Chapter 6, Part 2

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The summer breeze was pleasant...the sky blue and pure. And everything was tranquil. It had been quite some time since she'd enjoyed a peaceful day, and with all of the guests occupied in one way or another, Cassia had chosen to steal time for herself. Accompanied only by her maidservant, Celeste, and one of the family wolfhounds, she sat herself among her beloved lavender fields. As she made her healing oils, the sound of a horse's approach made her smile. She did not have to look to know who it was. She'd given instructions not to be disturbed, and only one person would overrule her command. Without looking up, she greeted him.

"Hello, husband. How did the hunt fare?"

She heard the jingling of his spurs as he dismounted. He made a snapping sound with his fingers...a signal of dismissal given to Celeste, who took her leave and departed with the guard dog following her. He had sent her companion away, so he was either seeking intimacy or consolation on some matter...perhaps both. As he approached, she heard him give a weary sigh...and there was her answer.

"I know that sound," she said. As he sat down next to her, she leaned over to kiss him. "What is on your mind, Guy?"

He leaned down, pressing his cheek to her belly. "If only we knew from the first the great troubles that lie in wait, we would never leave such a haven as this." He sighed again. "I no longer have the strength for it. Healer that you are, create some potion that will ease my way."

She smiled and laughed. "I fear no such magic has yet to be found." Setting her flowers and medicine jars aside, she ran her fingers through his hair. "What vexes you, Guy? Tell me."

Again he sighed. "What are your thoughts on the Viscount?"

"The Viscount?" she asked. For a moment she considered his question. "My love, I must be truthful. I have granted him only a passing interest in my mind. I have been much concerned with Thea and Gabriel...and William."

William had departed at sunrise that morning, needing to return to the duties of his parish. They had all bid him a fond farewell, with her anguish as a mother bringing tears to her eyes. But there was little time to grieve the loss. With a daughter in need of consolation, an expectation of impending company, and a houseful of guests, there was much too much to think of.

"What are your thoughts on him, husband? I am aware of his worth in regards to our grandson. But I sense that your opinion of him is changed in some way."

He hesitated for a moment before answering. He sat up, and taking her hand, he brushed the top of it with his thumb. "I observed him in conversation with Evelyn. They seemed very much engaged in their discussion, even exchanging smiles and occasional laughter."

"And? What is it you suspect him of?"

He let out a breath. "There is something unsettling in his manner...something of a..."

Again he hesitated, and she prodded him for an answer. "Something of a what?" she asked.

"A carnal nature."

Now she smiled, laughing softly. "Surely you jest."

"I do not." His expression grew serious, and to ease his manner...the familiar manner of his temper rising...she drew his arm around her. She felt his body ease as she leaned back against him. He wrapped his arms around her, resting his head on her shoulder.

"A man knows such looks," he said. "Even when they are given in a subtle manner."

"Those that are familiar with such looks have often given them," she said with a smirk. "Is it not so?"

Such playful reminders of what he had once been...his sordid past...would have, in times gone by, made him scowl in shame. She had always been able to relieve him of such darkness by showering him with affection. But now, there no need for such soothing. Of late, such teasing more often elicited a smile rather than a frown. Peeking up at him, she saw the corner of his mouth rise.

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