Friday, December 28, 2012


5 Crazy Cats

We share our home with five cats. We didn’t set out to have that many. Strays arrive, and some stay. I am a magnet for the homeless cats. Tommy, for example, arrived on a snowy night last March (on my birthday), and stayed when his owners couldn’t be found. He’s a perfect fit with the other cats and the dog, and sits beside me while I write, my faithful muse.
As Christmas approached this year, we feared Tommy might be ‘The One’.
My father used to nail our Christmas tree to the floor, and use heavy wires to tether it to the wall. He said that some year a cat was going to try to climb the tree.
It never happened, but family prophecy has a way of coming true.
With a new cat in the house, young and wild, we had no idea if Tommy would turn out to be the tree climber of family legend. We bought lots of unbreakable decorations, including bells that ring just like the ones in It’s a Wonderful Life.
I’m pleased to say that although Tommy (and the other cats) have been ringing the bells and granting angels their wings at an amazing rate, our tree remains unclimbed and intact. Tommy is not ‘The One’. 
We are still waiting for the crazy tree climbing cat of family lore.


Part 6
By Lecia Cornwall


The rescue mission turned into a parade of sorts. Aled and five strong men met Edward as they crossed the park, burdened with the stag, while Edward carried Celyn, Matilda, and her kittens.
“Hasn’t been such a stag seen in these parts in twenty years,” Alun Stackpoole declared, who was at least as old as Aled. Davy grinned from ear to ear as he proudly bore the weight of the beast.
The castle gates opened, and they entered the courtyard, which was filled with every soul in the place. Edward couldn’t recall ever receiving such a joyous welcome anywhere, in all his life. He was thumped on the back by the men, and kissed on the cheek by the women. The kittens were taken from Edward’s pockets, safe and sound, and presented to Louisa, while Matilda wound anxiously around her ankles. Louisa gazed at Edward as if he was a hero, and he truly felt like one, especially when he read the warmth in Celyn’s eyes when she looked at him, saw the joy in her smile.
Mrs. Jones alternated between delight at the opportunity to create a lavish Christmas feast, and concern for Celyn’s ankle. She took charge of everything, and directed the bearers of the stag to the kitchen yard to prepare it, and ordered hot water, tea, and bandages for Celyn, and led Edward toward the settee in the library, where she directed him to put Celyn down. He found he didn’t want to let her go at all. She withdrew her arm from his neck as he stepped back.
 “Thank you, my lord,” she murmured.
Before he could reply, tell her that it had been his sincere pleasure to be of assistance, he was jostled aside by the women of Collingwood, every one of them anxious to see to Celyn’s injury, each with her own bit of advice to offer. Edward found himself standing on the outside of the circle of happy chatter, as usual.


Edward wandered the castle, looking for a way to be of help, since he found himself enjoying the sensation of participating in the life of the castle. He felt useful, welcome, and surprisingly happy.
In the courtyard, it turned out that preparing a stag required a number of hearty toasts to the health of the beast itself, even though it was too late for such a sentiment. The ale had been flowing like water for some time before Edward’s arrival, and he dutifully accepted a tankard, and saluted his dinner before he left the men to their task.
He entered the kitchens, only to find that he was interrupting the women of Collingwood, who were busy gossiping and baking under Mrs. Jones’s direction, having finished the task of bandaging Celyn’s ankle. The chatter ceased abruptly as he entered the room, and the women cast sly looks and simpering smiles at him and each other. He nodded and left as quickly as he’d arrived. There was a great deal of giggling as he departed, reminding him of home.
His sisters giggled exactly like that when there were plotting something. He shook off the prickle of foreboding that climbed his spine and kept walking.
He ended up back in the library, finding himself wanting Celyn’s company, but she’d been taken upstairs to rest, and only Phoebe and Louisa occupied the room.
Phoebe leapt to her feet as he entered, her eyes shining. “Lord Wintercross! I am so glad you’ve joined us. I have so many questions to ask.”
