Monday, November 19, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 21, Part 1

He could feel her trembling, and he held her closer, kissing the top of her head as he spoke soothingly to her.

“He is dead. He cannot hurt you now.”

Her head was pressed against his shoulder, her arms clinging to him, and he ran his hands gently up and down her back. What if he had not heard her cries for help? Good God, it tortured him to think of what might have happened.

Looking up, he saw William rushing towards them, with their mother and father right behind. Guy was the first to speak, looking between the lifeless figure on the ground and the sight of Isabella, who was clinging to Owen.

“What goes on here?” he demanded.

Owen’s reply was a disgusted snarl. “That filthy animal attacked her. He was sent by Baron LaCroix.”

Slowly, with a look of horror in his eyes, William knelt down to examine the body. He crossed himself.

“Good God, Owen. You have done murder.”

The reply was furious. “Do not preach to me! I was defending her and myself, and I would do it again if it needed to be done!”

It was William’s voice that now grew dark, rising in anger.

“Do you see now why she must go? What will it take to make you see the danger she is in?”

Before they could quarrel further, Cassia stepped forward. “That is enough, William.” Kneeling down beside Isabella and Owen, she reached out her hand to touch Isabella’s shoulder. “When morning comes, we all will put this entire matter behind us.”

Owen detected a note of finality in his mother’s voice – an inflection he knew well. She had made a decision on something. He saw the way she looked up at Guy, and how Guy looked back at her in return. Their minds were as one, the both of them thinking the other’s thoughts.

“Cassia, take her into the house,” Guy said, his deep voice commanding, yet quiet. “William, escort them, if you will. I would speak to Owen.”

As Isabella was taken from his arms, Owen felt his inner rage overwhelming him, fighting for compete control. Isabella had nearly been murdered, and at her husband’s doing. There would be blood. Fucking hell, there would be a slaughter, if he had his way. Rising to his feet, his saw his father standing before him, probably prepared to stop him from taking action. But no one would stand in his way. Not even Guy of Gisborne. Owen’s words were cold, dark, and firm.

“I will see him dead.”

A flash of shock passed over Guy’s face. It was there for just a moment, but Owen knew that his father was troubled by the harsh declaration. Looking down at the still form of Isabella’s attacker, neither of them spoke. With one another’s help, they moved the body far away from the church, leaving it in a ditch and covering it with brush. Crouched down, his hand partially covering his mouth, Guy looked deeply disturbed by what they had just done. Owen could see the weight of fatherly concern pressing on him. It was in his voice.

“Will you foul your hands with a man’s blood a second time?”

Owen’s words grew strong. Thinking of Isabella, recalling the sight of the monster who had pinned her down and nearly strangled her to death, he could find no pity. And thinking of the beast who had sent the killer, he felt a burning hatred in his entire being. He answered his father’s question without hesitation.

“I will defend the honor of the woman I love!”

There was silence for a moment as Guy rose to his feet, turning away. Folding his arms, staring out across the distance, he glanced back at Owen as he spoke with a tone of caution.

“These things are not to be done without thought, Owen. If you do this, you will one day answer for it.”

“My conscience will be clear when I stand in final judgment. God sees not as man sees, and he will know that my actions are just.”

Owen could see the inner war his father was fighting. There was only one way to sway him – one way to convince him that this justice needed to be done.

“You would act as thus for Mama,” he said. “You cannot deny it.”

Such words were daring, he knew. Too daring, perhaps. His father had every right to turn and strike him for being so bold.

And yet, Guy remained still and silent for what seemed like a long time. At last, he turned. His grey-blue eyes were deeply serious.

“We will speak of this to no one,” he said.

For a moment, Owen felt a kind of elation, though it was tempered by the seriousness of the matter at hand. He started to speak, but Guy gave an admonition that silenced him.

“You will have my aid in the deed. But to seal the bargain, you will do as you know you must.”

The ultimatum struck him cold with dread. For a moment, he was unsure of what to say. They stared at each other for many long moments, until Owen felt a great need to be away. He needed time to think. And though he had left Isabella in his mother’s capable hands, his worry over her welfare suddenly rushed to the forefront.

