THE CORNISH HEIRESS
by Roberta Gellis
With some effort Philip and Megaera presented a sober appearance when they
entered Falmouth. It would not have done at all to laugh uproariously as
they drove through the streets. The sobriety soon became real enough because
they had a little difficulty in deciding where to seek accommodation. Philip
had naturally gravitated to the most elegant establishment, which was on
the main street of the town and easy to find. Megaera, wrenched from her
happy delusion of freedom and a new life, realized she could not stay there.
Of all places, that was the most likely one for her to meet a member of the
social set in which she lived. Nervously she protested that it would not
be suitable for persons in a small way of trade.
Philip slipped an arm around her waist. “Perhaps not, but we do not need to tell anyone here what we do. I want you to be happy.”
She hesitated. It was so strange to hear a man say he wished her to be happy that she could hardly bear to frustrate his desire, no matter how silly. But it would be too dangerous.
“I would not be happy,” she murmured “I would feel that people were staring at me, wondering what I was doing there. Please, Philip.”
“Of course, Meg. Whatever you like,” he replied at once, making her completely happy again. Megaera could hardly believe the good humor in his voice. On the rare occasions when Edward had offered her a choice and she had chosen differently than he would have done, he was scarcely civil, not to mention good-humored. But Philip’s pleasant mood held even after the next two places they examined were obviously hopeless. Megaera shuddered at the looks of the loungers in the yard and at the appearance of the yard and hotel. Philip took her away at once, one arm protectively around her. Back on the main street he sat frowning for a moment.
“I’m sorry, Philip, Megaera whispered, trying to forestall an outburst of rage. Perhaps—“
“What a fool I am!” he exclaimed, smiling at her. I must ask one of the factors Pierre recommended.”
It was the solution of course. In another half hour they were ensconced in a clean, quiet establishment on a peaceful side street conveniently near the port and commercial area but screened from them. When they were shown to their room, a large chamber with the bed screened off so that it could also serve as a sitting room, Philip asked solicitously whether Meg wanted to rest awhile. She burst out laughing. It was so ridiculous to think she might be fatigued by a three hour drive in a carriage after her exertions over the past year. The expression on Philip’s face when she laughed was not so funny. It made her breath catch, and she stepped back a pace. Instantly Philip turned away and walked to the window.
“Do you wish to go out at once,” he asked, “or can I order tea or some wine for you? It is too early for dinner.”
“Let’s go out.” Megaera’s voice quivered slightly. She had made him angry now, she was sure, and it was so stupid. What difference did it make whether she yielded at once or a few hours later?
“It is not kind to laugh at me,” Philip protested, but he was laughing himself as he turned back toward her. Since he had mistaken the frightened shake in her voice for repressed mirth, he also misunderstood her expression of astonished delight. “What did you expect,” he went on wryly, “when you are so beautiful and we were sitting so close. Do you think I am made of stone?”
Megaera recovered quickly. She thought again she had been a fool to refuse Philip, but now it was because her own desire had been awakened. He was so handsome, so different from the fair men to whom she was accustomed. Nonetheless she knew her instinct had been right. Another time a quick union with half one’s mind on something else might be enough; for their first time, it would be all wrong.
“I’m not laughing at you,” she said. “What makes you think I’m any better than you are? But you know it wouldn’t be right.”
“Such devotion to duty!” Philip exclaimed, his eyes gleaming. “I assure you Pierre would not expect it.”
“So long as Pierre gets goods to sell at a reasonable price, he wouldn’t care if we took no longer than five minutes over it,” Megaera replied tartly, realizing that Philip was teasing her again. “It was you who wished to do Bonaparte a bad turn by buying only luxury articles.”
“I know,” Philip admitted sadly, “but my love of country has been completely subverted.”
That was irresistible Now Megaera had to laugh. Nonetheless, she moved firmly to the door and opened it. Philip followed, sighing dramatically, but he was really very pleased. It had occurred to him also that be wished to linger over his pleasure. They set out on foot, visiting the recommended warehouses first and asking for referrals to other factors who would be likely to carry the goods they wanted. In a very short time Philip decided he knew why Pierre had insisted that Meg do the buying. She had an eye for real quality and drove a bitter bargain.
