featherxquill: (Miranda kiss)
[personal profile] featherxquill
Title: My Heart, My Life
Fandom: St. Ives (1998 film)
Pairing: Susan Gilchrist/Farquhar Chevening
Rating: NC-17
Summary: On his wedding night, Major Farquhar Chevening learns, among other things, that the tongue isn’t such an overrated organ after all.
A/N: Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] mme_giry_phan for looking it over.

After they dropped off Jacques and Flora, Farquhar found that his palms were sweating. The open carriage moved swiftly along the road, the drum of horses’ hooves sounding out his heartbeat. He was forty-two years old; this was his wedding night. He still hadn’t told her.

“Susan,” he began, “There’s something I...”

“I love this time of year,” she murmured, gazing peacefully out at the fields they were passing through. “The grass so green; the sky so clear and blue. It’s a beautiful time for weddings.” She found his hand, right beside hers, and linked her fingers through his, lifting her head to the wind and closing her eyes. Sunlight glittered on her eyelashes; the wind caught her veil and tousled her hair. She looked beautiful. Radiant, confident, happy.

And he still hadn’t told her. Perhaps she hadn’t meant to interrupt him. Sometimes people spoke at the same time, or just after each other, and one couldn’t stop oneself once the other person started because the words were already on one’s tongue. Yes, that had to be it.

“Susan, I...”

“Wasn’t it beautiful the way the children came out to throw rose petals? I didn’t know there were so many children in town, did you?”

Farquhar closed his mouth and glanced down at his lap. Obviously, she was cutting him off deliberately, and he didn’t know why. This was important. Very important, at least to him.

“No,” he answered, speaking to his buttons. “I don’t suppose I did.”

A tense silence, then, and he could feel her eyes on him but he didn’t look up. She squeezed his hand and, a moment later, her warm breath tickled his ear.

“If you really must tell me something, perhaps it should be when the carriage driver is not listening so intently.”

“Oh.” He lifted his head, and the driver was indeed sitting with his ear cocked toward their conversation. “Quite.”

They rode in silence the rest of the way. At the house, there were no little girls in floaty white dresses waiting to give Susan bouquets of flowers, and there were no servants lined up along the drive to welcome them home. And thank heavens for that. Farquhar was nervous enough without adding an expectant audience to the mix.

The house was airy and silent. The front door closed with a soft whisper of air. Farquhar looked around, dazed for a moment by the realisation that this was now his house. Their house. Susan’s hand slid into the crook of his elbow. “There’s some wine upstairs. Shall we go and open it?”

Upstairs. In the bedroom. She wasn’t wasting any time, but then why should she? They were married, and it was perfectly natural for a husband to want to bed his wife. And Farquhar did, very much so. He was just... nervous.

“Of course,” he replied, glancing down at her, trying to look confident and ready. He led her up the stairs.

The last time he’d been inside Susan’s bedroom, it had been in the dead of night whilst searching for an escaped French Prisoner of War. During the day, he was surprised to discover, the room was large and bright. Its windows offered a vista onto the leafy green grounds.

“Farquhar.” Susan’s voice interrupted his thoughts, and he turned to face her. “I’ve no idea why the house and grounds are of such fascination to you today, but perhaps you’ll turn your attention to opening the wine instead?” She was smiling, that little barely-there quirk of the lips that he found so mysterious and fetching, but he got the message clear enough.

“I... Yes, of course.” He felt his own mouth curving into a sheepish smile, and he set about uncorking the bottle that sat on the stand and pouring them both a glass. When he’d handed one to Susan, he no longer had any excuse to focus his attention elsewhere. And so he stood, and his hand dropped back to his side, and he looked at her, and she looked at him, and he knew a lot of things he could talk about like guns or what they’d be doing back at the prison right now if it was still a prison, or the weather, but none of it seemed appropriate for when you were standing in your bedroom with the woman you’d just married, and he had no idea what to say.

