Monday, June 25, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 14, Part 1

Owen felt Evie’s eyes upon him. They stood in front of the house, waiting for the arrival of their father, Lucien, and Simon, who were expected back from court at any moment. While Thea and their mother spoke quietly, anticipating the return of their husbands, Evie seemed quite interested in her brother’s stern look.
“Owen,” she asked, “Is something amiss?”
For several days now, since his return from Toulon, he had often seen her looking at him with that expression of curiosity everyone knew so well. Until now, she had kept her questions to her herself, perhaps knowing his dislike for uninvited inquiries. He replied in a firm but gentle tone.
“Nothing to concern yourself with.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw the sly little upturn at the corner of her mouth.
“You seem tense. Perhaps your lady is the cause of it?”
He sighed. “My dear little sister, you are far too curious about my relationship. You have your own love, after all.”
At the mention of Simon, he saw the flush of color that came to Evie’s cheeks. Her smile grew. She cast her eyes down in a shy way, and it amused him to see her so obviously smitten. But his smile was brief. He thought of Isabella, and it troubled him to think that he might never see such a look of love on her face. But as quickly as that moment of sadness came upon him, a moment of determination overcame it. Recalling when he had last seen her, when he had watched her taking such joy in the return of her beloved horse, he thought of the happiness in her eyes and manner. The walls around her heart were not as strong as she wished them to be. With time and persistence, he would find a way to win her. He was certain of it.
The sound of a traveling party was heard at last. Owen saw the way his mother and sisters perked up in anticipation, their eyes searching the road.
One day, he thought, When I return from a journey to some far away place, Isabella will anticipate my return with such eagerness.
The carriage and horses turned into the drive, and while the ladies stepped forward in preparation for a greeting, Owen remained a few steps back, watching. It seemed that Simon and his fearsome white horse were not among the party, but Guy and Lucien were out in front, and when they descended from their mounts, they were quickly gathered in the loving arms of their spouses. His father, clearly not concerned with who was watching and what they thought, kissed his wife repeatedly and held her close. It was not so strange to see his mother and father expressing such love, but for the first time, Owen felt a strange kind of envy stinging at him. It was punctuated further by the sight of Lucien and Thea sweetly greeting one another, and sharing the happiness of their little family being together again. Lucien took his son in his hands and lifted him gently up in the air, looking up at him with a tender smile, and Owen turned his head away. He was happy for them, of course. But he could not help wondering if he would ever know such happy fulfillment. For a moment, he lost himself in his melancholy thoughts. But they were quickly broken when his father approached him. Owen checked his posture and steeled his expression.
“Papa,” he said. “Welcome home.”
Reaching out, Guy patted him on the back. “My son. I see the manor is still standing. From what your mother has told me, you have done very well in my absence. That pleases me greatly.”
Owen nodded, trying to smile a little as he replied. “Thank you, Papa.” Guy took a step away. But Owen stopped him. “Papa, might I speak to you in private?”
“What about?”
“A personal matter.”
Guy let out a weary sounding breath. His tone, as always, was pleasant but firm. “Unless it is a matter of grave importance, it must wait until after supper. I am weary from the road, and I have not seen your mother in four weeks.”
Nodding, Owen accepted the terms. What he wished to speak of made him slightly anxious and uncertain, so the delay would allow him a bit of time to prepare.
“I will wait, then. I merely wished to share certain thoughts that have been on my mind.”

Guy clasped him gently on the shoulder. “After supper, we will speak. You have my word.”
He stepped away to greet Evie and Thea, and Owen took in a deep breath, calming himself. Isabella was unaware of it, but he had something quite grand in mind for her. Something that would surely convince her of his true feelings. As everyone moved back into the house, there was a sudden commotion of sorts about Evie and Simon. It seemed that their wedding day was being moved up, although the reason was not immediately explained. That news, Guy explained, would come during supper. Whatever the reason, Owen was not particularly interested, although he was happy to see the look of stunned delight on his sister’s face. He had his own personal matters to attend to. Matters that would soon unfold…hopefully, in his favor.
In the bathing chamber, the servants departed to leave their master and mistress alone. As Guy sat in the bath, relaxing in the steaming water, Cassia sat on a stool just at the edge of the tub. With a wet rag in hand, she scrubbed his back, and he made a contented sound.
