“I believe, unless his philosophy has entirely altered, Sir Arthur will wrench this evidence from your hand.”
“Indeed, this will do it,” Will replied, gesturing with the document.
“Well hidden, in plainest sight,” said George.
“But no less explosive for that,” Sarah heard herself saying. She was having marked difficulty concentrating on the matter at hand. All that research; the poring over documents by candlelight, had given her enough on the subject of foreign treasury departments. On that account she was quite satisfied. Her eagerness was no longer for the paper in Will’s hand, but for the man holding it.
The rapid melting of her anxiety and the knowledge that she found something to hold over her husband, something that would destroy Lord Melville (whom she had long suspected of being the puppetmaster behind Arthur’s antics) had filled Sarah with a triumphant, soaring feeling so strong, she thought she would burst from the containing of it. She wanted to shout for joy and pounce like a tigress on William, whom she now did stalk with her eyes, her tongue running along her teeth.
A hazy thought occurred, that perhaps he was not truly as impossibly, unendurably lovely as she found him this evening. His person was not altered since last they met, save the fading bruises on his cheek. It was only the separation, the fact that she had lately grown accustomed to finding exquisite satisfaction in William’s arms with much more regularity, which made her crave him so. Absence, after all, does make the heart grow fonder.
And more impatient.
She watched him intently, as she rubbed her hands together in anticipation – they needed distraction from Will’s beckoning shoulders, bent as they were to catch the words of the treasury record in the candlelight. She wondered he did not have holes burned in his clothes from the heat of her gaze. But he did seem utterly unaware of her desire.
Somehow William’s obliviousness only made him all the more tantalizing.
George said he was to take his leave, and she could have kissed him for it. ‘George, you angel!’ she thought. Perhaps he had noticed what Will was too engrossed in the Trinidad records to see.
“And I shall take this to the man who will best use it.”
‘Not so hasty, if you please,’ thought Sarah, and as Will was collecting his coat from the chair, she moved swiftly to close the door behind George.
Will was more eager than she ever remembered him being to meet with her husband, though perhaps, given the evidence he possessed, that was understandable. Sarah was thus obliged to reach out a hand to stop him as he moved with haste to open the door she had only just shut. She had seen him like this many a time before. When he was about his business he often had a hawk-like focus on the immediate task that would admit no distraction. Sarah supposed it suited him well in his profession, but for her purposes it was quite disagreeable.
He halted, and looked down uncomprehendingly at her hand as it moved languidly across his side to his chest.
Gazing up into his eyes, she snaked her arms around his neck, and yet he still wore a quizzical expression, as if waiting for her instruction on how best to approach her husband, or for her to wish him good fortune.
She gave him no more time to contemplate, so when she pulled at the back of his neck and his lips crashed into hers, they did not immediately respond. Sarah tugged him closer, half hanging from his shoulders. He felt so wonderfully solid in her arms, though his astonishment had permitted her to draw him near to her as if he were made of no more than rags.
A noise of delighted surprise came from Will’s throat, and his mouth opened against hers, a second or two all that was necessary for him to respond with equal enthusiasm. Their tongues met, wet and heavy against each other as he leaned over to better fit his lips to hers.
The Trinidad document, so necessary and vital to the success of their endeavor, was tossed aside and it fluttered to the floor somewhere, unheeded by either party.
Will’s right arm came around her waist, his hand immediately wandering down to the curve of her backside. Sarah sensed with satisfaction he was not merely being politely responsive to her amorous overtures, that despite his absorption in the case, he had yearned for her as much as she had for him.
Her suspicions were confirmed when he unceremoniously dropped his good coat in a heap on the floor. His left hand now also freed, he gathered her up in both arms and hoisted her up the wall in one fluid motion.
Sarah laughed as he did so, feeling the giddy rush of being lifted, and pulled away from his kiss with a tiny squeak of pleasure.
She bent down to meet his lips again but he did not immediately allow her, taking a moment to look at her face so near to his. He appeared to be gauging her reaction, ensuring that he had not been presumptuous, pinned as she was between his body and the wall, his hips pushing firmly against hers. Assured of Sarah’s pleasure, William seemed to savor the moment before moving in once more, kissing her deeply.
Usually Will did touch and kiss her with such deliberation and carefulness that Sarah felt he must think her made of fine porcelain. At present he was still as gentle as ever, and his lips soft, but they met hers with fervor that was for him, quite out of the ordinary.
