He found her in the garden. Quite by accident; it wasn't as if he'd gone strolling out into the night in search of his wayward housekeeper. In truth, he'd believed her to be fast asleep, tucked up safe and sound in her bedroom where she belonged. When Jean Beazley said she was going to do something she bloody well did it, and she'd told him she was off to bed hours before. And yet here she sat before him, blissfully unaware of his presence, her skin softly glowing by the light of the stars. It was a night for surprises, he supposed.

For a moment he indulged in watching her, this strange, fierce creature he had inherited along with his father's house. When he first met her, she had brought to mind the vision of a little bird trapped in a cage, singing merrily while the sun rose high overhead, and all who heard her remarking isn't it a lovely song, unable to understand the lament her heart poured out to them. There was something wild about her eyes, sometimes, the way she'd scan a room searching for an exit, the way her shoulders would sag, infinitesimally, when she realized there was no escape. At the moment she was relaxed, however, unfettered by anyone's expectations. She was seated on a gingham blanket spread smoothly over the grass, her long legs bare and stretching out before her, delicately crossed at the ankles. Her demure - if distractingly tight - skirt was pulled down over her knees, her blouse straining enticingly across her breasts as she reclined on her elbows, her eyes closed and her face turned up towards the stars as if she were sunbathing. It had not escaped his attention that she was a beautiful woman, despite her sorrow. Or perhaps, he thought as he approached her, because of it, because of her strength, her resilience, her determination that she would not be ruled by heartbreak, even if she could not banish it.

"Couldn't sleep?" he asked her softly as he reached the edge of her blanket.

Beneath him Jean startled, her eyes flying open at once and fixing him with a wary, steely grey stare. Those eyes; they haunted him, in the still of the night, when he'd drunk enough to be overcome with longing and yet not enough to quiet the demons that dogged his steps. Each time she looked at him, he recalled his school days, ungratefully reading the classics under his tutor's watchful eye, and he could not help but think of the grey-eyed goddess Athena, her might and her power and her beauty. Jean would have laughed in his face, he knew, should he mention such a thing to her, but he thought it nonetheless.

"No," she answered, clearing her throat primly and sitting up a little straighter, running a hand over her curls in what was almost certainly a subconscious gesture. Though she was perhaps the most independent woman he had ever known Jean had learned long ago what was expected of her, how to play the game in order to satisfy her own needs, and she was always immaculately dressed and pressed and armed for battle. He wanted to tell her not to fuss, wanted to tell her that she was beautiful, and so much more than that, but propriety stayed his tongue. He recognized the hypocrisy in that, and yet he did not press the issue.

"No, nor could I," he told her. For a moment he stood towering over her, feeling all at once awkward and alive, his hands shoved in his pockets while he watched and waited. There was a strange, ethereal quality to the darkness; being nearly two in the morning, it seemed as if all the world was asleep save for the pair of them, and that reality held within it equal parts possibility and danger. Jean still didn't know what to make of him, he knew, was still frustrated and flummoxed by his inability to fit into the role assigned to him, while she herself was resigned to following the steps of the dance that had been laid before her feet.

She gave a little sigh and patted the blanket beside her in a welcoming sort of gesture, and so Lucien hitched up his trouser legs and stretched himself out upon the ground. It had been quite some time since last he'd found himself in this position, lying on the grass on a fine summer evening with a beautiful woman beside him, and so he decided to make the most of it. He lay flat upon his back and folded his arms behind his head, staring up at the stars that had so fascinated his companion before his arrival. An arrival that had, it would seem, made Jean supremely nervous. She was sitting still as a statue, her hands folded in her lap, her eyes fixed firmly upon her feet. Her feet were as bare as her legs, her dainty, red-painted toenails mocking him from a distance.

"Tell, Mrs. Beazley," he said winsomely, not moving his gaze from the stars above him, "what's troubling you this evening?"

"I wish you wouldn't call me that," she said, in a voice so soft he almost didn't hear it. There was sorrow in that voice, but there was anger, too, and the sound of it pulled him upright. He sat beside her, shifting carefully so as not to disturb the blanket beneath them while he brought her face into his line of sight. For a moment he hesitated, wanting to reach out to her and yet holding himself back; there was so very much he didn't know about this woman, the troubles she'd endured over the course of her life, and so he held his breath, waiting for her to speak.

