"I'll tell you something," Lucien said as they came trailing in through the door, reaching out to place his hat upon the peg with all the grace of habit. "Your mother's very excited about your new baby."

Though he had not been given the opportunity to speak with Christopher quite as much as he would have liked Lucien had already formed an estimation of the young man's character. Quiet and serious and thoughtful, he reminded Lucien rather forcefully of Jean, in a terribly sad sort of way. In Christopher he saw her strength and her resilience and her uncanny ability for shielding her true thoughts from view, putting on a brave face no matter the circumstances. Though he had been kind to Lucien and did not seem to chafe at his presence in Jean's life the way that Jack had done the young man remained somehow withdrawn, observing the night's proceedings rather than taking part, and Lucien could not help but wonder if he had learned from watching his mother how best to keep his distance, to protect himself. For Jean, too, possessed that uncanny knack for fading into the wallpaper, stepping back and allowing others to take charge while she waited and served and held her tongue. Oh, she had grown more comfortable with Lucien - quite comfortable indeed, given the number of times she had fallen into his bed - and she ran the house with all the elegant grace of a queen and all the stern command of a drill sergeant, but out in the world she was a very different creature. Though she was to Lucien's mind easily the most beautiful woman in the room she had not spent their night trapped in the Colonists' Club chatting with friends or speaking openly of her experiences with the victim, choosing instead to sit off to the side in that beautiful green dress, her chin lifted proudly but the full line of her lips firmly sealed. A woman like that, technically unattached and lovely, could easily have enjoyed a fine night under such circumstances, could have left such an illustrious gathering with a bevy of suitors salivating after her, but not Jean. Likewise, her son had made no new friends that evening.

But the sun had risen, bringing with it a new day, and given that Christopher had agreed to take breakfast with them before setting off for home Lucien took it upon himself to reach out to the lad, for his mother's sake, to appeal to his compassion in the hopes that he might see Jean smiling more often than she had done of late. Though the news of the impending arrival of her first grandchild had initially made Jean quite happy, as the months wore on with little news from Christopher her smile had dimmed. Jean loved her children, Lucien knew, even Jack with his wild, selfish heart, and she had not been as much a part of Christopher's life as she would have liked. It was not in her nature to confide in Lucien as regarded her relationship with her sons, was not like her to complain that the boys never rang, and likewise he knew that she would never tell Christopher how hurt she was not to be included in his life. It would fall to Lucien, to someone familiar with their situation and yet not a part of it, to broach the subject with Christopher, and so he did. Perhaps it was improper, for him to take a hand in the personal affairs of his housekeeper, and perhaps Christopher would object to his familiarity, but Jean was so much more than just an employee; she had made his house a home, looked after Mattie as if she were the girl's mother, looked after Lucien as if she were his wife, loved him fiercely and kept him from losing his head completely, and he rather felt that she deserved some support, given all that she had done for him.

"Is she?" Christopher asked in a skeptical, somewhat sad tone of voice that troubled Lucien a great deal.

"Yes, she is," he said emphatically. Really, he wondered, how could the boy have gotten the measure of her so wrong? Jean was so proud of her oldest son she nearly glowed each time she talked about him, about his successes in the army and his little family and the way he had made such a fine life for himself. "Let her be a part of things, won't you?" Lucien said, clapping the lad on the shoulder. "She deserves some happiness."

Happiness had been short supply for Jean, he knew. Things had been difficult, since Jack's arrival some months before, and Lucien himself had been distracted by questions surrounding his mother's suspicious death, unable to give her the time he knew she needed and feeling quite cross with himself as a result. Their tenuous accord had very nearly been shattered irretrievably; he still shuddered each time he thought of the sorrow in her voice when she confessed to him that she thought she might have been pregnant. He had tried his best, in all the months since, to be conscientious in his dealings with her, to with the touch of his hand and the fire of his kiss show her just how very much she meant to him, just how dedicated he was to her happiness, but he was not such an arrogant bastard as to think that her happiness depended upon him alone. There was a hole in her heart he could not fill, a loneliness born of her estrangement from her children, and it would fall to Christopher to mend that fissure.