“I will see to Isabella,” he said, moving towards the house.


Outside her door, Owen paced back and forth, his hand repeatedly coming up to cover his mouth – a nervous gesture he knew he had inherited from his father. His mother was in the room with Isabella, and no doubt she was using her gifts of healing to set things right. He thanked God for her, the angel that she was. But he wished desperately to be in that room. He wanted to be the one to comfort Isabella, to offer up his strength and courage, to assure her that no one would ever hurt her again.

The door opened at last. He drew close to his mother, his words rushed in urgent concern.

“Is she well?”

Cassia answered in her calm way. “She will recover. I have given her something to aid her in sleep.”

He nodded, feeling a brief moment of relief. But seeing his mother’s eyes on him, he could feel words of counsel coming on. She would speak, and he would listen, despite his reluctance to do so. Deep down in his heart, he knew that what she would say would be right.

“If you love her, Owen, you will let her go.”

The truth was painful, a crushing weight in his chest. To save her, he would have to set her free. If he kept her, fate would find a way to take her from him. The proof of it had been seen in the vicious attempt on her life. He would let her go. But not until tomorrow. For a few hours more, he would be with her.

“I will watch over her tonight,” he said. “My mind is set on the task, and I will not be swayed.”

Moving past her, ignoring the teary expression on her face, he slipped into Isabella’s room and bolted the door behind him.

Isabella was lying on her side, seeming to be so peaceful in sleep. But how long would the effect of his mother’s potion keep her from thoughts of her attack? Sooner or later, such recollections would surely haunt her mind. She would suffer. Perhaps she would become terrified in thinking that her husband would send someone else to succeed where one criminal had failed. Taking a step forward, he paused just before the bed, looking down at her. How would she respond if he slipped into bed beside her – if he took her in his arms and let her rest against him, securing her against the terrors that haunted her.

No, he thought. I cannot sleep. Not when danger may be waiting just outside.

Pulling himself away from her, he came to stand before the window, where he folded his arms as he stared out at the moonlit night. No one would dare to harm her. Not while he stood vigil, and he would remain on guard for as long as it took.

As soon as the arrangements were made, she would depart for Spain. He felt a sharp stab of pain strike him, just under his left rib. How would he endure her departure? He had never imagined having such love for a woman – the kind of love his mother and father knew. His mother had always hoped for this, and where he had once scoffed at such sentiments, he know knew the depth and power of love, and he wanted nothing more than to lose himself in the madness. But fate seemed to be conspiring against him. He had found the love of his life, only to have her torn away so cruelly. What had he done to deserve such anguish?

Shaking his head, he felt his deeply rooted sense of stubbornness rising up to aid him. His mind began to whirl with desperate thoughts. For her safety, he would send her away to Spain, where Gilbert would never find her.

But I know where I send her, Owen thought. One day, I will return to her. There, it is not known what a sullied name she bears. We will find one another again.

Hope suddenly blossomed in his heart. Though they would be parted, it would not be forever. War was looming, but surely God would protect and keep him so he could return to the woman he loved. Folding his hands in prayer, he begged the almighty for guidance and protection in the face of danger – for the chance to live. To love. Turning, he looked at Isabella, speaking his thoughts in a barely audible whisper.

When the war is over, my love. When the war is over.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 20, Part 3

For many long moments, his head remained fixed in his hands, his eyes closed as he tried to think. There had to be a way to both keep and protect her. She was afraid of her husband, as she had good reason to be. But if Gilbert thought to return, he would regret it. The bastard would pay with his life if he dared to threaten Isabella again.

Why did there have to be rules to a marriage – rules that were created by man? Only God could determine what was right and wrong. Surely, God could see into his heart and know that his love for Isabella was pure – that he would commit his life to her, and that she would commit her life to him. Their union would be one of the heart and of the soul, and that was the only thing that mattered.

From nearby, there came the slight sound of footsteps.

“Is is for the best, brother.”

Owen lifted his head at the sound of William’s voice, but he gave him only a moment’s glance, his eyes fixed on the door before him.

