Chapter 13, Part 1

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 Rene felt a slight weight pressing on his chest. Widening his eyes in an attempt to shake off sleep, he glanced down at the petite, blond-haired figure resting on him. Who was she? Had she given her name? He could not recall. Their time had not been spent in conversation...that much he remembered. She was likely one of the wenches who worked at the tavern next door. He recalled something about her being sent to him by her master, but beyond that, his memory faltered.

 His head pained him with a dull ache, enough to keep him abed. But his mouth was terribly dry, and his bodily functions could not be ignored. Gently moving from under his companion, he made use of the chamber pot and the wash basin. From the flagon on the bed table, he poured the last of the previous nights wine into a cup, sipping it as he stood by the window. The cool water he'd splashed on his face had helped to revive both his senses and his thoughts.

 He had arrived at the inn last night, with a substantial sum of money in his purse. Isabella had provided him with it, gracious thing that she was. Thinking of her, he recalled how she had clung to him and kissed him goodbye. She'd given him a bag of gold coins to provide for himself, and with tearful eyes, she had asked him not to forget her. Were it not for her husband, he might have stayed a little longer. But perhaps it was for the best. Their relationship had been growing too complicated these past several days. It was better to make a clean break...to move on.

 Now, if only certain troubles would leave him be.

 What had happened with Evelyn? His last memory of her had been the sight of her in tears.

 Sir Guy had obviously condemned her in some way, and it had taken all of his discipline not to go to her. But how could he have done that? Considering Guy's threats, it would have been beyond foolish to attempt consoling her. And the Earl of Gisborne was not the only threat to his very existence.

 He could not forget the feeling of a knife being held at his throat. What kind of stupid fool would he have been to remain there when his life had been threatened? It was easier to walk away, as he had done countless times before. What difference was there between this situation and any of the others he'd encountered?

 A great difference, he silently admitted.

 There was a vision in his head that would not leave him. It had been there for many days...ever since he had sat in the crook of an apple tree, and looked down upon an angel.

 She was there, in his mind, in all of her loveliness. The dark, lustrous hair that could be likened to black silk...her blue eyes, softly shaded the color of a summer sky. She had all the exquisiteness a man could desire. But there was more to her than physical beauty.

 How sweetly shy she was. The blush of her cheeks was so lovely, and the way she turned her eyes from him, trying to hide a dimpled smile...it had touched something tender inside of him.

 And yet, however shy, there was a boldness in her that could not be hidden. It sparkled in her eyes. Hells bells, she hadn't been shy about challenging his word. Even though he had sensed fear in her, she had stood her ground. And how could he forget the trick she had played on Isabella? His lip curled in amusement, and he stifled a laugh at the thought of Isabella, screaming like a madwoman when she discovered the lizard on her person. Evelyn had put it there...a childish trick, indeed. And he found delight in that rebellious quality.

 He wanted to see her again. It would have to be carefully done, of course, but he was capable of discretion. He hadn't gotten this far in life without knowing how to handle himself. They deserved a proper goodbye. And he was not a heartless rake, leaving a woman he cared about without thought for her welfare. Her father might have disowned her, furious as he'd been. The Marquis might have called off the engagement and left her in disgrace.

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