"Do you know how old I am, Lucien?" she asked him. The question struck him as odd, even as he berated himself for not knowing the answer. How could it be, he asked himself, that he'd been sharing a roof with this woman for the better part of a year, and did not know how old she was? He knew the day of her birth, if not the year, and rather hoped that the gift he'd given her would make up for his ignorance.

It would seem Jean had no intention of waiting for his answer.

"I'm forty-three. I was married for eight years, a lifetime ago. It doesn't seem fair, sometimes, that those eight years seem to matter more than the other thirty-five." She was still staunchly refusing to look at him, but there was a sickly light filtering out through the curtains over the kitchen windows, and when it struck her eyes he saw the glistening of unshed tears. From the other side of the blanket he could almost feel her berating herself for voicing such a thought aloud, but Lucien would never hold it against her. He knew rather how it felt, at times.

"You could go back to your maiden name," he suggested kindly, but Jean just laughed derisively.

"I can't, Lucien," she told him. "There's enough talk about you and I as it is. Can you imagine what they'd say if I changed my name? Perhaps I should stop wearing my wedding ring while I'm at it, and send all the ladies of Ballarat into collective apoplexy."

Despite himself Lucien laughed; she was a clever one, his Jean. Clever, and kind, but brittle, he knew. There was no mirth in her just now; she turned to him sharply, her eyes flashing in the darkness between them.

"Is everything a game to you?" she asked, her voice low but venomous. "I have been cold and lonely for seventeen years, Lucien. Seventeen years. Do you have any idea what that's like?"

As a matter of fact, he did have some idea, and he opened his mouth to tell her so, to defend himself against her sudden aggression, but she carried on, relentless. "Tell me the truth. When was the last time you...slept with a woman?" There was only the slightest hesitation, before she asked her question; her cheeks colored, her innate sense of decorum at war with the baser emotions that filled her, and in the end it was clearly her heart, and not her head, that won the battle. She lifted her chin in a show of defiance, and he couldn't help but wonder, for a moment, what exactly it was she was trying to prove.

The question itself was a difficult one; he knew the answer, but he feared the consequences. All around them the night was still and quiet and warm, the air close and thick with the crackling electricity that always seemed to spark between them. He could lie, he should lie, and yet he found that when she fixed those eyes upon him he was powerless to resist her.

"About two years ago," he said slowly, confused by the victorious jut of her jaw this response earned him.

"See?" she asked triumphantly.

He really didn't.

"It's different for you, Lucien," she explained impatiently. "You're a man, and a wealthy one. You're allowed a bit of leniency. It's almost expected of you, to go out and...scratch that itch." Even in the darkness he could tell that this conversation had made her somewhat uncomfortable, was testing the bounds of her own sense of propriety, but for some reason it seemed important to her that she carry on, and Lucien was not about to stop her. "No one would would be even remotely surprised, to hear such a thing about you. But the first question out of their mouths will always be who was the woman? You can do what you like, but the woman is eviscerated for it, every time."

His thoughts drifted back, trying to understand how exactly they had reached this point in the conversation, and then, quite suddenly her earlier confession hit him square in the chest. Seventeen years. Jean, beautiful, brilliant, gentle Jean, had been alone for seventeen bloody years. When was the last time, he wanted to ask her, when was the last time someone held your hand, kissed your cheek, set your heart to racing? Oh Jean, my Jean, how lonely have you been?

"You wouldn't be the first," he said softly. There was something about the darkness, the lateness of the hour, the pale glow of Jean's skin in the moonlight, that made him lower his voice, unwilling to speak too loudly lest this moment of opportunity should shatter all around him. Jean shifted away from him, and he realized belatedly how his comment sounded. He hadn't meant to imply...or perhaps he had. It was difficult to know, any more, what he'd meant, what he wanted. "I just meant, it happens. It happens all the time, and no one the wiser. For every story you hear there are ten you don't. You can be careful. You don't have to be alone, Jean."

