Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 7, Part 1

Hello, everyone! Sorry it's been a while. Not only have I moved, but I also managed to catch a cold recently. But I'm back, and I should be posting more often. This post is short, but the next one will be longer. AND there will be a major turning point coming next.

Thanks for being patient...


Under the night sky, the courtyard was illuminated by torches…those that stood to ease the darkness, and those that were tossed and retrieved by the fire artist doing tricks. Isabella, standing beside Rene, tried to find interest in the performance, as well as anything else that could prove a distraction. Her eye caught sight of Lady Evelyn’s newly arrived fiancĂ©. If ever there was a distraction for one to have, it was he. Although her interest in him was not overwhelming…for there was another who held her thoughts captive…she could not help taking notice of him. He was, indeed, a fine specimen of a man. Tall, broad-shouldered, sinfully handsome. And what a warrior he was. Clearly, he was a knight of great skill and daring, and he walked with the prowess of a man who knew his own worth and was proud of it. But more important to Isabella was the fact that the marquis's arrival had caused Rene to turn a perpetual shade of envious green.

She knew it was wrong to take some pleasure in his unhappiness. But she could not help it. It was, in a certain way, her just reward for the hurt he had caused her. Her tone was smooth and cool, the corner of her mouth slightly up as she commented on Simon of Laroque.

“He is a handsome one. Is he not?”

Rene snorted, a sound of contempt. “I see no particular attractiveness in him. He seems to me a cold and stone-faced brute.”

“Do I detect a note of jealousy?” she asked.

His reply was another snort. “What have I to be jealous of?”

“It seems you are no longer the favorite topic of conversation. That must be quite bothersome to you.”

With a slight lift of his chin, he attempted a careless reply. “Certainly not.”

Clearly, he was overcome with envy. But just like any man, he was refusing to admit what he felt. She shook her head, sighing, thinking what a foolish creature he was. It seemed to her that with each passing day she spent in his company, his charms were fading more and more. If only he would have shown the fervor he had once had for her, perhaps her feelings would have been stronger. But he was making little attempt at hiding his desire for Lady Evelyn. Such boldness was well enough in the boudoir, but to be so openly bold, and right before the eyes of men who could destroy him…Lord, he was the greatest of fools.

And yet, she knew she was no innocent herself.

Even now, her traitorous mind was urging her to look for the baron. She managed to keep her head from turning. But even without looking, she could sense his presence. He was standing only a few feet away, and it seemed he was looking at her. And the reason for his examination seemed obvious enough to her.

She had promised to support him at the archery tournament that afternoon. But in the end, she had quietly avoided the event. How could she be so unwise as to publicly display, even by the smallest measure, her growing fondness for him? It was enough that she had taken the risk of making Rene her companion, and that blunder was now weighing heavily on her. To take the chance of making another mistake was too dangerous. When and where she could, she had to avoid him.

Even now, they were too close in proximity. And the way he was looking at her, she sensed that he sought an explanation for her absence at the games. But what reason could she give? Certainly not an honest one. He could not be made aware of her feelings, and to avoid such a conflict, she knew she needed to put distance between them. But it required a certain subtlety. She could not bolt suddenly from the gathering without attracting attention, particularly from him. Whispering an excuse to Rene, who gave only a slight nod in reply…and she was certain he had only half-listened…she very quietly and slowly slipped away from the crowd.

Except for a few servants, and the mastiff dogs that were chewing on bones under the tables, the hall was empty and quiet. Feeling calmer now that she had managed to escape the excitement of the crowd…and with it, Owen…she hoped to escape to the chamber she was sharing with several other ladies. They would not be there for some time, of course. It would be a good oppourtunity to think and reflect. Lord knew, she had much on her mind at that moment.

A sudden voice broke the silence. A voice that struck her with dread.

Good heavens, she thought. Should I stay and face him? Or should I flee?

“Lady Isabella?” he called out.

