Authors: Jennifer McNare
Melody laughed aloud, the sound light and airy in the otherwise quiet surroundings.
Her delicate laughter was such a pleasing sound, and so at odds with the gloomy darkness of the room, Gavin thought to himself, that he could gladly listen to it for hours.
“Alright, my turn,” Melody said once she’d stopped laughing. “Who is the greatest chicken-killer in Shakespeare?”
“Hmm.” Gavin pondered it for a moment.
“You’ve got me, I’m stumped,” he finally admitted.
“Why Macbeth of course, because he did murder most
Gavin chuckled. “I should have known.”
“Now you,” Melody said, grinning widely in spite of the darkness.
He wracked his brain, trying to think of another that she might not have heard before. A moment later he had it. “Why does a fat man when squeezed,
“Why does a fat man when squeezed, compliment the ladies,” Melody repeated under her breath, trying to think of a plausible answer to such an odd question.
“Well?” Gavin said after several seconds had passed.
“Fine, I give up,” Melody conceded with an exaggerated sigh. “I haven’t the slightest notion.”
“Because the pressure makes him
“Oh my, that’s simply terrible,” Melody said as she put her hand to her mouth to stifle her giggles.
They were still trying to up one another when the knock sounded at the door a short while later.
On the sixth day, Melody awoke earlier than usual and felt a familiar cramping in her stomach. She grimaced slightly at the uncomfortable sensation, and after rising from the bed she made her way to the water closet, closing the door quietly behind her.
Charles was still abed when she exited several minutes later, but his eyes were open and focused upon her.
“Is something amiss?” he asked, wrinkling his craggy brow as he studied her face.
“No, My Lord, there is nothing amiss.” She hesitated a moment, and then dropped her eyes, unable to meet her husband’s gaze. “It is just that I… that I am not… feeling well today,” she managed, her voice trembling slightly.
“You are ill?”
“No, not ill,” she said, her cheeks flaming in embarrassment. “It is my time of the month,” she whispered, the words barely audible as she continued to stare at the floor.
“I see.” Charles heaved a heavy sigh before he spoke again. “I suppose it was too much to hope that you would conceive so soon.”
His voice held a hint of irritation, but was thankfully devoid of anger. Melody raised her eyes and peered at him from beneath her lashes. His expression was impassive.
“You will return to the cottage next week,” he said. Throwing back the covers, he got out of bed, his long white cotton nightshirt falling just past his bony knees as he stood. “I will see you at dinner.” That was all. With a dismissive nod, he turned and walked from her room into his own.
Not yet ready to face the day, Melody returned to the bed and slipped back under the covers. She stared at the ceiling, lost in thought. She wasn’t exactly certain how she felt at that moment. On one hand, she was disappointed. It would have been nice to conceive right away and put a quick end to the horrible situation Charles had put her in. On the other hand, she couldn’t help feeling a slight twinge of satisfaction, knowing that her husband hadn’t gotten what he wanted as easily as he had hoped.
But then her thoughts turned to the man at the cottage. He would remain a prisoner, and for that she felt an enormous sense of sadness and empathy. She had gotten to know him a bit during the past week, not personally of course, but she
gotten a definite sense of his personality and of his character. He was kind and considerate, intelligent and charming, and he had revealed an unexpected sense of humor as well. He never complained or bemoaned the situation he was in, and always showed her nothing but kindness and compassion. He was thoughtful and caring, making every effort to be gentle and solicitous when they were in bed. And afterward, well, she had come to enjoy their conversations more so than she had ever thought possible.
She turned onto her side then and closed her eyes, allowing her thoughts to drift. She wondered what it might have been like to meet him in a normal setting. Would she have been attracted to him? It seemed strange to even contemplate such a notion, but surprisingly she did. She had no idea what he looked like of course, other than what she had been able to discern in the darkness, that he was tall and clearly physically
fit. His voice however, was something she had come to know quite well. It was deep and masculine and radiated a warmth that she found remarkably appealing. When they talked, she’d come to note the subtle inflections in his voice, the slight variances that reflected his changing emotions. It was amazing really, the degree to which her other senses were heightened when they were enveloped within the darkness of the small bedchamber.
Now, knowing that they would be spending at least another month in each other’s company, her emotions were oddly mixed.
At the cottage, Gavin glanced at the small clock set atop the fireplace mantel. The morning had passed fairly quickly and now it was nearly one o’clock. He put down the book he had been reading and rose to his feet.
Sam, sitting at the kitchen table, looked up from the piece of wood he’d been carving for the past hour. “Don’t bother. She ain’t comin’ t’day.”
He met Sam’s gaze, his own questioning. “Why not?”
“Got word this mornin’. Woman’s time,” Sam said simply, turning back to his carving.
. She hadn’t conceived then. The news caught him off guard. He hesitated for a moment, and then moved toward the front door. “I’ll be outside.”
Sam nodded without looking up.
Stepping over the threshold a moment later, he wondered how Sam had received word that she wasn’t coming. He hadn’t heard anything unusual, such as the arrival of a vehicle or the voice of another person, but he’d taken to sleeping in. If someone had arrived early, he had probably still been abed. It wasn’t his custom, but here, isolated and confined, the extra sleep helped to pass the time. In any event, it hardly mattered he supposed as he stepped outside.
She wasn’t coming.
The news left him with an odd feeling of disappointment, not only due to the fact that he and his sister would remain prisoners for at least another month, but surprisingly, for other reasons as well. Though it filled him with guilt, he had begun to look forward to her daily visits. Not for the sex of course, for he got no real gratification from the requisite couplings that she obviously derived no pleasure from, but simply for her presence. The more they talked, the more he found himself beginning to like her. It was such an atypical situation, spending time with a woman he knew absolutely nothing about, including what she looked like. With other women there was always that initial, all be it superficial, physical attraction or lack thereof, which generally dictated how the ensuing relationship would progress.
