Authors: Jaclyn Reding
When he pulled away, lifting his head to
look at her, she opened her eyes, staring in silent bewilderment at him. The
wavering glow of the firelight played across the burnished tawny gold of her
hair, her rapid pulsebeat showing at the hollow of her neck. Christian felt his
thoughts begin to blur. His hands queried her body with caresses, his mouth
with kisses, introducing him to the delight of her collarbone, the thrill of
the whispering of a touch against her shoulder.
With every gesture, every stroke of his
fingers, Grace sought to return in kind, caressing her fingers over his back,
against his neck. With each motion, each touch from her, Christian’s need for
her grew. He ran his hand over her, smoothing down over her belly along her
thigh. Slowly, tentatively he parted her legs, touching her skin, seducing her
to readiness for him.
When he touched her more intimately,
reaching her in places she’d never known existed, Grace gasped
aloud. His own pulse was
pounding now like cannon fire in his ears. His eagerness to know her, to
satisfy his need, brought him to moving over her, positioning himself between
her legs, joining his mouth with hers once again. With first one hand, then the
other, he lifted her legs, bending them at the knee. His fingers found her,
found her wet and slick, and he was desperate to feel her tightness around him.
He stared down at her, hesitating only a second until she looked at him,
telling him with her eyes that she had no fear. That look took away the last of
his restraint and Christian quickly buried himself within her, his mouth taking
her startled cry against the sudden sharp pain of him, her woman’s body
naturally stretching to accept him.
From the moment he entered her, Christian
was beyond anything but feeling the tightness of her around him. She was so
tight, so good, he could not control the movement of his body as he groaned her
name, his hips moving, thrusting into her, deep and then deeper, his eyes
tightly closed. The scent of her body, the warmth and softness of her skin, her
passion, her sexuality overtook him. With each thrust his desperation grew, so
that only with another and another could he hope to find release from the
torment she held him in. He buried his head against her neck, groaning against
her hair, breathing her in, working again and again until, when it was almost
more than he could bear, he came into her one last time, deeper than he could
have thought possible.
He vaguely heard her cry out through the
pounding of his heartbeat and his own shout as he climaxed and the need, the
fury, the utter torment released him, giving him back to himself as his body
shuddered, spilling his seed within her.
It took Christian several moments to
regain full command of his faculties. Only then did he realize just what he had
done. He pulled away from Grace abruptly, as if by doing so, he could reverse
what he had just done. But it was too late.
He moved to sit at the edge of the bed
with his back to her. All the passion, the desire he had felt moments before
had gone, leaving him empty and numb and disbelieving that he had done the one
thing he had vowed
would not do. He did not know what had happened, how he had lost such total
control over a situation in which he had intended to be master. It was his
wedding night and he’d bungled it beyond bungling. He had not withdrawn before
spilling his seed inside Grace’s womb. In the end, his grandfather had won once
Christian stood defeatedly from the bed.
The fire had died to where a solitary flame now flickered sluggishly among the
glowing embers in the grate. Grace lay still upon the bed, naked in the
firelight, watching him. She lifted her hand and beckoned to him, but he did
not move to return to her. He simply stared at her, silent, solemn, and after
another moment, she slowly lowered her hand back to the bed.
Christian reached forward without a word
and pulled the edges of Grace’s nightrail closed over her breasts. He frowned,
staring at her a moment more before he slipped on his dressing robe and started
to walk away from her, saying as he went, “Good night, Grace.”
And as he closed the door behind himself,
somehow, wherever he was, Christian knew his grandfather was gloating.
The morning dawned to the gleeful
of the chiff-chaff in the trees outside and the movement of the servants at
various stations throughout the house—the echoing of footsteps, muffled voices,
the opening and closing of doors. Lost amid a tumble of sheets and pillows on
the ducal bed, Grace slowly opened her eyes to face her first day as a wife.
Sunlight poured through the tall windows
across the room, creeping across the carpet and lighting the chamber’s interior
through the veil of hair that fell over her eyes. Seeing the room now in the
daylight, she thought it not nearly so harsh and gloomy as she had remembered
it from the night before. The furnishings themselves were really quite
nice—Tudor in style, the hangings a rich burgundy velvet with gold. Shadows no
longer crept about the walls. The carvings on the bedposts no longer looked like
frolicking demons but were in fact cherubs poised amid an enchanted setting of
clouds. What a difference the light of day could make.
