It seems a strange thing to learn, certainly here like this, this first night alone together. Byrne and Catherine are locked away behind closed doors, having surprised both herself and James by taking a room together.
Catherine had blushed and said something about being as good as married, just a day before they set sail for America, money set aside already to pay for the privilege of a wedding night likely spent a telling shade of green.
So Anne and James are here, alone, behind a locked door of their own.
“Well.” She looks over at him where he stands beside the window. “Clearly they’ve resolved whatever issues they had.”
“The only issue they had was that Catherine feared was that Garrett was only interested in her dowry.” He plays with the curtain, lifting it away from the glass as he looks out at the night. He’s yet to look at her, his gaze landing on everything but her since he closed the door.
“Ah. Yes.” She nods. “And that has most definitely been resolved.” She reaches up and undoes her hair, already falling and loosened by the long ride. She shakes her head, closing her eyes as it falls to her shoulders. “Our issues, however…”
“You accepted my proposal,” he reminds her, his voice soft and strangely distant. “Surely that means you have no more issues with me.”
“My dearest James, I imagine you and I will have issues for the rest of our lives.”
He glances over to her, surprise flashing in the deep blue of them before he turns away, back to the window. “I suppose you’re right.”
Anne gets to her feet and moves over to him, her fingers grazing his shoulder, feeling the tension coiled beneath his skin. He’s shed his jacket and she can see the dirt and sweat darkening the white, see traces of blood that she wonders mightn’t be his. She wonders to herself, how he fought for her and how it felt when he learned that, by all rights, she was already sworn to another.
“You’re different than I expected.”
“Am I?” There’s nothing in his voice to give him away, to tell her what he thinks of her comment or of her.
“Yes.” She moves around him, standing in front of him as she catches his chin and holds his face in front of hers, doesn’t let him look away. “Where is the James who kissed me in the churchyard? The one who knelt in front of me and asked for my hand? Where is he?”
There is a soft noise, filtered through the thin walls, and Anne watches in fascination at the hot blush that stains James’s skin. He clenches his jaw, carefully not looking into her eyes.
“You’re not bothered by being alone with me, are you?”
“As you say, I imagine we’ll be alone for the rest of our lives.”
“No, James. Not alone.” She lets her hand fall from his chin to his chest, the opened collar of his shirt. “We will have babies one day. Little ones that will clamor for attention from their father, crawling all over him and demanding that he get on his hands and knees on the floor and be their playground.”
“One day.” He swallows hard and she traces the path of it with a finger. He swallows again and she turns around, her back to him as she slides her hands along her neck and lifts the fall of her hair.
“Unfasten my dress, James.”
“Undo the buttons. Slowly. Carefully. I gave very little thought to my traveling clothes.” She bends her head, granting him permission and perhaps more. “Unfasten the dress.”
“You’re not my wife.”
“No. Not yet. Though I’ve made a promise to you that I have no intention of breaking. And tonight we are on dry land with no waves to rock us and toss us about. We have a large bed and privacy that will not likely be ours as we make our way across the ocean.” She turns her head and glances at him, watching emotions play across his face. “Undress me, James.”
He groans softly, the sound hushed and beneath his breath. She can feel his fingers as they graze the lace at her neck, trailing over the pale, soft skin of her nape before carefully undoing the first button, working at the intricate pearl discs one by one. She can feel the heat of his fingers as he slowly parts the fabric, skating the tips of them gently over the thin shift of her under-dress.
She lets her dress fall down her arms to puddle on the floor, carefully stepping out of it, away from him. He stays still, watching her as she turns, only now he watches with eyes she recognizes, not the stranger’s eyes that had been in the room with her so short a time before. “Pick it up for me?”
He nods and does as she asks, carefully folding the dress over his arm, closing his eyes as the heat of her body no doubt bleeds into his from the fabric. She takes it from him carefully, moving toward the bed and giving him the space he so clearly needs. He swallows again, the movement pronounced as she sits on the edge of the mattress and slips off her shoes.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, James.”