Susan took a sip of the wine. Her eyes closed for a moment and she made a little noise in the back of her throat that made Farquhar’s grip on the glass in his hand tighten. She said a word he didn’t understand, then: “Turkish wine. I had it imported. I first tried this in Constantinople, in the court of Selim the third. We’d just seen the performance of a concert that he had composed himself.”

“Really?” Farquhar heard himself ask, though he thought talking about Ottoman rulers was just as ridiculous as talking about guns, but at least they were talking about something. “I had no idea the Sultan was a musician.” He noticed Susan had, at some point since their arrival, removed her veil. He noticed because she was now gathering her hair into her hand and lifting it away from her neck as she turned her back toward him.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “Would you unhook me?”

“Unhook...? Oh! Oh. Yes, of course.” He reached for her, then realised the glass of wine was still in his hand, and almost dropped it in his haste to pull it away from her white dress and place it back on the stand. His hands were shaking. The dress was confusing. But eventually he figured it out and unhooked it all the way to her waist. Underneath, he saw more fabric, more laces. Heavens, how did women ever get themselves dressed in the morning?

Susan turned. “Thank you,” she murmured, brushing a kiss against his cheek.

Farquhar felt his cheeks colour, but he watched her, unable to avert his gaze as she stepped away from him, shrugged the gown down over her shoulders, then stepped out of it deftly, gathering it up and laying it over a chair in the corner. Her petticoat followed quickly. She turned to face him again, and even though he could barely see more of her with the dress off, his breath caught in his throat. A woman - his wife - parading around before him in her underthings, taking a seat at the foot of the bed as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Her stays were fashioned from the same fabric as her wedding dress – heavens, had she had them specially made for him to take off? – and edged in black. Beneath it, she wore a white silk chemise. Her stockings, he noticed, as she loosened her garters to take them off, had some sort of design on the ankles.

His throat felt incredibly dry. He remembered that he still hadn’t told her. He needed to, now, before this went any further. He swallowed, cleared his throat, trying to get some moisture back into it, but his voice came out oddly hoarse despite his efforts.

“Susan, there’s something I need to tell you. I’m... I’ve never... That is to say I haven’t... I’ve never, well, done this before.”

There. It was out, and now he just had to look away until the fire in his cheeks subsided again. She said nothing. When he ventured a look back up again, she was smiling. It wasn’t an unkind smile, but there was definitely amusement in her eyes. His back stiffened.

“I know, Farquhar.” He stared at her, a barrage of questions, protestations, indignant replies tangling up behind his tongue. All he managed was to sputter in surprise. But she rose from the bed and closed the distance between them, and the amusement was gone when she continued. “I know because you are a kind man, a gentleman, and that you would never besmirch a lady’s honour by bedding her without marrying her first. And I know you have never been married before, so.” Her hand lifted and her fingers toyed with the lapel of his jacket, then slid flat and pressed against his chest.

“I...” his voice was even huskier than before, caught somewhere in his spinning mind. She knew, she had guessed, and she didn’t mind? He’d thought... well. He held no illusions with regard to her experience. A woman as worldly and well-travelled as she would undoubtedly have encountered things that he had not. He wouldn’t speak about it, of course, but he had decided before he proposed that it didn’t really matter. Indeed, he found the idea of a woman who knew what to do a little exciting. It certainly made things easier for him. But what was he saying? There was something he wanted to impart. “I hope it doesn’t displease you,” was what he managed.

“Of course it doesn’t,” she replied, and the smile was back – a little amused, a little exasperated. “If you were the kind of man who would toy with a lady’s affections, I would never have married you. I couldn’t have afforded to.”

For a moment, he didn’t understand the last thing she said, but then he looked at her, at the confidence, experience and independence in her eyes, and he suddenly realised just what she had given up that morning in the church. Just what she had trusted him with. Now that they were married, her property, her fortune – all the money that she had used to live and travel with – belonged to him. She had given him not just her heart but her life, and he was suddenly, desperately determined that she would not regret it.

