Isabella was sitting in a corner, a piece of stitching in her hand. As she worked the needle in and out, she listened to the quiet sounds around her. Blended among the sweet sounds of birds and the rustling of the leaves in the trees, she could hear the distant sound of children playing nearby. They were happy noises, and they helped to encourage her peaceful mood.
Other things contributed to her state of mind as well. A certain young baron, for one. She sighed as she thought of him…a sound of confusion and slight frustration. Against her better judgment, she knew she was softening towards him. It was a most difficult thing, wanting to trust him – but fearing the painful consequences that would surely follow if she was wrong. But each time she told herself that she was strong enough to resist him, she would think of the wonderful gesture he had made in returning Elinor to her. And more than the gift, she would think of the look in his eyes when she had seen him in the barn, watching her. His lovely blue eyes had been so full of expectation and hope. There was, in a way, something boyish about that look, as if he was truly and deeply eager to please her. Both fear and pride had forced her to put him at arm’s length. But what had he done then? Looking at her with an expression that was quite the opposite of boyish…one that seemed to be an illustration of manly determination…he had declared that he would not be swayed.
Too distracted now to continue with her work, she put the stitching aside. She was quite alone, as William was in the garden. Leaning back in her chair, she allowed herself to think.
Perhaps it would be just as well to make peace with him. After all was said and done, whatever relationship they managed to have could not go far. Despite his declarations of love, it was likely that he was suffering from infatuation, and nothing more. In time, perhaps she could ease her way out of his obsession, and somehow, make him see that he was better off knowing her as just a friend. It would be a challenge, to be sure. He was a Gisborne, after all. Just thinking of it, she began to smile.
But the smile slowly changed to an expression of curiosity. Something about the noise outside the window, particularly the sound of youthful chatter, caught her ear. At first she thought she might be imagining it, but the sound seemed to be drawing closer. And as it became more distinct, she felt her heart leap into a maddening rhythm. The childish voice, soft and sweet in its tones, was spoken in a dialect of French native to the north. Native to Calais.
My God, she quietly gasped. It cannot be.
Flying to the window, she leaned out to look. Oh, God! She cried aloud, and she made a mad dash for the door. In a heartbeat she was outside, running, and before he could even dismount, she eagerly snatched her son from his seat.
"Sebastian!” she cried. “Mon bébé!"
She felt his arms around her neck, hugging her as tightly as she did him, and she wept with joy. He was heavier than she remembered…more grown up, it seemed. Setting him on his feet, she knelt before him so they were eye to eye, and she placed loving kisses on his face, laughing and weeping all at once. She hugged him again, pressing her cheek to his.
“Oh, mon amour! Tu m’as manqué tant! "
“Oh, my love! I have missed you so!”
She released him for a moment, looking at him. She stroked his blond hair and touched his cheek, as if to convince herself of his substanace. He smiled at her, his hazel eyes bright with happiness.
“Tu m’as manqué, Mère. Tu m’as manqué beaucoup.”
“I have missed you, mother. I have missed you very much.”
As the elation turned to stunned delight, her mind began a desperate search for answers.
“Comme est-ce que tu est ici?” she asked. “Est-ce que tu n’avais été à Calais?”
“How did you come to be here? Have you not been in Calais?”
"Ne plus, Mère. Je suis maintenant avec la famille du Baron. "
“No longer, mother. I am with the baron’s family now.”
She could hardly believe it.
"C’est vrai ça?”
“Are you?” she asked Sebastian, who nodded.
Turning her head, she looked up at Owen, who was watching from his place on his horse. Had he done this thing for her ? Had he gone all the way to Calais to fetch her son for her ? The thought of it was overwhelming. Turning her attention back to her son, she heard his sweet words of admiration for his benefactor.
"Ils vont me former. Seigneur Gisborne est un bon gentilhomme. "
“They are to train me. Lord Gisborne is a nice gentleman.”
