Chapter 22, Part 3

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Just a short one for tonight. I'll have a much longer post this weekend.

Simon slowly let loose his grip. He felt as though a quake had rolled the ground underneath his feet. Lord Rene Jean-Bastien. The vagabond...the worthless, belly-scraping snake who had nearly ruined Evelyn now bore a title? For a brief moment, he struggled with the notion that both men were one in the same. It was impossible. It had to be. But the realization came over him that it was, in fact, very much the truth. And his anger boiled as his mind absorbed another revelation.

The deviant bastard had been corresponding with Evelyn.

It was all he could do to keep from throttling the terrified boy in front of him, if only as a way to unleash his fury. But digging down deep into his soul, he held to his sense of self-discipline. The messenger was not at fault. He did not deserve to be punished simply for doing his job. But he would answer questions. That much was certain.

“Loosen your tongue, boy. How many letters has your master sent you with?”

“This is the third, my lord.”

Three letters, he thought. Jesu, three letters. Had the two of them been sending messages of love back and forth while he was away? Releasing the boy from his grasp, he tookseveral furious strides back and forth, wishing he had his sword in his hand. He could hack the shrubbery to bits and pretend it was Rene.  He turned to the servant.

“Give me the message,” he demanded.

With a shaking hand, the boy handed over the rolled parchment. Simon gripped it tightly in his fist, torn between the thought of tearing the message to bits or pouring over every disgusting word of love. His mind worked quickly, even in the haze of red-hot anger.

Reaching into the small purse on his belt, he found several coins and thrust them into the messenger’s palm.

“Return to your master, boy. Tell him the lady has received his message.”

“My lord?”

“Do as I say. The lady Evelyn has received the message. You saw only her maidservant, and you fulfilled your duty. You spoke to no one but the lady’s maid. Do you understand?

With a nervous nod, the boy turned and fled. Clenching his teeth in fury, closing his eyes, Simon crushed the letter in his hand.

Evelyn and Rene. Just the thought of them together made him sick. His memory took him back to his first days of being  at the estate. He could recall, with painful clarity, how the two of them had looked at one another...how Evelyn’s eyes had shined with such affection for the rogue who was attempting to seduce her. Anger and jealousy had bitten him then, but in the way that a man became protective over a valuable commodity. That was how he had seen her in those days...as a prize to be had.

But another feeling dug at him now. A painful, sickening feeling that he could not name.

How could she betray him this way?

He took to pacing again, thinking of how joyous these recent days had been. Each time he had looked at Evelyn, she had looked back at him with such love and adoration. No one had ever looked at him that way before. He thought of the way she kissed him with such fervor...how she had pressed her soft little body against his, shyly during their first embraces, but now with great eagerness. Good God, it cut like a knife to imagine that it had all been a lie.

But was it?

Some nagging part of him cried that he should not believe it. Evelyn was not some evil, scheming wench. Just as he had recalled the affectionate looks that she’d given to Rene, he now remembered her shattered look at discovering his betrayal. The destruction of innocence. What a cruel, vicious act to be witness to. Roughly, he ran a hand over his face, wishing to hell he could get his hands on Rene.

That will come soon enough, he vowed to himself.

A plot was already forming in his mind. But first, he had to speak to Evelyn. He had to know the truth, no matter what followed. He turned in the direction of the manor, intent on finding her and discovering the truth.

As he moved towards the house, he saw a feminine figure coming his way. Fate seemed to have a strange sense of humor, sending Evelyn out to meet him in this way. She was walking slow at first, but as she approached, her steps grew swifter. How lovely she looked as she came to him, a glowing expression of joy on her face.

“There you are,” she said. Her eyes searched him, as if she could already sense that something was not right. Still, she was cheerful. “I was told you had headed to the stables. I thought perhaps I might join you on a ride.”

Saying nothing, he stared at her for a long moment, searching her features for some sign of deception...and praying he would not see it. He knew his face must have looked stony and devoid of feeling, but he could not help his harshness, even when her smile waned at seeing his expression.

“Simon, what is it? Something troubles you. Please tell me what it is.”

He could feel the muscle twitching in his jaw. Without answering her, he held out the parchment roll. With a curious look, she accepted it. With a wary eye, he watched as she opened the letter. And her face turned ashen as she read it. Her hand came up to cover her mouth.

“Good God,” she cried, and she turned to look at him. “How did you come to have this?”

He could find no reason to beat around the bush. “I intercepted it,” he replied. “It is the third letter you’ve received, is it not?”

Evelyn’s reply was quick, and spoken with great conviction. He had expected something softer...something more feminine, for lack of a better word.

“Simon, you must hear me. I did not invite this.” She looked at the paper as though it gave her great offense. “He has the audacity to write to me, after all he has done.” She turned back to him again, her eyes flashing with resolve. “This means nothing to me. You must believe me.”The strength of her passion left him at a loss for words. He felt his anger dimming as he realized that she spoke the truth, and when she came close to him, clutching his arm, he was moved by the softness that now came to her expression.

“I love you, Simon. You, and no one else. I will burn this letter, as I have burned the others. And you will bear witness to it, so that you have no doubt of my feelings for you.”

He reached out, taking her hand. As he looked into her eyes, he felt a weight lift from his shoulders. “There will be no need for such a display.” Gently, he placed his other hand on her cheek. “We shall forget this incident.” Drawing her close, he placed a soft, lingering kiss on her lips. She clung tightly to him, leaning into him with an almost forceful manner. When their mouths parted, she pressed her cheek against his breast.

“Forgive me, Simon. I never meant to conceal the news of his letters. But I was so afraid of what might happen if you learned of them. I feared you would think me unfaithful.”

Pressing his lips to her hair, he shushed her softly. “Speak of it no more. Let it be forgotten, from this day on.”

She sighed, and he could feel how deeply relieved she was. She continued to hold to him, and he allowed it, content with the feeling of her warm body against his. He suddenly felt like a fool for doubting her, and he swore to himself he would never again lose faith in the woman he loved.

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