Beside him she shivered; it was a warm night, he'd thought, but then she was a slight woman, and her blouse was thin, and she'd been out here much longer than he. I have been cold and lonely, she'd told him. In that moment, tracing the fine lines of her face with hungry eyes, he finally admitted to himself what he'd been denying from the moment he first met her; he did not want Jean to be cold, or lonely, ever again, and he wanted to be the reason why. He wanted his to be the arms that held her, his to be the lips that kissed her, his to be the heart that loved her. Perhaps it was madness, to think a woman as good and kind as Jean might stoop so low as to have a man like him, but he wanted it - wanted her - with a ferocity that shocked him. Already she knew him, understood him better than even she realized, had wormed her way beneath his skin and taken up residence among the shattered ruins of his heart.

With a great deal more courage than he actually felt, he shuffled closer to her. When she did not protest he took this as a point in his favor, and boldly wrapped his arm around her waist. To his surprise, and his delight, she rested her head upon his shoulder, letting loose a deep, weary sigh.

"Are you cold now?" he asked her. The faint scent of her perfume floated on the balmy summer breeze and set his heart to racing.

She shook her head, her soft hair tickling his chin through his short beard. For a time he satisfied himself with this, with holding her, comforting her in the darkness, telling himself he ought to be thankful for even this small gift. It was more than he would have believed possible just that morning, and he was determined to enjoy it for as long as he could, determined to be a gentleman, and push her no further.

He had no sooner resolved himself to this chaste embrace and quieted the hungry impulses of his baser nature than Jean spoke again, and dispelled all the constraints he had placed upon himself.

"Thank you, Lucien," she breathed into the darkness. "For sharing your warmth with me."

He turned sharply at those words, and all at once found himself staring into her eyes, wide and bright, the color of the sea in a storm. Seated as they were upon the ground their faces were very nearly on the same level, and only inches away, close enough for him to feel the warm wash of her breath upon his cheekbone when she gasped. The right thing to do, he knew, would be to pull away now, perhaps kiss her gently on the cheek or forehead - somewhere safe - and then help her to her feet and lead her into the house. Lucien had never been very good at doing the right thing, however.

"I'm happy to," he told her, his words dripping with longing and double meaning, a meaning she understood all too well, if the sudden flush of her cheeks was anything to go by. "Whenever you want, Jean," he continued, closing the small space between them and planting his lips upon the rise of one of those pale pink cheeks. "Whatever you want," he added in a voice that was hardly more than a whisper. He pressed his nose to the soft of skin of her cheek, his lips open and millimeters from hers. Beneath his arm he felt her trembling, but she did not back away. Her hands rose up, cradling his face, but she made no move to separate them.

It was heaven, it was hell, it was purgatory, it was somehow all three, sitting there with his arm around her, the scent of her skin invading his senses, her thumbs tracing his cheekbones while she shook beneath him like a leaf in the wind. They were balanced together on the edge of a knife, with no indication of which way they might fall, each of them waiting with bated breath for Jean to speak and decide their fate. In the heartbeats that passed between his declaration and her response he closed his eyes and nestled closer to her, breathing her in deeply, struggling to keep from pressing her back against the gingham until she told him straight out what it was she wanted from him. This was Jean, beautiful, sweet Jean, who had confessed her lonesomeness to him, had unveiled this previously hidden piece of her heart to him, and it was Jean he wanted, Jean he needed, Jean he craved.

"We can't," she whispered, but even in those words of rejection he heard her pleading with him, with herself, trying to find some way to change the answer. A good man would have nodded and left her then. A good man would have respected her reputation. A good man would have put a ring upon her finger, done everything in the proper order.

Lucien Blake was not a good man.

"It's no one's business what you do, Jean," he told her softly. Her hands still held his face, neither drawing him closer or pushing him away, only cradling him gently, her whole body tight and tense beneath him. "The house is empty," he pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth, hoping against hope that she would take the leap and tumble with him from the precipice. "The whole city is asleep," another kiss, another silent prayer for clemency, for benediction, for the blissful touch of her hands to never leave his skin.

"You are the devil, Lucien Blake," she breathed, her voice quivering with undisguised longing. "You have found me dying in the desert, and you offer me water in exchange for my soul."

