As Marian Paroo Hill had suspected, it was a bit embarrassing to wake up and see a man lying next to her, after she had spent a lifetime of sleeping in a bed alone. But what she hadn't expected was the deep sense of contentment she felt as she gazed at the slumbering form of her husband – nor the thrill of excitement that warmed her insides as she beheld his rumpled nightclothes and the disheveled locks of rich, brown hair tumbling over his forehead.
Marian smiled. Her husband. She had often envisioned herself as Harold's wife in her daydreams, but she never dared to imagine how delightful the reality would be. As passionate and unrestrained a man as he was, Harold had been wonderfully gentle as he introduced her to the joys of marriage, and she felt truly blessed to have such a considerate husband.
As she recalled the things they had said and done the night before, Marian was surprised to realize she wasn't ashamed by her passionate responses to Harold's fervent caresses. Instead, she felt a lovely sense of closeness with him, a feeling that she hadn't ever experienced with another person. Wanting nothing more than to bask in the lingering afterglow of this pleasant sensation, Marian closed her eyes and snuggled even nearer to her husband.
Harold stirred and awoke. Marian's eyes immediately reopened, and she saw the disorientation in his expression. As Harold's gaze fell upon her, his confusion cleared, and he grinned. "Good morning, Mrs. Hill."
She gave him a shy smile. "Good morning, Harold."
"And how are you?" he asked kindly.
Marian simply couldn't help it; she had to blush. "I'm fine, Harold," she managed to say.
His grin widened. "Only fine? Well, talk about cutting me down to size!"
Her embarrassment increasing, Marian turned her head away from him. "Oh, Harold," she admonished.
Harold immediately grew solemn. "Forgive me, Marian," he entreated, bathing her flushed cheeks with repentant kisses. "I should have been more mindful of how new this situation is for you."
Placated by her husband's affectionate apology, Marian met his gaze with a smile. "No Harold, I should have been more precise in my descriptions. I'm more than fine – I'm wonderful." Wanting to gladden his heart as much as he had gladdened hers, she continued, "As a matter of fact, I've never felt more wonderful in my life. Before you woke up just now, I was thinking about how thrilled I am to be your wife."
Just as she hoped would happen, Harold's arms tightened around her, and he leaned in to give her one of his knee-weakening kisses. Her discomfiture fading as the most delicious of sensations swirled in the pit of her stomach and coursed through her once more, Marian surrendered wholeheartedly to her husband's embrace. She was quite willing to ignore her encroaching hunger, but when her stomach began to growl insistently, Harold ended their kiss and gazed at her with concern.
"I am a little hungry," Marian admitted, her cheeks coloring slightly at her stomach's ill-timed indiscretion.
"Well, I'll make you breakfast, then," Harold said promptly. He gave her an arch grin. "And then we'll have dessert."
Marian's blush deepened, but she gave her husband a sly smile in return.
Though he knew Marian would have been more than happy to make breakfast for the two of them, Harold insisted on doing the cooking their first morning together. And true to form, he prepared their meal with as much care as he did anything else. He was gratified and delighted to see Marian's face light up when he set a stack of golden-brown pancakes topped with fresh butter before her. He had even managed to procure some excellent blueberry preserves, which he had been saving for just such an occasion.
Sadly, Harold didn't get to enjoy his preserves for long. After making short work of her breakfast, Marian surreptitiously began to eye his plate. With a grin, Harold offered to give her one of his pancakes.
To his amusement, Marian looked deeply ashamed, as if she had committed the most egregious of offenses. "Oh no, I couldn't eat another bite," she demurred – though her eyes still shone with longing.
"Darling, I insist," Harold said grandly, and placed not one, but two of his blueberry-slathered pancakes on her plate. His amusement deepened when Marian accepted his generosity without protest.
"Thank you," she said in between mouthfuls. "I don't know why I should be so hungry this morning… "
"Well, you ate hardly anything yesterday," he replied matter-of-factly. And then, since he could never resist an opportunity to tease her, Harold mischievously added, "I suppose you were probably too filled with nervous anticipation."
Having finished her meal, Marian laid down her fork and knife and gazed at him with honest eyes. "Yes, actually, I was," she said quietly.
Harold's smile faded. "And now?" he ventured, his stomach twisting into knots as he reflected just how much his future happiness hinged on her answer to his question. He really ought to refrain from teasing her so much, lest he end up being exiled to the couch a mere day after their wedding…
Marian scooted her chair closer and planted a gentle kiss on his lips. "I'll let you know after dessert," she promised, her eyes gleaming with a different kind of longing.
Later that afternoon, Marian decided to explore her new music room further. Thinking it best to allow his wife a little privacy as she acclimated to her new surroundings, Harold settled himself in the parlor with Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. But when he heard the soft strains of what sounded suspiciously like It's You, he had to join his beloved.
