For those of you who know me, and even for those of you who do not, I think I owe you this Warning -

Warning: This is not a lemon.

If you are looking for something that describes burgeoning bodices, bulging breeches, bare boobs, or boy bits, may I respectfully suggest that you read a different fic?

This fic is not PWP.

If you are looking for kinks, pinks, skinks, skanks or wanks, feel free to use the "back" button now.

This fic is not about hanky-panky.

It is Fluff.

It is Loving.

Is it Smut? . .

Personally, I don't think so. . . the term just doesn't fit.

This is a love scene, and it's about two people who adore each other so much that their relationship can survive years of almost constant separation. It's about their love - a love that goes so deep they can read each other's minds - and how horribly they miss each other. In that way, okay, yes, it is about hanky-panky, but not so much the act as the fact.

Anyone else ever get greatly frustrated at how RESERVED Orczy forces her hero and heroine to be? Can you sometimes even imagine that in "Elusive" they STILL have separate rooms?

Ridiculous!

Yes, (can you hear me Baroness Orczy?) Percy and Marguerite Blakeney are fully married, and this fic shall prove it.

(I am telling you, Baroness, that talking is not what married people do when they miss each other!)

Honestly, what would be the point if they weren't intimate once in a while?

This is a vital character issue! This is Percy/Marguerite the way Orczy just couldn't write them.

This is for everyone who loves the awesome marriage that is Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney.

We shall now get into their heads. But in doing so we shall let the interior of their pants be an issue that simply takes care of itself.

Check the lemons in at the door.

You have been warned.


A/N A missing scene from Eldorado, which is very important for the context (remember it, please!). A bit of a songfic, which is important to Richard Thompson (pay him, not me!). A double POV scene, which is important to those of you who have read "One". (And now you are asking "when is she going to get on with it?" Well. . . now!)



"He had been away three months now, during which time her starving heart had fed on its memories, and the happiness of a brief visit from him six weeks ago, when - quite unexpectedly - he had appeared before her. . . "

At the Dimming of the Day

This old house is falling down around my ears,

I'm drowning in a river of my tears.

When all my will is gone you hold me sway,

I need you at the dimming of the day.

You pulled me like

The moon pulls on the tide.

You know just where

I keep my better side.

What days have come to keep us far apart?

A broken promise or a broken heart?

Now all the bonny birds have wheeled away,

I need you at the dimming of the day.

Come the night,

You're only what I want,

Come the night,

You could be my confidant.

I see you on the street and in company.

Why don't you come and ease your mind with me?

I'm living for the night we steal away,

I need you at the dimming of the day. . .

Richmond had never seen such a beautiful autumn. The snow had not yet come, and the flowers had lasted far beyond their usual span of glory. But there was a special something - a unique something - about this autumn. Perhaps it was the absence of the festivals that the season usually demanded. England was at war. At war with France. No one was overly surprised, but the somber thoughts of battles, life and death struggles, of shot, powder, and blood, had oddly matured everyone's image of English life. Brilliant, queenlike autumn did not accord well with these sorts of thoughts, and the unusually luminous beauty of this October had accented the already sharp contrasts that the Channel outlined so well.

Marguerite's own heart ached with the loveliness with which her home had garlanded itself. The declaration of war had impressed her but little. She had already known the pain of sending a loved one off to war - the new war was merely another layer of her pain. Thus, she was one of the few who went out into the beauty of this time. She embraced the glory of it, drawing the enchanting fragrances and elfish scenes into her mind, keeping them as tokens of the world's kindness; memories to be put away in lavender, and to be removed once in a while and reviewed, like a tonic, in times of utter hopelessness. I have only one hope, now. . .

She had spent all day in the gardens of Blakeney Manor, and now was wending homeward in the fading twilight. She had removed her broad-rimmed sunbonnet and let down her hair to allow the deliciously cool evening breeze to play through her curls. Approaching the rose garden and the terrace, she had to sigh wistfully. Long walks through the grounds always reminded her. . . but it was too much to think of. How can pleasure be so mixed with pain? She skirted the house, meaning to watch the moon rise, then go inside, and sleep, sleep peacefully, contentedly, heartbrokenly alone. All at once it was dark - she was alone - and though she had been by herself all day, it was now that she felt it. The sun was down, the moon not yet risen, a few stars picked out tiny patterns in the sky, and there was no one in all the world but her who cared to mourn his absence. Walking to the easternmost end of the house, she would lean on the still warm bricks and wait, ostensibly for the moon, but really looking, probing, reaching toward France, hoping to catch his essence on the breath of the wind. Where are you, my love, tonight?

She had nearly reached her favourite place - an arch of ivy and a smooth stone seat - when suddenly her arms were roughly pinioned round her waist, her mouth gagged with a sinewy hand, and her whole body pushed jarringly against the uneven surface of the wall behind her. She trembled and her eyes widened in shock, but then all possibility of screaming in terror vanished, and Percy released her, only to pull her to him again, and receive her willing embrace and joyful kiss as precious trade for the necessarily brusque surprise of his own greeting. Oh. . . you are here. . . here with me. . . were you ever gone? . . this is good. . . this is right. . . After a long minute that was all too short, he pulled very slightly away from her, needing, no doubt, to breathe again, as she did herself. She sought out his eyes, which, even in the dark, seemed to sparkle and gleam with the excitement of being safe home in her arms again. You look and you taste as you always do, my husband, my love. . . perfect. . . He looked deeply at her, drinking from her eyes, cradling her face close to his, then he clicked his tongue, lightly admonishing her.

" `Tis a shameful, childish thing, M'lady, for you to be out and about at this hour. You ought to be more careful. Who knows what may happen, here in the wild, after the sun has gone?"

How I have missed that jesting voice of yours! She smiled, running her hands over the smooth cloth of his coat lapels, "Yes, you are quite right, Mi'lor," she agreed, teasingly, " `Tis foolish and dangerous. Why, I might even be set upon by some terrible wayward rogue, who would carry me away to parts unknown, and keep me in some shadowy lair of his. . . forever. . ." she curled her arms about his neck, "Then, what would become of you?" But with me you play with fire, as you are well aware. . .

He laughed his joyous, hearty laugh, wholly different from the foolish, inane noise he usually gave, and pulled her even closer to him, crossing his wrists at the small of her back. "Why, I would rejoice, Madame," he laughed again, "That such a scurrilous monster would wish to keep such a wonderfully civilizing influence next to him forever. . . do him endless good, I'll wager!"

Oh, please do not promise what you will not give me, my love. "Ah, yes indeed, Sir Percy," she laid her fingers lightly along his cheekbones, "But I'm afraid he would never yield wholly to my influence." She kissed him softly, "It would not be his nature, more's the pity." She sighed with mixed joy and sorrow, and nestled deeper into his embrace. Yet, I would have you happy, even if it is not here with me. . .

He rested his head gently on her hair, "I fear you are right as usual, m'dear . . ." his tone of easy banter faltered, "And how. . . I wonder, would you ever think to forgive that brute for his adventurous nature? How would you do it?" He was very much in earnest.

