There will be one more small installment posted tomorrow. For now, enjoy...
Three years later...
Isabella stretched and yawned. She smiled at the feeling of her husband’s body beneath hers, so warm and firm. He was better to rest on than any pillow. Embracing him more tightly, she looked down at him with loving admiration, studying the rugged features of his face – recalling, as she often did, how she had once imagined having a Gisborne to call her own. For nearly three years now, he had been hers to call husband. And life had never been so sweet. Owen’s humor and playfulness made their union so joyful. From their first days together, he had been intent on making her smile and laugh, as though it was a duty he needed to perform. It had taken time to adjust to his manner of affection – his sudden appearances at odd times of the day, when he would corner her or steal her away to some hidden place, and lavish her with heated attentions. Their love was passionate, often intense – and always overwhelming, for she felt in her heart that her husband cherished her above all things.
Owen was the heir to the Gisborne estate, but they did not reside there on a permanent basis. They preferred life here, at a small cottage in Toulouse, a fair distance from the familiar faces of Marseilles. They required few servants – just a housekeeper, a cook, a stable hand, and each of their personal attendants. Owen often traveled between Toulouse and Marseilles on matters of business, but Isabella was content to remain hidden away at the cottage, where the rest of the world did not interfere, or pass judgment. It was a happy existence, and she reveled in it.
Looking at Owen, she examined the gash on the apple of his left cheek. It was healing now, but several days earlier, it had been quite gruesome, and near as it was to his eye, it was a visible reminder of the chances he often took on her behalf. He was such a devoted husband - sometimes at a cost to his own well being. Over the years, there had been the inevitable whispers about her past. Though she did her best not to give thought to such talk, Owen would not stand for it. He defended her honor fiercely, sometimes leaving him with the marks brought on by a fistfight. It pained her to know that he did such things. Reaching out to gently touch the wound on his face, it was not her intention to wake him. But it caused him to stir. Opening his eyes, he smiled at her, and they shared a soft kiss. She smiled back at him.
“Good morning, husband.”
In place of a spoken reply, he groaned in discomfort, moving his shoulder. Concerned, Isabella reached out to rub the familiar spot of ailment.
“It pains you?”
He shrugged off her concern and embraced her. “The effects of sleeping on the floor,” he replied. His lips formed a sly little smile, which she returned, recalling the madness of the night before.
“The fault is yours, if you recall.”
“The bed was too great a distance.”
Her smile grew, and she laughed softly. “You are an incorrigible rogue.” They shared small, sweet kisses as they bantered lovingly.
“The blame of that lies solely with you.”
Her eyebrow rose with curiosity. “With me?”
“Yes. I was a sensible and disciplined man before I married you. Now I am in an endless state of distraction.”
With his hands so warm and roaming over her skin, and their lips pressing together again and again, it was tempting to lose sight of all matters of importance. But she was determined not to be swayed this day, as she had on so many occasions before.
“I would love to lie here, distracting you to my heart’s content,” she said. “But we have a journey that must be made.”
She was not surprised to see him make a childish face, but such pouting would not move her this time, although she smiled at him even as she scolded him gently.
“Do not fuss, husband. We are expected at the manor by sunset, so we must away as soon as possible.”
“The trek can be made within half a day. What reason is there for such haste?”
“I wish to be there sooner rather than later. Evie and Simon are bringing their new babe, you know. Come, let us prepare for our travels.”
Before he could detain her or make further protest, she moved away from the temptation of his loving arms. The entire family was to gather together at the manor for a dual celebration. Simon and Evie were to present their newborn son, and Sir Guy’s birthday was on the morrow. It would not do to arrive late for such important occasions – not when the entire family was so dear to her. She had often likened the Gisbornes to a wolf pack. They were fiercely protective of one another, despite the occasional squabble within their circle, and now, they had accepted her as one of their own. Their protectiveness extended to her, as did the love they shared as a family. She could not ask for better people to call her relations, and she intended to honor them as best she could. Today she would do so by arriving early, along with her husband.
After they had dressed and partaken of breakfast, Isabella was eager to be gone on their way. But Owen suddenly took her by the hand and pulled her towards the back door.
“Come,” he said. “There is something I wish to show you. It was my intention to present it to you last night, but you proved to be a more entertaining notion and my mind lost track of its initial purpose.”
She laughed as he eagerly pulled her along. “What are you about, Owen Gisborne?”
He hurried her towards the barn, seeming to be like an eager young boy, a spring in his step and excitement in his voice as they went along.
“Do not ask questions, my sweet. I have no desire to spoil a surprise that has been months in the making.”
“Months in the making?” she asked. “What on earth…”
Taking her by the arms, he set her in place and told her to wait. She watched as he rushed into the barn. He came back a minute later, leading something behind him. And when she saw the magnificent horse he brought forth, she gasped, covering her mouth with her hands.
“Oh! Oh gracious, Owen!”
“Do you like him?”
She approached the stallion – a handsome grey Arabian, the likes of which she had never seen before. “Like is hardly an adequate word,” she said. “He is magnificent.” As she looked him over, admiring the fine characteristics of such an animal, Owen spoke in excited tones.
“For weeks and weeks I searched, looking for just the right specimen. The moment I saw this fellow, I was certain he was the one.”
“He must be fifteen or sixteen hands,’ Isabella remarked. “And his color is so beautiful.”
“So you are pleased, then?”
She turned to him, seeing the way his eyes shined with anticipation, the way he smiled so, pleased with himself for making her happy. The thought of their travel plans momentarily forgotten, she rushed to his arms and bestowed a passionate kiss to his lips.
“Dearest husband,” she softly said. “How did I come to be so blessed?”
A familiar light came into his eyes – a burning light that she knew well, accompanied by one of his wicked little smiles.
“Am I to have a recompense for my efforts?”
“Name your reward, and you shall have it.”
“I should like a tumble in the hay.”
Her eyes grew large with surprise. For a moment, she thought he was in jest. But from the look on his face, it was clear he was quite serious. Shaking her head, she grinned. “Owen Gisborne, you are a shameful cad.”
She found herself being moved backwards several steps. He had the look of a wild beast seeking its prey, and she felt her heart beat fast with excitement. A giggle escaped her as Owen pressed her down into a pile of hay. His voice had a slight growl to it.
“I will have my reward, wife. And I think you will give it gladly.”
His hot lips were brushing her neck, causing ripples of excitement all over her body. She managed to make one last attempt at reason – weak an attempt as it was.
“What if someone should see us?”
With a chuckle that was utterly devilish, he replied. “An element of danger makes life more interesting…”
TO BE CONCLUDED...
TO BE CONCLUDED...