Grace lifted her head from the scattered
pillows just as the door to the bedchamber inched open. A maid peeked an eye through
to the inside, and then, seeing her awake, quietly pushed the door to enter.
“Good morning, my lady,” she
said, bobbing a curtsey. She was the same maid who had brought her the tea the
Grace’s head felt heavier than usual, as
if oddly it were weighted somehow from the inside. As she sat up, she noticed a
strange soreness between her legs. She immediately thought to the night before.
Why, oh why had she drunk all that tea? Even now she could only vaguely
remember what had happened—Christian kissing her, and how she had spouted some
nonsense to him about needles and threads. She remembered the pain of him
entering her body, but not much beyond that until he’d risen from the bed to
leave her. The only thing she did know was that whatever it was she was
supposed to have done, she had obviously done it badly. Why else would a
bridegroom be so eager to leave his marriage bed?
“What is your name?” she asked
the maid as she watched her move about the chamber, seeing to her duties.
The maid looked startled at the question.
“Eliza Stone, my lady. But everyone calls me Liza.”
“Stone. You are related to Mrs.
Stone, the housekeeper?”
“Aye. My aunt she is, my lady. ‘Twas
because of her I was able to find a position in this household.”
Grace nodded. She heard the sound of
horses on the drive outside and stood, walking to the window. The coach that
had brought them there the day before stood waiting, the coachman making a
great show of checking the harnesses and fastenings. Grace remembered then that
they were to leave for London that morning. “Do you know the time,
“Aye, ‘tis a quarter hour past nine,
my lady.” Liza picked the topmost gown from Grace’s trunk and gave it a
shake to smooth out its wrinkles. “His lordship is a’ready awake. He said
to see you up and ready to leave for London by ten. You’ve a long day’s journey
ahead of you.”
She draped the gown at the foot of the
bed, a plain beige bombazine carriage dress, along with the other necessaries
she’d taken from the trunk—chemise, stockings, half boots. “Breakfast
awaits you in the parlor downstairs. I’ll have the boys come to fetch your
trunks down after you’ve dressed.”
Grace was pulling on her robe when she
noticed the maid staring at the bed behind her, the expression on her face
quite peculiar. She turned to see what had caught her notice. Splotches of
brownish red marked the white of the sheet beneath where Grace had lain. It was
She drew in a startled breath, covering her mouth with
her hand. She knew quite well it wasn’t time for her monthly—that had come and
gone but a fortnight ago. She remembered the pain from the night before.
“Oh, dear… what has happened?”
She looked at the maid, eyes wide. “Am I… am I dying?”
Liza came immediately to her side. “Oh,
no, my lady. Not at all. Do you not know? Didn’t you realize? Were you never
“Was I never told what? That one
should expect to receive grave injury on one’s wedding night?”
Liza shook her head, taking Grace’s hand.
“Tis all right, my lady. It is but your
natural. When a lady beds with a man the first time, the man takes her
Grace let go a frustrated breath.
“Yes, yes, I know that, and the girl is then suddenly considered a woman
and can participate in conversation and no longer is required to have a
chaperone wherever she goes. She can even wear her hair differently. But what
has that to do with this?”
“It isn’t that I’m speaking of, my
lady. I’m speaking of what happens when a man comes into a woman’s body.”
Liza looked at Grace directly. “I can’t say for myself, since I’ve never
been with a man—other than Jemmie the stable boy who stuck his hand down my
bodice and got his nose bloodied for it. But Ma says the Lord has made it so a
man knows if he’s the first to bed with you. There’s a part of you called your
maidenhead. I don’t know exactly what it is, but the man must break through it
and it hurts something fierce and there is often blood, but it is only for the
first time, my lady. After that, it never happens again. Ma says ‘tis what we
must bear for the sins of Eve.” Her voice dropped to a near-whisper.
“But my sister, Mary, she says that after that first time, the rest of the
times after that are like going to heaven without the dyin’.”
Grace looked at the girl, so much younger
than she, but so knowing of things that had never been spoken of, much less
thought about during her childhood. Suddenly she felt very much a fool. She
shook her head. “No one ever told me.”