“Do not speak to me of what is for the best. You know nothing of love.”

“She will be safer in Spain, Owen. Why can you not see that?”

Owen turned his head suddenly. He had never spoken to William of Isabella’s homeland.

“What do you know of it?” he asked.

Suspicion began to swirl around in his mind. How did William know anything of Spain? And how did he know that she was leaving? Realization suddenly fell on him. Slowly, he rose to his feet. Anger simmered with him as the full realization that William – his own brother – had conspired against him. His voice was low.

“This is your doing.”

William’s expression confirmed it. The guilt was written in his very countenance, and yet he defended his actions with a firm tone, his stance unwavering.

“Come to your senses, will you? Why can you not see that her remaining here puts all of our lives in danger?”

He and William had not quarreled often. In truth, they had never come to blows, their arguments settled rather quickly thanks mostly to William’s diplomatic nature. But this was a betrayal. There was no other word for it. Wounded, furious, he brought his hands up and shoved him backwards, cursing him.

“You are Judas!”

Taken aback, but standing his ground, William answered with a calm but deeply serious reply.

“Do not push me, Owen.”

Every feeling of anger he had ever known seemed to overwhelm him. The world was against him. Even his own brother, his flesh and blood, wanted to keep him from Isabella, and it was all he could do to keep from throttling him on the spot.

“I should break your fucking jaw!”

From the doorway, he heard his mother’s voice raised in shock, scolding him harshly.


Turning, he saw his mother and father standing there. Guy spoke, stepping forward as he looked between the two of them.

“What is this noise?” he asked.

Owen’s furious voice rose, no calmness or reason remaining. “It is the sound of treachery! I will never look upon his hateful face again without seeing his betrayal!”

Cassia sought an explanation as she held Owen back, grasping his arms in an attempt to keep him from striking out, and he spat his words in a rage.

“He is sending Isabella away! She returns to Spain and it is his doing!”

William shouted in reply, defending himself. “I do what is right for this family!”

While Guy managed William, taking him aside to speak quietly, Owen found himself being ushered away by his mother. As they moved into the night air, the flames of his fury were fanned to greater heights, feeling like a child who was being handled after a tantrum, with no regards for the seriousness of his feelings.

“Owen, we must have words,” Cassia began to say. But throwing his arms up in a mock gesture of defeat, he unleashed what he felt in a bitter tirade.

“There is nothing to speak of, is there Mama? My decisions have been made for me – my future decided. I will forget all that I feel and quickly degenerate into a soulless automation. That is what everyone wishes me to be, is it not? A heartless thing meant only to serve and obey? Well then, I hope this pleases you!”

At that moment, he hated himself and the world entirely. Himself for the way he was speaking to his mother, and the world for denying him the simple joy of love. A crushing weight of sorrow suddenly befell him, turning away from the loving eyes of his mother, who drew close to him even as he tried to shun her. To have her sympathy was too much – the pain he felt too humiliating for her to witness. But she would not go. She came to him as he sat in an alcove, her voice as soft as it had always been.

“Owen, this is very difficult, I know. But you must not destroy yourself and your family in this way.”

“Please, Mama. I have no wish to offend, but I cannot bear a parental lecture at this moment. If your desire is to help me, please leave me be.”

He felt her hands on his back, trying to soothe him. But her touch felt humiliating to him. When at last she left him, whispering words of consolation, he slumped forward to hang his head. Misery was a heavy weight. At that moment, he longed for the one freedom freely granted to women – the right to console themselves with tears. He could feel the physical sensations of it. The heaviness of his heart…the burning of his eyes. And yet, he was incapable of tears. For so long, his drilling in the ways of being a knight…in essence, the ways of being a man…had dictated that emotions were a disgrace.

I am not to love, he thought. I am not to feel. I am not to be a living being. God almighty, what do you want of me?

A soft tone spoke to him from the darkness.


He lifted his head at the sound of her voice. “Isabella,” he said, watching her with eagerness as she came closer. Sitting beside him, she looked at him with a familiar sadness in her eyes.