“I had almost forgotten the pleasure of a hot bath. And the joy of your hands on me.”
He expected to hear her respond in a warm way…the loving, tender way she always responded to him when she welcomed him home. But he heard sadness in her voice.
“I am certain that bathing and other pleasures were the least of your concerns. With talk of war occupying your time.”
Turning to look at her, he saw the way she frowned, and the sorrowful light in her eyes. Taking her hand, he tenderly kissed her fingers.
“Beloved, do not trouble your mind with such things. There is not yet a certainty of war.”
She shook her head. “I am not a fool, Guy. Kings desire war. It is their life’s ambition to conquer lands and reap the benefits of them. You are well aware that men wait with great impatience for a battle to begin. You yourself were once a man who desired such power and wealth.”
“But I am no longer that man. Do you think I am happy at the idea of leaving my family to champion the cause of the king? Or that I cherish the prospect of my son riding into battle? The thought of it terrifies me.”
“And yet we must prepare for such an event. And I must prepare for the prospect of losing both of you, as well as Lucien.”
When she looked away, he saw a tear slip from her eye, and it cut him to the quick. Taking her hands in his own, he applied a gentle pressure to them, trying through touch to offer her hope and strength.
“Cassia, please do not have such dreadful imaginings. It pains me to see you so distraught. Let us speak of happier things.”
“Such as?” she asked, sniffling. Reaching up, Guy brushed his finger across her cheek to remove the teardrop that had escaped.
“Our daughter’s wedding is a more pleasant subject. The thought of nuptial planning must certainly bring you happiness, as it does for all women.”
As he rose from the bath and took the towel from her hand, he saw a brighter expression coming to her face.
“That is a bright spot in much that is dark, tis’ true,” she replied. “Pray, why did Simon make the decision to move with haste? Is it the prospect of leaving for war that moves him to wed so soon?”
The corner of his mouth lifted. “As always, my love, you manage to strike the nail directly on the head.”
Her astuteness had always been one of her best qualities, and one that never ceased to amuse him. But the delight soon lessened. As he dressed, he could feel her eyes searching him, but he found it hard to disguise the slight sorrow in his voice.
“He is very much in love with Evelyn. And I feel certain he will be a good husband to her. As Lucien is to Thea.”
“And as you are to me,” she said. Her words were clearly meant to comfort and please him. But the grim line of his mouth remained as he made the last adjustments to his evening attire. It wasn’t until Cassia rose from her seat, coming to him and putting her arms around his waist, that he felt the heaviness of his heart lessening. Pressing her cheek against his shoulder, she tried to sound more cheerful than before.
“Do not be in despair over losing Evie. She will be happy, and that is what matters most of all.”
He sighed, feeling lighter of mood now that Cassia was in his arms. For weeks he had been away, and he was tired of dark thoughts and mournful feelings. He wanted to hear her laugh and see the wonderful light of joy in her eyes.
“In truth, I have given much thought on the matter of Evelyn’s marriage. And it occurred to me that a positive side might be found in all of this.”
When she lifted her head from his shoulder, looking up at him, he was delighted to see the smile he so cherished.
“Guy of Gisborne has a positive thought? I am curious to hear it.”
Now it was he who smiled. “Evie will go to her new home with her husband, and Thea will eventually return home with Lucien, where she belongs. With our daughters away, there will be a considerable lack of chaos in the house.”
“So, what of it?”
His grin became mischievous. “There will be more time for you and I.” Leaning gently into her, he kissed her lips as he heard her giggle.
“Have you forgotten, husband, that we will soon have another child on our hands?”
Reaching out to touch her belly, he replied with a shrug. “The babe will have its nurse to see to it, for a few years at least.” His eyes rose from her stomach to her face. His hands caressed her shoulders as he smiled. “In the meantime, you and I might share company as we used to.”
A little laugh bubbled up and out of her. Taking his arm, she walked with him to their bedchamber. “The days of newlywed madness are far behind us, Guy of Gisborne.” As she settled herself on the bed, he eagerly found his place beside her. There were a few hours yet before they were expected for supper, and being both relaxed from the bath and worn from his journey, he wanted to savor a rest and the closeness of his wife’s company. Gently adjusting his position beside her, he pressed his head to her shoulder, delighting in the feeling of her fingers caressing his hair as she talked softly…and with a hint of amusement in her words.