Do you think I love the adventurer in you any less than the rest of you? She looked up at his words, and held him as tight as her womanly strength would allow. Very softly, very tenderly, she whispered, "That is an easy matter Mi'lor. There would be nothing to forgive. . ." her voice caught, "Only. . . there would be much to endure. . ." she could say no more, for at this he took her lips to his again, seeking in this reassurance of her love, a way for himself stop being the adventurer he was, and to become the man she wanted. In responding to the pressure of his mouth, she told him he was already what she wanted, not to fear, and to wait. I love you, Percy Blakeney. All of you. . . She knew he could taste the devotion she felt, and as he again he broke their kiss, he caught her gaze, and emptied his heart into her eyes.

At some moment, he had seated himself on the nearby stone bench and drawn her into his lap, but neither of them knew when this had happened, nor did they care. His return was so sudden this time that the crossing and mingling of the worlds they lived in was haltingly, achingly breathless, yet such was their love that acceptance of each other's presence needed no explanation, harbored no doubt. They were simply meant to be together, and when they were, it was life renewed. Holding her steady with one arm, Percy brought his other hand to her head and traced all the lines of her face, impressing her outline again onto the memory of his touch. Oh, let me always remember this touch of yours. . . Then, his spirit filled with her to the breaking point, he closed his eyes, leaned his head on the warm smoothness of her bosom, and gave one quiet, wholly contented sigh. Do I please you, mi'lor Blakeney?

But he made his voice light, "Luck must run heavenly lovely for that reprobate scoundrel - since he has managed to draw you into his life, my love."

I am glad I make you so content. . . "Oh, doubtless," she whispered, lightly stroking his hair, "But. . . there is one question I would ask of him, you know." I am not content. . .

He raised his head, half opened his eyes and looked at her, languidly ironic, "And what is that, pray tell?"

"When?" she asked, not at all teasing, "I would ask him when, when, when will I be adventure enough for him?" When will you be all mine?

He, noticing her serious tone, reset his shoulders, banishing once more the briefly resurfaced dandy, and became, for the first time that evening, wholly serious himself. He was intently solemn as he delicately caressed her cheek, and his words were surprisingly calm.

"I fear he could never answer you, dear heart," he said.

She was almost hurt at this. "No?" She held him suddenly tighter. Can you never give me what I want? . . at all? . .

"No," he said, sitting upright, "Such a question cannot be answered. At least, not in words. . ." And then he kissed her with such a fervor of passion that Marguerite quite forgot what she had been thinking, and an electric thrill burst from her belly through to her limbs, covering her with tiny, pinlike tingles, and making her yearn to submit everything to this man who was her husband. Oh. . . I see. . . forgive me, love. . . for thinking. . . so little. . . of your need. . . One arm was already supporting her body; he pushed his other arm beneath her knees and lifted her easily into the air. She knew he was walking, and that they had gone inside, but it was not until they reached the front parlor that any coherent thought was possible. She knew what he wanted; she wanted it too. How would he take her tonight? Would it be quick and overwhelming, like a deep, intoxicating draught of wine? Or would it be slow, and smouldering, and last until dawn? I care not, just prove your love to me again, my heart, my lord, my darling. . . He put her reverently down on an armchair, and kneeling beside it had begun to whisper in her ear.

"Well dear," he said conspiratorially, "If you are going to aspire to be an adventure, you are going to have to learn the steps of one."

By way of agreement, she kissed underneath his chin. I will play your game. . .

He took hold of her wrists, "Good. Now, Step One is to know your objective." He placed her hands on his shoulders, and drawing her close, gave her one long kiss, the firmly gentle questing of his mouth asking her the most intimate of all questions. She forced her fingers through his tightly bound hair, and deftly undid the silken ribbon that held it in place. And I will play by your rules. . . He needed no other answer. He surfaced from the depth of her lips, then pecked her playfully on the nose. "Right," he went on merrily, "And Step Two is to know your destination." He bent and whispered something softly to her, the very suggestion of which made her start and blush hotly - even in the excited state she was currently in.

No gentleman would say such a thing! And you of all gentlemen! She laughed through her blush, "Percy Blakeney, you are a scurrilous rogue!"

"Well?" he coaxed, boyishly, "What else did you expect me to ask?"

I am more than willing to comply. . . She laughed again, then pulled his head to hers and whispered back, "I think we had better go to your "shadowy lair" - it accords best with this ridiculous charade of yours, would you not agree?" Ah, a fine game this. . .

"I would, dear heart." He bent and began to remove her shoes and stockings. "But, do get it right, love. It is our ridiculous charade."

Oh, yes, ours. . . our life. . . together. . . "Ah," she said, giggling as his fingers ran down her legs and over the arches of her feet, "Yes, ours, of course. Your pardon, monsieur."

"Granted," he kissed her lips swiftly, "Step Three is be able to get to the destination undetected." On his knees he faced her, putting her shoes in one pocket of his greatcoat, her stockings in the other, "Sometimes, it is the hardest part."

She smiled at him, questioning, "Why? do shoes make such a bother as all that?" She stood, pulling him after her, directed him to a settee, and pushed him backwards onto it.

"Oh yes, sometimes, m'dear," he said, "You would be surprised."

And you can still surprise me. . . who would have thought it? She half grinned as she knelt herself and took off his buckled shoes, then slipped off his knee stockings.

"I'm sure I would," she teased sweetly, leaning atop him to put his shoes and stockings into the pockets of his greatcoat too, "But, this is not one of those times, is it?" And I am learning I can still surprise you. . .

"Apparently not, I. . ." Whatever else he had been about to say was lost as she kissed him again, and playfully teased at his lips and mouth in the same way he was even now playing with her heartstrings. But both were exquisite games, and brought no pain, being harbingers of their love, and after a few long moments, she was more than willing to let his game go on.

"So," she prompted, "Step Four?" Teach me, my love. Teach me who you are, so I may keep you forever.

Taking a deep breath, he wrapped his arms around her waist. "A plan of attack," he said simply.

"Ah. Show me." Please, mon amour.

"Very well." He held her to him as he rose to his full height, then he stood her on her bare feet, turned her around so they both faced the same direction, circled his arms around her, and prompted her to walk by nudging her heels with the tips of his toes. Thus melded into one silhouette, they began, in syncopated step, to slowly cross the hall, and silently climb the stairs. I am never lonely or afraid when I am in your arms. Always, I am safe. . . When they reached the first landing, Percy abruptly stopped her progress, and pulled her over to the banister, but only nudged her to walk again. She giggled, very quietly, for she knew then what the matter was. The third stair creaked, and the only way for it not to make noise was to step only on the left edge. Trust Percy to remember and care about that. Strange how the smallest things are exciting when you are with me, love. An adventurer he was, and he never forgot. This small obstacle vanquished, he steered her down the hall to the right, in the direction of his rooms. Suddenly, she thought of something. If this was meant to be an adventure. . . Modulating her voice to make it as harsh and male as possible, she hissed - "Halte Citoyen!"

He stopped with a surprised jerk, and answered in poorly accented French, "Oui?"

Have I surprised you? She whispered in her native tongue,"We have forgotten something, vous savez."

"And what is that?" he asked in English.

She resolutely stayed with French, "Deguisement, mon cher. Non?"

