It was, somehow, both the beginning and the end of everything. All that had been would be erased, replaced, faded somehow if not forgotten entirely, all that was new coming to take its place. What had been would never be again; what was coming remained to be seen.

Such strange, not altogether unpleasant, thoughts filled Lucien's mind as his restless feet carried him to the studio. The studio, so long a place out of time, a place of memory, a mausoleum to what once was, had been reborn already. Weeks of careful work had changed it, shaped it, remade it in the vision of what was to come. New sofa, new rugs, a new grand bed to replace the one that he and Jean had broken in their furious passions, new artwork upon the walls. The studio had never looked like this, while Genevieve Blake yet lived. What would she think of it now? He asked himself. Would she smile, to see her son happy, and in love, would she have approved of Jean, with her stubborn practicality and her dreamer's heart, would she have thought this a fitting place for Jean and Lucien to begin their new lives together, or would she lament for the loss of the one corner of the house that had remained hers, and hers alone, for the last fifty years? Would she think it tragic, that those rooms once given over entirely to the pursuit of creativity and artistry would now be devoted instead to domestic bliss? Somehow, Lucien thought not. Somehow he rather thought that if his mother were watching over him, still, she would have seen all that he had suffered, and she would have been glad to see him happy now, and settled.

For he was, happy, and settled. His many long years of wandering and lonesomeness had come to an end; he had a home, now, and friends, ate his meals at a table full of the laughing faces of those he held dearest in all the world, and his only dreams, at present, were quiet, hopeful dreams of Jean. Jean, beautiful, and with him always. She would be, now; til death do us part.

The arrangements had all been made for a quiet ceremony at the Colonists', a civil service to which Jean had not objected, despite Lucien's fears on the subject. So much had happened in recent days; the loss of Edward Tyneman, and then the loss of his father so soon afterward, and in the upheaval Lucien had been left wondering if perhaps the universe was trying to tell him something. The flowers had been purchased, and his Aunt Dorothy had emerged from the ether, just in time to reunite him with his kin ahead of the nuptials - she had sniffed, when Jean passed her an invitation, but she had also promised to attend, and that was, Lucien thought, all for the good. They had done everything that they could, but then horror had come for them, had stolen Patrick bloody Tyneman and his son both, and though Lucien had at various points hated each man for various reasons he couldn't help but grieve for them, and wonder if perhaps it would be crass to carry on as if nothing had happened.

Jean, of course, remained adamant that the ceremony go on. That had surprised him, initially; she was the more spiritual - and the more superstitious - of the pair of them, and he'd thought that surely she would see recent events as an ill omen, a harbinger of doom. And yet she had said no, firmly, and without doubt, when he asked if they ought to postpone. Her reasoning - that Patrick himself had insisted they celebrate their nuptials and wait for no man - seemed somewhat weak to Lucien, but he had watched the shadows playing across her collarbones and swallowed hard, thinking how he loved her, how he feared if he did not snatch her up now the chance would be taken from him. Perhaps fate meant to forestall them; fate could hang.

So many stumbling blocks had been thrown in their path, but they had surmounted them, every one. The mystery of Lucien's mother's death, Jean's disastrous departure for Adelaide, the catastrophe of Mei Lin's return and the subsequent battle between Jean's tender heart and the church that had raised her; any one of those things should have been sufficient to spell an end to his hopes, and yet here he stood, in the room he was to share with Jean for the rest of his life, on the eve of their wedding, and everything seemed to be in order. Everything save for his own nagging doubts.

In addition to the somewhat fantastical musings of his heart - had God himself killed Patrick Tyneman, just to stop Lucien ruining Jean's life? - more practical concerns reared their heads. For so long their relationship had flourished in the shadows, far from prying eyes. He thought of that night he first held her in the garden, and all the many months that passed before he held her again, thought of every day and every night he'd spent knowing the truth of her beauty and yet attempting to conceal his attraction to her. He thought of how Mei Lin's sudden return from the dead had taken all his hopes and dashed them, thought of how when he and Jean ought to have been most content and hopeful they were instead wary and uncertain. He thought of the days after, when Jean would slip his ring off her finger before going out to the butcher's, how she loved him, promised herself to him, and yet refused to claim him in public. That had all changed now, of course, but was the change for the better? Would their hearts still beat so wildly, would their passion still burn so brightly, when this thing between them had been sanctioned by the state and sealed with rings, when they had no more need to hide? Some relationships thrived on excitement and the need for secrecy, withered in the light of public scrutiny. Would theirs be one such? Months from now would Jean wake beside him, and sigh, and ask herself what she thought she was doing, wasting her life on a man like him?