“We may injure ourselves if we act as we once did.”
A grin spread across his face at her meaning. They had been such wild and passionate lovers in their younger days, and he often recalled those times with great fondness. But now, he found no need to be so urgent in matters of love.
“We will take our time, then,” he said, with a sly note to his tone. “Because as I have learned during these many years, time slips away much too quickly. We must savor every moment.”
Her soft laughter thrilled him through. “You are as bad as ever, you heavy-headed brute.”
The amusement faded from his voice as he lifted his head, looking down at her.
“Heavy-headed?” he asked, feeling a slight sting of hurt at the thought that he might have caused her discomfort. She almost looked serious, but he could not be certain.
“Your thick skull can be a burden to my shoulder at times.”
It seemed she was not in jest, and he frowned. “For how long have you secreted this complaint?”
“I think from the very first night we slept with one another.”
“And you choose now to reveal it?”
“We have been wed for nearly twenty years. I thought it was time you knew the truth.”
For a moment, he was bewildered and rather upset that she had kept such a thing from him. But then, she smiled in a way that vanquished all ill feelings he might have had. It was her way of telling him something he did not want to hear, but with such softness and love that he could not remain angry for long. His frown faded away, his mouth curling into a loving smile as he leaned his head close, softly brushing her lips with his. Lying on his back, they shifted themselves so that her head now rested on his shoulder. He lovingly teased her.
“You are a cruel witch. As you have always been.”
“Yes,” she replied, caressing his shoulder with her cheek. “But you love me.”
He sighed, so content when they were close together. “I do. Very much. And I have missed you all these weeks. The company of men, particularly soldiers, is absolutely dreadful.”
From the sound of her amused response, he knew she was smiling.
“Each time you go to court, you never seem to find pleasure in being with your comrades.”
He snorted, thinking of all the rowdy noblemen crowding the court.
“What pleasure is there in other men? They are foul, loathsome creatures. Animals, most of them, content to spend their time brawling or whoring, or eating and drinking until they lose what little sense they possess. I am far too old for such foolishness.”
“So you prefer the company of your wife, then? What would the king say to that?”
“If he had a wife as divine as I have, he would understand.”
She made a soft little noise. A moment later, he could hear the rhythmic sound of her breathing, telling him she had fallen asleep. He had thought of speaking to her about Owen, continuing the brief conversation they had started before, but such talk could wait. Moments such as this, ones he had dreamed of and desired for weeks, were too precious to waste. Kissing the top of her head, he closed his eyes and let his thoughts drift away as he fell asleep.


Supper was a long and merry affair, with the subject of Evie’s nuptials the main topic of conversation. But Guy had not forgotten his promise to Owen, and though it was near midnight when the house finally quieted, he found his son waiting patiently for him in the solar. Owen was staring out the window when he came in, his expression marked with concentration. Hearing the enterance, he turned. Taking a place in his favorite chair, Guy looked at him.
“I am very proud of the manner in which you handled matters during my absence, Owen.”
Owen nodded, a slight smile on his face. “Thank you, Papa.”
“So then, what did you wish to speak to me about?”
Starting to walk slowly back and forth, folding his arms, Guy could see a familiar behavior in the motion, one he often used himself when both conversing and thinking. Owen even raised his eyebrow slightly, as he often did. He even used the same tone, his deep voice smooth as he spoke in a thoughtful manner.
“During your absence, I did much thinking in regards to Lady Isabella. I now admit that my treatment of her was not entirely just, and I would like to propose a way of making amends.”
Guy felt a realization coming over him. He could not be certain, but he saw before him a sight he had never thought to see. His son was in love. It was so obvious now, watching Owen’s manner and hearing the sound of his voice. He was in love with Lady Isabella. Guy felt a multitude of emotions welling up inside of him, but he maintained a cool facade as he replied.
“I am curious to hear of it.”
Owen stopped. Looking up, he met Guy’s gaze with his own.
“I propose we bring Isabella’s son here, to our home. I wish to make him a page.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 13, Part 2

I love her.
