With teeth chattering, he wrapped her snugly in his dry riding coat and lifted her onto his horse. Several fat drops of rain stained the deck as he lifted himself up into the saddle. Holding Mary tightly in front of him as he did in the water, Will kicked his horse into a full gallop back to the cottage guesthouse.
"Mary stay with me. Please stay with me... Please," he repeated over and over into her ear as they rode through the storm.
* * * * *
Mary awoke to the sound of a crackling fire and rain smacking the paned windows of her room. A dull rumble of thunder outside shook the cottage. She was in her nightgown. Had she been dreaming? She felt behind her pillow for the handkerchief, and only came back with the feel of her loosened wavy hair.
This was no dream. Her room was filled with diffuse light as she cracked her eyes open. She grew pale. Mr. Deerhurst. The lake. She opened her eyes fully. Her dress and chemise hung above the fireplace, flames lighting up the diaphanous material from behind. Her stay hung next to it, minus its strings. Beside those hung dark trousers, and a shirt. Riding boots were propped up on the floor. A heavy riding coat and hat hung on the door.
Oh what had she done, what had she done? Mary's stiff limbs wouldn't obey her desire to sit up. She groaned.
A knock at the door startled her. She pulled the covers up over her chest, "Who is it?" she asked, knowing full well who it was.
Will opened the door slowly. He was wearing a shirt several sizes too wide for him and her father's Banyan robe, cinched and overwrapped around the middle. He carried a tray with two teacups clattering against their saucers and a half lemon.
"I must sincerely apologize to your father one day for this," he started.
"Why are you wearing his robe?"
"It was all I could find that fit me. I honestly didn't have a choice. Your family was not about, they brought no servants, you needed tending to, and I couldn't very well do so in the buff, if you'll pardon my saying so," he anxiously sat at the edge of her bed and placed the tray beside
them on the table.
Mary tried hopelessly to erase the thought of Will Deerhurst in the buff. He lifted the back of his hand to her forehead and then to each cheek to check her for fever. She suddenly became very aware of her body under the thin nightgown, "How could you have done this to me?"
"Undressed me! ...Shamed me! You... you had no right to—"
"Well, I would have been happy to ask you first," Will interrupted, "but you were unconscious from nearly drowning and sopping wet in your clothes. My choices were to risk your death by chill or simply remove them."
Mary opened her mouth silently to protest but nothing came out. Will thought her indignation was cute and tried to suppress a grin, along with the memory of trying in vain to remain clinical and detached from the sight and feel of her exquisite body as he had carefully changed her into the nightgown already laying on her bed. He was more concerned than aroused when he had dressed her but now that he knew she was all right, his mind drifted back to her subtle and delicate features. The small beauty mark on her stomach. The gentle curve of her hips. The thatch of chestnut curls that matched her hair. The pert swell of her breasts.
"Yes?" Mary's voice broke his lustful reverie. He immediately felt guilty for his lascivious thoughts, but remembered that she would be his wife in less than a fortnight and those thoughts' state of impropriety was all a matter of time passing. He smiled at the sound of his name on her lips. Gone was the formal 'Mr. Deerhurst' that drew an impossible wall between them.
"How long have I been asleep?"
"Almost two hours. You were starting to worry me," he shook his head and leaned to the side, squeezing lemon into her tea, "All this for a missing oar when I could have easily thrown you the rope on the dock..."
Mary still froze even under the blankets. This man confused her. How
could he be so placid about all of this? He had seen her... naked! She had been exposed to him in ways that only her dressing maid had seen her. This fact should have bothered her more, but for reasons unknown to her, she trusted him, intuitively knowing that he had tried to care for her the best he could. But if anyone knew about what had transpired, her life in danger or not, her family would be ruined. Clouds of impending scandal obscured her thoughts. She felt the heat of antagonism rising within her, "I would have never tipped the boat in the first place if you had not come along and disturbed me!"
Will cocked up an eyebrow at her, "Really? You're right. It would have been much better to slowly drift away and drown as the rowboat filled with rainwater," They glanced at the window as lightning lit up the clouds outside. Thunder shook the windows seconds later, "You'd still be out in this. What possessed you to go out on the lake by yourself at this time of year in the first place?"