He held back a great shout of laughter, shook inwardly for a few seconds, then he turned her around to face him. Are you pleased with my daring, my husband?

This time his French was perfect. "You are very right, mon cherie," he said softly, yet she could tell from his voice that he was very glad she had taken so fully to this play. He kissed her forehead, "Je vous aime. . ." Ah, it is good to hear my language coming from your lips, my love. . .

Then, still holding back laughter, he took off his caped coat, and draped it over her head, nimbly undoing the broach on her fichu as he did so. Then he settled his coat like a blanket around her and her fichu like a kerchief over his head. Marguerite had to laugh, for in the dim light, they looked. . . well, they looked like a pair of rather distorted nuns. S'faith, what an image!Perhaps that was the picture Percy saw as well, for as he turned her about and held her to him again, she could feel him hold back several more bouts of laughter. Is it not good be happy together, my lord, my life?

They reached his door without further obstacle, but when she tried to open it, he held her wrist back with a quietly urgent "Stop!"

"What?" she whispered, suddenly almost frightened with the game. What did I do?

"Step Five, m'dear," he said merrily, easing her fear instantly.

"Oh, yes. What is it?" she coaxed, and curled her arms around his. Play my heartstrings more, my dear, the music is too sweet. . .

He leaned into her back and whispered in her ear, "Check to see if the coast is clear, then proceed with caution."

AH! My adventurer. . . if you give me this game to play, I will take my turn for power. . . are you ready? . . She turned to face him once again, and took a step back, drawing him with her until they both stood still against the wall. After softly kissing her lips, he stepped away from her and opened his door very slowly, and took a cursory look inside. Then, snaking an arm behind him, he took hold of her waist and pulled her swiftly into the room with him.

Instantly, her arms were about his neck and she was kissing him so fully and eagerly that he had to stagger back against the door to close it - his arms were too full of her. How much can you take before you break, my love? Experienced adventurer he might be, but no matter what he said, she did not believe for a moment that he wanted her to proceed with caution. Care? Yes. Love? Yes. But caution? No. In this instance, she never did, and neither did he - they would not begin now. She pulled her fichu from his head, and held his mouth to hers with all her longing, all her loneliness, and all her pent-up intensity. Can you feel how much I long for you? . . Her heart leapt as she felt him lean heavily against the richly carved wood. In this, she could overwhelm him, and he knew it. She relented only when she felt him begging for air, and gasping herself, pulled her lips away. Have I intoxicated you? Overpowered he certainly was, yet he by no means let her go, but held her head to his breast, where she could feel his breathlessness, and his continuing need to lean on the door for support. Her spirits rose again. Who is this defeated man before me? Even the daring rogue in him was not afraid to be a man in her presence. He was not afraid of showing her his weaknesses. But, thank God, he was strong. Reclining against his arms to catch her own breath, she let her fingers play a dainty game with the delicate frills of his jabot, and she waited for them both to regain the power of speech.

"Percy, is there a Step Six?" she murmured at last. Take back the power, my lord, my love. . . I have already proven mine. . .

"Oh yes, my Margot," he said, still slightly breathless, but now able to have his legs support him. "It is the real beginning of the matter." Finally, he reached behind him and locked the door, then led her deeper into his room. The moon had now risen, and a small patch of silvery light was peeping through his heavy curtains. He steered her towards it, turning her, tilting her face so she received the full benefit of the elfin light on her features. Is this how I look when you dream of me? He drank in the look of her for a moment, then said, "Step Six, dearest, is freeing the captives." By way of further explanation, he held her eyes spellbound with his. In the deeps of them, she read love and passion and longing, and such a great power of joy that her heart ached with looking at him. This is how you look when I dream of you. . . So lost was she in his gaze that she scarcely noticed that his greatcoat was pushed from her shoulders, and the strings of her dress loosened so that when she next moved toward him, she left it completely behind. Nor did she know that her petticoats were drifting away one by one, she only knew that for once, she was absolutely happy, drowning in his happiness. Then he bent to kiss the curve of her neck, and broke the spell with this completely different thrill. Oh yes, there was far more of his love yet to come. More that only you can give me.

By instinct she unbuttoned his coat and waistcoat, pushing them as one garment from him, and bathing her hands in the intoxicatingly real warmth of his body, she held him close. Burying her head in his chest, she could smell the subtle, spicy, wholly male scent of him, and if she listened closely, could hear his heart. I am yours every time I hear that heart beating for me. . . His arms closed around her, holding her tight to him; she his precious treasure, and he her beloved. It was this that she always missed the most - the solid closeness of his real embrace, and the pure, thrilling intimacy of his real love. How could he possibly leave when this was how they felt when they were together? Would this be the time he stayed forever? Tell me yes, Percy. Just once, tell me yes. He tilted her chin up to his for kiss, and then his hands caressingly found the base of her spine, and he began to undo the tight knots of her corset. She inhaled sharply as the first loosening tug sent a tingling thrill down her legs. She always would forget, in between times, just how much his slow removal of her stays excited her. He had scarcely reached the second eyelet when it was too much, she was not yet ready. What an adventure you are, my love!

"Wait," she whispered, and reached up to untie his cravat. Pulling it free in a few seconds, she looped it again around his neck, gently miming the action of choking him with it.

"Is this the most dangerous part of the adventure, Percy?" Do not I play well, Sir? Are you proud of me?

Ignoring the cravat for the moment, he changed his hold on her, and slowly moved his fingers up her sides, "Yes, m'dear, but that is why it is good." Then his fingers glided over her shoulders and he wrapped his hands lightly around her throat, "It would not be worthwhile if there were no danger involved."

Oh, yes, I can play your game. . . "But. . . what if something goes wrong?" She pulled the cravat ever so slightly tighter. Tell me, my love. . .

He smiled, "Then, there is still nothing to fear. . ." His fingers were hot against her skin, but he did not tighten his grip - there was no need. They both knew he could crush her neck with a touch, and that she might be able to choke the breath out of him, but they also knew that neither of these things would happen. You will be my husband, and I will be your wife. He leaned in close to her, "You see, beloved, My Lady Luck will intervene. . ." He released her neck, and took her wrists, gently but firmly.

So strong. . . you are irresistible. . . "And who is she?" she asked, submitting to the steel in his grip. Yet you are so gentle with me. . . how can it be so? . .

"My mistress." He took the cravat from her fingers, and deliberately dropped it, then put her hands to the small of his back.

"Oh. . ." she mused, "I have often wondered about her." She drew her hips close to his, "Is she more beautiful than I am?" How much do you want me, husband?

He thrilled with excitement, and bent to press his lips to the delicate skin of her d├ęcolletage, "That is the strange thing, dear heart. I don't know. . ." he let his hands slide through her hair, tenderly cradling the back of her head, and he whispered against the skin of her neck, "Every time I look for her, it is you I find."

Why is the touch of your breath so wonderful? "And you don't mind?" she leaned back into his hands as his lips traveled up her neck to the sensitive curves of her jaw. And why am I never afraid of your strength?

He did not answer for several moments, but at last, when he was a hair's breadth from taking her lips to his again, he murmured, "Mind what?"

"Being married to your mistress." Show me how much you want me. . .

