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Authors: Cari Hislop

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BOOK: A Companion for Life
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He hadn’t kissed her again. He didn’t
trust himself to be a gentleman if she gave him even the faintest
encouragement. Remembering how the tip of her tongue had welcomed
his without resistance made him break into a cold sweat and his
heart tattoo her name on the inside of his chest.
Ruminating future pleasure was
ploughing sand; she wasn’t in any state to accommodate his passion.
The doctor was pleased with her healing, but she was still in
pain.

Penryth
assiduously
avoided probing for any meaning behind the new warm feeling
in his chest. Lily might be the most comfortable woman he’d ever
known, but she was simply another woman he desired. Sweeping curves
were taunting him from the other end of the table as Jones
delivered the morning post. He dragged his eyes away from his
blushing wife and picked up the solitary letter with his name
written in a familiar hand. The few times he’d thought of his
mistress it was only to compare her unfavorably with his new
companion. Breaking the wax seal out of habit he scanned the
swirling scrawl. She’d forgiven him and begged him to attend her
immediately for an intimate conversation.

He glanced down the table at his wife
who’d paused to watch him. That cape of orange hair seemed to growl
as she tried to hide her curiosity. He folded the letter and shoved
it into a pocket as he rose from his seat and walked to the other
end of the table. “I have some urgent business to attend. Is there
anything I can get you while I’m out?” She shook her head, her wild
hair trembling in disgust at what he was about to do. It knew he
was going to make love to Melisande while imagining it was Lily in
his arms. It would be difficult as Melisande was only half the
woman he really wanted, but the temptation to ease the longing
outweighed the dishonor of his actions. Leaning over he smiled as
he eyed her tempting lips; they were healing. In another few days
the scabs would fall off and she’d be even more kissable. The ugly
swollen bruises around her eyes and jaw were receding revealing
pretty features. The animal on her head leaned back to claw at his
eyes as she looked up with an innocent expression tinged with hope.
Did she want him to kiss her? One temptation, two temptations… He
draped his arm over the back of her chair and gave in to the
hunger, unconcerned that his servants would witness that he desired
his fat wife. An eternity later he pulled his lips away and smiled
into eyes that looked like they’d been cut out of a brown autumn
leaf streaked with yellow-gold and light green. “I’ll be back in a
few hours. Is there anything you need or desire from the shops Mrs
Bowen?”

“I don’t need anything Mr Bowen, thank
you.”

“Not even some chocolate bonbons that I could
exchange for kisses. How many kisses, I mean bonbons would you like
Mrs Bowen?”

He smirked as she flushed bright pink and
glanced at Jones standing nearby staring at the ceiling with a
pained expression. She leaned towards him and whispered, “Half a
dozen?”

“Half a dozen?” The words were loud enough to
reach every corner of the room. “Are my kisses so unpleasant Mrs
Bowen?”

“You’re very wicked…” His amusement and
followed him from the house and down the street. The warm pleasant
feeling was becoming almost tangible as if someone had put an
immortal white hot coal in a heart shaped brazier and sewn it into
his chest. The sky threatened rain, the cobbles were slippery with
muck and mud; he’d never known such a beautiful day. Over the noise
of the city he could hear birds singing praises to plump wives and
the wind moaning Lily’s name as he passed through narrow streets.
Humming a waltz, he mentally relived the exquisite taste of her
lips and the adoration in her eyes. With every turn of the head
London offered images inspiring thoughts of Lily. He could only
conceive one thing making him happier and that would have to wait
‘till his bride was free of bruises. Just thinking about lying in
Lily’s arms turned his innards inside out and sent his blood
whirling through his body. Several times he found his feet
unconsciously carrying him homeward, but he resolutely turned them
back towards his mistress.


Fifty minutes later Penryth lay in his
lover’s arms, his spent pleasure tainted by an uncomfortable dose
of guilt. Cracking open his eyes he found Melisande’s lips, swollen
from his hungry kisses, pursed in irritation. “What is that look
for?”

“Who is she?”

He rolled onto his back and glared at the
ceiling. He didn’t need a scene to expound his guilt. “I don’t know
what you’re talking about.”

