... heart disease. It falls to Logan, the second son of the Earl of Thornewood to marry quickly and produce an heir to secure the earldom.
WILL JULIANA EVER LEARN TO LOVE
At age fourteen when Juliana Neeley's father died, she and her sister Tessa were dragged from their nursery to a Community Home by their uncle, where they have been living for the past four years. Their treatment there has been a living nightmare of abuse and servitude. Staying sane to protect her younger sister from the threats of the same appalling treatment has been Juliana's only goal. Though not yet eighteen years of age, she has miraculously been chosen to be Logan's bride as she is of good blood and as pure as the driven snow. And best of all, there is no need for Logan to take the time to court her. She and Logan meet for the first time just one week before their marriage; she nearly mute with fear and he already bored and wondering how soon he will be able to move on to continue his rakish life from before the war.
How will this young, unworldly girl be able to enchant and learn to love Logan, even as she heals herself?
April 1817 - Park Lane, London
Good evening, Titus.”
The butler bowed. “Good evening, my lord,” he said, relieving the earl of his hat and coat. “Her Grace said to show you up to her private drawing room. I hope all is well with you this evening.”
“Indeed all is well, Titus,” the earl assured him. “Thank you. There is no need to announce me. I know the way and The Duchess is waiting.” He was in no mood for formalities.
“Of course, Lord Thornewood. If you’re sure, Lord Thornewood. Good evening my lord.” Titus let out a quiet sigh. It was only right that he announce people. She was, after all, a double duchess.
Thorne made his way up the wide marble stairway, down the hall to The Duchess’s sitting room. He knocked once and entered.
The Duchess gave him a look of happy anticipation as he walked in. “Ah, Preston, you are here.” She was sitting in her favorite chair by the fire, looking through the mail in her lap. She raised her arms to greet him, the wide silk sleeves sliding up her arms to pool at her shoulders. Thorne moved quickly to her, bracing his hands on the arms of the chair as she wound hers around his neck. He leaned in to kiss her, then slid one hand down her arm into the sleeve of her gown to cup her breast.
“It is always the same when I am with you. I become five and twenty again, lusting after you.” He kissed her gently. “But now my wet dreams come true and you’re here, ready to fulfill my every wicked thought. Tell me you’re ready to make them come true. I have a need of you today that is most painful, my sweet.” He grimaced as though in pain.
“You are too eager, love. You don’t even notice I’m not dressed to receive. Only dressed to please both of us whenever it suits your desires.”
He pulled her up and into his arms, her mail sliding to the floor. He pressed her against him, groaning at the feel of her warmth. “Those weeks with you at Thornewood have spoiled me. Now, when I turn over at night reaching for you, I wake in anguish to find you’re not there to keep me warm.”
“Then perhaps,” she said, “you should have your man make sure that an extra coverlet is placed on your bed. Surely that would keep you warm,” she added with a laugh.
“Ah, don’t tease me, sweetheart. The heat I am aching for is not to be acquired with a coverlet.” His voice deepened, “It is a heat that only the softest, smoothest and most private parts of you can assuage.”
“Then let me help you get rid of that ache, Preston, because I also have one that needs your special attention.” She removed his stickpin and unwound his neck cloth. With one hand she pulled his head down to kiss him and with the other she deftly unbuttoned his waistcoat and shirt. “Come into my rooms with me. Would you like a brandy while we talk?”
“I have no intention of talking or drinking right now. The finest brandy in France could not tempt me. And the only talking I wish to hear is you begging me to hurry.”
“What has you so impatient Preston?”
“I am always impatient for you, sweet Caro. But ever since our weeks together at Thornewood when I had you with me each day and night, I can’t be satisfied with a touch here and a kiss there. I seem to need you all the time.” He followed her into the bedroom and was already nearly undressed. “Hurry, my sweet, before I explode.”
The Duchess pulled the counterpane off the bed and quickly shrugged out of her dressing gown.
“Off! All of it off. I need to feel you skin to skin. My God, Caro. This is painful.”
She arched her eyebrows. “My, my, I can see that it must be,” she said playfully. “Come here, my love. Allow me to soothe your torment.” She moved toward him pulling her gown over her head as she walked.
At age 50 her body was as firm and tight as a woman half her age. She had never borne a child and her breasts were as high and full as ever, her stomach as tight and flat. She had always been an active woman with high energy, not one to sit and embroider or gossip her days away. And while she enjoyed Town life, she was an avid horsewoman and had hunted from an early age with her father, and then, after her marriage, with Warburton. She loved to swim and was an ace shot with both gun and bow. And much to the consternation of her gardeners, she insisted on digging and working on the park grounds of her townhouse. She was tantalizingly fit with muscles more developed than many in Society thought fashionable. When nude, her lithe arms and legs rivaled those of a petite Grecian athlete.
The earl had the physique that his sons, Phillip and Logan, had inherited and at age fifty-six, was as physically fit: and as handsome. His majestic presence kept all but the most bumptious third-season debs from attempting an introduction.
