Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Baron's Lady - Intro, Part Two

After a steaming hot bath and a change of clothes, she felt a hundred times better – more prepared to handle things. The matter of Rene had been pushed to the far corners of her mind, and it was there she intended it to stay. At supper, he would be sitting with the other servants in the hall, albeit at a distance. All she had to do was avoid looking in that direction. But there were more pressing concerns to contend with than an errant stable-boy.

Appearing at the dining table, without her husband’s escort, she took her place at his side. He had started the meal without her, gathering at the table with several of the knights in his charge. Although he did not command his own garrison, Gilbert saw to the training and care of a number of soldiers belonging to his overlord. The men were often invited to dine at the main table, and unlike the civilized meals at the Gisborne table, the meals at the Chateau LaCroix were almost guaranteed to, at some point, erupt into chaos. As Isabella held her wine goblet up to be filled, a stripped chicken bone landed beside her trencher. Curling her lip in distaste, she used her knife to push away the repulsive scrap. It was not uncommon for discarded food stuffs to be tossed about in such a way. She supposed that it should have been a matter she was quite accustomed to. But she could not shake the feeling of disgust it aroused in her, and somehow, she doubted she would ever grow immune to such slovenly behavior.

As she ate, she did so in silence, although the atmosphere around her was hardly peaceful. The men were engaged in sport of various kinds, from drinking games to contests of gluttony, to matches of strength that had several of them shouting all at once. Gilbert seemed to be greatly entertained by the spectacle. Between copious amount of drink and food, parts of which remained behind in his beard, he laughed with great enthusiasm. Isabella sighed as she brought her goblet to her lips, hoping he might fall into a stupor, as he sometimes did after a heavy meal. If he became so indisposed, she would have reason to escape his company for the night, and silently she prayed for such a blessing.

The noise around the table suddenly erupted into an angry shouting match. A moment later a fist fight ensued, and the other men rose to their feet in raucous encouragement of it. As the aggressors throttled one another, their swings and shoves threw them into the other men. And as several fell back, one of them tumbled against Isabella. The shove sent her body sideways. And the wine goblet in her hand went flying, its contents splashing right into Gilbert’s face. He sputtered in shock, and was silent for a moment, before his expression contorted in anger. Before Isabella could prepare herself for his reaction, a douse of wine splattered against her face.

“Clumsy wench!” he cursed her. Slamming down his now empty cup, he bellowed for a servant to refill it. Then he looked at Isabella with a cold sneer. “Take yourself off to bed. Your company is no longer needed or wanted.”

A rose color of shame tinted her cheeks, but with what dignity she could manage, she rose to her feet and quit the room. It wasn’t until she was safely out of sight, and within the security of her bedchamber, that she allowed a few mortified drops of moisture to fall from her eyes. She would not allow a grand flowing of tears. Gilbert was not worth such an effort. But she could not help weeping about the humiliation she felt. Soaking a rag in the water basin, and wringing it out, she cleaned the remnants of wine from her face.

A voice, gentle and quiet, broke the silence.


Turning quickly, she gasped. Rene stood in the hallway. He was staring at her, with something of a curious look on his face. Her ire rose. Taking a cautious step back, she scolded him.

“How dare you intrude upon my presence?”

He remained where he was, not daring to come further. But he spoke again, this time with gentle concern in his tone.

“Forgive me, my lady. I have no wish to cause offense. But I thought you would be pleased to know that the foal will likely be born tonight.”

The sound of his voice was so pleasant, so soothing. Somehow, she felt that all she had to do was ask for his consolation, and he would gladly give it. And in her heart, she had a deep longing to confide in someone…anyone, truly. Even a mere servant.

But she could not bring herself to take comfort from him. Her pride would not allow it. Turning her back to him, she gave him a cool reply.

“Thank you, monsieur Jean-Bastien. Now if you please, I wish to be alone.”

There was a long moment before he answered, and his words held a strangely soothing tone. “As you wish, madam.”

A pang of regret struck her heart. In spite of herself, she turned towards him, overwhelmed by the need to speak and unburden her soul. But Rene was gone. And she felt an odd sense of pain at the loss.