"I...," She stammered, caught in his piercing gaze. I had to forget
about you forever Will, because the thought of you undoes my senses. The words sat firmly on her tongue; she couldn't let him know what effect he had on her or all would be lost, "I had to be alone."
"Were you not alone here all ready?"
"I go to the countryside if I truly want solitude. I didn't count on the rain, or sending my oars adrift."
Will sighed and closed his eyes. "I nearly lost you today. If anything had happened to you..."
She paused a moment and looked down, "Will?"
"Thank you," she whispered.
"For saving my life," Mary looked up into his eyes.
He drew a hand to her cheek, drawing closer to her, "How could I ever let anything bad happen to you? My life is yours. I just found you, and the thought of losing you—" he felt her head tilt up to accept his kiss. Their lips melted together and Mary felt heat return at once to her
body. His arms encircled her, drawing her forward to lean into his chest. He cradled her there, holding her against him as his lips left hers and whispered into her ear, "I love you, Mary."
Mary's vision clouded once more as tears returned to her eyes, "Will, I... I love you, but I'm so afraid," she whispered back.
"Don't be. Please. We've already had enough fear for one day. For once let's both live for this moment; for clearly it's all we have," he waited for her, inches from her face, letting her come to him. She strained upward, the magnetic pull of him too hard to resist, and crushed her lips against his. She felt safe here, against everything that swirled outside this room: the engagement, her family, society, duty, fear and loneliness. All vanished in his presence. She had worked so hard to hide her inner joy when he appeared around the bend on horseback. Even then, despite everything she tried to make herself feel, she would not have wanted to see another soul besides Will come to her rescue at that very moment.
"Fate brought you to the lake. How else can I explain it? You appeared just as I had tried to..."
Will lingered inches away from her lips waiting for her to finish.
"...To forget my need for you."
Will brought his mouth down upon hers. Like hell she would forget her need for him. He would make sure of that right now. He felt his pulse pounding through him. Mary's hands flew into his hair and across his shoulders as she drew him in to her embrace. His tongue caught the edge of her lips and slipped through for a moment before darting out. She tasted like the rain. Slowly he inched down with her, reaching through her mane and fanning her long hair out behind her on the pillows.
Her tongue flicked out grazing his teeth before mating with his. Mary arched her body up to him as he lay to the side of her, turning her toward him with one arm underneath and cupping her breast in his hand. She gasped as his thumb brushed the nipple through the fabric. Something low in her belly began to wind and tighten as Will touched her. His thumb ran in circles, making the areola pucker under the fabric. She moaned softly into his ear, the sound nearly sending his self-discipline over the edge.
Will felt flames consume him and sparks run under his hands as he touched her. He felt his passion building within, hardening him against her thigh through the fabric of his robe and the blankets enveloping her below the waist. He felt his hips thrust involuntarily forward toward her, instinct directing his body to where it so desperately wished to be. She stopped for a moment and looked at him, then timidly brought one hand down through the sparse curls on his chest, the cotton shirt and across the silk of the robe before her thin fingers felt something hard and hot beneath it. Will lay nearly stock-still as she cautiously explored him, delighted at her innocent boldness. He sucked in air through his teeth as her fingertips grazed over his manhood, standing rigid under the fabric. Slowly he brought his hand over hers and cupped it against the length of him.
Mary felt him pulsing through the fabric and cautiously wrapped her hand around the heat beneath the silk. He groaned and kissed down the hollow of her neck and over her chemise, his teeth gently nipping at her breast through the fabric. Will ran over the hard peak with his tongue, his mouth gently suckling at her. The chemise soaked through from his ministrations until the thin material revealed the pink flesh underneath, melting away like sugar around the tip of her breast. Mary's other hand kneaded through his hair and her back arched up, a soft whimper escaping her lips as her fingers tightened around him, stroking up through the silk.
Will winced suddenly and pulled back from her searching hands, gasping for air and swore under his breath. Mary was immediately hit by a wave of guilt. Had she gone too far? Did he think her too wanton? "Will, what is wrong?"
Will smiled, "Nothing is wrong; quite the opposite. It was very right," he watched the confused expression course her face, "If you continued, I would have lost control."
