Authors: Jennifer McNare
However, her experience clearly fell into the first category, for she was neither in love with, nor was she physically attracted to the man at the cottage, a man she had never even seen in the light of day. She didn’t enjoy it, but it wasn’t altogether horrible either. It was simply
, she thought for lack of a better word. She grabbed the sponge that floated on top of the water and held it to her neck, squeezing it so that a warm trickle of water ran down her throat and onto her chest. So, she know knew what it was like to have intercourse, but she couldn’t help wondering if she would ever know what it was like to be made love to. Was there truly a difference? Surely there must be. She hoped so, if not for her sake, at least for the other women of the world. Unfortunately that was something she would most-likely never know, she realized, feeling rather disheartened. With a heavy sigh, she pushed the thought aside and continued her bath.
The following morning, as she and Mary drove away from the Edgington estate, Melody felt surprisingly calm and composed. It was a tremendous relief, not having to deal with the fear of the unknown as she had on her first trip to the secluded cottage in the woods. Now she knew what to expect, and though it didn’t make the situation she was in any less dreadful or appalling, it did make it a bit less daunting. Mary’s company was an added comfort as well. During the short time they had known one another they had developed an unexpected bond that continued to strengthen with each passing day. The daily trips to and from the cottage had afforded them a great deal of time to get to know one another, and the awkwardness of the first day had quickly given way to a more relaxed, even friendly rapport. The older woman was kind and sympathetic to her situation, and Melody found her presence enormously comforting.
Though she didn’t voice it aloud, Mary was unmistakably shocked and dismayed by the earl’s actions, and clearly guilt-ridden for her own part in the debauchery, as well as her husband’s. Melody, however, felt not the slightest degree of animosity towards Mary or John, quite the opposite in fact. In a sense, John and Mary Edwards were victims, just as she was. What could they do? They were dependent upon the earl for their livelihood, their very welfare. She understood that only too well. In addition, she’d learned that John Edwards had yet another reason for assisting the earl with his degenerate scheme. He felt indebted to Charles, and had since he was a boy.
The eldest of eight children, John’s father had died in a fire when he was just thirteen, Mary had informed her. He, his mother and his siblings were left destitute and struggling to survive. Desperate to provide for his family and unable to find gainful employment, John had ultimately taken desperate
measures to keep his family from starving. One morning, not long after his father’s passing, the earl had caught John poaching on his land. It was a serious crime, and John could easily have been sent to prison. However, rather than turning him over to the authorities, the young earl had taken pity on him and had offered John employment at his estate. John had been beholden and unflaggingly loyal to the earl ever since.
It was the primary reason John had been the one enlisted to help Charles with his plan. In addition, John had been “offered” the opportunity to start a new life for him and his wife in America, with significant financial assistance from the earl. Clearly, once she had conceived, Charles wanted the Edwards’ far away from England. Aside from her, John and Mary were the only people who could connect the kidnapping to Charles, and it was obvious that he wasn’t going to take any chances. Despite his qualms, John had agreed to do the earl’s bidding, and Mary, at her husband’s request, had agreed to go along with it as well, fearful of what the earl might have done if they had refused. She was glad Mary had confided in her, for it made it easier to understand their involvement.
“I baked a loaf of John’s favorite pumpkin bread this morning,” Mary said, moving a small wicker basket from her lap and setting it onto the floor between them.
“It smells delicious.” Melody said, inhaling the pleasant aroma, distracted from her internal reflection.
“I cut a few slices for you, dear,” she said fondly, dropping the formal “My Lady”, as Melody had requested. “Would you like one now?”
“Perhaps on the way back, Mary, thank you,” she said smiling. “I am still full from breakfast.”
“Well, I’m glad to know you’ve gotten your appetite back,” Mary said, sounding a bit like a concerned mother hen. “Cook mentioned that you’d hardly eaten a thing this past week.”
Melody had always suffered from a bit of appetite loss when she had her monthlies, and this time had been no different. “If you continue to tempt me with all of your delicious baked goods you will have me looking like a fattened sow before long,” she said with a teasing smile.
“I was thinking of baking a peach cobbler tomorrow.”
, her favorite. Melody rolled her eyes skyward and heaved a dramatic sigh. “I shall have to start letting out the waistlines of my gowns before long,” she joked. She faltered then, her smile fading as she realized that what she’d just said could very well become an actuality, but for an entirely different reason altogether. She looked back to the road, her hands unconsciously tightening on the reins.
Mary noticed. Reaching out, she placed her hand on Melody’s forearm and gave a reassuring squeeze.
Sadly, Mary and John had no children of their own, for it was clear to Melody that Mary Edwards would have been a wonderful mother.
When they reached the cottage, John greeted them as usual, assisting them as they disembarked from the vehicle. Then, while Mary grabbed the basket of bread from the floorboard, Melody busied herself by brushing the travel dust from her skirts.
“Yer too good t’me, Mrs. Edwards,” John said with a pleased grin, as he peeked inside the covered basket.
“Indeed I am,” Mary responded with a playful wink. “You are a fortunate man to be sure, Mr. Edwards.”
Chuckling, John reached for the horses’ reins and then turned toward the small stable.
Melody couldn’t help smiling at their playful banter. It reminded her of the lighthearted and loving relationship that her own parents shared. She’d been allowed to visit them only once since her wedding, and she missed them dreadfully.
“I’ll slice you a nice thick piece while you see to the horse,” Mary called over her shoulder, as she and Melody walked to the cottage door.