Leaning back against her chamber door, closing her eyes, Isabella sighed. Why did he have to say such things? She wished she hadn’t heard the words that Owen had said to his brother. And yet, she had heard them. But why did she have to feel a response to them?
Slowly walking the floor of her room, she pressed her fingers to her lips as tension spiraled all through her. His words were unnerving to hear. Spoken to William, Owen’s passionate declarations had sounded so genuine and heartfelt, and though she had tried to turn away from the conversation, she had found herself riveted to her spot just outside the window. Hearing him declare his love again, this time confessing it to his brother, she felt the weakness within her – the vulnerable place in her heart – daring to believe it was real.
But how could it be?
Coming to stand at the window, staring out at the setting sun, she let her mind drift back to the few happy times that she had shared with him. It seemed so long ago. So long that it was difficult to remember just what they had spoken of. But she had not forgotten his gallantry. He had been so charming, and so kind, unlike the other guests who had left her with hardly a second thought. And when Gilbert had sent the sheriff to look for her, Owen had risked the safety of himself and his family to keep her from harm. In her heart, she wished to believe that he had done it for her - as a way to express his growing devotion. But then, that night, he had kissed her. A tumult of long suppressed and powerful feelings had swelled up inside of her, and heaven help her, she had wanted him. But a flash of memory had come to her, seizing her in a grip of fear. She had felt such an intensity of passion with Rene – and the remembrance of it was frightening. As well as shameful. She had allowed a man to draw her into a trap, and in the process she had ruined her life. Only now, here at the parish, was she starting to regain some sense of stability. If she let Owen sway her, and in the end he turned out to be as untrue as Rene, there would be nothing left for her. Her second chance would have been for naught, and what would become of her then?
And what if Owen truly loved her? In truth, did it really matter? She was no longer a woman who held value to a man in terms of marriage. Even if, by some miracle, he defied convention and intended to seek her hand, it would lead to his ruin. His reputation would be destroyed, and if they had children together, those children would never be accepted as legitimate heirs. Bastards, they would be called, even if they were born in wedlock. All because Owen Gisborne had fallen in love with a “fallen woman,” as William Gisborne had put it. And he was right. She was a fallen woman, and she could not allow a good man to destroy his life by continuing this foolish pursuit.
When she next encountered Owen, she would tell him plainly that he was a fool. Perhaps if she was forceful enough, it would strike at his pride and make him see the truth. It would be hurtful. At the thought of breaking his heart, she felt a powerful sting of remorse and self-loathing, but she knew she had to do it. It was the only way to save Owen from himself.
Early the next morning, Owen left for home. He had promised his mother that he would not be gone for more than a day or two on his visit, and he wanted to keep his word. Besides, his father had left him in charge, and though he had left the ladies under the supervision of a steward, he felt it best if he saw to their protection himself. Riding away from the parish, he sighed deeply. If only he could be traveling with Isabella at his side, he would be the happiest man on earth. But it seemed his attempt to win her was failing. If only there was a way to reach her.
He realized now that the bracelet had been too grand a gesture. William was right in saying so. But how could he have known that she would take it as a sign of some attempt to “buy” her? That had never been his intent in any way. When he had seen the bauble in the marketplace, his thought had been directed towards Isabella’s status as a lady. He had always seen her in such finery, and he thought she might enjoy a reminder of the precious things she once possessed. But thinking back on his offering to her, he now realized it was likely a reminder of what she had lost. And she had lost so much.
A sudden flash of inspiration hit his mind. Perhaps what was lost could be returned. He was, after all, a man of some influence and power, young though he was. Maybe the key to Isabella’s heart could be found not in material possessions, but in things more worthwhile.
Spurred to action by his thoughts, he urged his horse to greater speed. Once at home, he had plans to organize and things to negotiate. When all was said and done, Isabella would not be in doubt of his feelings for her. And perhaps, she would finally return those same feelings to him. She could not guard her heart forever. He loved her, and one day soon she would love him. It was inevitable. He was a Gisborne, after all. And when they wanted something, they went after it until they succeeded in the pursuit. Owen felt a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth.
My dear Isabella, he thought. You will love me some day. It is your destiny, and you will not escape it.
