Read the prologue, chapter one and two by following the links provided. Chapter four will be up in a week or so.
Dance at Bougival by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Claire could hear the click of the salon door snapping shut behind her and her silly heart fluttering in anticipation of what would no doubt follow. She could not hear Henry but she could not bring herself to turn around. Her skin tingled with awareness as her breath rushed forth at the encouragement of her fluttering heart.
He was watching her, his eyes fastened to her straight resolute back and he was instantly taken back to their first meeting in that very salon. They had all changed since then: her, him and the room. The room was French then – as his mother and her country – but it had since been transformed into a tasteful blue and white chinoiserie motif.
He had still been reeling from his father’s death and his break from Viola when he happened on her alone here waiting for his mother. She was Botticelli’s Venus from her flaming locks to stubborn chin and he was mesmerized, held captive by her and this strange feeling they had met before.
It was the first time in the year since Viola that his heart leapt at the sight of a woman and it filled him with dread. After all, he had loved Viola his whole life and she had abandoned him when he needed her most. He was terrified of this smiling goddess with her too wise eyes.
She had offered self-deprecation in answer to his open lustful stare and it made them easy right from the start.
“Is it not outrageous?” she had asked with casual point to her serviceably arranged hair the colour of liquid copper. “And because of it I’m not permitted to walk the fields during the fox hunt for fear I’ll be mistakenly taken down by an eager shot.”
“You are the young woman who is to help my mother introduce my sisters to society?”
“I am and I assure you that aside from my vulgar hair I am without impropriety.”
He had felt that a pity but had liked her right away nonetheless. She was quick to laugh, intelligent, alluring and quite simply a joy to be around. His entire family fell in love with her. His brother and both his best friends had proposed marriage to her but he had her heart.
He saw that now in the silence hanging between them and it humbled him. She had chosen him and had waited patiently for him. But, she would wait no more… that much he could see from her stance and that bothered him for he did not know if he could love her the way she deserved.
She was growing impatient with the silence that lingered between them, which was fine for he too had now found his resolve. Then she called for him, her voice an unsteady hush, “My lord?”
“Henry,” he corrected from where she stood unmoved behind her. “If this is to be all I'm given, then it must be Henry.”
“I cannot. I don’t want to.”
“You will. I promise.”
“Couldn’t you simply let me be happy,” she implored her face still facing forwards.
“And it would make you happy to never know my touch?”
“Better to never know your touch than to miss it for the rest of my days.”
“Then marry me,” Henry said suddenly at her side.
“I’d marry you in an instant if I felt it was truly the best thing but I’ve long since accepted the impossibility of it. I could be happy with Lord Addison and his children.”
“You’re wrong and it would only be time until you realized it. Then where will we be?”
“I’ll be someplace where I don’t hold my breath waiting for you to enter the door only to confess your love for some more suitable miss,” she charged accusingly. Henry placed an apologetic hand on her arm and Claire recoiled then snapped. “Don’t touch me. You’re always touching me.”
“I only touch at your encouragement.”
“You say that to me here? Now?”
“We aught to at least be truthful,” Henry countered. “You provoke my touch with your proximity and leering.”
“I despise you.”
“What if I told you I was careful to mine your want?” he said, leaning in so that his breath pulled at her skin. “What if I told you that I liked you looking, and that I take pleasure in the want I’m able to stir in you?”
“Then I would say you are as wicked as I suspected.”
“That only makes us two of a kind, darling for I’m nothing but the assent to your lure and if you marry this gentleman it will only be time before we are back to afternoons spent too close. Then you tell me how long after the constraint of your innocence stops being a hindrance will it take for us to come undone?”
“My word has value, my lord, and unlike those reckless wives who break their vows to entertain your whims, I will be steadfast and true,” she said turning fully around to look him in the eyes.
“You say that here locked in with me on solitary afternoon?”
“I say that in any scandalous setting you are able to conjure. I’m beyond what it is we do. I no longer wish to dream of your touch and hope for your love. I’ve had my fill of holding my heart until you reappear only to hold me hostage with your smiles. I can stand it no more and will bear no longer.”
“Claire that’s not fair. You’ve sentenced me without a trial.”
“And what testimony would you present if given the opportunity? Do you love me?”
“I’m yours. I can’t be without you. Let that be enough for now,” he said his hands on her face as he lowered his head and brushed his lips over hers. She kissed him back, her response instant, without falter and a surprise to them both.
The kiss was a homecoming full of warm comfort and gentle assurances. Both their hungry demanding lips taking refuge in the clear want and effortless giving. Each of them, in that moment, the other’s soft place to land.
It was a deeply intimate kiss full of desire and longing, almost aggressively so.
Their mouths clinging greedily, as their lips part and their tongues licked a path to sweet surrender after a decade’s worth of want. Soon they were breathless and throbbing with naked lust. His hot lips were pulling over her own, swollen from their ravenous consumption.
He was filling her senses with raw sensual words as new awareness stirred to life in her womb.
“I’m all yours. Let me show you how much,” he said his mouth on her face his hands making her clothes and resolve untidy. “There is no end to me when I’m held to you. Will you let me show you, chérie?”
She held awhile and he kissed her until she relented, murmuring her compliance giving Henry permission to slide lower by inches, his lips hot on her neck his hands working at the fasteners of her frock until it gave and allowed him access to her beautiful breasts, lush and creamy with deep coral nipples.