Acquaintance or potential lover?
With her, he had no idea if he would be attracted to her physically. Her looks could be dull as dishwater, or she could be an incomparable beauty, he simply had no idea. Despite that lack of knowledge, he was beginning to find her undeniably intriguing in other ways. She was obviously intelligent, and possessed a delightfully inquisitive nature which he found increasingly captivating. To put it simply, he liked her. It was a puzzling and unexpected turn of events.
Walking a short distance from the house, he stopped near one of the tall oaks, still visible from the cottage and Sam’s watchful eyes. Though he didn’t make a big show of it, Gavin knew that Sam was always on guard, alert and ready if he should make any attempt to escape. It was a tempting thought and continued to cross his mind on occasion, but escape simply wasn’t an option. He would never do anything to risk Natalie’s safety.
The thought of his sister, and the fear and uncertainty that she and the rest of his family must be enduring, was nearly impossible to bear. And now apparently, there would be no quick end to their suffering. It was not only painful to imagine, but frustrating beyond belief.
He didn’t like to think about the purpose of his imprisonment, fathering a child. It filled him with such an enormous sense of anger and resentment. Why? Why him, why
child? He hated not knowing the answers to those questions. It was maddening as hell. And why her? Who was she, this woman who was to bear his child? Was she an aristocrat, as he was? It was unlikely, but possible, he supposed. She wasn’t complicit in his abduction, of that he was fairly certain. He fully believed that she was being forced to participate in this depravity, just as he was. Perhaps she was protecting a loved one, as he was doing, though he knew better than to ask. Although he didn’t believe she was culpable, he knew that he could never allow himself to trust her completely. It was too dangerous. Clenching his teeth in continued frustration, he thought of the letter from his captor and the explicit instructions he had been given.
, he’d read the blasted thing over and over again, looking for any clue to his abductor’s identity or true purpose, but he’d found nothing. Aside from the instructions, and the consequences he and his family would suffer if those instructions were not followed, there was little information to be had. It mentioned the child only briefly, stating that it would be well cared for and given every advantage in life. Therefore, he could only assume that his abductor was a person of means. That was the part that had him truly baffled. Since enough money could buy almost anything a man could want, even a child, why the need to obtain one in such a corrupt manner? He had asked himself that question a hundred times and still he had no answer. He’d considered multiple theories, some form of revenge seeming the most plausible, but he had no enemies that he knew of, nor did his father or older brother. Exasperated, he smacked his palm against the rough bark of the oak, swearing under his breath. The whole thing made no sense, no bloody sense at all.
It had been five days since Melody had awakened to the knowledge that she hadn’t conceived. In those five days, Charles had scarcely spoken more than a few words to her, in private anyhow. In the presence of others however, he treated her with utmost politeness and even feigned affection now and then. To the casual observer he would surely appear to be a solicitous and loving husband, but when they were alone he showed no interest in her whatsoever. He wasn’t cruel or unkind, he was simply indifferent. She obviously had one purpose and one purpose only, to provide him with his heir. Due to her indisposition, he had chosen to sleep in his own room for the past week, and for that at least, she was grateful.
“Will that be all, M’lady?”
The politely voiced question interrupted her musings, bringing her attention back to the matter at hand. “Yes, Elizabeth,” she said to the pretty young maid who had just finished drawing her bath. “That will be all for now. Thank you.”
The petite brunette bobbed a quick curtsey and left the room, knowing Melody preferred to bathe unattended. Though Elizabeth was a lovely young girl and a proficient lady’s maid, more than eager to assist Melody with any task, she didn’t need her assistance in this, for she was perfectly capable of washing her own hair and soaping her own skin. Untying the sash of her dressing gown, she shrugged it from her shoulders and then laid it atop the upholstered bench positioned at the foot of the large porcelain tub. Turning, she briefly glanced at her reflection in the large mirror that stood against the opposite wall. It seemed funny to her now, that there was once a time when she had wondered if her body would change somehow when she lost her virginity. Would it reflect some subtle difference, some indication that she had become a woman, she had pondered.
Obviously not she realized, for she looked exactly the same now as she had before. Her long blonde hair, the same rich honey color as her mother’s, fell to the middle of her back, partially covering the same ivory-colored skin of her neck and shoulders. Her eyes, inherited from her father, were the same shade of pale blue, fringed with long dark lashes and topped with brows a few shades darker than the color of her hair. Her full lips still bore the same rose-colored hue, and of course her nose looked as it always had, perfectly ordinary. Her breasts were still the same, a bit larger than she might have preferred, but well-proportioned to her tall, slender figure. As for the rest of her body, well, it too seemed the same as it always had. Apparently it was just the inside that had been changed. Though she didn’t look any different on the outside, she definitely
different on the inside.
Turning away from her reflection, she stepped into the bath, fully immersing herself in the warm, lilac scented water. Resting her head against the edge of the tub, she closed her eyes. She would be returning to the cottage tomorrow, and to the man who had taken her innocence. She thought about it for a moment,
. She remembered how she and her friends used to whisper about what went on in the marriage bed and how they’d passed on information to one another, gleaned from older friends or sisters who had experienced it firsthand. There were also the playful banterings one occasionally overheard between male
and female servants, which were sometimes quite bawdy and astonishingly graphic. All in all, the impression she’d gotten was that intercourse could be something a man enjoyed and a woman simply endured, or it could be somewhat pleasurable for the woman if she were in love, or at least physically attracted to her partner. Based on her limited experience, she had to admit that she found the later somewhat difficult to imagine.