Chapter 1

The room was quiet where Gisele Braveton sat waiting. As she waited, she began to find similarities between her new situation and the last time she was about to be married. There were many. It was sunny and warm outside. She would have much preferred cantering across a field, or wading in a pond instead of sitting and waiting, but just like last time, the sun and warmness she would have felt with it on her skin, was not something she would have the luxury of.

She felt out of place. Before, they forced her to look and act differently for acceptance. However, this time her father insisted she be covered and silent. Neither fit her and both felt like a wool dress brought out of storage two sizes too small and smelling of dark, covered trunks, and disrepair.

However, she was going willingly. True, this time, she could have said no to her family, but for what good? She would never get another offer of marriage and she would become a burden to her family. She did not care whether she burdened her father. After all, he deserved to carry her on his shoulders, but she didn’t want to be that spinster aunt, a financial burden. No, this time it was the same. She didn’t have a choice in who she married, because she knew no other reasonable offers would be extended. Having already been propositioned by several men, some as old as her father, marriage not being what they were proposing, she knew the truth.


            A slow smile tugged on the corners of her mouth. Her secret no one, not even Jarrid knew, would change her from who she was to who she had become. If this was the path, she must take to get there, then so be it. When the sun rose in the morning, her life would change forever. She would have a new name, a new home, a new man in charge of her, but it was also a new life. She was merely a woman, but there was always hope for better things, and when there wasn’t hope, there was patience, and with patience, opportunity came. If she allowed herself to think of the alternative, she would be a jumble of nerves and fear stricken. She could not allow that, at least not in the light of day.

Her nights were not her own and she feared the shadows, but in the daylight, she would choose hope.

“I believe, child, they come,” Jarrid said from behind her near the door. “Do you wish me to turn them away? It is not too late to flee. We did it before,” he offered.

Gisele stood and walked with some difficulty in her full skirts across the room. She looked up into Jarrid’s serious, concerned eyes.

“Thank you, but no. I know my duty and for a woman in my position this is my only hope for redemption, but watch, you will see the change come. I promise.” Jarrid bowed to her, taking her hand and patting it.

“So you say, but mark me, if this man is a monster like many suggest and tries to hurt you, we will have to run, because I will slice him to bits.”

“Stop. You know you are kindhearted and would do no such thing,” she said with a warm smile in her words. Jarrid’s desire to protect her was touching, but he was not a man to move to violence.

“Perhaps” was his reply, “but he does not need to know that.” He said the last with a genuine smile on his face. A soft knock that Jarrid had already heralded came.

“Miss Braveton, it is time. Your father is waiting at the stairs,” the maid called from the other side of the door. Gisele nodded to Jarrid and he swung the door wide, scaring the maid and making her stumble back a few steps. She strode with determined steps through the door, down the hall toward the stairs, her father, with her destiny before her, her past behind her in a large foreign man who would protect her with his own life.

She did not care to go back and didn’t have a choice but to move forward. What lay ahead, she didn’t know, but after what she had been through, she knew that she and she alone held the power to create her own destiny. Those who tried to mark her and determine her destiny were no longer a threat; at least during the day. She held the quill and would wield it with abandon to gain the life ripped from her grasp.

Her father stood stoic with no look of approval or words of love and wisdom. The look was of a man trying to be finished with a bad business deal. She could almost see the relief peeking through.

“Don’t worry, Father, soon enough I will no longer be a worry to you. By this evening, you will be home by the fire, not having to even consider me any longer.” Gisele spoke, wanting the words to sting, but she knew she had no such power over him.

“We shall see. Tomorrow is a long way away. Let us just hope the fool didn’t decide you were a poor investment,” he answered without so much as a glance in her direction. She dismissed the statement because it was what she expected. She turned her senses instead to the ballroom. Since neither family wanted this to be played out longer than need be, a wedding at St. James, or even a local chapel was unnecessary. The local Bishop had agreed to hold the service at the Viscount’s home, hoping as well that his part in the farce would be unnoticed. There was no plan to leave the estate after the wedding, so no need to travel away for the wedding.

