CONTAINS ADULT CONTENT...
A cold rain had started to fall. Simon glanced out the carriage window, examining the dreary afternoon. He was glad now that he had followed his instincts, which had told him to seek shelter at the sight of storm clouds gathering. But he had more reason than mere weather to bring him into the vehicle.
He looked down at Evelyn, who was nestled against his side, asleep. Lady Evelyn Jeanne-Carre, he thought. My sweet, cherished wife.
It seemed surreal. He had been prepared, from youth, to marry and have a mate. But he had never expected to feel such things as he felt for her. Such a tumult of emotions gripped him when he looked at her. Before her, he had thought of love merely as a soft, whispy feeling reserved for saps and fools. He had never imagined that love would grow into a mindless passion...that he would desire a woman so much, he would be blind to everything else. Even now, he was tempted to brush his fingers across the softness of her cheek. Just the simple act of touching her was enough to set his heart to leaping in anticipation. But no. She was resting, and he would not disturb her. Leaning his head back against the carriage wall, he intended only to close his eyes for a moment. But soon he was lost in thoughts of the day...and especially the night...that had just passed...
Sir Guy had granted them a chamber at the far end of the guest wing. It was furthest from the activity of the hall, where most of the wedding guests would be entertaining themselves until well after midnight. As Simon made his way to the room, he was followed at a distance by a small group of ladies, who whispered and tittered among each other. Witnesses, he silently cringed. It was a deplorable custom that was called for by law. But as he approached the bedchamber, he was reminded of a private conversation he’d had with his father-in-law.
I cannot keep the witnesses from their duties. But for the sake of an elderly father’s senses, do me this favor. Forbid them from being in the room. Allow them to listen at the door, if you must. But do not permit them to ogle at your marital relations. I spared my beloved wife that humiliation. I wish the same peace of mind for my daughters.
He had not considered limiting the intrusion in such a way. Witnesses would hear the actions from within, and that would suffice, and even if it did not, there would be the evidence writ in the bed linens. That would be proof enough that the marriage had been consummated.
As he came to the door he turned to the ladies, who blushed and snickered. He spoke in a quiet but firm tone.
“You have come far enough, ladies. From here, I must deny you further admittance.”
Their eyes grew wide with shock, and their expressions filled with disappointment, but he paid it no mind. Turning away from them, he reached for the door latch. For a moment he paused, as his heart increased its beats at the thought of the woman waiting for him on the other side of the door. He took a deep breath, and lifting the latch, he pushed open the door.
The room was lit only by the fire in the hearth. It bathed the room in warm light and dancing shadows, filling the air with a sensual tension. His eyes were drawn to the large curtain-draped bed, where Evelyn sat. As he came closer, he saw that her hands were folded in prayer. She was nervous, of course, and she was looking to heaven for aid. Her black hair was loose, falling over her shoulders and down her back, and contrasting with her white nightdress. She was so innocent, almost angelic...and her beauty took his breath away. He found himself clenching and unclenching his hands. His neck and shoulders had never felt so tense. God almighty, why was he so unnerved? It was not he who was the innocent, about to venture into intimacy for the first time. He took a deep breath to calm himself. Evelyn needed his love and guidance. It would not do for him to show his own uncertainty. He made his way to a small table. Sitting down in a chair, he removed his boots, setting them aside. Rising to his feet again, he reached for the tray that had been set up with a wine flagon and two goblets. For himself, he wanted no wine to dull his senses. But he poured a cup for Evelyn, knowing that a few sips would help to ease her tension. When he turned from the table, his eyes met with hers. She only looked at him for a moment before casting her eyes away, focusing on her hands that she was nervously clasping in her lap. He smiled tenderly, bringing her the cup. He came to stand before her, and held out the goblet.
“Taste the wine,” he said. “It will help to soothe you.”
With a lightly trembling hand, she took the cup and sipped from it. After a moment, she handed the cup back to him. He put it aside, and reaching down to take her hands, he pulled her to her feet. He wished her to feel at ease with him...not intimidated by him, as she must have felt when he was looming over her. Now that she stood before him, he could see in her eyes that her fears had lessened, though they had not faded entirely. She leaned against him, pressing her cheek to his breast. They entwined their arms around one another, and as he pressed his lips to her hair, she spoke in a timid voice.
“I fear I will displease you.”
He nearly laughed at that, but dared not, for fear of causing her greater concern. With gentle, loving words, he did his best to comfort her.
“I would be the greatest of fools to find fault with you. There will be no passing of judgment, my love. Not now, not ever. When we are together, we will know only the greatest of joy. I give you my word.”
