Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 9, Part 2

I will have more tomorrow. I was short on time today. For now, enjoy...


Owen lifted his head from the table. He watched as, one by one, the other men around him gave reason to depart – as though they had all accepted this mad decision without a fight. The duke was the first to go.

“It is late,” he said. “There has been too much excitement for me this night, and I do not enjoy it so much in my old age. I think I shall retire.”

“As will I,” Lucien replied, rising from his chair. And a moment later, Simon followed with his own departure, leaving Owen by himself. Looking around, he raised his hands in a gesture of astonishment, feeling abandoned in the most literal sense of the word. Letting out a defeated sigh, he rose to his feet. A moment later, his eyes rose towards the upstairs.

He did not want to look in that direction, but he could not help it. The woman who haunted his dreams was no longer just a figment of his imagination. She was tangible, and just a brief distance away. And now, there was no Rene, and no husband for that matter. She was lost and vulnerable. And heaven help him, he was drawn to her more than ever.

A deep feeling of indignity hung over him as he made his way up the stairs.

What have I become? He asked himself. To slink about in this manner, in my own home, hoping to catch a glimpse or hear word of a fallen woman.

The sensible part of his mind knew he was doing wrong. But his impulsive nature was dominant. It moved him towards his parents’ room, where his mother and sisters had closed ranks around Isabella, sheltering her in the master chamber as they consoled her and let her tell her story. Because the heavy door was closed, he could not hear their conversation clearly. But it was obvious they were talking in gentle tones, and every now and then, he heard Isabella’s voice break. Overwhelmed with curiosity, he fought the urge to knock, if only to get them to open the door a little so he might catch a glimpse into the room. And yet, when the door opened suddenly, he backed himself up against the wall. What if he was discovered? If his mother and sisters saw him, they would want to know why he was lurking about, and God forbid they should discover the reason, he would never live it down.

It turned out to be Thea leaving the room, taking Gabriel away, probably putting him to bed. For once, he was glad to see her. She unknowingly did him a service with her brief appearance. Seeing her, he was reminded of the risky situation he had placed himself in, and he felt some sense returning to his mind. If only for a moment.

He would have to be more cautious, he realized. And as he left for his own room, he had a different realization altogether.

It would be impossible to keep away from Isabella. As long as she was nearby, he would want to see her, even if it was only for a brief moment as they passed by in the hall or saw each other across a room. His only hope now was that his father would take charge and do what was needed.

But a short time later, when Owen found himself outside the door again, his hopes were dashed when he heard his father speaking of the decision he had made.

I have decided to give Isabella my aid.

He stood there, disbelieving, wondering what had possessed his father to make such a decision. Had he not been furious just a short while ago?

It seemed the females of the house had banded together to form a power alliance, and with Simon’s encouragement, they had over-ruled the master of the house. He heard his mother say...
She can stay in the tower room. It is secluded and quiet.

Owen bristled at the thought of such preferential treatment. Stepping away from the door, he moved down the hall with an angry stride. She had done wrong, and yet she was being pampered rather than punished. Why? Could no one see how foolish it was to treat her with kindness? It would all be for naught.

They shall see, he said to himself. They will soon come to their senses, and I will come to mine.

He had nearly convinced himself of his own words…until he came to the end of the hall. One direction led to his chamber. The other direction led to a winding staircase, which went to the upper room. Where Isabella was now residing. And he could not help but wonder what she was doing or thinking behind closed doors…


A deep sleep fell over her the moment she lay down. All was pleasant at first. A hot bath was a luxury – one that Gilbert had never thought necessary in their home. The heated water, scented with oil of lavender, had relaxed her so that she had nearly fallen asleep in the tub. Now, resting on a narrow but soft bed, she succumbed to exhaustion.

But horrible nightmares came to her in the night. Lost in darkness, she cried out for help, but her pleas were met only with silence. And then, suddenly, she was standing on a long and narrow road. Ahead of her, she could see a traveling wagon.

“Sebastian!” she cried. He was on the back of that wagon, reaching his arms out and calling desperately for her. Running wildly, she came so close to having him in her arms. Their fingers were so near to touching. But no matter how hard she struggled to reach him, he was kept just out of her grasp.

When she woke, it was a bright and sunny morning. But it hardly seemed to matter. Her eyes were swollen, made so by the tears she had wept during the night. Of all of the things she had lost, nothing cut more deeply than the thought of never seeing Sebastian again. As she bathed her face, fresh tears came to her eyes. But she knew that it would serve no purpose to remain in dreary solitude, feeling sorry for herself. How would that help her, or her son?

Looking around the tiny room, she noticed several things almost immediately. On the small table, there was a tray of fruit and a flagon of ale, along with a goblet. And at the foot of the bed, there were two dresses. They were not extravagant garments, but she was grateful to have anything to wear at all. She could only imagine what Gilbert had done with all of her fine things. Lady Cassia, generous soul that she was, must have ordered the food and clothing brought to her. She did not know how she would begin to pay the family back for their incredible kindness, but she vowed that somehow, she would find a way. And she would begin by offering the lady of the manor her help. If there were chores to do, she would offer to assist with them. She had never worked before, but she was willing to learn. If servitude was required of her, in order to do penance for her sins, she was prepared to accept it. She was able to dress herself without the aid of a servant, as the simple dress had its ties in the front, and she found a strange satisfaction in thinking she had done something without assistance for the first time in her life. It was a mundane task, to be sure, but she needed to find some sense of satisfaction, and if it came from this, then so be it. After a cup of ale and a sweet, crunchy apple, she felt prepared to face the day ahead. Stepping outside her door, she took a step towards the stairs leading down to the second story. But her foot came to a pause when she heard voices raised in somewhat angry tones. It was Lady Cassia’s voice she heard first.

"I care not for your opinion of her. When one day you are lord of your own manor, then you may determine who remains under your roof. But until that time, you will treat Isabella as you would treat any guest."

It was Evelyn’s voice that Isabella heard next, speaking in her usual gentle tones.

"Mama," she asked, "Is anything the matter?"

Cassia answered, "Your brother sees fit to insult our guest."

Hearing it, Isabella felt a sharp pain in her breast. From the moment Gabriel had discovered her treachery, she had known that the world would condemn her. But there was something especially hurtful in hearing Owen speak of her with cruelty. She could hear the hatefulness in his voice.

"I do not wish to reside in the same house as a whore."

Crushing humiliation overwhelmed her, and she desperately wished to turn back to her chamber, close herself in, and allow herself to fall apart. But Lady Cassia’s words, spoken with authority, gave her pause.

"You will not speak of anyone with such a vile tongue," she said, "And certainly not a friend who is dear to me. Spit another ounce of venom and I shall have you whipped. Do I make myself clear?"

Isabella heard Owen grumble in obedience. "Yes, Mama."

"Be gone," Cassia told him. "And do not let me see you unless you can speak in a civil manner."

The men of the world had turned against her. But a few of the women, at least, were still human beings with hearts and souls. It hurt to know that Owen was not the man she had thought him to be. But then again, none of the men in her life were ideal. Perhaps the notion of being a nun – of ridding herself forever of men – was not such a horrible prospect after all.


His day was getting worse with each passing moment.

His mother and father had declared the next two days to be a holiday, and Evelyn and Thea had started a game of battledore and shuttlecock. He and Lucien had partnered with them, taking on the roles of the opposing team. Owen had not truly wished to play at first, but he had thought perhaps a game would take his mind off of more distressing matters. Besides, it would feel good to beat Thea, who had been giving him evil looks all morning. She deserved to be put in her place.

But all of the family seemed to conspire against him. Even Lucien, who agreed with the call of the game that they said was Owen’s error. Frustrated already, and short of temper, he had left the game in a fit of anger. All he wanted now was to get away from everyone. He was not quite aware of where he was going at that moment. He only knew he wished to be gone from all of the world.

Turning the corner that would lead past the chapel and out to the stables, he collided with the last person he wished to meet. As they both fought to regain their footing, angry words spewed out of his mouth before he could think to control them.