"Il est, en effet," she replied, her voice soft with wonder.
“He is, indeed.”
She wanted to go to Owen’s side. At that moment, if had been standing nearby, she would have thrown her arms around him and kissed him without a second thought, so happy and grateful was she for what he had done. But he seemed content to remain where he was, sitting on his horse, just observing. For a moment, she was deeply distracted by the sight of him. But when she felt Sebastian’s hand on her arm, begging her attention, she remembered herself and where her priorities lay.
“J'ai faim, Mère,” he said. “Quand pourrai-je avoir quelque chose à manger?
“I am hungry, mother. When may I have something to eat?”
She lovingly smiled at him, kissing his forehead. It felt wonderous to have him so close, and she relished the chance to mother him. She took him by the hand, speaking gently to him as she took him into the house.
“Ce sera dans un temps encore avant le diner, mais allons-nous à la recherche de quelque chose pour vous dépanner.”
“It will be a while yet before supper, but let us go in search of something to tide you over.”
She fought the impulse to look back at Owen. She owed him the world for what he had given her, but the time for thanks would come later. Sebastian, her son, had been returned to her, and all she wanted at that moment was to know the joy of being his mother.
But she could not ignore the conversation between Owen and William. She heard their voices as they came near the house.
“Have you something to say?” Owen inquired, and after a pause, William replied.
“I merely wonder at your motivation. Have you done this just to win her favor?”
“I have done this to make her happy. Nothing more.”
William sounded skeptical. “I think in doing this, you have other motives. And the prospect of it troubles me.”
As she listened, Isabella heard the defensiveness in Owen’s voice.
“So you have said, brother. And I will not hear more. I know very well what my motivations are, and you need not fear for me, or yourself, or the family reputation.”
“Be a man of God, William. A good man, as you are. And take comfort in the blessed reunion of a mother and her son.”
A blessed reunion, she thought. It was indeed that. As she prepared a bowl of pottage for Sebastian, she felt an incredible happiness flowing through her. Owen had given her that. And somehow, some way, she would repay his incredible kindness.
The evening spent with Sebastian was such a happy one. After supper, he contented himself with a wooden peg game while he chatted away, telling her about all manner of things. She smiled often and even found herself laughing at some of his vivid tellings. He had been excited, he said, at the prospect of returning home, and the journey back had been filled with all manner of incredible sights and sounds.
As he became more engrossed in his puzzle game, her attention slowly turned to the other occupant of the room. William was away, tending to an ailing neighbor. It was only she, Sebastian, and Owen, who was sitting in front of the fire, occupied with sharpening his dagger. He was turned away from them, probably to allow them privacy. It gave her the chance to observe him. What she saw, she found she liked very much. Just as she always had.
It was clear to her now that her attraction to him was as strong as it had ever been. But now, looking at him, she saw before her the picture of a man. No longer did she see him as a boy. He was, in truth, more masculine in ways that Rene and Gilbert had never been. They did not possess such nobleness. And as her eyes roamed over Owen’s rugged features, she felt a slight quickening of her senses. She recalled what it had been like to be in his arms, and the way he had looked at her. Then he had kissed her, and for a few brief moments she had felt a wildfire of hot desire between them. A soft sigh escaped her as she thought of it. As she longed to know it again.
The suddenness of Owen’s voice startled her.
“You are watching me, my lady. Is there something you wish to ask of me?”
She shook her head, attempting to compose herself, and gathering her hands in her lap, she tried to maintain a quiet and collected aspect.
“I hardly know what to say. I have no adequate words to express what I am feeling at this moment.”
Owen’s reply was a quiet one. “No words are required, my lady.”
The time had come to settle matters between them. Thinking of all that he had done for her, she was prepared to grant him whatever he wished. And she was quite sure she knew what he longed for. There was a certain softness to her words. A sound of acceptance and submission.
“I am deeply indebted to you, my lord. I shall agree to whatever terms you declare to pay my balance.”