"Your soul is yous, Jean," he told her earnestly, meaning every word. Jean was a good Catholic girl, he knew, a girl who regularly attended mass and prayed for her neighbors and did not tolerate even the appearance of sin in her house. But the bindings of her religions and her society were chafing her, he knew; she had been too long restrained, unable to follow the desires of her heart, and Lucien wanted, with all his heart, to set her free, to watch her soar. "At least this way you'll have something interesting to confess next time."

She laughed, a startled, slightly damp sounding laugh, but even so it lifted his spirits immensely. The hand that clasped her hip gave her a gentle squeeze, pulled her in tighter, a question asked and then answered by her own hands, still cradling his face. Ever so carefully she moved him back from her, taking a moment to stare into his eyes before she smiled the most glorious - albeit tremulous - smile he had ever seen.

"I don't want to be lonely any more," she told him, and before he could respond, she leaned forward, and gently brushed her lips against his own.


Jean's head was spinning, the moment her lips touched his. Somewhere in the back of her mind a voice was shrieking, crying out a warning; this was madness, and she knew it. Lucien was her employer, she depended on him to keep herself housed and fed, and it would not do, to allow him to take such liberties, to blur the lines in their relationship. It was madness, but she could not bring herself to stop, not now when her heart was singing, when he had tangled his fingers in her curls and brought her lips back to his own, eager for more. Seventeen years she had been waiting, in mourning and penitience for a man whose face she could hardly recall, no matter how she had loved him once. Seventeen years, a lifetime of waiting, of feeling her heart withering in her chest, in railing against the senseless waste. She carried within her so much love, bottled up, with nowhere to go, no one to lavish it upon, and somehow fate - or God, or the devil himself - had sent this man to her, this beautiful, terrible man with his hungry eyes and his powerful hands. This man who held her like she was precious, who had so far done no more than kiss her, and yet with his lips and his tongue had left her feeling as bare as if she were laid out naked before him.

Despite all her reservations she kissed him back with equal ardor, gasping when she felt his tongue brushing against her own. Seventeen years, since last she'd indulged this wanton, needy piece of herself, and she loosed it now in earnest, her inhibitions falling by the side as he plucked the pins from her hair and let her curls fall in reckless abandon all around them. On and on it went, a kiss that only grew in intensity as they both struggled to pull themselves closer together, hungry for the brush of skin on skin, drunk on the taste of one another. And then, quite suddenly, Lucien's hand abandoned her hair; he gripped her hips in his hands, and with a strength she hardly knew he possessed he lifted her as easily as if she were a doll, their lips never parting as he settled her upon his lap. Jean gasped into their kiss but he carried on, heedless. Her skirt was bunched up around her waist, her bare thighs revealed and pressed hard against his own, solid as marble beneath his trousers, but she could not spare a moment to wonder at her own recklessness, not when she knelt above him like this, her fingertips tracing the veins of his neck while his lips and the rough scrape of his beard burned her alive with want of him.

It had not escaped her notice, that Lucien Blake was a handsome man. Tall and broad-shouldered, the muscles of his arms sculpted and well defined, the expanse of his chest teasing her beneath the fine material of his expensive suits. Try though she might, she had - more than once - caught herself staring at the curve of his bicep, the flexing of his thigh as he walked, and though she chastised herself for it later, those visions had been all but burned into her brain, some small, hungry piece of her wondering what it might feel like to run her hands along his skin, to feel the heat and the hardness of him beneath her touch. And oh, but she could feel him now, could feel the strength in the arms that held her, the desire in the lips that kissed her, the throbbing need that pulsed from the growing bulge in his trousers up between her thighs. All unthinking she rocked against him, her body taking over as rational thought deserted her, and beneath her Lucien groaned, and dragged his lips down the column of her throat.

For the first time since that kiss had begun she took a deep breath, and released it with a helpless whimper as his lips landed upon her pulse point, suckling gently while she rocked above him and his hands mapped a path from the nape of her neck all the way down to the swell of her bottom. Here his hands stopped, curving into her, guiding the motion of her hips, encouraging her to buck against him, the delicious friction leaving her breathless. For the moment they were still fully dressed, seated upon her gingham blanket, with no one to see them save the stars. Jean had never made love outside before, but she was relishing it now, exulting in the certainty of his hands guiding her along, in the way he dispelled her every doubt and left her full of him instead.