"Why should I mind perfection?" he said, and then there was the pleasure of his mouth exploring hers. She leaned into his kiss, drinking deep of his passion, taking all he felt and making it part of her. Kiss me like this too much and you never will leave my side again. The taste of him was different than a few moments ago. . . still spicy and warm and everything deliciously male, but now there was an edge of urgency, a breath of command, a flavor of power and promise that could not be called intoxicating, or thrilling, or any other such weakling of a word, it was much too good. . . it was as he had said. . . it was perfect. Too perfect, my love, my heart, when I know you will leave again soon. . .

Suddenly, kissing him was not enough. Twisting her hands into his waistband, she pulled his shirt free, and over his head, then held the delicate linen hard against her face, trying to find in the smell of him the memory of his last visit home, or some other touchstone that would explain why every time he was with her, it was a wholly different experience. Being married to this man simply was an adventure - and more than the silly game they were playing. Why, why, why is it so? Who are you to so overmaster me? There was no answer, but it did not matter, he was here, and he loved her, and soon nothing would separate them. He drew her close once more, and again began to loosen her stays. This time she let him, but threw his shirt over her head, tying the arms under her chin for another disguise.

"Guess who I am," she said, suddenly very serious through all this playfulness. It is my game now. . .

His hands being busy, he caressed her face with the tip of his nose, "I'm afraid you do look rather unfamiliar, dressed that way," he whispered, "You must be a soldier, come to drag me off to prison."

Do not play, my love. Show. She pouted demurely, "No."

"Hm," he kissed both her eyelids, "Are you Madame Guillotine?"

She giggled at the image, "No. . ." she said, decidedly, "Though, it is your life I desire. . . " And oh, so much more. . .

He smiled, "Well, you can't be Chauvelin. . ." and he bent to her answering laughter, catching it with his mouth, and with a moment's coaxing turned her mirth to a deep moan of longing. Suddenly her consciousness narrowed to a knife's edge - there was nothing in all the world but her husband, and he was telling her he loved her. Yes. . . keep me. . . like this. . . Then he bent lower to trace the curve of her collarbone with tiny kisses. "Who are you?" he asked quietly.

For a second she could not answer - he had opened the next portion of her stays and it had left her breathless. Ah, this is the man I married! Raking her fingers through his hair, she banished the wave of tingles and answered him.

"I am the greatest of all heroes," she whispered. Will you marry me, Percy Blakeney?

"Ah," he said, his lips delicately exploring her shoulders, "Need I ask again who you are?"

No, just show me who you are. There was a brisk tug, and she was almost free to be fully next to him.

She sighed with delight, "I am the Scarlet Pimpernel."

"Are you indeed?" he laughed quietly, "Sink me, m'dear, I always thought he was a man." Her very breastbone tingled as the last portion of her stays was slowly loosened.

"Of course you did," she said, just as slowly, "That is what everybody thinks, therefore it must be false." Her fingers traced the lines of his shoulders with her most delicate touch, "The Scarlet Pimpernel never does what is expected." Except to me. . .

He was incredulous, "Never?"

"Never."

"Are you sure?" He undid the last knot of her corset and pulled it away from her.

A wave of cool, exciting freedom washed over her. "Well. . . maybe sometimes. . ." she managed, and held him fiercely to her, curling a leg around his hips, desperately asking to never be separated from him again. I am so lonely for you Percy. . .

His heartbeat had quickened, "Always, dear heart."

Do you mean that? "Always?"

"Yes," he said, his voice laden with a sudden overflow of urgency.

He needed her now, and she whispered invitingly, "What is Step Seven, Percy?" Is it time yet, my love?

Though trembling with his own excitement, his manner was very gentle, "The best part, my sweet," he said quietly, "The escape."

Our escape. . . "And what does that mean?" She stood on tiptoe, leaning into him. Take your power, beloved, use your strength, I am yours. . .

He pulled his shirt from her head and dropped it behind him.

"First it is a breathless, thrilling chase." Suddenly, he picked her up. "And then it is finding precious safety. . . for those who need it most." He sat her down on his bed. "Then, it is discovering a wonderful type of peace." Her chemise followed his shirt. "It is a grand prize - worth waiting and enduring a great deal for." His breeches followed her chemise. "You forget all the hardship and fear and pain. . ."

"And loneliness?" She looked another question into his eyes. Are you mine, my love?

"Yes." For answer he leaned her back onto the cushions and at last his skin touched hers.

Thrilling from head to foot, she held herself against him, not yielding to him just yet, but playing their game fully out. "A noble sport, it sounds like," she murmured, and kissed him. And you are my knight. . .

"It is, my love," he answered, his whole being asking for her. His voice was very soft, and his touch was very wonderful, and she wanted him very much.

How I love you! I cannot tell you. . . She felt she could not speak, but managed two words.

"Show me."

As you always do. . .

Then, in the fullness of their love, he took her to a country he had made just for her, and joined her there, giving her life and happiness in a land of blissful refuge, which, alas, existed only when they were alone together like this. But yet, they made such memories there that it lived on and on forever, like the shadow of precious dreams.

He was her life, and she could not live without him.

She knew not how long later it was, but when they could once more bear to be parted, Marguerite curled up next to him, warmer and happier than she had been for seemingly endless weeks. Her fingertips traced delicate patterns across his chest, and she asked quietly, "And so, mi'lor, my love. . . is there a Step Eight?" How long can I keep you this time? . .

He laughed, kissing her chin ever so softly, "Yes, dear heart. It is coming home. To you." He laughed again, mischievously, "As you know, I must rest sometimes."

Mmm, it is good to hear you so happy. I can tease you now. . . She made a wry face, "So you have an adventure, you rest, and then you do it all over again, is that it?"

He smiled crookedly at her playful tone, "If you like. . . yes."

I like, but that means you will soon leave me again. . . "Percy?" she propped herself up on one elbow and looked tenderly down at him.

He caught her eyes and smiled, "Yes?

She pouted, just noticeably, "When will this be enough?" When can I keep you? . . and keep you happy?

He sighed, drawing her down to him and holding her tight, "I thought. . . dem it, my dear. . . I thought I told you, just now. I thought I had made it clear," he held her head and stroked her hair, "It is enough. You are enough." He barked a laugh, "Good God, you are far and away more than a mere enough." He caressed her in a most convincing manner, "You are everything to me. Always were, still are, and will be yet. . . forever. . ." He sighed deeply and held her even closer, "For me, it is enough."

But you still leave. . . And she could hear sorrow in his tone, and looked up at him, "But?"

"But, I do not have only myself to think of, you see. . ."

He could not finish the sentence, but Marguerite found she did see.

How old I feel, just now. . . It suited him so well, the work he chosen to do, these missions of mercy and adventure. Whatever his reasons for beginning might have been, he had begun, and had drawn nineteen others into the work as well. He had put his hand to the plow, had yoked his friends into the same harness - he would not be the man he was if he stopped - or indeed, let them stop - without finishing what had been started. There was no turning back. Not even for me, love me as you might and do. Need me as you might and do. How long it had taken her to understand even this much of him? . . how long would it take for her to truly and fully understand the man she loved so deeply? Several lifetimes, at the least. That was why the separation hurt. It took their time and made it a cause. A noble cause, to be sure, but oh. . . she wanted to learn him. . . for him to learn her. . . until they became each other. Not reading each other's minds. Being each other's minds. Becoming one in thought as wholly as they were one in body and spirit. To live always in the safe refuge of each other's love. She wanted to be his mate, not just his wife and his lover. She sighed. She would have to wait. If it takes my whole life, I will wait. . .

