Charles had been perpetually conscious for several months now of a passionate desire to wring Sophy’s neck, which had not abated over the last four hours in the least, and then he made the wretched, half-insane mistake of kissing her—at last, at last—and even as he dragged her laughing to his curricle he was aware he’d destroyed his own anger and left something more dangerous in its wake; he gripped the reins too tight as he sent the horses cracking back out of the gate and on the road.
“Charles, you will certainly overset us if you go on this way,” Sophy said, cheerfully as if she were not in mortal danger, as if she could rely upon the restraint she had made it her business to wreck so thoroughly—along with his every hope of domestic peace and tranquility, which he ought have regretted more than he could manage.
“You may drive if you prefer, now I have tired them out,” he said, rallying as best he could.
“How unhandsome of you,” she said, cordially. “Perhaps you would rather put into an inn and let them have a rest for a few hours, if you have driven them too hard?”
“No,” he said shortly.
“I really think it would be best, as I consider it,” Sophy said, in the thoughtful tones which ever boded most ill for him. “After all, dear Charles, once we are at home, everything will be quite difficult, and for weeks certainly. We must have some consideration for Miss Wraxton’s feelings: she must be allowed to marry first.”
He understood her, of course, and his mouth went brutally dry. “Damn you, Sophy,” he grated out. “What do you suppose my uncle should say to me?”
“Nothing, since he will not know anything about it, unless you are so foolish as to tell him,” Sophy said. “In which case, Sir Horace will certainly be very annoyed with you for putting him to the trouble of acquiring a special license and forcing us to marry at once with a very havey-cavey appearance, and my aunt will be distressed at having an unnecessary shadow thrown over Cecilia’s nuptials. Pray don’t be absurd! You can hardly suppose any of our family will consider you in the light of a ravisher of my virtue. Indeed,” she added, laughter bubbling up through her voice, “I imagine they would lay all the blame in the opposite direction.”
“Where it would belong!”
“Just so. Unless you don’t want to marry me, but if that is the case, dear cousin, I must say you have already behaved in a very outrageous manner, and can scarcely hope to escape recrimination no matter what you do. I believe The Crowned Hare is a mile past the next turning, and quite a busy posting-inn, where we will not draw much attention.”
He ground his teeth and said nothing in answer, but when the inn rose out of the trees he turned into its yard, and all but flung the reins to the ostler before turning round to assist Sophy, still perched on the seat. She smiled down at him, merry, and held her hands out to him, an offer. His chest tightened abruptly as though a band had closed round it. He reached up and clasped them in his own and stood there looking up at her a moment, his sparkling girl, and her smile went wider and somehow joyful, and after he swung her down, he did not feel a liar when they went inside, and he took a room for himself and his wife.
They ate a little, and drank a glass of wine together, while the fire warmed the room, and then she stood and turned and lifted her hair, and he undid the buttons of her dress to halfway down her back and then stopped, put his hands on her waist, and bent to kiss her neck beneath the mass of bronze ringlets, almost desperately, and she shivered and gasped beneath the touch of his mouth and turned, putting her arms round his neck.
The gown was certainly wrecked by the time he had it off her, and one of his boots had fallen into the ash-can and knocked it over, destroying the polish forever, and he did not care in the slightest; they were in the bed and he had his mouth and his hands on her wrists, in the hollow of her throat, upon her breasts and in the curve of her belly and her hips and upon her thighs. He felt clumsy and determined at once: he had rejected this sin along with all his father’s other vices, the drinking and gambling and genial selfishness, and he did not know what to do but go tenderly blundering everywhere that drew her sighs, and the luxurious shudders that took her whole body when he let his thumb press between her legs.
“Sophy,” he said, hoarsely asking, and she said, “Charles, darling Charles, don’t make me speak,” in for once a faintly pleading tone, but she reached down and pressed her hand upon his, harder against her, encouraging. He shuddered himself and stroked her, and after a panting moment bent down and put his mouth upon her. She actually uttered a small squeak, and tried to writhe against him, and a kind of blazing heat dimmed his sight a moment; he pressed her hips down beneath him and held her firmly in place for his mouth until she dissolved into small wordless cries, clutching at the pillow beneath her head.
There were even tears standing in her eyes when he released her at last, panting and wiping his mouth, and she smiled at him languid and dreamily, reaching up to touch his face with her fingertips. He shut his eyes. She put her hand on him and guided him into her, an almost overpowering sensation, and he groaned and let himself press in to the hilt. Sophy gave a deep gasped, “Oh,” and stirred beneath him—around him—and he lost what was left of his self-mastery and thrust into her wildly, again and again, while she tangled her hands in his hair and urged him on with small panted exclamations, until at last he could hold no longer.
He fell over pulling her with him to sprawl upon his chest—no inconsiderable weight, but he did not mind in the slightest. He wanted her nowhere else but in his arms. She sighed deeply and pillowed herself on her folded hands. “How pleasant it is to be proven right,” she remarked, still breathlessly, and he began to laugh even though he could scarcely get the air to do it with, feeling her mouth curving against his skin.