"You might think to hold your head up when you walk!"

Her hateful retort shocked him.
"And you might think to treat others with a shred of decency!"

For a moment, he found himself staring at her face. And shock of a different sort suddenly came over him. The evidence of her husband’s anger was there, on her face, fading though it was. But it was enough of a sad sight to leave him speechless, and a feeling of guilt began to grow within him. He felt the hard shove of her hand as she pushed past him, and he found he could do little more than stand and watch her go.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon

     If you're ever visiting Walt Disney World in Florida, might I suggest this lovely water park? I recently took some time to revisit it (I first went in 1992) and it's just as fun as I remember. I think I enjoyed it a little more than when I was a kid, probably because I can handle the wave pool now. Every 90 seconds, a six foot wave comes crashing across the pool, and if you're a bit daring, you can body surf the crests. There are also several water slides and raft rides, if that's more to your liking, and a lazy river circles the park. There is also a shark reef to dive in, and sandy beaches for sunbathing...

The Legend

According to Disney legend, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon was created by an epic storm.
Surfboards were hurled into palm trees and boats were tossed around like toys.
The typhoon made the storm-soaked Mount Mayday an ideal source for exhilarating waterslides. Surrounding the mountain, a 56-acre topsy-turvy tropical paradise was formed—full of waterways, rivers, rapids and slides.

Miss Tilly

The park's famous icon is an ill-fated shrimp boat named Miss Tilly. She found herself swept up by the twisting tides of the fierce typhoon and came to rest on the peak of Mount Mayday.
Every half hour, the boat's whistle blows and the volcano attempts to dislodge the ship, resulting in an enormous geyser of water.


Check it out if you ever have the chance. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 9, Part 1

The meeting between Isabella and Owen is coming next. For now, enjoy...


Owen nearly choked on his wine. Everyone looked at each other, stunned by the announcement, but they hardly seemed as shocked as he was. He listened, slack-jawed, as his father fumed and paced back and forth, cursing in a foreign language - as he had always done when he was especially angry. It was his way of disguising the foul words he spoke.

"Dio dannazione! Perché questi problemi vengono alla mia porta? Perché?  Che io sia maledetto! Devo soffrire per il resto dei miei giorni? Se prendo quel bastardo, gli spezzon il collo con le mie mani!"
While Guy raged, his fingers furiously rubbing his temples, Owen felt a rush of anxiety. Isabella was here. In the same house. Good God, it did not seem possible. The greatest temptation he had ever faced was now right under his very roof. Words rushed from his lips.

"There should be no debate on the matter. The woman must be returned to the convent at once."
There was a moment of silence, and then – not to his surprise – Thea spoke up against him.

"Baroness LaCroix has been our friend and neighbor for many years. I think we should consider her circumstances before we make a hasty decision."

His angry response was swift.

"She shamed her husband. She dishonored her class, and herself, by committing adultery, and then she escaped from her confinement. Why should we harbor such an indecent woman in our house? We could all be excommunicated...possibly even imprisoned for lodging a convict."

The voice of their mother, always the calm in the center of a storm, was soothing. She spoke in her strong but steady way.

"No matter what she has done, it is not our place to judge her. God will see to that one day. For the moment, I agree with Thea. I believe we should consider being of aid to a woman we have all known as a friend."

Guy stopped in his march, coming to stand at the front end of the dining table. He crossed his arms. His tone was calmer now...his words spoken in English...but his anger had not diminished.

"I am the master of the house, and I say that Owen is correct. Why should we harbor her? She knew the consequences of her actions - the punishment they would bring if discovered. Why should we be of aid to her? Such indulgence may lead to our own ruin."

"Sir Guy, if I may say..." Simon stood, his presence taking charge of the room. He spoke in a commanding voice. "I think perhaps you should meet with the baroness before making a decision to remove her from your house."

Simon’s father, who had been relatively quiet thus far, sighed as he gave voice.

"My son, what possible difference could that make? Sir Guy is correct. To keep her here would bring only shame and dishonor."

Simon’s reply was firm. "I do not condone her actions. But neither do I approve of abuse towards women."

Everyone looked at each other with curious glances. Cassia was the first to respond.

"What abuse do you speak of, your grace?"

Simon's expression became rather grim. "Two days ago, my words kept the baroness from her husband's hand raised in violence. But sadly, words alone could not tame his wrath entirely."

No one gave reply to his declaration. Everyone seemed so interested in what Simon had to say, but Owen could hardly believe how easily they were being swayed. Evelyn, especially, seemed enthralled by her fiancé’s words.

"It is my opinion,” said Simon, “That Lady Isabella has received just punishment, and will continue to endure it. She will be stripped of her title and wealth. Her name will be spoken of with distaste and ridicule. And her husband has seen to it that she does not forget his displeasure. To give her to the law would merely be a way of playing to the crowd. They find base entertainment in the misery of a fellow human being."

Owen watched as Evelyn rose to her feet, standing by Simon’s side. A look of determination had come to her face.

"I agree with Simon," she boldly declared. "Yes, Lady Isabella has done wrong. But there are times when we must remember our humanity. I believe that on this occasion, we should do not what our fellow noblemen expect of us...but what we know is right."

Simon's influence had roused the women of the room. Owen watched in disbelief as Thea rose to her feet, her face and features set with more stubbornness that ever.

"His grace has spoken, Papa. We must not dishonor him."

No one was truly surprised when Guy struck out with a furious hand, knocking his trencher and cup from the table. As he stormed from the room, a tense silence fell. Cassia sighed, pushing her wine goblet aside.

"I shall speak to him later," she said. "But now, I will go to Isabella."

"As will I," said Evelyn.

She went to their mother. Together, she and Thea helped Cassia rise from her chair, and as they went up the stairs, Owen observed the little smile exchanged between Evelyn and Simon. It was unreal. Of all the men he had ever known, the last one he’d expected to falter was the marquis. Simon had let a woman cuckold him. Lord above, had the entire world gone mad?

With a groan, he lowered his head to the table, and he banged his forehead several times, briefly contemplating the thought of knocking himself into unconsciousness. He muttered to himself…

What am I to do now? God, give me strength.


Tears fell down Isabella's cheeks. Sitting on the edge of the bed with her head lowered, she found it difficult to believe where she was and how she had gotten there. At the abbey, she had been isolated from human contact for two days. In a small and Spartan room, she had been expected to contemplate her sinful actions and prepare to do her penance. She had fully expected, at any moment, to be taken from the room and set to some task of hard labor.

She had never counted on seeing Rene again. Sitting there, she could still recall the words he had spoken to her.

"Oh, Izzy," he said softly. "Forgive me. I never wished for this. I will make it right. I swear it."

With nothing left to lose, she had done as he had told her to. His escape plot had gone off without a hitch. He had succeeded in breaking her out of the convent. But she had not expected that he would lead her to the Gisbornes. And then, to have him dash away like the slippery fox that he was. Once again he had lifted her up, only to let her fall. At that moment, she wished she could somehow disappear from the world. She felt so undeserving of the warmth and comfort that Lady Cassia and her daughters were offering her. Cassia sat beside her, holding her hand. Thea, holding Gabriel, sat beside Evelyn in the window seat. They watched and listened as the she spoke in a trembling voice.

"I have destroyed everything. My marriage, my status. And now I shall never again see my son."
She broke into sobs, crying against Cassia's shoulder. But nearly as quickly as she leaned on her, she pulled away.

"Oh Cassia, forgive me," she cried. "I grieve on the shoulder of an expecting mother. I am the lowest of women to burden you so."

She felt the warmth of Cassia’s gentle hand, and knew the sweetness of her smile. "You have just cause for your unhappiness. To hold it within would be unwise."

"But to unburden myself to you, in your condition..."

Cassia responded with an amused expression. There was a sparkle in her dark eyes. "You speak as my husband speaks. He seems not to understand that after four children, I am hardly delicate. I like to think I am quite resilient."

