Chapter 17, Part 3

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Isabella knelt on the floor of the chapel, looking around at its gleaming white walls.  Sir Guy had permitted her the use of the holy room, although she had waited until late afternoon to seek it out. The chapel's leaded glass windows were slightly open, allowing the summer breeze to waft in...along with the sounds of merriment. Lady Cassia had given her invitation to picnic with the family, to join in their merriment as they watched the game being played. But Isabella forced herself to decline.

 They were not her family. Though she knelt in prayer, thanking God for the generosity of her neighbors, she could not bring herself to sit among them. This morning, just after she had risen, she had overheard the conversation in the corridor.

 I do not wish to reside in the same house as a whore.

 How was it possible, she wondered, for a heart already broken to feel such a resurgence of pain? Whore. How she despised the cruel phrase, made up by men who had no understanding of anything beyond their own selfishness. Men were not used as bargaining chips. They did not suffer the attentions of those they despised. In marriage, men were allowed the selection of their mates, no matter how unworthy they might be of her.

 Men knew nothing of a woman's heart.

 When they were cold and lonely, they often sought private company with the same manner of women they condemned in public. And yet it was acceptable in the eyes of the world. But a woman was forbidden from seeking such pleasurable company. She was to suffer in silence, no matter how isolated she was...not matter how her heart ached for simple human affection.

As she lowered her head, closing her eyes, a tear trickled down her cheek. She would never again be subject to the whims of men. God had shown her the way to freedom in this life. He had guided her here, to the kind embrace of a loving family, who extended their devotion to a friend in need. She would go to Toulon, where she would live a quiet life devoted only to God.

Crossing herself, she whispered a last prayer of thanks for the mercy The Almighty had granted her.

 Her gaze was lowered, following the floor as she left the chapel. Lost in thought, she rounded the corner leading to the hall...and collided with someone coming in the opposite direction. She stumbled back and nearly lost her footing. Leaning against the wall, she looked into the face of Owen Gisborne. He was scowling at her, as if she had caused him some kind of offense. His tone was as scornful as his look.

 "You might think to hold your head up when you walk."

 She shot him a hateful glare. "And you might think to treat others with a shred of decency."

Without waiting for his response, she turned and fled, hurrying up the stairs to her room. Once there, she sank down on the bed, clutching a pillow to her chest. Her cheeks were soon wet, but in anger she dashed the tears away. They were of no use. She gave a shuddering sigh, wishing she were in Toulon already.

 *****

 As sunset neared its meeting with moonlight, it was generally agreed that the evening was much too lovely to be spent indoors. And in keeping with the day spent in the embrace of nature, supper was a simple meal of bread, wine, and fresh fish roasted over an open fire.

It had been so long since they had spent a day like this. Evelyn wished she could capture the day and hold it forever. She was certain there was a magic spell surrounding them. How else to explain the look that Simon wore? In the short time she had known him, his expression had only softened on occasion. But ever since the match between them, he had benn light-hearted and careless of mood. He had smiled many times, even laughing at a charming story that Lucien shared about Gabriel. How enjoyable his laugh was! A low, soft chuckle that was amusing in and of itself, it made her smile just to hear it.

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