Despite the warmth of the Mediterranean climate, the Chateau LaCroix was often drafty, particularly at night. Despite having quarters that were smaller than the main bedchamber, Isabella was thankful that her room had a large fireplace. When a generous fire was burning, it made the chamber very warm and comfortable. She was sitting before that fire, lost in thought, when a knock came at her door. It startled her for a moment. As she rose to her feet, slowly approaching the doorway, her heart began a nervous beating. Why did she fear that if she answered the door, Rene would be the one she found on the other side of it? And why, if she was truly a woman of sound mind, did she secretly hope it was him? Closing her eyes for a moment, she willed herself to be calm and composed as she opened the door.

It was not Rene, but instead, it was a page who stood there. The boy lowered his head.

“My lady, I have been sent to inform you that your mare has birthed a fine colt.”

For the first time that evening, she at felt a small sense of happiness. She waved the page boy away. Summoning her maid, she was soon wrapped in a cloak, and slipping from the room, she made her way down the back staircase. It was doubtful that Gilbert would know or care about her brief absence. And even if he did know of it, what then? What harm was there in going to the stables – even if Rene was there.


Stepping out into the courtyard, Isabella heard a faint rumble of thunder. It sounded distant, so she wasn’t concerned. She was quite certain there would be time to get to the stables, see the foal, and return to the house before the storm descended. As she approached the stable doors, a groom met her. After a bow, he led her to the stall, where she saw Rene waiting within. The groom moved off, leaving her alone with him.

Dual feelings battled within her at seeing him. His kind smile, given to her as he held up the lantern for illumination, generated a warmth within her that she could not suppress. And yet, that very same smile created an odd feeling of tension. Why did he look at her in that way? She sensed that he knew he was troubling her, and found something pleasing in the act. Shaking her head, she tried to focus on the gangly creature that was standing near its mother. Isabella smiled, looking at the newborn colt with great joy.

“What a handsome fellow he is. And not a trace of white do I see. His coat is pure black, as was his father’s. How lovely.”

In the moment that followed, she felt Rene’s eyes on her. She had felt that same gaze before, but it was often given in moments when she could distract herself from it. When given among the presence of others, it was easy to ignore. But here, with only his company, it felt entirely different. Inescapable. And it could not go on. Stiffening her posture, she spoke in a haughty tone of voice, directing her eyes forward.

“Monsieur Jean-Bastien, why do you examine me so? It is most inappropriate.”

There was a sweetness in his reply that moved her, despite her inner struggle to resist his pleasantness. His words were soft and kind.

“Your smile, my lady. It has captured my attention. Such a gentle expression suits you well.”

Gathering her inner strength, determined to put him in his proper place, she turned to him with a haughty look and a sharp reply. “You are too bold. It is not your place to flatter.”

Her scolding seemed not to affect him or his manner. He answered in that same way – softly and sweetly.

“Forgive me, my lady. I did not intend to give offense. I merely wished to compliment.”

A momentary sting of remorse pained her. If only he would act as he was meant to, she would not have to rebuke him so harshly. Why did he insist on showing her such kindness, when they both knew it would come to nothing?

“Do not make such attempts at pleasantry,” she said. “They are most unwelcome.”

His reply was a rather bold one…and something of a challenge.

“Are they truly unwelcome?”

Stunned by his daring question, she could find no quick response. In truth, how could she not desire words of admiration? God knew, Gilbert offered nothing in the way of pretty words or tender sentiments.

“You are not experienced with compliments,” said Rene. “Am I wrong in assuming so?”

How does he know such things? She wondered. How does he see so well into my soul? For a moment, she considered a soft, truthful response to his question. But a sudden wave of prideful courage came over her.

“You and I should not be having this conversation. It is most indecent.”

He shrugged. “Is it indecent to converse with a fellow human being? I find such a notion to be most absurd.”

It is absurd, she thought. Here was a handsome, charming gentleman, one who offered her his kindness and generosity, and her pride dictated that she treat him as what he was…someone of lower status. Someone she had no right to have friendly feelings for. And yet, she could not help being swayed by his gentleness. Such softening of her feelings must have shown in her features, for he looked at her and spoke with eagerness.