Christopher nodded in understanding, though his eyes narrowed as he opened his mouth to speak. Lucien wondered if this would be it, the moment when the lad would finally address all his unspoken questions as regarded Lucien and his intentions towards Jean. Christopher was every bit as clever as his mother, and equally as observant, and Lucien knew that the lad must have noticed the deference Lucien paid her, the way his eyes sought her out across a crowded room, the way he could not stop his hand from resting at the small of her back, tracing over the curve of her shoulder, reaching out to her for reassurance in the chaos of the night. It was foolish, Lucien knew, to be so public with his affections, but it had happened quite without his realizing it. Jean meant everything to him, and he could not pretend otherwise.

They were spared the unpleasantness of that conversation, however, by the sound of Jean's delighted cry echoing out from the kitchen. Dutifully Lucien and Christopher made their way in to find Mattie presenting Jean with a dilapidated little birthday cake. Though the results were pitiful the girl's intentions had been good, and Jean did her best to appear delighted with the gift. Lucien placed his hands upon her shoulders, holding her rather closer than was wise, as he began to lead them all in a rousing song, and Jean pressed herself closer to him still, her temple brushing against his cheek for a just a moment, the soft scent of her hair invading his senses. If it were not for Mattie and Christopher looking on Lucien might well have drawn her flush against his chest, might have placed a gentle kiss upon her cheek and told her how lovely she was, but as it was he caught Christopher's curious glance and stepped away from Jean at once, continuing their little song from a much safer distance.

Though her birthday had not entirely gone to plan, what with the murdered actress and an evening spent locked inside the Colonists' with that detestable Munro, Jean was delighted by her family's attempts at good cheer. For they were her family, Lucien and Christopher and Mattie all three, and the opportunity to spend time with them, to listen to Mattie's precious laughter and watch Lucien and Christopher speaking quietly to one another as old friends, seemed to her to be quite the best present she could have asked for. She had little need of material things while Lucien provided for all of her wants, but her heart had been aching and weary as she felt her sons pulling further and further away from her, as Mattie spent more time in Melbourne and Lucien spent more time brooding on his mother's death. In recent weeks Jean had once more felt the bitter sting of loneliness pulling at her heartstrings, but not today, not on this beautiful morning, enjoying tea and cake with those she loved most in all the world. Only Jack's presence at the table could have served to make things better, but she knew it would be some time before her reckless son found his way back to her, that she would have to pray for him and wait in patience for the day he saw sense and straightened himself out.

So it was that when Mattie encouraged her to make a wish, Jean's thoughts had not been with Jack, or even with young Christopher, standing there in her kitchen and looking so very like his father that she nearly wept to see it. No, Jean's wish had been terribly simple and terribly selfish, and there was something in Lucien's eyes as he murmured bravo that told her might well have guessed at it. Superstition dictated that such a wish must be kept in secret, she knew, for to reveal it would be to ensure that it never came to pass. She would keep the truth buried deep in her heart, safe in the knowledge that she had cast her desperate prayer out into the universe, and that would be that. Perhaps it was foolish for a woman like Jean, a woman grown who had long since left the dreams of youth behind her, to take such a wish so seriously, but she did just the same.

When the cake was done and Christopher could not sit still another moment longer she walked him to the door while Mattie dragged herself up the stairs for a nap. They lingered in the foyer for a moment, Christopher eager to leave, Jean reluctant to let her son out of her sight. The night had been a trying one, not just on account of Jacquelyn Maddern's untimely death, but also owing to Christopher himself, to the way his wounded heart had revealed itself to her and confronted her once more with all her failings as his mother. Jean rather thought they had made some progress towards healing their relationship with one another, and she was not yet ready to relinquish her son to the wide world beyond her door.

"You ring me, when you get there," Jean told him sternly, fussing about with the lapels of his jacket. "Let me know you're safe."

"I will, mum," Christopher said good-naturedly, catching hold of her wrists and pulling her hands away from him.

"And give my best to Ruby," Jean forced herself to say, though in truth she cared very little for the high-strung, anxious young lady her son had taken to wife. The turn of Christopher's mouth told her all too plainly that her son was aware she had only spoken out of courtesy, rather than any real feeling, but to both their relief he chose not to comment.

"You take care, yes?" she said as he readied himself to leave, and Christopher smiled at her softly, or at least his face took an expression that was as close to a smile as he ever gave.

"I will. And you take care of yourself, mum," he said. "It seems like you've made a nice life for yourself here," he added quickly, his eyes darting around the foyer of the doctor's fine house for a moment. "The doctor seems to be a good man."