She did not mind in the least. This is what she wanted, what she had longed for all those long nights spent alone in that secluded cottage. After Samuel fell asleep, Sarah would curl up in the narrow bed, holding him tightly in her arms. She had held him so often and with such intensity that he had, on one occasion, whimpered and pushed away, overwhelmed by being the recipient of quite so much affection. But though having her son nearby healed a wound, the absence of Will had created another. She could not sleep, missing the warmth against her back. Hearing, instead of his steady breath near her ear, the piercing cry of a vixen shatter the dark silence.
She could hear him breathing hard now, in between kisses, and it banished the cares and sorrows of the past few months, replacing them with the warmth and contentment that spread all the way into her fingertips and toes. Sarah had not known how or when it happened, but at some point the sound of his breath had become an absolute necessity to her well being, vital in a way that food and shelter were vital.
What she was sure of was that he would laugh if she told him how much she had longed for it. But she had. She had missed his gasping and panting when they lay together, the slow, steady breaths he took while reading evidence at their kitchen table, and even – or to be completely honest, most especially – the faint hiss of inhalation his nose made while he slept. She found it hopelessly endearing. It was her lullaby.
She dared not tell him. He would become self-conscious and attempt to find a remedy, which would only defeat the object.
However, his presence was reminding her quite acutely that it was not only his breath she had missed. Everything that she’d been deprived of in leaving his side was in evidence – the softness of his hair beneath her fingers, the feel of his hipbones enclosed between her thighs, the pounding of his heart against her breast. The warm tingling was spreading throughout her body, with a need to be closer to him. A need to erase the distance that had grown over these long weeks: a distance born of both of physical separation and mental preoccupation.
For it had not been only Sarah’s flight into hiding, but also the weeks preceding it, when they had withdrawn from each other, slowly and by degrees. There had been so many things they could not, or would not say to one another. Their touches, too, had grown fewer and fewer. William must have certainly attributed her part of it to the strain of the Chancery case and her long separation from her son. This was so, but not the entire reason. She could not speak to him of her fears without telling him the whole of it. She could not be open with him without the risk of exposure.
There had been a time when, after three nights of silence, with her laying in bed, facing the wall and contemplating the impossible quandary she had found herself in, he had kissed her ear and draped an arm across her body. It was a simple gesture of affection, of a need to give and receive reassurance. And knowing Will as she did, knowing his nature – Sarah was certain he was not asking for more than this. He required much more in the way of encouragement. But the moment he did put his arm around her, she stiffened, pushing his hand away from where it touched her waist.
He in turn had pulled away, and lay on his back.
“I – sorry,” he had said after a moment.
Sarah had calmed her racing heart with the reassurance that he had not, in all likelihood, noticed any alteration in her person. It was then that she registered how wounded he sounded. How – defeated.
“No,” she said, turning to him. She reached out and grabbed his hand. “I am the one who should be apologizing. I have been distracted.”
“Under the circumstances—” he had begun.
“No, I have neglected you.”
William had flinched as if her very words had inflicted pain. He turned his hand to enlace his fingers with hers and looked at them pensively for a few moments.
“You must not think of it as…I would not like to imagine you regard any of this as duty,” he put particular emphasis on the last word. “And that your disinclination to be touched is in any way neglect or dereliction.”
“But I have no such disinclination,” she hurried to say. “Truly.”
He merely smiled, his eyes sad.
“It was only that you did startle me.”
The explanation had seemed woefully deficient, even to her ears. The early days of their life together had been filled with nights of passion – there were times Will had barely gotten through the door before she had happily seized him, and they stumbled towards the bedroom, discarding cravats and stockings – the contrast with her later lack of interest was bound to be confusing to him. And now she had recoiled at his very touch.
He squeezed her hand. “Then I am sorry for that.”
He had then let go of her hand and looked for a moment at her face with an unreadable expression before turning his back to her to fall asleep.
And though there was no resentment in his manner, Sarah had been left with the certainty that her rejection meant more to Will than he would ever admit.
It had been weeks of that, of the distance growing between them, each at a loss to remedy the situation. Both knew what burden the other labored under: The public disgrace and censure, their poverty, Sarah’s loss of Samuel and her baptism by fire into the role of housewife (without the advantage of being respectably married), Sir Arthur’s rancor, the stalling of Will’s career by professional ostracism, and his inability to fulfill even the modest promise to Sarah, that although he could not give her what her husband had, they would “be well together.” They were equally loathe to bring these matters to the other’s attention, not wanting to add to their lover’s burden, and fearing the truth of how much anguish their association had caused the other.