He had loved but two women in his life, The Duchess first and foremost.
The Marquess of Kenrick was heir to the Duke of Warburton. He and Thorne had been good friends since Eton and both had attended her come-out ball when Caroline was barely eighteen. They were both smitten and spent the next year vying for her attention. She was the only child of the Duke of Easton and would be inheriting her family’s dukedom, becoming a duchess in her own right. Her father was pressing her hard to marry Kenrick. He believed that only a future duke would be good enough for his princess. Knowing that his daughter was no shy miss, he was adamant that she should marry a titled lord who would not be intimidated by her strong personality and her title of duchess.
The Duke of Warburton was delighted with the prospect of this match. While his son needed no urging, he was also eagerly pushing for this marriage. But true to her own self, when Caroline agreed to the match with Kenrick, it was because she believed herself in love and not because of his title. Thornewood was shattered, but in his heart he had known that it would probably end this way. He understood the pressure young girls were under to marry as their parents wished them to; especially young girls of nobility.
Their friendship continued, however, and while at first it was painful to be in her company with Kenrick, he soon saw that indeed she was smitten with her husband and he was able to move on. Two years later while traveling in Ireland he met the woman who would be his wife and the mother to his sons, Phillip and Logan. She was a beautiful dark haired, blue eyed colleen whose sharp mind and merry sense of humor captured his heart almost immediately.
He asked for her hand before they left Ireland and returned home to await the acquisition of her trousseau and the reading of the marriage banns.
Their marriage was short and sweet, filled with love and wonder, both before and after the birth of their two sons. When she died shortly after the birth of their second son, Logan, life became almost unbearable for the earl. There was no reason for her death. She simply did not wake up one morning. He found her curled next to him in bed, lifeless and still warm. For a while after her death he was afraid he would go mad. He blamed himself for what had happened. Then one day nearly a year later, he watched Phillip, his oldest son and heir, toddle across the room, stop, turn, and give him a sweet smile that was so much like his mother’s smile, the earl gasped. Logan, seated on the floor, looked up to give his big brother a gurgling laugh. Their eyes locked and when they both turned to their father with nearly identical smiles, he fell to his knees. With a sob, he grasped both of them to his chest and finally allowed the tears to come. She would never be with him again, but their sons would always be, not just a reminder of her, but as a living representation of her.
The years that followed were centered on his sons. While most nobles left the raising of their children to nursemaids, governesses and tutors, the Earl of Thornewood was determined that they would grow up to reflect the same honesty and integrity with which he lived his life. The nursemaids were secretly pleased to see this handsome, virile earl devoting himself to these young lads. During their summers at Thornewood Hall they spent every possible minute together. And in Town, except when Thornewood was attending Parliament, they were a threesome. The boys learned to shoot with the earl at Manton’s and to hunt at Thornewood, always with their father at their sides. At age two Phillip rode a small pony on a leading string next to his father’s tall horse while Logan sat cradled in his father’s arms, pointing and screaming to be able to sit with his brother. By the next summer the two of them were riding together around a ring the earl had built for them. By the fourth summer they were all swimming together in the lake and by now it was evident that Logan would do whatever his brother did, despite being ten months younger than Philip.
After they returned home from their first year at Eton, the earl was shocked to see how much they had grown and matured. They looked more alike than ever, and he was further jolted the first evening they came in for dinner dressed in formal attire. By God, he mused, they were beginning to look like grown men. They were beginning to look like him!
That was when he decided to start going out again socially. Ken, now the Duke of Warburton, and Caroline, now a double duchess, were eager to play match-makers. But he wanted none of that. The moment the members of the ton were aware that he was back in Society, he was plagued with every dragon mother thrusting her giggling young debs at him for his consideration. Did they really think him such a degenerate, he wondered, that he would actually consider marrying or bedding one of them?
On one occasion he tried a mistress. That lasted a fortnight. There was no passion - at least for him. So finally he settled on either satisfied widows who had no interest in marriage, or dissatisfied wives who wanted a night or two of sex to assuage their unrequited lust. It was what most members of the ton did, and it was enough to appease his basic needs. But still he longed for a loving relationship like the one he had had with his wife.
The years passed by. Thornewood filled his life with work in Parliament and training his elder son and heir on the duties of being an earl. But each year he sensed an emptiness creeping up on him that could no longer be denied. His sons were grown men. They no longer needed his advice or counsel. Truth be told, he wanted to seek their advice on how he could find at least some joy in his life. And then one night soon after Logan left for the Continent to serve with Lord Wellington, he arrived home from Parliament to find a message from Caroline.
Come quickly. Ken is gone.
What could she mean? Dukes didn’t just disappear. Dear God! She couldn’t mean he was dead. But as it turned out, that was exactly what she meant. It was a fluke accident. Ken and Caroline were riding together in Hyde Park, of all places. A dog charged under Ken’s horse, causing it to rear up and throw Ken off. His head hit a tree. He never regained consciousness and was gone before dinner.