The room itself was massive, but it had a light airy feel to it. The gentle morning sun streaming in to soften the hard white stone on the floor. It reminded her of open courtyards from the area around the Aegean Sea. Far to the front of the room, three chairs stood. In one chair, was her sister, who was too young to understand the sacrifice being made in hopes of keeping her advantages alive. In the second chair was her mother, sitting at the edge of the seat with her back straight as an arrow. She could not see her face, but she was sure it was throwing daggers at the three men standing on what would be the band stage. Their expressions were of scolded schoolboys. Her mother had railed at her father for days after signing the agreement. She had wanted her daughter to have time to get over the ordeal she had experience, but her protests had not worked. Instead, her mother had sworn to remain in Sussex at their country manor instead of London. Her father had tried every threat that worked in the past, but her mother was holding firm, only agreeing to come to the service if she could ride in a different carriage. She even threatened to jump from said carriage if it turned left instead of right when they got to the end of the drive on this day. It felt good to have a champion, even if said champion could not change the direction of her destiny.

The man standing, no towering, at the front of the room grabbed her attention and would not allow her to break free. A stream of innocent morning sunlight set him in a halo, making his deep gray superfine coat glow with a softness at the edge. From what she had learned, that was the only thing soft on the man. The only time they spoke was upon introduction in her father’s study. She could still feel the ripples his voice washed over her when he greeted her. It was deep, making it a sensory experience. She could not only hear the deep baritone, but could feel the timbre as he spoke each word. His eyes added to the effect. A brown like the color of chocolate covered her like a silk shawl as his warm voice swirled heat around her. His size was also all enveloping. She felt as though she was sinking into the floor when they were near each other. She stood with her eyes even with the man’s broad chest. She was sure he planned on using his size to make her disappear into this huge manor. A ripple of unease began low in her belly. She could not defend herself physically. She would be just as trapped here as she was in her father’s home or in the desert. Patience was her friend, but she needed to tamp down the panic threatening to spill out.

Walking toward him, she noted his visage seemed to soften, but his friend, Lord Poole’s, hardened with her every step. She wondered at that, but her groom’s eyes drew her back to him. He did not appear to be a cruel man, but since her mother refused to accept visitors and had not done her rounds since being home, there was no opportunity to hear what others knew. She had known nothing of her other groom either, but she was certain she would have liked nothing about him. She hoped this man, this large, dark haired, brown eyed man would, if not be loving, at least be compatibly silent for the next fifty years.

Her father deposited her at the makeshift altar and found his seat at the edge of the aisle. The Bishop tried hard to look at her with the joy one would during such a ritual, but he could not hide his disapproval. It mattered not what a Bishop from a far off church thought of her or this union. English marriages were not based on love and many didn’t end well. Giselle glanced at her groom, who was unabashedly studying her face and the markings her maid tried to hide, but never quite accomplished. Her hand tingled wanting to reach up and swipe her hair across her face, but she realized, it would be impossible as Lord Sutton had hold of her hands. The panic again reared and roared like a lioness to be freed. Her breathing hitched. She felt the heat of blood fill her cheeks and the pounding promising a headache later. This was not the time or the place to faint, or worse still to flee to hide in her wardrobe. She was certain that was why her father sat so close. He could grab her if she tried. When she had tamped down her panic, which was her closest friend at times, she looked up to see Lord Sutton’s expression had gone hard. His eyes pierced into her. He knew. She wasn’t hiding it, she thought. Drawing in a deep breath, she looked out to see Jarrid standing in the back of the room next to Sherman the manor’s butler, with his quiet stoic nature and she drew from him the strength she needed.

“My lady? My lady, are you quite all right?” The Bishop asked, apparently not for the first time.

“I--Yes. Yes, sorry. I am fine,” she replied at almost a whisper, which in the large ballroom on the stage made for amplification, sounded more like a scream to her.

“Fine, fine, then we can continue. It is time for the rings. My lord, please place the ring on her finger and repeat after me.”

Lord Sutton drew her gloved hand between them and positioned a gorgeous emerald and ruby ring at the top of her finger.

