Chapter 22, Part 2

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Sitting at the supper table, Simon examined the faces surrounding him. All were filled with warmth and merriment. For a brief moment, he wondered at their tender expressions. Before leaving court, the men had all been in agreement not to further delay the news of impending war. It was better to tell their spouses sooner rather than later, to soften the blow and allow them to adjust to the news.

 How strange it was to find all of the ladies so calm. And yet, even as he pondered it, he came to realize that he should have expected as much. When it came to the Gisborne family, there was little that was conventional. And looking around the table, seeing his soon-to-be family members, he realized he did not wish them to be any other way.

 He looked at Evelyn, who sat across from him. She was speaking to Thea. They were engaged in animated conversation, and he found it strangely delightful to watch them.

 How wonderful it must be to know such closeness, he thought to himself.

 She was fortunate to have such love. What would it be like, he wondered, to truly live in the embrace of such a devoted family? Since he had met them, the Gisbornes had treated him with great kindness and generosity. But what would it be like to be one of them...to live and laugh with them, and learn their inner most secrets? His gaze fell upon the mistress of the house. She was the heart of this family. He had sensed that from the first. But where did such a woman come from? She carried herself with the pride and dignity of any noble woman. Her manners and deportment were impeccable. And yet, she was so wonderfully different from others he had known. She was compassionate and loving, but when inclined, she could be quite bold. In her, he could see the genesis of Evelyn. He could now understand how such a spell had been cast over Guy of Gisborne. It was now clear to him how a man, so seemingly dark, could surrender so easily to a woman. And he realized that, just like Sir Guy, his heart was no longer his own.

 I have been vanquished by love, he thought. He smiled to himself, silently noting…

 Oh, what a sweet conquest it has turned out to be.

 He turned to look at Evelyn. When her eyes met his, he felt a tugging sensation at his heart. He suddenly wished she was not sitting across from him, but at his side, where he would hope for a brush of his hand against hers. It would all be accidental, of course. There could be no intentional touching of hands. It was not good form for an unwed couple.

 Damn propriety, he found himself silently muttering.

 He had to console himself simply with looking at her, taking in her lovely smile and shining eyes. They shared a long, lingering exchange of glances...until they were interrupted by a soft cry from lady Cassia, who dropped her wine goblet on the table.

 “Good heavens,” she said. Everyone watched her for a moment. And when she placed her hands on her belly, Guy suddenly came to his feet. Evelyn, Thea, Owen, and even Lucien rushed forward to help, along with Celeste and several other servants. Simon felt the need to rush in as well. But seeing the crowd that had gathered around lady Cassia, he took a step back. It was a sudden scene of madness, but there seemed to be no place for him. He could only observe as Cassia’s loved ones fought to care for her, and even in her current state, she was the picture of a strong mistress. While those around her were chattering with alarm, she calmly gave orders.

 “Owen, ride with Lucien to fetch the midwife. Thea, tell Marie to prepare hot water. Celeste, go with Violette. Find clean towels and sheets and bring them up.”

 Guy and Evie helped her up the stairs, and Simon followed behind them at a distance.

Good heavens, he suddenly thought. Should I be following them? Is this not inappropriate for a gentleman to be witness to?

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