“Call me Edward,” he said, in a generous, happy mood.
She drew him to the settee and settled him there, and he recognized the look in her eyes—that particular shine, the fluttering lashes. Were girls everywhere the same? His sisters got the same coquettish look when they wanted something, whether it was to entreat him to escort them to a ball, or to beg him to introduce them to a particular gentleman they fancied, or to get him to agree to meet one of their female friends who fancied him.
“We-ell…” Phoebe began flirtatiously.
“She wants to know what the ladies are wearing in London this year,” Louisa interrupted from the window seat, where she was curled up with a book.
“Oh, I do indeed!” Phoebe gushed, not perturbed by her sister’s interference. “What is the most popular color?”
Edward tried to recall what the ladies had worn at the last ball he attended. He’d probably spent much of the evening trying to avoid Millicent, as he did at every ball where they’d both been present, so he would not be obliged to ask her to dance. Millicent wore pink, a color she favored in all its various shades. He’d learned to hate pink, but since Phoebe was wearing a pink sash on her gown, he could hardly say so.
“I have five half sisters, Lady Phoebe. Margaret has blue eyes, and says there is no color more fashionable than blue, especially the shade that exactly matches her eyes. Sarah says gold is the most elegant shade, since it makes her blond curls shine. Anne favors green—”
“That’s Celyn’s best color,” Louisa put in. “Don’t you think Celyn has pretty eyes, my lord?”
Phoebe put a hand on Edward’s arm, dragging his attention back to her own concerns. She pressed close and stared at him, her eyes wide. “What of my eyes? Which shade would best suit me?” Her eyes were gray, like Millicent’s. Edward swallowed. Would a woman, confronted with this same question, or a professional modiste, recommend pink? He couldn’t be sure.
“Debutantes most often wear white, from what I recall,” Edward hedged.
Louisa smiled. “Ha! An excellent answer, my lord,” she said, “Phoebe hates white.”
Phoebe frowned. “What of lace, sashes, bonnets, and shoes?” she demanded. “Surely they aren’t white as well?”
Edward wished for once that his sisters were here. They could offer expert advice, since fashion was all they thought about. If he’d learned anything from them, it was that a gentleman did not dabble in advice on a lady’s apparel, save to compliment the wearer on her taste, elegance and beauty.
An idea struck him. If his sisters couldn’t come to Collingwood, perhaps he could bring Collingwood, so to speak, to them. “I think you must ask my sisters about all this, since they are far better suited to answer than I. In fact, I’m sure they’re already poring over the fashion plates for next Season, even though it’s four months away. If you write them a letter, I shall deliver it.” He watched her face fall slightly. “And I will deliver it with my suggestion that you be invited to visit them at Kingscott, and perhaps in London for the Season, if Celyn—and Lady Arabella—are in agreement.”
Phoebe’s face lit with pleasure, and she clasped her hands. “Truly? How wonderful!”
“My stepmother would be pleased to have you visit, since we are kin, after all, through Caradoc,” Edward said.
To his surprise, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly on the cheek, just the way one of his own sisters might. It warmed his heart, to make her so happy.
“Oh, thank you, my lord! It is the most welcome invitation in the whole world. I shall go upstairs right now and begin composing my letter to your dear sisters!”
She rushed away in a flurry of petticoats, and Louisa watched her sister go. “We haven’t the money for a Season, my lord. Celyn will have to say no,” she warned.
He crossed to sit beside her. “How do you know that?”
“Celyn keeps the books. We haven’t any money. She imagines no one else understands figures, but I do. I used to play whist with Caradoc for money. He taught me how to count my winnings, since I nearly always beat him. I was very good, and if you’d like to play sometime—”
He looked at her in surprise. “Do you cheat? Do things to distract the other players by twirling your hair, or fluttering your lashes?”
She shrugged. “Doesn’t everyone? Phoebe uses those tactics. I switch the cards when no one’s looking.”
“How sophisticated,” he murmured. 