“Ah, I see we are not entirely in disagreement. Your words declare me an offense to your person, but your look says otherwise.”

With a small sigh, she relented…but only by a small measure. “Monsieur Jean-Bastien, I will not attempt to deny that your kindness is appreciated. But I…”

“Will you address me by my given name? I find formality to be so disagreeable at times. When I was a boy, I found my title to be quite burdensome.”

Her mouth fell slightly open. Had she heard him correctly? Surely not, she thought. But how could she know for certain unless she asked? Looking at him, her eyes were shining with curiosity.

“Title? What title?”

At that moment, she was too overwhelmed with interest to care about propriety. Despite her pride, she longed to know the meaning of his words. But he stunned her by a sudden change in his behavior. Turning away from her, he moved out of the stall, passing by her as he replied in a cool manner.

“Forgive me, madam. I have spoken too much,” he said. “As you have reminded me, conversation between us is most inappropriate. So I will bid you a pleasant evening.”

He began organizing tools, perhaps as a way to convince her that it truly was his intention to end their conversation. But how could he be so cruel as to leave her dangling so? Following him, she took on a firm stance and tone of voice.

“Do not be impertinent!” she scolded him. “You began your tale with the intent of intriguing me. And you have succeeded, owing to the failure of my common sense. So speak, if you please.”

He seemed hesitant to do so. He was teasing her, she came to realize. She might have struck him for it. But he answered soon enough, unwittingly saving himself from the force of her hand.

“I was born of a noble family,” he said, “But I was ousted for my behavior.”

Her eyes grew large with surprise. “You are jesting,” she declared.

He shrugged. “The details are rather dull, my lady. And the hour is late. Perhaps I should save my tale for another day.”

A little grin crinkled the corner of his mouth. Smug bastard that he was, he was delighting in this game he was playing. She fought the urge to throttle him for his behavior. With an indignant glare, she lashed out at him.

“Monsieur Rene, you are a most troublesome lout.”

Turning away, she took an angry stride towards the door…pausing when he answered her with a cheeky remark.

“So I am, my lady. But it has been said that I am a charming lout.”

How hard it was not to respond to him in some way…not to laugh, or turn and look at him. She was almost certain he wore a look of triumph, having bested her as he had. Somehow, she managed to walk away. But she could not keep from smiling as she hurried back towards the house.


She narrowly escaped the storm, crossing the rear threshold just as the rain came pouring down. As her maid servant came forth, helping her to remove her cloak, Isabella wore a hint of a smile. In her mind, she heard a small voice of rationality, reminding her of the danger that would come if she forgot herself. She would be foolish to grow fond of Rene, who was a very great threat. His arrogance made him more so, for it seemed he was fearless in this game he played. It seemed he took pleasure in it. And God help her, she was finding it difficult not to be drawn in by his wicked ways.

A short time later, as Therese helped prepare her for bed, she thought of the words that had passed between herself and Rene.

Title, she thought. It seemed laughable to believe that a lowly servant had once been someone of importance. The idea of it seemed too ridiculous to imagine. But then, if it was not the truth, why had his declaration seemed so unprompted, as though he had made an unwanted slip of the tongue?

Once she had donned her nightdress, she waved Therese away, wanting to be alone with her thoughts. Easing herself into the softness of bed, covering herself to the waist with the coverlet, she sighed at the inevitability of her own defeat.

He had found her weakness. She craved companionship, as she had so little of it in her life, even though she had several female friends and acquaintances. They satisfied a basic need for socialization, but there was so much more that she longed for. The casual conversation shared at parties was not enough.

Though her marriage was an empty, cold existence, she was not ignorant of affection between a man and a woman. She had distant memories of being pursued, at age twelve, by a boy from a neighboring household. It had been so long ago, but it felt like only yesterday. Rowland had stolen sweet kisses from her, and they had played silly games of pursuit. In her girlish dreams, she had imagined marrying him. But such dreams had never come to fruition. Gilbert was the husband chosen for her, and there was nothing to be done about it. It was of small concern that he considered her as little more than a part of a business transaction, for in truth, it was what she was. She had always been aware of such a fact. But she could not forget those fleeting moments of affection she had once cherished. And now, it seemed as if Rowland had somehow been restored to her…in the form of a bold-as-brass stable boy.