For the first time in days, Isabella felt a sense of amusement coming over her, and a small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. Cassia called for her maid-servant, Celeste, telling her to fetch clean garments and have a bath prepared for their guest. As she left, Evelyn rose to her feet. A thoughtful expression crossed her features. She crooked her finger to her chin, thinking.

"Mama," she said, "Perhaps we could send her to stay in Toulon."

Cassia looked at her, saying nothing. She seemed to be considering the thought. Isabella looked from one face to another, wondering at the plot they were hatching. She found it incredible to see women conspiring so, and on her behalf. Evelyn, it seemed, was particularly enthusiastic.

"She could claim sanctuary if she were to live at William's parish. He could find her an occupation, something that would not be too difficult."

Thea spoke up. As she rested Gabriel against her shoulder, rubbing his back, she looked at her sister with a doubtful eye.

"Evelyn, a noblewoman cannot work as a servant."

Isabella spoke up. "I am a noblewoman no longer.”

They all turned to look at her. She drew away from Cassia. Righting her posture, she reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes. A sudden feeling of courage came over her. Perhaps it was the comfort that the Gisborne ladies offered, or their obvious bond of womanhood. Whatever the reason, she felt a new kind of strength beginning to grow in her heart.

"I have made a shambles of my life. But I yet live. If I must lower myself to the position of a servant, I will do so. It will be my penance for the sins I have committed." She lowered her head, and a moment later, Evelyn came to stand before her.

"Do not fear, my lady. My brother is the same as he ever was...noble and kind. He will see that you are well cared for."

Their eyes met. Isabella smiled, and her eyes shined with grateful tears. If anyone had reason not to like her, it was Evelyn. The young lady had obvious had feelings for Rene, and if circumstances had been different, they might have been rivals for his affection. And yet it seemed there was no bitterness in Evelyn’s eyes. Taking her hand, she placed a light kiss on Evelyn’s fingers.

“You are lovely and gracious, my lady. Thank you.”

Evelyn returned the smile with her own, and in that moment, they became friends. She turned to her mother.

"I shall speak to Simon," she declared. "He will be glad to know we have come to a swift conclusion."
Cassia nodded. After Evelyn left, Thea soon departed as well, expressing the need to put Gabriel to bed. When she had gone, Isabella turned to look at Cassia. There was so much she wished to say her…so much she was grateful for. And things that caused her concern.

“Your husband will not be pleased to have me here. And I cannot blame him for it.”

“Do not fear. I will speak to him. And despite his display of temper, I am certain he will act with integrity. He does not always wish the world to know it, but he is a good man.”

Overcome, Isabella felt tears forming in her eyes again. When Cassia embraced her this time, she welcomed it, grateful for the comfort that she had thought to never have again.


He knew she would come to him. It was only a matter of time.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Guy was all too aware of his own weakness when it came to her. He could not recall the last time he had won a serious argument with his wife – and in most cases, she turned out to be in the right. But this matter was like nothing they had fought about before. As he sat on a garden bench, still feeling the anger throbbing in his veins, he suddenly sensed her presence. Turning his head, he saw her standing a few steps away. He held up his hand, as if to deflect the words he knew she would speak. He spoke in a low, angry growl.

“Do not come to me in your usual way, attempting to lull me into compliance. You invite damnation on our house by sheltering that woman.”

Cassia stood there, her hands protectively holding her belly. Just looking at her, he already felt a crack beginning in his resolve. Thinking how all of this madness might be putting a burden on their unborn baby, he felt a slight sense of guilt. But in the same train of thought, he hated himself for being so soft. He reminded himself that he had every reason to be furious. The reputation of his family was at stake, and his wife was standing before him, looking as if she had no hand in what was happening. Her delicate condition was just another part of her influence.

Christ, he thought. Even our child is being used against me.

“Guy, I do not welcome such trouble,” she said. “It was left here without invitation. But what would you have me do? Turn her out to fend for herself? She has nowhere to go.”

He loved her more than life itself. But at times like this, he wanted to take her by the arms and shake her. His fury was expressed in his words. He could not help the frustrated shout of anger that flew from his lips.

“God almighty, woman! You cannot save every soul that wanders astray! Isabella has chosen this fate for herself, and she must face the consequences of her actions!”

“I want to help her, Guy.”

Even in the face of his wrath, she was unyielding. At times he wondered if she was even human, she was so damn fearless.

“And just what do you intend to do?” he demanded, almost afraid to know what her answer would be. And the reply stunned him.

“I am sending her to Toulon.”

He slowly stood, taking a step towards her. A slight sneer curled his lip. “You would curse our son with the burden of caring for a whore?”

In a gesture he knew well, she took her own little step forward, challenging him. Her eyes glittered with determination.

“Do not utter such a foul word to me. I was once cursed with such a title and I will not hear it used now to describe Isabella.”

The recollection of days gone by struck him cold. It was not a widely known fact that they had consummated their love affair long before their marriage. Only some people had known of it in Nottingham, and no one in France was aware of it at all, to the best of their knowledge. But he could not forget the cruel words said of her by those who had been aware of the fact. It pained him, even now, to think of it. And it angered him that she would speak of herself in such a manner.

“I cannot believe you would compare yourself to a scheming adulteress.”

She scoffed. “Between you, myself, and Isabella, we are none of us perfect. Nor have our actions always been entirely honorable.”

Oh, what a sharp-tongued witch she was. She was using his past misdeeds against him, and it was as effective as it was infuriating. Moving past her, he snorted in displeasure.

“Now you hurl at me the past with all of its sordid connotations?”

Calm as ever, she answered firmly. “I will send Isabella to a man of the church. William will see to it that she does penance for her sins, but he will not be cruel to her. Whatever her misdeeds, she is not deserving of hate.”

He turned quickly, facing her. His voice rose. “And I suppose I have no say in the matter? I am to be cuckolded in my own home?”

In reply, she sighed. She was being calm all through this argument. It was something she occasionally did when they had a disagreement – taking the passive aggressive approach. Sometimes, it was more effective than an all-out shouting match.

“I leave the decision to you,” she said. “And I trust you will act as your conscience dictates.”

Going back to the bench, he sat down on it with a curse uttered under his breath. Lying down on his back, he threw his arm over his eyes, grumbling his displeasure.

“Some days I long for the times when I was not familiar with my conscience. It was a time less complicated.”

Again she sighed. And again she spoke softly, with calmness. “I do not have the will to fight with you, husband. So I will leave you to your thoughts. I am going to bed.”

Without more to say, she quietly departed…leaving him to fight a battle with himself that he knew he had already lost.


For some time, he avoided going back to the house. But eventually, driven by weariness and the inevitable need to see how she fared, he found his way to their bedchamber. Francis, he loyal valet, came to him instantly. But he waved his man away, in too dark a mood to have the company of anyone but his wife. With a grumble, he sat down on the edge of the bed, muttering to himself as he removed his shirt.

“I think perhaps I have gone mad.”

“Am I to know why?” she asked.

Tossing his shirt aside, he sat there for several moments, his back to her. After a time, giving a deep sigh, he replied…

“I have decided to give Isabella my aid.”

A moment of silence passed between them, in which he knew that she was probably delighting in her victory over him. But it did not show in her voice, which was kind and gentle when she spoke.

“You act with wisdom and generosity, and I am glad.”

“Against my better judgment,” he spoke over his shoulder. “My opinion of her is unchanged. But because she is dear to you, I will see to her welfare.”

She said nothing at first. It wasn’t until he turned to adjust himself in bed, when he leaned back against the pillows and let out a long, frustrated breath, that she spoke up. Moving closer to him, she rested her head against his shoulder.

“I hope you are not angry with me. I do not wish to belittle you or bully you into a decision. I only wish for the decent thing to be done.”

He slowly let out a weary breath, tired of fighting. He put his arm around her, drawing her closer.

“You are right, of course,” he said. “It is braver to do what is right, rather than what is popular.”