Liza smiled, smoothing an errant curl
behind Grace’s ear. “And they call us of the serving class ‘uncivilized.’
Least we don’t send our young girls off to the marriage bed thinking they’ve
been murdered the next morn.”
Grace’s cheeks colored at her own
ignorance. Liza squeezed her hand. “It isn’t your fault, my lady. Those
sorts of things just aren’t talked about among the quality. My ma had nine of
us girls and she takes us aside when we each of us reaches ten-and-five. Tells
us everything there is to know about ladies and men and what goes on when they
get alone between the bedcovers. And because she did, not a one of us has come
home yet with a swelling belly before first getting a husband to care for
Grace looked at Liza. It took her a moment
to realize what exactly the maid was saying.
A child that could
have been conceived because of what had happened between her and Christian the
night before. While at first the notion of it frightened her, after a moment or
two, it also gave her an inkling of warmth unlike any she had ever known. Her hand
instinctively dropped to her belly. Even now she might be carrying a child of
her own. Someone she could love. Someone who would be with her always, who
would love her—and who would never leave.
Grace heard the sound of the coachman
again on the drive outside and remembered the time. She didn’t want to be late
and risk annoying Christian. “Liza, will you help me to dress,
They left the ducal bedchamber for the
small antechamber where Grace had bathed the night before. At the corner
washstand, hidden discreetly behind an embroidered screen, Grace performed her
ablutions, washing herself thoroughly before asking Liza for her chemise and
She sat staring at her reflection in the
glass while Liza quickly arranged her hair, twisting and pulling it up in a
style that befitted a titled lady, but that left Grace resembling herself very
little. She realized then she was no longer Lady Grace Ledys. Her name, her own
body, and even her jewelry—she looked at the ring on her hand—were now different.
She had lost her innocence, was now completely woman, and thus the unfamiliar
styling of her hair seemed appropriate. But what of Christian? Would he present
himself differently as well now that he had taken the role of husband?
Grace stood as Liza slipped her gown
carefully over her head, arranging the soft fabric before setting to work on
the buttons along its back. Somehow the plain color didn’t quite complement the
more refined styling of her hair, leaving her feeling at contradiction with her
two selves—the old Grace and the new.
When she had finished dressing, Grace left
the ducal bedchamber and took the steps slowly to the ground floor, wondering
what she might say to Christian when she greeted him at breakfast. What exactly
did one say to a man after one lost their virginity to him?
Thank you, sir,
for performing the task?
What Grace really wanted was to ask
Christian what she had done to displease him—more, what it was she should have
done. She knew from her grandmother that a good number of husbands and wives
shared marital relations without sleeping in the same bed. It was often
considered normal. She also knew from her grandmother that those same husbands
and wives often found others with whom to fill the time when their spouses were
Is that what Christian intended? Did he
plan to take a mistress, do those same things he’d done with her the night
before with another woman? Would he look for someone who would do things
correctly, someone to stay with until morning? Or what if he already had a
mistress? He was, after all, a man of the world—she was a girl of the country.
Despite what might be accepted in other marriages, Grace couldn’t bear to think
of Christian doing those same things with another woman. Though her memory of
last night was vague, what she did remember had been intimate and precious and
utterly divine, a completion of the vows they had taken before God and the
world, a culmination of the Fate that had brought them together. Now that she
knew what really happened between a man and a woman, she would be better
prepared. She hadn’t known what to expect the first time. Grace would just try
harder to do— whatever it was she was supposed to do—right.
The trepidation she’d felt over how she
would greet Christian that morning vanished when she reached the parlor door
and found the room empty, with a single setting placed at the far chair. Grace
felt her insides tighten hopelessly. Apparently, Christian did not intend to
join her for breakfast.
A footman sprang to attention when he
noticed her at the door, pulling the chair back for her to sit—alone. Grace
remained at the door awash with humiliation, deeply stung by Christian’s
negligence. She was taking breakfast alone on the morning after her wedding
night. The footman stared at her and the expression on his face was almost too
much to bear. He pitied her. Suddenly Grace found that the discomfort of an
empty stomach was far preferable to the embarrassment of eating alone for
everyone in the household to see.
“Thank you, but I do not wish to eat
this morning,” she said to the footman. She turned from the room and
hastened away so that he might not see the tears already springing to her eyes.