Inebriated Epiphany

Patrick Henry cursed for the thousandth time as he stormed out of his manor, a stream of muttered unpleasantries wafting behind him. “Damned father of mine. Married. Married! And to a prude of a woman no less!” 

It had been three months since the previous Earl of Wilshire had passed and left his sole heir, Patrick, with a will stating his desire that the Henry family join hands with the Merills. A man who lived for the pleasantries in life, Patrick had never intended to return home, much less settle down. He was only twenty-eight for gods sake!

Having reached the stables, he stopped his blind rampage at the entrance and inhaled the earthy scent of hay and horse. One stallion poked his head out over his stable door and looked inquiringly at Patrick with a large chocolate eye. “Yes well, beauty she may be but it doesn’t make a difference if she won’t even try to enjoy our nights together!” The stallion hrmph’ed in reply and ducked his head back and down to grab a mouthful of fresh hay while the man continued his ranting.

“Just lies there! Limp as a rag! Taunting me with those…those…beautifully, soft…lumps of fat!” He refused to admit that her appearance enraptured him, a weakness of men that he constantly found himself submitting to. Chewing contentedly, Jasper, Patrick’s prized horse, seemed rather used to his master visiting at odd times as of late and not even bothering to take him out for a ride either. Just coming and going, a small storm disturbing the peace of his simple life.

Leaning against Jasper’s stable, he slid down the smooth wood pillar and onto the dusty ground. “No, Jasper. It’s not my fault. I’m just trying to perform my duty as a man! You know her parents are coming to visit soon and she’s not even pregnant yet!…Don’t look at me like that.”

As his new wife continually rejected him, he felt the bitter stab of guilt each time his frustration overcame his rationality. As debauched as he was, he was still a gentleman at heart and never meant to bring any harm to the woman. Still. It wasn’t his fault. It just wasn’t…Was it? 

A soft huff of warm breath blew down at him and soon lips followed as Jasper began to nibble away at the top of his head. “Stop that! Stop that Jasper! Can’t you see I’m trying to think here? I have to find out how to woo this witch, this game of hers cannot continue.”

Swatting away the over-friendly beast, he stood and started to pace the floor, mumbling to himself. Not even caring that his pristine appearance was both wrinkled and dusty as well, hair disheveled from Jasper’s loving touch with bits of hay sticking out here and there. “Girl treats me like the plague. Forever on the lookout as if I were trying to kill her! Wouldn’t want to surprise her in her sleep either…” Who knew what sort of gossip the servants would spread?

An idea started to slowly dawn on him and a look of enlightenment changed to that of a sly grin. “Yes. Yes! Jasper, I daresay I am a genius for this plan is bound to work…it’s practically fool proof!”

Or so he hoped.

*     * *     * *

Esther Merill knew as well as any other that she had literally been sold as a business transaction. None would admit to it but all insisted that she was getting the better end of the bargain. Her family had only recently come to its wealth, but lack of experience had ended with them quickly squandering what little of a fortune they had made much sooner than anticipated. 

Everyone in the town of Wilshire knew that the old Earl had had his eye on Merill lands for years now, though it wasn’t until their sudden downturn that they had finally appealed to him for help. Unfortunately, the bastard dropped dead before he could be of any help…or so she had thought. It wasn’t until later when the deal had already been made that she found out about her arranged marriage.

Many of her friends had already wed and she was the last to tread down the accursed path. At the age of nineteen she went rebelliously and most unhappily, prior knowledge of how the others had fared in their marriages warned her of how her own was bound to turn out. Tending to the husband’s needs, to the house, and to the children…all of her friends now seemed tired and worn, as if their youth had been drained from them as they slaved their days away. A fate that she refused to resign herself to.

It had been two days now since he had last tried to bed her, a shudder of revulsion passed through her at the memory. She had stayed obstinate from the day she stepped foot into the luxurious household. Obeying and fulfilling his commands by doing as little as she possibly could. 