"Jean," he groaned her name against her skin, his breath hot as fire, but she could not respond; she felt as if she had taken flight, as if the roaring in her ears was not her blood thrumming through her veins but the sound of the wind whistling beneath the wings that had he given her. He had set her free, and she was reveling in it, for the first time in a very long while.

His hands were on the move again; he dragged his fingertips slowly up her bare thighs, the promise in that touch setting her to trembling with a desperate longing, but then his touch was gone, and she was bereft. He was following the lines of her shape over her clothing now, his hands passing over her hips, her sides, his thumbs brushing against the straining swells of her breasts before at last he came to a stop, and began slowly, steadily unbuttoning her blouse. Eager and uncertain all at once she rewarded his boldness with another downward thrust of her hips, feeling his hardness through all the layers that separated them still, feeling the way he shuddered in response, his lips tightening against her skin momentarily. She opened her mouth to admonish him, to warn him not to leave a mark, but then he moved on; it would seem he did not need her warnings. Already he knew what she needed, knew how to love her well, and she gave herself over to him entirely.

Before she realized what had happened he finished unbuttoning her blouse, but he let out a soft sound of displeasure when he slipped it from her shoulders and found her slip instead. She reached out and caught his face in her hands once more, tilting her head back so that she could look into his eyes, those eyes as bright and blue as the sky, terrible and fierce and burning with longing for her.

"I want to see you," he all but growled. Though she opened her mouth to respond he did not give her a chance to speak before he was moving them again; ever so gently he flipped them, eased her to the ground so that she was lying on her back beneath him, staring up at him in wonder, her hands coming to rest on his shoulders, fingers curling into his muscles and clinging to him for dear life.

If he wanted to see her it was nothing compared to her own desire to have him bare beneath her hands, and so she helped him to divest her of her many layers in the hopes that the sooner she was naked, the sooner he would be, also. It took some doing; every morning she wrapped herself in delicate armor, each piece designed to hide her true self from the world, to mold her into the vision of demure widowhood the world seemed to demand from her. And though she hated it, Jean knew what was expected of her, and played the game better than anyone, walking with her head held high though her heart was screaming. It seemed right, somehow, that Lucien should be the one to see her, to see all of her, the spread of her hips and the silvery stretch marks around her thighs and the soft pink of her nipples, all those pieces of herself she tried so hard to hide; he was the bravest man she'd ever known, a man dedicated to truth in all things, a man who had seen the world, yet somehow had chosen her to love on this night, and she was grateful for it.

Finally his task was finished and he sat back on his heels for a moment, his eyes shining at her through the darkness as he drank in the sight of her. If she had to give a name to the look upon his face she would have called it besotted, but then those heavenly lips descended upon her breast and she was left to operate on sensation alone, arching into his touch, her hands scrabbling for purchase on the smooth fabric of his shirt stretched taut across his powerful shoulders, unable to contain the soft pants of desire that came flooding out of her. It had been so bloody long; she wanted to weep, for she could not remember a time when she had felt this loved, this needed, this desirable. The touch of his lips upon her breast, the soft swirling of his tongue around her rapidly hardening nipple, the strength of the hand that curled around her thigh left her breathless and more aroused than she could ever recall being in her entire life. In his arms she felt delicate, and fragile, and fierce, and loved, but she could not spare a moment to dwell on how strange that was, that Lucien's touch should make her feel that way, when they had only known one another for such a little while.

"Lucien," she gasped his name. Already she could feel herself spiraling into a sea of pleasure, but she needed him, needed to feel the heat of his skin, and she could no longer bear the friction of his trousers against the delicate skin of her inner thighs. "Please."