All I ever hoped for was that you would do your best.

All you have to do is be the best version of Lucien Blake you can, for her.

Eerily similar advice from two disparate sources echoed in his mind in the stillness of the studio. Perhaps his father and Matthew Lawson were both right; perhaps if he tried his best, that would be enough, for Jean. Enough for her to love him, and never leave him. Christ, he would give all of himself, everything he had, just to keep her with him.

And by the end of the following day, those vows would be sealed in ink, sworn and stated, irrevocable and binding, forever. He would not see her again until the ceremony, she had been quite clear on that point. He had his stag do - such as it was, just a quiet evening at the Pig & Whistle with Matthew and Charlie and Danny come in from Melbourne - and Jean had her hen night - supper at home with Alice and Rose and Danny's mum and one or two of the ladies from Sacred Heart who still spoke to her. The moment he stepped through the front door Jean had vanished from sight, and come the morning Matthew was under strict instructions to take Lucien to the club and keep him there while Jean and her ladies took over the house for all their many preparations. A long, intolerable stretch of hours lay before him, hours in which the dearest desire of his heart - a few moments spent alone with Jean - would be beyond his reach. It would be worth it in the end, he was certain, for the wash of relief and joy he would feel when he turned and found Jean walking down the makeshift aisle toward him. Any amount of suffering would be worth it in the end, if Jean was to be his reward.

Still, though, the separation rankled. Jean was the only person on earth who could quiet his mind, and she was the only person on earth who could hear his concerns, and put them to rest. He was sorely tempted to go in search of her, to climb the stairs to her little room and knock upon the door, to sit down on the edge of her bed and take her hand and ask if this was what she wanted, truly, to be bound to him forever, or if she wanted to run now, before it was too late. He would rather be miserable and alone forever than hurt her; if she asked it of him, he would have let her go, though a part of him would die in the process.

She'd never ask, he tried to remind himself as he stared into the cold grate of the empty fireplace. There had already been ample opportunity for Jean to run if she wished, but she had not. She had stayed the course, stayed with him, and with her gentle kiss and tender devotion she had reminded him, at every opportunity, that she loved him, just as he loved her. Still, though, one last bit of reassurance would have been nice. A man would have his doubts, on his wedding day.

The ending; of strife, of doubt, of hiding, of fear. The beginning; of hope, of joy, of a life spent together, their purposes joined into one. Everything, all at once.

Strangely, he found himself concerned about the wedding night. It would hardly be the first time he and Jean had fallen into bed together, would not even be the tenth. They had touched one another before they'd ever loved one another, had grown from strangers to lovers to friends to this, this wholeness, this unification in which she had become part of his very self, in which to be without her would be to tear his very soul asunder. To think, he had once thought her cold; now he knew the heat of the fire that burned through her veins, and laughed at his own folly. She was everything; she was the moon, and he the tide, endless seeking to follow where she led, any good in his life a reflection of her beauty. She was everything, but how was he to make her feel special, cherished, how was he to take her in a way that felt equal to the gravity of the moment, and not a repetition of a dance they'd done before? At the end of such a monumental day, such an earth-shattering, destiny-making day, how could he be certain they would fall into bed in bliss and in love, and not simply drift off to sleep without any sort of climax whatsoever? He was not a young man, any more, but he was not so old that he would let exhaustion claim him without first claiming her, no matter how eventful the day.

But they had, already, come together in every way it was possible for a man and woman to join themselves, and he found himself wondering whether he would be enough to keep her...entertained, for the rest of their lives, or for as long as his body was still willing. What newness was left to them? And what joy could be found in routine? How did a man seduce his own wife?

Some plans he had laid in that regard; Charlie had promised to run an errand for him, before the ceremony. The ladies were due to arrive at the Colonists' on the dot of 4:00, and when they did Charlie would race off for the house, depositing an ice bucket and champagne in the studio, for the newly married couple to enjoy when they returned home after the reception. Matthew had booked himself a room in the Royal Cross for the evening - and not objected when Lucien passed him a wad of notes with his cheeks flushed pink, attempting to make amends, for while he was very grateful to know he and Jean would have the house all to themselves for the night he was well aware Matthew had done it to spare himself the indignity of having to listen to whatever they got up to. Champagne, and roses - there were already several bouquets scattered about the studio - and an empty house, these things he could give to her, but would they be enough?

