The sun was high in the August sky when the newlyweds left St Wulfram’s church.
A double row of village girls, all dressed in their best Sunday clothes were standing along the path that led out of the churchyard. They were forming a flowered arch over the path, inviting Richard and Manon to pass under it on their way to their carriage. A chorus of happy cheers sounded as the couple ducked and walked under the arch, while a sprinkle of daisies rained down on them. Well-wishers shouted their congratulations and children offered nosegays to the grateful bride and groom.
They reached the white-and-gold carriage and Richard ushered his bride in. Manon settled onto the blue velvet cushions with a sigh of pure, contented pleasure, hooking her hand through Richard’s arm when he sat next to her.
“Well, my love?” Manon asked, delicate eyebrows raised over slightly mocking green eyes. “It seems that the Bearsham villagers are happy with our marriage, do you not agree? We have been concerned in vain, thinking they would object.”
“Yes, we were wrong to do so,” Richard acquiesced, his grey-blue eyes sparkling with unmitigated happiness. “These simple people are far more sensible than my hare-brained, spiteful mother.” He sighed. “What am I to do with her, Manon? I had hoped she would settle quite meekly in our household, but it appears that she is determined to be the fly in the ointment of our marriage. I am so sorry, my sweet. I would have given my right arm to spare you the scene she inflicted upon us during the ceremony.”
Manon took his handsome face in her hands, forcing Richard to look her in the eyes.
“Oh no, we cannot have that,” she said, her voice full of mirth. “What use would you be to me with only one arm?”
With a groan, Richard pulled her onto his lap in one swift movement and revelled in her happy gasp of surprise. “Finally, I have you to myself for the first time today, my lady. There is so much I wanted to say after what transpired last night, and so much that I worried over. Did I…have I…oh, God, Manon! I am thoroughly ashamed of the way I so utterly lost control…”
“Yes…”Manon drawled. “Rest assured that I will punish you for torturing me so, my lord husband. I have been racking my brains for ways to make you suffer for what you did to me, last night, and I have come up with something like this…”
She stood, hitched up her skirts and rearranged herself in his lap, this time astride. Her lips captured his and her tongue teased his while she sensuously wriggled atop of his thighs and onto his already aroused member. Richard groaned into their kiss and pulled her to him in a grip of iron. Their tongues battled as a wave of raw desire swept them along. Gasping for dear life when Richard’s hands slid up her thighs, to slip a finger into her heat, Manon began fumbling with the buttons of his breeches.
A few moments later, they were joined under the wide expanse of Manon’s gown, and a wild dance, old as the world itself, drove them to bliss in seconds.
When their carriage stopped in front of Bearsham Manor, the flushed couple had barely had the time to right their dishevelled appearance. They had a dining hall full of guests waiting to share their wedding breakfast with them. Manon, however, cast a quick glance in the hall mirror before she faced her guests…and gasped. She looked thoroughly disordered! On no account in the world would she present herself thusly.
“Richard, I really must have a moment to myself so that Bessie can restore my appearance.”
She gave him a critical look of appraisal and added, “And you, my love, will want Bright to correct your attire, too.”
“Thornton,” Richard addressed his butler, tongue in cheek, “please ask our guests for patience, just a little more time.”
Rushing up the stairs, they barely heard the butler’s reply. Once inside the master bedroom, Richard shooed away Bessie and Bright, who had come running after them. He kicked the door shut, swept Manon into his arms, and placed her onto the bed. With determined concentration, he then applied himself to continue what they had begun during their carriage ride home. His bride met his demands with eager anticipation. It was, after all, their wedding day.
Much later, when the wedding breakfast was over, and their guests had gone home, Richard took Manon by the hand and led her outside. The balmy August evening had not yet come, but the sun was beginning to make its way downward. Manon wondered where her husband was taking her, but she said nothing and followed him down the terrace and into the secret garden. It was a lovely spot near the edge of the Home Wood, and Manon had always wanted to explore it ever since she had come to Bearsham Manor but had never found the time in the whirlwind of events that had arisen. Now she stood next to her Richard in front of a grave.
“Here rests Father,” Richard whispered, pulling Manon in the circle of his arms while making her face the tomb. “I hope he looks upon us with contentment on this happiest of days, my love.”
“I am certain he does, my dearest,” Manon replied, placing her hands over Richard’s. It was the perfect time to be here, she reflected. Sir Robert de Briers had always been anxious about Manon and Jéhan, even if he had never known them. He had even stood guard over them all, from beyond the grave, and left them the letter that brought her and Richard together. How Manon wished she had known him! How she would have cherished Richard’s good father!
“We must do something about Mother,” Richard suddenly said, recalling the Dowager’s appalling behaviour during their wedding ceremony. “She is going to be a constant thorn in our sides, my sweet, and I cannot have anything disturbing our lives from now on.”
Manon turned in his arms and looked up to him. “Leave her to me, my darling,” she said, confidence radiating from her lovely green eyes. “I want her to be part of our lives. She is a damaged woman, Richard. Life has not been gentle to her. Together, we will find a way to give her a place at Bearsham Manor.”
And if anyone could accomplish just that, Richard thought, it was his lively, strong Manon. He bent his head to claim her mouth in a kiss that promised the world.