He wanted no more hesitations. Slowly, he brought his lips to her ear, brushing it with a warm, tender kiss. Brushing her hair aside, he softly kissed her neck. He could feel her pulse beating wildly, and her breath became rapid. Lifting his head, he looked into her eyes. There was fear there. But behind it, he could see her longing. She wanted him, even though she feared the unknown. To conquer that fear, he needed only to be patient and gentle. And that was just what he intended to be. Cupping her cheek, he tilted her head slightly back, and bringing his lips to hers, he kissed her.
It deepened quickly, their lips parting almost at the instant they touched. Silently, he gave a word of thanks that she was not unschooled at kissing. The practice they had enjoyed during their courtship was making it easier for her, and he was grateful for it.
As they savored the taste of one another, their hands instinctively moved in exploration. Through his own clothing, he could only feel a slight sense of her hands on his back. But through her thin nightdress, his hands felt the incredible warmth of her soft body. For a moment he lost himself to the pleasure of touching her, eagerly stroking her shoulders and back. Of its own volition, one hand moved up her ribcage, gently cupping her breast. Her surprised gasp was enough to give him pause, serving as a reminder that she had never been touched in that way. He knew he would have to reign in his own desires, in order to keep from frightening her. But he needed to touch her, if only to rouse her passions and prepare her for what was to come. Drawing back from their kiss, he searched her expression for signs of fear. To his relief, he saw that her blue eyes had darkened with pleasure. She seemed to sway slightly, and it pleased him that she was not afraid. But he wished to be certain.
“Have I frightened you?” he asked. To which she shook her head. Her reply was soft and tender.
“I am overwhelmed. But I trust you, Simon.”
God almighty, how he loved her. She was putting all of her faith in him...and he swore he would not disappoint her. Taking a slight step back, he pulled his tunic over his head, casting it aside. Loosening the ties of his undershirt, he quickly removed it as well. Standing before her, half-undressed, he saw how her eyes grew as she examined him. He took her hand, placing it over his heart.
“Touch me, Evelyn. Do not be afraid.”
With shy hands she touched him, running gentle fingers up his arms and over his shoulders. His breath quickened at the touch of her hands lightly skimming his chest, exploring the solid muscle. His self-discipline was tested by her tender ministrations, and yet, he managed to keep himself in check. But when her hands moved lower, touching his abdomen, he was lost. Drawing her body firmly against his own, he took her mouth in a deep kiss. She clung tight to him, bringing her hands up to run through his hair. Locked in an embrace, he gently lowered them to the bed, being careful not to bring his full weight down on her. He lifted her slightly up, adjusting her against the pillows. Untangling himself from her hold, he withdrew from her lips, despite her whimper of protest. Keeling at her side, he lightly brushed his fingers along her jaw, tracing a path down her neck. He lowered his head, placing a heated kiss in the hollow of her throat. His lips travelled lower, until he came to the collar of her nightdress. He raised his head, meeting her eyes for a brief moment. Then, he grasped the ties of the gown, giving them a pull. The material fell open, revealing the soft paleness of her skin. But it wasn’t enough for his eyes. He wanted to see more of her. He needed to see all of her. Reaching down, clasping the hem of her nightgown, he slowly raised it up until it was gathered around her waist. He could see the rapid rise and fall of her chest...and the anxiety in her eyes. He paused in his actions. Slipping his arms around her, he held her close, whispering softly to her.
“Are you afraid? If so, we will cease.”
In his current state, he thought he would go mad if she made him stop. He uttered a silent prayer of thanks when she shook her head. He knew that, despite her unspoken bidding for him to continue, she must have been anxious. Moving his hands beneath her gown, he gently caressed her back, easing the tension he felt there. When he felt her touching him in the same way, lightly moving her nails along his spine, he was overcome with need. Clutching her gown in his hands, he gently but quickly pulled it up and over her head, untangling it from her arms and discarding it to the floor. Looking at her, revealed to him in all of her nude glory, he was in awe. He found it difficult to speak, he was so moved.
“My God,” he whispered. “Evelyn, you are so beautiful.”
He touched her cheek, marveling at the perfection of her. And she was his. Only his. A feeling of possessiveness came over him, and drawing her tender body against his, he claimed her mouth with a passionate kiss. She responded instantly, twining her little tongue with his as she kissed him back, and he wrapped his arms around her, lowering her back to the bed. He wanted to explore her body, to discover every inch of her lush beauty. But his desires were threatening to undo his tightly held discipline. He had to have her, and soon, or else his mind and body would shatter. As he kept their mouths fused together, his hands worked between them to untie the lacings of his breeches. Breaking their kiss for a moment, he squirmed out of the confining material and kicked it aside. Moving over her, he settled himself between her legs, and she gasped at the contact. He could feel the tensing of her body, in response to this new and awkward position. Looking down at her, he gave her a little smile.
“The pain will be brief,” he whispered.
