He had been a man in love. As the weeks had gone by so he counted down his bachelor days waiting for the ship to arrive with Corinna, his betrothed. For months he had imagined this woman he'd never met lying beside him in the hours of darkness; warm, soft and yielding, thrilling to his touch. Then, when she was only a few days away at last he understood what he had really been craving. It wasn't the foining, the feel of skin on skin, delightful though these would be, but the intimacy of another soul bound to his. He would no longer be alone.
What would she look like, this bride from across the ocean? It no longer mattered. He was to be married and the borrowed silk doublet on his back proclaimed him as a man in love. It covered his grubby shirt, stained and sooty from the forge - there had been no time to run back and change it once the ship was sighted. Verity had washed his face and put the doublet on him - Corinna would not notice the rough workman's clothes under the scarlet silk........
This morning now seemed so very long ago. Instead of a marriage ceremony there would be a funeral, and she would lie, not in the warmth of the bed he had found for them but under the cold earth in the little graveyard outside the town's palisade. For now her body lay in the chapel, swathed in the shroud given to her at sea. He had parted it gently and gazed for the first and last time at that perfect, still face. She was so beautiful - everything he had dreamed she would be.
For weeks now Jocelyn had been irritated by it. Perhaps it was the narrow world of Jamestown colony, the lack of social variety: of interesting people and interesting things to do. It was like an itch in a secret place, she longed to scratch it but must just bear it patiently. Why did it have to be him and not Christopher? The colony's doctor was well-read, charming, from a good family - and he loved her. The whole town seemed to think they would marry, but she couldn't find it in her to desire him. He would be another Samuel, kind, gentle and easy to dominate. Where was the attraction in that?
On the other hand, the blacksmith fascinated her. She would pass James Read's forge and notice him at work, hammering iron on his anvil, the fire blazing behind him. From a lump of metal he could create a heavy cooking pot or a delicate hinge. It was more impressive than any alchemy. He wasn't educated like Christopher and his words were halting and uttered in a thick northern accent. She would have nothing in common with a man like that, so why did he interest her so much? Perhaps it was because although he too was gentle and kind, he exuded a rough manliness she found exciting. She imagined his work-roughened hands on her body; he would be a more satisfying lover than Samuel, she was sure. And she hated herself for thinking this.
She engineered the encounters, arriving at his forge late at night on some pretext or other. His beautiful hazel eyes, alternately brown and green, were watchful in his work-stained face. Angry at herself for wanting him, she slapped his cheek. He reacted only to catch her hand when she tried again. "If I am to be slapped, it will be of a just cause and by a just soul". How dare he, a sweaty peasant, call her an unjust soul!
Mercy let slip that a maid would be arriving to marry James. Surprise gave way to dismay - James had kissed her twice, late at night in his forge. True, she had been looking expectantly up at him while he grasped her wrist to prevent her slapping him but there was no denying the satisfaction in that kiss. Of course, he was a sweaty blacksmith and she couldn't marry him, he must only ever be a forbidden fruit. She wouldn't go down to the quayside to watch the new maids arrive. That would not be dignified. She hurried back to her house to put on her peach velvet gown and her jewelled hair pin. Whatever Corinna was like, she wouldn't be as fine as Jocelyn.
But there would be no more stolen kisses.
She wanted to slap him, hard.
Still in the scarlet doublet, James stayed late at the forge. He couldn't bear to go back to the house he had prepared for Corinna and himself. This night should have been the best of his life so far. Instead it was just another he would spend on his own. Eight years he'd been in this hell-hole, how many more would he have to endure alone? Silas and Alice were no doubt happily tucked up - he winced at the thought of their happiness. Then there was Meredith Rutter - who couldn't live up to his name, whose wife waited in vain for his attentions. Why did he send for a wife if he couldn't be a proper husband to her? It was all wrong, and nothing made sense.
A rustle behind him and a long shadow cast by the firelight. What was that widow woman doing: coming to gloat at him in his grief? Let her slap him! He wouldn't feel a thing. He wasn't up to her games: a slap, a kiss, a barbed remark about his 'sweat-stained breath and peasant smell'. Nothing she could do would hurt him now.
Ignoring protocol, he remained seated while she stood before him. He could detect her faint perfume, the slight swell of her bosom over the top of her bodice. Even in his grief, he noticed, and despised himself for it.
"You are a lesson in mourning, Master Read. Such devotion for a maid you haven't as much met."
He sighed, would she never let go of it? He had once queried the sincerity of her mourning, and now she would have her revenge. It was time for honesty. No more games. He would open his heart, showing her what it was like to have a heart.