He lifted his head from her breast, his eyes hopeful and uncertain all at once. "I want to see you, too," she whispered, her palm finding its way to his cheek, smiling when he pressed himself into her touch. With a smile as bright as the sun itself he nodded and rose to tower above her, a Greek god come to life, lit from behind by the glow of the kitchen lights, from above by the shining of the stars. He stripped himself unselfconsciously, and she watched in awe and desperate need, her mind reeling at the thought that this was Lucien, sliding his trousers down his legs while she stared unabashedly at him from her perch upon the ground. Hidden as they were at the back of the house, surrounded by a wall of hedges and cloaked in the anonymity of the night, Jean did not worry that any of the neighbors might see them, and with Danny and Mattie both away for the evening they found themselves for once well and truly alone, and she smiled, just a little, to think that this was how they had chosen to use their time by themselves. It was, she decided, the best occupation they could have found for themselves. Whatever trouble it may bring upon them, she was determined to weather it. She had denied herself too long, and now she was no longer certain that she could.

The moment he was naked Lucien was in her arms once more; her eyes snapped shut and a whimper escaped her as she felt his hardness nudging against her entrance, already damp with need of him, but Lucien it would seem was in no particular hurry to couple them. He resumed his previous position, his lips lavishing attention on her other, as yet neglected breast, while his hand traced patterns across the soft skin of her stomach and left her tingling with anticipation. She knew what he was doing, as that hand slipped ever lower, and she urged him on with each quiet shift of her body, cradling him there between her thighs and canting her hips towards him in silent invitation. It was an invitation he accepted at once; his fingers slid down, through the raspy curls at her center until he was tracing the shape of her folds and she was mewling with barely repressed longing. She wanted to encourage him, to tell him what to do and where to go, but she could not form the words, and it would appear that Lucien needed no instruction; he found the spot, the one that made her buck her hips up towards him and gasp in delight, and he set to with a will. His thumb traced circles around and around her while first one and then two fingers dipped inside her folds, curling into her, his movements perfectly orchestrated and relentless, building her up and up and up until her vision went white and she bit her lip to keep from crying out her pleasure. Just the touch of his hand, that insistent, careful caress, the endless thrusting of his fingers inside her, had been enough to fling her out into the stars, to bring her to such heights as she had not ascended for such a very long time, and when finally her release washed over her she nearly wept with the magnitude of it, her legs locked around his waist and her hands fisted in the gingham blanket beneath her.

"Jean," Lucien growled against her breast where his lips and teeth had left a darkening bruise. "My Jean."

Though she wanted very to much to answer him she found she could not spare the breath to speak, and so she reached out to him instead, one hand drawing his face back to hers for a desperate, needy kiss while the other reached between them, intent on finding his hardness. He groaned against her lips when her hand wrapped around his shaft, and she grinned, breathless and powerful and alive, more alive than she had felt for years now. Beneath her hand he was hot and hard and throbbing with want of her, and so she did not tease him; she stroked him a few times, because she could, because she liked the way it felt when he pressed himself into her touch and growled her name against her lips. And then she shifted, preparing them both for what was to come.

Lucien recognized his cue and withdrew his hand from between her legs, lifting himself up above her in the darkness as she carefully guided him in. Her vision went black around the edges, when she felt the tip of him slip between her folds, but to his credit Lucien did not push her. He eased into her gently, one stroke, two, three, moving slowly, gradually sinking further and further until he was fully sheathed inside her. For her part Jean felt as if she were about to fly apart on the spot, overwhelmed and overcome with so many emotions she felt like to burst from the strain of keeping it all inside. He filled her fully, completely, deliriously, and she felt herself stretched almost to the point of pain; it was a delicious sort of pain, though, one that left her hungry for more.

"I'll be damned for this," she breathed, knowing it was true, that anything that felt this good must surely be a sin.

"At least we'll be together, then," Lucien answered, kissing her cheek once before he withdrew, sliding almost all the way out of her, the heat between them mounting with each passing second. And then he thrust sharply, filling her all at once, and she could not stop the cry that passed her lips at the sensation. She locked her ankles around his waist, fingertips digging into the rough, scarred skin of his back, and clung to him as he set up a heavy, relentless pace, pounding into her. The ground was unforgiving beneath her and she knew that she would feel the bruises of this love tomorrow, and the day after that, but she could not bring herself to regret it.

"Jean," he breathed her name again, the sounds of their lovemaking muffled by the trees and the hedges but echoing loud as gunfire in her mind.

