Again, this isn't edited. Still, enjoy it. :)
“Your fellows will be quite pleased with you.”
She smiled up at him. In the soft glow of candlelight, she was always beautiful. But after the act of love, there was a luminescence about her that was indescribable. He leaned down and kissed her shoulder, not wanting to think about anything else.
“I have no desire to please them, or anyone else. I please only myself. And you, of course. Always you.”
“I must away by morning.”
No, no, no, He thought. Surely she was in jest. But he could see in her eyes that she was entirely serious.
“Why must you?” he demanded.
“Because I came unannounced. I cannot appear before the household and guests without causing offense. They will think it too bold of me.”
She could not go if he did not allow it. Moving so that his head was on her shoulder, he put his arms under and around her, firmly and possessively.
“You are my wife. Only my opinion matters.”
He felt her nails gently stroking his back. She was soothing him. He knew her touch well enough to sense it.
“That is all very well here, when the door is bolted and we are alone. But you know matters to be otherwise.”
Against her shoulder, he grumbled his frustration. “I must maintain the pretense of a proper nobleman. I am permitted to find pleasure in war and gaming, and the occasional tumble with a kitchen-maid or mistress. That is acceptable to my fellow noblemen. But to have the great pleasure and privilege of lying with my own wife? That is frowned upon.”
A sigh escaped her. “We live in an unforgiving world, my dearest husband. One in which you are permitted to indulge in vice and pleasure, but not in something so pure as love. And I am permitted even less. I must be obedient. I must be quiet and matronly. I must not enjoy my husband’s attentions, but according to the church I must endure them as best I can – merely for the sake of creating heirs.”
There was a note of sadness in her voice that he rarely heard. At times, he forgot that she suffered much the same restraints of society as he did – the same frustrations, and in truth, more so because she was a woman. She was merely better at disguising her troubles. Still holding to her, he moved so that he was leaning back against the pillows, and she was resting against him. He touched his hand to her face, smiling at her. He wanted her to smile back at him – not to linger in sadness.
“Is it wrong that I sometimes look forward to the hope of heaven with you? Where we will know only peace and joy?”
The pleasure, the sunshine, came back to her eyes and lips. The corner of her mouth turned up. “I share your longing for that marvelous world to come. But right now, we are bound to earthly customs. And we must cherish what joys we are permitted.” Leaning in, she softly kissed his lips, and he spoke as he kissed her back, repeatedly.
“So you must depart before the sun rises.”
She replied with a nod – and made a little noise, rather like a sound of frustration. “Feign an illness, Guy, if you must. That will bring you home to us.”
How he adored the little rebel in her! One moment following the rules, and urging him to do the same, and the next moment she was plotting something mischievous. But he knew what he had to do, whether or not either of them liked it.
“It is a tempting diversion. But no. I have a duty to my child – to see that nothing jeopardizes her future. I must be loyal to my host, and remain.”
As she kissed him again, there was a familiar change in her eyes and manner. It was the devil coming out in her, and his body and soul reacted instantly as he watched her sit up, her thighs tightening against his sides.
“Then let us not waste the night talking. Let us make memories that will console you while you tend to your duties. And when your friends ask about the little smirk that will be on your face, you can tell them the complete truth.”
He grinned up at her. “And what is that?” he asked, placing his hands on her hips and pressing her down against him, creating a pressure that set him on fire.
“Tell them that you spent the night rutting with a beautiful woman, and that they should be mad with jealousy…”
The fortnight had at last ended, and the guests had all gone their separate ways. Cresting the top of the hill, Guy brought his horse to a stop. A grin lit up his face. Home – just a short ride away. It was a glorious thing to see. But even more glorious was the sight of the little party advancing towards him. A dark-haired woman, two dark-haired children, and a pair of Mastiff dogs. The beast must have caught his scent, for they started to bay and run, and the children followed quickly. Thea was the first to reach him just as he slid down from his horse, and she flew at him, wrapping herself around his leg.
“Pappa, you have been away so long!”
Scooping her up in his arms, he kissed her cheek. “Yes, I have. But I am home now.”
He barely managed to finish his words before she blurted out with excitement…
“Guess what, Pappa? Mamma will have another child soon!”
Cassia had approached, but stopped just short of them when she heard the exclamation.