“Miss, you need to remove your glove,” the Bishop stated with annoyance.

“It is fine. I will remove the glove later and replace the ring.”

“You cannot. This is a sacred part of the ceremony. Your ring must remain on your finger as a symbol of your fidelity and constancy to your husband. It should not be removed. Now, take off your glove so we may continue.” He said the last with no amount of understanding or empathy.

Giselle looked down at her gloved hand. The satin glove was a perfect pearl color, iridescent in the sunlight. Perfect. Once her glove came off, she would be exposed. He would know. Other than her family and her maid, no one knew the truth of what she was hiding, and even the maid did not know the full extent of her markings. The white raised circles on her face were nothing.

Her chest began to tighten and her hand shook. This had to be finished. She needed to do this for her sister to marry well. She needed to do this for herself to move forward and get away from her father, who at the moment was making loud growling noises as a form of a warning. If she didn’t remove her glove, he would do it for her. He would walk up, grab her hand and strip her glove from her.

The bile building up in her throat was enough to bring her back to herself and force everything down deep. It was imperative that she become detached from herself. She could do anything she needed to right now. Paying for it later, however, would take its toll. Tonight could well be the foulest night since she reached the shores of England, but it had to be done.

Giselle reached down and with shaking hands, she pulled her satin elbow length glove from her left hand and held it out for her to-be-husband. She felt her pride blossoming, good it would hold back the panic and shame of it all for the time being. She heard the Bishop gasp as he saw the intricate lace-like markings covering her forearm all the way down across the top of her hand and around her fingers. She didn’t bother to react or even look at the Bishop, but instead looked at her husband. He was the one who would matter. Would this end this farce here before it starts?

His face changed again, but Giselle could not read it. Dark lashes hooded his dark eyes giving nothing away. His strong straight jaw seemed to flex under his skin, but was that anger or repulsion? Only a tick of the large clock passed before he took her small hand in his and covered her markings to slide the ring down her finger and settle it at the base. It was done. She would have liked to put the glove back, but the Bishop had swiped it from her, and it now lay forgotten by everyone but her on the floor behind his red robes.

Giselle heard not another word the Bishop said and only uttered her words as instructed and it was over. When the Bishop instructed Lord Sutton that he could kiss his bride she awoke with a panic anew, but to her relief, he picked up her only gloved hand and placed a light kiss on the back. Then her mother and sister were there. Her sister had retrieved the glove and Giselle did not miss the look she shot at the Bishop, who also did not miss that one nor the one her mother pierced into his very soul. He spoke with Lord Sutton and his friend, and then made haste.

“Mother, I need some air. I need to go outside for a moment please,” Giselle said to her mother.

“Nonsense. This took much longer than was necessary, and I am hungry,” boomed her father. “Time to retire to the wedding breakfast. Now.”

“You go along, my lord. Giselle needs a moment of peace in the garden. I am certain that our not being there will not spoil your appetite over much,” was her mother’s curt response and the three women walked out one of the large doors that spilled onto a patio in the main garden. Jarrid following behind. Her new husband never said a word and Giselle decided he was ready to be out of her sight.

The sun on her face and the sound of songbirds helped to calm her beating heart, but it wasn’t until she slid off her slippers and buried them in the thick manicured grass that she began to feel the panic lessen by degrees.

“My dear, that is so improper,” her mother scolded. “A Lady, a Viscountess, must never be seen barefoot. It is shameful.”

Giselle didn’t reply, since nothing she said would explain. She had gone for so long without seeing grass that when she had reached home, it was the first thing she did in the main garden of her home. She dropped to her knees and drove her hands into the cool prickliness of the small patch of grass. It cemented she was home. It made her calm. She knew it would not work at a ball, but she still had more time before she would have to worry about the intricacies of a ball.

The rest of the afternoon passed well enough with her mother refusing to leave and her father being forced to chat with Lord Sutton and Lord Poole, until his wife decided it was becoming awkward for everyone.