Thorne went to her immediately and they cried and mourned together. With no father or brothers to help her, he stepped in and together with her man of business and her stewards, helped her through a funeral with multiple ceremonies to honor this esteemed and respected duke. He then helped her come to grips with the endless details of running, not one, but two dukedoms.
By the time her year of mourning was over, she had, in his mind, ceased being the wife of his best friend. He was once again the young swain enamored of her, just as he had been at her come-out ball.
He escorted her on her first evening out in Society, when she gave off wearing black. It was a less than satisfactory evening for either of them. He too had disappeared into a year of mourning and his reappearance caused a rush by all the dragon mothers to attempt a conquest on behalf of their daughters. The Duchess spent the evening running interference for him and he attempted to protect her from every voluptuary and fusty old windbag who believed she needed them to explain how easily they could assist her by taking over the devastating chores of managing her estates and vast fortune.
As the evening dragged on, their eyes met across the floor and he arched his head toward the door. She nodded yes. They made a quick retreat. From then on they restricted their socializing to smaller dinner parties or to the opera and theater where they could control their gathering.
He realized, of course, that he could not stay with her much longer. Their stations in life were too far apart. He a mere earl and she, a double duchess. And every day or night in her presence was going to make it that much more difficult to part from her. People were already beginning to talk and he’d never let her name be sullied by petty gossip. Every night he thought – today will mark the end. But there was always a tomorrow.
Then came the word of Logan’s injuries at Waterloo. The whole country had been in an excited frenzy at Britain’s victory. All he had been thinking was that soon Logan would be coming home again. He knew Phillip had sorely missed him. They had never been apart for very long and it seemed to the earl that both he and Phillip had been holding their breath while Logan was gone. And now this.
Caroline came to him as soon as she received his note. Temple showed her directly into the earl’s private drawing room. She ran to him, and they stood, holding each other. She pressed herself against him, feeling his inner trembling and said nothing until she felt him begin to relax.
“Dear God, Preston. Do you know how badly he is injured?”
“No. His batman’s note says they are quite sure he will live. Not very comforting words,” he mumbled into her hair. “And surprisingly, there is a note from Wellington. He assures me that all is being done to make certain Logan is well cared for and that arrangements are being made to send him home when he is able. That seems unusual to me. Surely Wellington does not write notes to every injured soldier’s family.”
“You know his reputation for taking care of his men, Preston.”
“Yes, but rather than comfort me, his note makes me believe that Logan has suffered a serious injury, perhaps even a fatal one. Oh my God,” he groaned. “This will kill Phillip. If Logan dies, I will see both my sons gone.”
“Yes, I know how surprised you were when Logan left to go to war. Knowing how they always seemed to think as one person, he must have known it was going to be difficult for both of them.”
“True,” was all the earl could manage.
“Preston, dear,” Caroline said softly, “I want to help you with this the same way you helped me after Ken died.” She moved to him and turned him to face her. Her arms went around his waist and she pressed her body hard against his. “Let me help you, my love.”
And so they did not part. The hell with the ton. He wasn’t strong enough to do what he deemed to be “the right thing”. And Caroline wouldn’t even speak of it. She wanted to marry him, for God’s sake! She said she would even give up her titles of duchess and become his countess. But under no circumstances could he ever allow that to happen. That would have been the final blow to his honor. To allow a woman of her stature and pedigree to marry “down” was utterly unthinkable. Such a thing would defy all the rules of Society, all the rules of etiquette, all the rules of the ton.
No! There would be no marriage.
August, 1816 - Hastings House, London
Half yawning and half groaning, Logan reached his arms over his head, grasped the bottom of the headboard and stretched toward the foot of the bed. Even with his great height, he would never reach it in this massive bed. With his black hair and midnight blue eyes, bronzed from head to toe except for a wrinkled scar in his side, one could suppose that his achingly beautiful body had been the model for all Greek bronze sculptures of the gods. He had spent his summer lying in the sun, waiting to heal. He studied estate books, and swam to stretch his muscles to get his strength back. As he started to relax, he heard a high-pitched gasp, and when he quickly sat up, he saw her standing inside the room. With another squeal, she stepped back and reached behind her for the door latch.
He had been waiting nearly an hour and had given her at least half an hour to let her abigail, Molly, prepare her for her wedding night. He had ordered the fire in the hearth to be started at noon, to ensure that by evening it would be truly warm in the large, well-appointed chamber. He didn’t want her to be shivering with cold when they lay together. He’d tapped softly on her door and when there was no answer, entered slowly.
He looked toward the bed and noted with dismay that she still wasn’t here. What in the world were they doing with her? How long did it take to get her into a gown, which he would have off her in short order? Should he go back to his room and wait there? He threw more wood on the fire and prowled the room checking the candle stands and making sure the wine and glasses were on the night stand. Servants had placed flowers around the room and had seen to everything. He paced around the room again, stopping to look out the window into the park across from the townhouse. All was quiet. The last wedding guests had finally taken their leave and he was left to do his duty and consummate this union.