“And I believe that God rewards us for such bravery.”

His reply came straight from the heart…a declaration of pure love. “Your happiness is my reward.”

She snuggled against him, placing a soft kiss on his skin. “It will all turn out well in the end, my love. You will see.”

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 8, Part 3

   As dawn approached, the silence of the house was broken by a sudden shout.

“Mon Seigneur ! My lady ! Il est une nouvelle!”

“My lord! My lady! There is news!”

From his bed, Owen heard the sound of the housekeeper’s voice in the corridor, followed immediately by a rush of footsteps from several directions, and then an excited chattering spoken in French. Stepping out into the hallway, Owen saw his mother standing just outside of Evelyn’s door, her hands covering her mouth. From a distance, it was difficult to tell if she was happy or upset. But once she lowered her hands, it was clear that she was smiling, and happy tears were coursing down her face. As Owen approached, he saw his father coming from the opposite direction, hurrying to his wife’s side. He looked down at the message in her hand as she spoke the news.

“Evelyn is safe, praise God. She arrived in Toulon yesterday, and William is sending her home first thing this morning, which means she should arrive this afternoon.”

There was a collective sigh of relief, and happy chattering all around. But the mood quickly changed to the kind of energetic tone that often punctuated a busy morning. Owen felt a shift in the atmosphere of everything as his mother began pointing out things that needed to be done. They would all need to be ready for Evelyn’s return, and there needed to be a special meal and small celebration for the marquis. It was he, after all, who was bringing Evelyn home, and they had to give him a proper welcome.

It was wonderful to see his mother set to a purpose again. And he was happy to see a sign of relief in his father’s expression. But there was still a light of sadness in Guy’s eyes, especially when Cassia turned away from him in her hurry to see everyone to action. They were still at odds, it seemed. But Owen found he was not so worried about that now. They would soon make amends, if he knew them well enough. Evelyn was on her way home, and soon, life would soon be back to normal.

If only everything was as it should have been.

This was not a day he wished to be sociable. And he knew his mother and father would expect him to help, in some way, with the homecoming preparations. Thinking quickly, he approached his father.

“Papa, perhaps I should go and keep watch for Evelyn’s approach. I think Mama would want to know the moment Evelyn is returned home.”

Guy nodded, opening his mouth to speak, but Cassia spoke first from within Evelyn’s chamber.

“You think quite wisely, son. Go and keep watch.”

With a nod, Owen departed, and a short time later, he was sitting atop the outer wall surrounding the manor, feeling the warmth of the sunny morning as he tried to gather together his recently rattled senses. He was grateful for this solitary task of waiting for his sister. He needed this time alone, away from everything, so he could evaluate all that had happened.

Why had Isabella done it? Her husband was a horrible brute, yes. But wasn’t it worse to throw away her life and her reputation for a few moments of pleasure? He shook his head, thinking what a fool she was…even as his conscience dwelled on other questions.

What will become of her now? He wondered. Where is she at this very moment?

All night long, those same questions had crept into his mind, even as he tried to hold tightly to his anger. Isabella LaCroix was immoral and indecent. She was the antithesis of what a wife and mother was supposed to be, and he was still fuming with anger at the thought of her deception.

But thinking of Gilbert LaCroix and his often foul behavior, Owen could not help but wonder what the man’s reaction had been to his wife’s infidelity. It was safe to say that he had probably punished her severely for her misdeeds, and even while Owen tried to tell himself that Isabella only had herself to blame…

Her suffering is her own fault, he said to himself. What reason is there to feel pity for her…

He realized that what he felt was not just resentment. Not just anger. Under the darker feelings, there was a place in his soul that pitied her. No matter what she had done, it was not right that she be a victim of her husband’s violence. No woman deserved that. Not even Thea, whom he often found to be an intolerable nuisance, was deserving of abuse.

Thoughts of the possibilities…imaginings of what Isabella might have endured, or would endure, tried to work their way into his mind. But he shook his head, too fearful of letting his thoughts wander into such a dark place. It was not his duty to save her, and besides that – what could he do for her now? What could anyone do for her? It was out of his hands, and he decided at that moment to dwell on it no longer. In time, he was certain he would forget that she had meant something to him, if only for a brief time. Memories would fade. New ones would be created with someone else.

That was what he needed to do - what he had intended to do, before he had let Isabella overwhelm his every thought and feeling. If he chose a wife, and quickly, he would both see to his personal duty and provide himself with a new feminine distraction. Surely there was someone out there who was just as beautiful…just as sensuous and alluring, with the same soft laugh and lovely smile.

A frustrated groan escaped him. He pressed his palms against his face, wishing to God that some foreign object would come along and hit him in the head, if that would be the only way to knock Isabella out of his mind.

A sound of horses - of clopping hooves and jangling gear, came faintly from nearby. Turning his head, he saw the pair coming down the road…Evelyn and Simon, riding side by side. Physically gathering himself together with a deep breath and the running of his fingers through his hair, he jumped down from his perch to meet them.

“Evie! Thank God, you return at last! The entire household has been in turmoil. Mama has sent me to watch for you. I have been on this bloody wall half the day, waiting for you.”

He tried to sound stern. She had, after all, caused a lot of trouble in the last twenty-four hours. Never mind the fact that he was relieved to see her. But he wanted her to know that she had caused them all pain, and he gave her a fatherly look. To which she only smiled. Looking at her, he saw that she seemed more content than troubled, which was odd considering all the chaos she had caused. But looking more closely, he saw a change in the way that she looked at Simon. No longer did it seem that she feared him. Quite the contrary. Her eyes seemed to shine with warmth and admiration for him. And that was as it was supposed to be. Simon replied…

“Waste not a moment more, young Owen. Make haste, and tell them that we approach.”

Owen bowed respectfully, departing to see to the marquis’s request. Simon was a good man, one who was deserving of great respect and admiration. He was glad to rush to the house, to tell the housekeeper the news, and then, to see his mother rushing for the yard with a look of great relief and happiness. It pleased him to see her free from her burden of worry, and such a sight was a sign that life would soon return to normal.

Having made his welcome to Evie already, he saw no reason to interrupt the reunion of his mother and sister. Needing some activity to occupy his thoughts and his time, he felt it best to bury himself in his training. As he neared the path that crossed the yard and led to the barracks, Lucien appeared from within the house, and he called out to him.

“Owen, have you heard the news?”

In reply, Owen nodded. “Yes, I know. Evie is home.”

Lucien shook his head. “That is very fortunate, of course, but that is not the news I am speaking of. I have heard tell of Lady Isabella.”

The last thing he wanted to talk about was Isabella, but to avoid rudeness with someone he respected, he answered with a question and a hint of interest.

“What of her?”

    Lowering his voice, Lucien spoke in a conspiratorial sort of tone.

 “Her husband has had her confined to a convent.”

For a moment, Owen said nothing. The mystery that had plagued him all night and all morning was solved, and thinking of Isabella’s fate, he began to feel a sense of pity coming over him. But he shook it off, forcing his expression into a mask of solemnity.

“Is that so? Well, it is better than death, I suppose. Come, let us get to work. We have neglected it for far too long.”

As they headed for the barracks, he kept the seriousness of his expression in check. Isabella had been assigned to her fate, and that was that. Now it was time for him to do what he needed to do. He needed to move on, and in time, he was certain he would forget that any of this had ever happened.


Over the next two nights, romance seemed to bloom among the couples in the house. Not even the recent rumors of war, and the impending journey to court that the men would make, seemed to spoil the happy mood.

The lord and lady of the house had obviously made up. The familiar looks and affectionate gestures between them were there once again, and in a similar pattern of behavior, Lucien and Thea were quite expressive in their fondness for one another, along with the love they had for their son.

And then there was Evelyn and Simon.