Mary again raised an unknowing eyebrow at him. He smiled at her innocence. Her touch was exquisite and he wished it could have gone on like that forever, but he knew it could not. The vision of her inquisitively caressing his flesh drove him mad. His command over his senses was slipping. That wasn't the way he wanted her now, in any case. He needed to have all of her. Possess her. Claim his beautiful bride-to-be in this perfect moment. He rested beside her and took the plunge, "Mary, I want to give myself to you fully. Here and now."
She understood what he meant, "Will, we cannot. The betrothal... I
would go to my nuptial bed a—"
He put two fingers to Mary's lips before she could say the words, "I promise I will protect you. I promise there will be no regrets, no shame. Let us be present here in this moment together and let me love you as a husband loves his wife."
She thought a moment, caught in his searching, pleading gaze. She needed him, wanted him desperately in ways she wasn't even sure she completely understood yet. Through the long gray days of her arranged marriage that were sure to come she knew that she would always have this moment, this day kept secret in her heart for all time. Mary looked up at her lover then drew close once more to her body, inhaling his spicy scent. She kissed him once on the neck before whispering into his ear, "Yes. I love you, Will."
Will drew back to look down at her. His clear blue eyes turned dark with passion, "I love you. And now I am going to show you exactly what those words mean."
His expert mouth covered her lips once more before kissing across the side of her face, tasting the curve of her ear before nibbling on the lobe. His kisses traveled down her neck, with his hands moving before them to her nightgown. He undid each button with care. Will wanted to rip the entire thing down the middle and expose her to him fully but he had ruined enough of her undergarments for one day.
Mary watched as he covered each inch of flesh he exposed with another kiss. She didn't know where to put her hands or what exactly to do. All she knew was that she needed to touch his skin. She ran her hands through his hair and over his shoulders, pushing down the sides of the robe and further opening the unbuttoned shirt. She marveled at the sinews of his smooth shoulders and the vein beating persistently on his neck. Suddenly, lightning shot through her and she gasped. Will's mouth traveled across her exposed pink flesh, enveloping one nipple completely, sucking it between his teeth and teasing it with his tongue.
He came up on his knees to look down at her. Her peach skin had turned hot and rosy from his attention and her breasts lay exposed, all the buttons undone, "God you are so beautiful," he said under his breath.
Mary blushed from her cheeks to her bosom as Will took each of her
hands and kissed them at the wrist, undoing the buttons there. He stood up and removed the blankets. Mary welcomed the cool rush of air on her heated figure and realized that the edge of her nightgown was already pulled up halfway above her knees. Will's nostrils flared at the sight of her bare legs. He leaned over and kissed her, pushing his tongue deeper into her mouth to taste her and lifted her lower back, slowly rolling the hem of her nightgown up exposing her thighs, their glorious chestnut apex, and her soft stomach before lifting the last of it over her head and casting it to the floor.
He smiled and shook his head, reality hitting him suddenly. The remainder of his life would be spent looking upon this sight. Her skin glowed in the light of the fire catching the curves of her flesh, as she lay reclined on the bed. Her hair fanned out behind her, rippling in russet waves. She looked so different now, Will thought, than when he had hurriedly pulled her out of her wet clothes. Her pale skin burned now, blood coursing through her, the curves of her body lithe and animated as she lay there looking up at him. Mary smiled mischievously, "You know, this really isn't fair."
"Oh?" he said arching an eyebrow, "And why is that, my love?"
"This is the second time you have seen me nude. Whereas I have yet to see more than your bare shoulders," a hand crept up to her breast, the nipple peaking out between her fingers, and the other to the thatch of curls in a half-hearted attempt to cover her nakedness before him. It only served to arouse him further.
"Well then we shall fix that," he said, turning around. He untied the robe and let it fall to the floor, then opened the shirt and did the same. The fire danced along his hard shape and golden skin. Mary stared at the sinews of his back and his thighs, his tight, even buttocks and watched him slowly turn around to face her. She stared into his eyes before they slowly descended along his form. His chest was smooth with a light dusting of dark hair trailing downward and well muscled underneath, his arms hung at his side, the fingers on his right hand clenching slightly, as he barely contained the urge to close the distance between them. Instead, Will let her examine him. There was no doubt from the expression on her face he was the first man she had ever seen so, and the flame of desire burning in her eyes told him that she liked what she saw.