Once inside, Mary placed the basket on the kitchen table and then donned the apron that hung on a nearby peg. Each day she washed the dishes, cleaned and tidied the small cottage and tended to the men’s laundry while she waited for Melody.
After only a slight hesitation, Melody turned to the door that entered into the narrow hallway. She could navigate the dark passage on her own now, and after that first day John no longer escorted her to the bedroom. Moving to the door, she opened it and stepped through, pulling it closed behind her. Hands outstretched, she trailed her fingers along the wall, feeling her way as she walked forward into the inky blackness. When her fingers met the frame of the bedroom door, she stopped. She drew in a few deep, calming breaths, and then knocked softly before she turned the knob and pushed the door open.
“Hello,” Gavin said as he approached the door and felt for her hand. Grasping it, he pulled her forward into the room, pushing the door closed with his other hand.
As was the unspoken custom they had developed during the first week, he led her directly to the bed. “Are you well?” he asked, when they reached the edge of the mattress.
His question surprised her, for they generally spoke very little during the first part of her visit, performing their requisite duty in relative silence. “Yes, I’m fine, thank you.” Melody blushed, thankful for the concealing darkness. Obviously he knew that she’d had her monthlies. “I suppose it was unlikely that I would conceive right away,” she said quietly.
“Yes, I suppose it was.”
She didn’t detect any anger or frustration in his tone, though he couldn’t be pleased that his confinement was to continue for at least another month. As bad as this situation was for her, it was even worse for him. Though none of this was her doing, she felt an enormous sense of guilt nonetheless.
They were quiet then, as they removed their clothing and got into bed. When they were situated, Melody reached for him, her hand seeking the pliant flesh that she know knew would grow and harden like magic beneath her gentle touch.
Knowing what was to come, Gavin sighed aloud. “It doesn’t have to be like this.” He’d given their situation a great deal of thought during the past week.
The softly uttered statement stopped Melody cold. Confused, her hand hovered in midair for a moment, and then slowly dropped to the sheet. “What do you mean?”
“The situation we are in is beyond horrible, but even so, it doesn’t
have to be horrible.” He hesitated a moment, then continued, his voice soft and low. “Intimacy between a man and a woman is one of the greatest pleasures in life. It is something to be enjoyed, not something you should have to endure.”
His tone was apologetic and tinged with something else, regret perhaps? Sadness? She understood then, and it both surprised and warmed her. What kind of man was he? Held prisoner, forced to do the bidding of a madman, forced to create a child and then give it up, his own flesh and blood. And yet he was apologetic, concerned not only for himself but for her as well, because he knew she derived no pleasure from their required couplings. “It isn’t your fault. None of this is your fault.”
“Nor is it yours.” He’d been thinking about it a great deal in the past few days, the fact that she derived no pleasure from their time in bed. He was quite skilled in the art of pleasing a woman, as countless women could attest, and something he very much enjoyed doing. He’d never been a selfish lover, and despite the circumstances it troubled him that she lay motionless beneath him, tolerating,
the experience, while he alone attained at least a small measure of sexual gratification.
“You needn’t worry about me, about my…my feelings,” she said, struggling to find the right word, unable to bring herself to use the word
. “I didn’t expect it to…I mean, I don’t expect you to…” she trailed off lamely, embarrassed.
“I can show you how it
be; how it
be, if you will let me.”
The tone of his voice changed, became earnest and slightly coaxing. Melody’s breath caught in her throat. She had never expected anything like this to happen, not even in her wildest imaginings. They were strangers, unwilling participants in a diabolical scenario that neither of them ever could have foreseen. Since learning of her husband’s plan she’d never considered, not even for an instant, that the experience could be
. She didn’t know what to say, how to respond. “I don’t…I’m not…”
Gavin could hear the shock and uncertainty in her voice. “There is nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be ashamed of,” he assured, his tone sincere. “We did not ask for this, did not choose this, but we
make the best of it.”
Make the best of it?
Her thoughts spun wildly, taking off in a dozen different directions. Did she dare? Her heart raced. Her hands went to the thin fabric of her chemise, gripping the soft material, rubbing it anxiously between her fingers. Hadn’t she just wondered the other day if she would ever know what it would be like to be made love to? If there was truly a difference between coupling and making love?
Granted, they were hardly in love, but still, hadn’t she admitted to herself that she found him appealing, wondering if she would be attracted to him if they had met under different circumstances?
Gavin could almost feel the fear and trepidation that radiated from her body. It was palpable. He waited, but she didn’t speak. He could sense the indecision warring within her. “You don’t have to be frightened. I won’t hurt you. I will never hurt you,” he promised, seeking to reassure her.
“I know,” she breathed, her words a mere whisper. He would never harm her physically, she knew that. But emotionally? When she lay quiet and motionless beneath him, it was easy to keep her thoughts focused, to remain detached. She knew why she was there, for one purpose and one purpose alone, to provide Charles with his heir. But if she allowed herself to feel, to,
dare she even think it,
his touch, would it change things? Would she be able to remain detached? She wasn’t sure.
“Let me show you. Let me give you the pleasure that every woman deserves to know, to feel.”
His voice, gentle and reassuring, sensual even, sent a tiny shiver down her spine. She closed her eyes, squeezing them tightly for a moment. It hovered on the tip of her tongue, the one word that could change her life dramatically. She asked herself again,
did she dare?
She felt his fingers then, brush almost imperceptibly against her thigh in the lightest of touches. She unclenched her hands, releasing the now crumpled fabric from her fingers.
Heaven help her.
“Yes.” The word slipped from her lips, whisper soft, yet clear and unwavering.