She made sure that he never saw her dressed improperly in the light, opting to only undress for him in the dark. Never uttering a sound as he explored her body, willing herself to stay as still and quiet as possible. Then scrubbing herself raw once the deed was done, making sure to carefully bathe herself in the regions that he had soiled. 

It was as if he was marking her, claiming her for his own. Well he can have my body, but he shan’t have my devotion…That thought was her motivational mantra lately. 

*     * *     * *

There was nothing for her to do around the manor as the servants took care of everything. They cooked and cleaned and so she had taken up sewing to keep herself preoccupied. The life of a married woman was quite different than she had imagined…

Seated in her usual spot in the drawing room, the heavy oak door swung open with a groaning creak and a handsome man stepped quietly in. She continued to work steadily, needle piercing cloth as it swam slowly but surely up and down, red string following it to form stitch after stitch. 

He glanced steadily at her for a moment before making his way to the sideboard and uncorked an ornate glass bottle filled with light amber liquid. Esther’s hand twitched irritably at the sound of the liquor sloshing into crystal glasses and she scowled quietly into her work as she picked out her latest crooked stitch. Patrick sauntered over lazily and seated himself languorously in a nearby armchair, propping his feet up on the window seat she was seated on.

A few silent moments passed as he sipped from his glass. He had placed the other on the windowsill besides her, though it sat ignored and untouched. With each passing second Esther’s irritation grew. Though she kept her emotions well hidden, her true feelings could be seen through her unsteady stitches. Finally, frustrated, she put down her work and glared over at him before speaking slowly. “How may I help you my lord?”

Patrick didn’t even look at her, seemingly too focused on the swirling of his glass. Holding it up to the light, he peered through it as if trying to see her through the haze of golden yellow. “How are you feeling today, Esther?” he asked, voice as smooth as honey.

She had fully expected some sort of nastiness from him, brazen innuendos, baiting. But instead he was inquiring on her health? She quivered at those particular words, the hidden meaning behind them obvious as images of dark nights flashed past her eyes. Carefully and with credible calm, she replied, “I am quite all right, my lord.”

A short pause as he tilted back his glass.

“A pity,” Henry said, his voice still smooth. Her eyes met his, and she saw irony in his, and something else she didn’t understand. “Would you like some?” Another swirl of his glass and a tilt of his chin to the drink next to her easily showed what he was offering her. She looked uncertainly over at the glass and hesitated, confusion evident on her features as her mind tried to encompass this new version of Patrick Henry that she had not known of before. “Do you enjoy brandy, Esther? Perhaps you would prefer something else?”

“N-no, this is fine.” She raised her glass and sipped. The liquid burned down her throat and landed squarely in her empty stomach, warming her from the inside.

“What are you sewing there, my dear?” Although his question was pointed towards the work that lay forgotten in her lap, his eyes never left her face. Captured by his forceful gaze, Esther found herself blushing under his scrutiny. She suddenly realized that she’d been silent for too long, mesmerized by this charming figure that was trying to pass himself off as her husband. 

Fumbling and flustered, she pricked herself on the needle while trying to show him her progress. Hand jerking back in surprise, she glanced down and watched as a drop of blood slowly welled to the surface and formed a perfect crimson droplet on the tip of her finger.

What happened next left her dumbfounded.

As that brief flicker of pain and surprise flashed past her face, Patrick had leapt to his feet and was next to her in a single bound. He held her hand gently in his as if she had been mortally wounded. Concern was etched across his features as he asked, “Are you all right?”

He was standing so close, she could feel the warmth of his body brushing tantalizingly close. Leaning over slightly to better examine her finger, she could practically feel his warm breath against her. Suddenly, she blurted out, “Yes! I’m…I’m fine!” even as she drew away from him. Practically stammering, she was so mortified at her own behavior she wanted to scream and cry at the same time.