“I overheard your quarrel.” She lowered her eyes – a gesture he was coming to know too well, and one he hated seeing. What troubled him more was the continued sadness of her voice. “The fault is mine, Owen. You must not blame William for these troubles that are born from my mistakes.”

He did not care anymore what was right or wrong. She was his love, and he would no longer allow her to torment herself. He took her in his arms, and was relieved to find that she did not fight him. The feeling of her body against his, her head resting on his shoulder, felt so wonderful – so perfect. He had never been given the chance to do what he was meant to do – to comfort her, to shelter her in his embrace and soothe her with kind words. He relished the chance to do that now.

“Was it a mistake that you sought love? The fault was not yours, Isabella.”

To his surprise, he heard a small, soft laugh escape her. “You once thought quite differently of me,” she replied. “Do you remember?”

Indeed he did remember. The thought of how he had once been, of how he had so cruelly condemned her for her sins, was a painful barb in his heart.

“It is a shameful recollection, one I shall always regret. Can you forgive me for being a fool?”

“There is nothing to forgive.”

“A bold untruth,” he replied, the corner of his mouth rising a little. Leaning back in the embrace, he looked down at her face. Reaching out, he gently touched her cheek. “My father once warned me to beware of regret – that one day, if I was too reckless in my actions, it would find me in a vulnerable moment and strike me without mercy. It has struck me now.”

Taking her hands in his, he pressed his lips to her fingers, his eyes lowered. Thinking of his past behavior, his heart was heavy with remorse.

“I have loved you for so long, Isabella. But I was such a proud fool. I wasted such precious time, denying what I felt, believing I could suppress the desires of my heart.  All that time, I could have known the joy of being with you. Of loving you. And you loving me in return.”

Softly and tenderly she replied, trying to soothe him.

“If you erred in some way, your kindness has long absolved you of any wrong-doing. You have shown me such devotion and caring. You have given me much, including my son. For that alone, I will always love you.”

His heart swelled with joy – and sorrow. She was confessing her love, as before. But in her eyes, he could see such turmoil. It made his heart ache, broken as it was already, and his voice was a tremble of despair.

“You love me. But still you will leave me.”

Her own voice wavered too. “It is the only way, Owen.”

Bitterness and pain tinged his reply.

“The only way is to send a man into the depths of despair? To take away his very hope of happiness?”

Her fingers touched his cheeks, caressing him, his every nerve thrilled with the softness of her touch. She pressed a soft, light kiss to his lips.

“If you love me,” she said, “ You must endeavor to live a life that is full. Find a kind, gentle lady to be your wife. One who is young, and virtuous – untainted.”

The thought of someone else, of anyone but her, was a thought so abhorrent that he shook his head, and he began the utterance of a protest. But she pressed a finger to his lips, speaking firmly, even as a tear spilled from her eye.

“You must create many children to bear your name, and eventually, grandchildren. And build a glorious career in your service to the king.”

“I am to build such a life without the woman I love? The only one I have ever loved?”

“This is how it must be, dearest Owen. If you promise me you will do these things, you will have made my happiness. Is that not what you want for me?”

Taking her in his arms, wondering if it would be the very last time, he took a deep and ragged breath.

“Will you at least permit me to see you away on your journey? To bid you farewell?”

A sad sigh escaped her as she answered. “I would have no one but you, Owen Gisborne.”


Before she could reach the side door, on her way back into the church, she felt the last of her strength failing her. Tears fell freely as she slowly moved inside, not truly thinking of where she was going or what lay around her. All she could think of was how much she hated herself for what she had just done. She had wounded the man who loved her – the only man to truly desire and cherish her. She longed to return to him, to tell him she would stay with him and be his. Only one thought kept her from it.

He will be better off without me, she reminded herself. He does not need an outcast-a whore- for a wife.

His love for her would not protect him from scandal. If he took her as his bride, he would endure the scorn of his neighbors and friends. If they had children, they would be born into a world that shunned them from the first moment they drew breath. Owen was determined to love her, but how long would his love last when all of the world turned against him? It crushed her to think of him growing cold one day, the burden of scandal too much for even him to bear. And what of Sebastian? Her sweet, precious son. Would he grow to hate her too?