She had but a moment to make her choice, and she intended to flee. But her feet were not swift enough. Before she could dash away, he was there, at the bottom of the steps. With the calming aid of a slow, deep breath, she turned to him, offering a polite smile. But his expression was not so genial. In truth, it seemed quite dark, and if his tone was any indication, he was not at all pleased. It was proved by his absence of an introduction, and his choice to come directly to a blunt point.

“I did not see you at the archery tournament. I was not pleased to find that you had broken your promise to me.”

What a stern and powerful expression there was on his face. There was such intensity behind his eyes. Somehow, that fierceness became him. More than she wanted it to. She was glad to have enough management of her senses to form an answer.

“Forgive me, my lord. The sun was too hot for me.”

In a moment, the fierceness suddenly changed. His expression became softer, more gentle. Looking in his eyes, she wondered if she was going mad at seeing what she felt was real concern.

“That is unfortunate,” he asked, his harsh tone becoming more subdued. “Are you recovered?”

What tenderness there was in his voice. And it did not seem to be the false gentleness that she had heard in Rene’s voice at times. Yet, she reminded herself that she could not be lured into intimacy with him, however small and innocent it might be.

“I am quite well. Thank you for your concern, baron. If you will forgive me, I must go to my chamber.”

His response, given rather quickly, was uttered before she could turn away.

“Will you not rejoin the party?”

The tone of his voice struck her in a strange way. Was he displeased with her leaving? For a moment she considered it, wondering why it would matter to him if she stayed or went. But she shook her head, refusing to let herself be drawn in by the possibility of such sentiment.

“I am quite tired,” she said. “Please make my apologies to your dear mother and father.” Before he could detain her longer, she turned away, moving up the stairs.

“Good night,” she heard him say. And a moment later, she paused when she heard her name given. Not her title. But her given name, never spoken by him before. The surprise of it…the soft sound of it from his lips, made her pause and turn. But he had already turned away, even as a soft reply fell from her own lips.

“Good night, my lord.”

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pics from my trip to Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Hello, everyone! I promised a look at my pics, and here they are. I had a wonderful time, and as you can see, there were a lot of beautiful displays. My personal favorite was Lots O Huggin Bear. :) I also took some pics of some buildings that I thought were quite lovely to see.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did! Just scroll down to have a look...

Lots O Huggin Bear

Pluto and Donald


Replica of an old Nordic Church

Pandas outside the China Pavilion

China Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

Snow White

The Seven Dwarves

The Italy Pavilion

Lady and the Tramp

The American Pavilion

Woody and Buzz

The Japan Pavilion

Cogsworth and Lumiere

Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip

Winnie The Pooh, Eyeore, and Piglet

Garden at the Canada Pavilion

Roses at World Showcase Lagoon


Farmer Mickey and Minnie

Peter Pan and Captain Hook

The Butterfly Garden

More Roses

Hippos and Alligators from "Fantasia"

Ostriches from "Fantasia"

Elephants from "Fantasia"

Seven Seas Lagoon

Lightning McQueen from "Cars"

Mater from "Cars"

Bonsai Garden at Japan Pavilion

Garden at France Pavilion

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Bounty of Garden Beauty, Courtesy of Walt Disney World

As most of my readers and friends know by now, I am working for the House of Mouse, A.K.A, the Walt Disney Company. As a cast member at Walt Disney World, I feel blessed to have free access to some of their special events, and being a lover of gardens, I'm super-excited to have the chance to see their annual flower and garden fesitval. It runs from March 7th through May 20th, and I can't wait to explore all of their beautiful pathways and displays. The work on display is absolutely stunning, as evidenced from the picture below. This is a stock picture, but I will be taking my own collection of photos when I visit the gardens next week, and I promise to share them with everyone.

