Chapter 8, Part 2

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Simon pressed his forehead against the door, closing his eyes. He clenched his jaw, and by sheer force of will, eased his breathing. But his heart would not cease its wildness. His limbs and body trembled with intense energy...the same as he felt just before a battle.

What has she done to me?

He moved to the window, throwing open the shutters to find relief with the night air. It cooled his flesh...but did little to ease his mind.

In the past, he'd prided himself on recovering quickly from the distractions of pleasure. It had been months since he'd been with a woman, but he'd not dwelled on the fact, nor had he longed for it...until now.

She was barely a woman, but enough of one to possess the sensual, tender qualities that roused a man's senses. Through her nightgown he'd felt the warmth of her flesh...the soft, lush curve of her breast pressing on his arm. Her hair had been loose, falling over her shoulders in rich, dark waves. And her scent...Lord, it was so sweet. A light, floral fragrance he could not define. What was it? Rose? Jasmine? Perhaps lavender?

He shook his head, cursing himself for his weakness. For such unleashing of desires and sensations, there would come a time. When they were wed, he would allow himself to know his wife. Until then, he would hold fast to his sense of discipline. Perhaps, in the morning, he would delay in riding about the grounds with Evelyn. Perhaps he would, instead, spend time in a practice bout with Lucien and the rest of Sir Guy's men.

He was a man of resilience. A soldier. And he would not allow a woman...even his intended...to break his self-control.

*****

Evelyn eventually found rest...only to be roused by the noises of early morning. The servants began their tasks before dawn, although they did so with hardly a sound. But Evelyn knew the movements of her mother's lady maid. Celeste would be laying out her mistress's clothes, stoking the fire, and so on. In the chamber next door, there were also the slight sounds of movement...her father, most likely, and his manservant. Guy was often an early riser. And on this day, everyone seemed to follow him. Gabriel woke up first, crying to be fed. His fussing brought Thea awake, along with Claudia, who slept on a pallet in the solar. Cassia rose but moments later, and soon the chambers were full of quiet but bustling activity.

As her maid helped her dress, Evelyn became lost in thought, unable to forget her encounter with Simon. And she was expected to join him soon for a ride. The thought of it made her heart turn over in her chest.

 Lord, curse me with the ague, she thought.

 Illness would be a grand excuse for being confined to her room, where she could remain alone with her thoughts and avoid Simon altogether.

But then, illness would bring her mother's concern, and with it, her cures for sickness. As much as she loved her mother and cherished her wisdom, the thought of enduring her medicines was enough to turn her away from feigning poor health.

When they all were dressed, they gathered together in the hall with Guy, Lucien, and Owen to depart for morning prayers...and were met by the Duke and the Marquis.

"Ah, Sir Guy," said Basil. "Good morning."

Guy nodded, smiling. "Good morning, your grace. I see you and your son are both early risers."

While Basil and Guy exchanged friendly words, Evelyn kept her eyes fixed ahead of her, not wanting to look at Simon...and yet, she could not help herself entirely. She could not feel his gaze upon her as she had before. And with a slight flick of her eyes to him, she realized he had his head turned away. He was not making the slightest attempt to look at her...and for a moment, she wanted to know why.

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