She would not put passion before principle. Not this time. Not ever again.

She moved towards the small room where she would sleep – a storage room, essentially, the only private space other than the confessional. Sighing deeply, her heart a heavy weight in her chest, she reached out for the door latch.

Her head was thrown back suddenly, a hand clamped over her mouth. She tried to scream, but found herself smothered into silence. A low, menacing voice growled in her ear.

“Your husband wishes his hands to be clean. But I do not mind soiling mine.”

She felt herself being dragged along the floor, the stranger’s arm tight around her waist and his hand still clamped tight over her mouth. Hardly able to breathe, but terrified for her life, she fought with every ounce of her strength, trying to flail herself in any way to escape his hold. Her nails desperately clawed at the hand that silenced her. Her foot connected with a tall taper and it clattered to the ground, the noise ringing in her ears. Her only hope of survival was that it would be heard, for now she was outside the church, dragged into the darkness. In a moment the stranger was upon her, his knees on either side of her body, his weight pinning her down. Her eyes wide with fear, she stared into the face of her killer. By some miracle, she felt one of his fingers slip just so on her mouth, and she seized the chance, sinking her teeth into his flesh. He shrieked in pain, and Isabella screamed. But her attacker silenced her with a strike, rattling her head and causing stars to flash before her eyes. Suddenly his hands were at her throat, squeezing. She felt blackness coming over her – the world fading away.

“Fucking pig!”

She barely heard the sudden shout of rage. All she could do was gasp for air as she rolled over on her stomach, free of her captor’s hands. She heard the struggle, the sound of two men in fierce hand to hand combat. Turning her head, still weak from the attack, she saw Owen fighting. Like an enraged animal, he countered every move of his enemy and struck with brutal force. Forcing his opponent to the ground, his hands grasped the man’s jaw. There was a last, desperate struggle. Then, a sudden and violent snap. Isabella stared in disbelief, seeing her attacker’s head slump to the side, his eyes suddenly still with death.

Suddenly, the reality of what had happened fell over her. Gilbert had sent someone to kill her. He had failed. And Owen had just saved her life. Overcome, she began to shake all over, even as Owen came and gathered her in his arms.

“Good God, Isabella,” he gasped, holding her in a tight embrace. “Are you all right?”

She shook her head, unable to answer…too overwhelmed to speak.



Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Baron's Lady - Chapter 20, Part 2

There was a powerful urge within Owen – a great desire to give his horse the heel and set off at a gallop. His horse would not mind the pace. Samson was used to such action. In truth he seemed restless, probably not understanding why he and his master were not moving with greater speed. Owen gave the horse a pat on the neck, attempting to soothe him.

“We must be calm, my friend. You will have a proper run soon enough.”

He smiled to himself, imagining how he and Isabella would enjoy a pleasant jaunt through the countryside. She was a skilled horsewoman, which pleased him greatly. Her affection for horses was deep, if her love for her own was any indication. Some women complained of a horse’s smell or their sometimes temperamental nature, but he sensed that Isabella shared his admiration for one of God’s most noble creatures. Perhaps, one day, they would raise a collection of their own. Perhaps they would have a large family to share in the task, and a dynasty would be made. Anything was possible.

From within the coach, which was slowly moving along beside him, his mother spoke to him.

“Having happy thoughts, my son?”

It was difficult to suppress a smile, born equally of being caught in an unguarded moment, and the simple joy of thinking of the woman he loved. His reply was given with a twinkle in his eye.

“A true knight conceals his feelings, Mama. An essential rule of conduct, necessary for battle.”
He witnessed the slight shake of her head and the slight roll of her eyes. But her lips had formed a tiny smile as well, one that amused him to no end. She seemed intent on feigning innocence – an attempt to conceal the truth about her part in this matchmaking scheme. The given alibi was her eagerness to see William again after a considerable separation from him. But he knew her well. Some way, somehow, she had discovered his feelings for Isabella, and in her eagerness for all things romantic, she desired to aid in a happy ending for them both. Of course, she was moved by other motives as well.