Then again perhaps some things could not be planned; perhaps it was possible to overthink matters in this particular instance. After all, on most of the occasions when he'd found himself wrapped up in Jean in the past he had not planned any of it, and they had both enjoyed themselves immensely. Perhaps a little spontaneity would serve him well.

Thoughts of the wedding night, and Jean, and the way her body arched and bowed and rippled beneath him in pleasure, rather predictably sent all the blood in his body rushing south with all due speed. And for once he allowed it, allowed the desire and the wanting to wash over him neither feeling guilt nor seeking to alleviate the ache. It would be good, he thought, to ache, to pine for her, so that when he at last had her alone he could shower her with every inch of the affection he carried for her. It would be good, he thought, to muse on the loveliness of his bride-to-be, to think how deeply she moved him, to remember that no woman had so affected him since the heady days of his youth. Her soft skin, her tender heat, the swell of her breast filling his palm, her lilting cries; she was a masterpiece, his Jean, and only he was allowed the grace to witness her in such a state of transcendent bliss. It was a gift, he thought, to love a woman so.

She was a gift, and the truly marvelous thing was that she seemed to love him, too, seemed to be as ready to join her life to his as he was to have her, seemed to want him, though he could not fathom why. Her mind was a mystery to him, even now, and likely always would be; Jean was a world unto herself, and at times he felt as if he had only just scratched the surface of the labyrinth that lay behind her sparkling eyes.

The quiet sound of a footfall behind him shocked him out of his reverie, and he turned, forgetting for a moment that he wore nothing more than a pair of sleeping pants, that his chest and feet were bare and that thoughts of his Jean and the rather thin material of his trousers would make his tumescence apparent to anyone who stumbled across him in this state. It was very late, and Matthew had long since shuffled off to bed, and Jean should have been sleeping, and for all those reasons he had been too surprised, too curious to remember to cover himself.

Jean should have been sleeping, but she wasn't; she was standing in the doorway to the studio in a pale pink nightdress with her dark hair tumbling all round her shoulders, and she was smiling.

"Hello," Lucien said, his voice hushed by the stillness of the night and the sanctity of her sudden appearance. She was so lovely, so achingly lovely, and he had just been thinking how dearly he wished to see her, and now that she stood before him he was not entirely sure that she was real, was half afraid she was no more than an apparition conjured by his own wanting heart.

"Hello, my love," she answered just as softly, a teasing smile tugging up the corner of her mouth as she took in the sight of him, half-dressed and mussed and wanting her. "You should be asleep."

My love, she had called him. Such words she usually saved for the softest, gentlest, briefest moments between them, choosing more often to place propriety and common courtesy above the needs of her heart, but now, in the darkness, she spoke of love, and him, as if they were one and the same, claimed him for her own, and he would happily have delivered himself into her hands right then, so grateful was he for the reminder that he was hers, and loved. That he loved her was a foregone conclusion; her love of him required still more proof to convince his battered heart, so often wrong and wronged that he had begun to wonder, before he met her, whether anyone could love him at all.

"So should you."

For a moment she lingered there in the doorway, and he wondered if she meant to tease him for the way his cock only grew harder the longer he stared at her. It was late, and they weren't meant to see one another until the wedding, but she was here, just the same, and even in the shadows that stretched between them he could see the dark circles of her nipples beneath her pink chiffon. She was soft, and beautiful, and there, just there, and hardly dressed at all, and if she would only come to him it would be easy, so easy -

Slowly, very slowly, she began to cross the floor of the studio, drifting nearer and nearer to him, hips swinging enticingly as she went, and he swallowed hard against the sudden desire he felt to go to her, to sweep her up off her feet and carry her back to the bed against the far wall of the studio.

"I thought I'm not meant to see you," he said in a harsh whisper as she drew nearer still, and his hands twitched by his sides, made eager by her proximity.

"You're not meant to see me on the day of the wedding," she agreed in a low voice. "But it's not midnight yet. We have a little time."

How very Jean, he thought with a smile, to so closely follow the letter of the law, if perhaps not the spirit of it. Maybe, he thought, watching as she swayed to a stop beside him, maybe she longed for him, as he longed for her. Maybe she had come in search of reassurance, too.