Here is the link for anyone who is interested in more information. If you're ever planning a trip to Walt Disney World, right now is a great time for a visit. Maybe I'll see you there!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 6, Part 2

The third part of this chapter will be posted early next week, and will have some important developments in the story. Until then, enjoy...


From the battlements of the manor, Isabella watched the activity of the duke’s servants, who were rushing back and forth as they unloaded the carts and the carriage. Unlike most of the other guests, who had clamored for a position up front to witness the proceedings, she chose to watch at a distance. Who would notice her absecence? Certainly not Rene, who seemed blind to the fact that Lady Evelyn’s fiancĂ© was almost upon them. Somehow, she doubted that the marquis would tolerate such behavior.

Perhaps it would do him good to be pummeled, she thought.

She did not hear the door to the roof as it was opened. Lost in thought, she did not see Owen coming up from below, nor did she see him as he stood still for a moment, watching her. Only the slight creek of his boot, given as he took a step back, alerted her to his presence. She turned suddenly, alarmed for a moment. But she quickly recovered, offering him a pleasant smile.

“Good day, my lord.”

He bowed respectfully. “Lady Isabella.” Rising, he took a few steps forward, but stopped short of coming too near her. There was a hesitance in his tone and manner. “I was not aware you were here. Forgive me if I disturbed you.” He turned to leave, but she spoke to keep him from going.

“No apologies,” she replied. “I was merely watching the activity from a more peaceful vantage point. I found the excitement a bit too much.”

He seemed to relax slightly, the sternness of his expression softening a bit. Moving to the wall, he still maintained a certain distance from her, but his tone was cordial. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back as he looked out over the grounds.

“As do I. I am not one who delights in social functions, although I am aware of my duty to endure them.”

His reply amused her. They had much in common, it seemed.

“Have you already met the marquis and his father?”

“The marquis has not yet arrived,” he replied. “He will be here shortly. But I have met the duke, and he is a personable gentleman.”

She nodded, and then turned her gaze back to the activity below. But it was less interesting to her now that Owen was so near. She had avoided him last night, and this morning. But there was no hiding from him now, unless she dashed away like a shy and unschooled maid who was afraid to be in a man’s presence. Why did he make her feel so unsure of herself? It was ridiculous to feel such things at her age. Taking in a deep breath, she willed herself to be calm and sensible, and to break the tension that was growing in the quiet, she thought of something to converse about.

“Will you participate in today’s games, my lord?”

She saw the way he lifted himself on his toes for a moment. There was something in that gesture that she found rather adorable, though she was not sure why.

“I will, indeed,” he replied. “As Lucien’s squire. He gave me leave to sit with my family and enjoy the joust, but I prefer to be on the field, even if I am not yet riding on a charger with a lance in my grip.”

“Will you be playing in the foot races beforehand?”

He shrugged. “I have not yet decided.”

It was impossible, she realized, to stand in his presence and not be moved. How could a woman not be captivated? Stealing a glance at him, she found herself charmed by the way his black hair curled slightly at his temples and forehead. A slight breeze ruffled his locks, and the sunshine lit his grey-blue eyes in such a beautiful way. Pulling her eyes away, she tried again to reign in her wild thoughts and feelings. But a wayward thought escaped her mind, and fell from her lips before she could retrieve it.

“Have you a lady to champion your efforts?”

A flush of warmth came to her cheeks, especially when she saw Owen turn his head to look at her. She grappled for words to correct her error.

“Forgive me. I speak out of place.”

He drew closer now, and the movement caused her heart to increase its beats. His voice was soft and deep.

“In truth, I do not have a fair lady to cheer me on to victory. Perhaps you would do me the honor?”

For a moment, she could find no words. There was something so disarming about his presence…especially his smile, slight as it was. But her hesitation to reply seemed to dissuade him. He took a slight step back, a slight expression of embarrassment on his face as he turned his head away.

“I speak too boldly.”

She spoke quickly. “Not at all, my lord.” He turned his eyes back to her.