"He is," Jean agreed, rather more earnestly than she meant to, willing herself not to blush under her son's frank gaze. Really, the last thing she wanted was to indulge Christopher in any discussion of Lucien and her relationship with him; Jean could think of nothing more catastrophic than a revelation of her true feelings for that man, especially given how reserved and prudent Christopher was in his own affairs. He would be quite shocked, she knew, dismayed and disgusted to learn just how very wanton his mother could be. There were some things, Jean knew, that no child should ever have to learn about their parents.

"I just want you to be happy, mum," he said then, and before she could protest he kissed her cheek and made his farewells, leaving her to close the door behind him, wondering just how much Christopher had guessed about the state of her heart.

For the most part, Jean supposed she was happy; she and Lucien had found a good rhythm together, the doctor had curtailed some of his more outlandish behavior - at her urging - and improved his standing in the town, Mattie was faring well and her friends were all still speaking to her blissfully unaware that she lived in a willful state of sin. Much of the furor surrounding her living arrangements with the most handsome, most unpredictable bachelor in town had died down, and she had enjoyed a blissful few months without a hint of gossip or sneering directed towards her. The days when Lucien was not so consumed with his own worries that he ignored everyone and everything around him were days when Jean was blissfully, utterly content. And if on other days she was left melancholy and out of sorts, she supposed it was no one's fault but her own, really, for expecting more from a man who was not promised to her in any way save for the feverish twisting of their bodies together beneath his bedsheets. Lucien had not taken another woman for drinks at the Colonists' and Jean had not accepted another man's invitation to an afternoon in the park, but they had not settled on any name for their arrangement, and as such she knew she could not ask for more time, more care, more consideration from him. He was not a suitor or even a companion; he was her employer and her lover, and she could place no constraints upon him.

The clattering of dishes in the kitchen drew her out of her musings and had her feet turning that way in a moment; as she stepped into the kitchen she found Lucien doing his very best to see to the washing up, and she smiled at the sight of it. No, she could not ask for his love, could not ask for any public declaration of feeling or a ring upon her finger, but she could ask for him, any time she chose, and he had never once denied her. He was handsome and strong and burned her hot as lightning each time he touched her, and in that moment, tired and winsome and thinking how she'd missed his affections over the last few days while he'd been otherwise distracted, Jean made up her mind. Christopher wanted her to be happy, Lucien wanted her to be happy, even Mattie encouraged her to follow her own desires, and she was determined to do what it took to bring herself a little piece of happiness. It was, after all, her birthday.

Lucien gave her the perfect opportunity as he turned to her, drying his hands with a dishtowel and smiling at her softly.

"Christopher get off all right?" he asked, tossing the towel carelessly to the side and prowling towards her, a slow, hungry smile spreading across his face, a smile that heated her to the core in an instant.

"Yes," she murmured, following his progress hungrily, knowing that he could see in her gaze how very much she wanted him, not caring in the slightest.

"Mattie's gone to sleep, then?"

He came to a stop just in front of her, not touching her and yet standing far too close for propriety's sake. It would be no difficult thing, for him to reach out and catch her by the hips, to draw her into his embrace and burn her to ashes with the heat of him. A year ago, two years ago, such a thought would have sent her running from the room, but in this moment, after everything that had passed between them, Jean stood firm, looking up into his bright blue eyes, smiling.

"Yes," she said again, watching him, wondering what he might do. That was the thing about Lucien; the man was a creature of his own making, prone to sudden changes of mood and impulsive behavior, and even Jean struggled sometimes to guess what he might do next. Perhaps such unpredictability, such capriciousness should have bothered her, but in truth she was utterly fascinated by him, now and always.

"I've been wondering, Jean," he said, his voice low and gravelly, one of his big, strong hands reaching out to trace the curve of her hip around to the small of her back. "What did you wish for, when you blew out those candles?"

Jean's answering grin was practically mischievous. Though Lucien tried to draw her into his arms she stopped him with her palms pressed flat against his chest, forcing him to take a step back and relinquish his hold upon her. His lips were parted slightly, his breaths short and sharp and hungry for her, pupils dark and blown wide with longing, and her heart sang at such obvious evidence of his regard for her, his hands still reaching for her though she had stepped too far away.