"I keep expecting to open my eyes, and find it's all been a dream," she confessed. They stood shoulder to shoulder, now, or as near to that as they could manage given the difference in their heights, both of them staring determinedly at the empty fireplace, and not one another, and not the bed on the far side of the room. Her words wounded him, somehow; now, after everything, when they stood together on the very cusp of joy, Jean still feared the rush of disappointment, tearing them apart from one another. He could hardly blame her; they had been disappointed so many times already. But now, in this moment, they were together, and the wedding only hours away, and this time tomorrow they would be man and wife and naked and in bed together, and no force on earth could keep him from her then. As far as Lucien was concerned they had come through the worst of it already; all that remained now was waiting. And so he let his knuckles brush against the back of her hand, gently, and when he did she sighed, and smiled. The briefest, chastest of touches, and yet it made her smile, their two hands hanging together, and in the next breath she had turned her own hand over, offering herself to him. Lucien did the same, pressed their palms flat together and wove his fingers through hers, a promise, a blessing, a binding.

"You're awake, Jean," he whispered. "And you're going to be my wife."

Wife. How that word thrilled him. So long a source of pain and grief it had, once more, become pride, and joy. There had been pride in him, and love, and joy, in those early days in Singapore when he first took a wife for himself and basked in the knowledge that she would be his, forever, that he would be loved, and could love, for all the rest of his days. The war had come, and reminded him that nothing forged by human hands could live forever, but despite his fear and his sorrow he stood poised to take a wife once more, and he would be damned if he let fate have her. They would be together, always, forever, so long as he lived; he would claw out his own heart before he let her go. To lose the second as he had lost the first would surely break him, leave him mad and empty; such strange thoughts, the night before a wedding.

"I haven't been a wife for a very long time."

Still she was staring at the fireplace, her eyes distant and unseeing. Was she thinking, on the eve of their wedding, of death and cleaving, of vows broken, of ventures begun in hope that ended in sorrow? If so he could not blame her, for she was not the only one.

"Oh," he said, smiling despite the gravity of the moment, "I don't think that's true."

She turned to look at him sharply, confused, but her expression softened as she saw his smile, and understood his intent. She read him so easily, without need of explanation; yes, he thought, she was, in his heart, his wife already, for only a wife could know him so well.

"From the moment we met," he said, lifting her hand to his lips and pressing a gentle kiss against her skin while she watched him unblinking, "you have been everything to me, Jean."

It was Jean who fed him, kept his house, Jean who kept him sane. It was Jean he wanted, Jean he took to bed; oh, Joy MacDonald would have made a pleasant distraction, an appropriate companion, but his heart had never been in it, never been invested in wooing her, and he had never so much as kissed her, for when he lay down to sleep and closed his eyes it was Jean he saw, always, beautiful and glorious as she had been naked beneath him, lying on her gingham blanket in the garden. His cock had begun to deflate while they talked but the memory of her on that night, that first night, brought him back to attention at once.

"I would be lost without you, my darling."

She smiled, watching him, her eyes flicking down to see what had become of him and then returning to his face with a mischievous glint.

"I sometimes feel as if my mind was made up the moment I met you," she told him, and his heart gave a great leap in his chest, for she only rarely spoke to him of her heart, only rarely let him see the truth of her desires. She was so dreadfully, painfully reserved that he had been left to guess at her intentions where he was concerned more often than not, and on this particular night he was sorely in need of reassurance.

"Before you came along, I was rather close with Robert. You remember him."

Lucien frowned; yes, he remembered the tall man who'd folded himself so awkwardly into one of Lucien's own armchairs, who had seemed so sad when he left Jean and two half-finished cups of tea behind. That was early days, yet, just before he and Jean had found themselves alone in the garden, and they had not discussed his presence - or his departure - directly, but Lucien was not a fool. He knew the look of unrequited love when he saw it, and he had seen it on Robert's face.

"He wanted me to marry him," she said, and jealousy roared through his heart like some terrible rampaging beast. Another man had wanted her, another man had nearly had her; if matters had unfolded differently she might not be here at all, might instead be lying next to Robert in some neat little cottage, far from his side, unreachable. His hand tightened its grip upon hers but he did not speak, only listened, spellbound.

"And if it hadn't been for you, I might have said yes," she continued, blushing just a little, and the beast of his jealousy was suddenly swallowed by the titan of pride. "I didn't love you then, I don't think. I hardly knew you. But something changed, when you walked through that door. I knew marriage was on his mind and it would have been simple, and easy, with him. But you reminded me that sometimes the only things in life worth having are the things you have to fight for."

It was a very Jean sort of thing to say, he thought. He did not necessarily agree with her, not at first, but the longer he thought about, thought about his devotion to his patients' care and his work with the police, thought about the house where he lived, the town he called home, thought about his friends and his daughter and his granddaughter and his beloved bride-to-be, he found himself recalling the many battles he had fought to save those things, to protect them, to keep them, and he found himself wondering if perhaps she wasn't right, after all.

