Chapter 11, Part One

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"Your grace," said William. "I am deeply honored. Will you come in?"

Simon crossed the threshold. "Thank you, Father."

"I am quite surprised by your visit. But pleased, of course."

Almost in sync, they turned to look at Evelyn. She managed a stiff, nervous courtesy, and Simon bowed...while his eyes met hers with a purposeful look.

"Forgive me, your grace," said William. "I must depart for church. If you require anything, my housekeeper will assist you." As he gave instructions, ordering food and drink, Evelyn took a small step forward.

"Will, perhaps I should accompany you to church. I am not inclined to miss prayers."

Simon stepped in her way. He spoke with authority. "I think perhaps on this occasion, you will make an exception." He turned to William. "Do not fear, good Father. I will watch over her."

With an apologetic look to Evelyn, William nodded in compliance.

"Your grace," he said in reply. He left quietly, and as the door closed, Simon turned. He did not look at Evelyn. And yet he addressed her with a firm tone.

"Well, well. Lady Cassia's assumption was correct. You did seek refuge with your brother." Removing his gloves, he dropped them on the table. He sat down in a sturdy wooden armchair, stretching his legs and crossing his ankles. As he folded his arms, his gaze rose. He looked her over. "I see you are quite well." His eyes narrowed, and his expression became serious. "Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for your poor mother and father."

Guilt shined in her eyes. She lowered her head, speaking softly. "William has rushed word to them, your grace. They will soon know I am well."

His tone was stern. "They will not know it for certain until they see you in the flesh. And I intend to present you to them first thing tomorrow."

"But your grace," she protested, "I have come to see my brother. I cannot leave him so quickly."

She wrung her hands. Her voice held a note of concern, as if she feared facing the consequences of her actions. But if she thought to find him sympathetic to her plight, she was mistaken.

"We will depart at first light, and I will have no argument. You may go with dignity, riding upright. Or, you can be bound with rope and carried over my saddle, much like a sack of goods fresh from market. I leave the decision to you."

She lowered her head again. "I will go willingly, your grace. There will be no need to force me."

Looking at her, he almost felt guilty in witnessing her gesture of submission. But he reminded himself that it was inevitable. When they were married, she would have to accept her status. She would no longer enjoy the liberty of being an unwed woman...and the thought made him feel rather sorry for her. Knowing how she had lived an indulged life, free of cares, he could see how the transition would be difficult. He tried to speak gently.

"You have made a wise decision."

A silence fell between them. She seemed unsure of what she should do next. He let out a breath, taking the opportunity to examine her. Her shyness was quite apparent. For a moment, he found her innocence endearing. There was a lovely rose color in her cheeks...a look that was quite becoming.

But had she looked upon another with that same innocent expression?

Since he'd first seen her with Rene, he had tried to suppress his jealousy. But it seemed the more he tried to contain it, the harder it fought to be expressed. Perhaps the time had come to assert his position as her husband-to-be.

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