Chapter 7, Part 3

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As the gentle sounds of Evelyn's lyre filled the air, Basil whispered to his son, who stood at his side. "It appears that your bride is a very fine lady. Quite splendid, I would say."

Hearing his father's approval of Evelyn, Simon gave a slight nod in agreement. She was, indeed, a lovely and talented creature. And judging from the admiring looks given by the guests, they were all equally taken with her. It remained to be seen if she possessed charm and intelligence, for he had not spoken with her yet. But that would come soon enough. When the performance was done, he would be among the first to compliment her. Perhaps that would ease her manner, for he had seen the light of fear in her eyes.

He knew he was not a warm man. Other men found it easy to be gregarious and communicative, but he had never been comfortable with casual conversation. Action, particularly that done with a sword, came to him more naturally. Having spent most of his youth in the house of his uncle...a man with a passion for battle and all things related to it...his conversations had mostly been with other knights or knights in training. On occasion, there had been women brought to them as a reward for their dedication, but such women were not expected to converse.

But Evelyn would be his wife, and though some men wished to instill fear in their mates, he found that to be a foolish notion. What good would a wife be if she cowered at his feet? He needed a partnership that was built on trust, for when he departed to war...and such an event was inevitable...he needed to be certain that matters at home would be attended to. A reliable mate was what he desired, and to achieve such a bond, he would have to learn about her. They would have to converse, despite his uneasiness with such matters. And he began searching his mind for a favorable topic.

But his thoughts were suddenly given pause. His eye caught sight of the Viscount...and from where Simon stood, he could see the soft look on Rene's face.

Simon felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. He knew a rogue when he saw one, and Rene's gaze was giving a blatant look of admiration.

Scoundrel, he thought, feeling the heat of his temper rising. Before the night is over, he will know his place.

He could not shed the villain's blood here and now. But he would certainly protect what was his.

As Evelyn's performance ended to the sound of enthusiastic applause, Simon moved close to Sir Guy and Lady Cassia, knowing that Evelyn would seek them out. She was smiling as she rose from her seat, graciously accepting pleasantries from her guests. As he drew close to her, and she turned to look at him, he saw her smile dim slightly. But he wasn't deterred. He stood beside her, looking her over and seeing the way she folded her hands demurely in front of her. He spoke as calmly and gently as he knew how.

"Your talent is very fine."

She raised her head for a moment, looking at him. He found himself captured by the loveliness of her eyes. Such a soft shade of blue, he thought. She gave him a small expression of pleasure.

"Thank you, my lord."

He found that her smile, slight as it may have been, was quite pleasant. If only she were more adept at conversation. In his experience with ladies, he'd found that they were usually quite skilled at talking, but she seemed unable or unwilling to do so. For several moments they stood side by side in awkward silence, until a subject at last entered into his head.

"Are you fond of horses?" he asked.

She lifted her head again, only now, there was a light of curiosity in her eyes as she spoke. "Yes, I am."

He had hit upon something to interest her at last.

"Perhaps on the morrow, if the weather permits, you will do me the honor of riding with me, to give me a tour of the grounds."

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