An epilouge will follow very soon. For now, enjoy...
His eyes continued to search her face, unable to believe that she was truly there. Reaching up, he touched her cheek with his fingertips.
“How came you to be here?” he asked.
Carefully she unwrapped his bandage, gently cleaning the blood that had congealed. “The journey to Spain was made in less than a fortnight. Strong winds and following seas blessed us on our way.” Rubbing a healing salve to his skin, she began re-dressing his wound. “But the journey was not swift enough to allow a reunion with my dear brother.”
He saw the light of sadness in her eyes. But it lingered there for only a few brief moments.
“Not long after my arrival, I received a letter from your mother,” she said. “She informed me of many things, but her intent to journey here was a matter that pressed deeply on my mind. And on my heart.”
He thought of all that had happened just after she had gone. Did she know that her husband’s mistress had turned on him, taking his life?
“Isabella,” he said, “There is something you must know. Your husband…”
She pressed a finger to his lips. “I know what happened to Gilbert.”
A moment of silence passed between them. As Isabella stepped away for a moment, soaking a cloth in a bucket of water, he examined her more closely. She was just as beautiful as he remembered, and his heart beat a little faster at the sight of her lush curves.
Clothed in a noblewoman’s dress, he realized. What had become of her simple peasant garb? A hundred questions flitted through his mind at that moment. But one fact came to the forefront of his thoughts, and it fell from his lips in words bordering on excitement. As she knelt down to clean his face with the damp cloth, he took her hand in his, clasping her fingers.
“You are a widow, Isabella. You are free.”
A sigh escaped her. She shook her head. “No woman is free, Owen Gisborne. If I were a gentleman, I would now be the heir to my father’s legacy. All would be well and right with the world. But alas, I am only a woman. And my father will not empty the coffers of his fortune on my behalf.”
“What do you mean? Has he cast you out?”
She shook her head. “Not entirely. He cannot bear the shame of having a poor relation, and he knows nothing of the scandal that shadows me here. So, he will care for me by way of a business contract.”
A business contract, he thought. In other words, a marriage contract. Fear rose within him, his voice anguished.
“He will bargain with a prospective buyer as if you are mere chattel? Sell you in marriage as he did before?”
She seemed so calm as she replied. “It is the way of things.”
“I will not allow it, Isabella.” He shook his head, on the verge of panic. “I will have you, and you will have me.”
Gently holding him down to keep him from injuring himself further, she looked into his eyes, and a hint of a smile came to her lips. She spoke softly.
“That is my hope.”
Confusion swirled around in his mind. But it gave way to a tender, soothing sensation as her arms slowly wound around his neck. For weeks, he had dreamed of having her so close. At last, his visions had come to warm, sweetly scented life. Her eyes met his, shining with deep love.
“Take me as your wife, Owen Gisborne. I give myself to you, fully and freely. My heart is yours, if you will have it.”
He needed no moment of consideration. Cupping her cheek, he drew her face closer to his, their lips just brushing together as his voice became a heated whisper.
“I will have it, and you will have mine. Never will you doubt my feelings for you.”
As he kissed her, his impulse was to draw her into his arms and know the feeling of her softness pressed against him. But a blinding pain tore through him, and he cursed his disability.
“Damn and blast my useless limb!” His left side, the one with the now throbbing shoulder, seemed content to be entirely useless now. Though the injury was in the shoulder, the pain traveled up and down the length of his arm, making any movement, even the smallest effort, a source of agony. Attempting to soothe him, Isabella spoke softly as she stroked his face, brushing the dark waves of his hair back from his forehead.
“You will be well in time, dear heart. I will see to it.”
She kissed him softly, rousing him in ways he had not felt in so long a time. Despite his pain, he needed her to be close to him. His heart and soul demanded it. Using his good arm, he drew her as close as comfort would allow. Their lips met again and again, and he whispered words he had so longed to say.
“I love you, Isabella. I have always loved you.”
Resting her forehead against his, she smiled at him. “Why do you feel for me as you do?”
He smiled back at her. “Must there be an explanation for love?”
Her laugh was low and tender, a sound of happiness that filled his heart and soul with joy. Love, at last, was theirs to have.