“Motherly” motives.

She wanted him to be married, and more so, she desired more grandchildren. Few things pleased her more than being with children, babies in particular. He could recall her absolute delight when Thea had been expecting, and she often spoke at length about her hopes for Evie to become a mother. Family mattered more to her than anything. And because of Isabella, he felt a deep longing for a family of his own.

Soon enough, and God willing, he thought, I will be at work on mine.

At last, the village came into view, and the church was at its very border – the first thing to be seen. And just behind it, there was William’s property.

Isabella is there, he thought, his excitement heightening by the moment. She is there, waiting for me.

He felt a pleasant constriction in his chest at thought of her. Spurred to action, his urged his horse to move at a faster pace – a walk of purpose. Thinking it would be well to impress, he sat taller in the saddle, hoping she would take notice of the impressive figure of a man that was soon to be her prize.

A multitude of thoughts ran through his mind as he dismounted, tying his horse to the hitching post. Dreams of future plans, of marriage vows and a wedding night - a most intoxicating prospect – made him more eager than ever to see her, and he hurried on as William appeared from within.

He was, at first, too absorbed in his happy thoughts to take notice of his brother’s expression. But with each step closer, it was becoming clear that something was wrong. William’s disposition had always been serious in nature, though his heart was kind. But this was something more. Something troubling, even though his greeting was given with his usual calm and kindness.

“God be praised, you have arrived safely. Welcome, brother.”

There was a note of concern, even anxiousness in William’s voice, even though it was obvious he was trying to disguise it. Watching him, curious, Owen observed William with suspicion as he approached their mother and father’s coach. Looking back at the front door, he wondered…

Why does she not appear?

A few anxious moments passed, until he could be silent no longer.

“What goes on, William? Where is Isabella?”

William, helping their mother step down, answered in a way that seemed hesitant – as though he wished to avoid something. Owen felt his tension growing, his temper rising. But holding to his self-discipline, his voice was demanding but calm.

“Why do you hold your tongue?”

Cassia, looking between them both, stepped aside to let Guy descend. “What is wrong?” she asked.

After a moment more of hesitation, William replied at last.

“The Baron LaCroix was here.”

A blow to the gut could not have had such an impact. Fear wrapped a hand tightly around his vitals, stealing his voice for a moment. He swallowed the sudden knot that had formed in his throat. “Where is Isabella?”

William spoke quietly. “Owen, there is something you must know…”

“Where is she?” he demanded.

A small sigh fell from William’s lips. “She is in the church.”

He rushed away, panic making his steps swift. What if she was hurt? What if Gilbert had harmed her in some way? I will kill him, he thought, rushing through the garden gate. I will break his neck and then…

Before he could finish his dark thought, he came into the church and paused. There she was, kneeling in prayer at the altar. Crossing himself, quietly nearing her, he spoke her name softly. At first she seemed not to hear him. But then, she turned her head, raising her eyes to him – eyes that were full of sadness. She turned her head away again, giving him the sense that she wished to avoid looking at him, and there was something in that gesture that struck him cold with dread. Kneeling down beside her, he dared not embrace her, as he so badly wanted to. But his feelings were clear, expressed in the sound of his voice.

“Are you well? Did he hurt you?”

She slowly shook her head in reply. “The sheriff ordered him away. He was enraged at the command, but he could not harm me. I am under the protection of sanctuary.”

Relief washed over him, a small smile of hope coming to his lips. “Praise God,” he said, crossing himself again. Looking at her, hoping to see a light of happiness coming to her eyes, he saw that her sadness was firmly fixed. Perhaps she required encouragement, something to alleviate her fears. He tried to sound hopeful.

“I thought I would not see you again for a very long time,” he said. “Fate seems to have shined a light on us.”

No words. Only the same silence. And seeing how she seemed to be struggling with something within herself, he urged her to speak.

“Isabella, what is it?”

Rising to her feet, she turned towards the door that opened to the rear courtyard. He followed, waiting for her to speak. As she sat down on a bench, moving in a slow manner that unnerved him, he took a place beside her.