While the marquis appeared to be as serious as usual, there was a subtle hint of softness in his expression that could not be disguised. Now and then, as everyone watched the evening’s entertainment, Simon even gave the occasional little smile. It was easy to see that he was warming up to his fiancé, and looking at Evelyn, one could clearly see that her affection for him was growing. How and when it had happened, no one was quite certain, but it seemed better not to question it. All was right with the world, so it seemed. And when Evelyn departed for a brief time, followed by Simon not long after, everyone assumed that they were stealing some time alone.

It wasn’t until Evelyn and Simon returned, and Evelyn whispered in her mother’s ear, that the romance of the evening was broken. Cassia’s look of shock drew Guy’s attention, and when she leaned towards him to softly tell him something, his stunned expression drew the attention of everyone else in the room. They watched, looking at each other in confusion, as Guy dismissed the entertainment and all of the servants, leaving only the immediate family, along with Simon and his father, who had remained behind when the other guests had departed. Guy came to stand before them, and announced in a low, barely repressed tone of anger.

“Isabella LaCroix has just been left on our doorstep.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 8, Part 2

The house was gloomy, the atmosphere bogged down by a cloud of tension and sadness. What a difference from recent days, when all had been so careless and joyful. A flicker of hope, given by Simon’s departure to Toulon, did little to brighten the mood. He had brought up the possibility that Evelyn had sought refuge with William, and with his leaving on a mission to bring her home, everyone was waiting nervously to see if that was indeed where she would be found.

Owen could not sleep. The unhappiness of the house was too much, and his heart felt heavy seeing his mother so distressed. Seeing her as she was, so bereft and afraid, it seemed to put all of life askew. She was the pillar of strength that everyone relied on. It was upsetting to watch her as she kept vigil in Evelyn’s room, her eyes fixed on the night sky as she stared out the window. Not even her loved ones could bring her comfort, and that was especially troubling to witness. Owen had never seen his mother and father at an emotional distance before. Their union had been a constant source of strength for everyone…a rock of stability in a world full of turmoil.

But as he observed them that night, he saw subtle signs of tension between them. There were none of the little touches of affection that usually passed between them. His mother, especially, seemed to be avoiding eye contact with his father, whose expression grew more and more morose as the night wore on.

At nightly prayers, Owen saw that his mother was not in attendance, and her absence was keenly felt. It was too much. As he left the chapel, he quietly made his way to his parent’s bedchamber door. They would be there, together. Even if he did not speak to them, perhaps he would hear them in conversation with one another, and their being together would grant him the reassurance he needed at that moment. Approaching the room, he saw that the door was slightly open. But as he neared, he heard no talking. Not the deep tones of his father, nor the soft tones of his mother. Stepping closer, glancing in through the opening, he saw that his father was quite alone. Guy was sitting in his favorite chair, looking out the window, as he often did when he was deep in thought…or troubled. Owen knew that his father preferred solitude when he was in such a mood, and for a moment, it was his impulse to turn and go. But his need for company was great. There had been too much distance and tension that day. He missed the closeness that had always been so strong in their family. And, he felt, perhaps his father needed consolation as well. With the exception of his wife, Guy of Gisborne was not a man who was keen on voicing his troubles to anyone. But as Owen recalled his mother often saying, no man was an island. Gathering his courage, he stepped quietly into the room.

“Papa?” he asked. “Are you quite well?”

There was no answer. Guy remained still, not even turning his head. But Owen was not discouraged. He tried again.

“Is there something I might do?”

“No. There is not.”

Guy’s quick, brusque answer was not off-putting. Owen had, after all, known his father all of his life, and such a tone was nothing strange. Ordinarily, he would not have pressed any further. But beyond the uncomfortable tension of their family troubles, there were other matters…troubling matters…that were weighing on his mind. His father was certain to have some of the answers to his questions. Buoyed by the thought, he advanced further into the room, coming to stand beside his father’s chair.

“Papa, I do not understand all that has happened today. I feel there is an element to all of this that I am not aware of.”

For a moment, Guy remained silent. But then he looked up, staring at Owen for a moment. Using his booted foot to retrieve a second chair, he pulled it forward and to one side. Owen sat down across from him, and they leaned towards one another.

“You will soon hear word of certain events that have happened. And you are a man now, Owen, so I believe you are old enough to know the ways of the world…the unpleasantries that often unfold around us.”

Owen braced himself, nodding. “Yes, Papa.”

A silent moment passed before Guy spoke. “Rene of Bergeron and Baroness LaCroix are lovers.”

The words seemed to ring untrue, as if they were spoken in jest. Surely his father was mistaken. Owen gave his head a slight shake, returning the question. “Lovers?”

Guy sighed deeply. “Yes. It seems that they are of no relation, as they claimed to be. They were masquerading as such, to cover up their adulterous relationship.”

An adulteress. Owen found himself reeling from the shock - his mind struggling to comprehend the meaning of it. He could not find it in his thinking to consider Rene. Only one name registered in his stunned mind.

Isabella. The woman he had endlessly dreamed of, imagining how he would one day have her for himself, but knowing that it could never be. He had so admired her strength – her courage in the face of adversity. But she had succumbed to temptation, and in the worst way possible. She was not the woman he had imagined her to be. Not in any way.

The scope of such a revelation was staggering, and he struggled with the reality of it. Slowly leaning back in his chair, he willed himself to speak calmly. The news was shocking. It was scandalous, to be sure. But he could not let his tone, nor his actions, reveal the tumult he was beginning to feel. If he let his father see how this news was about to turn him inside out, it would lead to his own ruin. Sitting up straight, he tried to project the proper reaction…one his father would expect, but not be suspicious of. To be certain the attention was deflected away from himself, he grasped for something on which to focus his ire. The offense to his family, the scandal that Rene and Isabella might have caused them all, was enough reason in and of itself to darken his mood. There was, in truth, no need to pretend.

“She has been lying in sin with a man not her husband, and she dared to bring him into our home?”

Guy leaned forward, rubbing his hands over his face as he let out a ragged, weary sigh.

“Yes, that is the long and short of it. She is a liar and a whore, and she will be punished as she deserves to be. She and her lover were nearly the ruin of your sister. We must pray to God that Evelyn has been found safe with your brother, and that the marquis has not considered himself disgraced by these shameful events.”

Casting his eyes aside as his thoughts rapidly turned to his own feelings, he still managed to give attention to the conversation with his father.

“Simon is a good man, it seems.”

Guy nodded in agreement, sitting up. Leaning his head back against the chair, he stared up at the ceiling. “Yes. I will sleep peacefully knowing that I am giving my daughter to a man who has concern for her welfare.”

Owen cleared his throat. His hands gripped the arms of the chair as he tried to maintain a calm aspect in front of his father. Recalling his initial reasons for seeking out his mother and father, and still feeling the apprehension of that dillema, he tried to steer the conversation towards it.

“You still seem quite troubled, Papa. You are concerned about Evelyn, I take it?”

Guy’s voice became brusque once again. “My concerns are not for you to be bothered with.” A small sigh escaped him, and then his tone softened slightly. “It is late. You had best go to bed.”

I will make haste, Owen thought. Anxiety was quickly rising in his mind and soul, threatening to overwhelm him. He had to escape to the solitude of his bedchamber before he lost complete control of his senses. As he walked from the room, he gave his father as calm a farewell as he could manage.

“Good night, Papa.”

If Guy responded, Owen barely heard it. Certain words from his father kept running through his mind as he made his way to his bedchamber. Once there, he went to the window and threw open the shutters, breathing in the cool night air, trying to find relief from the wildness of his thoughts.

A liar and a whore.

Good God. He had nearly been bewitched by a devious sinner. Had every word she’d spoken, every sweet look she’s bestowed on him, been a lie? He recalled the soft, sweet feelings there had been between them…and the painfully delicious sensations of desire he had felt in her presence. Never before had he felt such a reaction to a woman. The memory of it still made him burn, even now. And his desire fed his anger.