She looked at him along the length of her nose. “You mustn’t think that because we are here in the middle of nowhere that we are uneducated, or unmannered. Caradoc insisted on a very complete education for all of us. Gran taught us to dance, embroider, paint and every other kind of feminine accomplishment, but Caradoc insisted we learn history and French and even a little fencing. Does that surprise you?”
Edward imagined Celyn with a foil in her hand, facing down an opponent, her hazel gaze fierce. He felt desire curl through him. The more he knew of Celyn Beauchamp, the more intriguing she was. He’d never met a woman like her. “Yes, it surprises me indeed. Even my sisters don’t fence, though I daresay they can do plenty of harm with their sharp tongues,” he quipped. He looked at the book in her hand. “What are you reading? Aristotle, Greek history?”
Waverley, Sir Walter Scott’s newest book. Thank you for bringing so many wonderful books with you. I’ve read most of the books here, you see. This one is marvelous.”
He read the intelligence in her eyes. “I shall send you more.”
She regarded him soberly. “Then you won’t stay at Collingwood after Christmastide ends?”
He studied his hands. “I have duties in England, Louisa. I shall return when I can, of course, but—”
Her face fell. “Then it’s true. The spell didn’t work. You aren’t Celyn’s true love,” she said, her tone heavy with disappointment.
Normally, if anyone had suggested he was someone’s true love, he would have bolted for the door in horror. Instead, Edward felt a moment’s regret, and wished he could linger here. Not that anything could come of his infatuation with Collingwood’s chatelaine. Celyn was simply not suitable for marriage to an earl, the heir to a dukedom. He pictured himself visiting Collingwood in the future, just to see her, or perhaps she could be enticed to come to him.
“How would you like to come to Kingscott with Lady Phoebe? You aren’t old enough to make your debut, but my father keeps a wonderful library, and my youngest sister will be remaining in the country for another year or two. Perhaps Celyn could bring you.”
She studied his face, and he felt as if she were reading his thoughts, had guessed his motives toward Celyn. She raised her chin with a sniff. “I think I shall stay here, my lord. There is no point in raising false hopes, wishing for what cannot be. Gran needs me. Celyn, too. She would never leave Gran.”
He looked out the window, feeling slightly ashamed of himself. The children were playing in the snow, throwing snowballs, and sliding down the hill on their bellies.
“Why aren’t you outside playing with the other children?” he asked Louisa. “It looks like fun.”
She glanced at them, the turned back to the book in her hands. “I don’t play with them. They think books are silly. Besides, they haven’t asked me.” She said it wistfully, and he recognized that look well enough. He’d spent many Christmases wishing his half brother and sisters would invite him too, but they hadn’t. Perhaps, he thought, if he’d asked, or simply went outside and joined in, it might have been fun.
He took the book from Louisa’s hands. “Come on. We’ll go out together and challenge them to a snowball fight, you and I and anyone willing to join our side, and I haven’t been sliding—” well, ever. “In quite some time,” he finished.
Her eyes shone, and once again he had the strangest, most uplifting feeling in his breast. He felt like a hero as they hurried out of the library to find their coats and some mittens, Walter Scott forgotten for the moment.
Celyn sighed, and flicked the end of the quill pen over her lips. She was stuck upstairs, sitting by the window, going over accounts since Mrs. Jones refused to allow her to move a muscle to assist with the Christmas preparations. She was supposed to rest her ankle, keep it propped on a pillow, but there were things to do. Not that she could concentrate on the accounts. All she could think of was kissing Edward, of his careful hands on her ankle, of the strong flex of his muscles under her body as he carried her effortlessly across the park. She hadn’t wanted to let him go at all, even when they arrived back at the castle. No one seemed to find it odd that the earl was hauling her about like a sack of meal. Everyone seemed to like Edward very much, herself included, despite his attitude toward children and servants. 
She sighed again, and stared out the window. The children were playing on the lawn. She wished could join them. The snow on the hill was perfect for sliding. She watched as Colin headed down the slope on his belly, then Bran followed. Then Louisa.