"I had to look at that woman's loveliness and accept that I would never feel her breath upon my breath. I'll never know her fingers on me. Never taste her sweat with my tongue. I would ask you to leave me be tonight. My spirit is dangerously broken." There, it was said. Not the way a man of his station should address a lady of standing!
In response she reached down. He felt her smooth, slim fingers wrap round his own. What was she up to now? He'd told her to leave him alone. She moved backwards, still gripping him. Slowly understanding, he got up and followed her as she led him away.
"Promise me you won't fall in love with me," she cautioned. Were they really doing this - could it be.....? He steadied his voice and replied gruffly "There ain't no need for such a promise."
Falling in love with her was the last thing on his mind.
A storage barn was as good a place as any: it was dry, the bales of hay added comfort and they could secure the door from the inside. Had she come here before, he wondered? She fumbled in the dark for a moment, and then a candle slowly caught flame. The light was thin, but enough to see by. He wanted to take her in his arms, but she was already undressing.
It had been the strangest and saddest of days, but whatever she was offering, he wasn't going to refuse. He pulled his shirt over his head and kicked off his boots. "Help me with my lacing," she muttered. He peered in the dim light, then carefully loosened the bodice, trying to conceal his inexpertise. How uncomfortable women's dress looked! The peach dress dropped carelessly to the floor followed by her under dress and she turned round, closing in on him. He could feel her softness pressing against his chest. Could she feel the pounding of his heart?
She closed her eyes and savoured the feel of strong arms around her. He was holding back, afraid to hurt her. How could she have insulted him after church, calling him a sweaty peasant? He was more of a gentleman than many high-born men she knew. He had been in Jamestown for eight years without sight or sound of a woman! He would be shy, unsure. How old was he? He could have been little more than a boy when he arrived. Perhaps he'd never had a woman before? This was one thing she could not taunt him about, not if she wanted him to share his body with her. She would have to show him and he would have to learn.
She lay back on the hay, pulling him after her. "I ain't washed," he muttered apologetically. "No matter," she replied. In response, he moved his hands to her shoulders and swept them gently down. She guessed he was mapping her, absorbing the contours of her woman's body. His reaction was immediate and a few moments later he gave a little moan and sagged beside her.
"It doesn't matter," she reassured him.
His inexperience must be obvious to her, he thought with shame. He was a sooty clod, unable to control himself and he had let himself down. He sighed unhappily. Ten minutes ago he had felt like a god, capable of making endless love, the fire within him would not die down for hours, surely? Yet with only a brief touch of her flesh it was over so fast. He only hoped she wouldn't get up and walk out in disgust.
Instead, he felt her fingers glide along his side, trailing along the length of his torso and then moving up his arm. Wonderingly, she squeezed the muscles of his broad upper arms, marvelling at his strength. A little sigh and she was caressing his chest, weaving her fingers in his hair and testing the muscles beneath. Where her fingers led, her mouth lingered. It felt wonderful, a woman's touch on him. She must be enjoying his firmness, honed by those years in the forge. He closed his eyes at the sensation of her touch.
With another sigh she leaned back and he followed her lead, mirroring the things she'd done to him. He bent to kiss her, feeling their breaths mingle. His tongue trailed down the little valley between her breasts, tasting her. The night air dried any sweat but it didn't matter, her taste was a faint mixture of salt and rosewater.
It was her turn again, her hands gently coaxing his re-emergent manhood. Her touch on him was exquisite but he wasn't going to fail her again. It felt so good! So many years alone in the darkness he had imagined this, and now it was happening. Gently she took his hand and guided it down, letting his fingers gently probe her. He wouldn't last long, she knew, with all these tastes and textures to savour. Gently, she pulled him onto her and writhed against him, finding pole position. He wasn't hard to teach - the poor man had been dying of thirst and now it was time to slake it.
He wasn't the only one with a thirst. How long had it been since she had been pleasured? She pressed against him, sighing, feeling him moving inside her, working up a rhythm. "Harder!" she gasped, impatient. He didn't need to worry about hurting her. She wanted to surrender to his wonderful strength, wrapped in his powerful arms, free from the politics and the pettiness of what passed for Jamestown society. She wound her legs tightly around him and surrendered to the burst of delight which racked her body and reverberated even to her fingertips.
She hoped it had been as good for him. She had only meant to offer him comfort; instead she had become drowsy and fallen asleep in his arms.
No one must ever know she had dealings with a blacksmith.