Good heavens, she thought. Why do his eyes move me so?

It was all she could do to maintain a calm, collected aspect. Somehow, she managed a polite and dignified continuation of her reply.

“I would be pleased to give you my support. It would be the least I could offer as a reward for your kindness to me.”

The slight smile returned, and there was a tenderness in the gesture that warmed her heart.

“It is a gentleman’s duty, my lady.”

He was standing so close to her. Much closer than he should have been. She could feel his eyes on her, and the tension was so that it stole breath. But they both seemed to come to their senses. As he took a step back, so did she. He turned away, retreating rather quickly.

Once he was out of sight, she wavered slightly. Going to the battlement, she leaned against the stone, trying to collect herself. For a few unguarded moments, she let the power of temptation overwhelm her. It felt so glorious to share an attraction as powerful as the one she felt with Owen. Feeling it, she recalled the great passion she had shared with Rene.

Shame came over her in great waves. Dropping her head in her hands, she cursed herself for her weakness. How could she allow herself to be so easily tempted? Tears pooled in her eyes.

God help me, she silently wept. I am a vile, sinful creature.


Owen decended from the roof entrance, rushing away from the place where he had met with his latest failure.

“God, I am helpless!” He cried aloud.

A passing servant stopped, staring at him, but he gave her a dark look that sent her scurrying away.

All morning, he had kept out of Isabella’s way, purposely keeping his distance so they would not encounter one another. It had worked, it seemed. They had not spoken, and he only saw her from occasional glances out of the corner of his eye. He attributed it his eye wandering, and nothing more. Even when everyone went out to meet the duke and offer greeting, he avoided gazing at the crowd, for concern of seeing her. When the formalities were done, and it was understood that the marquis would not be immediately arriving, he went up to the roof to escape the noise and excitement.

Only to find her there.

Her presence overwhelmed him from the first glance. For a moment, he had the will to retreat. But then she smiled at him. She spoke in that soft, sweet voice. And he was lost. She had drawn him in, and he was powerless against her allure. A brief conversation they had shared, and when she spoke, she somehow managed to draw him closer than ever by stroking his pride. When she had inquired about his participation the footraces, it had seemed to him that she wanted to see him compete. He had given her a chance to retract her offer of encouragement…her offer to champion him, as she had described it. But rather than backing away, she had become even more enthusiastic, telling him how honored she would feel to be in his cheering section. Then, like the bewitched and helpless creature he had become, he had let her draw him close to her person. They had stood so incredibly close, their bodies nearly touching. He had been a moment away from reaching out for her. Somehow, he knew that to kiss her would be to lose himself entirely to her. By some miracle, he had managed to break away. But now, God help him, he was more tormented than ever. Feeling as though he stood at a great presepice, he quickened his pace towards the barracks.

The knighthood, he said to himself. It is my only salvation.

Isabella was here, and until she left, he would find no peace. But perhaps in his squire duties, he would find some measure of escape…

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 6, Part 1

I am a fool.

Lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, Owen let out a breath. He was lying there, and for the most part, he was alone. His father had not come in yet, and probably would not do so for some time. Most likely, his father and mother were spending time alone. Lucien was asleep on the floor, more comfortable on a pelt than on a bed where he had little space. He was sound asleep. But Owen could not find such rest.

He asked himself. When had he become such a soft-shell? Not so long ago, he had considered himself a man of great discipline and skill. The knighthood was everything to him, as it had been from boyhood. A few short years from now, he would be called Sir Owen, Baron of Gisborne. Perhaps, with any luck, he would find himself being called away to war. Oh, how he longed to prove himself with sword and shield - to ride out on the battlefield, head held high, and charge the enemy with all the awesome might that a soldier possessed. It thrilled him through just thinking about it.

But between visions of charging warhorses and flashing swords, of flaming arrows and lances hammering home - there was Isabella.