"The things you're willing to fight for, perhaps," he suggested. He would fight for her, live for her, die for her, if he must.

"And we have fought, haven't we?" she asked him softly.

They had; they had fought each other, and cruel fate, fought their hearts and the gossips, fought the dead and the church and his own folly. She had been right there with him, through all of it, her heart as fierce as his; how could he ever have doubted her? How could he think even for a moment that perhaps this was not what she wanted? If she had not wanted him she would have accepted Robert long before, but she had rejected the man instead, and let Lucien trace her bare skin with trembling hands.

"And now we can rest," he told her. Slowly he turned, caught her in his embrace, his hands clutched together low at the small of her back, his head ducked so that he could smile down at her lovely face in wonder. They had fought, they had won, and they would, never again, be so lonely as they had been on that night they first fell together. It would not be loneliness that bound them, not any more. It would be love, from this day until his last day, and his heart would never be lonely again, so long as hers was with him.

"Not too much rest, I hope," she told him with an impish smile, winding her arms around his neck. "I have plans for you, Doctor Blake."

He laughed, relieved and delighted, for he had been worried about the wedding night as much as anything else, but now Jean stood in his arms, and her own desire was written plainly across her face, and she had plans for him. Nothing ever stood between his Jean and her plans.

"Is that right?" he asked, his voice coming out huskier than he intended as she slowly pressed herself against him, chest to chest, his half-hard cock caught between their bodies, her lips suddenly, unbelievably close to his own. Christ, he wanted her.

"Yes," she whispered, and he felt the warmth of her breath wash across his lips before she closed the space between them and kissed him once, gently. Before he could even begin to respond she pulled away, but he chased after her, captured her mouth once more and held her, his tongue surging past her lips while her fingers tangled in the soft curls at the nape of his neck. There had been a time when he would kiss her and she would pull away, but no more; there was no more waiting, no more hesitation, no more need for doubt. They had chosen, and they had fought, and they had won, and they would have their reward.

He could feel her grin against his mouth, could feel the neat line of her teeth against his lip, could feel the softness of her breasts pressed hard to his bare chest, nothing but the slide of her nightgown between them, and he remembered, suddenly, vividly, that night she'd come to his bedroom in the nightdress meant for their wedding, that night when she'd stood before him, asking by her very presence for him to touch her, finding within her the courage to make such a declaration so boldly, and he wondered if she wasn't doing the same thing now. She had come to him, with her hair loose and her face bare, wearing hardly anything at all, and perhaps she had only come to see the studio, as he had done, to look upon this room and contemplate its implications for her future, but somehow he rather thought not. Somehow, he rather thought she had come in search of him. Nothing could have delighted him more.

Still he kissed her, and still she kissed him, and still need seemed to swirl and grow between them. If he could have spared a moment to open his eyes he would have seen the clock on the mantle proclaiming that midnight had come and gone, that it was officially tomorrow and officially he was not meant to see her, but he could not be troubled with such things when he had Jean in his arms, the slide of her tongue against his own, the taste of her driving him mad with need. His hands, which had remained clasped at the small of her back just above her bum, began to move then; one ventured upward, to tangle in her hair, and the other ventured downward, catching hold of the swell of her bum, fingers digging in hard as he clutched at her, and rocked her against him, and swallowed the sound of her moans. She liked that, he knew, a firm grip and an insatiable desire, a reminder of just what she did to him, how desperately he wanted her, and he liked it, too.

The movement of his hands seemed to have set her free, for while he cradled her head, held her in place and kissed her with everything he had, her own hands traveled the scarred landscape of his back, palms and fingertips tracing the memory of grief written upon his skin, and her touch was a blessing, somehow, a balm; he did not need to explain himself to her, any more, and she did not question him, but accepted him, loved him, held him, just as he was. She mapped his shoulders, his neck, and down, arms straining to span the breadth of him, and then to his surprise she pulled her lips from his with a gasp, smiling. He wanted to ask her what she had in mind, what amused her so, but he did not have the chance, for her hands continued to move, down, and down, finding the downy hairs at the small of his back and smoothing over them. He wanted to ask, but then she leaned in close, let her lips settle at the juncture of his neck, and he shivered while she sucked a mark into his skin and let her hands drift beneath the waistband of his sleeping pants, finding his arse bare and apparently undaunted by that revelation. He could feel the sting of her teeth at his neck, the scratch of her nails against his bum, could feel the way his trousers rode low around his hips while she explored him with as much fervor as he had ever dedicated to her. That he enjoyed pursuing such delights himself - his hands full of her bum, his mark against her skin - he knew quite well, but it seemed she enjoyed turning the tables on him, and he groaned, more desperate for her now than he could ever recall having been for any woman in his life.