He would wait for her here, he decided. In fact, as he looked over at the bed, he thought to lie down and rest while waiting and hoped he wouldn’t fall asleep. This past week had not been an easy one and he knew it was going to be a difficult night. He and his bride had met for the first time just the week before. He had tried to make her feel that he was not looking at this union as just a political match, but it was obvious she was not excited, pleased, or in any way anticipating her marriage. In fact, he couldn’t remember a single word she had spoken to him. How in the world was he to convince her that this could be advantageous for both of them?
He had never taken a virgin before — and this one had barely even looked at him. He knew it would require patience and a lot of it. But he also had never had a woman reject him or leave his bed without her desire sated, including his first tumble in the hay with a village girl at Thornewood Hall.
He in fact had been careful not to have dalliances with virgins. He might be considered a rake, but debauchery, ruining innocents, was something his code of honor would never allow him. He had much preferred a widow who was satisfied with her circumstances, or a dissatisfied married woman. There was no pretense with them; no chance of being leg-shackled by an overly zealous dragon mother. With him, widows and married women knew they would get a night or two of pure lust from one of London’s most sought after rakes. And, it was rarely more than a night or two, though he had had two mistresses. Krystal, his last mistress, had been given her congé the night before he left for Spain a year ago.
And, he supposed that after the initial amusement with his new bride wore off and he’d gotten the requisite heir off her, he’d pay a call on Krystal again. And if not her, someone else. It was the way of the ton and he didn’t expect his bride would know any different – or, in fact, that she would care.
And while there had been the usual camp followers, he had not been eager to chance any of the diseases he might get from availing himself of their generous offers. Besides, he enjoyed flirting with women before the ultimate conquest and there seemed to be no end of candidates willing to flirt with him. Since his first venture into Society, he had been the target of seduction by women. He had just barely turned eighteen when, at a house party, his dinner partner, Lady Jersey – who was nearing fifty and had recently been replaced as senior mistress to the Prince of Wales – had leaned toward him as though to ask him a question, and under cover of the table linens had tucked her hand into his crotch and stroked him till he thought he would spill himself during the fish course. Later, as the ladies stood to leave the men to their port and cigars, she leaned toward him with a confident smile and whispered, “One o’clock” and told him her room location. She had waited in vain. At first, he had been amused and then it occurred to him that she had a daughter about his age and a son with whom he enjoyed hunting. Dear God! It had seemed nearly incestuous! He warned his brother Phillip to keep his distance. But Lord knew that at other times, women had literally stood in line for both of them. He remembered one evening when he and Phillip had been surrounded by women, each one vying against the others to gain the upper hand even while The Brothers were making good their escape But Logan enjoyed the chase, the sparring, and a woman who had enough wit, intelligence and gamesmanship to play along with him. He didn’t see Juliana as being that sort of woman, but she was his wife now and his duties and responsibilities were clear. It was up to them to make the best of it.
After turning eighteen he had become one of London’s most popular bachelors. University had been so easy for him that his time had been spent larking about Oxford and planning his next foray into London. But, four years of that and nearly a decade as a man-about-town had finally taken its toll on him. And the war had changed him. He was feeling jaded, tired of his mistress and tired of the chase. He always won and the game was becoming boring. Now a year and a half later, he was willing to settle down and marry. He just wished to God it was for a different reason.
The choice for a second son was usually either the military or the church. And since the bishops would have taken one look at him and known that vows of chastity were not in his future, there was no difficulty in making his choice. He purchased a commission and had no difficulty in being chosen for the Green-jacketed 95th Rifles. The years spent target shooting at Manton’s and hunting with Phillip and his father at Thornewood had paid off, as he was quickly accepted into this elite group. The 95th Rifles was a highly respected regiment. The training was relentless and to kill the enemy was their only purpose. And in truth, the expertise of its soldiers made even their worst enemies respect their ability. At the Battle of Waterloo, during an especially savage engagement, he had received a sword injury that fortunately had only minor lasting consequences. For him as for so many others, Waterloo had been a nightmare of screaming men and horses, the smell of blood and excrement, and the pouring rain that left them blue with cold. Thirty thousand of the Seventh Coalition’s finest men were dead or missing, and they could never be replaced.
Then, after Christmas, while recuperating at Thornewood Hall, his older brother Phillip, his father’s heir, had suffered a debilitating disease of the heart. Doctors told them it was possible he would not live to inherit the earldom and even if he did, he was now too weak to continue the work required to manage the lands and finances. Even with estate managers, the tenants needed the earl in residence for at least part of the year to act as mediator and magistrate, and to be a stabilizing presence in the community.
No one could believe how this had happened to Phillip who was young and healthy and who should, even now, be spending time with his father at Thornewood Hall. So while their father seemed to be in good health, who could know what might happen to him? Now it would be Logan’s job to take over Phillip’s responsibilities. Phillip, only ten months his senior, was not married and had no heirs to inherit the earldom. So it was Logan’s duty to secure the succession and produce an heir, in case Phillip should die soon as some doctors feared. While there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his brother, God knew he never wanted any of this responsibility. The thought of his older brother dead made his heart ache.