Why did she invade his every thought? She was destroying his devotion to his calling, and the destruction was wrought without the slightest effort on her part. He did not need to see her to feel the effect of her presence. She was branding a spot on his mind, and it seemed there was no way to escape it.

At least she was not nearby. She was down at the other end of the hall, where there was not a worry of seeing her by mistake at some point.

But what if, by some small chance, they did encounter one another?

What would she look like without all of her refinement? He had never seen a lady at night, when all of the trappings were gone, and they were just themselves - undefined by what they wore or how they carried themselves. Not that he was ignorant of all things regarding females. Thanks to some of his fellow squires, he had learned something of the female anatomy and what pleasure could be found in it. But women of questionable reputation held no meaning, and they certainly weren’t refined. They came to a man when called upon, or when they were in need of money, and there was no modesty or elegance in their actions.

What would a lady - what would Isabella - look like as she readied herself for sleep?

Heaven help him, it seemed like such a foolish thought. But in some wild part of his mind, he could see himself going to her door. Knocking on it, he would conceal himself in the shadows and wait, watching – himself unseen – while she stepped into the hallway. He had never seen a woman thus, but his imagination painted the picture for him. Golden hair, falling long and soft around her shoulders. A nightdress, long and loose, woven with fine linen that left little to the imagination.

He sat up, running his hands over his face. His breathing had quickened. He could feel the blood pulsing in his ears, and in his lower extremities, he felt an ache born of lustful thoughts.

Why did she have to be everything he wanted in a wife? Beautiful, strong, intelligent. Charming. There were too many words to describe her. But one word stood out above all others.


She belonged to that fat, miserable tub of guts who didn’t appreciate her. And no matter how many dreams he had of Isabella, no matter how infatuated he had become, it was all for naught. She would never be his. And he needed to face the truth of it.

He sighed, and from somewhere within, a bubble of laughter rose up and escaped. But it was a bitter sound.

Damn my weakness, he thought. I have done it. I have let a woman cast a spell on me.

A voice came from behind him.

“You are not abed?”

Turning, he saw his father standing in the doorway. The chamber was dim, lit only by the moonlight from the window, but his father’s presence loomed large in the room. Owen sat up a little straighter. Clearing his throat, he tried to gather himself together.

“I cannot sleep, Papa.”

Guy sat down on the edge of the bed, facing the window as he removed his boots without the aid of his valet. “Something is on your mind?” he asked.

Owen opened his mouth for a moment, wanting so badly to confide in his father. But matters of the heart were not for men to discuss. Forcing his feelings down, he replied in as calm a voice as he could manage. “Nothing of significance.”

“Somehow I doubt that.”

The statement took him by surprise. “Why is that, Papa?” Had his father noticed something? Had he faltered in some way? He started to inquire again. But Guy suddenly ended the subject.

“Never mind,” he said. “It is too late to go into particulars. You should try to sleep, my son. Tomorrow is another long day.” As he fell back on the bed, turning to face the window, Owen turned in the opposite direction, and he grumbled miserably.

“One of too many, in my opinion. They should all hie themselves up and go home. Leave us in peace.”

Guy pursed his lips. “If it was my decision to make, I would rid us of them in an instant. But as it is, we must endure and give the marquis and his father a proper welcome.”

Tomorrow, the marquis would arrive. It was said that Simon of Laroque was a soldier of great reputation. There was nothing he cared for more than serving the crown and honoring the knighthood. Perhaps that was what he needed. A mentor. Someone who could mold him into a fearless, unbreakable warrior. Love had nearly conquered him, as it had conquered his father and his brother-in-law. But he was fiercely determined not to become another casualty. He would win this battle, come hell or high water.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 5, Part 3

There were too many people in the house. In truth, it seemed there were always too many people in the house. Passing through the great hall, Guy grumbled at the sight of so many nobles. Most of them were heavy-eyed from drinking and weary from the night’s events, and they had all eaten themselves into a sorry state of lethargy. The status of nobility, in his opinion, was more glorified than it deserved to be. After years of struggling to achieve his current position, he had found that the rewards of his rank were outweighed by the burdens of responsibility. His home was always open to fellow lords and ladies, whether or not he wished to play host to them. Religious observances, however large or small their significance, were expected to be celebrated with great fanfare. There were seasonal holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and numerous other occasions that called for a gathering. And through it all, he was expected to be gracious and generous without complaint. It was a duty he found quite difficult to bare at times. If not for the promise of his wife’s consolation at the end of each day, he was not certain what he would do with himself.