Once she watched her family ramble down the drive, she retired to her room. There she found a tray laden with what she assumed she missed at the wedding breakfast. She looked at the tray and her stomach growled. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was, but she did not dare eat. As hungry as she was, her fear was greater. A knock at the door made her smile as Jarrid entered, eyes filled with concern.

“I assume you are famished,” he said without pretense, walking to the tray and grabbing bits of everything to taste. “Nothing amiss. Your food is not poisoned.”

She smiled a small smile, but knew Jarrid could see the sadness beneath. What kind of Viscountess couldn’t eat the food her husband supplied for her before her guard tasted it for drugs. Giving no more thought to anything but her appetite, she put her energy into cleaning the platter of food, which was all delicious.

“How are you holding up?” Jarrid asked.

“Fine,” she answered around a bite of cheese and warm yeasty bread. “This was inevitable. You know I am very fortunate to have such an opportunity as a damaged woman. At least now it won’t be my father who sends me to an asylum.”

“I would never allow that,” Jarrid spat.

“I know you wouldn’t, but the reality is if not this marriage, then I was looking at a life alone. Now, as I bring myself back, I will have all those things afforded me I once dreamed of as a foolish girl.”

“You are still a foolish girl,” Jarrid teased as he handed her a glass of water from the pitcher. It tasted of an English meadow, cooling her parched throat. Not like the water of India that was not always safe and never tasted of freshness or purity.

“Well, now I am a foolish, broken, fallen, viscountess. I wonder if I can get that printed on a calling card.” Giselle only half joked.

“How does it feel to be a viscountess?” Jarrid asked changing the subject. He never liked it when she spoke such harsh truths about her circumstances.

“Like a too small pair of slippers. It seems to pinch in the wrong places and wobbles on a too small heel.”

He took the fork out of her hand and held it in his, bringing her full attention to him. This man was not of her world and no longer part of his own. A man just as lost as she, but where she remained broken, he had healed. “This is your destiny. This is where you belong. Never forget that,” he said and let her hand drop to her lap.

“That was so long ago, a world away. The me who I am now is a woman of the desert, a woman desperate to find her place. Like you being here in England with me, I did not belong where you found me, but now, I no longer belong here. I have no past and no future. I only have today and that is a slippery slope.”

“Yes, but you are finding your footing. Like today with the glove. You didn’t run; you didn’t give in. You fought it and won.”

Giselle appreciated his kind words of support, but they both knew at what cost she won the day. The difficulty would come tonight. “I think I will lie down and take a nap, see if I can forestall the headache that is threatening. Can you ask for a cool compress to brought up with lavender?”

“Of course. It is a good idea you rest. I am afraid your test is not over for the day.”

“Of that, you and I are both aware,” Giselle said as she crossed to her bed and curled up with a pillow tucked in next to her, hoping sleep would come if only for a short time. It would no doubt take all her energy to get through the night and still have a husband as the sun rose on the morrow.

The ceremony was one thing, just words. Words spoken, promises made but no real actions. Gisele sat frozen with fear at her dressing table. Her maid, Cecily young herself, made haste undressing her and brushing out her hair. There was little conversation and there was a pall in the room suffocating them. Now alone, Gisele thought it might have its way with her before her husband could.

Her beauty had been such that boys wrote poetry about it. Now no one could see past the marks. Today, men turned from her, not because of what the marks looked like, but for what they stood for. Her ruination. Her hand rose to her eye and cheek, touching her past. Little did those men who turned from her know. For if they were to explore, she is a veritable canvas for her captors, each mark holding meaning only they knew. How would any man, even a man who never went into society learn to ignore them? She could never look at herself and forget it, how would he? Giselle avoided looking glasses, but she burned each mark into memory. Giselle had them cataloged in her mind.

 A few hours ago, when she woke from her nap, she dismissed Jarrid and instructed him not to be in the house for the evening. This would be hard enough as it was. She didn’t need to know Jarrid was just outside the door. She did not like to have Jarrid far from her, but it was the best course of action. It had been over two hours since dark had fallen. The heat of the room made the cool breeze tangible on the warm spring night. The white cotton night rail with a matching white satin dressing gown covering her from neck to toes increased the warmth of the room. Her hair hung loose. The bed loomed in the middle of the room with its covers pulled back waiting for occupants. The only thing missing was the groom.

