“Pray, permit me, my love.”
Her husband placed a tender kiss along the side of her neck before he took the ends of the necklace from her slightly trembling hands. He waited patiently as she moved her hair out of his way. When he was done with the clasp, he placed another kiss just beneath her ear. Marianne leaned back against him and hummed in contentment, despite her embarrassment over her inability to make the necessary fine movements.
“This winter has been much colder than usual.”
“I know, but--”
“Pray, you would not deny me the opportunity to lay my hands on the perfection that is my wife, would you?”
Marianne felt her cheeks redden. Despite having been married for ten years, Colonel Christopher Brandon could still make her blush like a maiden. He was too kind to remind her that her physical limitations were no doubt caused by the infectious fever she had contracted in her youth because of her lack of sensibility. Instead, he chose to pamper her, taking joy in helping her do small things.
“You may lay your hands upon your wife any time you choose, my lord.” She delighted in the fact that she, too, still possessed the power to make her husband squirm.
“Ah, ah. We promised we would dine with Sir Middleton and Mrs. Jennings this evening.”
“You temptress.” He smiled as he reached for her hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing each knuckle, his gaze never leaving hers, silently promising that he would indeed lay hands on her once they returned home. “Yes, *I* promised. Besides we should gather our son from Elinor. No doubt he and his cousin have been keeping her on her quite busy. I suspect she may need to recuperate from her ordeal.”
“Very well, if I must.” She graced him with a smile, silently telling him she was only teasing. “I only need to fetch my shawl.”
Releasing her hand, he shook his head before stepping back into the closet. “It is not yet spring, my dear.” He pulled out her favorite coat and held it up for her.
“I will overheat.” And while her tone held a playful whine, she obediently slipped her arms through the sleeves.
“I do not even believe that is possible.” He turned and picked her muff off the bed. “I sometimes despair in my ability to keep you warm.”
“That is not a fear I share.” She graced him with a shy, yet wicked, smile.
He huffed in amusement as he shook his head in affectionate exasperation then took her arm in his as he led her from their room. “Never-the-less, I have instructed Wickers to wrap some hot stones and place them in the bottom of the carriage.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” Her address grew more formal as they moved throughout the house. While she loved to tease her husband, she did so only in private. While the servants had always been very kind to her, she also knew they were horrible gossips. She was ever mindful not to act in any manner that might bring even the slightest hint of disgrace to her husband. The past had taught her that lesson all too well.
When they reached the entry way, they stopped so that he could hand her the muff. “Let me make sure the carriage has been readied.”
She nodded and reluctantly released his arm. He was always so careful with her health, always cognizant of when she was feeling poorly. She could hear his voice beyond the door as he checked with the footmen outside and she was warmed by the precautions he took.
A moment later, the door opened and he quickly ushered her toward the carriage. The door to the carriage remained closed until they were just a step away, then the footman opened it so that their pace never stuttered. The colonel lifted her into the carriage and as soon as he was inside the door closed behind him.
Without a word, Christopher gently guided her feet to the covered rocks, then leaned back in his seat and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. She sighed contently as she rested her head in the crook of his arm.
Never had she believed she could be so truly happy.
For a while in her youth, she believed her heart belonged to Sir John Willoughby. How foolish she had been. Even if the threat of scandal hadn’t sent him fleeing into the arms of another, richer, woman, she knew they would never have achieved the happiness that filled her current life. Willoughby had been a self-centered creature, much like she had been. It would never have dawned on him to heat rocks to keep her feet warm on cold winter days. She would have been a prize to show off to friends, not because he was proud of her accomplishments, but because he would have wanted his friends to be envious of her beauty.
Christopher worshipped her. Even now, ten years after their marriage ceremony, she could see the bliss in his eyes. She occasionally caught him looking at her as if he still couldn’t believe she had truly chosen him, never realizing it was she who was grateful to be chosen, despite her mistakes.
“You are being rather reflective this evening, my sweet. Are you feeling well?”
Lifting her head, she turned her face toward her husband’s and pressed a gentle kiss to his jaw line. “I was just thinking about how much I love you and what joy you bring me.”
Christopher’s eyes widened in surprise. He pressed a kiss to her forehead, even as he held her a little tighter. “It can be no less than the joy you bring me.”
“Then we are indeed a happy pair.”