He pulled her against him, hard. His mouth found hers, and the first touch was hesitant, gentle, but her lips were soft and warm, parting and inviting him, and she tasted like wine and desire and home. When they broke apart, her breath gusted heavily out of her, and her eyes, up close, were dark and full of need.

“I love you,” he whispered. “I want to make love to you. Show me what to do.”

Susan smiled. “There are more laces to undo, I’m afraid.” She turned without stepping away and her hip brushed against his crotch. He gasped a breath, heard her chuckle, then she presented her back to him once again and confronted him with a baffling display of fabric and laces. “It unties from the top,” she said, helpfully.

He cursed his fingers as he lifted them, because they were shaking and fumbling and he couldn’t get a good grip on the knot his first few tries. When he did, though, it came undone rather easily – some clever trick in the fastening, Farquhar supposed – and he was able to pull the string through the eyelets, one at a time. Properly undone, she slipped if off with ease. When she turned back to face him, he couldn’t help but notice that the chemise was damp where her stays had covered it, and it clung to her breasts most enticingly. That, combined with expanse of leg on view, conspired to do strange things to his heartbeat and anatomy.

“It is customary,” she said with a smile, “for the gentleman to remove his clothes as well.”

“Oh!” Oh heavens, he’d been staring. Standing there like a fool, fully clothed and staring as she removed her undergarments for him and he gaped like a fish. He fumbled with his jacket, shedding it onto the floor in an instant, but he had trouble with the buttons of his waistcoat because his fingers still wouldn’t behave.

“Can I help?” She lifted her hands and pushed his away, looking up at him as she worked the buttons undone. He let his arms fall to his sides. He was sure there were other things he could do with his hands – there were certainly other things he wanted to do with them – but he didn’t know where to start, and he didn’t want to get tangled in his clothes as she tried to take them off. So he just stood there, breath shallow and heart beating hard (and surely she would feel it) as she undressed him.

The cravat came after the waistcoat, and then she was pulling at the buttons of his shirt, leaning close enough for him to feel her hot breath against his skin. Good God, he needed to get out of his breeches. But she was pushing the shirt back over his shoulders, and it was falling off him, and suddenly he felt terribly exposed. He was an army Major with no scars, and his build could only be described as slight, and what if the sight of his skinny pink chest amused her?

“Farquhar?” Her voice brought him back from his thoughts. Back into the room, it seemed, and how on earth was it that he managed to be so far away when she was right there in front of him, nearly naked and touching him? He looked down at her again, at her wild copper hair and the tilt of her chin and the shape of her lips and the look in her eyes, trying to root himself firmly in the physicality of the moment. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

He didn’t know. Was something wrong? He looked at her, and she didn’t seem amused or disgusted by his naked chest. He cleared his throat. “No. Nothing. Nothing at all.” He smiled. “Well, perhaps one thing. If you’ll forgive me.” He unfastened his breeches and sighed in relief.

Susan laughed. “Well, go on, take them off, then. I’m still much more naked than you are.”

And she turned, retrieving her wine glass from the dresser and settling herself on the bed, lounging there and watching him strip down to his drawers. He wasted no time in joining her on the bed. As he settled down beside her, she took a lazy sip of her wine, dragging her foot up the bed so her leg bent at the knee and the shift that covered it slid down her bare thigh.

“Have some,” she said, offering the glass toward him. “Finish the glass. It will calm your nerves a little.”

Farquhar wanted to protest that he didn’t need it, that he wasn’t nervous, but it would have been a blatant lie, and she would have known it. He swallowed the wine in one long mouthful. It did relax him. Not completely, of course, but it tasted warm and spicy against the back of his throat, and of all the things he had experienced today, the taste of wine was the most comfortingly familiar. He deposited the empty glass on the bedside table, then looked again at his bride.