No, Jean could not tell him the truth of her wish, could not risk losing that little bit of hope she'd found for herself, but she could seize this moment, could take everything that Lucien offered her and return it a hundredfold, could in the stillness of this beautiful morning take hold of all that she wanted. In this moment, she could be anyone she wanted to be, could do anything she wanted to do, could once more slip the shackles of propriety from her wrists and spread her wings, could become the wild, fierce creature she was whenever Lucien held her. And so she did not speak, in that moment, did not spill her heart to him, did not waste a single second in lament for all the moments of melancholy that had haunted her over the past few weeks. Instead she caught his gaze, let her eyes burn into him as her hands traced down the curve of her own hips, exulting as she saw Lucien's tongue dart out to wet his lips, saw him take an involuntary step towards her.

Jean laughed and shook her head, taking a step back, telling him without words that his part now would be to simply stand still and silent and watching, that now was not the moment for his eager hands and desperate lips. With as much grace as she could muster, given the feverish pounding of her heart, Jean caught her dress in her fingertips, bunching up the smooth fabric, drawing it higher and higher until she was able to pull it over her head completely, feeling the brush of her hair against her neck as her curls bounced back into place.

As she watched Lucien swallowed once, hard, his Adam's apple bobbing and his eyes, his eyes so intense, so wanting, telling her that he was ready for whatever came next, whatever she wanted of him. Jean grinned at him, feeling powerful, feral, fierce, and with a studied indifference tossed her dress to the side, watching it pool on the floor before she very deliberately turned her back on Lucien, and began to walk, a little extra swing to the movement of her hips, though she knew that her lover needed no further enticement, as she could hear the eager sound of his footsteps behind her. Giddy and emboldened she decided to give him a bit more of a show, and so she caught her silk slip in her hands and removed that as well, throwing it away so that it floated down to the floor of the corridor, and Lucien's answering groan was audible. She knew what sort of picture she presented now, clad in just her underthings, bra and knickers and stockings and high heeled shoes, curls bouncing, hips swaying, the soft skin of her back pale and ready for him. The sound of his harsh breathing behind her, the hunter pursuing his prey to whatever end, sent a shiver coursing through her, but she did not stop, did not hesitate. He had asked her what she wished for, and the truth was she had wished for many things, and this was just one of them. This power, this control, being able to, if only for a moment, feel as if she was the one making the decisions, she was the one who held all the cards, she was the one who dictated the course of her life. Jean had made this choice, had deliberately decided to seduce him rather than giving in to the gentle existence of his constantly seeking hands, and she wanted to enjoy every moment of it.

It was reckless, she knew, even as her footsteps carried her, not to Lucien's bedroom, but to the surgery. To make love to him in the broad light of day in such an inappropriate place was to take a massive risk, but Jean would take it just the same. His bed and her bed both were worn out with their passions, and she had no interest in washing either of their sheets again this week. No, this choice she'd made today, this thing she asked of him, was the end result of a thousand fevered imaginings, a hundred restless fantasies, and if he was willing to give her whatever she asked then she had decided she would ask for the world. And besides, she reasoned as at last she reached the surgery and approached the examination table, Mattie had gone up to bed but there was no way to know for certain if she was actually sleeping, and if they contained their passions to this place then at least Jean could be sure that the girl would not hear them, whereas if they had tumbled into her room or even his, the risk of discovery would have been great indeed. There was a salacious sort of possibility about this room, but even in her abandon Jean was practical, for the telephone was close to hand, and Jean could reassure herself that she was not shirking all her responsibilities, that should it ring while they were in the midst of their passions she would be able to hear it, to answer it and see to whatever need had arisen without anyone discovering just what she and the doctor had been getting up to.

As she reached the side of the examination table Lucien caught her by the hips and spun her around, and before she could take a breath she was wrapped up in his arms, drowning beneath his kiss. With a sigh of bone-deep contentment she wrapped one hand around the back of his neck, fingernails scraping lightly against his skin so that he shivered in her embrace while her free hand slid beneath his jacket, coming to rest against his back, his skin burning hot as fire even through the layers of his waistcoat and shirt. This easy intimacy, this heady sense of knowing and being known, this comfort with one another was delicious in its familiarity now. He was wild, he was reckless, he was clever, he was kind, he was strong, and he was hers; she could not claim him publicly, could not take his hand when they walked to the shops, could not take his name for all to see, but she could take him in her arms in this place, could hold him close and feel his solid strength against the softness of her own body, could take his brutal kisses and his delicate touch, could take the mark of his lips against her breast and hold these things deep in her heart, safe in the knowledge that for now, for this moment at least and all the moments like it that would follow after, he was hers, and hers alone.