Her gaze meandered down his stomach, the trail of course black hair picking up just under his navel. A mysterious heat flooded between
her thighs. She followed the path lower, her eyes widening like saucers as she swallowed a lump in her throat, "Is it going to hurt?"
"For a moment," Will said honestly. She responded with an accepting nod.
Mary leaned on her side, her hips shifting and the sight of their swell before the indent of her waist made his manhood visibly twitch. She looked up into his eyes and said in a voice barely audible, "M... May I touch it?"
Will smiled and let out a sigh, "I would love nothing more." He took one step closer to her and watched as her thin fingers slowly reached out toward him. Her soft touch met his flesh and he tilted his head back and shut his eyes, letting out a low groan.
Mary fondled just the head at first. It didn't feel like she thought it would; it was soft and spongy, hot to the touch. Her fingers trailed down the silky length of the shaft, brushing up the hard underside and tracing the path of a vein until she reached the head once more. She fully enclosed its hardness in her hand, eliciting a sharp moan from Will. Her closed fingers moved down, and then back up again, tracing its imposing length. She watched the muscles of his stomach clench and dance as she stroked him. A drop of moisture glistened at the tip. Suddenly, Mary had the strange urge to kiss the soft head. She moved in and looked up into his eyes, wanting approval.
Will ran his hands through his hair and gently pulled her head closer. He marveled at her boldness and curiosity and delighted that she wanted to experience him as much as he needed to learn her. The sight and feel of her exploring him was almost too much to bear. Mary took control the rest of the way and placed her lips on the very tip of him as he sucked air through his teeth, struggling not to jerk his organ straight into her mouth. She came back and licked her lips. Liquid sweet salt. Her lips descended further over the head as she took more of him into her mouth. Heat encircling him as she took in another inch, rolling her tongue over the crown then pulled her lips back across the throbbing glans.
He gasped and pulled away. The look of confusion returned to her face and he smiled, "Mary, there is nothing to worry about. It was... quite simply beautiful. I just don't want to lose control quite yet."
"That is the second time you've said it. What do you mean by 'losing
"I'm about to show you."
He reached for her shoulder and rolled her gently onto her back, placing a knee between her thighs and laying astride of her. Both melted into the heat of each other's flesh as skin touched skin for the first time. The hard and delicate flesh she had caressed with her mouth lay pulsing hot on her thigh. Will ran his hands up Mary's ribs and stroked the underside of her breasts; let his thumbs knead the puckered tips, pinching and rolling them with his fingers. His mouth latched on to one peak, teasing it to a hardened point before doing the same to its twin. Will looked up to see Mary's eyes heavily lidded, her breathing ragged.
He leaned forward and sucked on her lower lip as he kissed her, then ran his tongue down the hollow of her neck and between her breasts, descending lower. As his tongue flicked down the length of her abdomen she felt something like a spring begin to tighten low in her belly. He paused at the small beauty mark on her left side and planted a kiss on it before continuing on his downward path. The insides of her thighs twitched as he ran his tongue along the rim of her navel, then slowly lower. Her feet came to rest on his back. He looked up into her glassy eyes, the corners of his mouth creeping into a grin. Her curls hid the dewy folds of his attention and he blew on them, causing her to jump and grasp at the sheets under her.
He traced a finger up the interior of her thigh leaving sparks in his wake before brushing a knuckle lightly against the hair and flattening his finger to part her nether lips. She gasped as he touched her, closing her eyes and rolling her head back. Colors danced outside of her vision and she felt the spring tighten further.
Will ran his finger gently up and down her slit from the small nub to her opening, watching her unfurl before him. As he reached her gate once more he very slowly pushed inside, amply aided by the honeyed slickness of her channel. She gave a loud whimper and thrashed on the bed as he recoiled his finger upward within her, curling back and forth in a 'come hither' motion. Will moved his mouth closer to her bud hidden within her folds and exhaled a low hot breath onto her which ignited her flames and set her squirming about again. He moved his free hand around her raised thigh and placed it on her womb to steady her before flicking his tongue between her folds. He drifted lower and quickly darted his tongue insider her entrance. She gasped, her head
thrown back as he smiled at her response. She tasted like
strawberries adrift at sea.