“Kiss me,” she said, peering at him with feline eyes.

He did. Slipped closer and his mouth captured hers, and he felt her hand slide around the back of his neck and tug the ribbon in his hair loose. Then her fingers were in his hair, blunt nails scraping his scalp, and he groaned into her mouth, dropping his own hand onto her waist and pulling her closer to him.

It felt so natural, so right. They fit together perfectly; her breasts against his chest, the rough silk of her shift rubbing against his nipples, and he knew that her thighs would wrap around him just as perfectly. She was soft, pliant, open, and he took courage from that, running his hand over her hip and up her side to graze over the outside of her breast.

They broke the kiss, breathing fast and shallow. He nuzzled into her throat, brushing lips over her skin, breathing in the smell of her hair, her perfume. She smelled like sunshine, like flowers and spring. He pulled back, wanting to see her, and she gazed up at him serenely. Completely at ease. His heart was battering itself against his ribcage.

“You’re so calm,” he murmured, running a finger along her jaw line. “You’re calm and I’m a jittery schoolboy.”

Susan twined his hair between her fingers. “I’m just enjoying myself. Feeling. Try to relax.”

Relax. He laughed. “Relaxing is the last thing my body wants to do.”

She let out a chuckle of her own. “Mmm, I suppose that is a bad choice of words. Just enjoy, then. Close your eyes.” She pushed herself up, pressing him onto his back. Her hair tickled his chest. The shift had fallen down over one shoulder. “Close them, and just feel.”

He didn’t want to. He didn’t want to lose the sight of her, of her hair and her skin and her eyes, but he did as he was told, and let his head fall back against the pillow.

For a moment, there was nothing – a long, hanging moment in which his breath returned to some semblance of its normal pace, even if it was spiked with anticipation – and then her lips brushed his collarbone and his hand fisted in the sheets. Kisses across his chest, all the way down to his navel and back again, and then her hand flattened against his ribs and he felt her tongue flick over one of his nipples. He gasped, back arching, but she pressed him down again and went for the other, trailing in a circle, sucking lightly, and his eyes were shut tight and he was so, so painfully hard.

Her hair brushed his chest again. She kissed his eyelids and he opened them. “Any better?” she asked.

“Much.” And he grabbed her wrists, twisted and pinned her beneath him. Didn’t know what to do from there, but he wanted to touch her, and if that had felt so good for him, it must be the same for her. He shifted down, her legs went about him, and oh god, her thighs were irresistible. He cupped the back of her knee and slid his hand higher, hitching the shift up even further until his hand slid around the smooth curve of her backside and oh god, oh god, her skin felt glorious. His lips closed over her breasts through the fabric, mouthing in rough circles until the friction made his skin tingle.

He moved up again, wanting to kiss her with his roughened mouth, and as his lips caught hers again, he settled into the cradle of her thighs, and god, she was so warm against him, even through his drawers. He squeezed his hand around her rump, then slid it higher, up to the small of her back. The little hollow there was damp with sweat, and he wondered how it would taste if he ran his tongue over it, wondered what her skin would smell like there. Would every inch of her be perfumed like her throat, or would her back smell like salt and animal?

She nipped at his bottom lip, he rocked against her, and oh, that felt wonderful. He had to do it again. And again. And he was kissing her throat and sliding his hands over her skin and the friction when he pressed up against her just so was almost unbearable. She was whispering something urgently at him, but he couldn’t hear her properly through the pounding in his ears, and OH.

Oh. Oh, no.


He’d gone completely still, his head nestled into her shoulder, and he didn’t want to move because his cheeks were burning, because now that he realised what he’d done he felt ill. He’d... oh god, like a schoolboy, like a dog, and now he couldn’t...

“Farquhar, let me up, please.”