"Percy?"

"What is it, darling?"

"When?"

"Soon," he answered gently.

"When is soon?" Even were it tomorrow, t'would be an eternity. . .

And he knew not how to tell her, so he kissed her, giving her hope and courage and reassurance of his love, told her not to fear, and asked her to wait. She tasted his devotion, and understood.

Then he settled in to sleep.

Ah. . . I understand, but I do not yet know. . . After his eyes were closed, she studied his face a moment, "Percy?"

He came awake, "Yes, dear?"

"When?" Tell me what you are thinking. . .

He sighed. Then held her close. Kissed her cheek.

"I do not know. . ."

Somehow, this admission satisfied her. That was straight from your soul. . . I can tell. . . "Good," she said quietly, "When you do know, so will I, and then - for no matter how brief a moment - you will be completely mine. That is all I want. . ." When I can hear your thoughts. . . you are mine.

She twined her arms and legs around him, determined not to let him go.

He rocked her gently in that sweet embrace, "I want it too, my love. . ." He was telling the truth, right from his spirit. It was exactly what she needed to hear, it was enough, and more than enough, and laying still in each other's arms, they slept the sleep of peace.


At the Dimming of the Day

The trees of the wood made the twilight seem darker than it truly was, making the progress of the lone journeyer more difficult. He did not mind the dark, it was too much his friend in too many instances, but he would have preferred more light to see his own property - his own things. He saw them so seldom. The edge of the wood came in sight, and beyond that, the outline of a house. Stately, almost palatial, the dark brick and pale trim domineered over the smooth lawns and dainty flowerbeds. On the one side of the house he could see, there was also a small arched trellis with a smooth carved stone bench under it. Someone had recently trimmed the turf that surrounded it, and the smell of the grass mingled with that of the pines and beeches and the other trees and swept around in one inimitable fragrance - home. Memories arose unbidden in his mind, some good, some neutral, some very bad, but for him, home was not defined by memories. Thank the good God, it isn't. Not anymore. Nowadays, home is her. I pray heaven she always will be.

As though in answer to that silent prayer, a pale, maidenly form flitted around the corner of the house, obviously making for the ivy arch and rustic seat beneath it. The woman's hair was loose around her shoulders, making the clean white of her gown float nymphlike between the dark green of the lawn and the deep red of the curls. The journeyer caught his breath. Marguerite, you were never so beautiful. There had not been time to warn her of his arrival, and he had to accost her carefully - he must not frighten her or shock her too much, even though he secretly enjoyed returning unexpectedly and surprising her like this. She had nearly reached her sitting place; there would never be a better time - and in any case, the ivy trellis was an admirable spot for a lover's tryst.

His dark traveling coat had hidden him in amongst the trees, but now he leapt out of their concealing gloom and dashed lightly and soundlessly across the lawn. His arm went tightly around her arms and waist - she must not flail about - his other hand firmly gripped her mouth closed - she must not scream - and his momentum pushed them against the masonry of the house - she must not run. For one second she tensed and trembled in his grasp, but then all signs of terror died unborn as she recognized him. He relaxed his hold, but an instant later, he was holding her even tighter and drinking deep from her lips the heady wine of welcome. Mmm, Little Woman. . . my Margot. . . how I have missed you. . . For a long minute, there was nothing but this - and it would have lasted longer if not for the need to breathe. He pulled very slightly away from her, but this was no loss, it was the chance to look into those eyes he had missed so terribly, and a chance to see her smile. Her eyes sought his in joyous response, their sapphire sparkle seeming even more precious in the dim light. He sighed inwardly. This woman! Ah, Marguerite, you go to my head. . . can one die of love if it is a love fulfilled? I must tease you quick, before I lose myself in that look. . .

" `Tis a shameful, childish thing, M'lady," he said lightly, "for you to be out and about at this hour. You ought to be more careful. Who knows what may happen, out in the wild, after the sun has gone?"

She smiled, that perfect smile of understanding, and ran her hands over his coat lapels, "Yes, you are quite right, Mi'lor," she agreed, answering his tease, " `Tis foolish and dangerous. Why, I might even be set upon by some terrible wayward rogue, who would carry me away to parts unknown, and keep me in some shadowy lair of his. . . forever. . ." her arms curled about his neck, "Then, what would become of you?"

A laugh bubbled up in him - a joyous, hearty, wholly sincere sound. I cannot be inane in your presence, my love. . . He pulled her even closer to him, and crossed his wrists at the small of her back. "Why, I would rejoice, Madame," he laughed again, "That such a scurrilous monster would wish to keep such a wonderfully civilizing influence next to him forever. . . do him endless good, I'll wager!" And you are so good for me.

"Ah, yes indeed, Sir Percy," she laid those delicate fingers of hers lightly along his cheekbones, "But he would never yield completely to my influence, I'm afraid." Her soft lips touched his briefly, "It would not be his nature, more's the pity." She sighed - her joy and sorrow mingling audibly, and she nestled deeper into his embrace.

My darling. . . How can I do this to you? . . He rested his head gently on her hair, "I fear you are right as usual, m'dear." I don't deserve such a welcome. "And how, I wonder, would you ever think to forgive this brute for his adventurous nature? How would you do it?" I deserve to be kicked aside. . .

At this she looked at him, her eyes saying so much, and the sudden strengthening of her sure, warm embrace saying even more. Her voice was very soft and tender as she whispered, "That is an easy matter Mi'lor. There would be nothing to forgive. . ." there was a quick catch in her breath, "Only. . . there would be much to endure. . ." She said no more, for at this he took her lips to his again, drawn back irresistibly to this reassurance of her love. How? . . Oh. . . How can I? . . I must become a different man. . . the one you want. . . I must find a way. . . for your sake. . . Her mouth responded to his, and somehow she told him he was already what she wanted, not to fear, and to wait. I can taste such devotion in you as to drive me mad. . . but if this is madness, I don't want to be sane. Again he broke their kiss, caught her gaze, and emptied his heart into her eyes. How I love you. . .

At some moment, he had seated himself on the nearby stone bench and drawn her into his lap, but neither of them knew when this had happened, nor did they care. His return was so sudden this time that the crossing and mingling of the worlds they lived in was haltingly, achingly breathless, yet such was their love that acceptance of each other's presence needed no explanation, harbored no doubt. They were simply meant to be together, and when they were, it was life renewed. Holding her steady with one arm, he brought his other hand to her head and traced all the lines of her face, impressing her outline again onto the memory of his touch. Not that I can ever forget a single atom of how you look, how you feel. . . how you taste. . . And he closed his eyes, leaned his head on the softly cool skin of her bosom, and gave one quiet, wholly contented sigh. You fill me up so completely, Margot. Now, I must tease you again, I am too near to breaking.