Philip was really amazed at what could be purchased for a small sum. He had been thinking in terms of the prices ladies paid for single items or a few yards of dress fabric in fashionable shops in London, since he had no experience with wholesale purchases. But even when he corrected his line of thinking, it seemed that Meg was obtaining a great deal for very little. Soon he began to wonder whether Pierre would have sufficient cargo space for what the gold he had been given would buy. Between warehouses he mentioned this to her.
“I’m surprised myself,” she replied. “The prices are reasonable to begin with, and they let me beat them down in the most extraordinary way. With that first man, I thought perhaps the goods might have been stolen, but they are all behaving alike.”
“Perhaps it is not so unreasonable,” Philip remarked slowly. “I have just thought that much of what we are buying may have been lying in the warehouses for a long time.” Do you think that perhaps these goods were meant for transshipment to France and the war stopped the sales?”
“You’re probably right,” Megaera agreed, looking with admiration at Philip. “Now I’m really delighted. Think of all the good we’re doing.”
“Yes, but could we not stop doing it now?” Philip pleaded. I cannot see how Pierre will manage to stuff all that we have already bought into his ship. What will we do with the extra?”
“I have plenty of storage space,” Megaera replied heartlessly. “The ponies can bring the goods down when we pick up the kegs, and the boats can run out with a load just as easily as running out empty.”
Her eyes gleamed with enthusiasm. Philip groaned, but Megaera’s blood was up. She had not had a good shopping binge for years, and it did not matter a bit to her that none of the articles would belong to her, it was the shopping and choosing that she loved rather than the having. However, Philip did not need to suffer much longer. It was growing late, and she was wise enough not to wish to give an impression of hurry or urgent need. Moreover, Philip found a source of private diversion.
While Megaera was examining a case of bird plumage and haggling over broken feathers and other imperfections, Philip discovered a display of Indian jewelry. The items were inexpensive. They were not of gold or precious stones, but they were very lovely. Bracelets and necklets of polished wood were inlaid with traceries of mother-of-pearl in delicate, exquisite designs. Philip summoned a clerk and hushed him.
“For my wife,” he mouthed, “a surprise. She works so hard.”
A conspiratorial smile acknowledged the tribute, and the pieces were laid out. Philip was enchanted. A marvelous fragrance wafted from the wood. He felt like buying them all, but that would have been ridiculous, and he finally chose three bracelets, a necklace, a pair of earrings, and two combs that had a matching pattern of a green-blue mother-of-pearl that would go magnificently with Meg’s red hair.
He paid the full price the clerk asked, which occasioned a look of surprise until he said, “Put the rest away. I do not want my wife to see them. You will not make much more than I have given for these after she is finished chaffering, I assure you.”
The clerk looked across the warehouse at his master, who was wringing his hands at that moment and swearing he would be driven to the workhouse if he acceded to Megaera’s demands. He heard her unshaken and completely unsympathetic voice replying that she preferred it to be his master than herself, and that since neither was in the least likely, his master should stop complaining and apply himself to considering her offer realistically. The clerk shrugged, smiled, and slid the trinkets into a box, which he closed. The gentleman he served obviously knew his wife.
With his purchases wrapped and in his pocket, Philip strolled back to Megaera who, flushed and triumphant, had concluded another purchase.
“Enough, my love,” he said firmly. “It is time for dinner.
You must not wear yourself out.” He turned to the factor, in whose
eye he thought he detected a gleam of satisfaction mingled with exasperation.
However, the respect with which he bowed to Meg as Philip paid the agreed-upon
advance showed he had not got the best of the deal. “We will arrange
about transport tomorrow,” he said to the man, cocking a cynical eyebrow. “You
have quite worn out my poor, frail Meg.”
A rich color suffused the factor’s face, and Megaera opened her violet eyes as wide as they would go. Before an explosion could erupt from either, Philip hastily shepherded Meg out of the building. She began to laugh.
“How could you?” she gasped. “Why did you? I thought the poor man would burst.”
“I am sorry,” Philip said, but with a quite unrepentant face. You look fragile and delicate. You should be worn to a wraith by all that arguing.”
Megaera laughed again. “No woman is worn out by chaffering. I have known some die-away creatures, who did nothing but lie on a sofa and whine all day, to leap to their feet and shout like fishwives for a bargain.”