How could he have been so blind? He might have succumbed to the wiles of a temptress, and then he too would have been a victim of her wickedness. Lord, what a weak-minded fool he had been. She had betrayed him. All the times she had smiled at him, and spoken to him with such tenderness, it had all been a charade…a false front to distract him from the truth of her nature. Her devious, sinful nature. He wanted to hate her for it. He felt he should hate her for it. He should have listened to his first instincts, and fought harder to resist the wicked temptation of her. Had he been wiser, he would not be spending his energy now in a haze of furious regret.

And yet, he could not forget her seductive allure. Even now, his mutinous memory refused to abandon recollections of her. Lord, he could almost smell the sweet, spicy scent of her…the scent of orange blossoms and gardenias. For a few moments, he lost himself in the remembrance of what full, sensuous lips she had. Her eyes were so exquisite…pools of warm, green color that beckoned him, rendering him helpless.

He ran his hands through his hair, whispering curses to himself. Even now, when he had reason to rid himself of Isabella altogether, he could not escape her.

God in heaven, he muttered. I am glad she is gone. I am glad I shall never again set eyes upon her. Love is a pitiless trap that nearly ensnared me, and I will never be so ignorant again.


Rising from his chair, Guy slowly walked the length of the room. The candles had all been extinguished, except for the one remaining on the bedside table. In the hearth, the fire was low. The bedclothes had been turned down, and the servants had long ago been dismissed. All was as it should have been – the same as it was each night. Save for one great difference.

The bed was without both of its occupants. One of them was down the hall in another room, refusing to go from the place where she sought comfort and consolation. The other was hoping…nay, praying, that his mate would change her mind – that she would come to him so they could share their worries together. They were both suffering, both fearful. But his greatest fear was that she meant to punish him even more harshly. He was heartsick at the thought of her keeping him at a distance. In all of their years together, they had not slept apart unless outside circumstances had forced them to. Now, she was intent on tormenting him with her absence, deliberately hurting him in an effort to make him pay dearly for his mistake. And she had succeeded. He was miserable, afraid, and exhausted. He wished to lose himself in sleep. But looking at the turned down bed, he could not bring himself to go to it. How could he sleep without his wife at his side?

Covering his face with his hands, he prayed that all was not lost. His sweet Evelyn would be found, and she would be returned to them safely. But most importantly, his beloved wife would forgive him. She had forgiven him for so many mistakes he had made before. Thinking of her bitter words to him, he felt a crippling pain. With tears in her eyes, she had sworn that she would never forgive him if something happened to their daughter. She had never looked at him with such coldness, and it tore him to pieces to think that he might have ruined everything.

Surely, she would find it in her heart to grant him absolution for this. Without her love and approval, he was nothing – a shell of a man, useless and broken. Returning to his chair, he waited impatiently for the dawn, hoping that sunrise would see his peaceful world restored. Happy - as it was meant to be.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 8, Part 1

I should have another post soon. Thanks for reading! :)
Warning: A bit of bad language and violence in this post...


“Your grace. And Sir Guy. What an unexpected surprise.”

Isabella smiled politely as she came down the stairs, even as she trembled inside. And her fear came full force when Gilbert suddenly grabbed her by the arm. A hand of iron gripped her forearm, squeezing it painfully. His voice rose in fury.

“Who is Rene of Bergeron?”

She could feel her courage crumbling under the rising current of his anger. Yet, she clung to the hope that she could somehow save herself, and she tried to maintain a calm façade as she answered.

“He is no one of importance, husband. Merely a distant relation who came to me during your absence.”

His hand struck her cheek – hard. Her left eye felt the blow fiercely. Her neck, twisted too quickly, caused a stab of pain to shoot to her head. But before she could take a moment to recover from the pain and shock, she was shaken violently. Gilbert bellowed at her, enraged.

“Do not lie to me! Who is this man you have in my absence? Tell me who he is and where you harbor him!”

Shock turned to fear as he squeezed her arm in a tighter grip. His eyes were dark with rage, and she sobbed, terrified – knowing that he would unleash the full force of his wrath on her. He had no qualms about it. Tears gushed from her eyes. Her voice trembled.

“I do not harbor him, I swear it! He has departed on his own terms, but I know not where he goes! He is nothing to me!”

She shrank away as Gilbert made to strike her again, but the marquis reached out and gripped the Gilbert’s wrist, stopping the blow. Simon said something on her behalf, but she was too shaken to hear it clearly. To her great horror, the two men turned to leave. They were abandoning her. They were leaving her alone with Gilbert. When they were out of sight, her heart trembled with a fear like she had never known before, for she knew that the worst was yet to come.

He was merciless, striking her brutally on one side of her face and then the other. She tasted blood mixed with the sale of her tears, and she cried out as he seized her by the hair at the nape of her neck. Crying out as he dragged her along the length of the hall, she pleaded with him to be merciful, but he silenced her with a furious curse.

“Fucking whore! You will pay for your deception!”

His words petrified her, sending her heart and mind into a frenzied panic. As he rushed her down a set of steps, showing no pity as she nearly lost her footing, his intention suddenly became clear to her. He was taking her to the lowest level of the manor…a place reserved for the storage of wine and ale, and – in some cases – the keeping of prisoners. His grip on her neck never slacked as he turned a key in the lock of a chamber door. She screamed in terror as he forced her into the pitch black cell. Clinging to the doorframe with her fingers, she fought to keep herself imprisonment, but Gilbert shoved her back and slammed the door, leaving her in the terrifying darkness of the cell. Hysteria tore at her mind as she screamed for Gilbert to let her out. But her cries were only met with silence. The air in the room seemed to dissipate after only a few moments. Fighting to breathe, her mind and body paralyzed by fear, she felt her head spinning. She fell to the cold, damp floor, and was soon senseless.


Waking in darkness, she gasped. She fought for mastery of herself, her ears pulsing in an attempt to hear something in the silence. The moldy smell of the stone was sickening. Her face was swelling painfully - she could feel it, and lying there, she pressed her cheek to the cool stones of the floor, ready to give up. A tiny portion of her mind was telling her to fight – to get up and find her courage. But she found it too great a task to bear. Fresh tears pooled in her eyes. What was there to fight for? Gilbert had probably decided her fate already. If he didn’t leave her in the cell to die of starvation or sickness, he would probably have her tortured…or even killed. What reason was there for courage now?


At the thought of her son, she found herself rising to her knees, her hands groping in the darkness as she searched for the door. Finding it, she gripped the latch with both hands, pulling at it with all of her strength, even though she knew it was a useless effort. She had to try, for his sake. A new fear came over her suddenly. What if Gilbert chose to have his revenge by harming their son in some way? She wanted to believe that he would not be so ruthless. But God in heaven, what if he was so enraged that he would destroy his own child just to spite her?

Leaning her head against the door, closing her eyes, she uttered a desperate prayer.

God in heaven, spare my son. Do what you will with me, for I am nothing more than a miserable sinner. But he is only a boy. Do not let any harm come to him.

A key turned in the outer lock. Stepping back, she prepared herself to fall at Gilbert’s feet if need be. He could do what he wished with her – as long as he swore that their son would be safe. When the door opened, the light of a torch momentarily blinded her, and she raised her arm to shield her eyes. But in the next moment that arm was taken in a firm grip, held not by Gilbert, but by one of soldiers. He said nothing as he pulled her from the cell, leading her along the dim corridor. He was a man of great breadth and height – a fearsome looking fellow with an angular, fierce face. But she dared to speak to him.

“Where am I to go?” she asked.

His answer was short and harsh. “The abbey of St. Victor.”

“I am condemned to a nunnery?”

“By the baron’s orders. And by his orders, you will go willingly and silently, or face the consequences.”

So it would not be death she would face, but instead, a life imprisonment. She might have been grateful, were it not for her terrible fear about the fate of another.

“I must speak to Gilbert!” she cried. “I must speak to him about my son!”

He stopped for a moment, giving her a hard shake. His eyes were dark and cold. “You will be say no more! I have my orders, and do not think I will hesitate to silence you by force!”