A flicker of fear came to her eyes, and he felt a pain in his heart. Lord, he hoped she didn’t think him a brute when he took her. But there was little he could do to ease his way. Reaching between them, he pressed a warm hand to her belly, caressing her. She responded with a soft moan as his hand moved lower. Her breathing came in gasps as he found her tiny nub of flesh, and artfully he stroked it. In response, her body arched with pleasure. As she rode the wave of sensation, he readied himself to take her, entering her passageway with only the tip of his manhood. Covering her mouth with his, he drank in the delicious taste of her, and with his fingertips he stroked her again. She gasped once more, this time as their tongues explored each other’s mouths. And he pushed forward, breaking through her virgin barrier.
She whimpered in pain, and he held himself still within her. She had broken their kiss to take in a sharp breath, and he pressed his mouth, slightly open, against her neck, his breathing harsh. Never in his life had he felt such ecstasy and torment. She was so tight around him, her body holding him fiercely. He wanted so badly to move, but he waited, letting her adjust to the feeling of their joined bodies. When at last she seemed to relax, he withdrew slightly and pushed forward again, and she gave a soft cry. For a moment, he feared he had hurt her. But then, he felt her warm mouth against his shoulder. Her fingers pressed firmly into his back, clutching him...encouraging him, it seemed. He could no longer remain still, and withdrawing again, he thrust himself into her. Using a slow but steady pace, he moved within her, mindless with the pleasure of her sleek, heated passage clenched around him. Feeling her soft thighs grasping him, he plunged deeper, wishing to prolong the ecstatic pleasure for as long as he could. But he could feel the end approaching. He parted his lips against hers, taking her mouth in a ravenous kiss. He thrust twice more into her eager body, pressing himself firmly against her womb as his release overtook him.
Aftershocks rippled through him. As they both struggled to catch their breath, he withdrew from the warmth of her body, and shifted his weight to one side. But he kept her close, wrapping his arms around her. Overwhelmed, both in body and mind, he could not keep his eyes open, and he soon fell asleep, holding her close to his heart...
This arduous journey they were making was very difficult for her. He wished there was an easier way to get to Guillemot, but it was nearly sixty miles northwest of Marseilles, and the way home was a long, rough road that was now worsened by bad weather.
But not once had Evelyn uttered a complaint. Nor had she expressed a desire for special accommodations. He had intended to fill the carriage with brocade pillows and thick furs, to offer her comfort on the long journey, but she had refused them.
“I cannot sit as though I were a princess,” she had said. “If I ride in opulence while those around me do not, it would be most pretentious.”
He could not feel the same compassion that she seemed to feel for the servants who would accompany them to Guillemot. He had argued his point with her, insisting that she was now a Marquess, and there was nothing inappropriate about her traveling in style and comfort. But she proved to be more stubborn than he realized, and in a way he was not accustomed to. Her sunshine and happiness, so abundant on their wedding day and during the night following, had faded. She did not become pouty, or ill-tempered, as would a spoiled child who did not get their way. Rather, she became much too subdued for his liking. It made him uncomfortable when he spoke to her and received only brief, quiet responses. And in the end, he had consented to her wishes.
But once they were home at Guillemot, he swore he would not be swayed from his desire to see her elevated in status. She would have nothing but the very best, even if...on occasion...it brought her displeasure.
Against his side, he felt her stirring. She pressed closer to him, and he could feel that she was shivering. Though she was already wrapped in her own cloak, he removed his own and draped it around her, and readjusting their positions, he settled her into his arms so that her head was against his shoulder. As he looked down at her, she opened her eyes, and looking up, she smiled at him. Seeing how he had covered her to spare her from the cold, she became concerned.
“Are you not cold without your cloak for warmth?”
He shook his head. “I have endured worse conditions, I assure you.” His tone began gently, and then became stern. “But you would not be suffering so, if you had been less quarrelsome...”
She quickly interrupted his scolding.
“If you recall, I told you I would be much trouble. And so I am.” Her expression, at first determined, became playful. “Do you now wish to return me and bargain for a new bride?”
He could not remain stern with her. When she was in his arms this way, he knew only the most pleasant of sensations. As a little smile crinkled the corner of his mouth, he lowered his head so that they were nose to nose. He whispered softly.
“I think I shall keep you for a while.”
As he brushed her lips with a sweet kiss, his mind was flooded with thoughts of more substantial affections. Lord, how he wanted her. But a cold, cramped carriage was no place for romance. He heaved a frustrated sigh, but tried to appear pleasant, speaking gently.
“Go back to sleep, Evie. We will soon be home, and this trip will be but a happy memory.”
She settled into his arms, and he vowed that when they got to Guillemot, he would see that she was properly warmed...again and again, if necessary.