He nodded. Putting his dagger aside, he turned his chair so that he was facing her. As he leaned back slightly, she felt a strange thrill at the feeling of his eyes looking over her.
“My terms are in place already,” he said.
A slight knot formed in her throat, but she swallowed in order to overcome it, preparing herself to accept whatever demands he intended to make of her.
“Name them, if you will,” she replied.
She waited for him to say that he wanted her as a mistress. And truly, she could not find reason to fear such a prospect. What other position could she hope to achieve in her life now? At least she knew that he would treat her well. He would not be cruel, like Gilbert, or self-centered, as Rene had been. She readied herself for his offer.
“There is to be a wedding in the village tomorrow,” he said. “You will accompany me.”
Shocked, she looked up at him, her eyes wide with disbelief. “I beg your pardon?”
“Tomorrow there is a wedding in the village, and you will accompany me as a guest. Your son is welcome as well, of course. I think it will please him very much to attend a celebration.”
“You do not require more of me?”
“Presently, no. This is all I ask.”
His pleasant invitation was a great surprise…and one she could not turn down.
“I shall be pleased to accompany you,” she said. But suddenly she felt a sense of sadness come over her. She was silent for a moment, and Owen seemed to notice.
“Why do you look forlorn?” he asked, and she sighed, a despondent sound.
“I have not attended a public event in quite some time. I fear I have no suitable clothing for the occasion.”
“You are perfectly suitable as you are.”
The compliment caught her off guard. As she fought to find a response, she saw the troubled expression that came to Owen’s face.
“Forgive me if I am being too forward,” he declared. “I see by the color in your cheeks that I have embarrassed you.”
Quickly, she shook her head. “No apologies, my lord. I am merely unused to compliments.”
A slight smile came to his lips as he spoke.
“Well then, that is something we shall have to remedy.”
For the first time in a long while, they smiled at one another. There was no anger between them. No tension. Just a lovely sense of peace…and the growing warmth of a mutual attraction. The feeling between them was intense, and it was growing…until Sebastian hurried to her side, brimming with excitement.
“Mama, regardez ! J'ai conquis le puzzle!”
“Mama, look! I have conquered the puzzle!”
Smiling, she drew him to her side and kissed his cheek, lovingly praising his accomplishment.
“C'est merveilleux, mon doux ! Vous êtes tel un garçon intelligent!”
“That is wonderful, my sweet! You are such a smart boy!”
“Oui, je suis,” he replied.
“Yes, I am.”
His self-assured answer surprised and amused her, and she laughed, hugging him again, remarking on his words.
“Il semble que le cours en présence d'un Gisborne vous a influencé.”
“It seems that being in the presence of a Gisborne has influenced you.”
Again she laughed, until she remembered that Owen was sitting right there, watching and listening. She offered an apology.
“Forgive my boldness. ‘Twas not intended as an insult.”
Owen smiled and shook his head. “On the contrary. We Gisbornes take pride in our abilities. And it is a known fact that we find no shame in voicing our confidence. Some may call us arrogant, but that has no bearing on us. We make no apologies for who we are.”
She smiled back, wishing she could linger in these happy moments forever. But when Sebastian yawned, it was a reminder of the late hour and her duties as a mother, which now took presidence over her own wants and needs. She rose to her feet.
“I must see Sebastian to bed.”
Before she could pass by him, Owen stopped her with a question.
“You will be my guest, then? You will not change your mind?"
She gave him a pleasant look, and nodded. “I will be your guest.”
He nodded in return, his voice warm. “Good night, my lady.”
“Good night, my lord.”
She left him then, leading Sebastian to her room. As she put him to bed beside her, she brushed aside the many questions that swirled around her. How had this miracle come to pass? Was Gilbert aware of Sebastian being brought to her? How long would he stay? She shook off such mysteries, content just to rest in contentment and peace, and anticipate a wonderful day to come.