Another child, Guy thought – stunned by the news. But in a moment, entirely delighted. He found it most difficult to contain his joy, but seeing the look of displeasure on Cassia’s face, he kept his true feelings in check. Clearly, this happy news had been meant as a surprise for him, and their daughter had just ruined it. Not intentionally, perhaps, but the secret had been spilled all the same. Thea tried to explain herself.
“But it is true, Mamma! I heard you say it to Auntie Matilda!”
Reaching up, Cassia gave her daughter’s ear a strong tweak.
“What is spoken between adults is not to be repeated by children!”
Thea’s face fell, her smile replaced by a frown. “I am sorry, Mama.”
He knew she was not a heartless or malevolent child. She was merely impulsive – a trait he admitted to giving her, so it was not entirely her fault. And it was difficult to be stern with her. He was blissful at the thought of another child soon to come – the wonderful prospect of his family growing. And his daughter was delightful looking at that moment, with her round cheeks growing pink with shame, and her head tilted down in a guilty fashion. Still, he had to remember his place as her lord and father. Her head was lowered, and Guy reached out to grasp her chin, making her look at him.
“You were merely excited. Am I correct?”
She blinked and nodded. “Yes, Pappa.”
“But you did not consider the consequences of your actions, daughter. You were thoughtless, and such behavior is deserving of a sound thrashing.”
He saw the flash of fear in her eyes. But knew her well enough. She was not one to give in until there was no other option. She would try to use her charms – attempt to ease her way out of the predicament. He was not surprised when she leaned her head on his shoulder, talking very softly.
“I do not want a thrashing, Pappa. Please forgive me.”
Such a clever little thing! He said to himself, almost breaking into a smile. She was not even three years old yet, but she already knew how to manage what she wanted. Both she and William could already talk in full sentences, and he delighted in their intelligence. But for the subject at hand, he kept his face like stone.
“You will not do it again? You will not listen to the conversations of others and then speak of them without invitation?”
“No, Pappa. I will not do it again.”
For a moment, he considered punishing her just to be certain she would keep her word in future. But he decided against it. His heart was too light for such weighty matters. But he kept his voice stern as he spoke to her.
“Consider yourself fortunate that this secret you tell pleases me. Otherwise, I would not spare you the rod.” Putting her down, he gave her a solid smack on the bottom. “Now run along, naughty imp.”
As she hurried away to play with the dogs, he tuned to look at William, who was leaning against Cassia’s side. His son was so very different from his daughter. They looked the same, as far as their features went, but they were entire opposites. Well-behaved, calm and kindly – that was William of Gisborne. Guy looked at him, raising his eyebrow in a show of mock inquisition.
“Well, my son? Did you know of this as well?”
William shook his head, righting himself to stand tall in his father’s presence. “No, Pappa. But I…”
The pause was intriguing. One always wondered what he would think to say. Quiet he certainly was, but he had a way of speaking that showed wisdom beyond his years.
“But what?” Guy asked.
“Is it cruel to hope for a brother this time? A male child might be far less troublesome.”
Guy saw the beaming smile of amusement on Cassia’s face. He saw her hand press to her belly. And he did not care at that moment who might be watching or judging, or listening. Laughing heartily, he picked William up and placed him on the back of his horse. He gave him a gentle pat on the back.
“All women are troublesome, my son. Never forget that.”
He felt her eyes changing, even without looking at her. Turning, he saw the look on her face that he had known would be there. Her head was tilted slightly, her hand resting on her hip.
“Except for your mother,” he said, grinning at her as she came to stand beside him – and she gave him a hard slap on the backside. He heard William giggle, and Guy let his full smile show. As he led his horse with one hand, his other hand held Cassia’s as they walked along. She smiled lovingly as she looked at him.
“It is marvelous to see you this way. One of the greatest things I long for in this world is your happiness.”
Leaning over, he kissed her temple. “You are my happiness. You and this family. And today, I care not who knows it. Damn the world! I may smile for many days yet, whatever the judgement to come.”
When Thea came running up to him, he snatched her up and put her upon his shoulders. It was entirely unseemly, and not at all elegant for a girl to be carried so. But for once, he had not a care in the world, and all those around him would share in his happiness – the consequences be damned.