"Luck must run heavenly lovely for that reprobate scoundrel - since he has managed to draw you into his life, my love." He was surprised at how light his voice was.

Her fingers held his head close, and stroked his hair. "Oh, doubtless," she whispered, then paused, "But. . . there is one question I would ask of him, you know."

Ah, there is only one answer. . . And I can't play the fool for long. . . He half opened his eyes and looked at her, willing himself to be ironic, "And what is that, pray tell?"

"When?" she asked, not teasing at all, "Oh when, when, when will I be adventure enough for him?"

You will always be enough, dear love. But how can I tell you except by. . . giving in? His hand went delicately to her cheek, "I fear he could never answer you, dear heart," he said with enforced calm.

She was surprised, her tone almost hurt. "No?" She held him suddenly tighter.

"No," he said, sitting up, "Such a question cannot be answered." I need you, Marguerite. Don't you know how much? "At least, not in words. . ." And then he could not help but kiss her with such a fervor of passion that his heart nearly overflowed with its beating. I want you, beloved. Don't you remember? He felt her body relax into his caress in a way he knew to mean compliance. She trembled in his embrace - she wanted him as much as he wanted her. His left arm was already supporting her body; he pushed his right arm beneath her knees and lifted her easily into the air. One thought propelled him inside the house, but it was not until they reached the front parlor that he fully realized his intentions, and how fast he was going.

It is so long since we. . . I could take you now. . . And he had indulged himself thus, a few times before, and taken her quickly, intensely, not even bothering with removing their clothes, doing only just what was needed for them to find the place where they were meant to be together, and join their spirits and souls and bodies with one sweet, deep, intoxicating draught of passion. But that was only for times when control was not possible. I will take you on a different journey tonight, dear heart.

He put her reverently down on an armchair, and kneeling beside it began to whisper in her ear.

"Well dear," he said conspiratorially, "If you are going to aspire to be an adventure, you are going to have to learn the steps of one." Come sporting with me, dearest. . . come, learn my game. . .

By way of agreement, she kissed underneath his chin. La, aren't you glad I shaved on the journey home, dear? But the feel of her lips on his skin thrilled him as nothing else could do. Ah, this woman, my wife. . .

He took hold of her wrists, "Good. Now, Step One is to know your objective." He placed her hands on his shoulders, and drawing her close, gave her a long searching kiss, asking her the most intimate of questions. Do you truly? . . Even now, I'll not take you if. . . Then she forced her fingers through his tightly bound hair, deftly undoing the silken ribbon that held it in place, and he was more than reassured. That's my darling. . . He surfaced from depth of her lips, then pecked her playfully on the nose. "Right," he went on merrily, "And Step Two is to know your destination." He bent and whispered something softly to her, the very suggestion of which made her start, and he felt the blood flame to her cheeks and hands. So, you can be shocked, my love? And now, like this, by me, yet? That is good to know. . .

She laughed through her blush, "Percy Blakeney, you are a scurrilous rogue!"

"Well?" he coaxed, boyishly pleased, "What else did you expect me to ask?" Please play along, dear heart. . .

Then she pulled his head to hers and whispered back, "I think we had better go to your "shadowy lair" - it accords best with this ridiculous charade of yours, would you not agree?"

"I would, dear heart." He bent and began to remove her shoes and stockings. "But, do get it right, love. It is our ridiculous charade." And our. . . everything. . . do you understand?

"Ah," she said, giggling as he ran his fingers down her legs and over the arches of her feet, "Yes, ours, of course. Your pardon, monsieur."

"Granted," he kissed her lips swiftly. Yes, you do understand. "Step Three is be able to get to the destination undetected." On his knees he faced her, putting her shoes in one pocket of his greatcoat, her stockings in the other, "Sometimes, it is the hardest part." And so is this game. . . such a serious, serious game. . . to play it with you. . . then leave again. . . But he stopped himself from thinking of leaving.

She smiled at him, questioning, "Why? do shoes make such a bother as all that?" She stood, pulling him after her, and directed him to a settee. She pushed him backwards onto it, then knelt herself.

"Oh yes, sometimes, m'dear," he said, "You would be surprised." Indeed, you would be surprised at how much I miss you. How much I dream. . .

She half grinned at him as she took off his buckled shoes, then slipped off his knee stockings."I'm sure I would," she quipped, yet sweetly, and leaned into him as she put his shoes and stockings into the pockets of his greatcoat too, "But, this is not one of those times, is it?"

"Apparently not, I. . ." He had been about to say something else, but it was lost as she kissed him again, and teased at his lips and mouth in a most delicious way. Ah, this is your game too, dearest sweet, and I will play by your rules, even as you play by mine.

A few long moments passed, and then she asked, "So. . . Step Four?"

He paused. Oh, yes. . . our game. . . I must think of it. . . how you take my breath away! He wrapped his arms around her waist. "A plan of attack," he said simply.

"Ah. Show me."

"Very well." I will. He held her to his breast as he stood up, then he set her down on her bare feet, turned her around so they both faced the same direction, circled his arms around her, and prompted her to walk by nudging her heels with the tips of his toes. We must move as one, Margot. That is the only safe way. . . Thus melded into one silhouette, they began, in syncopated step, to slowly cross the hall, and silently climb the stairs. When they reached the first landing, he abruptly stopped her progress, and pulled her over to the banister, but only nudged her to walk again. She giggled, very quietly, and he rejoiced that he did not have to explain. The third stair creaked, and the only way for it not to make noise was to step only on the left edge. All obstacles must be taken in stride, dear heart. This is an adventure, we must not forget. The stair was silent, and so were they, and he steered her down the hall in the direction of his rooms. Suddenly, with her voice modulated to make it almost harsh and strangely male, she hissed - "Halte Citoyen!"

He stopped, surprised, and deliberately answered in poorly accented French, "Oui?"

She whispered in the same tongue,"We have forgotten something, vous savez."

"And what is that?" he asked in English.

She resolutely stayed with French, "Deguisement, mon cher. Non?"

He held back a great shout of laughter that would have wakened the whole household. Margot, you amazing woman! Minx! Vixen! Let me look at you - the one who out thinks the Pimpernel! He turned her around to face him.

This time his French was perfect. "You are very right, mon cherie," he said softly. How glad I am that our worlds are so easily melded. He kissed her forehead, "Je vous aime. . ." Oh, I do love you. . . and yet, how is it that I can only say 'I love you' when I use your language? . .

Then, still holding back laughter, he took off his caped coat, and draped it over her head, nimbly undoing the broach of her fichu as he did so. Chance. . . always Chance, dear heart. . . we must improvise. He settled his coat like a blanket around her and her fichu like a kerchief over his head. That will have to be disguise enough. . . He heard Marguerite laugh, and he realized that in the dim light, they looked rather odd. Almost like. . . Yes, we look like nuns, God help us! To keep himself from laughing at the thought, he turned her about and held her to him again, but the image was very funny, and he had to hold back several more bouts of laughter as they approached his rooms. Ah, Margot, you make life a joy.

They reached his door without further obstacle, and when she tried to open it, the next step of the game came to him, and he held her wrist back with a quietly urgent "Stop!"

"What?" she whispered, her voice almost frightened.