He realised that he was still on top of her, hiding in her hair like she wasn’t there, and she must have been terribly uncomfortable like that. In an instant he pushed himself off her and turned away to face the wall. He couldn’t look at her, because he’d just feel worse if he saw the disappointment on her face, if he saw what he couldn’t have now that he’d made a complete mess of his drawers.

“Farquhar...” He felt her shift on the bed, felt her hands on his shoulders, her fingers through his hair and her lips press against his throat. “Farquhar, look at me. Please.” He couldn’t bear it, but he couldn’t bear that plea in her voice either.

He turned, eyes still downcast, and said: “I’m sorry, I...” He could barely speak for the heat in his cheeks.

She reached out to him and lifted his chin, forcing him to look at her. “It’s fine,” she said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Didn’t matter? He sputtered. “But you... I...”

She smiled. “It’s our wedding day, Farquhar. No one will disturb us unless we send for them. We have all night, and there are plenty of things we can do until you get your breath back.”

Did she mean it? Was it really not a problem? He said nothing for a time, searching her eyes for any evidence that she might be smiling to hide irritation or disappointment, but there was none. Finally, he sighed, shook his head, and offered Susan a quiet smile.

“I’m sorry for being such a jittery, nervous wreck,” he said.

“Don’t be,” she replied. “I love you, jitters and all.”

He turned his face away again, but this time it was because he was grinning like a fool – he didn’t think he would ever stop grinning like a fool when she told him she loved him. She chuckled, moving back up the bed. “Will you get the wine? There’s some water in the jug for the washbasin as well, if you need it.”

When he rose, he found that he did. His drawers were sticking to his leg, so he crossed the room and washed quickly, dried himself with a small towel, then faced the problem of what to do about his drawers. He couldn’t put them back on, but...

“Leave them off,” Susan said from the bed. “I’m quite enjoying the view.”

Farquhar flushed, because surely parading around the room naked was improper, but Susan wasn’t offering up any information about the location of larger towels, so he didn’t suppose he had a choice. Still, he felt terribly bare when he turned toward her, and he didn’t miss her appraising glance as he crossed the room to retrieve the wine.

He joined her on the bed with the bottle, refilling the glass they’d drunk from earlier. His was still on the mantle, untouched, but he didn’t bother to go back and retrieve it. He rather liked the idea of sharing a glass with his bride.

“So,” he said, taking a sip (the wine was indeed rather good). “These other things we can do.” He handed her the glass. “What did you have in mind?”

She shook her hair away from her shoulders, took a swallow of the wine, a mouthful that left a drop at the corner of her mouth. Her tongue flickered out to catch it. “Well, any number of things. We could throw our robes on and go horseback riding – I’m fabulous at riding bareback, you know. Or we could call for a plate of fruit, or we could play cards. Or,” she handed him the glass back, “I could take my shift off and we could go from there.”

Farquhar swallowed another mouthful of wine, cleared his throat. “I think I like that last option the best.”

Susan smiled her catlike grin, taking the glass back again. “Really? I’ve always found cards terribly exciting.” Farquhar laughed, and, after another swallow, she set the glass aside. Then she pushed herself up onto her knees, gathered the hem of the shift in her hands and pulled it over her head in one swift motion.

Farquhar wished he had the wine again, because his mouth went completely dry. Oh, god, she was perfect. Beautiful and soft and round and completely unembarrassed by her nudity. Her breasts were small but nicely curved and her nipples were the colour of ripe peaches. Her belly was soft and slightly rounded, and a coppery triangle of hair disappeared between her thighs. He’d never seen a woman before (except in the kinds of drawings he’d occasionally confiscated from French prisoners), and this first glimpse was as glorious as he’d always imagined it would be.

“You’re amazing,” he breathed.

Susan kissed him again. They fell back onto the covers, but this time the kisses were languid rather than urgent, and he didn’t feel his heart beating so hard. He let his hand explore, trailing fingers lightly over her belly then up to cover her breast. Her nipple was hard against his palm so he brushed it with his thumb. She made a little sound into his mouth, and he loved the way her noises and movements told him when he was doing something right. He wanted to taste her skin and see what kind of reactions that drew.