He loved Phillip. They had shared an idyllic childhood together. Thornewood Hall was a dream for young boys and they spent every summer together swimming, fishing, hunting and generally getting into scrapes that, had their father but known, he would have locked them up. Logan had imitated and followed Phillip wherever he went. They seemed to be one and the same person.
When Phillip was old enough for a tutor, they refused to be parted from each other and so Logan sat in the nursery school room and learned everything that Phillip did. By the time Phillip reached the age of eleven and Logan nearly that, their father, The Sixth Earl of Thornewood, felt it was time to send Phillip to Eton. Both boys set up such a howl that the earl decided to send them off together. After all, Logan was just as far along in his studies as Phillip, and even the servants couldn’t imagine them being separated.
Even though Phillip carried the courtesy title of Viscount Wetherington, the earl had insisted that Phillip not be treated any differently than Logan. They were called “Master Phillip” and “Master Logan” and by the time they returned from Eton, their friends simply referred to them as “The Brothers”.
When they entered the social whirl of the ton, some members of the elite assumed they were twins. Of course, the hovering dragon chaperones knew who the true heir was, but with their handsome, roguish good looks, charm and smiles that lured their daughters out from under their eagle eyes, they also referred to them as “The Brothers”. They were both invited to all the balls and soirees. Logan was always eagerly received, even at Almack’s, where second sons were traditionally considered déclassé. Certainly, the young debs didn’t seem to care which of them they danced with. It was doubtful that any of the hopeful young things would have cared which of The Brothers asked them to dance, walked them in to dinner, or courted their hand in marriage. They were equally sought after and were generous with their attention to even the wallflowers. While anyone who knew anything could have called them rakes, they were too charming and generous of spirit for anyone to do that. On the evening they both lured the two most circumspect and exacting chaperones onto the dance floor for a daring waltz, they became the darlings of the ton and the heroes of the other bachelors. Such was the demand for their presence and attention at social affairs, they were grateful when the Season ended and they could leave London for Thornewood Hall.
So now here he was, waiting for his bride to come through the door. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that all that was required was a little patience on his part. By God, it was hot in here! He threw off his robe and lay naked on the bed.
Juliana stepped through the door to the bedroom. The fireplace on the wall to her right was roaring and sent a beautiful glow over the room. She looked toward the far wall to the bed and her eyes widened. She gave a high-pitched gasp as though she had seen a mouse. Oh, how she wished that was indeed what she had seen. She could handle a mouse. Lord knew she had dispensed with plenty of them in the Community House. But what she saw on that huge bed was a man so large and so dark that she was unable to process the vision. And please, God help her, he looked naked! He rolled up onto his knees and she squealed again, stepping back toward the door and grabbing onto the latch. How could this be the same man she had stood next to at the altar and married this afternoon? She had not looked at him too closely, either then or during the week before. Certainly, she had not looked into his eyes or examined his . . . form. She couldn’t say “body”. She blushed even to think of that. But during the little time she had spent with him this past week he had never looked this dangerous.
He had been very solicitous of her aunt and uncle. Her uncle was the one who had arranged the marriage with Logan’s father, and she was sure it had provided her uncle with a handsome settlement. After all, as her uncle told her, his younger brother, Juliana’s father, had never been able to keep a farthing in the pot and he had every intention of getting repaid for what it cost him for her and her sister Tessa’s keep. They were both, indeed, a rich commodity for him. Practically convent-raised, they came from good stock and were as pure as the driven snow. What young chit of the ton could guarantee that!
Their mother had died when she was almost ten and Tessa was almost nine. Her father had tried his best to take care of them, but one day he just seemed to fade away. When Juliana was fourteen he died, and his older brother became the girls’ guardian. She and Tessa were taken to their uncle’s home where they had hoped their aunt would make them feel less forsaken. But a month into their stay it was obvious that aunty was not about to make any effort to accommodate them.
What recompense had been given to the Community Home to take both of them in, she might never know. Uncle had told them that the Servants of the Poor would lead them toward a life of piety and purity. Evidently, the Sisters, as they called themselves, believed it would be found in the bottom of a scrub bucket as they were both assigned jobs as scrubwomen. For two gently bred and educated young girls to be thrust into such thankless, menial, backbreaking jobs was cruel indeed. And to be forced to continue watching her bright, loving, witty sister turn angry and frightened was agonizing for Juliana. Thank goodness she had been able to be near her every day for the last four years to protect and defend her. What would happen to her now that she was gone brought tears to her eyes every time she thought of it.
The Home, in the countryside near the town of Hastings, was a refuge or punishment, depending on what circumstances brought you there. It served penitents, grieving widows with no family to care for them, and the poor. That neither Juliana or her sister fitted into any of these slots mattered not at all. They were quickly hired as cheap labor and forced to pay penance for sins they were unaware of while at the same time they became cats paws for every error discovered in the Home by the Sister Superior.