Henry smiled down at her, a painful smile. His eyes drank in her white shoulders and he wanted more than anything to touch her, caress her, ease his hands over her shoulders and downwards to cup her full breasts. He caught himself and looked away, letting go of her hand as his own fell limply to his side. His back was to her now and she could see the slight stiffening in his shoulders as he responded gruffly, “Of course. My apologies.”

Awkward silence stretched out uncomfortably before she finally broke it with a tentative, “My lord? May I inquire as to your visit?” It was rare that he bothered to seek her out during the day, meeting only when necessary which was usually over the dinner table or in their rooms.

As if prodded from his thoughts, he straightened and righted his toppled glass, murmuring to himself, “Hm, I’ll have to let Bridget know to tidy later.” Striding to the sideboard and back, his long legs only required a few steps as he returned to his earlier position in his seat with glass refilled. One leg crossed over the other, he drank long and deep before responding. “I wanted to see if you would like to play a game of cards.”

Esther sipped from her own glass, the heady drink was half gone already. Perhaps that was why she agreed? “Oh. That sounds lovely.” As she set her sewing aside, he handed her a pack of cards. “Shuffle and deal the cards, my dear,” Henry said, “and I shall get us some more brandy.” At least he wasn’t standing over her to watch her mangle the deck of cards. By the time he set the brandy snifter at her elbow, she had managed to deal the correct number of cards. Henry picked up his cards and sorted them.

Feeling oddly nervous, fidgety rather, she drank from her glass in an attempt to calm herself before beginning to sort her own cards, staring at them stupidly while half listening to Henry. “I suppose I became quite the successful gambler in the army. There were stretches of inactivity, you know, not much for the officers to do after drilling the men. Many times we didn’t play for money, which was probably just as well, as I remember both winning and losing fortunes…”

*     * *     * *

Their game of cards continued and Henry found himself a good deal impressed with Esther’s skills, but she was quickly losing her edge. His wife, he saw with gleaming eyes, was becoming quite drunk. “More brandy?” Esther shook her muddled head and selected a card, determined to continue the game as best she could.

At the close of the game, Henry said lightly as he tallied the score, “Pity we aren’t playing for money. You are in a dreadful situation, Esther.” He dropped the pencil and leaned back in his chair. “A long day.”

“Yes,” Esther agreed, toying with the eight of spades.

“I find myself quite fatigued.” 

Her mind sharpened with miraculous suddenness. “I too,” she said quickly.

“You held excellent cards, my dear.” She shrugged but was forced to agree.

“Shall we go upstairs now, Esther?” He watched a myriad of expressions cross her face. The expression that remained was one of wariness.

“What will you do?”

“I think I’d like a bath,” he said calmly.

“Yes, I do too!”

“Pity, I don’t think there’s enough room for the both of us.” She stared at him, befuddled. 

He said nothing more but instead rose and stretched. She found her eyes automatically drawn to him. He was a magnificent specimen, and of course he knew it. Esther’s eyes dropped bashfully down to her hands, but she still saw him  with blinding clarity. In her mind’s eye, she saw him striding out of the bath, water dripping down his muscular body in tiny rivulets. She gulped. 

“Will you visit me?” she asked quietly.

That brought him up short, and he blinked. A direct assault, he thought, smiling to himself. Perhaps the brandy was working far better than he could have hoped for, and he congratulated himself silently once again for his brilliant idea.  “I shall think about it, Esther,” he said simply. He offered her a brief nod and took himself out of the room. A long sigh escaped his lips as the doors closed behind him. His body was throbbing with lust, and he feared that he would ravish her right on the drawing-room carpet if he remained.

Esther stared at the scattered cards on the table. Her mind felt sluggish and quite at ease. Her body felt languid. She rose, and listlessly made her way upstairs.

Bridget had her bath prepared, and steaming, scented heat reached Esther’s nose as she came into her bed-chamber. “His lordship told me you’d want a bath, my lady,” Bridget said matter-of-factly.