With a rough yank on her arm he led her on. Half in bewilderment, half in fear, she was silent as she was led through the servants quarters and out a rear door, where a wheeled cart was waiting for her. As she was unceremoniously lifted up and dropped into the wagon, her mind tried to grasp the concept of what her life was soon to be.

Life in an abbey. That was to be her fate. She would be stripped of her title, her possessions – and her freedom. There would be no friendships, no socialization. Life in a religious order consisted of total devotion, of giving all of the body and soul, to God. And it would not be a pleasant servitude. She was a condemned sinner. An adulteress. Such a crime was an offense requiring a fitting punishment, and the convent would have her do penance by becoming a laundress or a cook. She would live out her days in harsh servitude, paying the price for the cardinal sin she had committed. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she slowly sank down to the bottom of the cart. Words of prayer softly fell from her lips.

Heavenly father, spare my son. I beg you…


As he walked towards the barracks, Owen heard his mother’s voice calling him. She sounded troubled, it seemed. Turning in the hall, he saw that same concern written in her expression. Coming to him, she reached out and touched his arm. Her tone had a slight tremble to it.

“Owen, have you seen Evelyn?”

He shook his head. “Not since breakfast, Mama. That was nearly an hour ago. Why?”

Cassia’s hand went to her mouth, her fingers touching her bottom lip in a gesture of worry. “I cannot find her. And I must speak to her right away.”

Owen reached out to take her hand, trying to comfort her. It was not like Evie to put their mother in such a state of concern. Surely there was nothing serious going on.

“I am certain she is about somewhere. Do not worry.”

She shook her head. “You do not understand. I have a terrible feeling that something is wrong. Evie and your father had a confrontation, and I fear she is hiding herself somewhere.”

His eyes widened in shock. Evelyn was not one to fight with anyone, especially their father, whom she absolutely adored. He could not believe they had actually had a disagreement, and his mouth turned slightly up in a disbelieving little smile.

“Evie and Papa had a confrontation?” he asked. “Surely not.”

She waved her hands at him. “I do not have time to argue, son. Please, help me find your sister.”

Nodding, he replied quickly. “Of course, Mama. I will go this instant.”

After a quick kiss to his cheek, she hurried away, and he turned in the opposite direction to begin his own search.

What in heaven’s name is going on? He wondered.

It seemed that after the announcment of the baroness' departure, one thing after another seemed to be happening. First, Evelyn had left the breakfast table without explanation. He had not thought of it at the time, even though their father had soon departed as well, and the marquis not long after that. Now, Evie could not be found at all, and what was this odd matter of her having a confrontation with their father? He sensed that somehow, all of these things were connected, although he couldn’t imagine how.

But it felt to him as if a storm of some kind was brewing. He actually felt a slight chill run down his spine, and he wondered at the strange sensation, as well as the odd feeling of foreboding rising inside of him. He sighed, wondering where peaceful days had gone…and if they would ever return.


As morning turned to afternoon, Evelyn was nowhere to be found. Owen, along with Lucien, had ridden across the grounds but the search proved fruitless. If Evelyn was hiding, she was doing a very good job of it. The only information to be found was from one of the stable boys, who said she had ridden out on her horse that morning, and that she looked as though she had been crying. That seemed to prove that she had, indeed, been upset by what had transpired between her and their father. Guy, along with Simon, had departed without explanation, and the entire house was now in an uproar.

Cassia was quickly growing frantic, and Thea and Celeste took her to her room and sat with her while others continued the search. There was concern that she would bring harm to her unborn child if she did not calm herself, and standing just outside his mother’s door, Owen worried for her state of health as he listened to her talking. Thea was attempting to understand what had brought about the strange turn of events, and Cassia explained with a slightly trembling voice.

“Evelyn was apparently enchanted by Monsieur Rene, and he seemed to have developed an affection for her as well. From what I can understand, he took a liberty with her, and your papa witnessed it.”

Listening, Owen’s mouth opened slightly in shock. He was tempted to rush into the room, but instead he listened, hearing Thea’s stunned reaction.

“A liberty? Good heavens, Mama! What kind of liberty?”

Cassia shook her head. “I do not think it was anything especially harmful. A mere peck on the cheek, but your papa flew into a rage and dismissed him from the property. And then, he took his anger out on Evelyn.”

“Oh, Mama,” said Thea. Cassia was on the verge of tears.

“Now she has run away. She is alone and probably frightened, and who knows what may happen to her.”

A groom came to the door, announcing the returning approach of Guy and Simon, and Thea hurried down to meet them while Celeste tended to her mistress. Owen was not noticed as he stood in the shadows, listening and observing. And he felt his fists clenching.

So it was true. Rene of Bergeron was a scoundrel after all, and he had dared to accost a woman engaged? And not just any woman, but naïve little Evelyn. Owen bristled with anger at the thought of the offense that Rene had brought his sister, and he was prepared to seek revenge at the very moment. He and Lucien would gather other men and form a search party, and they would hunt down the offending dog and punish him. He was prepared to go at that very moment…but he paused at the sight of his father and the marquis, coming up the stairs.

“Papa,” he said. “I have heard about the comte. We should take action at once.”

Guy shook his head. “At this moment, our first concern is for Evelyn. And as for the comte, there is more to this story than we thought. Too much, it seems.”

Owen felt a sense of dread at his father’s words. “What do you mean, Papa?”

Guy replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “We will speak of it later. At this moment, I must see your mama. Go and continue the search for your sister. We need every pair of eyes at work.”
As his father and the marquis went into the room, Owen left to do as his father asked. And the feeling of foreboding grew stronger within him. Something extraordinary was about to happen. And somehow he knew that it would not be good…

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 7, Part 2

The atmosphere during morning prayers was strangely tense. Isabella, kneeling beside Rene at the rear of the chapel, wondered at the tension that felt so thick in the air. Glancing up, she examined several Gisbornes, firstly looking at Sir Guy. He seemed darker of expression than usual, and his gaze seemed to be in search of something, his eyes moving restlessly…his mind clearly not focused on prayers. Nearby, it seemed that Lady Evelyn was distracted as well. Kneeling beside her fiancé, she seemed nervous and uncomfortable. From the expression on her face, it appeared that her mind was as far away from prayers as her father’s was.

Kneeling at the end of the family row, there was Owen. And her eyes lingered on him for a moment. He, too, had an air of distraction about him, and as her gaze ran over him, she had a strange feeling…and a hope, perhaps…that he was fighting the urge to turn his head and look at her. And suddenly, he did. It was only for a moment, but the shock of his eyes meeting hers…across a room full of people, no less…made her turn her head away instantly. There was something about those eyes of his. Something that made her feel so vulnerable. It was the same feeling she had once had for Rene…but on a level so much deeper that it was somewhat worrisome. Bowing her head, she tried to think of something else. Anyone else. And her thoughts turned to Rene.

It was difficult to believe, but reading his body language, it was obvious that he was troubled about something. But what was so dire that it would undermine his great self-confidence? To rattle Rene Jean-Bastien was a tremendous feat, and she had to wonder how it had come to be.

As prayers came to an end and everyone rose, a groom came to Isabella’s side. He handed her a rolled parchment, and as she held it in her hand, she sensed that it was not good news. Opening it, reading the message, she felt a sense of misery come over her as her suspicions were confirmed.

“What is it?” asked Rene, who glanced at the message from where he stood beside her. She sighed in response.

“My husband is returning. I must leave at once.”

“I think it best that I accompany you.”

Her eyebrow rose in curiosity as she looked at him, seeing the anxious way in which he drew close to her.

“You are suddenly so eager to go? Just yesterday you seemed determined to remain here so you could steal a maid away from her new lord and husband.”

With a shrug, he answered in a low voice. “A night can bring many changes.”

“Such as?”

He took her arm, taking a few steps away from the small crowd. In his voice, she could hear his concern, and the reason was revealed.

“Last night, I was set upon by his lordship, the marquis.”

Isabella’s eyes widened slightly. “What happened?”

Rene leaned slightly towards her as he replied. “He held a knife to my throat. I was warned to keep well away from the lady Evelyn or face the consequences.”