Several days passed, in which life at the parish seemed to return to a normal routine. At first, Isabella had expected to have another encounter with Owen, and she had prepared herself on just what she would say to him. But when he left early on that one morning, the chance to confront quickly and directly had slipped away. In the days that followed, there had been no visit from him, and no word or message. William did not mention him, and she sensed that he wished it to be that way. He did not say so in words, but Isabella felt that William Gisborne was more wary than before, and she could not blame him for his change of demeanor. Being a man of the church, he was bound to certain rules and values that he did not take lightly. To think he had a brother who was determined to defy such authority, it must have been terribly upsetting.
Sitting at the table on a late afternoon, Isabella took up a quill and dipped it in an inkwell. On the parchment before her, she began to compose a letter. Her fingers trembled slightly at first, but she willed herself to be calm. With what she was about to do, there was no way of knowing the outcome. But it might have been the only move she had left to play. Placing the pen to paper, she began to write.
My dearest Papa and Mama,
I feel as though a lifetime has transpired since I have written you, and longer still since I have beheld you. For too long, my life in France has separated us. But circumstances have now been altered, and I write to you in the hope that we may soon be together again. I am widowed…
Isabella paused at the writing of an untruth. God forgive me, she said to herself. But she could not bring herself to hurt and shame her family with the true matter of things. She had made the decision to write to them, and she prayed they would respond kindly. Gilbert had never permitted her to contact them. He had considered their marriage a financial negotiation, and after the deal was settled with the signing of the marriage contract, he no longer considered her family to be part of the bargain. She had no way of knowing if they were even alive to receive the message. But if they were, she intended to seek them out. Perhaps they would be the source of a new life entirely, one that even the church could not provide. If they welcomed her return, she would find a way to go back to them. And she would take Sebastian with her. Somehow, she would have her son back, even if she had to steal him away.
The thought of him gave her courage. He was safe and secure where he was at the moment, but that was not enough. He was her son. Her only child. And if she had to lie or steal to have him back, she would do it.
Taking a deep breath, she started to continue the letter. But the noise of an outside approach caught her ear. Setting the pen back in the inkwell, she rose to her feet and moved towards the window, looking to see who it was that came to call. She saw William approaching a gentleman on horseback. And that gentleman, who looked to be a messenger, had a second horse tied behind his own. Suddenly, Isabella recognized the animal, and she took in a gasp of surprise.
No, she thought. It cannot be.
Hurrying to the door, she opened it and looked out at the golden mare. She knew her own beloved horse. Stepping down from the front stoop, she spoke aloud in a stunned voice.
“That is my Elinor. I would know her anywhere.”
Isabella saw the mare’s ears perk at the sound of the name. She wanted so much to rush to her pet and greet it lovingly, but she waited. Looking to William, she wondered if he might send the gift away, for that was certainly what it was. A gift. And from whom, she was quite certain she knew. In her mind, she knew it would be best to turn the gesture away and pretend it had never been made. But this time, the temptation was too much to resist. She watched, nervously, as William spoke to the messenger and then sent him on his way. And when he came to her, handing her the reigns, she let out the breath she had been holding. She looked at William, expecting words of caution and admonition, even if they were softly spoken. But he said nothing. He turned away and went into the house, and as Isabella watched him go, she felt a shove against her back. With a smile, she turned to her horse, who clearly knew her mistress and sought her attention.
“My lovely one,” Isabella said softly. “I have missed you too.”
Standing in the barn, Isabella happily ran a brush over Elinor’s back. For several days now they had been reunited, but it felt like their separation had hardly been. It felt so wonderful to ride again, and with the one companion who had been her constant in days gone by. Wrapped up in her task, she did not see the figure approaching the doorway. She did not see him lean a shoulder against the frame, folding his arms as he watched her. It wasn’t until he spoke, startling her with the sound of his voice, that she looked up.
“You are pleased to have her back, I take it?”
Seeing him, Isabella felt a nervous tremble run up her spine. Standing there as he was, looking at her with those piercing eyes, she found it hard to answer calmly.
“Yes, I am.”
