Chapter 23, Part 1

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 The next post will be a biggie. For now, enjoy...

Evelyn’s words were soft with contentment. “Now that all is settled, shall we take our ride?”

Simon held her close. Her head was tucked under his chin, and the sweet scent of violets, emanating from her hair, was alluring. He wanted to be with her, more than anything. A ride together, alone, was an incredibly tempting idea.

But pressing matters weighed on his mind. Dark thoughts hovered, like a cloud, over his present sense of joy. Not wishing to distress her, he spoke in a gentle tone.

“That would be most enjoyable, but I am afraid I cannot. I must speak to my father about a pressing business matter.”

Disappointment was evident in her voice, and more so in her eyes, when she pulled back in his arms to look at him. “Can it not be delayed?”

He gave a small shake of his head. “Regrettably, no. It must be settled immediately.”

Her eyes lowered. Returning her head to his heart, she sighed. And when she spoke, he caught a hint of daring in her tone.

“Are you certain it cannot wait?”

He felt a thrill at the feeling of her hands caressing his back. A sound of delight and amusement escaped him, and he smiled at her boldness. “Stubborn wench. You try to tempt me.” Heembraced her more tightly. Then he sighed against her hair. “Forgive me, but I cannot delay. My father awaits, and I cannot disappoint him.”

She sighed. Leaning back in his arms, she looked up at him again. “Very well. I suppose I shall see you at supper, then?” Her eyes were eager and hopeful, and he smiled lovingly.

“Certainly. And if it pleases you, we will take a stroll afterwards.”

At last, the smile returned to her lips, and being so glad to see it, he lowered his head to kiss her. She eagerly returned his affection, making a little sound of pleasure that threatened to overwhelm him. It took all of his discipline not to linger in her arms and deepen the kiss. But he pulled back, and after looking at her for a long moment, he touched her cheek.

“Go riding, even if it must be without me. The fresh air and time away from this wedding madness will serve you well.”

She nodded, giving him a smile. As she left his arms, he watched her go, wishing he could follow her, but knowing that there was something he must attend to.

Something he wished he had tended to weeks ago.

As he made his way to the manor, his mouth became a grim line as he recalled the night of his betrothal announcement.

I should have finished him then and there, he thought. Damn my hesitation.

He had made the mistake of letting his enemy go, and a wave of trouble had been unleashed because of his folly. But that would not happen again. He swore to heaven it would not.

Searching out his father, who had arrived just that morning, he found him in the same chamber he had vacated only weeks ago. As Simon entered the room, Basil looked up at him and smiled.

“I feel I am becoming too aged for all this traveling. I sometimes think I should claim infirmity and secure myself at home.”

Simon gave a little huff of amusement. “I fear you may have yet another journey to make, father.”

Basil looked at him, raising a curious eyebrow. Simon’s expression became deeply serious.

“I require your assistance in apprehending a criminal...”

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