            Gisele did not understand what the protocol was. Did she go to him? Did he come to her? Should she wait to be summoned? Other than their vows, they had not spoken to each other the whole day. When her father had forced her mother and sister to leave her, he had disappeared. She ate all her meals on a tray in her chamber on her wedding day. She imagined him in his chamber trying to gird his loins and force himself to do his duty. If he was as disgusted by her as others, he might not. She understood. After all, she was deformed and to most people of the Ton their sensibilities would not allow them to accept anything but perfection. Anyway, he might be happier in the arms of a mistress than with a woman such as she was.

“Oh bother!” Gisele sighed as she no longer could sit and wait for his whim. “He is nothing but a mortal man. Countless women have lived through their wedding nights,” she chided herself as she padded barefoot across the carpeted floor to the large door. If she sat, the panic would be too much to bear. She knew this from experience. As the door opened, the hallway glowed from candles. Looking down both ways, she realized she wasn’t sure where his rooms were. The staff might catch her running amok about the home looking for him. When the idea and eventual fear of embarrassment subsided, she stuck out her chin and took a step into the hall. Her instinct said to go left, but as she made to turn, a deep male voice wafted up the stairway to her right. He must be in his study speaking to a servant.

Determination to get this part of her new life over took her. With bare feet, she padded down the stairs and across the cold marble of the foyer before she changed her mind. His voice drew her, making her want to get closer. The resonance in his voice hummed through her body in a way nothing ever had.

Without realizing it, she walked to the door of his study without an introduction or even knocking. When she opened the door, the silence that followed brought her back to her senses and to where she was and what she had just done.

To make her embarrassment complete, Viscount Poole had not left and was lounging, or had been until being interrupted, in a chair next to one of the floor-length windows opened to let the cool air in. Now, he was sitting upright with his mouth gaping. She then glanced at her husband who had a similar expression.

“My apologies, my lord. I was not aware you still had company and I should have knocked. However, I was just wondering--” her lack of knowing what to say added to her complete humiliation. “I, well, what I mean was, I mean what I was wondering--" Her husband set his drink that had been hovering near his lips on the table and strode with determined strides. He plucked a throw from the chaise on his way by and before she could react, he had her front draped in the blanket and she was being backed out of the door.        

She felt the walls closing in. His hands like manacles guided her into the hall around the corner away from the doorman. The panic rose from her stomach, filling her chest and constricting her lungs. Just as she would have lashed out, his hands dropped from her arms and he took a step back, but not before his released breath scented of brandy and cigarillos assaulted her senses, making her lean into him.

“I assumed the festivities of the day tired you and wanted to give you time to become acquainted with your position,” Maxwell stated, clearing the fog which had consumed her. Gisele tried to distinguish from his tone if he was angry about her impertinence, but he gave nothing away.

“I am sorry, my lord, had you but told me of your plans...” Her pertness was clear, but a simple conversation had been in order. She pulled the coarse blanket more around her, the embarrassment of her position once again bleeding into her face.

“Next time, I will send word of my plans. I am sorry,” he replied sounding more sincere than she expected. She noted a look of concern on his face. The litany of scathing comments died on her tongue. She was, after all, standing in her new husband’s hallway, after entering his private study uninvited, in her night rail and dressing gown, hair hanging to her waist. To add insult to injury her bare feet peeked out from under the thin fabric showing more markings similar to those on her hand, and all of this in front of his friend. She would have expected him to be angry, not apologizing.

“Thank you, my lord, that would help,” she said with more humility and less affront. Silence filled the air making her uncomfortable as he looked at her the way he had during the ceremony. Being stared at was nothing new, but his perusal was so thorough she felt naked and raw. “Well, I will bid you a good night. I am sure your guest will be wondering where you have gone off to.” She curtsied, and brushed past Maxwell half expecting him to stop her, but he did not. If she ran, she might beat her embarrassment to her bedroom and leave it cooling its heels in the hall. She doubted it, but she would give it a go. As her foot hit the first stair, she made a valiant effort.

