Chapter 15, Part 3

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She paused in the vestibule, closing her eyes as she asked herself...

Lord, what madness has possessed me?

To venture out, alone, when it was probable that she would be watched...It was beyond foolish. But what choice did she have? She swore to herself that this time, she would be rid of Rene, once and for all. There was nothing he could say that would soften her heart.

Stepping out into the night, she looked around...and there he was, at a distance, standing at the corner of the house. The night torches were not especially bright, but she did not need illumination to know it was him. She advanced quickly, her voice an angry whisper.

"How dare you show yourself here? Remove yourself this instant or I shall have you arrested for trespassing!"

He brought his finger to his lips, trying to shush her. Oh, the audacity! she thought, growing angrier.

"Do not tell me to be quiet! I should box your ears here and now, you degenerate! You are fortunate I do not scream like a madwoman and set the entire household upon you!"

He broke into her rant, speaking quickly. "I need your help, Evelyn."

His request gave her pause, if only for a moment. Her declaration was firm. She narrowed her eyes at him. "I will not help a criminal."

"But you will help a noble woman in need of aid."

Her tongue faltered, not understanding his meaning...until he stepped back, turning his attention to someone in the shadows. The figure slowly came forward. Evelyn gasped.

"Baroness LaCroix. Good heavens!"

Even in the flickering shadows of torchlight, she could see the change in Isabella's features...the abuse she had endured. It pained her to witness it. She could not find words.

"Evelyn," said Rene, "I am on the run. I can fend for myself. But Isabella has no refuge. No one to care for her. I beseech you to help her."

She reclaimed her voice. Her anger rose again, and she glared at him.

"How can you place such a weight on my shoulders?"

"Because I know you are a true lady," he whispered, a plea in his voice. "You are good and kind. I beg of you, please help her."

A moment of silence fell...and was promptly broken by an unexpected male voice.

"Evelyn!"

It was Simon calling. Evelyn felt her heart race with fear. She looked at Rene, and Isabella. All three looked at one another...and then Rene was gone, fleeing into the darkness. Isabella took a small step back, and Evelyn turned to face Simon, who was approaching quickly. He came to her, placing a light but firm hold on her arm.

"Evelyn, I can be silent no longer. First your tears in the garden. Now you wander away under strange circumstances. I demand to know..." He looked over her shoulder, and his mouth fell slightly open. He closed it. And cast his eyes directly on her.

"What goes on here?" he demanded.

She looked into his eyes, fearful. "Simon, please do not be angry. 'Twas not my fault."

Isabella stepped forward. "She speaks the truth, my lord. She did not know I was to be left here."

"Left here?" he demanded. "How?"

"Rene granted me my freedom."

At the mention of Rene, Simon's eyes glittered with rage. He moved towards Isabella.

"He steals you from the abbey, risking your life for a second time. And then he abandons you here, setting the weight of responsibility on the Gisbornes?"

Isabella lowered her head, saying nothing. Evelyn watched as Simon looked at the Baroness. He turned away, growling in a rage of frustration. He soon took to pacing back and forth. If he wished, he could order Isabella away, or have her detained and sent back to the convent. Who could blame him for his anger? If he chose to give such an order, there would be no changing his mind.

But would he send her back?

She had seen his expression upon looking at the baroness...at seeing her face in its current state. He had pity for her suffering. But would he let his compassion cloud his judgment?

He stopped, gripping the back of his neck.

"Evelyn..."

Her senses were heightened, waiting to hear what he would say. She took a slight step forward. Without turning, Simon spoke in a firm tone.

"Take Lady Isabella to your room, using the servant's stairway. Then, make haste and return to me."

For a moment she was stunned. But there was no time for dallying in wonder at his actions. Others would soon wonder where they had gone. Taking Isabella by the hand, she pulled her along. As they carefully entered the house through a rear side door, the baroness spoke quietly.

"The marquis is a surprising man. He risks much in allowing me here."

Moving up the servant's stairway, Evelyn kept her eyes and ears open for anyone who might cross their path. She replied in an urgent whisper.

"We are all at risk, Baroness. You, above all. We must pray that no one else discovers your presence."

The baroness paused suddenly, bringing Evelyn to a halt. They looked at one another, and Isabella's eyes were full of fear.

"Will your family turn me out?"

Evelyn found it difficult to answer. "I do not know for certain."

They looked at one another for a long moment. Remembering where they were, Evelyn turned her thoughts back to her mission. Moving once again, she entered the hall leading to her room. It was blessedly quiet and empty. Moving swiftly to her door, she opened it and led Isabella in. As quickly as they had come, Evelyn prepared to leave.

"I must go," she said. "Stay here. Rest, if you wish. I will return soon."

Isabella nodded. Evelyn took her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. Then she turned, slipping back into the hall. She leaned against the door, crossing herself. God had granted her many favors of late. She could only hope he would continue being so generous.

*****

Simon was waiting for her when she returned. As she approached him, a wave of feeling came over her. A memory came to her of the first time they had met, just a week ago. How wrong she had been to fear him...to think him cold and unfeeling. She had misjudged him so grievously. His selflessness overwhelmed her, and as she came to his side, she lowered her head.

"Forgive me, Simon."

His voice was gentle and calm. "What offense have you given that warrants an apology?"

"I feel that somehow, I am at fault. Had I been more diligent from the first, Rene might have turned his attention elsewhere. He would not have returned." She raised her eyes to him. "And you would not be risking scandal."

He reached out, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. His warm touch sent shivers down her spine. How she adored the sound of his voice...so soothing, and yet so confident and strong.

"We did not ask for this trouble, Evelyn. But we will shoulder it."

A torrent of emotion came over her. She wished so much to tell him all that she felt for him...the love that was growing strong in her heart. Words of sweetness formed on her lips. But before she could speak them, he took her hand.

"Come," he said. "We must return to the hall."

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