So together, they suffered alone.
There had still been love, still tenderness and a powerful affection – but also a growing sense of dread that had thickened into a physical presence in their small dwelling – a feeling that perhaps it was never meant to be. That, try as they might, happiness with each other was beyond their reach. The world and its vicissitudes had seen to that.
Most of these difficulties still remained. But if they could have Samuel, Sarah thought, if they truly could, then the balance had shifted. Any challenges that remained were nothing now. With her loved ones near, she had the strength to do anything.
And what she wanted to do at the moment was celebrate with William. She wished to banish all sorrow or fear or guilt, and deliciate in his warm embrace.
When she had been in hiding, and he had found her, had emerged from the woods, appearing like a dream, she had only allowed herself a brief respite in his arms. What she had wanted to do, had yearned to do then was quite different. She had wanted to run to him and hold him fast, to take his hand and lead him into the cottage, to the narrow bed if they had they could reach it, the floor if not. She had wanted to divest him of his travel-dusty clothes and rain kisses down upon him, to stroke his long hair, and hear his breath quicken, to feel his hands on her bare skin as he entered her. And as he did so, she would have leaned down and whispered in his ear of the new life that grew inside her, of the life that together they had kindled.
What had then been forbidden to her was now permissible, and the secret she had held back was bursting through her veins.
Sarah pulled away, smiling at William with warm affection.
He looked back expectantly, his countenance open, questioning.
She had practiced in her mind all the different ways in which she would broach the subject with him, but she had not the memory, nor the patience to recall.
So without preamble, she simply said, “I am to have your child.”
William stared at her lips for some time, perhaps not believing that the words they had formed were the same as those he had heard. He glanced up to her eyes for confirmation.
She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips.
Surprised did not even begin to describe his expression. Will let out a stunned laugh, and Sarah could not help joining in. He looked ever so adorable in his astonishment. She knew that his appearance in this moment would be forever captured in her mind’s eye, thereafter a sweet remembrance.
He laughed again, bringing his forehead to hers. Surprise still won out over any other feeling displayed in his features, but of the space that remained, Sarah could see, happiness was supreme.
She counted his reaction as yet another relief, and before he could begin a deluge of questions, she pulled at his neck once more and kissed him soundly. She had slid somewhat lower as a consequence of his shock in hearing her news, so he again boosted her up in his arms, leaning closer to press his mouth to hers.
Sarah was gratified to observe that whatever his thoughts were on learning of his impending fatherhood, it had not dimmed his ardor even by a slight measure.
They swayed now in concert, moving together as one. The need, the hunger for reconnection had grown stronger than ever.
Sarah reached down between their bodies and found a button on his breeches. Will did not seem to notice until she had unfastened it and slipped her hand inside.
“Mmmm,” he groaned against her lips. Pulling away, he panted, “Here? But— ” He gazed heatedly at her.
And whether it was because he forgot his objection, or Sarah’s lips did beckon, or what she was doing to him was sufficiently distracting, he never did finish that sentence.
His mouth once more met hers, and Sarah continued to unbutton, reaching beneath her once more to caress the contents of his trousers.
He paused for a moment, pulling away to meet her gaze. Then suddenly he hiked her up the wall, settling her on one arm, and began gathering up her skirts with the other.
It was awkward work, trying to maintain their balance whilst pulling all that material out of the way. Sarah laughed at Will as he clucked his tongue in frustration, and assisted as best she could with her clothing. Her hem was caught between them, and once freed, seemed determined to fall back into place just to spite them.
But, at the first opportunity, Will got his hands under her skirts and resettled her bare skin against his forearm, resting it flush against the wall. As well as he could given the demands of holding them both upright, he brushed his thumb across her sensitive skin, and, after running his free hand under the length of her thigh, gently parted her lips with his fingertips, caressing not quite as leisurely as he usually did.
She moaned into his shoulder, provoking him further.
The things he could do with those long, nimble fingers…He had barely begun, but she already could take no more of it.
Unfastening the last button on Will’s trousers, she stroked him quickly to full attention, and using the wall and his shoulders for leverage, raised herself up. She grasped his cock, and he lifted her body, the muscles of his arms flexing beneath white linen. Pressing herself off the wall, she slid slowly down onto him.
