Ten – Savour the Moment
Stephen woke to the sound of voices coming from the connecting dressing room, where Hawkins was admonishing Trixie, now Beth’s lady’s maid, to be quiet. He smiled and turned his head toward his wife whose naked body lay beside him. She was lying flat on her stomach and her delicious little derriere stuck up like that of a child. The sight of those perfectly shaped pink peaches gave him a sudden jolt of desire so strong he wanted to grab her, turn her onto her back and yet again take her on the spot! God, he wanted her, right here, right now, and how was that possible when they had made love five times during the night? Yet he was fully aroused and ready, once again!
Carefully, Stephen rose from the bed and went to the dressing room, snatching his robe on the way out. The room was empty but he noticed the tray on the dresser from which came an exquisite fragrance of tea and fresh scones. Good man Hawkins!
After a quick wash, Stephen carried the tray into their room and just as he placed it on the nightstand, his wife opened sleepy eyes.
“Good morning, my lady!”
Beth smiled drowsily and suddenly discovered she was not wearing a nightgown and even worse, was lying on top of the bedcovers. That made her sit up and snatch the sheet to restore a shadow of dignity, but her husband was quicker and had her pinned to the mattress in no time.
“Where were you planning to go to, my sweet lady? You are not allowed to leave this bed, since I have not yet given you permission. I am certain you have not forgotten what you promised yesterday, before the whole community? To love and obey me for the rest of our lives, until death do us part?”
“And you, my lord?” Beth retorted, a naughty smile curving her mouth. “Did you not pledge to love and cherish me forever with the whole community as witnesses? Right now, I do not think you are cherishing me! You are on the verge of ravishing me.” She pointed her gaze at his blatant state of arousal, and her smile widened. “At least, that is what I conclude from the deplorable state of abandon you are in!”
In a few seconds, her husband disposed of his robe and lifted her onto his lap, positioning her where he wanted her the most. Beth gasped as she felt his manhood slide smoothly into her intimate self. God! This was … incredible! Immediately, she was immersed in a wave of renewed passion to witch her body responded with rapidly mounting arousal. Instinctively, she began riding him with slow movements of her hips. With a primitive feeling of feminine satisfaction, she watched Stephen throw back his head and groan, as he braced himself against the pillows to follow the rhythm she imposed with her hips. Again, they rode the wave of passion until their world exploded in millions of shards.
They were barely granted a week of wedding bliss before the disaster struck. One night, Beth awoke to the sound of her husband’s laboured breath, only to find him burning up with fever.
“Stephen, what is it? Are you ill? What can I do to relieve you?”
“Hot … I am so hot … water … I need to drink …”
Beth remembered the fatigue Stephen had experienced during the previous day which was unusual for him. Stephen was seldom tired, was – in fact – a strong, healthy man. Yet now, he seemed weak and confused. Hurriedly, Beth rang for the servants, and they began tending to their master under her supervision. She had instantly grasped what was happening; Stephen was suffering from chicken pox. By the time her mother-in-law arrived, Beth had him comfortably tucked in clean sheets and was trying to cool his flushed face with a wet cloth. He was in a state of lethargy, not responding to words or administrations.
Henrietta, dowager baroness Brixton, limped into the room with all the grandeur she could muster. She had stubbornly kept to her rooms for the past week, furious because her son had married the former governess, whom she considered too low in station to wed a Baron Brixton. Furthermore, she had summoned her lawyers from London, who conferred with her over the steps she could take to protect herself against the consequences of her son’s union with what she considered a hostile daughter-in-law, whom she now addressed in strident tones.
“What have you done to my son, you wench? Step away from him instantly!”
“Madam, Stephen has contracted the chicken pox and he is very feverish. We need to …”
“You need not do anything! I want you to leave this house and return to the village. Your place is with the commoners from whom you sprang.”
Beth stared at the dowager with incredulity and mounting concern. She now fully faced Henrietta with equal dignity and replied:
“My place is at my husband’s side, Madam. I know how to treat him as I have proven these past few weeks. I will not leave Stephen, not when he needs me.”
“Enough! My son is not your husband, Madam! Not when you have no marriage certificate to prove it!”
Before Beth’s stunned eyes, the baroness drew a document from her pocket and tossed it into the blazing fire in the hearth, where it was immediately consumed by the flames. Had the dowager suddenly gone insane? Feverishly, her thoughts went over the consequences of this. Surely, the destruction of the document did not mean that much? It could be replaced.
“But … our marriage was filed in the parish register by the Reverend Mr Carter! That document was merely a copy that was made for our own benefit!”
Henrietta smiled triumphantly and proclaimed. “Carter is a dependant of this house, my dear. I can take away his living, just as I did to your father. He has already erased your farce of a marriage from his register. Now, leave my house at once, or I will order my footmen to evict you.”
To prove her words, two sturdy men in the Brixton livery stepped forward, men Beth had never seen before, with hard faces and impassive eyes. The other servants in the room, two maids, Trixie and Raleigh, the butler, stood rooted on their spot, powerless to do anything to help Beth. Yet Trixie stepped forward and curtsied before the dowager.
“Beg pardon, my lady, but can I at least go and pack My Lady’s portmanteau? She will need her clothes and …”
Henrietta cut her off with a snap.
“No, you cannot! Get yourself off to the kitchen again and be lucky I let you take up your duties as a scullery maid once again! Resist me, and you are on the streets, my girl!”
Trixie fled the room and Beth could not blame her. The poor girl came from very poor stock, and her wages were needed to support her large family. Beth herself could not comprehend what had just occurred! Was she really banned from Stephen’s side and house? What was she to do? Where was she to go? Her frantic thoughts were racing though her head like frightened birds, and she made an effort to gather them and find an answer to this. She turned towards her mother-in-law and pleaded. “My lady, I beg of you, please reconsider your words. Stephen might be in severe danger if I do not manage to keep down his fever. Chicken pox can be extremely endangering in adults. At least, let me take the necessary precautions to ensure his safety.”
A slight tinge of fear brushed Henrietta’s heart, all of a sudden, and for the first time, she approached her son’s sickbed to better look at him. She touched his brow with the back of her hand, only to find it burning hot with fever! Only then, it occurred to her that Stephen really had fallen very ill. A huge dilemma raged in her mind as she pondered over her next step. Surely, Dr Forrester could also treat Stephen? Yet, the man had proven inferior to the governess when treating the sick children. That hated woman had successfully fought and conquered the disease!
“Very well, woman. You are allowed to stay for three days and take care of my son. Mind you, as a nurse! You will take up quarters in your former room on the fourth floor and not be alone with his lordship when tending to his needs. One of my footmen will always escort you wherever you go in this house and be present at my son’s sickbed when you are there.”
She raised her stick and pointed at Beth, eyes glowing with hatred. “Three days, do you hear? If my son does not show signs of improvement by then, I will throw you out for good!”