“Liar! You’ve never made love to me like
that. You’re in love with someone you can’t have aren’t you? You
can’t have her so you used me…Oh I hate you!”

“I’m not in love…” She jumped onto her knees
and slapped his chest, drawing his glare to her mismatched breasts.
How could he have ever found them attractive? They were far too
small. “…you wished me to pleasure you and I did.”

“You haven’t once looked me in the eyes…you
still can’t…look at me!”

He couldn’t. He wanted to pretend Lily was
lying beside him. “I didn’t come for a row.”

“No, you came to use me you horrid Welsh
turd. I offered an olive branch and this is how you repay me? Get
out and don’t ever touch me again, not even to kiss my hand in
public or I’ll slap your face.”

“Good. Don’t send me notes begging for
pleasure because I’ll throw them in the fire.”

“Who is she or are Welshmen so thick they
don’t know when they’re in love?”

“I’m not in love!” Even as he said the words
the hot coal burst into flames threatening to burn a hole in his
chest. Love would make him dependent. It would make him vulnerable.
He wasn’t in love.”

The naked woman’s eyes weren’t smiling as she
barked out a harsh acidic laugh. “You’ve fallen in love with some
virgin, but you can’t have her because you married that fat ugly
woman…”

“My wife isn’t ugly!”

His lover’s lips trembled as her eyes filled
with angry tears. “You’re in love with your wife?”

Penryth felt a hot flush roll up his neck
over his face. “I’m not.”

She leaned over him sneering through her
tears. “Can’t you make love to her or is she too fat? Is it like
mating a beached whale? It must be deeply distressing to be in love
with a woman you can’t make love to. You’ll have to lock her in her
room and starve her down to a manageable size.”

Penryth’s guilt and rage boiled away his calm
façade. “I don’t know why I ever thought you beautiful; you’re so
ugly on the inside it’s rotting away your mask. Your poor husband
will wake up in a few years and find a poxed jaded hag…” She
slapped him hard across the mouth and then backhanded him before he
could think to turn away. Sobbing she leapt off the bed and ran
through the connecting door to her dressing room and slammed the
door. Swearing under his breath at his swelling lips he threw on
his clothes. How was he going to explain his fat lip and disordered
appearance? He couldn’t tell Lily he’d visited his mistress
directly after kissing her; she’d think him a heartless cad. He’d
have to stay away longer than he’d originally planned. He needed
time to concoct a suitable story, but the only thought swirling
through his head was that Melisande’s lips had tainted the sweetest
kisses he’d ever tasted. As he wiped his mouth on his coat sleeve
he wished he could wipe away the fact that he’d disgraced himself
and unwittingly humiliated his wife. Melisande would see to it that
half of England heard that he couldn’t mate his wife because she
was too fat. It was so stupid people would believe it. As if his
poor wife didn’t have enough wounds; quenching his lust had ensured
she’d get a public bruising. Feeling sick with shame he wandered
aimlessly towards the shops wishing there was something he could
buy to assuage guilt.

Chapter 9

Feeling bored and lonely, Lily sat listening
for her husband’s return. The open book on her lap remained unread
as she wondered what sort of business had taken him away from his
breakfast. She twirled one of the emerald bracelets and admired the
green fire winking reminders of his breakfast kisses. She hoped
he’d buy twelve dozen bonbons; she could sit and kiss him for
hours. The thought made her smile as she twirled the other
bracelet. He was the kindest, most beautiful man in the world with
lips that made her feel like she was waking from an enchanted
sleep. She was smiling as she heard someone knock on the front
door. Mr Bowen had probably forgotten his key; he’d nearly
forgotten his pocket book. Hopefully he’d bought a box of chocolate
bonbons; a box of kisses. She threw down her book and hobbled to
the top of the stairs. Leaning over the banister she froze. There
was a woman in the hall handing Jones a calling card. Lily was
about to shrink back into the shadows so she could claim not to be
home when the woman looked up and smiled. Jones followed the
callers’ eyes up the stairs, “Lady Gillingham wishes to know if
you’re accepting visitors.”

