I've decided to split this last chapter into two sections. The next will be posted in a few days. For now, enjoy...
(Contains Adult content)
The scent was heavenly. Sitting up in the canopied bed, waiting for her new husband’s arrival, she took in the sweet fragrance and the sight of the red and pink petals scattered around the room. Such a touch of femininity was probably Cassia’s idea, she being the romantic lady that she was. What a lovely gift she had bestowed upon her as well, surprising her with the offering of a delicate chemise made of white linen and lace. The candles, made of costly beeswax, had a slight fragrance of their own as they burned – one in each corner of the room, held by tall silver candle-holders. The soft light and warmth of the room was quite different from the cold, dim wedding chamber she had once entered as a young bride.
The wedding had been a small affair. Besides the priest, there had been only Owen's family present, as well as Sebastian and a few servants. Isabella did not desire a large public audience, and Owen and his family respected her wishes. Owen seemed intent on doing everything in his power to please her, making her feel like a treasure he had unearthed. During their wedding celebration, he had declared her a “rare and precious gem,” to which she had instantly blushed and lovingly teased him, insisting he had partaken of too much wine. It must have seemed strange, for those who were watching her with curious eyes, to see a woman of her age and experience – a widow, for heaven’s sake – being so nervous, as though she were a girl unschooled. In truth, she felt very much like an inexperienced youth. The butterflies that seemed to flutter in her belly seemed only to enhance the feeling.
The door gradually opened, revealing the man who she now belonged to, body and soul. And she was glad to belong to him. Standing in the doorway, he gave her a small, tender smile.
“Good evening, my lady.”
She felt a flush in her cheeks, brought on both by his tender greeting and the heavy tension that had fallen over the room. She smiled, even as she lowered her eyes to avoid his penetrating gaze. He was handsome as sin, as he had always been. She had always admired his dark good looks and rugged features. But where she had once seen a boy, she now saw a true man. A warrior. A survivor. A husband. That thought struck a susceptible nerve within her, stealing her smile. As Owen came to sit beside her, he could see the change in her expression. Reaching out, he gently touched her hand.
“Your smile has faded. What is wrong?”
Deep feelings, both of hope and sorrow, were rising to the surface within her. Her eyes burned with tears. Owen’s hand gently touched her cheek, his eyes searching hers with great concern.
“My love, why do you cry?”
Sniffling, she leaned forward into his arms, pressing her cheek against his chest. He was so warm. She could hear the strong beat of his heart. With his arms around her, she felt so safe. So loved. And so fearful. Her voice cracked with emotion.
“I am afraid.”
There was worry in his voice. “Afraid? Of me?”
She found something amusing in such an inquiry, and it gave her reason to manage a slight smile. “No,” she replied. “Not of you.”
His question was gentle, but insistent. “What, then?”
Leaning back in his arms, she tried to look at him. But she found herself casting her eyes away, afraid that he would think her a fool for her display of sentiment. She felt his hands warm on her face, lifting her head, and then his fingers softly brushing away her tears.
“You are my wife, Isabella. There is nothing you cannot tell me.”
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she at last confessed the fear that had plagued her for so long. Her voice trembled slightly.
“I am afraid that I will wake soon. That I will open my eyes, and find myself in a cold and empty bed, with the knowledge that I am bound to a man who despises me.”
Her tears spilled over, rolling down her cheeks. She felt so foolish for being this way, after all that Owen had done to reassure her. She tried to turn away from him, but he pulled her close, his arms enveloping her in a strong embrace.
“I love you, Isabella. I will always love you. And you will never suffer such pain again. I promise.”
“But my past actions have tainted me,” she muttered. “You have every right to…”
“You are my wife, Isabella. I claim you as my own, from this moment on. Those who have wronged you so cruelly will be banished forever from your thoughts and mine. You will see.”
Under his tender influence, she gradually calmed. His hands felt wonderful as they moved up and down her back, soothing her – and with each passing moment, generating a fire within. She both longed and feared to look up at him as he gently set her back a small space. His hands traveled slowly down her arms, and she felt the warmth of his touch as he turned up her right hand. He softly kissed her palm, sending shivers all through her. Then, with just the tip of his fingernail, he traced a path from her wedding ring to her wrist. The sensation was so light, but the sensitive nerves of the skin in her hand and wrist reacted with wildness, setting her heart into a mad beating. His voice was soft and deep, deliciously sensual.
“The ancients believe there is a direct line between the heart, and the finger on which we place the wedding band. The vein of love, it is called.”
His attentions to her skin continued, and she felt her breath accelerating. Slowly, her eyes rose to meet his. His mouth curved in a tiny smirk.
“Your heart beats quickly. I feel how your pulse races. Are you anxious?”
I am stirred, she thought. But she found herself unable to form a response in words. His touch was like fire, sending tendrils of heat up her arm, and all through her body. It was thrilling. And shameful.
Old memories haunted her, even as the softness of Owen’s lips – pressed in heated tenderness to her wrist – unleashed a strong ache of desire within her. He was her husband. She had no right to hesitate, and she could clearly see the longing in his eyes, in his every feature. And heavens, how she wanted him too. So much. But she was terrified of what would come afterwards. The memory of being in the arms of Rene, of knowing the breathtaking heights of pleasure – and then the devastating fall that came only moments later. The self-loathing and guilt. How she feared it so.