And then, with one quick movement, she sent his trousers tumbling to the floor, and while he watched, baffled and on fire with need, she followed suit, knelt primly at his feet and helped him to step out of his trousers altogether. This was unexpected, standing naked before her, while her nightdress billowed around her knees and hid her from his sight completely. And oh, but she was just there, his lips on a level with his own aching hardness, and she had told him she had plans for him, and then -

"Oh, Christ," he swore as she wrapped her hand around the base of his shaft and smiled up at him wickedly. Had this been her intent all along? The position they found themselves in might have at first glance appeared to be one of supplication on her part but they both knew better, for when she touched him like this she owned him completely, could make him do or say anything she wished. He was putty in her hands, and on fire with need of her, his cock hard and aching and weeping for her, and she knew it, and reveled in it, he thought, if the expression on her face was anything to go by. Slowly, painfully slowly, she pumped him in her fist, watched him tremble and swear, and all the time she looked like nothing so much as a saint, beautiful and inviolable in her pink nightgown, with her soft curls tumbling round her face.

"Jean," he breathed once, a choked, ragged sound, and she smiled still wider, and moved on him at once, wrapped her lips around the head of his shaft and swirled her tongue around him in a way that drove him wild. Her mouth and her hand moved in tandem, taking him in deeper, and deeper, drowning him in the warmth and wet of her, and he flung his hand out to the side, palm pressed flat to the rock face of the fireplace in a desperate bid to keep himself upright. He would rather have reached for her, tangled his hands in her hair and encouraged her, but he feared he might lose all restraint if he did, and he would not be responsible for her discomfort. And so he only watched, made half-mad and feral by the sight of his thick cock disappearing between her perfect pink lips.

"Wait," he gasped as an idea came to him, a fantasy brought up from the depths of his subconscious to torment him now that it seemed he might be able to make it a reality. She withdrew, and his cock twitched in her grip, eager to be enveloped by her mouth once more, but he had spoken for a purpose and he intended to see it through.

"I want to see you," he managed to say, and she grinned up at him, and his heart soared, to think how alike they were, how perfectly they seemed to compliment each other in every possible way. They were not identical, not by half, their hearts and their pasts and their needs divergent in so many ways, but they were complimentary, he thought, every piece of her made to fit against every piece of him, the pair of them a puzzle that was only complete when they were together. She acquiesced to his demand at once, releasing him just long enough to tug her nightdress up and off her, and he groaned at the sight, and she laughed at his obvious need.

Oh, but he had never seen anything so beautiful. The lines and curves of her, perfect as painting as she knelt before him, lean thighs, the thatch of dark curls between her legs, her neat breasts soft and enticing, her neck elegant and lovely. His Jean, and naked; nothing could be finer.

Nothing, except that in the next breath she had once more taken him into her mouth, and now he could watch her, naked and drawing the hard length of his cock into her as far as she could manage, and his hips surged forward of their own accord, hungry, desperate. It was not the first time she had bestowed such a gift on him, but it was, he thought, the first time it had ever been like this, her naked and transcendent and kneeling at his feet, he hardly able to stand for the fierce desire he felt to plunge inside her, them together in this room that had been restored for just this purpose, a place that existed for them to be, together, and free.

As much as he was enjoying himself he had no intention of letting her finish him off like this, and he knew he would need to call a halt to proceedings before he lost his head entirely and made a mess of his beautiful Jean in the process. When he did, though, he would want to take her, to surge between her thighs and roar out his pleasure, and it would be cruel to do such a thing without ensuring first that she was ready for him. While the expression on her face, the way her eyes had gone dark and watched him while she swallowed around his cock, made him think that she was probably enjoying this at least half as much as he was, he would need still further reassurance.

"Touch yourself," he choked out, shocked by the very suggestion, shocked by how badly he wanted to see it. He could not reach her, and need had snapped his patience, and he wanted it, oh, he wanted to see it. Ordinarily he never would have asked it of her; she could be shy, still, hesitant to face her own needs, too unsure to answer him when the words turned crass in his mouth, and for a moment he wondered if he'd overstepped the mark. Only for a moment, though, for she moved her head, let her tongue trace the heavy vein that ran along the length of his cock while she spread her legs, and her free hand disappeared between them, and Lucien groaned along with her at the sight.