“How kind of him,” Esther said vaguely. It didn’t take Bridget long to realize that her mistress was tipsy. She smiled, thinking that her ladyship was finally going to enjoy herself this night. Bridget was starting to understand the gleam in the earl’s eyes when he had given her instructions. She frowned a bit, seeing that Esther was on the brink of falling asleep in the bathtub. “My lady,” she said softly, gently shaking her mistress’ shoulder.

“Have I become a prune yet?” Esther said, grinning lopsidedly up at her maid. 

“Very nearly. Come now, let me dry you off.” Esther was a pliant creature under the guidance of Bridget’s steady hands. While Bridget gently brushed out the wet tangles in Esther’s hair, Esther giggled at her reflection. “I lost at cards.”

“No wonder,” Bridget patiently replied, her tone lightly laced with humor.

“I didn’t play as I usually play,” Esther continued, frowning down at her bare toes.

“Probably not, my lady,” said Bridget. “Come, let me help you into bed.” 

Esther was on the point of climbing into her bed when she stopped and spun about. “I’m hungry.” The maid sent her eyes heavenward. Taking care of her drunken mistress was far too similar to dealing with a child. “Yes,” Esther continued thoughtfully, her greed growing, “I think I’ll visit the kitchen. Surely Cook has left something to nibble on.”

Bridget sent an agonized look toward the door connecting to the adjoining room. “If you wish, my lady, I can have something sent up to you,” she volunteered helpfully.

“No,” Esther announced, searching for her slippers, “I wish to forage for my own food.” She stopped in her search to momentarily giggle at herself. “Forage,” she said matter-of-factly before giggling some more.

To Bridget’s utter relief, there came a light knock on the connecting door. She rushed to open it, saying when she saw the earl, “Her ladyship is hungry.”

Patrick grinned over at his wife, who was trying determinedly to put her right slipper on her left foot. Nodding a dismissal to Bridget, he said, “I shall see to her.” It wasn’t until the bedchamber door had closed that he spoke once again. “So, I hear that you’re hungry, my dear?”

“Why won’t this stupid slipper do what it’s supposed to do?” He watched in amusement as she sat on the floor, foot sticking out and still trying to fit the obstinate slipper onto the wrong foot. “There!” she cried triumphantly, then tilted her head to examine it more thoroughly, brows knitting in slight confusion. “But it looks so very odd. My toes seem to be pointing in the wrong direction…”

He wanted to laugh, but he didn’t. He was breathing too hard to do so. Her nightgown was spread about her and her glorious hair hung loose down her back in soft waves of curls. He looked at the slender ankle and the foot with its awkward toes before dropping down onto the floor in front of her. “Here, let me help you.”

She looked up at him and responded solemnly, “Thank you.” 

Instead of placing the slipper where it belonged, he removed it completely and tossed it over his shoulder. Picking up her foot he kissed the tip of each toe. She stared at him for a moment, completely befuddled, then started to giggle. Wiggling her toes in his face she started to giggle even harder.

Patrick bit her little toe.

Esther fell back, hugging her sides as she burst into merry laughter. Patrick stared at her for a moment and found himself grinning. After all, he was the one who had encouraged her to down the damned brandy. The grin quirked up further, mischief dancing in his eyes as his fingers began slowly sliding up her leg. 

“That tickles!” she cried and tried to pull her leg away from him. He held her leg firmly despite her squeals and with his other hand pushed up her nightgown. A sudden view, a very close view, of two long white legs greeted him. He saw slender ankles and calves, he saw beautiful thighs, and Lord, even her knees were lovely.

Suddenly Esther, still in the throes of drunken giggles, lifted her other leg and thrust her foot into his chest. Caught off guard, he landed on his rear, still holding her ankle. He pulled her towards him, grabbing her other ankle in the process. As she found herself tugged closer, her nightgown rose higher. Holding her legs apart, Patrick enjoyed her wriggling as well as the ever-increasing view. By the time her nightgown was bunched about her waist, he felt himself perilously close to the edge of his control. Swallowing, he tried to tear his eyes away and failed. “Esther,” he said with a gulp, voice husky with desire.