Lily felt her blood turn to ice as she stared
at the beautiful slender woman, “Forgive me Lady Gillingham, but as
you can see I’m not dressed to receive callers…I thought you were
my husband…”

Lady Gillingham ignored Jones’ disproving
expression and Lily’s obvious attempts to avoid the unwanted
meeting by moving up the stairs. On reaching the landing she eyed
Lily’s bruises with a keen interest. “It’s certainly cold today.
You must be freezing. A hot cup of tea will quickly warm our
fingers…” Lily had no experience of repudiating unwanted callers.
She’d lived her adult life in the social background, too busy
serving or running errands to even hear how her sister might have
handled the situation. She felt like a cornered mouse about to be
devoured by a cat; but first the cat would toy with her. Lily could
only hope the woman would lose interest quickly and leave to find
someone else to maul.

“Jones…” The man was still standing at the
bottom of the stairs with an unhappy look on his face. “…a tea tray
in the sitting room please.”

“As you say Madam…”

“If you’ll follow me.”

With her husband’s mistress sitting nearby it
was impossible not to feel fat, ugly and suddenly melancholic. All
happiness in her heart drained away leaving black and white
shadows. Why would Mr Bowen ever want to bed her when he could
visit Lady Gillingham? The beautiful woman was perfectly
proportioned for the latest fashions. Her bust was neither too
small nor too large. The pleasing mounds of bluish tinged flesh
were displayed to perfect advantage with a yellow high-waisted silk
gown complimented by a blue wool spencer and matching hat. If Lily
tried to wear that outfit she’d look like an ill-painted chest of
drawers with a forgotten hat left on top. “Penryth suggested this
morning that I pay you a visit. He said you were in need cheering
while you were recovering.”

Lily felt the words slap her cheek. She
blinked away her tears and replied calmly, “That was very kind of
Mr Bowen.”

“Don’t you use your husband’s Christian
name?”

“No.”

“How old fashioned…well perhaps when you’re
better acquainted…you haven’t been married long.”

“No.”

“Those are rather nasty looking
bruises…Penryth was telling me this morning how much improved you
looked. You must have looked hideous after…you know.” Lily felt her
cheeks burn with mortification and her stomach heave at the thought
of Mr Bowen discussing her with his mistress. “Your husband and I
are particular intimates…”

“You’re his mistress.”

The lady looked surprised. “He told you? How
indelicate.” The woman quickly gathered her wits. “Especially
considering your…” The beautiful woman eyed her with exaggerated
disbelief. “…circumference. You must find it a trial, having such a
beautiful husband.”

“How would Mr Bowen’s beauty be a trial?”

Lady Gillingham made a show of suppressing
her amusement. “My dear, didn’t you think it a trifle odd that a
new husband would mention the fact he has a mistress? It’s not
something most men admit to their brides. It implies the wife is
incapable of fulfilling his needs.” Lily bit the inside of her
cheek and silently reminded herself that Mr Bowen had married her
out of pity, but the awful words pierced her heart. “You and I
shall be great friends; we’re like two halves of a wife.” Lily
didn’t return the lady’s cold smile. “Your size may make it
impossible for you to pleasure Penryth, but you can be his hearth
companion and ensure his house is run properly while I fulfill his
physical needs and ensure he’s satiated with happiness. A well run
house makes a man comfortable, but men can’t endure celibacy
without going mad, or so I’m told. You wouldn’t want a raving
Welshman at your breakfast table; you never know what a man will do
when his needs are pressing. He might even beat you black and
blue.” Lily blinked back more tears. What did the horrid woman mean
her size made it impossible? “You were lately living with your
sister Mrs Philips I understand? She was a beauty in her prime.
Isn’t it odd how family blood seems to randomly decree a curse on
one sibling and a blessing on the other…like Jacob and Esau. You
have the most interesting hair. There’s so much of it. I can
understand why you’d simply leave it down. It must be impossible to
put up without looking like you have a tumor on your head. Have you
ever tried to powder it to tone down the orange?”

“Mr Bowen likes it down.”

Lady Gillingham looked shocked before
recovering her superior smile. “It must look better down than up.
Men always prefer long hair. My husband has forbid me to cut mine,
though he’s gone to India so I could cut it all off and he might
never know.”

“No, he might die before he can return to
find you’ve been playing wife with my husband.”

BOOK: A Companion for Life
9.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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