The Home was not connected to any church, but Sister Superior believed that any woman who had need of their community needed to answer to God. A vicar and a priest visited regularly to give counsel, take confessions and give sermons, and the priest gave mass whenever he visited. Along with the vicarage, and several other services in the town of Hastings, The Sisters and Servants of the Poor, a Community Home, was one of the main charitable works supported by the Thornewood Earldom.
And now, this large, dark man was her husband and he was waiting for her. As he moved up onto his knees to look down the room toward her she saw he was indeed naked. This time she groaned and, shuddering, turned her body away from him, leaning her forehead against the door. She knew she couldn’t go back into the dressing room, but how could she approach him?
"Juliana, whatever is wrong?” Logan called to her.
How could she tell him that the thought of having him look at her and her having to look at him made her feel faint? Never had she seen a naked man nor even imagined a naked man. At the Community Home, the Sisters were never, ever, naked. Some of them were, after all, “fallen women” and since everything was done to promote piety, the word “naked” was not ever mentioned Each woman wore the same long, gray gown with sleeves that tied at the wrist to cover as much skin as possible. If they showed skin beyond their faces and hands, they were severely chastised. This had been an especially difficult rule to obey since she was always up to her elbows in scrub water, scouring floors on her hands and knees. Her hands and arms were chapped and rough from sleeves wet with lye soap plastered against her skin. How had she gone from there to this beautiful manor with this exceptional looking man? What was he going to expect her to do? How could she become the gracious wife that he deserved? Logan leaped out of bed and with long strides moved toward her.
“No, my lord!” she cried out when he was near her. “Please, don’t come any closer. Please go back to the bed. I can’t. I just can’t.”
“You can’t what?” he asked gently, touching her shoulder.
She jerked at his touch and groaned, curling her shoulders away from him, her eyes pinched shut. “Please go back to the bed,” she begged.
“Come with me, my dear. I can’t imagine why you are so overset. What could have happened since our wedding to make you afraid to look at me?” Actually, he remembered now that she had not once looked at him during the wedding ceremony.
“I will look at you if you go back to bed and cover yourself,” she replied hesitantly.
“Is that what’s bothering you? My dear, we are married now. There is nothing we can’t do now that should bother you. I have been told,” he said with a grin, “I’m not really so bad to look at and I can only imagine how beautiful you will be.”
She groaned again. “That’s just it, my lord. I am so afraid to have you look at me that it makes me tremble.”
“But why, Juliana? Why feel this way when you are such a beautiful woman? Do you have some mark on you that you think will displease me?”
“No, no. That’s not it. It is just so embarrassing to imagine you seeing my . . . shape that I wish I could just go to sleep and wake up when this night is over.”
Logan tried turning her toward him to comfort her, but she wrenched away and pressed her head against the door. My God, how was he going to solve this dilemma? He certainly couldn’t force her. That he would never do.”
“Juliana, if I get into bed and cover myself, will you come just to the side of the bed and talk with me?”
“Yes, if you promise to do just that,” she whispered. Juliana waited until he let go of her shoulders and she could hear his footsteps padding across the thick Aubusson carpet. “Are you covered yet?” she asked.
This was truly a new experience for him. Most of the women he had dallied with had been only too happy to undress him as quickly as possible. He had no idea how he was to deal with this, but he imagined he was about to find out. But how was he to spend a lifetime with a woman who was so terrified to get near him that she wished to be unconscious rather than even look at him?
“Yes, Juliana. I’m in bed and covered up. You may approach without fainting.”
He watched her turn and peep at him to make sure it was safe. It was then that he really looked at her and wondered what in hell she was wearing. It looked as though she had taken a heavy quilt and wrapped herself in it and then tied it on with a long sash. She looked three times as wide as she was tall. As she approached with a peculiar waddle, he was reminded of a toy he and Phillip had played with when they were young. It was a carved wooden person with stiff legs dangling from beneath. It waddled from side to side when directed down a slanted board, only to fall in a heap at the bottom. He and Phillip had always laughed uproariously.
“Come over here next to the bed,” he soothed. “I promise not to touch you. Let’s just talk. Tell me, my dear Juliana, what in the world has you this frightened. I have no intention of harming you. I’ve never yet had a woman complain that I was not the soul of consideration for her feelings. Please. Talk to me. Let me try to understand. What have you been told about me that makes you believe otherwise?”
She hesitated. “It’s not anything I’ve been told, my lord, but . . .”
“Logan. My name is Logan. Can you at least call me by my name?” he prodded gently.
“Yes, my lor – Logan. It’s not that I’ve been told anything.” She looked not at him, but beyond him. “As a matter of fact, I have been told nothing of any kind and can only imagine from remarks I have overheard what is in store for me.”
My God, Logan thought to himself, what horrors had she been filled with and by whom? Probably those Sisters. But what possible experience and information could they have had to impart to her? She finally glanced at him and he had a chance to look in her eyes and he could see the fear reflected in them. He also noticed a film of perspiration on her brow and upper lip.