“Very strange,” Philip mused. “It is considered very bad ton for a man to argue about the price of anything. Oh, he might say ‘too much’ on a horse, but for clothing, or a gun…“
It did not occur to Megaera that it was odd that Philip should talk about the ton any more than it struck Philip odd that Megaera should be acquainted with ladies who could afford to spend all day lying on a sofa. To Pierre, who was not of their class, it had been immediately apparent that Megaera was a “lady”, just as he would have recognized Philip as a member of the gentry even if he had not known him. The factors, too, knew they were dealing with gentry, but they were not surprised.
Although they did not believe the tale of the new shop and dressmaking establishment, they pretended to do so. Many impoverished families did some backdoor trade, which they concealed from their equals. It was none of the factors’ business; all they were interested in was selling their goods. Only Philip and Megaera, who were, so to speak, born to the speech and manners of their class, found them so ordinary as to be unnoticeable.
“Well,” Philip continued, abandoning discussion of the inexplicable differences between men and women to further a far more pleasant result of that difference, “you must be tired even though you do not feel it now. I think we should dine quietly in our chamber.”
Megaera dropped her eyes. She had been so absorbed in what she was doing that she had lost awareness of Philip as a desiring and desirable male. His voice, however, was only friendly, still carrying a hint of laughter. There was nothing at all suggestive about his tone. Megaera remembered the times she had used words with double meanings without recognizing that fact until it was too late. So she nodded her head, not daring to answer for fear her voice would betray her.
Betray what? Alone in the bedchamber, where a maid had already lit candles to supplement the dying light of the short autumn day, Megaera was thrust back into the indecisions of the previous night. Philip had seen her to the door, murmured that she should make herself comfortable while he went down to order dinner.
What did he mean by that? But again there had been nothing in his face or voice, no offensive leer or suggestive glance. He had looked happy, his dark eyes alight, his fine mouth gently curved, not quite smiling but hinting at it.
There was no excuse for indecision. Philip had said she could back out at any time, but Megaera knew she could not—not now. When they had first arrived, she could have done so. Philip had offered her the opportunity. Possibly she could even have said she had changed her mind any time during the afternoon. Her last chance had been when he suggested they dine in their bedchamber. If she had refused, she could have told him while they ate that she was not willing.
Suddenly she laughed aloud. It would have been a lie. In fact she was not at all unwilling, and the only reason she was shilly-shallying was her old-fashioned notion of propriety. There was always a great outcry against the reading of novels and the harm they did to the delicate minds of young females. In fact the damage they did was to promote overdelicate feelings and overscrupulousness. The heroines were either so lachrymose over their tiny indiscretions or so horribly punished for them that any normal woman was filled with guilt for normal feelings.
As she removed her hat and gloves and hung her pelisse in the press standing against the wall, Megaera became indecisive again. She now admitted to herself that she wanted Philip and intended to yield to him, but she was embarrassed at the thought of needing to say so.
The solution presented itself as she turned from the press and hit her foot against her portmanteau, which the servant had left beside the bureau when she had unpacked it. There was no reason in the world why a “wife” should not relax in dishabille after a hard day’s work.
Trembling with nervousness lest Philip come back too soon, Megaera began to remove her clothes. She could have rung for a maid to help her, but a year of dressing and undressing herself in her smuggling clothing had made her swift and skilled at buttons and ties in a way most unusual for a girl of her class. Most of them had never dressed or undressed themselves in their lives, and Megaera had found it awkward at first, but she was used to it now.
Actually there was little enough to do. The black velvet spencer could be drawn off easily. The low-bosomed gray twill gown was a little more difficult because of the myriad tiny buttons that closed the sleeves. However, it was a well-worn dress and the button loops slipped over the buttons without trouble. Automatically Meg hung up her spencer and gown. That was another thing ladies did not do, but obviously one could not leave unusual garments lying about for a maid to pick up. Megaera was so accustomed to hanging her smuggling garments in a locked press in Edward’s room that she sometimes hung up her own dresses—which horrified Rose.
Underneath the dress was virtually nothing, although not so little as some really fashionable ladies wore. Megaera was not one who drew on a pair of knitted silk, flesh-colored tights, pulled a diaphanous, short-sleeved gown over them, and considered herself fully clothed despite freezing weather. She wore a delicate tucked and ribbon-trimmed chemise and a straight petticoat with a flounced hem over knee-length, lace-edged drawers, which hid the garters that tied her silk stockings just above her knees.