What a hindrance it was for the two of them to be separated at night. As he moved up the stairs, he frowned at the idea of his wife in one room while he resided in another. She would be with their daughters, and he would be with Owen and Lucien next door. Such sharing of rooms was done to accommodate guests, and there was nothing to be done about it. But acceptance of such an arrangement did not mean he was required to be pleased with it.

Quietly entering the bedchamber, he saw that Evelyn and Thea were asleep. But Cassia was sitting up in bed. Holding Gabriel in her arms, she was softly humming to him as he gurgled, and Guy smiled at the sight of them. His wife was the most loving person he had ever known. Nothing pleased her more than caring for others, and her family meant more to her than anything else. It was always incredible to him that she had enough room in her heart for so many. Stepping further into the room, he came to the side of the bed and leaned against the bedpost, looking down at her with a warm, loving gaze. When she smiled up at him, he felt a familiar ache in his heart, and he smiled back at her.

“You look quite content sitting there,” he said, keeping his voice soft and low. “And might I add, the glow of candlelight becomes you. As it always has.”

She replied softly and sweetly, “Thank you, my love.” Her eyes looked down at Gabriel, and she smiled lovingly at the sight of him. “He is at last asleep. It seems our grandson is quite the stubborn one when it comes to minding his bedtime.”

Guy’s mouth crinkled with pride, while his eyes shined with a mischievous light.

“A stubborn nature is a fine quality in a nobleman. Am I not proof of that?”

He wanted her sly reproach…one of her sharp, witty remarks that always delighted him, and she did not disappoint.

“My dearest husband, stubborn is but one of many descriptions that suit you.”

If it had been just the two of them, he would have expressed his joy and delight, right then and there, with a kiss. But because of Gabriel, as well as the close presence of his daughters, he resisted the strong impulse.

And yet, such a temptation was too much to resist entirely.

Taking Gabriel from her, he carefully placed the baby in the cradle without waking him. It was an art he had secretly mastered over the years. It was not a man’s duty to handle children, and to do so willingly was to risk scorn and disgrace if the behavior were to be discovered. But he had long considered himself above other men. Cassia had often told him what a wonderful father he was, and he could find no reason to argue with her.

Turning from the cradle, he saw her watching him and smiling. At the bedside, he looked down at her upturned face. He reached out to gently brush her cheek with his fingertips.

“Now that our grandson is settled, would it be possible for me to steal a few moments of your time and attention?”

She smiled up at him. “Have I neglected you of late?”

He replied with an amused grin. “Not intentionally, of course. Circumstances have kept us apart, but that is no fault of yours. I am merely as selfish in regards to you as I have always been.”

Her eyebrow rose, and the corner of her mouth crept up a little higher. “What would you have me do, then?”

Reaching out, he took her by the hand. Her expression was full of curiosity, but she asked no questions as she let him help her to her feet, and quietly, he led her out to the terrace. He pulled the curtains closed behind them as they stepped out into the warm summer night. Pushing the two wooden lounging chairs together, making a seat both long and wide, he helped her to sit. Then, coming around to the other side, he sat down beside her, scooting over until they were pressed close together. Leaning into her, drawing her close to his body, he kissed her at last. Her words were soft with contentment as she whispered between presses of his lips to hers.

“What a lovely night it is.”

