On a late summer morning, as the sun angled inside and the scents of the fading garden drifted through the open window, the Marquis of Alverstoke awoke to find himself alone.
This was not in itself extraordinary, for he had long been selfish, day and night. He had never cared to share his bed with even his most indulged inamorata, and he was accustomed to wake to a cup of tea and solitary bliss.
Yet three weeks ago he had wed. And he was slowly learning a lesson which less fortunate mortals learnt much, much earlier: that even a powerful, offhandedly competent Marquis could not have everything his own way.
Eyes closed, frowning, he sent his hand traveling in search of his wife's form next to him. (He had already disdained the practice of generations of Marquises before him: he slept with his lady, as well as having carnal relations. Quite a lot of carnal relations, actually, not always confined to the canonical hours of darkness.)
When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was the usual cup of tea on his bedside table. Next to it, however, was a red rose.
“Frederica,” he sighed in a morning-hoarse voice, and then threw back the covers and looked about him for his dressing gown.
(He slept without night-clothes, his body temperature being surprisingly warm for one with a reputation for reptilian cool. His bride, after a brief shock at the revelation, had declared herself well content with marrying a “bed warmer of such pleasing proportions.” She was rather surprisingly warm-blooded herself, his Frederica, which fact he celebrated every night.)
As he belted himself into his long silken robe, and as he drank down the tepid tea, he cocked his head, listening for the sounds of occupation in his wife's private chamber next door. He had no wish to repeat the somewhat embarrassing encounter when he had sauntered in a state of undress into the room to accost his wife -- who had been closeted with her lovely sister Charis making preparations for the latter's upcoming wedding. He rather fancied the shriek Charis had uttered had been so piercingly loud that its echoes would linger in the corners long after he himself had passed away from this earth.
No sound of bleating sororal ninnyhammers came, however, and no sound of supercilious upper servants, and.... He listened harder.... No sound yet of youthful brothers-in-law or Baluchistan hounds. Such a state of grace would no doubt be temporary.
Thus he hurried (as much as the Marquis of Alverstoke ever hurried) through the connecting door, in order to find his bride.
Who was not there.
He stood, frowning again, feeling the most utterly ridiculous sense of loss. Apparently marriage was hastening the mental breakdown of age, he thought. There was no earthly reason that she should hang on his every movement like an upper servant poised to leap into duty; indeed he had begun to love her first because she was so much her own person, so good at organising her chaotic family into some semblance of order, so exceedingly competent. She doubtless had things to do.
It was just that he wanted her here, damn it.
He drew his dressing gown more closely around him, as if to armour himself against his own stupidity, and took the first step back toward his and Frederica's bedchamber – at which point footsteps were heard in the corridor, approaching. He knew that forceful yet feminine stride.
Smiling, he sat down in the armchair nearest the open window, where fragrance from the garden below and the vase of red roses nearby enveloped him. He then arranged himself in a languid sprawl, the dressing gown dangerously near to revealing more than covering essential parts.
The door opened. Frederica, flushed yet tidy in a morning-gown, entered. Her frowning attention was on a list in her hand.
He coughed, softly yet pointedly.
“Oh, Vernon!” she said, and then stopped, and then gazed. Her mouth curved in a knowing, sensuous smile she'd only found after their marriage: she was indeed warm-blooded, his Frederica. “Oh, Vernon,” she said in quite another tone. Then, more briskly: “My dear, how comes it that you are awake so soon? I know how you like to lie abed in the morning. Indeed, even here at Alver, it is so rare for you to seek your breakfast before ten that I made sure I could take care of --”
“Frederica.” Her name was at once a love-note and a wry scold. “Are you calling your new husband lazy?”
That knowing, sensuous smile deepened. “Would I dare to do so?”
“In a word, yes.”
They laughed together, and then the list went fluttering unheeded to the carpet in the wake of her rapid progress to him. Before he could rise, she dropped down into his lap, and put her arms around him, and said, “Good morning, my lord.”
“Good morning, my lady,” he said, and tipped her back against his shoulder, and kissed her soundly.She made a pleased sound deep in her throat, and kissed him back.
For a moment, wrapped in the scent of flowers and late summer, they concentrated only on each other, until barking separated them.
Lufra the Baluchistan hound, panting, was nosing open the door. Right behind him came the earnest tones of Frederica's youngest brother Felix, “Frederica, might you tell Mr Trevor that I can work on an electrical machine, I don't want to go off for a walk,” and behind that, the still more earnest tones of Jessamy the other younger brother, “You ridiculous toad, don't you know that Frederica has more important things to do, and besides, she and Alverstoke had promised to ride with me today, and--”
The Marquis of Alverstoke was a man of decision (when he wanted to be). With Frederica safe in his arms, he stood, and then said commandingly, “Lufra, Felix, Jessamy – out.”
“But, Alverstoke,” Felix began.
“We shall see you at eleven o'clock, Felix, and not a moment before. No experiments until then.”
The outer door closed on a hubbub of protest and resumed barking. However, Alverstoke was already striding toward his and Frederica's bedchamber. Once there, he dropped his bride onto the marital bed, shrugging out of his dressing gown a moment thereafter.
“You did not ask me if I wished to return to bed, Vernon,” Frederica said on a repressed laugh.
“No, I didn't. You may leave if you wish.” He forestalled such an eventuality, however, by covering her with his body.
She accommodated his weight easily, and then sent her hands through his hair. “Well, now that I'm here....”
“My thoughts exactly.” And then he kissed her again, as the sun angled inside, as the scents of their honey-month wrapped around them.
A powerful, offhandedly competent Marquis might not be able to have everything his own way – but at this moment, one couldn't have proved it by him.