and that his majesty’s men must be ready to answer the call. She knew it was improper to pry into the affairs of men, but her fear made her bold. She came near them, daring to speak, even while they were still in conversation.

“Simon,” she said, “Is something wrong?”

Their conversation ceased, and they both looked at her for a long moment. Simon gave her a forced smile, and took her by the hand.

“Do not be alarmed,” he replied. “I must take a few moments to see to this matter, but I will soon return to you. Meanwhile, Marguerite will show you upstairs. She will bring you food, drink...anything you require.”

Why did he seem so eager to depart on his business? Was it so urgent? She wanted so desperately to beg him for information. But to do so might be to dishonor him in front of his father and his staff. Reluctantly, she answered him with an obedient nod, and as he and his father went away in one direction, she was guided away by the housekeeper.

Marguerite was a small but boisterous young woman, giving sharp commands to her subordinates and ordering them to bring all that their new lady needed. In the master chamber, as Marguerite directed the belongings of the master and mistress, Evelyn stood before the window, wringing her hands.

I cannot lose my husband, she thought. I cannot.

She could not believe that God would bless her with such happiness only to snatch it away so quickly. Who would she turn to if he left her? She knew no one here. Her family was in Marseilles, so far away. Even Violette, her faithful servant and friend, was gone. She had remained in Marseilles for the sake of her family. Here, at Guillemot, Evelyn was to have a new lady maid. But no matter how kind her new companion was, she would still be a stranger. The thought of it was terrifying.

As she began a fretful walk back and forth, Simon came through the door. Seeing him, she could not remain calm and collected, as she knew she should be. With tear forming in her eyes, she rushed forward. When he saw the fearful look on her face, he became concerned.

“Evelyn, what is it? What grieves you?”

Without thought for who might be watching, she rushed to him and threw her arms around his middle, clutching him tightly. For a moment she was incapable of words. She felt his hands rubbing her back and shoulders in an attempt to sooth her. When, after a few moments, she gave him no reply, he set her back slightly, gently gripping her arms.

“What has happened, Evelyn? Tell me.”

Her tears spilled over, and her voice trembled as she answered.

“Simon, I am aware that it is not my place to know your business. But you must tell me. The message you received. Was it a summons from the king?”

He sighed, his expression giving no hint of an answer. She thought for certain that his reply would confirm her worst fears. After what felt like an eternal moment, he replied.

“No, it was not from the king.”

She thought she might swoon from the feeling of weight lifted off of her shoulders. She reached for him, intent on expressing her joy, but he held her hands in his own, stilling her movements. He turned to look at Marguerite and her troop of servants.

“Leave us,” he ordered.

They did so without question and without hesitation. As soon as the door closed, Simon looked back at her, releasing her hands. And she quickly reached up to grasp his face, pulling it down to hers and peppering it with urgent, feverish kisses.

“Oh Simon, I was so afraid. I feared you lost to me already, and with so little time shared between us.”

For a moment, he seemed hesitant to fully engage in returning her affections. His hold was not tight enough for her liking. Joyful, and spurred by the knowledge that he was not to leave her, she pressed her body against his, unwilling to be apart from him. At last he responded, strengthening his embrace. He kissed her back, his passions growing quickly. He uttered a few last words of resistance.

“Evelyn, we have only just arrived. There is much to be done.”

It was her feeling that such things could wait. Still shaken by the overwhelming fear she had felt, she needed the strength and security of his love, and at that moment, she did not care if her actions were brazen. The urgency in her plea was undisguised.

“Stay with me, Simon. I need you.”

Only a moment passed before he kissed her, and not with a sweet, closed mouth gesture, but with a heated taste of her...a kiss that left no doubt of the burning desire he was feeling for her.

His duties would be seen to much later, after they had spent a long and glorious afternoon together, familiarizing themselves with their marital bed, and especially, one other.