There was a heavy tension in the air. She knew that the moment had come. She had rehearsed the speech she would say to him, and she had hoped that when the time came, she would have the strength to say what needed to be said. But now that he was standing before her, she found that anxiety taking the words before she could make them. How could she not have feelings for him, when he might offer her all of things she so desperately wanted? Love, more than anything, was what she craved, and he seemed to be intent on giving her. And yet, he might lose everything in the process. She felt like she was being torn in two. A frown came to her lips, and she saw his dark response to it. She heard it in his voice.
“You are happy with my gift, and yet you are not pleased to see me.”
She sighed, and taking a deep breath, she prepared herself to strike the neccesarry blow.
“My lord, I thank you for returning Elinor to me. But you must know that…”
Her voice failed her. Closing her eyes, she turned her head away for a moment.
“I must know what?” he asked.
She felt a stinging in her eyes, and sadness reduced all of her many prepared words down to a small statement.
“It is better not to love me.”
Waiting for his response, she hoped he would turn and walk away. And yet she feared the thought of it. Waiting for his reply, she at last heard it, given in a stubborn and bold way.
“Forgive me, my lady. But I alone shall decide who I will and will not love.”
He did turn and walk away then, and as she watched him go, she leaned against the door frame, too stunned to speak.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 13, Part 1

Her heart was broken. And it was all his fault.
Owen stood at the gate, looking back at Isabella. Everything that Evie had told him had been wrong. His gift had been rejected…his admission of love scorned. And worst of all, he had found he was the instrument of his own misery.
Isabella had overheard his cruel insult. She had taken it to heart, and the poison of his words had done their evil work. He wanted to go to her and tell her how horrendous he felt about what he had said. How, if he could only take it back, he would in a moment. But he could clearly see that any attempt to approach her, even with the best of intentions, would only push her further away. His only hope now was that she might find some small measure of forgiveness in her heart. Perhaps she would never love him now. But he would give anything to erase the pain he had caused her, and the guilt he now felt. It was overwhelming.
Forcing himself to step away from the gate, and from the sight of Isabella, still kneeling in tears, he turned…and came face to face with William.
“Owen,” he said, “What a pleasant surprise.”
Owen wanted to smile…to pretend that all was well. But what he felt was too much to contain any longer. Passing by William without answering, he meant to depart as quickly as possible. But just as he reached his horse, he paused at the sound of his brother’s voice.
“Where are you going?” William asked. “You have just arrived, have you not? And judging from the look on your face, something is certainly amiss. What are you about, Owen?”
For a moment, Owen thought to flee from the situation entirely. But if he ran, he knew he would not escape his torment for long. He had to confess what he felt…all of what he felt…to someone, before it consumed him entirely and drove him mad. But before he could utter a word, William clapped him on the shoulder.
“Come in the house, brother. You cannot rush off while you are in such a state as you are. You might run your horse into the ground or be thrown from it. How will I explain that to Mama and Papa?”
He allowed William to lead him inside, and without waiting to be told, Owen slumped into a chair in front of the hearth. He dropped his head into his hands, tugging at his hair.
“I am going mad, William. I am standing near the brink, and I swear that one more push and I will tumble down into the dark abyss.”
William took a seat, pulling it close. “Come now. It cannot be as bad as that.”
“It is as bad as that.”
“So what is it then? Could it be this woman you mentioned previously?”
Owen slumped back in his chair, his arms dropping to his sides. He sighed, staring up at the ceiling, and after a long moment of silence, William spoke in a quiet, serious tone.
“Tell me the truth, brother. Is Lady Isabella the one you love?”
How could he deny it? It must have seemed so obvious to someone like William, who had always been able to read people so well. Sitting up, but keeping his head turned away, he sighed.
“Yes, she is.”
He rose to his feet. There would be a lecture now. Of that, he was certain. William was soon to be a priest, after all. It was his duty to question everything that was a possible sin, and when such a flaw was discovered, it was his obligation to point it out and try to correct it.
“Owen,” he said, “Surely you must know the ramifications of that.”
Turning towards a nearby window, he folded his arms, letting out a heavy breath.
“Ramifications? You think I have not considered such things? I tell you, I have lost many nights struggling with this.” Turning back, he walked back and forth, running his hands through his hair. “I have been at war with myself since before I confessed to you that I was in love. When I discovered that Isabella had taken a lover, I tried to convince myself that I despised her. I wanted that to be the weapon of destruction that ruined my feelings for her.” But not even that could change what I feel. I am in love with her, William. So much so that it is driving me mad.”