She tried to sit up and he released her ankles. Balancing herself on her elbows, she stared at him owlishly, legs widespread, nightgown tangled around her hips. “Are you ticklish?” she demanded, eyes sparkling with mischief.

“I…uh, well-” He was cut off as Esther lurched unsteadily up to her knees and dived towards him, smashing him onto his back. Laughing down at his stunned face, her fingers flew towards his ribs before he could completely comprehend the situation. It took her mere seconds to find his most vulnerable spots and answer her own question. Yes, Patrick was indeed very ticklish. Laughter burst forth from his lungs, almost easing his desire momentarily.

When he finally managed to catch her hands, holding them as far away from himself as possible, he almost wished he hadn’t. Panting as he gasped to catch his breath, he was painfully aware of how she was sprawled between his spread legs. Of how she was sprawled between his spread legs while naked up to her waist. Naked and pressing against his own bare skin due to his own dressing gown having parted in their scramble. 

He looked up into her laughing face and gently cupped his hands on either side of her face.  Bringing her face closer to his he said softly, “Esther, kiss me.” Moving his hands to the back of her head and pressing down slightly, he waited expectantly for a response. He was fully prepared for outright denial such as those of previous nights, yet he couldn’t help hoping against hope that this recent display would lead to other…fruitful events.

“All right,” she said agreeably, and pursed her lips to prepare for a smooch. Smiling despite his growing urgency, he lowered his hand and lightly parted her lips with his fingertip. “Not quite like that. Keep your mouth open but don’t talk. That’s the way it’s done, you know.” It was almost as if he were speaking to a child, and the child obeyed him without a second thought. 

When their lips touched he thought he would leap out of his skin. Wrapping his arms around her back and pulling her tightly against his chest, his heart hammered excitedly and his mind raced at how well everything was progressing. Her lips were so soft, he wanted to nibble at them, devour them. But he was too busy tasting her as his tongue, first tentatively then hungrily, swirled against hers.

Suddenly, she broke away and asked with grave seriousness, “Now what do we do? The kissing part is easy.”

A wolfish grin almost spread across his face. Almost, but not quite making it. “Hmm…” Fiddling idly with a long curl that had fallen onto his face, he asked curiously, “You want to do something besides kissing now?” Her expression changed abruptly and slight worry darkened his eyes. No doubt she was thinking back on the nights they had spent together. Could she have truly hated those twilight hours so much? Even as he worried he found his own mind remembering the feel of her skin against his, the satisfaction of burying himself deep into her, having her wrapped around him…His hips thrust upward without his permission, and he saw that she had felt him, hard and demanding, against her belly.

“Patrick,” she said, her voice suddenly wavering with uncertainty.

“Yes?”

“I…this is all very strange…”

“It’s not strange at all, I promise you. Now come to bed, love.” Her eyes looked troubled, uncertain, but even so she was grinning. Ah, the benefits of brandy, he thought as he lifted her, bringing her with him. Grasping her under her arms he brought her to her feet. He grinned as well as it became obvious that she was having trouble holding up her own weight. Hoisting her over his shoulder, lightly patting her pert bottom with the palm of his hand teasingly, he eased her onto her back against soft sheets.

Then, in the most worried voice that he’d ever heard, she said, “Where is the cream?” 

He blinked down at her, slightly dumbfounded by the question before answering, “I really don’t think we’ll need it tonight, my dear.”

“Well,” she began thoughtfully, troubled almost, “perhaps you’re right…I feel very…odd, you know…” 

To his utter surprise, her hips squirmed upwards and all he could respond with was a gulp of, “Esther!”