Celyn looked again. Her youngest cousin was laughing, her cheeks pink as Colin hauled her to her feet and pulled her up the hill to slide down again.
Then, to her utter surprise, Edward Kingsley, the esteemed and dignified Earl of Wintercross and Collingwood, the man who hated children, slid down the icy slope on his bottom, with little Corrie in his lap, his coat tails flying, his hair covered in snow, his face bright and boyish. He landed in a snowdrift, and the children pelted him with snow, decimating his pompous consequence. But he laughed. He simply laughed.
And that’s when Celyn Beauchamp fell utterly, irrevocably, in love with him


            Celyn heard laughter coming down the hall as Davy Price helped her hobble to the dining room that evening. She was insistent that she could do it herself, but Mrs. Jones had summoned Davy to assist. He offered an arm to lean on, helped her down the stairs.
“I’ll be fine tomorrow,” he assured him. “With so much to do, I must be.”
            Davy smiled fondly. “Mrs. Jones and Catrin have taken charge. Mrs. Evans is helping out too, and between them, they have all the women organized. Everyone has a job to do, and they’re doing it gladly. You just relax, Celyn.” They didn’t need her? She felt her heart sink a little.
            And now, even outside the dining room, and down the hall, she could hear Louisa and Phoebe and even Arabella laughing. What on earth was so funny? She heard Edward’s deep voice, telling a story.
“My sister Margaret dropped the whole cake on my father’s feet, and his dogs—”
The story—and the laughter—stopped as she entered the room. Everyone turned to stare at her. Edward rose to his feet crossed to take her arm from Davy. She felt her knees weaken at his touch. “Good evening,” she tried, but her voice cracked.
“You should have called me to carry you downstairs,” he scolded her mildly. “We thought you might take a tray in your room.”
“And put someone to a lot of trouble when I’m perfectly capable of coming downstairs?” He put his arm around her waist, his hand warm through her gown, and helped her to her chair. She felt disappointment—and relief—when he let her go and stepped back once she was seated. She unfolded her napkin and wondered whether anyone could read her feelings in her eyes.
“What should I pack to take to London? I’ll need to visit a modiste once I get there, of course, but I want to look as stylish as possible, and—” 
“London?” Celyn looked at Phoebe’s flushed face.
“Yes!” Phoebe gushed. “Edward has invited me to visit his sisters, and to go to London with them for the Season. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“But we can’t—” Celyn began, and bit her lip. There was no money to send her cousin to London, especially if a new wardrobe was required.
“Edward invited me to visit his youngest sister at Kingscott. She’s just my age, and loves to read. The Duke, Edward’s father, is very proud of library and Edward says he’d be delighted to show it to me,” Louisa said happily. “New books, Celyn! Won’t that be wonderful?”
“Yes,” she said softly, her heart sinking. He’d given both girls their heart’s desire, exactly what she hoped he’d do. So why did she feel left out?
“You can come too,” Louisa added.
Celyn felt Edward’s eyes on her, felt her skin heat. She dared not look up at him now, let him see the desire to do just that in her eyes. “I’m needed here.” It sounded stiff, and matronly and dull, exactly how she felt.
Arabella sipped her wine. “We should talk about the ball tomorrow night—it is tomorrow night, isn’t it? I must remember to ask my maid to get my jewels out of the safe, and press my red silk gown. I do hope she won’t scorch the lace this time. Now who is on the guest list? Is that dreadful Lady Eversley coming?”
Phoebe giggled. “It will be such fun, Gran. We’ll dance the night away! Edward, you will dance with me, won’t you?”
Edward? Her cousins called him by his Christian name?
He smiled charmingly. “Of course, if I can remember how. It’s been months since I attended a ball, years since I actually agreed to dance at one.”
“How sad Celyn will be unable to dance. She does love it so,” Louisa said.
“Do you?” Edward asked, his eyes on her.
“Just country dances,” Celyn replied, feeling her cheeks heating.
“I will teach you to waltz,” he said, sipping his wine, regarding her over the rim of the glass.
