Riding through the marketplace, he hardly noticed his surroundings. It was his duty to look for trouble among the people of town. But his head was too full of thoughts. His feelings were in too much turmoil over Cassia to worry about the useless residents around him.
Why did she not come?
It was a question that had swirled round and round in his head all night, disturbing his sleep. It had not left him in the light of day, and it was with him now. He wanted to believe that some dire circumstance had kept her away. She was the only woman he had ever made an effort to trust, and even now, he clung to the hope that his faith in her was not in vain. But old memories and betrayals haunted him, making him wonder if she had chosen to think of him as nothing more than a memory. Would she discard him so easily, as so many others had?
He stopped his horse and leaned forward in the saddle, letting out a despondent sigh as he cast his glance aside.
A hooded figure caught his eye. There was something familiar about that female form, hidden even as it was in a long cloak. He sat up straight, his senses heightened. He knew it was her. Even without seeing her face to face, he knew her. Sliding down from his horse, tying it to a nearby post, he stealthly pursued her. He waited for the right moment. It would not do to have a confrontation out in the open. When he saw her headed towards a certain path, one that he knew went by several houses with alleyways between, he circled around back and waited, preparing to intercept her. It did not take long. She was distracted by some sound or noise just before she passed, looking in the opposite direction. And he seized the moment.
She gasped as he snatched her by the arm, yanking her into the shadows.
“Deceitful witch!” he cursed her. He pressed her against the wall, his eyes wild as they stared into hers.
A tumult of wild emotions fought for mastery of his heart and mind. The delight of seeing her again – of having her near, a mere fraction of a space separating them. God in heaven, he had never longed for someone more! And yet he could not forget how he had waited for her that night at the cottage. How he had longed for her, hoping for her. But she had never come. The thought of it brought his fury to a fever pitch, and his hands shook as he grasped her arms.
Her response was bold – her tone as fearless as ever. “I did not deceive you!”
She fought against his hold, but he would not release her. Not when he had her after all this time. And he demanded answers.
“You made a promise to meet me and you did not! I will have an explanation!”
She broke free from his hold, moving back a step. Her gaze met his, her dark eyes shining with courage. And after a moment, they were shining with tears. “My father is dying, you selfish bastard!”
He slowly released his hold on her. He watched as she turned away. A weight rose from his shoulders – the weight of fear and anger that had held him in a grip for two weeks. Just as quickly as his temper had exploded, it dissolved into a feeling of great shame. He hardly knew what to say to her.
“Dying?” he asked. Watching her, he saw it when she wiped a tear from her eye. His heart ached for her. If he could have been certain that she would accept his consolation, he would have eagerly gathered her against his heart and comforted her. But he knew he hardly deserved the right to be near her - stupid, untrusting fool that he was. Instead, he listened, letting her speak without molestation.
“He never recovered entirely from that night you rescued him. Now he is gravely ill, and unlikely to ever rise from his sickbed.”
He cursed himself. Good God, I am the worst of men.
“Forgive me, Cassia. I did not know.”
She replied in a pointed way – her barbs meant to wound him. “No, you did not know. You only assumed the very worst of me. You think only of yourself, as all men do.”
Never in his life had he asked for a woman’s forgiveness - except for Marian. And he did not want to think of her at all. Cassia was all he could think of, and if she asked it of him, he was prepared to plead for her mercy. He came to stand behind her.
“How am I to express my deep regret? How can I convince your of my sincerity?”
She said nothing in reply. When she dropped her head into her hands, weeping, he could remain passive no longer. He cared not if she hated him for his selfishness. Moving closer to her, he gathered her into his embrace, gently placing her head against his chest. He thanked heaven that she did not fight him. She seemed to want his comfort, leaning against him in a way that left him enthralled. He feared upsetting her further by speaking his inner thoughts, so he was silent as he comforted her. But never had he been so joyful. Having her so near, feeling her soft warmth against him and the sweet lavender scent of her soothing his senses, he was overwhelmed.
“Guy, there is something I must tell you.”
He felt so happy having her in his arms. He recalled the way it had felt to hold her that night in the barn – the soft words between them. The feeling of sheer bliss and utter peace in his soul. She was the only source of such contentment. He replied softly to her – softer and more gently than he had spoken to any woman.
“What is it?”
It was a moment before she said anything. He wondered at her silence, and gently setting her back a space, he noticed how she kept her head lowered. Cupping her cheek, he made her lift her head to look him in the eyes. And he saw that her tears were flowing again. It worried him to see such sadness in her expression – and it stirred the fears that had just begun to ease.
“What is, it Cassia? What is wrong?”
She swallowed a lump in her throat. And then she answered. “Edwin is taking me to France.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “France?”
“When my father is gone, Edwin does not wish to remain in Nottingham. He was granted a barony in Marseilles, and he wants to return there.”
No, he said to himself. This cannot happen again.
“He will take you from me?”
When she removed his hand from her cheek, a feeling of panic blossomed in him – stronger and more vigorous than before, wrapping itself around his insides and crushing him in its grip. She was consenting to all of this. Not willingly, though. He could hear the pain in her voice. But she was consenting all the same.
“It is how it must be, Guy.”
The reality of their circumstances came crashing back down on him. His face grew dark with frustration and anger, and he pulled her tight against himself.
“It is NOT how it must be!”
Her voice was so gentle, so full of tenderness for him. She did not want this. He knew she did not. But she was making her farewell, despite the cruelty of it – despite the fact that it was tearing them both pieces. She pleaded with him.
“Guy, do not torment yourself. You must try to forget what has happened between us.”
Her words like knives piercing him, and his cry was one of torment. “I cannot forget!”
“You must,” she said, her voice breaking. “And I must return to a life with my husband.”
“He is not your husband! He has been away all of this time, never sending a word to you, and now he appears from the blue and demands his place at your side – in your bed?”
“It is his right…
“It is MY right!”
The fire he so admired in her sparked into a flame then, giving her strength. The strength to make her last words to him ones that were spoken with a fierce boldness.
“You must face the truth of things, Guy of Gisborne! We both must face the truth of things, no matter how it pains us!”
For a moment, he was rendered frozen. She fled from him so quickly, it took him too long to react. And then he was rushing after her, determined not to let her get away. Not this time. He would drag her away if he needed to, away to the cottage or somewhere even more distant. But he had to get to her first, and she ran like a doe in flight. He was nearly upon her – she was but a small distance away. But suddenly he was stopped short in his pursuit. The sheriff stood before him, blocking his path.
“Ah, Gisborne! There you are! I must speak to you immediately. Meet me in my castle chambers at once. Make haste!”
He was not listening, his mind too engaged in his pursuit of Cassia. He looked for her, his eyes straining to catch a glimpse of her. But she was gone.
“GISBORNE!” Briewere shouted. “Are you deaf, man? I gave you an order!”
His eyes still searching, his hope fading, he managed a grumble of a reply.
“Yes, my lord.”
As the sheriff turned and rode away, Guy moved slowly through the crowd, still searching. But she was gone. Out of his life once again. And with a crushing feeling, he feared he would never see her again.