He murmured a quick response. “Quite lovely.” His lips moved from her mouth to her cheek, then to her jaw and the softness of her neck. Lord, there was something about that part of her skin that was so maddengly sweet. It roused his passions, as he knew it did hers. Her pleasurable little moan was evidence of it.

“You are clearly of an amorous nature tonight.”

“I am always of an amorous nature. The years have not dulled my need for you.”

The familiar warmth and soft feel of her body elicited instant reactions in his body and soul. She responded with the same fervor that she had always had for him, and he knew that if he wished to, he could satisfy the both of them right then and there. But a tiny portion of his senses remained, reminding him that they were only separated from an audience by a mere curtain. Frustrating as it was, he ceased the heated kisses to her skin. Keeping his eyes closed, he pressed his cheek against her shoulder, groaning.

“Why have you stopped?” she asked. “I was quite enjoying your attention.”

He muttered a response. “I do not wish to entertain you in the presence of others.”

As he sighed, he felt the gentleness of her fingers in his hair. Her touch was so soothing, and it helped him ease the transition from lustful love to a more gentle expression of their affections. He could not indulge in the pleasure of her body, but it was wonderful to be in her arms. For the moment, it was enough. Drawing himself back, he shifted their weights so that she was leaning against him. Her cheek now rested against his shoulder, and she sighed with happiness.

“You are such a loving husband, as you have always been. All wives should be as fortunate as I. You love me even when I am in this state of being.”

He reached out to touch the roundness of her belly. “How could I not love such a woman? The mother of my children. The angel that keeps watch over all of us.”

She uttered a soft laugh. “I am hardly an angel, my husband.”

“Your wings are unseen, but I insist that you are heaven sent.”

Lifting her head, she looked him in the eyes and grinned. “You once thought me a witch. Do you remember?”

He smiled back at her. How could he not remember? Not before or since had he loved a woman so deeply and passionately. She had possessed him then, just as she did now.

“Of course I remember,” he said. “And that description holds fast.”

“But I cannot be both devil and angel.”

“And yet you are. And the contradiction sets my soul on fire.”

He pressed his lips to hers. Suddenly, she gasped.

“Oh my!”

His expression grew concerned. “What is it?”

“The baby is moving,” she said with a smile.

Relieved that it was nothing serious, he placed his palm on her belly, feeling the movement of the child within. There was a teasing note in his voice as he remarked on it.

“Even before they are born, it seems they insist on making their presence known at these particular moments. Owen frequented our door more than any other.”

“Speaking of Owen,” she asked, “Did you have words with him? Did he tell you anything?”

Guy let out a breath. “He is displeased about the presence of our guests. It is his wish to spend his time in training…not in socialization. And, it seems he is not pleased with the comte’s behavior. He finds monsieur Rene too proud of his own accomplishments.”

“So there is nothing amiss, then. I am glad of it.”

She relaxed against him, and they enjoyed a moment of peace. Until he voiced his thoughts.

“I wonder if such is the case.”

Lifting her head again, she looked at him with curious eyes.

“Do you suspect something more?”

With a shrug, he replied. “Speaking as a man, I must tell you that I see the influence of a woman in his eyes.”

As he expected, Cassia’s eyes and expression filled with joyful anticipation. “Do you suppose he has chosen his bride?”

“My instincts tell me so, although I have said nothing of it to Owen. He would absolutely deny such an allegation.”

“You speak from experience, do you not?”

He smiled at her insinuation. “I do. When first we met, my pride was monstrous. You had my heart almost from the first, but it was quite some time before I admitted that I was a conquered man.”

She snuggled close to him. “Let us hope that our son is not the challenge that his father was. I am growing old, and I wish to have more grandchildren soon. These days, I can hardly tolerate the stubborness of men.”

“Except for me?” he asked.

Her laugh was soft, and so was her reply. “Aye, my love. I will always have a tolerance for Guy of Gisborne.”