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.
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.