***

“What?” was Maxwell’s answer to the look Anthony shot him when he reentered the study. He had not expected her to walk into his study, much less in such a state of undress. Had the windows not been open the temperature in the room would have risen to an uncomfortable degree. His body tensed remembering his reaction.

“You see what you have to look forward to? She came looking for you!  A proper wife would sit until dawn waiting for her husband and not have a complaint about it,” Anthony said in disgust as Max made his way to his glass that sat waiting for his return.

“I admit I have only been married a few hours. However, I do not believe any woman I ever knew would sit idle in her room waiting for her husband to summon her. Besides, I should have sent a note telling her to make herself at home and that I would seek her out on the morrow,” Max said, chastising himself for his lack of consideration while fighting a very clear vision of perfect tiny feet peeking out from under the billowing nightgown, with markings similar to those on her hands. It made him want to unwrap her like a package, seeing every nuance on his way.

“Well, I didn’t say every wife. I said a proper wife, which it is obvious she is not that,” Anthony quipped, not even mentioning Max’s misstep.

“Anthony, you sound positively Puritanical, not to mention a proper English woman was not on my list,” Max chided settling in the chair next to Anthony, the cooling early summer night air settling his nerves. Those proper English women were the reason he did not have a sister anymore. “If I have to suffer my beautiful wife wandering our home in such a state of undress, it is a cross, I am willing to bear.”

“You know what I mean. This little incident just shows what a fast woman she is. She has no qualms walking into your study while you are entertaining in little or nothing hanging off her,” Anthony stated shaking his head and taking a drink. Max would not bother pointing out her gown covered her from just under her chin to almost the tips of her delicately painted toes. If not for her nervous fidgeting, he would not have even known she had feet under that thing.

“I am certain she was not aware you were still here, and truth told, I should have taken time today to tell her I did not intend to, to--“

“Do your husbandly duty?”

“Yes, thank you. Husbandly duty, for lack of a better term, until she was ready. Considering her ordeal, I would not want to traumatize her.” As he said the words, he had a vision of her in the doorway the hall candles casting a soft glow giving her white gown a golden hue, amazing deep brown hair hanging around her shoulders, and pink toes wiggling into the carpet. He was beginning to second-guess his attempt at chivalry. Once he had touched her, he could have scooped up her slight form and carried her to his rooms had it not been for her reaction. The moment he laid hands on her, she went rigid and a fear he could not begin to understand flashed in her eyes. She schooled her features as soon as he stepped back, however.

 Anthony grunted, but it was enough to bring Max back to himself.

He leaned so the back legs of the chair took his weight and propped his legs on the frame of the window. “I am curious.” Max attempted to change the subject to keep his own mind from wandering to more amorous activities. “You have some very clear ideas about your future Viscountess. What characteristics or appointments do you have for her?”

“I realize you are mocking, but a man needs to have his ideas clear. The rest of us must go out and search for a wife. If I am the tiniest bit indecisive, the rest of my life could be in question.”

“Hmm. I have not heard this side of you, Anthony. I will admit I had you pegged as more of a romantic. What about love?”

“Love? What have you been reading while you have had yourself locked up from society? Love is not an emotion worth spending time on. Marriage is marriage, that is it. Nothing more. If you can carry on a social conversation when required to, that is a success.”

Max laughed so hard he almost fell backward. “I have to say, I am not a romantic myself, but after that speech I feel almost like a poet. What has you so jaded?”

“Not jaded, my friend, simply trying to keep things in perspective. Once you allow a woman to think you have nonsensical emotions, she becomes relentless when pursuing you. Then she won’t stop until she wretches a devotion of love from you.” Anthony cringed for effect, turned his glass up and downed the contents. “You, my friend, are lucky there are no such illusions for you. That is unless you slip and allow her to think you have feelings,” Anthony added rising and slapping Max on the back. “I am going to seek my bed. You have worn me out with your unwise choices in life and I need to let my delicate senses rest, lest I will get crow's feet from worry.” Max thought Anthony’s impression of a harassed grande dame had improved since they left Eton. He watched his friend make his way toward the door.

