Chapter 11, Part One

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"Come here, Evelyn."

He saw how her eyes widened slightly. He could imagine that his command, spoken in his powerful tone, was frightening to her. Perhaps she feared that his demands would be of a lascivious nature. In truth, he was not certain what his actions would be. He only knew he wished to draw her closer, and when she neared him, he found himself at a loss. He felt a great desire to touch her in some way...to relive that feeling of warmth he'd known for those brief moments in the manor hall. But to do so here, in the home of a priest...her brother. It would be most improper. He wanted her to come close. But he needed a purpose...some reason to draw her near. He hastily thought of something.

"Assist me in removing my boots."

She looked quite stunned at his command. And he himself was surprised by the decree that had come into his head. But, unable to think of something better, he held to it. He lifted his foot to her.

"Under most circumstances, my valet would attend to such matters," he said. "But there will be times such as these when I must rely on my wife to serve me."

He examined her, wondering at her thoughts. She always seemed so reluctant to be near him. Was it just her innocence...or was there something more?

"Will you object to your position as my wife?"

There was a hesitation before her reply. "No, my lord."

Her answer might have satisfied him...if it wasn't for the doubts he found swirling around in his head. Did she wish her husband to be someone else? The answer seemed clear enough, and yet he asked the question. He watched as she placed his boots aside.

"Would you be more agreeable if Rene was your lord and master?"

She paused for a moment. And when she spoke, her answer was maddening to him, for it seemed her intent was to dodge his question altogether.

"I do not understand your meaning."

He could not contain his frustration. He leaned forward in his chair, speaking in a calm but bitter voice. "Do not think me a fool, Evelyn. I have seen the way you look at him."

Turning her back, she would not face him. She held herself, clearly taking a defensive stance. For the first time, there was a hint of power in her voice.

"You are mistaken, your grace. Rene of Bergeron is merely a friend...

"He is a deceiver...a charlatan. And you have been nothing more than a pawn in his game."

She shook her head. "You do not know him."

His voice grew stronger, his anger provoked by her stubborn defense of a worthless creature like Rene. And he forcefully declared...

"He is not the cousin of the Baroness!"

Her mouth fell slightly open. He was almost certain she was set to deny his accusation. To keep her from it...to firmly implant the truth in her mind...he spoke quickly.

"Your father and I went to the Chateau LaCroix. The Baron knew nothing of a Rene of Bergeron. While Isabella endures God knows what for her unfaithfulness, her lover...your friend...roams free, indifferent to the destruction left in his wake."

Her eyes shifted. Judging from the rapid rise and fall of her chest, her breathing had accelerated. He could see her grasping for some sense of reason...some way to avoid the pain of the revelation she'd been hit with. But truth was often a cruel thing, sparing no one...not even an innocent girl. As she walked away from him, slowly moving to a chair in front of the hearth, he waved away the housekeeper as she brought the tray of food and wine. As he filled a goblet for himself, he looked over to where Evelyn sat. She was leaning forward, with her hand pressed against her lips. Watching her, he found it difficult not to feel pity for her. Compassion was not a feeling with which he was comfortable. But there was something about Evelyn that was bringing out the empathy in him. Lord, it was a horrible thing to admit...that despite his upbringing, despite his being one of the finest soldiers in the King's army...he was, when all was said and done, only a man. He had his weaknesses, like any other.

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