“Owen," she said. "I am leaving France.”

He shook his head, hoping he had midheard her. “Leaving?" he asked. "To go where?”

“I am returning to Spain.”

Leaving? He thought. This cannot be. He shook his head again, in denial.

“Surely you jest.”

Her voice seemed so calm, so sad and hopeless – as though she had been assigned a fate, and was accepting it easily. The way her head was lowered, it was clear she had done just that.

“It is for the best. I can no longer put the Gisborne family at risk. You have done too much for me already.”

It was too much for him. Reaching out, gently but firmly clasping her arms, he made her look at him. “You cannot go. There must be another way.”

Her eyes were shining with tears now. “What way would that be, Owen? There is no life for me here. If I stay, I continue to risk my life and the life of my son.”

“He will be protected. I have promised you that!”

“Until when?” she cried, her voice rising, growing stronger. “Until the day he learns the truth about his mother? Gilbert will not rest until he has destroyed me, and he will use Sebastian to see it done. I must not allow that. I will not allow it!”

“You must not fear your husband. So long as Sebastian remains in my family’s custody, we will not allow his mind to be poisoned. I swear it on my life!”

“You are a dreamer, Owen Gisborne. But you must awaken now.”

Her tone had become soft again. But suddenly, there was a firmness in her manner that terrified him.

“I must awaken to a life without you? Is that how it must be?”

“It is the only way, Owen. When I am gone, you will forget me, as you must. You will find a proper lady – a wife who will ensure your legacy with the birth of noble sons. A woman who will not bring shame upon your house…”

“I do not want someone else!”

She would not relent. He could see it in her eyes. But his frantic mind refused to accept the defeat, his heart torn at the thought of losing her. He would convince her.

“You are wrong, Isabella. I cannot forget you. I have tried. A more impossible task could not be put before me. I love you, and I know that you love me. You have confessed it to me, and you cannot deny it."

“I do not deny it. But love is not enough.”

“Do not say that!”

She is slipping from my hands, he thought. But I cannot let her go.

Words would not convince her to stay. And in his mind, he knew that it was wrong to have such selfish feelings. But desperation held him firmly in its grip. Pulling her close, he kissed her. She could deny him in words, but how could she deny the physical passion they had for one another? She could not. Her very being said so, her response to him instant and strong as she wound her arms around him and kissed him back. For a few extraordinary moments, he felt he had won. She would not leave him. They were two souls intertwined, as they were meant to be.

But then, he felt the sensation of her hands pushing at him. Fearful of parting from her, afraid that it would summon the coming pain of her loss, he tried to hold her closer, hoping she would give in. But she was stronger than he had hoped, pushing him back with an anguished rush of words.

“Please stop, Owen. I cannot endure this torment!”

Taking her face in his hands, he pleaded with her. “It is a torment to love me?”

“Yes!” she cried. “If I could change things in a moment, I would. You would have my heart, my body, my soul. But it cannot be, Owen! And we must face the truth of it!”

She ran from him then…just as she had that first time. He rushed after her, as before. But he would not let her hide now. Even when she closed the door to him, he stood before it in a stubborn stance, refusing to leave. Staring at the heavy door, knowing that she was listening on the other side, he called out to her.

“You will not be shed of me!”

Looking about, seeing a chair nearby, he pulled it close and sat down, vowing that he would not move from the spot. She would have to come out sooner or later, and he would be there when the door opened. Somehow, he would make her see reason. There was no use fighting him.

Leaning forward in his seat, his head fell into his hands. How had things changed so? His hopes had soared to such heights. But just as rapidly as they had risen, they had descended to earth, and the pain of it was unbearable.

There must be a way, he told himself.

He would reason with her, if that was the only way. Never in his life had he truly attempted a compromise. His way had always been to fight his way through life – to have his way by force. How else was a knight to be? A tough, uncompromising nature was the way of a warrior. But God in heaven, it was a thousand times more difficult to find words than it was to heft a sword or swing a fist.

But he would try. For her, he would do anything...