“Thank you,” Max called to his friend, “but be reminded that any other comments about my wife being a fallen woman will result in a beating. She is now my Viscountess whether you approve or not.” All he received was a high wave of Anthony’s arm as he crossed the threshold allowing the footman to shut the door. Max was alone. Anthony had arrived with the sun and had not left his side all day. One of the few people Max chose not to shut out, he proved to be a balm to the pain. Anthony’s well-meaning protestations to his marriage had not ceased and not allowed Max a chance to reflect on the events of the day.

It was possible Anthony was correct and his marriage would be horrid. A woman who sat upstairs was now his responsibility. He was certain she might not want to be there. He knew nothing of her as a person, and she knew even less about him. They were enigmas in the world of society. They had that commonality. Sipping his brandy, he let the warm liquid slide down his throat as the night air washed over him. A night bird called to its mate in the garden. He leaned forward out the window to see if he could see it.

What he saw was no night bird, but Gisele’s friend sitting in the garden leaning against a tree trunk, eyes lifted to his new wife’s bedchamber window. Max leaned back in the window, certain Jarrid saw him, even though he gave no sign of it. The presence of the foreigner only punctuated the fact Max was treading in unfamiliar waters. His reaction to her body a promising indication, he would have to have a conversation with his wife to better gauge her reaction to him.

Finishing his glass of brandy, he too decided finding his bed would be a good idea, because if he had another glass, he might find it more difficult to make his way to his own chamber without making his way to her room. It seemed fortuitous she was still sleeping in the guest wing. It might be too much of a temptation to have her in the master’s wing. He would never force himself on a woman. He preferred when both parties found pleasure, because it was always more satisfying. Perhaps the fact he had been longer than usual without a mistress would explain his sudden physical reaction to Gisele.

 He made his way into the hall and greeted the footman, sending him to his own room. Making his way through the foyer, he snuffed the candles as he went. As usual, the stairs made no noise under his weight, and this time he was glad for it. When he passed his wife’s door, his feet stopped of their own volition. She was on the other side, well into her dreams. Quite a bit in the last few days had changed for her. He found himself leaning forward listening. He wasn’t sure what he thought he would hear. For the love of Hades, if he could hear her breathing through the solid oak door, she would snore like a coal miner. He smiled at his own joke and moved along down the hall.

Exhaustion pulled at his eyes making his body feel heavy. Max was certain sleep would not be restful tonight. Every time his eyes closed, visions of Gisele flashed. Her beautiful deep brown hair and her creamy skin freckled from too much time in the sun, and those mysterious white concentric circles framing her left eye and swirling down her jawline. He had seen them, but her maid was adept at creating hairstyles to cover the majority. The service allowed him to examine them from a close distance. They appeared as raised and having a texture. His finger now itched with a desire to trace them around her eye, down her proud jaw line and continuing past the marks to her slender neck and soft rounded shoulder.

Max blew out a long-suffering breath and swore. In order to continue being a gentleman, because Giselle would take him at his word, he saw many, many sleepless or at the very least restless nights ahead of him. He took her eagerness tonight by searching him out as a sign she would not be long coming to his bed.  However, he was well aware she knew what happened on the wedding night and as a woman who has endured Lord knows what, she could have been attempting to get the deed over with.

It has been a long time since in society, but not so long since he had been in the bed of a society matron. Anthony might comment on his atrocious manners in the ballroom, but Max still maintained the social requirements between the bed sheets. After spending the day watching his new bride move and flow around the ballroom with her mother and sister, she would be lithe and responsive in bed, if she had not been too traumatized. If so, she would need to be handled with kid gloves. He was not one to have excessive or odd appetites. He knew some men who would not know or care to ease her into the bedchamber. If there were one part of this sham of a marriage he would enjoy, it would be introducing her to the pleasures of the marriage bed. Yes, he would enjoy those duties, thinking on the sheer form in his study in bare feet and hair down her back. Yes, indeed.

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copyright 2019 by Clair Brett

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