She didn’t know if she should pity him, or laugh at him. He certainly deserved the angry reaction from the marquis, who had every right to protect his intended from a perceived threat. Shaking her head, she quietly scolded him.

“You were fortunate to escape with your life, you imbecile. It is fortunate enough that my husband does not know of you. But you now take the risk of enraging the marquis as well? Not to mention the Gisborne lot?”

A shake of his head, followed by words of denial, were not convincing.

“I am in no danger.”

A tiny scoff escaped her. Even when he was fearful, it seemed he could not keep from being cheeky, and she fought the urge to admonish him further. But there was no time for such useless action. Gathering herself together, she went to Lady Cassia and politely made her farewells. The countess, as usual, was kind and gracious as always. But Sir Guy, although polite, seemed to have an air of suspicion about him. There was something troubling about the way he looked at both her and Rene, and she was glad to leave his presence so she could commence preperations for her departure.

As she went, she wondered at his odd behavior. Was it possible that he suspected something? Immediately she shook her head, refusing to let her thoughts wander to such a dangerous place. Perhaps it was better that the letter had come. It brought a sense of clarity to her mind, and if there was one thing she had lacked of late, it was the ability to think sensibly. She would remedy that, she vowed to herself. For the sake of her own well-being.


She was leaving.

Owen had been watching the hurried actions of the baroness, wondering what was transpiring, when he overheard his father mention the news to Evie. Isabella’s husband was returning, and she was making haste to return home.

The sting of disappointment was strong – more so than he wished it to be, and for a moment it gripped his very being. Somehow he managed to take steps forward, moving along with the crowd as they ventured towards the hall to break their fast. But with a head filled with thoughts, and a heart full of trouble, he found he had little appetite. To maintain a façade of normalcy, he sipped his ale, and picked at the food in his trencher. But his mind was far away.

He had dreamed of her last night.

Never before had he dreamed so vividly of a woman.

They had walked among the heady perfume of the flowers in the garden. She had smiled at him, and he at her, and there had been such a feeling of joy and light. Leading her to a circular bench under a tree, he had placed her gently on his knee. His arms wound around her tiny waste, and her slender arms came up to slide around his neck. They pressed their foreheads together, looking into one another’s eyes…

But the vision had faded quickly as he woke up, and the effect of his dream had left him fearful of encountering her, for fear that she would somehow see his feelings written on his face. He had been determined to remain far away from her. Until that moment in the chapel, when it was revealed that she was leaving.

All thoughts of avoidance fled. He knew, in the back of his mind, that he should have been glad to be free of the source of his current madness. But the thought of her going was somehow more maddening that the thought of her staying to torment him with her presence. From the corner of his eye, he saw servants bringing down her belongings to be loaded on the carriage. When the lady herself followed behind, he felt a jolt at the sight of her. His impulse was to rise up and go to her, to at least say farewell and wish her a safe journey. But he feared that if he made such an attempt, he would say so much more than he meant to. And at that moment, he knew he had not the calmness of mind to master his feelings. He needed distance at that moment. Making an excuse to his mother, who had been watching him with interest, he left the table and headed towards the barracks, hoping to find distraction in his soldierly duties.

But the further away he went, the more it seemed that her presence followed him. It was inescapable. And he needed to yield to it for a moment, or he felt he would go mad. Taking a sudden turn in his path, away from the direction of the barracks, he ascended a winding staircase that eventually led to the roof. It was a cool but sunny morning, and he needed the relief of fresh air and sunshine. He needed to have one last look at her. It was a desperate, pitiful thing for a man to be so helpless. But at least he would have the consolation of knowing that she would not see his suffering, or hear of it from the lips of others, for no one would see him at such a distance.

When he reached the roof, he went to the battlements to look down, and his eyes caught sight of her in an instant. Without the concern of others watching, or the fear that she would see him in observance, he was free to look as he pleased. Placing his hands on the stone, leaning forward, he sighed. Even in informal traveling garb, she looked radiant. Under her black cloak, her dress was a pale shade of blue, and the color suited her so well. Lord, he loved to watch her move…the way she swayed so gracefully with each step. It would be the last time he would delight in her beauty for who knew how long. He found himself wishing that she would look up. At that moment, he had no thought for anything else. Not his pride, not propriety. He wanted just to see her face one more time.

Raise your eyes, he silently asked of her. Look to me.

His silent plea went unanswered as she stepped into her carriage, never seeing how he watched her with such longing. He stepped back, not wanting to see the sight of the vehicle growing smaller on the horizon. Isabella was no longer a part of his life, even in the sense of being a mere houseguest. She was returning to her world, and he would return to his.

This is as it should be, he told himself. It is better this way.

It was for the best. He was certain of it. Even if he doubted the very words he was telling himself.


Watching from the carriage window, Isabella was perplexed when she saw Rene coming in her direction, moving at a rather hurried pace. Opening her door, she gave him an odd look as he drew near, sensing that he had found even more trouble for himself.

“What calamity have you created now?” she asked.

His answer was slightly rushed, as if had been in some kind of physical altercation. “I think I had best be on my way. Guy of Gisborne may soon set his hounds upon me.”

Lord, he was the greatest fool. She was not sure just what he had done, but she was not sure she even wanted to know. He was born to be trouble. And she had certainly had enough of that. Taking her coin purse from her belt, reaching out to snatch his hand, she forcefully pressed the bag into his palm. He looked at it for a moment, and then he looked at her.

“What is this?” he asked.

Her reply was quick and firm. “Traveling expenses. I think it best that you delay your departure no longer.”

The corner of his mouth rose in a crooked smile. “You would be rid of me?” he asked.

Lord, she thought. Why did he have to possess such a face? After all he had done, she still found him as adorable and charming as ever. But now, her common sense prevailed. They had both risked more than enough already, and to tempt fate again was beyond foolish. She was all seriousness as she answered his question.

“My husband has returned. Thus, we must no longer be associated with one another, or we both risk certain danger.”

He sighed, and for once, he seemed to respond in a reasonable way.

“Perhaps you are right, Izzy.”

For a moment, she thought he would act with decency – something highly uncharacteristic of him. But then he smiled in that way of his.

“I shall miss you.”

It was tempting to find delight in his pretty language. But she knew him well enough now to take what he said with a measure of caution.

“I hardly feel the truth of your words.”

He sighed, still smiling. Leaning into the carraige, he pressed a kiss to her cheek.

“Let us part on friendly terms, my love. Our time was never meant to last. But the hours we spent together will live always in my heart.”

The feel of his lips on her cheek was only mildly thrilling. And in truth, she was glad not to feel something more. They would part on good terms, and her heart would not suffer long for the loss of him. She gave him a brief but warm farewell.

“Goodbye, Rene Jean-Bastien.”

He smiled at her one last time. With a wave of his hat, he turned his horse and rode away, and she turned to face forward in her seat. With a tap to the roof, signaling the driver, the carriage began to move. Rene was gone. The Gisbornes were back to their lives. And she was returning to hers…whether or not her heart and soul were prepared for it.


Standing in her bedchamber, Isabella watched as her things were brought in and arranged in their proper place. After the brief freedom she had enjoyed, it felt as though she was returning to a prison. Only hours after her return, Gilbert had arrived home. And as she had anticipated, he was not particularly interested in what had transpired during his absence. He showed only remote interest in the events of his neighbors, and she was glad to escape to her bedchamber, where she would not have to tolerate his presence.

I shall have a hot bath, she thought. Perhaps that will allow me some peace of mind.

Gilbert’s voice, raised and furious, came suddenly from downstairs.


Good God, she thought. What has angered him now?

Rising to her feet, she took a deep breath to gather her strength as she went to see what he was about. Stepping out into the gallery, she looked down at the hall below.

Something went cold inside her. Sir Guy and Simon of Laroque were standing near the bottom of the steps. Though she was uncertain of the reason for their presence, she felt a sudden sensation of terror…