Do not be afraid. . . "Step Five, m'dear," he said, purposely merry, to ease her.

"Oh, yes," she said, relaxing, "What is it?" Her whispers were coaxing, and her arms curled around his.

He leaned into her back and said into her ear, "Check to see if the coast is clear, then proceed with caution." But I don't mean it, lover mine. . . I want challenges and thrills and breathless daring adventures. . . with you and with no one else.

She turned to face him once again, and took a step back, drawing him with her until they both stood still against the wall. He softly kissed her lips, then stepped away from her and opened his door very slowly, and took a cursory look inside. Then, snaking an arm behind him, he took hold of her waist and pulled her swiftly into the room with him.

Instantly, her arms were about his neck and she was kissing him so fully and eagerly that he had to stagger back against the door to close it - his arms were too full of her. Oh, Little Woman, I. . . Challenges? Thrills? Such weak words for you. . . She pulled the fichu from his head and held his mouth to hers - that sweet, soft, rosy mouth, which only he knew in this way. I am yours in every fibre, sweetheart. Overwhelming emotions of love and longing, and an aching, stabbing loneliness flowed from her and sent him dizzy with the intensity of it. A possessive kiss from you, dear, is like nothing else in all the world. Intoxicating. . . His legs went weak beneath him and he was very glad of the door. There are times, Marguerite, when strength means nothing. . . The rich, sweet scent of her, and the dusky, warm taste of her lips overwhelmed him completely, and he pleaded with her for the right to breathe. Dearest, you will be the death of me. . . oh, such a sweet death. . . if I could but choose. . .

With a gasp, she pulled her lips away. Overpowered he was, yet he by no means let her go, but held her head to his breast, where she could feel his breathlessness, and his continuing need to lean on the door for support. You see how I love you, my dear? My weakness is revealed, and my soul is naked before you. Willingly reclining against his arms to catch her own breath, her fingers played a dainty game with the delicate frills of his jabot, and she waited for them both to regain the power of speech.

"Percy, is there a Step Six?" she murmured at last.

Game and set to you, dear heart. . . "Oh yes, my Margot," he said, still slightly breathless, but now able to have his legs support him. But match to me. . . "It is the real beginning of the matter." Finally, he reached back and locked the door, then led her deeper into his rooms. The moon had now risen, and a small patch of silvery light was peeping through his heavy curtains. He steered her towards it, turning her, tilting her face so she received the full benefit of the elfin light on her features. Can you not guess what is next, you beautiful one? You are bound to me so close, can you not read my mind? "Step Six, dearest, is freeing the captives." By way of explaining further, he held her eyes spellbound with his. You are my captive, and I am yours, but we set each other free. . . He was so deeply telling her of his love and passion and longing, and of such great joy, that he scarcely noted when he had pushed his greatcoat from her shoulders, and loosened the strings of her dress so that when she next moved toward him, she left it completely behind. Nor did he know that her petticoats were drifting away one by one, he only knew that for once, he could make her absolutely happy, and that just this was so satisfying, it was almost enough. Then he bent to kiss the curve of her neck, and the spell broke with this completely different thrill. Oh yes, my love, there is far more yet to come.

Her fingers moved by instinct and unbuttoned his coat and waistcoat, pushing them as one garment from him. Her hands then circled his body, held him close, and her head was buried in his chest. His heart leapt at having her there, such a woman, willingly submissive, in his arms once more. Yet even the surge of power he felt at this was as nothing compared to the precious knowledge of her utter trust, and his own need of her love and guidance. He closed his arms around her, holding her tight to him. What a treasure you are, dear one. How can I ever leave you when this is how we feel when we are together? When will I be able to stay forever? When? Do you know? He tilted her chin up to his for kiss, and then his hands caressingly found the base of her spine, and he began to undo the tight knots of her corset. She inhaled sharply at the first loosening tug, and he smiled - this slow removal of her stays always excited her. He had scarcely reached the second eyelet when she pulled tremblingly away - she was not yet ready.

"Wait," she whispered, and reached up to untie his cravat. Ah, you minx! He smiled. You know you are the only one I let do that. . . She worked it free in a few seconds, then looped it again around his neck, gently miming the action of choking him with it. Now, what are you about, sweetheart?

"Is this the most dangerous part of the adventure, Percy?"

Her voice was teasing, questioning and enticing - all at once. Sink me, dear love, you do not need to strangle me to get me to lose my breath! Ignoring the cravat for the moment, he changed his hold on her, and slowly moved his fingers up the her sides. "Yes, m'dear, but that is why it is good." Then he wrapped his hands gently around her throat, "It would not be worthwhile if there were no danger involved." Of course, the danger is not very great in this adventure. . .

"But. . . what if something goes wrong?" She pulled the cravat ever so slightly tighter.

He smiled, "Then, there is still nothing to fear. . ." The danger is whether or not I can make it to the next Step without losing control. . . He looked his desire at her, but he did not tighten his grip - there was no need. They both knew he could crush her neck with a touch, and that she might be able to choke the breath out of him, but they also knew that neither of these things would happen. He leaned in close to her, "You see, beloved, My Lady Luck will intervene." You may have your way in this game, dear love, when it is your turn. . . He released her neck then, and took her wrists, gently but firmly. But, it is my turn now, little wife of mine. . .

"And who is she?" she asked, submitting to the steel in his grip.

"My mistress." He took the cravat from her fingers, and deliberately dropped it, then put her hands to the small of his back. As you well know, for you are she. . .

"Oh. . ." she answered, musing, "I have often wondered about her." Her hips drew close to his, sending sudden fire through him. "Is she more beautiful than I am?"

Is that even possible? Is there a one more beautiful than you? He bent to press his lips to the delicate skin of her d├ęcolletage. Mmm. I am going to eat you up, Margot. "That is the strange thing, dear heart. I don't know. . ." No. No one could be more beautiful than you. He let his hands slide through her hair and tenderly cradle the back of her head. "Every time I look for her, it is you I find." And it is only you I ever wish to find.

"And you don't mind?" she leaned back into his hands as his kisses traveled up her neck to the sensuous curves of her jaw.

Mind? He came within a hair's breadth from taking her lips to his again, and murmured, "Mind what?"

"Being married to your mistress."

But is that not the idea? . . "Why should I mind perfection?" he said, and then he took the pleasure of her mouth to his again. She leaned into his kiss, drinking deep of his passion, feeling his urgency, his commanding need, and his promise of joy that he had always kept. Oh, why talk when you know what I need, and you need it too? . .

Suddenly, she twisted her hands into his waistband, pulled his shirt free, and off over his head. Then she held the delicate linen hard against her face, smelling it, inhaling the essence of him. His heart sped madly again. You say that always excites you too. . . Only cloth separates us now, my sweet. I am here. And I love you. . . He drew her close once more, and again began to loosen her stays. This time she let him, but threw his shirt over her head, tying the arms under her chin for another disguise.

"Guess who I am," she said, and he heard a very serious note play through her tone.

His hands being busy, he caressed her face with the tip of his nose. Ah, yes, you are quite adept at this game, my love. "I'm afraid you do look rather unfamiliar, dressed that way," he whispered, "You must be a soldier, come to drag me off to prison."