Would she find herself wet and swollen and aching for him? Did the heat of her own sex against her hand make her shiver with want? Did she have any idea the eroticism of the picture she painted, that the vision of her like this was the most enticing thing he'd ever seen in his life? Somehow he thought the answer to all those questions was yes, for as the fingers of her left hand worked against her sex the fingers of her right tightened their grip around him, and she once more took him into her mouth, moaning around the thickness of his shaft while her own desire built.

Jean had never done anything like this in all her life, and now that she had started she found she could not stop. The sight of him before her, above her, beautiful, every inch of him hard and strong and hers, the taste of his need against her tongue, her lips stretched around the thickness of him, the drive of her own fingers, touching her in exactly the way she needed, knowing that he was to be her husband but was not yet, standing on the edge of everything; she felt herself on the verge of flying apart and suddenly she found there was nothing she wanted more. She wanted to feel herself come apart, to tremble and shake wet and wanting around her own fingers, wanted him to watch her, to know that she had done this thing for him, for want of him, for want of his happiness. With growing desperation she rocked her hips down against her own hand, the movement of her body sending her own two fingers sliding deeper into her aching heat, sending his thick shaft deeper into her mouth, and she whimpered around him, hardly able to breathe and not caring in the slightest, and he groaned aloud, watching her hungrily. Close, already she was close, inflamed by the desire she felt for him, the desire she knew he felt for her, and the vision of him coming undone right along with her, spilling himself across her sweat-slicked skin in a sin that felt so much like joy, left her trembling. Without a thought she took her hand away from him, sank her mouth that much further along his shaft and while he watched she clutched her own breast, thinking of his hand there instead. His hand, on her, in her; oh, she wanted it. He swore at the sight and bucked against her mouth, and with two fingers curled hard into her own fluttering heat she vibrated her thumb against her center in the way she knew would send her reeling, until it all became too much.

With a gasp she slid her mouth off him, pressed her forehead against the hard muscle of his thigh to anchor herself, ignoring his need for the moment and focusing only on her own. She worked herself furiously, feverishly, her hand thrusting, turning, rubbing against her dripping sex, the other still clenched hard to her breast, and over the sound of her own rising cries she could hear the faint sound of him encouraging her. That's it, my darling, he growled, letting his fingers tangle in her hair at last. Come apart for me, let me see you.

He tugged on her hair once, a bit harder than he ordinarily might have done, and she lifted her head, her hips still rocking against her hand, and when she looked into his eyes and saw the devilish hunger there the breath left her lungs and she fell, at last, her body trembling and shuddering for him, only for him, while he watched her and all the while she could not take her eyes from his face, and all the while his hand remained, holding her, keeping her locked in that moment with him until at last her release had run its course and she slumped against his legs, spent, his cock hard as marble and hot against her cheek.

This was why she had come to him, why she had slipped down the stairs on silent feet. Seeking reassurance and one last chance to hold him before their lives changed forever she had gone to his bedroom, and when she'd found it empty she had known, somehow, that he would be here, in the studio, drawing comfort from the knowledge that when the sun set tomorrow they would retreat here together, and would do so again every night for the rest of their lives. This was to be their place, and she could think of no better way to start their lives together than this, falling together in desperate love, trusting one another with all of themselves and never hesitating for a moment. She had been thinking, before now, what it was to be a wife, to be so wholly devoted to one person, had been wondering whether Lucien might be having second thoughts, but she knew now there was no need for such worries; she could see his devotion written on every line of his face, and she knew she had given all of herself to him already.

"I love you," he whispered in the gloom, and then he sank down beside her, and they fell together, bodies sliding into place, Jean on her back and Lucien between her thighs, his face hovering over hers in the darkness. Jean was suddenly, vividly reminded of the first time he'd ever been inside her, that night what felt like a lifetime before, in the garden, the stars twinkling overhead bearing silent witness to their sins, as Lucien's flecks of gold did now, painted across the ceiling. How much different might things have been, she wondered as she ran her fingers through his hair, as he kissed the tip of her nose, if she had not let him have her then? Would they have found their way here, to this place where they were both vulnerable, and naked, and in love? Yes, she thought as she looked at him, this beautiful man who was her whole heart.