Young and slender and with a body hardened by much walking and riding, Megaera did not bother with a body band to flatten her stomach or a breast band to lift her breasts; the one was as flat, the other as high and firm as any woman could desire. As she stripped off her undergarments she cast a single look down at her body and smiled. No one could disapprove of that milky skin, delicately veined with blue, or the small dark-rose nipples that crowned her breasts.
In the next moment, however, she frowned. A nightdress was going too far. Besides—the frown smoothed out—her pantalets and chemise were really much prettier than any of her nightdresses. She pulled those delicate garments back on and found a soft blue crepe peignoir frothed with ecru lace. It had been part of her trousseau, but she had only worn it three or four times. Her lips grew hard for a moment. The time during which she had wished to please and attract Edward had been very brief, and it was seldom that she needed a peignoir even during those few weeks. Usually Edward was out in the evening, returning only long after Megaera was abed.
She pushed that memory away forcibly, but she had little time to brood in any case. She had barely taken off her shoes and stockings and replaced them with a pair of velvet slippers when there was a scratch at the door.
“Who is it?” Megaera called, suddenly afflicted with a horrible sinking feeling.
Had Philip found a group of male cronies to occupy his time? It was just the sort of thing Edward had done, even on their wedding trip. He would tell her to go to their rooms, saying he would be coming to join her—and then send a message by a waiter to inform her he would be delayed because he had found a partner for piquet or a group that wished to play basset. And Edward had never given her warning of his coming by scratching at the door.
The answer to her question brought a flush of pleasure to Megaera’s face. She should have known better, she told herself as she called, “Come in.” Philip might be only a smuggler’s bastard, but he was a greater gentleman than Edward had ever been. He would not walk in unannounced, not even into the room of a woman who had agreed to act as his wife on only a few hours’ acquaintance.
He proved himself a “gentleman” even more thoroughly when he entered. Although his eyes widened and he swallowed hard, he said nothing. Instead he came forward, lifted Megaera’s hand, and kissed it formally. Philip was a sensitive young man and he had seen not bold invitation but extreme nervousness on Megaera’s face. He was grateful to her for her delicate reply to a question he had no idea how to ask.
“Each time I see you,” he said, “you are more beautiful than the previous time.”
“Don’t say that,” Megaera replied, pretending crossness, but she did not pull her hand from Philip’s grasp. “It is impossible to maintain such a record.”
“Not for you.”
Gently he drew her closer. She did not resist, but he could sense tension in her. Nonetheless he kissed her, lightly in the beginning and then, when she did not try to escape him, more demandingly. At first she seemed totally passive; then, slowly, her free hand crept up his arm toward his neck. At this interesting moment there was a new scratch at the door.
Reluctantly Philip lifted his head and stepped back, calling, “Just a moment.” He did not move away immediately, but looked down at Megaera, who met his eyes. She appeared a trifle dazed, but more at ease. Philip smiled at her. “I told you,” he murmured. “You are more beautiful than ever.”
Then he kissed her forehead and led her to a chair near the window. “Come in,” he called when she was seated.
The waiter entered carrying a salver that held two bottles and two glasses, which he set on the table. Philip nodded to him and said he would pour himself. Megaera noticed that the man did not linger, and she guessed that he had been given his pourboire earlier or that Philip had promised he would take care of the staff later. Probably both, she thought amusedly when she saw the alacrity and depth of the servant’s bow as he let himself out.
“I was not sure just what you would like to drink, my dear,” Philip said, “or whether you would prefer that I did not drink at all.”
“No, don’t be silly.” She shook her head. “You are the most considerate person I have ever met. You cannot forgo your pleasure to pander to my prejudices.”
“My pleasure is pleasing you, not in a glass of wine, Meg,” Philip said. “I am drunk enough, having tasted your lips. Believe me, it will be no sacrifice to drink ale or cider instead of wine, and I have ratafia for you.”
“That’s the prettiest speech I ever heard,” Megaera exclaimed. She tried to laugh, but her eyes were full of tears, and she had to get up and go over to look at the bottles to conceal it. “You have some very tolerable sherry here,” she remarked, striving for calm. “I know. I brought it into the country myself. I wonder which of my customers sells to this inn. I don’t distribute so far. I’ll have some of this, if you please.”