"Don't stop," she begged him.

And he didn't. He continued, barreling into her, each movement of his hips punctuated by a soft, needy sound from her and a low, satisfied groan from him. Jean was utterly swept away by it, all but weeping in her need and her joy as again and again he filled her, as the coil of desire deep inside her wound tighter and tighter until at last he sent her tumbling from the edge; her nails scarred his back and she rose up, her lips attaching themselves to his shoulder to stop her crying out too loudly as her inner muscles clamped down upon his hardness like a vise. Her abandon was his undoing; he thrust into her trembling heat, once, twice, three times more, and then he was groaning his own satisfaction, spilling himself inside her while she trembled and shook and fell apart beneath him.


Lucien wasn't sure how long it took, for his breathing to return to something resembling normal, but when he came back to his senses he found himself still lying on top of her, his rapidly softening cock still buried in her still-fluttering heat, his head pillowed on her breast. Her legs were still clamped tight around his hips, her hands tracing over the scratches she had left down his back.

That shocked him more than anything else; it had been years, since he had allowed anyone to touch the scars that marred his flesh, and yet in the heat of their passion he had not thought twice about allowing Jean such liberty. Perhaps it was because he knew that she would be careful with him, that she could be trusted with his body as well as his heart. And she had rewarded that trust, for the scratches that she had left upon his back had not wounded him, but healed him, had brought him peace and joy and completion. It would not do, he knew, to lie there atop her indefinitely, and so he carefully extricated himself from her embrace, his heart rejoicing at the soft sound of displeasure that passed her lips when he uncoupled himself from her. Without a word she rolled against his side and he wrapped his arm around her, holding her close for as long as she would let him.

Which was not very long, in the end.

"We can't do this again, Lucien," she told him sadly, though she punctuated her words with a tender kiss pressed against his bare shoulder. He buried his face in her hair and breathed her in, pondering how best to answer her. This night had been a dream, a gift more precious than any he had ever received, and he could not bear the thought of seeing her every day, and yet not being allowed to touch her, to love her, whenever he chose. There were promises he might make to her, words he could speak that would bind them together, that would allow him to take such liberties, but he could not make those promises to her yet; he did not know what had befallen his family, and he felt it would be unjust, to offer himself to Jean when he did not even know if he was free to do so. And even if he did, he imagined she would likely spurn him, remind him that it wouldn't do, for a doctor to wed his housekeeper, even if they were both widowed, and too young to resign themselves to a lifetime alone, even if she did make love to him in a way that shook him to his very foundations. Their position was precarious indeed, and all he wanted, in that moment, was to reassure her.

"If that's what you want, Jean," he told her softly. "If you don't want to, then we won't, and I'll never speak of this again. But if… if it ever gets to be too much," he leaned back, wanting to look into her eyes as he spoke these words, "if you ever find yourself cold and alone again, I will be here, in whatever way you'll have me."

Those grey eyes held him, watched him, consumed him. "Thank you, Lucien," she breathed. Gingerly she closed the space between them and kissed him once, softly, so sweetly he thought he might cry, and then she pulled away from him.

Lucien took this as his cue to rise as well, stuffing himself back into his trousers for the short walk to the house. Beside him Jean stared at the pile of her clothes with a doeful gaze; he fancied he could imagine what she was thinking, how loath she might be to don her many layers once again, when she had only so recently cast them aside. And then she surprised him, his Jean, who always had to have everything just so; she wrapped herself in the gingham blanket, careful to avoid the damp spot they'd left behind, and gathered her clothes into her arms. Her hair was wild and unruly and beautiful, and as she stood before him, draped in the blanket and glowing from the touch of his hands, he found he understood why men had written odes to Athena, to her beauty and her wisdom and her terrible power.

"Good night, Lucien," she breathed, and then she set out for the house, leaving him to watch her go, his thoughts awash with her, and only her. Regardless of what she'd said, he knew in his heart this would not be the last time. Perhaps they would not settle into a comfortable affair, but he would have her again, he knew. The loneliness would come calling for her again, and when it did, he would be ready to hold her, to protect her, to shelter her in his arms and offer her what little comfort he could.