"I think you were always meant to find me," she told him, and above her he smiled. Though she had not spoken of all the thoughts that swirled through her mind he understood her; he had found her in the garden, that night, had found her in the house the day he returned to Ballarat, had found her lonesome and wanting, and given to her everything she'd ever dreamed of. Some things, she thought, were meant to be.

"I think I was made to hold you," he answered, and she smiled, lifted her chin and let him kiss her while his cock rested heavy and wanting in the cleft between her legs. With his tongue filling her mouth she found she wanted more of him besides, wanted to take him in, all of him, and hold him close, and never let him go, and so she lifted her hips to him, and he groaned into her kiss. He could feel it, she knew, the heat of her, the wet of her; her fingers were wet where they trailed against his back, a reminder of what she had done only moments before, done because he told her to, because she loved him. Carefully Lucien shifted, and Jean's thighs clutched at his hips as he caught himself and slowly, slowly sank into her, both of them sighing, relieved.

The moment he was seated he rested his forearms by her head, and Jean locked her feet together at the small of his back, clutching him close. Her hands grasped at the sweat-slicked skin of his back, and her lips found the curve of his shoulder, leaving a mark there to match the one against his neck. No one would see those marks tomorrow, hidden beneath his shirt and tie, but Jean would know, would walk down the aisle and see her beloved and smile, knowing that he was marked, hers already, even before she slid that gold band onto his finger. He was hers, now; she was beginning to think he always had been.

He began to move, then, slowly, slowly, plunging deeper and deeper into her, and Jean sighed, and painted his skin with her desire, holding him as tightly as she could. The rug at her back was softer than the ground had been, that night in the garden, and he was slower now, more measured in the way he took her, but she could not help but be reminded of it. That night, that first night, she had been lonesome, and scared, half-drunk and convinced that she would spend the rest of her life alone, with no one to share in the love she carried in her heart. And then he had come to her, and reminded her that all was not lost, that she would feel cherished, once again. She felt cherished now, with his heavy cock plunging slowly inside her, his breath hot against her cheek, his back beneath her hands, the taste of his skin against her tongue. Slowly her hips rose to meet him, and they rocked together, and in the push and pull of their bodies she found the love that she had been seeking, so long before, the love that would sustain her for the rest of her life. It was not only this heady pleasure she needed, was not only a handsome face and a powerful body; it was Lucien. Everything was Lucien. He was the sun, she thought, and she the flower blooming in his light. They had saved one another; she could see that now.

His breath came in panting gasps, and she met him, a mewling whine sliding past her lips every time he sank into her deeper, and deeper. No one else could reach so deep, she thought, could touch her the way that he did; gasping need built low in her belly and her body stretched around him, grasping at him, refusing to let him go. Her face was pressed hard to the curve of his broad shoulder, his face buried in her neck, their bodies bare and glistening with sweat and writhing together, and oh, he filled her so completely, left her wondering just how far he could go, how much of him she could take, whether they would burn and rage and melt themselves down into one creature. Oh, but he was beautiful, the power in him; her hands drifted down across his back, found purchase against his bum, taut and powerful, and drew him deeper into her, her body curving up to meet him, wrapping around him. She caught her heels together and he swore at the way her inner muscles clamped down tighter around him, drew them both closer and closer to bliss.

For a time they lost themselves in one another, in the smooth slide of his heavy cock through her slick soft folds, hips meeting in the eternal movements of their favorite dance, his body covering hers, her body cradling him, but the need between them could not be put off indefinitely. The movements of his hips sped up, the surge of his cock into her growing more powerful still, the wet slap of their bodies meeting echoing through the studio, and Jean let it come for her, clung to him and let herself be carried away by the trembling ecstasy of her desire until she could take no more, and fell apart beneath him, shuddering, clutching, gasping his name. The vise-like grip of her sex around him made him swear, and with a few final stuttering thrusts he fell himself, spilled his release inside her and collapsed, panting, with his face buried in her hair.

"I love you," she gasped, her arms still wrapped around him, holding him close. "I love you."

The floor was not so comfortable nor so forgiving as the big bed on the far side of the room, but there was a rightness to this, she thought as he rolled away from her, stretched himself out on his side and pulled her into his arms. Her thigh had slid between his own, the wet mess of his cock going soft against her belly, his hand threading through her hair while her own remained pressed hard to his back, holding him close, as she always wanted to do. There was a sense of something having been drawn to a close; the dance that had begun on her gingham blanket in the garden had ended here, she thought, for the next time he took her they would be man and wife, forever. No more would they be driven by loneliness, by desperation; it would be love, only love, from this day until the end of her days.