“Juliana, you seem to be terribly warm. This room is really quite hot. Don’t you wish to remove that blanket from around you before you become faint?” She backed away. “Please, don’t move away. I won’t touch you until you give me permission. But you must be terribly uncomfortable – as I was. That’s why I removed my robe.”
“Well, I could remove the blanket. It is warm in here.”
She untied the sash and unwound the blanket from around her to expose a quilted robe of almost equal weight and bulk. “Yes, that’s really much better. Thank you, my lord.”
He couldn’t help but grin at that remark and as he caught her eye, her lips creased to give him a small smile in return. He was encouraged by this and laid his hand out with the palm up on the sheet. Raising an eyebrow at her, he asked her to touch his hand. She laid her hand in his and he curled his fingers around hers and rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. She quickly pulled her hand away and said, “I’m so sorry, my lord – Logan.”
“What are you sorry about? You’ve done nothing to be sorry for.” He knew he sounded a little exasperated. He was going to have to be more patient with her. Indeed, he had imagined her taking tea, living a life of prayer and meditation on some ethereal plane. “Please believe that I will always protect you,” Logan said with conviction. “You are my wife and you will be the mother of my children. No other job will be more important for you.”
Her heart lifted then and she began to wonder if perhaps she could trust him. “I’m sorry I’ve been so frightened, Logan. Perhaps I can begin to trust you. Please tell me what I should do and I’ll try not to offend.”
“Oh, Juliana. You don’t have to do anything. But if you wish, perhaps you could crawl up here on the bed and sit next to me. We could talk and tell each other about ourselves and what we envision our life together to be. Would that be all right?” He had attempted to speak with her this past week at tea, but now that he thought of it, her aunt and uncle had answered every question for her. She had sat unresponsive to his attempts at conversation, alas. This surely was going to be the longest night of his life.
“I’m sorry because of my hands, my lord. I know how rough they are and not as soft and attractive as those of the ladies you are used to associating with.”
He realized she was right. She’d had gloves on every time he had been with her previously. “Let me feel them again. I realize they are not as you would like them, but why have you not taken care of them?”
She told him of her chores at the Community Home and of the strong lye soaps used to scrub the floors and the cells. He was stunned. “Please, Juliana, let me see them again. I am sorry you have been so badly treated.” He reached for them again and she tentatively laid them out on the bed for him to examine. He picked up one of them and again gently rubbed it with his thumb. “I’ll see that you get some healing salve tomorrow that will make them feel so much better.” He raised her fingers to his lips, placed a kiss in the palm, and raised it to her cheek. “You’ll never again have to worry about being so treated, my dear. That will be your first job as my wife.”
“What’s that, my lord . . . Logan?”
“To worry about yourself and heal any wounds left from your years in the Community. I had no idea that this is what your life has been like.” Had his father not asked questions? My God! He was married to a scrubwoman!
“I think I would like that, my lord. I would like to hear about where our home will be and what my duties will be.”
Logan pulled up more pillows and placed them against the headboard next to him. He then offered her his hand to help her up onto the high bed. He settled her back against the pillows. She looked shyly at him: his darkness and his strongly angled jaw made her turn quickly away.
“Now what can possibly be wrong, Juliana?”
“You still look so large and dark. I’ve never seen a man with no clothes on before. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone with no clothes on except for my little sister when we were very young. It was considered a vile sin in the Community. We were not even allowed to bathe without a covering.”
No wonder she was as skittish as a new colt, Logan thought. How was he ever to make her feel safe with him? “Those rules are over,” he exhorted. “If we are to make a life together, you must begin to believe that I will do nothing to you that you do not want and that anything we wish to do with each other is not sinful. Look at me Juliana, and tell me that you believe this to be true.”
She looked at him. “I will try my hardest, my lord. But…do you always go about with no clothes on?” she whispered in embarrassment.
“It’s Logan, remember? And yes, I’m afraid I do. There have never been any women in this house and so my brother and I were not used to worrying if we were covered or not. The housekeeper always checked with Temple, our butler, to make sure we were not in the family wing of the house before she would allow the maids to come upstairs to clean. As we grew older, we hired extra footmen to do the work. So Phillip and I never thought twice about it. I guess we’ll have to be careful now. I’m sorry if it offends you.”
“I don’t mean to be offended, Logan, but you really are so . . .”
Logan grinned at her. “No need to explain. I’ll do my best to remember. Now, please try to look at me. I’m all covered up and before you melt into a puddle on the bed, please remove that extremely warm-looking robe.”
He was not all covered up. His impressive chest with the sprinkling of smooth dark hair that arrowed down to his stomach was still visible and she tried not to look at him. Staring across the room she said, “Oh, but all I have on under it is a very thin silk gown. I could hardly bear it when my maid was dressing me. I couldn’t look.” She buried her face in her hands.
“I’m beginning to believe that it is not me looking at you that is upsetting you as much as it is you looking at me. Do you believe this to be true, Juliana?”