Frustrated by her own foolishness, she shook her head, and snuffing out the candle, she buried herself under the covers with a great huff. In the morning, she would think of some way to save herself from her own weakness. But for now, she hoped to find refuge in the peaceful realm of sleep.


A hand shook her shoulder. She brushed it away, trying to prolong the warm, safe, pleasurable delight of dreaming. But the hand was insistent. As was the voice.

"Madame, le Seigneur est parti. Il a quitté il n'y a pas longtemps."

“My lady, his lordship has gone. He departed a short while ago.”

Isabella forced her heavy eyes to open. Her dream had been so pleasant. But this news was worth waking for.

"Merci, Thérèse,” she said. “Est-ce que le Seigneur a dit quand il reviendra?"

“Thank you, Therese. Did the baron say when he would return?”

"Non, Madame. On ne disait qu'il part vers Morgiou"

“No, my lady. It was said only that he departs for Morgiou.”

Morgiou was a long distance away…nearly fifty miles. There, Gilbert would be occupied with his mistress, among other things, and it was unlikely that he would be in a hurry to return.

Isabella felt a spring of happiness bubbling up inside of her. But she was careful to temper the flow of her feelings. Even Therese, her faithful maidservant, could not be witness to her expressions of extreme delight over Gilbert’s departure. She was careful to maintain a dignified air as Therese helped her wash and dress. As the last laces were tightened, she spoke calmly to her servant.

“C'est dire que Henri va rompre mon rapide ici. Il peut superviser le repas à ma place.”

“Tell Henri I will break my fast here. He may oversee the meal in my stead.”

Therese nodded. “Oui, madame.”

There was a certain pattern to every day…a rhythm for everything, even for the simple matter of having meals. As a noblewoman, she had certain duties that were expected of her, although Gilbert thought her unequal to any task beyond sewing, gardening, and the like. His steward, Henri, was his preferred choice for handling household matters, and this morning, Isabella was glad to let him do it. She felt a great need to think only of herself…within reason, of course. It would not do to rush madly about with a great smile, declaring to the world about how joyous it felt to be free of a tyrant.

But she would enjoy a quiet meal without incident. Perhaps she would enjoy a leisurely bath in the middle of the day. She certainly intended to go riding, and at the thought of horses, her face grew warm.

She had dreamed of Rene last night. Even in her dreams, she had been shocked by his sudden appearance…and even more shocked to realize she found pleasure in his presence. Pleasure that was more than friendly.

He had kissed her without invitation. Those kisses had fallen on her face and lips with soft, tender sweetness – reminding her of those long ago days with Rowland. They had only been brief kisses, but her heart had beaten wildly with each one. And then, it had ended. But the wondrous feeling remained.

She pressed her palms to her cheeks, feeling the warmth growing there. But a smile grew with it.

It was wrong to feel such things. But suddenly, she found herself unable to care. Happiness was swelling in her heart, and she felt content to let it flow at will. Rene was a contributor to that happiness, whether or not she wished him to be.

Hang all rules, she thought. I have been a captive to misery for too long, and I will have some joy in this life.


Cantering across the fields, she felt her spirits rising. How fitting it was that today was a holiday. It was the day to honor Saint Denys, and after a morning spent in worship, all were permitted to spend their day as they wished. Most of the servants took the opportunity to visit loved ones, leaving the house in a very quiet state. Isabella found pleasure in the sunshine and open air. As she moved along, her mind wandered to thoughts of Rene. How was he spending his holiday?

As if designed by fate, she found her answer, lying on a grassy knoll. She knew it was him, despite the hat that covered his face as he rested there. She could not resist approaching him. He drew her in without effort…without words or action. Riding up to him, she looked down at his lanky body, stretched out in a lazy fashion.

“Is this how you choose to spend your day?”

