Chapter 25, Part 1

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This is the edited version of this chapter. If anyone is interested in the unedited version, please let me know and I will send a link...

A cold rain had started to fall. Simon glanced out the carriage window, examining the dreary afternoon. He was glad now that he had followed his instincts, which had told him to seek shelter at the sight of storm clouds gathering. But he had more reason than mere weather to bring him into the vehicle.

He looked down at Evelyn, who was nestled against his side, asleep. Lady Evelyn Jeanne-Carre, he thought. My sweet, cherished wife.

It seemed surreal. He had been prepared, from youth, to marry and have a mate. But he had never expected to feel such things as he felt for her. Such a tumult of emotions gripped him when he looked at her. Before her, he had thought of love merely as a soft, wispy feeling reserved for saps and fools. He had never imagined that love would grow into a mindless passion...that he would desire a woman so much, he would be blind to everything else. Even now, he was tempted to brush his fingers across the softness of her cheek. Just the simple act of touching her was enough to set his heart to leaping in anticipation. But no. She was resting, and he would not disturb her. Leaning his head back against the carriage wall, he intended only to close his eyes for a moment. But soon he was lost in thoughts of the day...and especially the night...that had just passed...

*****

Sir Guy had granted them a chamber at the far end of the guest wing. It was furthest from the activity of the hall, where most of the wedding guests would be entertaining themselves until well after midnight. As Simon made his way to the room, he was followed at a distance by a small group of ladies, who whispered and tittered among each other. Witnesses, he silently cringed. It was a deplorable custom that was called for by law. But as he approached the bedchamber, he was reminded of a private conversation he’d had with his father-in-law.

I cannot keep the witnesses from their duties. But for the sake of an elderly father’s senses, do me this favor. Forbid them from being in the room. Allow them to listen at the door, if you must. But do not permit them to ogle at your marital relations. I spared my beloved wife that humiliation. I wish the same peace of mind for my daughters.

He had not considered limiting the intrusion in such a way. Witnesses would hear the actions from within, and that would suffice, and even if it did not, there would be the evidence writ in the bed linens. That would be proof enough that the marriage had been consummated.

As he came to the door he turned to the ladies, who blushed and snickered. He spoke in a quiet but firm tone.

“You have come far enough, ladies. From here, I must deny you further admittance.”

Their eyes grew wide with shock, and their expressions filled with disappointment, but he paid it no mind. Turning away from them, he reached for the door latch. For a moment he paused, as his heart increased its beats at the thought of the woman waiting for him on the other side of the door. He took a deep breath, and lifting the latch, he pushed open the door.

The room was lit only by the fire in the hearth. It bathed the room in warm light and dancing shadows, filling the air with a sensual tension. His eyes were drawn to the large curtain-draped bed, where Evelyn sat. As he came closer, he saw that her hands were folded in prayer. She was nervous, of course, and she was looking to heaven for aid. Her black hair was loose, falling over her shoulders and down her back, and contrasting with her white nightdress. She was so innocent, almost angelic...and her beauty took his breath away. He found himself clenching and unclenching his hands. His neck and shoulders had never felt so tense. God almighty, why was he so unnerved? It was not he who was the innocent, about to venture into intimacy for the first time. He took a deep breath to calm himself. Evelyn needed his love and guidance. It would not do for him to show his own uncertainty. He made his way to a small table. Sitting down in a chair, he removed his boots, setting them aside. Rising to his feet again, he reached for the tray that had been set up with a wine flagon and two goblets. For himself, he wanted no wine to dull his senses. But he poured a cup for Evelyn, knowing that a few sips would help to ease her tension. When he turned from the table, his eyes met with hers. She only looked at him for a moment before casting her eyes away, focusing on her hands that she was nervously clasping in her lap. He smiled tenderly, bringing her the cup. He came to stand before her, and held out the goblet.

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