Stephen gave up all pretense of trying to carry on an intelligent conversation and slid a glance at her bent head. He was sitting in a noisy public place, with a bulging arousal that felt as if he'd been indulging in an hour of intense sexual foreplay instead of merely holding hands with an inexperienced virgin. His heart was beating in the heavy, insistent tempo that came with denying himself a climax while he maximized his pleasure, and still he did not stop her. Instead he opened his hand more, fingers splaying in willing submission to his own torture.
He could not believe what she was doing to him, and he was deriving almost as much pleasure from knowing she wanted to touch him as from her sweet stroking.
In the glittering, sophisticated world he inhabited, the roles were clearly defined: wives were for the breeding of an heir; husbands were a social and financial necessity; mistresses gave and received passion. Couples who had nothing in common with their own spouses had affairs with other people's spouses. Stephen could think of perhaps twenty couples, among the thousands he knew, who shared anything stronger than mild affection. He could think of hundreds who shared nothing at all. Wives did not yearn for a husband's touch, they did not deliberately incite a husband's yearning for theirs. And yet that was exactly what Sherry was doing.
Beneath lowered lids, he gazed at her profile as she delicately traced something onto his sensitized palm, then traced the same thing again. The third time she did it, he tried to distract himself from the desire that was flowing from the nerve endings in his open palm throughout his entire nerve stream, and to concentrate on what she was doing. With her fingertip she drew an open circle on his palm and then two perpendicular lines joined at the bottom:
Stephen drew a ragged breath and lifted his gaze to her profile while in his mind he dragged her into a darkened corner and covered that soft mouth with his…
He was mentally kissing her breasts when a commotion below heralded the beginning of the opera and he wasn't certain whether he was relieved or sorry to have her distracted, but distracted she was.
Sherry leaned forward expectantly, watching as the crimson draperies swept open beneath a graceful arch with painted figures of women holding trumpets and wreaths of laurel. And then the orchestra began to play, and she forgot the world.
Stephen held her hand on the way home, feeling a little foolish for his boyish pleasure in the simple touch. "I gather you liked the performance," he said idly as he walked beside her to the front door of his house, their path illuminated by a bright full moon.
"I loved it!" she said, her eyes filled with excited wonder. "I think I recognized it. Not the words, but the melody."
That piece of good news was followed by another: as Colfax helped Sherry off with her light cape, he volunteered the gratifying information that Stephen's mother had retired for the night. "Thank you, Colfax, I suggest you do the same," Stephen hinted flatly, his mind instantly replaying his fantasy at the opera. The butler took himself off down the hall, snuffing out all but the candles in the entry, and Stephen looked down at Sherry as she started to bid him good-night.
"Thank you for a wonderful evening, my lor—"
"My name is Stephen," he told her, wondering how in God's name he could have forgotten to ask her to use it.
Sherry tried it out, loving the strange intimacy of it. "Thank you, Stephen." There was little time to relish it, however, because he took her elbow and guided her firmly down the dark hall into a moonlit salon, closed the door, and turned to her instead of walking further into the room.
With the door behind her and his body in front of her, Sherry looked at his moonlit face, trying to imagine what he intended to do in the dark. "What—?" she began.
"This—" he answered. Bracing his flattened palms on the door on either side of her head, he leaned his body into hers and lowered his head.
Before Sherry could react, his mouth seized hers, stealing her breath while his hard body pressed into hers, his hips moving slightly, and the effect on her senses was stunning. With a silent moan, she slid her hands around his neck and kissed him back, welcoming the invasion of his tongue, glorying in the rasp of his breath as he kissed her harder, helplessly yielding her body to the insistent movements of his hips.
Carrying the morning Post in his hand, Thomas Morrison strolled into his cozy dining room and looked cautiously at his new wife, who was toying with her breakfast, staring out the window at the noisy London street. "Charise, what has been bothering you these last few days?"
Charise looked up at the face she'd thought so handsome on the ship, and then at the tiny little dining room in his tiny little house, and she was so furious with him and herself that she didn't deign to reply. On the ship he'd seemed so dashing and romantic in his uniform, and he'd spoken to her so gallantly, but all that had changed as soon as she'd said her vows. After that, he'd wanted her to do that disgusting thing in bed with him, and when she told him she hated it, he'd been cross with her for the first time. Once she made him understand that she was not going to put up with him or that, their brief honeymoon in Devon had been pleasant enough for her. But when he brought her back to London and she saw his house, she'd been dumbstruck. He'd lied to her, misled her into believing he had a fine house and an excellent income, but by her standards, this was near-poverty, and she despised it, and him.
If she'd married Burleton, she would have been a baroness; she could have shopped in the fabulous shops she'd seen in Bond Street and Piccadilly. Right now, right this very minute, she'd be wearing a beautiful ruffled morning gown and paying a morning call on one of her fashionable new friends who lived in those splendid mansions along Brook Street and Pall Mall. As it was, she'd spent all her money on a single gown, and then gone for a stroll in Green Park, where the Quality walked in the afternoon, and they'd ignored her as if she didn't exist! She hadn't realized what a necessity a noble title was until she'd strolled in the park yesterday afternoon and witnessed the sort of tightly knit, closed society that existed here.
Not only that, when her loathsome husband asked the cost of the gown and she told him, the man had looked as if he was going to cry! Instead of being admired and praised for her excellent taste and lovely figure, all he'd thought about was the money.
She was the one who had a right to cry, she thought furiously, glancing contemptuously at him as he read the newspaper. At home in Richmond, she'd been the one whom people envied and imitated. Now she was nothing—less than nothing—and she was consumed by envy every day when she went to the park and watched the ton promenading about, and ignoring her.