In a leisurely movement of his hand, he removed his hat, and looking up at her, he smiled. “Good afternoon, my lady.”

He was so dashing, so arrogant, even when giving a mere greeting. She tried her best to temper her delight as she responded.

“Most people would choose to spend their day of freedom with family or friends.”

He shrugged. “I have neither. So what would you have me do?”

In her heart, she felt a pang of sympathy for him. But was his account genuine? If only there was some way to know for certain.

“Am I to believe a rogue’s tale?” she asked. “You say you have no friends, no family. You say you once had a title. How am I to know the truth?”

Sitting up, he looked at her with a serious turn of expression. “If you require proof, I can provide it.”

Intrigued, she gave him a curious look. “How might you do that?”

She watched as he reached into his shirt, removing a ring suspended from a thin chain around his neck.

“Come,” he said. “See the evidence for yourself.”

Taking in a calming breath, she considered what the consequences would be if she took the bait. Would he do something untoward? Her good sense told her to turn her horse and ride away. But a strange sense of daring gripped her. And she found herself getting down from her horse.

Cautiously, she approached him, lured in by the shiny little object he was dangling. Boldly, she snatched it away. Examining it, she was surprised to find it as genuine proof of his former status.

“This is a signet ring,” she said. “I have seen this seal.”

He nodded. “The seal of the house of Jean-Bastien. Do you think it a coincidence that I share the name of a comte?”

Handing the trinket back to him, her curiosity grew. “You are a puzzlement, Rene. But how am to know that you did not steal such a ring, and that the name you claim to own is not truly yours?”

He laughed then, a soft and delighted sound of utter amusement. It was so difficult to be cross with him when he was being so jovial.

“My lady,” he said. “You have quite an imagination. And I daresay, a sad inability to lower your guard.”

Such a statement stung. And she replied with a sharp answer.

“With a man such as you, I am wise to be cautious.”

As he came to his feet, her instincts told her to flee. But she remained where she stood, watching him as he drew closer to her. There was a curious look on his face.

“Baroness, might I make an inquiry that has been on my mind for some time?”

It was dangerous to indulge his curiosity. But she could not help herself.

“What do you wish to know?” she asked.

He came closer, until they were nearly toe to toe. His voice was soft.

“Does your husband kiss you as he should?”

His question was too bold, too shocking…and it frightened her, because it had touched upon such a personal subject. She took a step back from him.

“That is not for you to know.”

He slowly advanced on her with a little smile. “Therin lies my answer.”

She tried to step away, but she found his hand holding her arm in a firm but gentle grip.

“You are afraid of me,” he said.

He was touching on too many truths. It did, indeed, make her frightened…not of him, but of herself. She tried one last effort of being bold.

“You flatter yourself, and I find it appalling.”

He responded with an upward curl of his lip.

“I think your pride speaks for you,” he said. “And I wonder how it would be to hear words from the Baroness LaCroix herself.”

She was rooted to the spot where she stood, unable to move. His face was drawing near hers, and she knew he would kiss her. Her heart hammered like mad as his lips fell softly on hers. The shock of it was only momentary, as he stirred feelings in her that set her senses reeling. It was over nearly as quickly as it began, as he pulled back and broke their contact. Somehow, she managed words of reproach, spoken breathlessly.

“You are a revolting cad.”

His reply was swift. “And you are a beautiful woman who deserves more than what that swine offers you.”

He was right. And oh, how she wanted to tell him so. Instead, she felt a wave of fear take over her. She backed away, shaking her head.

“I cannot do this,” she stammered. “Please, just leave me be.” Before he could stop her, she rushed to her horse and rode away, fearful of what might happen if she stayed.



  1. While reading MLG, I never considered Isabella's situation; her marriage to this horrible man, her loneliness and needs. I just thought of her as a wealthy frivolous woman, how wrong I was, very glad Rene came to her life. By the way, it's so nice to see Rene back, this character became so endearing.

  2. I agree with you, Summer. I too thought the same about Isabella. Gilbert is such a man without morals or regard for his wife's feelings.
    Now I understand why she felt the way she did about, Rene.