“Does she know how you feel?”
Owen sighed. “Yes. In a moment of carelessness, I confessed it to her. But my timing could not have been more wrong.”
“How do you mean?”
“Before she came to you, she and I had a moment that went awry. I thought to make amends by offering her a gift. But she mistakingly assumed that I wished only to buy her favor. Now I fear that she will never have faith in my words."
“What gift did you give her, if I may ask?”
Taking a seat in the chair once again, Owen took the braclet from his vest, handing it to William, who looked at it with a shocked expression. Taking it in his hand, he examined it with a distasteful look.
“Good God, Owen. This is a gift to offer to an intended bride or a favorite mistress. It is not suitable as a peace offering.”
Owen’s expression grew angry. “Well how in hells hump am I to know such a thing? Evie said I should offer a gift, and a merchant suggested it!”
With a curious look, William asked, “Evie knows of your feelings for Isabella? Who else is aware of this?”
With the change of subject, Owen’s voice became calmer once again.
“Evie knows only that I am in love. She does not know to whom. There is no one else that knows. Except for Lucien, perhaps. I mentioned to him that I had troubles with a woman, but I did not elaborate.”
With a sigh, William returned the braclet to Owen. Then, with a shake of his head, he spoke quietly.
“You have dug a deep pit, brother. One that is in danger of collapsing on you.”
“Do not preach to me,” Owen replied. His look became grim. “I do not need a sermon.”
Despite the warning, William’s tone became serious…his words those of a priest.
“Isabella is an unfortunate woman. My heart goes out to her for her suffering, especially that wrought by her husband. But she willingly chose to lie with another man. Yes, she is doing penance for her sins, and I believe she is sincere in her regrets. But that does not change the fact that she is a fallen woman. And you cannot be with her.”
Leaning forward, Owen looked at his brother with a stern expression and a determined glint in his eye.
“I love her, William. That will not change. No matter what the world may think of her. No matter if they think me a fool and condemn me for what I feel. She is the woman I want, and I will not have another.”
“But you say she has no faith in you,” said William, growing as determined as his brother was to make his point. “She does not feel as you do. What use is there in loving a woman who does not return you feelings?”
Owen shook his head. “There must be a way into her heart. I must find the key to unlocking the door.”
“It is a foolish quest. One that may put your very soul at risk.”
Standing up again, resuming his walk across the floor, Owen felt the challenge of his brother’s warning. And it only made him more determined than ever to fight for what he wanted most. He turned to the fire, looking into the flames.
“Without love, a soul is useless,” he said. “I once thought it madness to believe such a thing, but I now understand what Papa feels for Mama, and what Lucien feels for Thea. My soul demands satisfaction. It demands Isabella.”
He heard William let out a sad-sounding breath. A moment later, he turned to see him standing close by.
“God be with you, then. I cannot stop you from what you will do. I can only pray that the path you choose is the right one.”
“It will be the right one,” Owen declared. “You will see.”

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 12, Part 2

Just a short one for today. More to come soon...


The sun was shining. A soft, warm breeze was drifting along. Isabella, standing among the blueberry bushes in the parish’s yard, looked up at the afternoon sky. Heaven seemed to be smiling, and she smiled with it. Looking down at her stained fingers, turned purple by the berries she was picking, the corner of her mouth crinkled up. What a shock it would have been for her peers to see her thus. Wearing a simple cream-colored dress and an apron, with her hair wrapped in a white scarf, she was far removed from the heavily adorned noblewoman she had once been. And she was glad of it. She had been at the parish just six days, but no place had ever felt so much like home.
The front gate creaked. Looking over towards the source of the sound, she saw William leaving. Politely he waved at her, nodding his head, and she gave a slight wave back as she watched him depart. Being an ambitious priest in training, he was always occupied with a task, be it in or out of the church. When he wasn’t assisting in religious services, he was visiting townspeople or tending to the sick. Like his mother, he found joy in bringing help and comfort to others. And like his mother, he was generous and kind – even to a wayward person like herself. He gave her tasks to occupy her time, and she happily busied herself with whatever needed doing. For the first time in her life, she felt a true sense of purpose. And every night, she thanked God for granting such a blessing.