He urged her onto her back again, pressing himself close but in no danger – not at this moment – of losing himself again. Her skin was warm; it pressed against his. He dropped kisses onto her belly, her hip, her shoulder, her throat; trailed his tongue along her sternum. She tasted of salt and perfume, the latter strangely bitter against his tongue, a stark contrast to the sweet bergamot and jasmine scent of her. Her fingers were in his hair again, massaging his scalp in time with the noises of approval from her throat, and he was drowning in his senses.

His hand slid up her thigh. He did it slowly, giving her plenty of opportunity to tell him to stop if she wanted him to, but he didn’t ask permission. They were surely beyond that now. His eyes met hers, and then he was there, exploring the shape and texture of her, his fingers quickly coated in her slick heat. He watched her face as he slipped a finger inside her, felt her hand tighten its hold on him and heard the breath hiss out of her. He moved in and out, just lightly, and felt an answering twinge in his loins. Her hips rocked against his hand.

“I want...” he whispered. “God, I want to be inside you.”

“I want you inside me.” She responded, voice husky.

“I can’t... I’m not quite ready.” It pained him to say so, because he desperately wanted mastery over his traitorous body.

Susan reached down and caught his wrist, pulled his hand up toward her. His fingers were glistening in the light. She licked them clean. The gentle suction of her mouth around his fingers, her running along them, as well as the sight of her lapping up her own wetness... He was on fire, but his body still hadn’t answered to his needs.

“I’m sure I can help you along,” she murmured.

Then he was on his back again, and she was straddling him, one hand either side of him and her hair brushing his chest. She wasted no time, watching him for but a moment before she began kissing her way down his chest. Then – and the action was so unexpected and thrilling that he almost bucked her off him – she wrapped her hand around him. This was followed shortly by her mouth, and although he’d heard tales of courtesans who did such things, he’d never known that ladies did them too, and oh, he felt like the bones had dissolved from his body. And, miraculously, his arousal began again in earnest.

She continued her ministrations for a time, until, apparently satisfied by the state of him, she slid back up, dragging her breasts over his chest. When she kissed him, he tasted himself on her tongue, which was a strange experience if ever he’d had one, but just made them even more entwined. Covered in each other.

“Are you ready?” she asked, lowering her hips so that her heat brushed against him. Breathlessly, he nodded.

Slipping her hand down between them, Susan took hold of him and guided him into her. He held his breath as she sank down, not daring to move in case he imploded. It was... oh... Hot. Wet. Tight. Like her mouth, but better. A thousand times better. Every nerve was on fire, and all his thoughts fled into his throbbing, almost painful arousal, but even as he was blinded by it, he couldn’t help but be amazed that this was finally happening. Inside a woman, inside his wife, and it was...

He let out his breath in a heavy gust. He was glad she was holding him down, glad she was in control because he didn’t think he’d have any. If he had his way, he knew he’d be thrusting into her amazing heat as hard and as fast as he could, just wanting more of it, more of her. But he knew that wouldn’t satisfy her, and wouldn’t satisfy him either, really, so he thanked heaven that she had taken matters into her own hands.

She moved over him, up and down, her head thrown back and that mane of auburn hair cascading over her shoulders, throat long and bare. Her hands were on his chest, grasping bluntly at sweat-slicked skin, then on her thighs, then cupping her breasts, twisting her own nipples between fingers and thumbs. Her head righted, her eyes met his, and there was fire in them, hungry and burning. No one had ever looked at him the way she did.

Suddenly remembering how to move, he gripped her hips, pulling her back down onto him as she rose. She responded by slowing down, catching him tight within her, rocking up and back, up and back.

“My pace,” she breathed. “You’re in such a hurry.”

He smiled, though it probably looked more like a grimace in his current state. “Just feels... so good.”

