Nell Gwynn had long ago learned that it didn‘t do for the daughters of whores to dream of love. Love didn’t put food on the table or money into her pockets. Now, the illusion of love was a whole another thing. Enticing men with the promise of love got her a lot further than any old businesslike copulation. It was still whoring but a glorified whoring where you sold men the idea you were in love with them and thus appealed directly to their vanity.
Maybe it had been a matter of chance that the vainest creatures on God’s green earth were kings.
In the brittle, depthless social world she moved in, she had never encountered anything she felt was real love. Any love poems written by dramatic young men were acts of narcissism. Any lady who blushed ever so coyly at the mention of some gentleman’s name or another, craved to bask in that man’s adoration.
It was the nature of the relationships between men and women as she knew them. She knew some men met other men on the sly and wondered if the same didn’t apply there. Perhaps it was an even bigger act of narcissism. Having someone shaped like you.
How jealous she would be if Charles would ever take male lover. She thrived in the power she held over him, how the swell of her breasts, the curves of her hip held him enthralled. The pleasure she took in receiving all his love tokens for being his ever adoring mistress. If he had a male lover, he could get lost in himself and that would be no good for her.
Then this particular world-view of hers was shaken to the dusty ground.
There was Maria, who became an actress of the stage in her own name, strong, revered and not dependent on a man for the money that lined her pockets and who fell irrevocably in love with a man she’d supplanted. Kynaston lost all his sway – it was because of Maria’s influence that he returned to the stage.
They were now a couple – soon to be man and wife.
It had to be real love.
Maria didn’t need Kynaston to get ahead and what sort of a man would willingly and consciously make the woman, who had put him into his place, his mistress? Surely he had more pride than that. No, it had to be real love that made Maria jeopardize her independence and Kynaston swallow his pride.
And it was something she would never understand.
Ned was asleep, lying naked on his stomach, and the blanket had fallen to the side. As Maria moved to pull it over him, a stray thought stilled her hand. She remembered what had passed between them before, about him being as a woman to another man. Even though the exchange had ended badly, she couldn’t help but remember fondly how delicately he touched her. How graceful his hands were and the precision he’d used them with. She had wondered at the time if he felt he was more of a woman than she was. Looking at the curve of his backside, she tried to will herself to see him as a woman.
First she couldn’t see beyond his hard-looking shoulders and defined back muscles but looking at the dark strands of hair curling at the nape of his neck, it became easier. Ned had been dressed as a woman before her countless times and she had always admired his talent to emulate a woman but she’d never truly seen him as one. But having him naked and like a blank canvas, her mind painted a picture, a picture that caught her breath.
“Coming to bed?” His sleepy voice shook her out of her repose.
Despite the interruption, the mental image was still alive in her head even as he pulled himself up and reached out to her.
“Love, what’s wrong?” He must have caught the look on her face. But she couldn’t speak at all, she was held in the thrall of her imagination.
Ned’s intentions might have been to protect her and comfort as he pulled her to him. Maybe she had looked frightened to him or simply unhappy. He couldn’t have been prepared for what had been going through her mind.
As soon as Ned’s lips hit hers, it was like something broke loose within her, she wanted to lead him and control him in ways she’d never imagined before.
“You are so pretty,” she whispered into his mouth, her hands moving down his body, caressing imaginary curves and swells.
He hesitated a bit and pulled back from the kiss.
“What is this?”
“Don’t be coy, Kynaston. Let me have you.”
“Maria, what are you doing?”
“Hush, let me ...”
Her hands were on his buttocks and she squeezed them firmly as she had strong hands like a man and not the nimble fingers of a former seamstress.
It was there Ned seemed to catch on. She could see a wicked smile form on his face. He leaned in and whispered into her ear.
“I don’t think you can handle a woman like me.”
Those sounded like fighting words to her and with a commanding shove, she pushed him back.
“Roll over, young lady.” Her voice was grovelling.
With a flirty look over his shoulder, he turned over to his stomach, arching his back as to exaggerate the curve of his behind.
Seeing him liking like that, offering himself to her, made her mouth dry. A seed of self-doubt was threatening to sprout but she couldn’t let it do so.
“Aren’t you going to have your way with me?” Ned wasn’t using his pitchy voice of his female roles but it was enticing enough to bend over him.
His skin felt smooth under her fingers and under her lips as she kissed her way down his back. Soon he was pleading with her.
“Inside me, please!”
It almost jerked her right out of their little game. How was she supposed to get inside him? Though she’d mentally dressed herself up as man, she wasn’t equipped as one.
Ned seemed to have sensed her hesitation. Without breaking character, he prompted her.
“I need your fingers.”
Without chiding herself over her own stupidity, she didn’t hesitate in bringing her fingers to her mouth to wet them.
“Please hurry.” Ned’s voice had grown almost needy.
She had to answer his plea. With her fingers, now slick with her spit, she made a little path down the cleft between his buttocks.
Her mind was wiped clean of all conscious thought as she pushed inside him; all she had was instinct and his moaning which was coming to her from afar. It wasn’t her arousal that had taken control; it was a peculiar sense of power, a power to bring him to the edge without giving up her body.
When he finally came apart, shuddering underneath her, she felt an incredible rush. She had him complete.
He turned over as she lowered herself to the bed.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“It should fall on my hands to thank you. I have you completely now.” As she reached out to push a stray lock from his face, she saw a smile appear on his face.
“You’ve moved in me as I’ve moved in you. I say you do.”