The reminder that she was a smuggler was very deliberate. Philip’s consideration, the nearly formal tone of what could only be considered a courtship, was touching her more deeply than she desired. It was very necessary to remind herself that he could never be anything more than a casual lover. Red Meg could want him, but Mrs. Edward Devoran must not fall in love with the illegitimate offspring of a Breton fisherman.
There was also the possibility that recalling Philip’s attention to her profession would change his manner. That would hurt, Megaera knew, but it would be most salutary.
In fact, if her statement had any effect, it was the opposite of what she feared—or hoped. Philip followed her to the table and uncorked and poured the wine, smelling and tasting it before he offered a second glass to her. Then, instead of renewing the embrace, he gestured her back to her chair and took the one opposite.
“There is one thing we have not considered,” he remarked, sipping the wine slowly. “I think it will not be possible to have the goods we have bought delivered either to The Mousehole or to the cave.”
Megaera blinked, then her lips twitched. “Are you making polite predinner conversation?” she asked.
Philip’s eyes twinkled. “Well, yes. Obviously this is not a subject particularly dear to my heart just now, but I dare not kiss you again because I do not believe I would be able to stop.”
“Would that be so terrible?” Megaera asked, her eyes fixed on her glass.
“Yes it would, my beautiful darling,” Philip murmured “I want very much to love you, but not in haste or with an ear cocked for the coming waiter. You would not like to know there was a man waiting outside the door guessing all too accurately what we were doing.”
Megaera shuddered. “How ugly.”
“Yes, and besides, the lovely dinner I ordered, picking and choosing with such care what I thought would please you, would be all spoiled. That would be an appalling finale to an appalling performance, do you not think?”
“I certainly do!” Megaera agreed, laughing, delightedly. “What a clever devil you are. First you turn me down and then you make me glad of it. And you’re right about the goods, too. I must think of a place where they can be left without arousing suspicion.”
“I am afraid I can be of no help in that, except… If we only had one wagonload, I could hire a wagon and drive it myself, but I am afraid we will need more than one.”
“You are clever, Philip I could drive the second wagon if we need one.”
“Could you? It is not the same as handling a string of ponies. I am not sure you are strong enough, my love. Those cart horses are very powerful, and the hired beasts have often been abused, so that their mouths are shod in steel.”
“Yes, probably, but they’re also worn down. You could pick a placid team for me. Surely they would be less trouble than a pair of whisky-frisky, high-bred, overfed carriage horses.”
“And when have you driven a high-bred pair?” Philip asked.
Megaera bit her treacherous lips and turned her head away. She knew she should tell Philip that the coachman in the house where she had been employed had been cozened into teaching her to drive, but she could not. She preferred simply not to answer. Let him think what he liked. As long as she could she would not tell a direct lie. Philip saw her distress and remembered immediately that she was very secretive about her background. He reached across the table to touch her hand.
“Sorry, Meg, that was not really a question. I know you do not like prying, and I had no intention of doing so. Forgive me?”
“With all my heart. I wish…”
But that was a lie. Megaera did not wish she could tell Philip the truth because she did not believe things could be the same between them if he knew she was the daughter of a baron and the heiress of a considerable estate—if she could ever free it from debt. Surely that would make him either self-conscious or conceited. It is not every smuggler’s bastard who had the daughter of an old and honorable family as a mistress.
The thought was so ugly that tears filled Megaera’s eyes, but she was saved from needing to explain by the arrival of dinner. It took two waiters and a maid to carry all the trays of dishes and arrange them, and by the time they had done so, Megaera had forgotten all about the degradation of her fine old family name and was laughing helplessly.
“Philip, you are mad,” she protested. “Is this your tastefully selected dinner? Do you think I am a wolf or a lion? Or are you expecting an army to join us?”
He looked around at the multitude of dishes with a faintly bemused expression. “I do seem to have overdone it a bit,” he admitted, then glanced at her with a glinting smile.
“I am afraid my mind was not completely on the dinner. The landlord kept suggesting things and—and I am hungry. They all sounded good.”
“I’m hungry too,” Megaera confessed, still laughing, “but… Well, we shall do our best.”
They did, making up for a very scanty luncheon, but without visibly diminishing the quantity of food. However, Philip had the brilliant idea of keeping back the dishes which did not need to be hot to be tasty. They talked easily about food, about wine, about the business they were doing for Pierre. When they could eat no more, Philip rang to have the dishes, except for two or three, removed. He refilled the glasses with wine and, as he bent over her, Megaera sniffed.