She pouted demurely, "No."

"Hm." You are all my dreams come true. He kissed both her eyelids, "Are you Madame Guillotine?"

She giggled at that, "No. . ." she said, decidedly, "Though, it is your life I desire. . . "

And it is my life you own. . . He smiled, "Well, you can't be Chauvelin. . ." he said, and bent to her answering laughter, catching it with his mouth, and with a moment's coaxing turned her mirth to a deep moan of longing, and her mind wholly to him, and what he was doing to her. And it is my life I give to you, darling. . . Then he bent lower to trace the curve of her collarbone with tiny kisses. "Who are you?" he asked quietly. Tell me. . .

For a second she did not answer - he had opened the next portion of her stays and she gasped breathless for a moment. Her fingers raked through his hair, and her answer was low and husky.

"I am the greatest of all heroes," she whispered.

Yes, perhaps you are. He pulled briskly, and she was almost free to be fully next to him. "Ah," he said, softly exploring her shoulders and breast, "Need I ask again who you are?"

She sighed delightfully, "I am the Scarlet Pimpernel."

Ah, I see. . . "Are you indeed?" he laughed quietly, "Sink me, m'dear, I always thought he was a man." But you are certainly mine, dear heart.

"Of course you did," she said excitingly slowly, "That is what everybody thinks, therefore it must be false." Her fingers traced his shoulders with the most delicate touch, "The Scarlet Pimpernel never does what is expected."

Is that what you think? "Never?" he asked, incredulous.

"Never."

"Are you sure?" He undid the last knot of her corset and pulled it away from her. This is different, sweetheart.

She shivered, and her arms went about his neck. "Well. . . maybe sometimes. . ." she said haltingly, and then her grip tightened sharply, and a leg curled around his hips, desperately asking to never be separated from him again.

His heartbeat quickened urgently, "Always, dear heart." Always. . . for you.

"Always?"

"Yes," he said, with sudden overflowing need.

She felt his need, and invited him. "What is Step Seven, Percy?"

Though trembling with excitement, his control had not yet broken, "The best part, my sweet," he said quietly, "The escape. . ." . . . to a land that belongs to us alone.

"And what does that mean?" She stood on tiptoe, leaning into him.

It means now, my love. He pulled his shirt from her head and dropped it behind him.

"First it is a breathless, thrilling chase," he said, suddenly picking her up. "And then it is finding precious safety. . . for those who need it most." He sat her down on his bed. "Then, it is discovering a wonderful type of peace." Her chemise followed his shirt. "It is a grand prize - worth waiting and enduring a great deal for." His breeches followed her chemise. "You forget all the hardship and fear and pain. . ."

"And loneliness?" Her eyes looked another, deeper question at him.

"Yes." For answer he leaned her back onto the cushions and at last his skin touched hers. I am yours, my love. . .

He thrilled at the contact, and she held her body against his, but she did not yet yield to union, instead playing out their game to the full, "A noble sport, it sounds like," she murmured as she kissed him.

"It is, my love," he said very gently. And you are a noble woman. . . do you love me? . . His voice and hands and lips humbly asked for this, the most humbling thing a woman could do for a man. Tell me. . .

Her answer was short, and perfect.

"Show me."

I will. . .

Then, as the fullness of their love surrounded them, and he joined her in that blissful country which existed only when they were alone together like this, he rediscovered what it was like to live and be happy without danger, without fear, only with joy and triumph and safety, with passion and power flowing back and forth between him and his beloved so fully, so deeply, that they were truly one soul.

It was not Lust. . . it was Love. . . And he wondered how he had ever lived without it.

It seemed like Eternity, but there were no trumpets, and the world did not end. Then he was a man again, with his wife warm and happy beside him, her breath soft against his neck, her fingertips tracing light tattoos across his breast, and he felt a peace like a kingdom settle around them.

"And so, mi'lor, my love. . ." her dear voice murmured, "Is there a Step Eight?"

He laughed, kissing her chin softly. You are no game, Marguerite. You are the real thing. "Yes, dear heart. It is coming home. To you." He laughed again, mischievously, "As you know, I must rest sometimes."

She made a wry face, "So you have an adventure, you rest, and then you do it all over again, is that it?"

Always the minx, aren't you, my love? He smiled crookedly at her playful tone, "If you like. . . yes."

"Percy?" she propped herself up on one elbow and looked tenderly down at him.

He caught her eyes and smiled, "Yes?

She pouted, just noticeably, "When will this be enough?"

His thoughts halted. Whence is this? My Margot, what a question! He sighed, drawing her down to him and held her tight, "I thought. . . dem it, my dear. . . I thought I told you, just now. I thought I had made it clear," he held her head and stroked her hair, "It is enough. You are enough." He barked a laugh, "Good God, you are far and away more than a mere enough." He caressed her as lovingly as he knew how, "You are everything to me. Always were, still are, and will be yet. . . forever. . ." Either in this life, or in the next, Margot, I will never be complete without you. He sighed deeply and held her even closer, "For me, it is enough."

Yet he knew he sounded sorrowful, and she looked up at him, "But?"

"But, I do not have only myself to think of, you see. . ." My God, how can you ever understand? . .

She said nothing, but he could feel her tense slightly as she strove to comprehend.

Would she ever understand? Would she ever know? I would not be the man you love if I ever broke my word - or let any of my men break theirs - and did not finish what I started. I would lose you if I changed in that way. I could not bear to lose you again. . . There was no turning back. Not even for her, love her as he might and did. Need her as he might and did. How long it had he asked her to understand even this much of him? . . How long would it take for her to truly and fully understand this way that he had to live? Several lifetimes, probably. Can you bear up under it all, my love? Do you not know how long I live each time we are apart? He was leaving her for a noble cause, to be sure, but. . . Can you not see how much I want to give it up? Can you not reach past all the layers of me and really truly know? It is that knowledge that I want. She sighed and nestled closer to him, the tension in her not releasing as she sought the refuge of his love. I would become one with you always, dear heart, and give you this safety forever. Can you wait?

"Percy?"

He nearly choked on his words. "What is it, darling?"

"When?"

Will you force me to cry, my love, my only? Will that show you? "Soon," he answered.

"When is soon?"

How do I tell you? He could only kiss her, and try to give her all his hope and courage and reassure her of his love. He told her not to fear, and asked her to wait. He knew she could taste his devotion, and she seemed to understand.

Then he settled in to sleep.

He began to drift, but her voice called him back. "Percy?" she asked again.

He came awake, "Yes, dear?"

"When?"

He sighed. All the love and trust and intimacy he felt for this woman had finally opened the last door of his reserve, and he could keep nothing back.

And then, at last, he was able to speak his thoughts aloud to her. I do not know. . . "I do not know. . ."

Somehow, with this admission, her tension melted, "Good," she said quietly, "When you do know, so will I, and then - for no matter how brief a moment - you will be completely mine. That is all I want. . ." She twined her arms and legs around him, as though determined not to let him go.

He rocked her gently in that sweet embrace. I want it too, my love. . . "I want it too, my love. . ."

He was telling her the truth. She knew it, and it was enough - it was more than enough - and laying still in each other's arms, they slept the sleep of peace.