“Is there not?” He’s breathless, and she likes the sound, likes knowing that it’s not the noose or threat of one, not the rough ride with soldiers at their heels, not a addle-brained plunge into the ocean that makes him so, but her doing nothing but sitting there.
“I promise not to hurt you.”
“Catherine said that and shot Garrett in the arm.”
“Be glad it was her.” She smiles at him. “Had it been me, I would have aimed true.”
“Of that I have no doubt.” He takes a step closer to her, to the bed. His boots are loud on the floorboards and he stops. “You’re to be my wife, Anne.”
“No money. No prospects. You’re quite the catch, James Strang.”
“No where to go from here, my lady, but higher.”
“There is one other place we could go.” She stands and moves over to him. Her hands shake slightly in the dim light as she touches him, her fingers light on his chest, feeling the rough hair beneath the fabric of his shirt. She feels heat rise in her cheeks as well as she looks up at him. “How did you say it?” She rises on her toes, feeling the cool leather of his boots against her stocking feet. “Letto.”
“B-bed.” He shakes his head as his hands settle on her elbows. “Anne.”
“I’m to be your wife, James.” She slides her hands down and tugs his shirt free from his trousers, feeling the stiffness of their adventures in the fabric, feeling the hot skin beneath. “Take me to bed.”
She pushes his shirt up, guiding it over his head. He raises his arms obediently, letting her push the fabric off and away, feeling the soft breeze as it flutters to the floor behind him. “You should warn me now if you really plan to argue with every suggestion I make, as it’s going to make you finally agreeing all the more painful for you and pleasurable for me. And while I’m keen on pleasure, my James...” She leans into him, hands firmly against his chest, and kisses him slowly, softly. “It seems wrong that you’d not have any of it as well.”
“As much as we are to be married, Anne, we are not yet.” He traces her jaw and then lets his thumb slide across her lower lip. “How would I feel if Powers had taken the promise of a vow as his right to…”
“Powers is gone from our lives.”
“I will not be a man who takes advantage of you. When the man I fought for you behaved as a gentleman to you, I have really no choice but to do the same.”
“You do realize you’re the man who kidnapped me.” She steps back, her hands on her hips. James eases away, obviously uncomfortable, for all the small measure of pleasure that gives her, and sits on the edge of the bed. He looks at her, his face so solemn and proper above his half-naked body.
“As I recall, my dear future wife, you insisted on coming along.”
“Well, my dear future husband.” She moves over to the bed and bends down, cupping her hand around his boot and lifting his leg, taking her time to slide it off of him, let the leather caress his skin. He closes his eyes and she takes advantage of the moment, replacing leather with the soft touch of her hands. “We’d not likely be where we are if you’d not made a mess of your first proposal.”
“If I’d not made a mess of it, you’d have said yes,” James reminds her, his voice gone breathless again as she runs her fingers carefully over his skin, pulling his stockings off. “And we’d be exactly where we are.”
She lets his foot fall, earning a sound of protest from him that dies as she grabs for his other foot, repeating every gesture. The boots tangle with her own shoes at the foot of the bed, the leather dropping over to lay across her slippers. “You’re far too full of yourself, Strang.”
“And why shouldn’t I be?” He reaches for her hand, shyness gone or perhaps simply abated as they fall into their comfortable banter, wordplay as foreplay for whatever lies ahead. “As I see it, tomorrow I’m to be married to the most lovely girl in the world.” He pulls her down, dress falling against his bare skin, her stockings sliding along his feet, limbs tangled like their shoes. “Name a man as lucky as I.”
She looks down at him, smiling at the soft grin that teases at his mouth, that brightens his eyes as he looks up at her. She’s never lain like this with a man before, never felt one so close, so warm, so many things. “There is not such a man.” She kisses him, her own breath catching in ways she never thought it would. “Which is only fitting.”
“And why is that?” His fingers tangle in her hair, threading through the silky mass as he kisses her again, shifting beneath her until propriety is forgotten and she lies cradled against him.