“Teach me!” Phoebe said. “Since Celyn is injured and I will need to learn for my Season in London.”  
“I’m afraid that would be quite out of the question,” Edward told Phoebe. “At least in London. You’ll require permission from the patronesses of Almack’s before you will be allowed to waltz there. They are the grandest ladies of the ton, the matrons who ensure the rules of correct social behavior are observed to exacting standards.” He laughed at her pout. “We can practice here perhaps, since there’s no patronesses, to see us. Just don’t tell.”
Phoebe clasped her hand to her heart, and beamed at Edward. “Of course not! I will take the secret to my grave!” She sighed, and Celyn realized that Phoebe was every bit as infatuated with Edward as she was. She wondered if she should scold her, remind her that it was quite impossible, but was it? Edward was smiling back at her cousin, charming her. Her heart sank even further. Phoebe was far more suitable for him than she was, despite her youth. Celyn let the happy conversation flow around her, participating little, eating less.
“We’ll go out and gather greens tomorrow. Will you come with us Edward? We’ll need someone strong, and since you carried Celyn all the way home today—” Louisa began.
“You can cut the Yule log,” Phoebe interrupted. “It takes a very strong man for that.”
“Don’t forget the mistletoe,” Arabella said. “We’ll make a kissing ball. In my day, each lady plucked one berry from the ball for each kiss she received. At the end of the night, we counted to see who had the most berries. That lady was the queen of the evening to her face, and—well, you can imagine what we said behind her back.”
“I’m sure it will be me this year,” Phoebe said.
“Or Celyn,” Arabella mused. “A good many men would like to kiss her, I’m sure. We shall have to hang the ball in a very well-lighted place.”
Celyn cast a quick glance at Edward. He was looking at her, his expression unreadable, his eyes in shadow. Was he recalling the kiss they’d shared in the woods? She should not have allowed it. She met his eyes, intent on letting him know with a sharp glance that she did not make a habit of allowing men to kiss her, and it would not happen again, but there was yearning in his gaze, a soft light that made her mouth water for exactly that, another kiss. He smiled at her as if he knew and she shot to her feet with a gasp, forgetting her ankle. She gritted her teeth and clutched the edge of the table. “I think I shall retire. There’s such a lot to do tomorrow.”
Edward rose and came to her side. “I’ll see you upstairs,” he said.
Celyn looked around in a panic. Davy was gone, and Aled was nowhere to be seen. “The girls can help me.”
Louisa looked wistful. “I’m going to practice carol singing with the other children,” she said. “They asked me specially to come.”
“I have to work on my gown,” Phoebe said. “I’ll need to pick off the pink ribbon and add white lace, since that’s what’s fashionable in London. It could take hours.”
“I’ll help you, dear,” Arabella said. “It mustn’t be too low cut, Phoebe my dear, especially before your come out.”
That left only Edward. Celyn felt her face heat.
“Shall we?” he asked, holding out his hand. Celyn had no choice. Touching him was like putting her hand into a fire. It warmed her all over, scorched her. His hand on her waist made her dizzy, and she tried not to lean into him as he helped her limp to the bottom of the stairs. She stood gazing up at the long rise of the steps in dismay.
“This could take all night,” he murmured, and she whooped when he scooped her into his arms and began to climb.
“Put me down. I’m quite fine from here.” 
“No, you’re not. I am at your service. Just tell me where to go,” he said, his lips near to her ear, his chest next to her own.
“I am perfectly able to —” she began, but he silenced her with a look.
“It is my pleasure,” he said, and she felt the word ‘pleasure’ pluck at her strained nerves, vibrate through every inch of her body. She swallowed.
“The tower. My room is there,” she said, and he went along the hall and up the circular flight of stone steps.
“A bower fit for a princess,” he murmured as they entered her bedroom and he set her carefully on the edge of the bed.
He looked around at the books, the clothing on the hooks, the account ledger on the table.