Hearing the sound of hoof-beats, she paid it little mind at first. The village was a busy place, and riders passed by on a regular basis. While she went on picking berries, she heard the slow sound of the gate creaking again, and looking up, the pleasant expression drained from her face.
“Good morrow, Baroness.”
She turned away from the sight of Owen Gisborne, who stood just inside the yard as if awaiting permission to come forward. But if he sought a friendly invitation, he would not receive it from her. Without answering, she resumed her work, and when he slowly approached, she did her best to pretend he was not there. He stood near her, his tone calm and cool, even friendly in its way.
“I have come to see my brother, but it appears he is not at home. I am not all surprised. He is most dedicated to his chosen life of service.”
There was an upbeat note in his voice, as if he thought to start a friendly conversation. But finding her unresponsive, his manner became more serious.
“Perhaps it is fortunate that he is not about. It allows us a chance to speak in private.”
He began walking slowly back and forth just behind her, talking as he went, and she tried so hard not to hear him. But the sound of his voice was difficult to ignore. Just like his father, his presence was something that commanded attention.
“You departed our home much too hastily. I had hoped to settle some pressing matters of friction between you and I. But as you deprived me of the chance to offer my apologies, I must bring them to you now, along with a tangible gesture of my efforts. I hope you will accept my gift.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw him extend his hand. It was impossible not to look, if only for the sake of her own hateful curiosity. In his palm, he held a gold bracelet. It was beautiful, and judging from the gemstones that adorned its surface, it was as expensive as it was attractive.
Her heart broke at the sight of it.
Raising her eyes to him, she felt the burn of tears. “Why have you come here?”
The sight of him was devastating. She had hoped and prayed that after coming to Toulon, she would not see him again, and she had tried so desperately to wipe away the memory of his kiss. Thinking of him, she had felt a sense of shame that had brought her to tears nearly every night, and seeing him now, all sense of happiness she had known fled in an instant. He looked at her with a strange expression…almost a look of hurt.
“I told you I have come to give you this. Why do you weep? Are you not pleased by it?”
She shook her head. Her voice trembled. “I cannot accept it.”
“Why can you not?”
“Please leave me alone.”
She turned to go, but reaching out, he gently grasped her arm. Just the touch of his hand set her defenses to shaking, bringing them dangerously close to toppling.
“I will not go until you give an explanation,” he said. “I ask your forgiveness, I offer you a gift…and you shun me, as you have before.” His voice rose, the sound of his anger rising. “You will tell me the reason!"
Anger and pain forced their way up and out of her body, charging her words with passion.
“I will not be your mistress! I am not chattel to be bought and paid for!”
His voice, so steady before, now broke slightly as he declared…
“I do not bring you a gift in order to make you my mistress! I give it to you to tell you that I love you!”
Taking a step back, tears flooded her eyes. Lowering her head, she lifted her apron and pressed it to her face, weeping. He came to stand before her, and she could hear the furious displeasure in his voice.
“My feelings are so hateful to you that they cause you to weep?”
Dropping her apron, she shouted at him through bitter tears.
“How can you dare to claim that you love me? Did you love me so much when you stood before your mother, vehemently deeming me a whore? Now you come to me with a bauble, seeking my favor. I cannot bear it!”
Burying her face in her hands, she barely heard the change that came to his voice. It became soft…almost pained. He tried to speak, but faltered.
“Isabella, I…”
He was kneeling at her side. She could feel his closeness, and she wanted so badly to lash out at him. He seemed, at that moment, to be the reprensentation of all the wrongs that had pained her. He tried again to offer his explanation and words of apology.
“What I said in a moment of anger…it was wrong. I know that now. I swear to you that my feelings for you are true and honorable.”
Moments passed. Sadness gripped her, stealing her voice, and she could not find the will to reply to anything. He sighed, consenting to defeat.
“I will go, then, and leave you in peace. I beg you to consider all that I have said.”
She wept bitterly, not hearing or seeing him as he walked away, and unaware of the sight of him pausing, just at the gate, to look back at her.