“Have you taken to wearing scent?” she asked.
“Scent?” Philip repeated blankly. “Do you think I am a man-milliner? No. What can you mean?”
“I don’t know, but you do smell delightful. I noticed it before, but I thought I was imagining things. You must have touched something in the warehouses I suppose.” Her eyes danced. “Very nice. I would encourage you to continue to use it, but it’s a little too delicate for your coloring?”
“Good Lord,” Philip said, reaching into his pocket. “I forgot. I meant to give you these when we first came in. Look, Meg, they are only trumpery, but are they not pretty?”
He laid the things he had bought for her on the table with so innocent an expression of pleased surprise that no woman in the world, no matter how hardened to selling her favors, could have mistaken his delight in giving a pretty toy for an attempt to pay for what he hoped to receive. Since such a transaction had never entered Megaera’s mind, there was no shadow on her face to spoil her cry of pleasure.
“I shall treasure them always,” she promised, tracing the glowing mother-of-pearl inlay.
“Well, no, they are not worth treasuring, but they are pretty, and the scent—”
“They are treasures to me, Philip,” Megaera said. “I think I will never own anything as precious.”
“Meg, darling…“ Philip’s voice, sounded frightened, and he drew her up to him and held her tight against, him.
She clung fiercely, fighting tears and despair. She could not love him. She could not! A night’s pleasure now and again, that was reasonable, but she could not love him, nor allow him to love her.
Until that moment Philip had been thinking—as his stepmother would have said with crude French cynicism—with what was in his breeches. He was a considerate, well-bred young man. Kind even to the girls he paid, he had responded unconsciously to Megaera’s delicate behavior with gallantry. He knew he preferred being with her to being with any other woman in his entire experience, but he had not considered what that meant until Megaera’s simple avowal had pierced his heart.
As he thought them Philip was aware that the words were a silly, conventional cliché of women’s romantic novels. But they were also horribly descriptive. Quite literally he had felt as if someone had thrust something sharp through his chest. As beautiful as she was, had no one ever given poor Meg even such worthless trinkets before? Only Philip knew that was not what she meant. It was how they were given, why, and by whom that had invested carved, wooden beads with a value far above emeralds and diamonds. In fact, had the things had any intrinsic value, Meg might have been bitterly hurt.
Having got so far in his thoughts, Philip dared go no further to wonder why he was so filled with joy by Meg’s confession of love—for that was what her words had meant. It was easier to shut his mind. Instead of facing the terrifying notion that a St. Eyre had fallen in love with a woman who ran a crew of smugglers, he pushed her face up to his and fastened his mouth to hers. Desire, that was what he felt—not love, desire.
There could be no doubt that he felt desire and that Meg was responding to him. Their embrace was so violent that after a moment the buttons on Philip’s coat began to cause her acute pain. She struggled to continue kissing Philip and still ease the pressure, but he let her go as soon as he felt her movement.
“Your buttons,” Meg gasped before Philip could ask what was wrong.
It was a most fortunate interruption. The too-intense mood was broken. Both were able to laugh while Philip tore off the offending garment and it provided the perfect excuse for removing Megaera’s clothes. Murmuring sympathetic nonsense, Philip opened her peignoir and began to kiss her “bruises”.
His lips found her breasts, but the tucked and ribboned chemise, enchanting as it was, impeded progress. Philip slid the peignoir over Megaera’s shoulders, and the costly garment fell to the floor unheeded in a crumpled heap. The chemise straps followed, but Megaera’s fine upstanding breasts, nipples now erect with excitement, supported the chemise and it would not slip by itself.
Not at all discouraged by this impediment, Philip went to work on it—but not by any crude expedient such as pushing the chemise down with his hands. He did allow his fingers to pluck gently at the back, but lips and chin worked at the front—kiss, push, kiss.
Megaera’s hands fluttered uncertainly to Philip’s shoulders, to his hair, to his cravat. Here they steadied. The process that directed her actions could not be called thought. The excitement that was sweeping over her had suspended, rational decision, but Megaera knew what she wanted anyway. She had an intense desire to see and touch Philip’s skin.