Her reply was an affirmative murmur; she came down on top of him, chest to chest. Her hand gripped his shoulder and used it for leverage as she moved. Lips against his shoulder, hair in his face. He licked a bead of sweat from her throat.

His arousal was building slower this time, but the pleasure and tension were still mounting too soon. “I don’t think.... don’t think I can last must longer.”

She lifted her head. “Then help me. Help me get there too.”

With her free hand, she caught his, pulling it down between them and directing his fingers to a place just above her entrance. It was slippery and his hand was wedged uncomfortably, but when he flexed his fingers, she made the most delicious noise.

“There, yes, in circles. Rub in circles.”

He did, and marvelled at the way his name could roll of her tongue in a breath, and they were rocking, barely moving it all, it seemed to him, but enough that there were stars before his eyes. He held on, gritting his teeth and reciting military songs in his head, and then she moaned a keening cry like a dove and began to shudder, clenching around him and sending daggers of pleasure through his body, and he closed his eyes as she carried him with her into oblivion.

For a time, he could hear nothing but pounding blood in his ears and his own laboured breathing, but slowly the world came back, and everything was silent and still. Susan had collapsed on top of him, unmoving but for the gentle rise and fall of her back and the gust of breath against his skin. Her cheek was against his chest, head nestled against his jaw. A lock of her hair had flung itself across his face. He was still inside her, but completely spent. Completely satisfied.

Gently, he extricated his hand from between them. That made her stir, and the hair tickled his face as she shifted her head. “I’m sorry,” she murmured against his skin. “Should I move?”

“No,” Farquhar whispered, moving the hand to lay it on her back. “Not yet. Stay.”

It felt wonderful to have her this close, all still and broken in his arms. He didn’t think he’d ever seen her actually still before. In public, she was a force – always moving this way or that with an eagle eye on her niece’s wellbeing, or gesturing while she spoke of one grand adventure or another. Even in private, she moved her head with the alertness of a bird, taking in all around her and commenting on it with an arch of brow or the quirk of lips. But now, right now in this moment, she was perfectly still, and they were joined together, exhausted.

He’d just made love to his wife well enough to exhaust her. He’d just made love to his wife. Made love. His wife. His face split into a grin, and she must have felt the muscles in his jaw move, or sensed it in some otherworldly fashion, because she lifted her head to look at him. Seeing his expression, she smiled back at him. He wondered if she had it in her to smile in a way that wasn’t feline and quietly amused.

“You’re looking rather smug,” she said.

“So are you.”

“What are you thinking?”

“That I just made love to my wife, and how wonderful it was. What else would I be thinking?”

She shifted, folding her hands on his chest and so she could rest her chin on them. At the same time, she lifted her hips and moved her legs so as to make herself more comfortable. He felt himself slip out of her, and regretted the loss, but he certainly couldn’t begrudge her comfort. When she settled, though, they were still pressed tightly together, damp and sticky, and it was just as intimate.

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t want you to be thinking anything else.”

“And you? What are you thinking?”

“That I never want to move. That making love to my husband in our bed was just as fulfilling as any of my great travel adventures, and a great deal more beautiful. That I will be happy – not just content, but happy – to live out my life with you.”

Farquhar’s throat felt tight, his chest full to bursting, but he managed a reply. “Does that surprise you?”

“A little. There was a time when I thought I would never marry – that I would be happy to travel the world and see things. Even when I accepted your proposal, there was a part of me that was terrified to give up my freedom. But I do not regret it, and I will not.”

He slid his hand up her back to toy with her hair. “You are still free, Susan. I would not hold you back from anything.”

She kissed him. “I know, but fears are not always rational. I am fortunate that Flora found her love at the same time I did, because I would not have married while she was still in my care.”

“Then I shall have to thank Jacques,” he kissed her back, “again. For saving my heart as well as my life.”

He held her then, just held her, and there was nothing more he wanted from the world.

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