*     * *     * *

Esther felt her head spinning, and she shook her head back and forth trying to clear her mind unsuccessfully. “Esther,” Patrick said gently. “Hold still.” He quickly divested himself of his dressing gown and eased himself down over her.

“I saw you,” she said clearly, staring up into his beautiful face all the while. “You’re not nearly as…grand as Jasper.” He wasn’t sure whether this was a compliment or not but right now that wasn’t his primary concern. 

“And it’s lucky for you that I’m not.” Tweaking the end of her nose playfully, he began to attempt to undress her as well.

“However,” she continued, her words starting to lilt with a Scottish brogue that he could scarce understand her, “however, you’re very…inviting.”

“Thank you. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to remove this damn nightgown of yours.”

“All right.” She helped him ease it up, wriggling slightly to help expedite its quick removal. When the thin cloth was covering her face on its journey upward, she giggled again. “You look so terribly serious, Patrick, even through my ‘veil’.”

It’s because I want you so badly I’m going to embarrass myself! he thought silently, yet another reminder of his own self-restraint thinning rapidly. As he finally untangled her from the confines of her nightgown and tossed it to the floor, she lurched up, grabbed his face between her palms, and kissed him soundly. 

“Can I look at you, Patrick?” He blinked, so confused and surprised by this new Esther that he couldn’t even gather his wits together. 

“Please, lie down.” He complied, feeling rather peculiar. He should be easing her, caressing her, whispering encouragement to her…not lying down at her beck and call. Yet he did so regardless and spread himself on his back. Esther came up on her knees and proceeded to give him serious study, scrutinizing him from the top of his head down to his toes.

While she examined him, he gazed up at her. The intent expression in her gray eyes, the taut dark rose nipples on her full breasts, breasts that were almost too full for her slender torso, that supple waist…He thought he wouldn’t be able to control himself any longer when his eyes fell to her thighs and her nest of chestnut curls. Forcing his eyes back to her face, he jerked when he saw that she was staring at his enthusiastic manhood. He watched in fascination as her hand fluttered above him, then very slowly, ever so slowly, descended until she was just barely touching him.

“Oh!…How very odd.” She blinked, as if awoken from her short trance with a newfound understanding. “You’re soft, like silk almost…but you’re so hard…and…alive…and almost…throbbing…”

“Esther,” he managed to say between clenched teeth. “Please.”

“You want me to kiss you again?”

Oh god, yes, he wanted her to kiss him, but he knew it would never occur to her to take him into her mouth. “Yes,” he said, voice thin. The damned Scottish chit was seducing him!

He came up quickly and spun her onto her back with one swift movement. Gently, he smoothed her hair from her face and brought his thigh over hers, closing his eyes for a moment at the feel of her smooth flesh against his legs. He thought he’d burst from want, but then she giggled again, and he was forced to laugh at himself as well.

He had to get control again. 

Very deliberately, he cupped his hand over her womanhood and pressed his palm against her. Esther looked profoundly worried at his touch. 

“Give me your hand.” She didn’t move, instead she merely stared at him with a befuddled expression. Taking her hand, he brought it down and laid it beneath his, lightly pressing her fingers against herself. “Do you feel how moist you are? How hot and swollen your woman’s flesh is?” She nodded, very seriously.

“Have you ever felt anything like this before?” She shook her head, expression unchanged.

“How could I have? You’ve never done that before.” He couldn’t be certain if she meant the game of cards from earlier or his recent actions, nevertheless, he agreed with a small smile. “Very true.”

God, he hurt. He suddenly remembered a saying that he’d heard sometime in the past during his travels. Great men move slowly. Had the fellow meant in bed?

Easing her hands away, he began to caress her warm folds with his fingers, then paused a moment to see her reaction to his ministrations. “Patrick,” Esther said, her hips rising off the bed slightly, “I want you to keep doing what you’re doing…please.” A pleased smile played across his features now. 