Will’s hands both came to grasp her backside, and she locked her ankles behind his waist.
“Sarah,” he whispered near her ear. She shivered and raked her fingers through his queue.
They began to move together, and Sarah recognized immediately that it had been too long, far too long since they did this.
She could read his movements, and the shuddering of his breath, and the tightness in his back. He was restraining himself, keeping the movements of their joined bodies at odds. Holding pleasure at bay.
She felt the precipice approaching already, and grasped William’s shoulder in signal, moving her hips insistently against his.
Will made a low noise in his throat, and pulled her away from the wall, taking her weight in his arms. As she bore down on him with ferocity, he propelled her upward with each surge of his arms and thighs. They quickly found the ideal approach, and gave themselves over to it completely.
Sarah sought Will’s gaze. Under brows contracted in pained ecstasy, his mouth hung open in a pant. His bottom lip was jutting out, and she turned his face in her hand to kiss it, sucking it gently between her lips.
A moment later, their mouths still pressed together, breathless release tore through them.
Will brought them back to press against the wall, utterly spent. Though he still held her firmly aloft, he collapsed heavily onto Sarah’s shoulder, and they rode out the last waves of pleasure together.
Sarah found it quite comfortable, resting there, supporting William’s head and shoulders, him in turn supporting her legs and hips, and the wall supporting them both.
Their breath returned, bringing with it little hums of contentment. It was hardly the most impressive bout they’d ever had, but it was what they both had needed.
He craned his neck to peer into her face.
“How am I to leave now?”
She giggled and said, “I do apologize for detaining you.”
William sighed contentedly and squeezed her to him as best he could, resting his chin against her shoulder.
He planted soft kisses on her neck, and then her jaw, and then looked into her eyes.
“Say it once more?”
She was confused for a moment. “I am…sorry–?”
“No,” he laughed. His eyes grew soft. “Before that.”
She made sure every word was clear. “I am carrying your child,” she said with a grin so wide it made her cheeks hurt.
He chuckled, and then cocked his head slightly, wearing an expression of disbelief and wonderment.
She hesitated, unsure of what he was asking.
“I mean, when are we to…expect?” he said bashfully, his gaze flitting to her abdomen.
“The spring,” he said, a bit of awe creeping into his voice.
“April most likely.”
“April?” he repeated. Then with a pride he made no attempt to disguise, “It is a fine month in which to be born, is it not?” It was the month of his own birth, which apparently did please him.
Sarah took his face in her hands and rolled her eyes. “Yes, I did choose it for your benefit.”
“You, he said, mulling over each word, “are to bring birth…to my child.”
He shook his head, a grin lighting his pale blue eyes. “And is it certain? You are in no doubt?”
Sarah let her voice grow haughty for a moment. “That question had better pertain to the pregnancy itself, and NOT to who is responsible for it,” she said, peering down at him. “In either case, the answer is the same.”
He sighed loudly, and let go of her legs, folding his arms in front of his chest.
“…Though I cannot vouch for the month!” she yelped, clinging to his neck so as not to slide down the wall.
“You take delight in pretending I have sentiments that I would never imagine, let alone express,” he said peevishly.
She threw her arms about him and clung fast, kissing him full on the mouth. He dropped at once his annoyed expression. His hands came up to gently frame her face and his countenance melted into pure bliss. One arm came back down to hug her tightly to him once more.
“So,” she said, pulling away, “You are now prepared to take on my husband?”
“I was prepared before. Now…” he said, stroking her cheek with his thumb, “Now I am altogether impervious.”
She looked at him tenderly. “My knight errant has been suitably girded for battle.”
He smiled, and then shook his head. “You know I have never fared well in combat. As you see,” he said gesturing to his bruise. “I would make a very poor knight indeed.”
“Ah,” she said, “but this is a contest of will and wits.”
He pondered this. “Then it is you who has won this day. You conceived the plan and found the evidence. I believe this tourney shall have a lady knight emerge victorious.”
She laughed at this, but he continued. “Circumstances may force you to war with Hill at a distance, but I am merely the arrow let loose from your bow…your lance and shield.”
She kissed him, and waggled her eyebrows. “Or…my gentleman fair?”
He looked touched, but continued playfully, “Then surely I must give you some favor to carry with you in your quest?”
“You have forgotten, good sir” she said softly. “You already have.”