“Thank you for your kindness to Phoebe and Louisa,” she said. “I’m afraid Phoebe will have to wait for at least another year before she can go to London.”
“Why?” he asked, turning to look at her. “She is of age to make her debut. I assume that if she was Caradoc’s ward, she is now my responsibility, and it is my duty to see she has a proper debut. My stepmother will ensure everything is done properly, and my sisters will be excellent company for her. If you would prefer she does not marry right away, then I will make any suitors who apply to me aware of that.”
She stared at him. Of course he would be the one to decide those things. She hadn’t thought. Phoebe had been her responsibility until now, but now the matter of her cousins’ future lay in Edward’s capable hands, and the hands of a stranger, his stepmother, the Duchess of Kingscott. She wasn’t needed for anything.
“And Louisa will be company for my youngest sister, Frances. She misses her sisters when they go to London without her, but my father insists she remain at home. She could certainly benefit from Louisa’s influence, or she’ll turn out as silly as my other sisters.”
“I see,” Celyn said, studying her hands. “You’ve given everyone the very best Christmas presents they could wish for, their precise heart’s desire.”
“What’s your heart’s desire, Celyn?” he asked.
“Me?” She felt herself blushing. “I am simply happy to be of use, to remain as steward and housekeeper and to oversee the rebuilding of the village. Thank you for agreeing to—”
He made a sound in his throat. “Not something for Collingwood. Those are my responsibilities, my duties. They are not gifts, Celyn. Besides, I have already asked Davy Price to be the new steward. He was delighted.”
Celyn stared at him. “But I—” she began.
“And I’ve appointed Mrs. Jones as housekeeper.”
She felt tears sting her eyes. “Then I shall care for Arabella,” she said.
He shook his head. “She has agreed to come to Kingscott with Louisa. I have an elderly aunt who would welcome the company. They may even know each other, having traveled in the same social circles at the same time. I think they’ll get along famously. They can gossip about things that took place thirty years ago, and know exactly what and who they are talking about, even if no one else does.”
She swallowed, feeling lost. “Arabella will enjoy that.”
“And so that leaves you. What is your heart’s desire?” he asked.
She shut her eyes.
“Nothing,” she murmured.
He cupped his hand under her chin. His fingers were warm, gentle, and she looked up to meet his eyes, felt her heartbeat increase. “Surely there’s something,” he coaxed.
She swallowed. What was it about his man that made her bold, restless? She knew exactly what she wanted, but did she dare ask for it?
“There’s no mistletoe, but would you—” she paused. “Would you kiss me again?”
He scanned her face, his eyes coming to rest on her mouth. He bent and put his lips to hers, gently. She clung to his mouth with hers, licked the seam of his lips, demanding more. After a moment, he pulled her to her feet, tilted her head back and deepened the kiss, and she breathed him in, wrapped her arms around his neck, tangled her fingers in his hair. He smelled of winter wind, and tasted of the whisky he’d had after dinner, and she opened to his tongue this time, pressed as close to him as she could get, feeling a deeper desire rising. She wanted to remember every detail of this moment, the way he felt, the way he smelled, the way he tasted.
She ran her fingertips over the sharp stubble on his cheek and jaw, and he buried his fingers in her hair, loosened the pins, and she felt it cascade over both of them. He buried his face in her long dark locks, gathering them in his hands, kissing them. She tipped her head back so he could kiss her throat, nibble on her ear. It was a delicious sensation. She arched against him, giving him permission for more.
He caught her face in his hands, met her eyes, his expression tormented.
“Celyn,” he groaned. “Send me away now, and I’ll go, but if I stay—” she watched his throat bob.
She understood. Her heart flipped in her breast. She wanted this, and the consequences could wait until morning. “Stay,” she murmured.
His lips met hers again, more abandoned, more desperate, more possessive. Yes, she wanted this, even if only for this one night. His tongue swept into her mouth, and she reveled in the intimacy, she sparred with it, kissed him back. She pressed her body against his, felt the hardness of his erection against her hip, something new to her, though she knew exactly what it meant. 