There was something so lovely, so devilishly transfixing, about Jean when she shed her inhibitions, when she wound herself around him and gave to him every piece of her, and Lucien drank her in like a man dying of thirst. The confidence in her movements as she stripped off her dress herself, the challenge in her as she so casually tossed aside her clothes and led him to this place, left him powerless to resist her. The thought of having her here, on the table, on his desk, against the wall, of walking into this room every day and remembering the heat of her, the glorious inferno of her passions, left him weak with desire. She was so clever, so much brighter than most people gave her credit for; he had heard men remarking on her beauty, had heard his patients sing her praises for her tea and her gentle guidance, but it seemed to him that very few people were aware just how sharp, how insightful, how brilliant she truly was. Perhaps she had long ago learned that women were not often praised for their minds and kept the depth of her intellect to herself, but she had shared it with him, and he stood in awe of her, stood in awe of her courage and her strength and the spark of fire in her eyes. It would never have occurred to him to even suggest that they fall together in the surgery, but now that she had led him here he could think of nothing he wanted more.

As he kissed her, her mouth warm and sweet and soft beneath his own, her lips reddening where his beard brushed against them, the undeniable heat of her hand against his skin spoke to him, urged him on, and with eager hands he began to tug at the last of her clothes. Jean laughed against his lips but pushed his jacket from his shoulders, and they struggled together, wrangling with buttons and clasps and ties, laughing and kissing and provoking one another as they went. Though he loved every moment of their coupling every time they came together, though his heart sang with every touch of her hand and the delirious heat of her, though he treasured each memory deep in his heart when the world around him became too much to bare, this was by far his favorite part, this moment when at last she stood before him bare and gasping, revealed to him in all her glory. Jean loomed large in life, a demanding personality at the best of times, all fire and unyielding determination, but in truth the vision of her now was small and sweet and lovely, with her narrow waist, her neat breasts crying out for the touch of his lips, the curve of her hip gentle and a perfect fit for the breadth of his hand. She was soft and warm and real, perfect in the imperfections that formed the truth of her, and he was certain he had never beheld anyone or anything more lovely than she. The trust she placed in him, that she would allow him to see her thus, vulnerable and stripped of her every defense, warmed his heart, and stirred up some deep possessive, protective need in him even as the pale smoothness of her skin inflamed his desire. He reached for her, intending to lift her up and set her down upon the examination table so that she could wrap her legs around his waist and he could bury himself inside her, but she stopped him with gentle hands pressed against his chest.

There was fire in her eyes, but mischief, too, for she pushed him back until it was Lucien who was flush against the table.

"Lie down," she told him in a breathy voice, and her sparkling eyes and heaving chest held him hypnotized, helpless to do anything save follow her commands. It was hardly graceful, the way he clambered up onto the table, but he had no need to worry about Jean's judgment of him; she was watching him with a delighted expression upon her face, and he was willing to do whatever it took to make her happy.

The table was covered with a soft white sheet, angled slightly so that in a moment Lucien was reclining back upon it, feeling a little bit foolish laid out completely naked for Jean's perusal. He watched her circling, drawing closer to him, her bottom lip caught between her teeth and her eyes suddenly hooded, dark with desire, and he felt himself harden further beneath her attentions, ready and willing to follow her wherever she wanted to go this morning. It was hardly the most comfortable place to lie in the house but the possibilities inherent in his position were delectable, and he waited with bated breath to see what she might do.

It did not take very long, in the end, for Jean to make up her mind; she smiled at him softly and lifted herself up, crawling along the length of his body in a manner much more seductive and enticing than his own fumblings had been. In a moment she was settled atop his hips, the gentle scratch of the coarse curls at her center and the damp, delirious heat of her making contact with his lower belly and drawing a groan from his as his hands rose up to trace the perfect slope of her back. Jean lowered herself until once more they were kissing feverishly, messily, deliriously unconcerned with anything but one another. Her hands were planted against the table just above his shoulders, her chest pressed flush to his, and he gave thanks then, to the universe, to the god he no longer believed in, to whatever power had brought this woman into his life and into his arms.