Henry ran his hand over her breasts, squeezing them gently and Claire shuddered. Waves of excitement flooded through her body as his tender touch turned to more arousing strokes. She bit her lip, moaned in ecstasy and he filled his hands with the soft flesh of her breast and she arch up into his hand with a gasp.
He delighted in the privilege he was given, grazing his palms over her nipples already tight from his caresses, making her tremble as he furthered his exploration. Fondling fully every curve of her breast his thumb teasing and toying with soft flesh and tender nipples.
He lowered his head to lick at her aroused nipple causing her to groan blissfully when he pulled it between his lips and sucked, flickering his tongue with wicked deliberation. His hand moved with purpose down her body shifting and turning her until she was pressed lengthwise and he half on top of her.
His hands were on opposite poles, one at her breast as he suckled and the other on her ankle gently inching upwards in a manner intended to arouse and not startle. His hands moved, warm and strong up her calf, over her knee, stroking and pulling sighs of delightful surrender from a now shivering Claire.
His hands now assertive in the way of one confident of his skill as love as he moved closer to her center. Teasing with dexterous fingers between silken thighs and on to her willing flesh made moist because of his touch. Claire’s body quivered almost to the point of breaking as Henry’s touches became more intimate.
Then he took his mouth from her breast and grinned down at her, the look in his eyes saying, ah, but the best is yet to come.
He wanted to thrill her, show her some of the pleasure that could be had if she accepted his offer.
With this in mind, he, in one masterful move, lifted the hem of her frock with the hand that was at her breast and buried his head where is other hand played between her thighs. Running his tongue gently over the lips there, feeling her twitch in response with a whimper and he licked deeper dragging his tongue over the little hooded mound.
Caressing her until she jerked with a startled little gasp, her hands and legs clinging as her body wriggled closer. Her fingers twining through his hair to scrape over his scalp as she buried her heels of her slippers in his back. Henry winced against the pain of her demand before reaching up to grip her bottom and plunged deeper still.
Fluttering his tongue over the places he knew would pull ragged gasps and shuddering tremors, he was relentless in his administration delighting in her sweetness licking, sucking and nibbling until she teetered at the edge then he slid one of his fingers inside of her hot needy warmth.
Feeling her tighten immediately with want he pushed deeper in order to feed her craving and she lifted her hips to meet him, his name on her lips a continuous rhapsody of, “Henry, my god, Henry please I can’t bear it, Henry… Henry...”
She was close now, her breath coming in short, high-pitched gasps, her hips moving of their own volition. Henry pressed forward now with two very masterful fingers as he slid in and out in time while he sucked without yield at the erect little nub where all her desire was now focused.
Increasing the momentum of his touch, he stroked deeply, sucking and licking, fluttering his tongue until she buckled off the sofa cried out, her hands clenched in his hair. Then she was all warm ripples and melting bones as she fell back into the sofa, quivering orgasmically but he would not allow her to relax.
Suddenly he was desperate to mark her as his own, sucking methodically, keeping her at climax. Her body riding high as the rippling waves turned to pulsing spasms, that shook her violently threatening to turning her pleasure into pain. Then and only then did he release her, holding still until she came down.
When she sighed in contentment he licked her clean in a sort of grand declaration before lifting his head to hold her eyes while he deliberately licked at his lips.
“Hmm,” she nearly purred.
His own body aroused to strain his face smug satisfaction as he watched her breath returned to normal and she tided herself but instead of the blissful heady elation he had expected she, with a sombre whisper, her eyes locked to his, said with near heartbreak, “You mean to get your way despite my reservations don’t you?”
“That’s not fair Claire.”
“Won’t you leave me be?” she pled. “I have nothing else to give and I find that I no longer have use for what it is you have to offer.”
Addison… he loves you?” Henry demanded angrily.
“No, but I don’t require love from him nor is he able to break my heart. He offers me purpose and the possibility of contentment.”
“You’re a coward.”
“And you are a heartless, pleasure-seeking, hedonist. So you see, we all have our cross to bear.”
“Better weak in restraint than a pious coward,” Henry said without bending. “Just imagine believing yourself in love with me then running off without declaration to shackle yourself to what’s safe because loving me has proven to be difficult.”
“I all but declared myself to you earlier this season, turning up at your home in the middle of the afternoon. I could have been ruined, taking such a chance and you treated me as errand girl, sending me off to the shops to purchase your mother’s birthday present so you could go cavort with Sir Crane’s widow.”
“Christ, I wondered after you had left… why you had come…”
“And still you did not ask.”
“I’m sorry Claire,” he said in earnest.
“I see that but it changes nothing. I love you, you do not love me and I will marry elsewhere.”
“Outside of my family there is no one I care for more than you. Not David or Morgan with whom I’ve shared three decades of friendship and that I think says something. Give me time to figure it out Claire.”
“I wish I could for both our sakes but I simply cannot. I couldn’t bear to wait only to have you confirm what it’s taken me so long to accept.”
“I care deeply for you. You know?” he vowed in earnest.
She could feel the tears in the back of her throat and swallowed painfully around them not wanting to shed tears in front of him.
She was without end. She loved him and could stand the heartbreak of his indifference no more but neither did she want to will him into marriage only to have him resent her once he discovered that he felt no more for her than he did for those other ladies he had loved temporarily.
Still what else could she do?
Then suddenly it was all every clear, her resolve of earlier. To give in to the want of their flesh until he grew tired of her so she might carry on with her heartbreak into her planned life of contentment with Lord Addison.
My love ,