She gasped as he cupped her breasts, rolled his fingers over her nipples. She tangled her fingers in his cravat, fumbled with the knot, trying to expose new skin to kiss. The pulse at his throat throbbed under her mouth, and she licked it, making him groan, which drove her own desire even higher. She was just making the knot in cravat tighter, had no idea how to undress him. His hands found the buttons of her gown, expertly undoing them, exposing her flesh. She tried tugging at his coat, settled for sliding her hands underneath, exploring his chest and shoulders through the fine linen of his shirt. He shrugged out of his coat, and let it drop, seemingly at the same moment he peeled her gown off her shoulders, letting it fall at her feet. He stood looking at her. She wore only her thin linen shift, and she resisted the urge to cover her breasts with her hands. She didn’t understand the look on his face as his eyes roamed over her.
“Is there anything wrong?” she managed, her voice a husky croak.
“Nothing at all. You’re beautiful, Celyn,” he murmured. He drew a finger over her cheek, down her arms, pulling her back into his embrace. She molded her body against his, feeling every inch of him from chest to knee. She arched against the hardness that jutted against her hip, felt him undoing the ties on her shift, She wanted him naked, too. She unbuttoned his shirt with shaking fingers. His body was hard under her fingertips, and soft as well. She swept her palm over his warm skin of his chest, paused at the hard little pebbles of his nipples when he gasped at her touch, learning what he liked. 
He let her shift fall away from her breasts, touched her. Her nipples hardened under his hand, became points of intense pleasure that spread desire through every inch of her body. She barely felt him lift her, his chest against hers, naked flesh to naked flesh, and move to the bed and lay her down. It was just one more dazzling sensation. He stood beside the bed and took off his breeches, opening the flies, releasing his erection. He looked like a Greek statue come to life, hard, sculpted and perfect, male in every detail. She felt a new heat fill her as she stared his erection. No fig leaves, or artful drapery, just him. 
“Oh,” she breathed, and reached out to touch him. He gritted his teeth as her hand closed on him, his erection leaping in her grip. He caught her hand, held it still.
“Slowly, love,” he said, and lay down beside her. He took her in his arms, his mouth finding hers as their bodies met, entirely naked, her skin against his, her feminine curves fitted to his male angles. His hands explored her body, stroking her back, her waist, her hips, until she thought she would die of the pleasure. She touched him the way he touched her, marveled at the breadth of his shoulders, the muscular hardness his chest, the jut of his hips, the round smooth muscle of his buttocks. And all the while she kissed him. She couldn’t get enough of kissing him. It was the ultimate pleasure, the most delicious—
His fingers found the nest of curls at her thighs, and slipped inside. She cried out in surprise. She’d been wrong—this was the best thing of all. Her hands fluttered on his shoulders, useless, unsure what to do next, lost in what he was doing to her. He stroked her intimate flesh, knew exactly where she needed his touch, and she felt the world begin to dissolve in a white-hot mist. She dug her nails into his shoulders, wordlessly begging him for more. Surely this was the culmination of the magic he’d set in motion the night he’d arrived at Collingwood, something marvelous and mysterious. She gasped as the pressure and tension increased, almost unbearable. It was like climbing to the top of a mountain, and anticipating the drop over the edge, fearing it, wishing she could fly like an eagle, knowing that was impossible. She felt the ground sliding away, the room, the whole world, everything except for his hand on her body, his mouth, the need. 
He caught her cries in his mouth as the sensation peaked, dropped her over the edge. She didn’t fall after all. She flew, and he was there to hold her up.
“More,” she pleaded, and he gave her a lopsided smile as he nudged her thighs apart, knelt between them. She felt the blunt tip of his erection against her sensitive flesh. The sharp pain caught her by surprise for a moment, brought her back to earth, to the man upon her, inside her. He paused, stared down at her.
“Celyn—” he managed, but she didn’t want to talk. Not now. She clasped her legs around his hips and arched against him.