He was not content to be idle, however, for as much as he delighted in the taste of her kiss there was so much more of her he wanted to explore. His hands traced a path around her sides, running between their bodies until he was cradling her breasts in his palms, curling his fingers around her and groaning aloud at the way she shivered and ground herself against him. The shifting of her hips painted his skin with her wetness and told him in no uncertain terms that she was just as deeply affected by their tryst as was he. The table was narrow, and there was no safe way for him to roll her beneath him; Jean had chosen their location wisely, for she had arranged them in just such a way that she could take her pleasure however she chose, and Lucien would have no choice but to submit to her will. Rather than taking affront at such a change in the usual way of things between them he was delighted by her confidence and her rather obvious desire for him, delighted to know that however much he wanted her, however much his body cried out for her, she was equally as affected, and ready to take from him everything that he had to give her.

Ordinarily he would lay her out before him and taste her, touch her, move her every way he could before he buried himself inside her, determined to make her body sing in bliss, but today it seemed that Jean had decided to take that role upon herself, for her hands traced gentle patterns and over the curve of his arms while she dragged her lips along the corded muscles of his neck. The nip of her teeth, gentle but demanding, had him groaning and thrusting up mindlessly against her, his hands tightening their grip upon her breast and in turn increasing the tempo of her hips shifting against him. Could she feel it, he wondered, the building need, the burning friction where their bodies touched; would this be enough, to send her from the edge before they'd ever gotten started? It was a heady thought, enough to make him close his eyes and lose his breath completely, the thought of Jean taking her pleasure in such a way. Christ, but he loved this woman.

Still her lips moved, kisses soft as the brush of a feather against his collarbone, fingertips circling round the line of his nipples while he cast his head back against the table and let her drink her fill of him. Lucien could not understand how it was that someone as lovely, as perfect, as wonderful as Jean could touch him so reverently, but he delighted in it, just the same. His hands abandoned their exploration of her chest and set a course for the swell of her bum instead, fingers curling around her supple flesh and guiding the movements of her hips, encouraging her, supporting her.

"Jean," he groaned when she shivered against him and laved his nipple with her tongue. "My darling."

"Lucien," she whispered in turn, lips brushing his skin, soft and sweet.

He wanted to tell her that she was beautiful, that she was enchanting, that he loved her most completely, but the words would not come. Jean deserved more from him than that, a mindless declaration made in the fog of passion, and so he held his tongue, but he found he could not remain idle a second longer. She was close, so damnably close, and he wanted her so desperately, and the ache of his cock crying out for her could not be denied a single second longer. With a growl he clenched his hands tighter around her bum, and she let out an undignified noise that might best be described as a squeal before it morphed into a breathy laugh. She reached down between them, settling her weight upon her knees as she rose up above him, caught his hardness in her gentle hand and pumped him a few times, traced the heat of him with her palm and laughed again when he thrust up towards her, eager and hungry.

Perhaps she might have intended to chide him for his impatience, with her lips and tongue once more settled against his neck, but he did not give her the chance, for he used the hands still cradling her bum to draw her down towards him. They were practiced enough at this, at coming together, had spent so much time learning one another's thoughts and needs and desires that he had no need of words to tell her what it was he wanted from her next. He brought her down and with her hand she lined them up so that as she came crashing against him his length slid into the warmth and wet of her and she whimpered even as he moaned at the bliss of them coming together.

For a moment he worried that he had not done enough to prepare her for him, but such concerns were proved moot as Jean took over, trembling above him, sinking onto him until they were flush together and panting. With hands planted hard to his chest she raised herself up, and the sight of her, lips swollen and panting, nipples pebbled from the touch of his palm, her dark curls bouncing around her angel's face with reckless abandon, moved him more deeply than anything else he had ever seen in his life. Lithe and graceful as a dancer she swayed above him, her hips rising and falling to a rhythm all her own, taking him in again and again while his hands remained firmly wrapped around the tender flesh of her bum.

Onward she moved, riding him in earnest now, her breath escaping her on each downward thrust with a breathy moan. The sounds of her pleasure never ceased to astound him, and in this moment he was certain that he had never heard a song more beautiful than the melody of her crying out for him.