Slowly, they were falling back against the bed together, Owen’s arms holding her closely and securely. Closing her eyes as he kissed her gently, she was certain he could feel her fear and tension, and she hated herself for it. A war of wills, fought between her desire and her fears, made her feel as though she was being torn apart. But Owen’s manner was so gentle, so considerate. Despite her fears, she felt herself melting quickly under his attentions, his warm kisses pressing so tenderly to her cheek, her jaw, and her neck, and once again, to her lips. He whispered lovingly between kisses.
“You are my heart, my soul. To give yourself to me, in this way, is not wrong.”
His hands were touching her with eagerness, and slowly, she let her own hands begin a slow journey of exploration. For so long, she had secretly dreamed of touching him this way, her fingers moving over his broad, solid shoulders. Even through his shirt, she could feel the incredible warmth of his skin. Bolder now, she let her fingers slide under the open front of his shirt. She heard a small, soft groan in response, and the nature of their kiss changed. He urged her to open for him and she did, gasping with delight as their heated breathing mingled. When he broke away to remove his shirt, it seemed like much too long before they were in each others arms once again. But they shared only a brief kiss before he paused a second time.
“If you wish to remain in your chemise,” he said, “I will understand.”
He was so wonderfully protective, and she loved him so much for it. But she could see the fire in his eyes. She shook her head, whispering.
“I will be free of it.”
For a moment he continued to look at her, and she saw that he understood her dual meaning. With eager but tender hands, he untied the garments ribbons and pulled it over her head, dropping it to the floor. His breeches followed a moment later, leaving them entirely exposed to one another – and mad with eagerness. When he returned to her arms, she clasped him tightly against her body, loving the solid maleness of him, the delicious roughness of his hands as they touched her soft skin. When his hands touched her breast, followed quickly by his lips, she cried out his name, and silently wondered if it was possible to die of pleasure. She could feel him pulsing against her, so strong – but somehow, hesitant. His entire body was rigid with tension, as though he feared to go further. Looking into his eyes, she could see the turmoil within him. He desired her with a mad passion – but he would destroy himself before he dared to hurt her. The moment of truth was upon her. With a questing hand, she reached down to touch him, silently granting him allowance, and with a groan of relief, he entered her.
Her mouth opened slightly in a silent gasp as he moved, slipping slightly out and then pushing in again, each thrust sending waves of mindless pleasure through her mind and body. Instinctively she lifted her hips to meet each movement. Her legs held him firmly. Her fingers gripped his back, kneading the skin, her nails digging in when the shocks of pleasure overwhelmed her senses entirely. There were few words between them. Only the sounds of delight, and the gasping of one anothers' names. As the peak of desire grew closer, they both clung tight together, wishing the madness would have no end. But it rushed in with a blinding force that shook each of them to the core, both of them crying out as one.
Breathless, she found movement momentarily impossible, and thinking nearly as difficult. Owen’s weight was pressed against her, and within her, holding her in place, and she clung to him, never wanting him to move. There was no shame, no guilt. Only an overwhelming desire to hold to the man who had freed her in every possible way – the man she loved more than words could say. His head was resting beside hers on the pillow, his breathing as hectic as hers, and he struggled to speak.
“Are you well?”
She nodded, managing a breathy response. “Yes.”
For a moment he remained still. But then she felt his delightful heaviness moving away, leaving her feeling bereft. Needing his closeness, desiring him, she pressed her body to his as he lay on his back. She meant to rest her head on his chest, to feel the beat of his heart against her ear. But he touched her face with his palms, raising her head and meeting her gaze with his. His expression was filled with concern.
“There are fresh tears in your eyes.”
“Tears of relief, husband,” she said with a smile. “Of joyous relief.”
He mouth formed into a delightful little smirk. His dark eyes twinkled. “I have pleased you, then?”
She replied with a smile of her own. “More than you know.” Resting her head against him, she closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the pleasure of his warm body and the wonderful sensation of his hands rubbing her back.
“You have pleased me as well,” he said.
A light laugh escaped her. Despite his marvelous attentions, old insecurities still lingered in her heart, and she sighed. “You attempt to flatter me with such a fabrication.”
There was a note of indignation in his tone. “A fabrication?”
“Your bride is weepy and frigid. You should be deeply disappointed.”
Now it was he who made a sound of amusement. “Frigid, indeed. I find you to be delightfully warm.”
She held closer to him, loving his humor and his protectiveness. But she could not help teasing him slightly.
“You are a stubborn man, Owen Gisborne. So determined to love me in every way. There are those who may scorn you for your efforts.”
He gave an indignant snort. “If they scorn me, then so be it. May they all go to the devil.”
Rising up, she looked into his eyes, adoring him. And she saw in his returning gaze a look of deep love and desire. He reached out to touch her cheek, and his fingers gently brushed her lips.
“I adore your smile,” he softly said, “And the sound of your laughter. Such beauty warms my heart and stirs my senses.”
The strength of his desire for her was shining in his eyes and etched in his expression. Had it only been minutes since they had made love? It seemed longer, for the burning need seemed to be overwhelming. Free from their initial fears and hesitations, they kissed hungrily, their hands roaming over one another in eagerness. Owen rolled her to her back, speaking hotly against her lips.
“Say you love me, Isabella. That you burn for me as I burn for you.”
His mouth captured hers in a hot kiss. When he allowed her a moment to catch her breath, she whispered her reply.
“I love you,” she said, opening her mouth against his, tasting him. Breaking away for a brief moment, she commanded him. “Have me now, husband. And see both of our desires fulfilled.”