He muttered an oath and began to move, driving into her in deep, powerful strokes. Oh no, this was the best of all, she decided, clinging to him. She felt the pleasure rise again, ebbing each time he withdrew, only to flare again, hotter and higher as he moved within her. She clasped her hands on his buttocks, felt the powerful flex of his body, let the sensation carry her over the edge once again. He increased his pace, muttering her name. He poured himself into her in one last deep thrust, and lay still.
She could feel his heart pounding against hers, their bodies still joined. She shut her eyes, breathed in the scent of him, held him close, imprinting the memory of his body on hers in her mind, the way it felt to be held, and loved. If it never happened again, she would have this moment, this incredible feeling to keep.
He gently rolled off and lay beside her, leaning on one elbow to look at her. He brushed her hair off her brow. “You weren’t Caradoc’s mistress.”
“No,” she said, unsure what else to say. Could he tell she had never—?
“You were a virgin, Celyn. Why didn’t you tell me?” 
“Would it have made a difference?”
He got up, sat on the edge of the bed.  “Of course! I would have gone slower, been more careful. In fact, I would never have done this at all.”
She raised her chin. “Then I am glad I did not.”
He got to his feet and stared at her. “Why? You must know I cannot—”
He stopped and she felt a frisson of anger pass through her. “Marry me? Yes, I know.” She rose too, and pulled the sheet off the bed and wrapped it around herself. They regarded each other across the width of the mattress. She wished he would come and take her in his arms, hold her, and—then what? There was no future beyond this moment.
“You should go,” she said, turning away, limping to the window to look out over the snowy fields, glittering in the moonlight.
“Celyn, perhaps you could come to Kingscott with the girls, and we might—”
She spun to look at him, holding the sheet as if it was a court gown. “Might what? Would I become your mistress, perhaps? Or would you offer me a job in your household? No, thank you.”
She saw the conflict in his eyes, the guilt before he looked away.
“I am capable of making my own way in the world, Lord Wintercross.” Her tone was icy. She reached for his coat, lying on the floor beside her and held it out to him. “Please go.” 
He took it from her, and gathered the rest of his garments, got dressed. “Celyn, who are you? Old Caradoc’s child, born out of wedlock?”
The bald truth was ugly, even here in the sanctuary of her tower. She didn’t reply, only turned away so he wouldn’t see her tears. “You needn’t worry. I expect nothing at all from you. I only wrote because I wanted to see that the people, this place—are taken care of. It’s their home, you see, their entire world. They have nothing else.” The tears were streaming down her cheeks now.
She flinched away from his touch on her shoulder. She didn’t want pity or sympathy from him. Not now. It would be worse than his scorn at her low birth—an earl’s daughter, but not quite. Good enough for a moment’s pleasure, or to live in the shadows of his life with the crumbs of his affection, but nothing more. 
“Perhaps we should talk in the morning,” he said.
“It will be a very busy day,” she said coolly. “There’s a lot to do. Please go!”
She would start to sob in a moment, and she didn’t want him to see that. No one saw her cry—not at Caradoc’s death, not when he’d told her about her birth, the fact that her mother hadn’t wanted her, and he’d made her promise to keep the secret forever. It hurt, thinking that the woman he’d once known, who’d betrayed their love and married another, who’d abandoned her child, meant more to Caradoc Colley than that child. She hadn’t cried—she’d tried to prove her worth by being useful, brave, indispensable—and she would not cry in front of this man, either.
She heard the door close behind him, Only then did she fell on the bed and sob. The sheets still smelled of him, of them, and that made it worse. She’d wanted only to have a moment of love she could remember, a time when someone belonged to her, and she to him.
And now, she only wanted to forget it had ever happened.

1 comment:

  1. Poor Celyn. Damn Edward. His assumptions are a bit much. I kind of thought Celyn was Caradoc's daughter, but you would think he would have safe guarded her in his will or something, provided some way for her to be.
    Why Edward thinks he can't marry her is whatever. I love this story, and the characters are wonderful. Are you ready for the New Year Lecia?