She drew the pin from his cravat and dropped it to the floor. The folds loosened at once. Her attempts to pull it off were somewhat uncertain, distracted as she was by the waves of pleasure Philip’s mouth was creating, but she got it loose and dropped it just about the time that one rosy nipple was bared. Philip seized on it at once, nibbling gently with lip-sheathed teeth. Megaera sighed shudderingly and she caught at Philip’s shoulders because she felt her knees were about to buckle.
Although Philip was by no means calm he was not as lost in a sea of sensation as Megaera. The sensations were, after all, quite familiar to him. He was thus still capable of keeping a fixed purpose in mind, and that fixed purpose was to make this experience as perfect as possible for his partner. Oddly enough the need to think and plan to restrain the satisfaction of his desire heightened his enjoyment enormously. He was aware that he had no hold on Meg, that he must make her willing to participate again by his own skill as a lover.
He was also aware that her reactions to him were completely real, totally honest. This time he was not a paying client who must be flattered and cajoled into coming again and into paying a little extra. Although he did not think of it consciously, the realization came to him that what he had assumed was pleasure in his company and performance might well have been no more than acting. Even if it were not, it could have no meaning. Clients were not chosen for their youth and good looks. As a relief from the old, the ugly, the cruel ones, Philip might be pleasant.
Meg, he was sure, had never been a whore. He guessed she was not a virgin because of her readiness to yield to him, but it was obvious from her actions that her sexual experience must have been very limited and that she had been a passive rather than an active partner. Everything she had done showed that it was he, as a particular person, rather than the act itself, she desired. And that, untainted by any commercial transaction, was both so flattering and so stimulating that Philip, who was normally a considerate lover, was pushed to an even keener sense of his partner’s needs.
Having interpreted Meg’s quick clutch at him with perfect accuracy, Philip released her nipple and caught her up in his arms. She was light enough and cooperative enough—flinging her arms around his neck to hold herself close—that he could free one hand to push the screen away and pull back the counterpane and blankets. As he set her on the bed he slid his hands up and pulled the chemise off over her head. The cessation of active stimulation permitted Megaera to catch her breath. It did nothing, however, to diminish her desire to see Philip’s bare body.
“Take your clothes off,” she said, far too deep in her physical need to be shy. Philip licked his lips and took a deep breath. Meg’s demand had driven him dangerously near a crude grab at quick satisfaction by exciting him far beyond his normal level of passion. The naked desire for him was very different from the prostitutes’ practiced—and, now he realized, indifferent—attempts to stimulate him. He yanked off his shirt, pulled off his boots, and shoved breeches and underpants off his narrow hips in one motion.
Meg’s sigh, her half-parted lips, the wide-opened eyes that ran up and down his body in eager examination, made him tremble with desire. He was at the bed in an instant, touching, kissing, fondling. Meg sighed and quivered, stroking the smooth, dark skin—so different, so exciting—winding her fingers in the black curling hair that grew in a wide triangle on Philip’s chest. She returned his kisses, pressing her lips to his neck when his mouth was busy elsewhere. Abandoning his chest, Meg began tracing the thin line of hair that was different, flat and sleek, and descended from the down-pointing apex of the triangle and grew over Philip’s belly to widen into the pubic bush.
Softly, under his breath, without releasing the breast he was alternately kissing and sucking, Philip began to groan. He could not hold off much longer. One hand found the button of her pantalets. He fumbled but found the minor hindrance exciting rather than frustrating. The girls in the bawdy houses never wore such inconvenient garments. Under their wrappers they were usually nude.
Fortunately the button came undone before Philip lost patience and wrenched it off. One hand slipped under, seeking Meg’s Mount of Venus and what lay beyond. Meg began to whimper and twitch, thrusting uncertainly toward the touch that was driving her wild.
Her response made it impossible, and clearly unnecessary, for Philip to wait. He lifted his head momentarily to see what he was doing and stripped off Meg’s pantalets, mounted her, positioned himself, and thrust. Meg cried out, partly in relief but also a little in pain. She was not a virgin, but it had been a very long time since she had had congress with a man. For all her desire and her eagerness, she was stretched by Philip’s considerable endowment. He paused at once, breathing painfully hard, obviously very surprised.
“Sorry,” he gasped. “I am sorry. I did not guess—”
“Never mind,” Meg whispered, winding, her legs around him to help him along. “I love you. I want you. Love me.”