“Oh yes, my – Logan. If I could only close my eyes until this night was over I do believe it would be so much easier for me. I could pretend that it was happening to someone else.”
He groaned inwardly. Just what a new husband wants to hear; that his bride would prefer to close her eyes and pretend that his love-making was happening to someone else. After that put-down, he’d be lucky if his cock ever rose again. And what if she rebuffed him? He had never been with a woman who had not shown interest if not an outright passion for him. It was about even in his mind, as to how many women had searched him out and how many women he had pursued. True, he had invested more time gaining intimacy with some than with others. That was how the game was played But this was no game to Juliana. She was having none of it.
He reached over for the sash on her robe. “Let me help you with this tie. I’ve got an idea that may make you feel much safer.”
Untying her robe he pulled the sash from around her and as she gasped at his sudden movement, he reached up and wrapped it around her head, covering her eyes and tying it loosely at the back. “How’s that now? You don’t have to look at me and you don’t have to see me looking at you. Is that better?”
“Oh, yes Logan. I feel much safer now.” To his surprise and satisfaction, he noted a small grin on her face.
“Good. Then let’s get that hot robe off you so you can relax and just talk with me about what you most want in our marriage.”
She started shrugging the robe off and he reached over to help her. As he pulled it down off her shoulders he inhaled quickly as he saw her lush breasts outlined in the sheer gown. My God! She was magnificent! Her nipples pushed against the silk telling him she was as tense as he. But wryly, he was sure it was from a different cause. He felt his groin begin to tighten and while he was relieved to know everything was still in working order, he knew he had a lot to do before he could claim her as his bride. She seemed calm and he continued helping her remove the robe, pulling it out from beneath her and leaving her ankles and feet peeking out from the hem of the silk gown. Although most of her face was covered by the sash, her upper lip was a full, lush cupid’s bow and her lower lip a smooth, perfect quarter moon. It was all Logan could do to stop himself from placing his mouth on hers and sucking on that lip. Dear God! All this was going to be his if he could only manage to control his lust and seduce her slowly. Very, very slowly.
Lord, she was beautiful. How could she not know this? But he had forgotten. She hadn’t seen herself like this ever in her adult life. He would make sure that was changed as soon as possible, but he knew he had to be careful not to frighten her.
“Is everything all right, Juliana?” he asked. “Do you feel safe?”
“Yes, Logan, I am so much more comfortable now. Tell me about the home we will live in. I am so anxious to live in a real home again. The Community was so cold and sterile. You would think that living with people who insist we pray to a God of love, they would also love the beauty he made on this earth. But everything was so cold and hard and gray. I mean, there was no softness in anything. Even this bed is like heaven, now that I can concentrate on the feel of it.”
Logan began telling Juliana about his life at Thornewood Hall. He talked about his brother Phillip, and what his duties would entail now that the responsibilities of the estate were on his shoulders. He talked and talked and finally wondered if she had become bored by it all. Glancing at her he noticed that she had fallen asleep. He reached over and pulled one of the pillows out from behind her. Wrapping an arm above her hips he pulled her down flat on the bed. He held his breath, praying she wouldn’t awaken. He had made such progress tonight and he was convinced she was no longer as afraid of him. She seemed to be sound asleep and so he gently untied the sash from around her eyes. The fire had burned down now and since it was cooler in the room, he pulled the sheet that covered him over and around her to keep her warm. He pulled her head down onto his shoulder and wrapped his arm around her. She slept on, exhausted from the day. She moaned in her sleep and rolled over, away from him, curling her knees up and tucking her round little butt into his belly. Oh, God! It had been so long. He started to harden as he snuggled her against him and curved his arm over her body, tucking his hand under one of those incredible breasts. It filled his hand. His long fingers curled around it as though it had been made for him. His arousal was complete. This wasn’t good. If she woke up and found him pawing her like a clod, he would have to start over again tomorrow night. He slid his hand slowly from beneath her satin covered breast and tried to be satisfied with the feel of her body spooned up close to him. This would be his only reward tonight. He listened to her breathing as it continued slow and even and finally, he too, dozed off.
The dawn crept in around the window drapes. The fire had burned down to nothing and the candles had sputtered out. He awakened with a shiver. It was cold in the room and he wondered why his backside was so cold while the front of him was so warm. He opened his eyes then and saw his wife snuggled into him. He remembered what a long night it had been and wondered how much of it would remain a positive memory for her. He carefully reached down to pull the satin coverlet up over their bodies. She groaned and snuggled tighter. She must have been cold too. He was afraid to breathe. He didn’t want her to awaken and become frightened, but his arm under her head was numb and prickling. He had to move. Gently he pulled it out from beneath her head and then she stretched and rolled over to face him. He stared down at her and held his breath. She seemed to move and get herself comfortable and just when he was ready to relax again, she opened her eyes, those beautiful turquoise eyes, and stared unblinking up at him. She looked so surprised. He could see her trying to piece together just where she was and why she was there with him. Her mouth opened in amazement, but before she could say anything he grinned at her.
“Good morning, sweetheart.