"Oh, Lucien," she gasped, grinding down against him, seeking out that little bit more stimulation from him, "oh, oh, please," and the sound of her begging for him even when she was ostensibly in control of their encounter snapped the last remaining threads of his tenuous self-restraint.

"Yes, my darling," he answered her, and with those words his hands at last abandoned her bum, danced along the length of her spine until he could catch hold of her shoulders. With his hands wrapped firmly around her he drew down against him, hard, planted his feet upon the table and leveraged himself up, holding her tight to him while he began to pound up into her.

"Oh, god," she cried, once, the last words she spoke before she buried her face against the curve of his neck, her lips fusing to his skin as she moaned and trembled and gasped against him, and the wet brush of her tongue against him, the fluttering of her inner muscles around the length of his shaft, the way she ground herself against him, accepted the invasion of his hardness into her tender heat and begged him for more, encouraged him to a pace so furious he worried he might well be hurting her until all conscious thought left him, until she clenched him hard and shook and cried out her abandon, and he could do nothing else save continue on. In a moment what remained of reason left him, and with a groan that was far too loud given the fact that the sun was dancing merrily outside the windows he spilled himself inside her, lost in the heat and the bliss and the rapture of the moment.

Lucien had tangled one hand in her hair, fingertips pressing against her scalp in a comforting, soothing sort of way, while the other traced fond patterns along the slope her back. Jean remained right where she was, his softening length buried inside her, his hips nestled between her thighs, her nose pressed hard to the line of his neck. They were gasping, both of them, sated and spent and utterly exhausted after having been awake all night and then having so enthusiastically given in to their passions, and though she knew they could not linger here she could not quite bring herself to move. Not now, not yet, not when her heart was singing and Lucien was holding her, all of his attention focused on her for the first time in what felt like weeks.

"You know," Lucien whispered into the stillness, "you're awfully spry for a woman who's about to become a grandmother."

Jean laughed aloud and then scraped her teeth against his neck as punishment for his impertinence, though the way he hummed and shivered beneath her told her that her actions were not sufficient chastisement.

"You're awfully smug, for a man who's already a grandfather," she told him.

It was Lucien's turn to laugh, and in the movement of their bodies at last his cock left her, and she sighed once, not disappointed, exactly, but already missing the feeling of completeness he brought to her whenever he was inside her. Carefully Jean raised herself up and ran her fingers through her hair though she knew it was hopelessly mussed and beyond such futile attempts at sorting it out. For a moment she smiled down at him, her eyes following the neat line of his beard, drinking in the softness of his eyes and the little wrinkles that appeared there when he returned her smile in kind.

"It makes me feel positively ancient," she confessed. "I'm going to be a grandmother." And though she said the word with some distaste - for truly, she could hardly believe that she was old enough, that her boys were old enough, for such a title to belong to her - she could not help but deny that she was quite looking forward to holding her grandchild in her arms. Christopher was a fine young man, and whatever Jean thought about Ruby he had chosen the girl to be his wife and remained most devoted to her, and she was happy that he would finally learn the joys of having a family all his own. She worried for him, of course; she knew what it meant, to be a soldier's wife, knew what it meant for a soldier to have a child of his own, knew the hardships of the road he had chosen for himself, but she was happy for him, just the same. Family had brought her love and a sense of wholeness she had not known before, and she believed her Christopher would make a good father.

Family could hurt, too, she knew; she saw that pain in Lucien's eyes as his thoughts no doubt wandered to his own daughter and granddaughter, felt that pain in her heart each time she thought of Jack. Love could heal, and love could wound, more completely than any other force on earth.

"Look around you, Jean," Lucien said at last, and the sudden sparkle in his eyes and the set of his mouth told her that he had chosen to banish the weight of the moment with mirth. "This is hardly an appropriate position for two dignified grandparents such as ourselves."

Jean laughed again, feeling relieved and delighted in equal measure. Yes, she thought, let them laugh, let them enjoy one another, let them take strength from their connection and not lose themselves to the grief of the past.

"And when have you ever worried about what was appropriate, Lucien?" she fired back.

He grinned at her, boyish and happy, and so she lowered herself to kiss him again, for she could not resist him, her Lucien, her dearest love, though she did not breathe such a thought aloud. The morning was young and the house was quiet and the world was still, and they continued to celebrate her birthday for some time, laughing and speaking quietly to one another, healing all their hurts with gentle kisses and reverent hands.