“Certainly dear,” he said with heartfelt sincerity. He deepened the pressure of his fingers, and she cried out. “I…can’t seem to think properly!”

“Don’t think,” he cooed, “Just feel…What do you feel now?”

“I feel…I’m…I am going to…explode,” she whispered, arching her head back. As am I, he thought, his body so frantic with need that he bit down on his lower lip. There was so much of her to enjoy, so much expanse of beautiful white skin. Moving quickly between her legs, he spread them to widen them more, and put his mouth to her belly. 

Esther didn’t think anything was funny now. She wanted to yell, she wanted…She didn’t know what she wanted. Her fingers went to his hair, twining around soft strands, and tugged. When his warm mouth traveled lower and closed over her, she nearly leapt off the bed. “Patrick!” she cried out in a gasp.

“Shut up, Esther,” he murmured roughly, his warm breath cascading over her, making her wild. God, he thought as he tasted her, as he scraped her soft swollen flesh with his tongue, she was perfect, utterly perfect. When he felt her legs stiffening, he knew that he wanted to see her face in her climax. Gently, he eased his fingers into her and raised his head. 

She stared at him, completely lost at sea. Her voice exploded from her throat in a quaver. “Patrick?”

“Yes, Esther.” 

She yelled, her body stiffening, her eyes looking vague, then bewildered, then blind. It was the most perfect sight he’d ever seen in his life. He watched her teeth grip her lower lip. He watched her back arch up, watched as her hands fell helplessly to her sides. He felt the tremors hold her in a thrall, and he found himself breathing hard now, his body pounding, screaming demands that needed to be satiated. 

Moving up over her, he seated himself to the hilt within her with one forceful thrust and felt the convulsive aftershocks of her pleasure. The small quivering shudders, her arms crushing him to her, and found her lips once again. He took her shuddering little cries into his mouth, letting his tongue dart into hers to swirl and tangle. Patrick was filled with an intense warmth, almost as if, he thought crazily, as if she were wrapped about him, around him, and inside him all at the same time.

“My god,” he said aloud, his body shuddering as he thrust into her, and then he was lost in the most intense pleasure he’d ever experienced in his life. Esther locked her arms around his back, felt his deep moans penetrating deep into her being just as his manhood was throbbing frantically inside her. 

Then she felt his final shudder, felt him flood her, so very deep, with his seed. His body was bathed in perspiration, he felt as though his pounding heart would leap out of his body. “Esther, my god,” he said in a jerky sigh, and fell atop her, his head beside hers on the pillow.

“You were right,” Esther said. “You didn’t need any cream.” She closed her eyes, and was asleep within moments.

Slowly, raising his sweaty body off of her and rolling onto his side, he glanced down at her peaceful expression, a small smile of contented bliss on her lips. Ah, he thought, grinning like a fool. 

“Oh, Esther,” he said softly as he gently shoved her damp hair from her forehead. “I think I’ll feed you brandy for dinner every night.” But of course, he continued in his mind, she was drunk, and drink stripped away inhibitions. Nevertheless, Jasper would be receiving an exultant visit from him in the morning.

He quickly rose, doused the candles, looked at his naked wife sprawled on the bed, and with a grin, climbed back into bed beside her. Drawing the covers over them, he eased her against him and held her tight as she nestled in his arms. His last thought before he fell into a deep sleep was whether or not her parents would arrive to find their precious daughter carrying a grandchild. Better yet, his child. Scheduled visit forgotten, sleep tugged persistently at him and a smile remained on his lips as his eyes finally closed.

*     * *     * *

Bridget said not a word. She’d known well enough that she shouldn’t enter her mistress’s room, but to be frank, she was a rather nosy woman. She smiled, gazing only briefly upon the man and woman in the bed, their bodies twined together, Lady Esther’s head snuggled into the hollow of her husband’s shoulder. She left, and her smiling face and smug expression were more than enough to begin yet another round of gossip among the servants downstairs…

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