At first, Harold didn't make his presence known; he simply stood in the doorway and watched Marian play the piano. But she soon sensed his gaze upon her, stopped playing and turned toward her husband. Grinning, Harold approached and took a seat on the piano bench next to her. "Don't let my presence disturb you," he said politely – though his voice rang with the usual confident assurance of his irresistibility.
Marian smiled and rolled her eyes. "I was wondering how long it would be before you came in here," she said, and his heart warmed to hear the quiet delight in her voice. Leaning his elbow on the piano, Harold adopted a more relaxed pose and gazed fondly up at his wife as she resumed her playing.
As often occurred when he gazed at Marian, Harold felt a startling, but not unwelcome, rush of emotion. It was amazing, the feelings she inspired in him; it had been many years since Harold had allowed himself to feel anything deeper than fleeting, superficial pleasure. For over two decades, he had dismissed love as a trap only fools and suckers fell into, seeing the phenomenon as nothing more than a useful tool that allowed him to complete his cons more effectively. And music had also been the same – an abstruse but convenient device to achieve his ultimate ends.
Marian stopped playing again. "Is everything all right, Harold?"
Realizing his expression had grown rather contemplative and distant, he immediately gave her his winning smile. "I was transported by your beautiful rendition of Chopin's Nocturne."
"You were transported somewhere," she agreed wryly.
His smile turned sheepish. "I was thinking about how much my life has changed in the past few months."
He saw the familiar spark of apprehension in Marian's eyes. "Oh?" she asked curiously.
Harold wrapped his arms around his wife. "I won't lie to you Marian – it wasn't long ago I firmly believed that to settle down was tantamount to going to prison. But since I made my decision that night in July, I've seen whole worlds of possibilities opening up before me. Now that I no longer have to spend so much time bamboozling and distracting others to achieve my aims, there's no telling what I might accomplish."
Clearly not expecting such a heartfelt answer, Marian gaped at him for a few moments. But she soon recovered and, with a small smile, she asked, "And just what exactly are you planning to accomplish, Professor Hill?"
"Right now, there's nothing I'd like better than to show you just how much I love you," Harold replied, his voice serious despite the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and he pulled his dear librarian into a heated kiss.
Later that evening, once they had finished eating supper – which Marian insisted on cooking – they retired to the parlor. While Harold settled himself in a wingback chair with the paper, Marian selected Pride and Prejudice from the bookshelf and made herself comfortable on the sofa.
But her eyes stared vacantly at the opening sentence without comprehending what they were seeing. All Marian could think about was the delights she had experienced with Harold earlier that afternoon… and after breakfast… and the night before. Though there had been some pain initially (and if truth be told, her body was still adjusting to the newness of physical intimacy), it was nothing compared to the pleasure she felt – pleasure that only seemed to deepen each time they made love.
Yet Marian wasn't ashamed by her newfound appetite for carnal joy; she was thrilled that she and Harold could now express their love for each other more fully. And it made her smile to think how quickly things could change in the space of a single day; the night before when she had lain on this very couch, she had trembled with apprehension even as Harold's ardent caresses inflamed her desire. This evening, she sat on the sofa a perfectly content wife, dreaming of her next heated encounter with her husband.
As exhausted as she was, Marian would have eagerly welcomed Harold's advances, should he have chosen to put aside his paper and join her. But he seemed satisfied merely to give her fond glances every now and then. Following his lead, she happily returned his loving looks, until the warmth of the cheerful, crackling flames in their fireplace lulled her into a hazy stupor.
The next thing Marian knew, the fire was burned down to embers and a gentle arm encircled her waist, helping her to her feet. Half asleep, she allowed Harold to lead her upstairs without protest. When they entered their bedroom, he retrieved her nightgown and, with the same delicate care he had shown the evening before when he undid the fastenings on her wedding gown, began to undress her.
Perhaps it was immodest of her, but Marian leaned into him, partly from desire – but mainly out of sheer exhaustion. However, she did manage to wake herself up enough to sit at her vanity and take down her chignon. As she brushed her hair – which took a lot more effort than usual, in her tired state – Marian noted with a slight twinge of irritation that Harold had simply draped his clothing over a chair as he changed into his own pajamas. She really was going to have to talk to him about properly hanging up his things!
But when Marian stood up to reprimand her husband, she saw he had turned the bedcovers down and was waiting for her with a kind smile – still on his feet even though he looked quite exhausted, himself. Her heart melting at Harold's unselfish display of devotion, Marian didn't say a single word as he tenderly tucked her into bed. When her husband joined her, she gazed at him with nothing but the deepest affection.
"Goodnight, Mrs. Hill," he said, giving her a fond smile in return.
Though the kiss that followed was much chaster than she was accustomed to, Marian let out a contented sigh as she settled into Harold's warm embrace. How wonderful it is to say goodnight, instead of goodbye! she thought happily, just before sleep claimed her.
On the second morning of their honeymoon, both husband and wife were jolted out of their deep, pleasant sleep by a shrill ringing noise.
"Is it really already time to get up?" Harold groaned, his eyes still squeezed shut.
Planting a kiss on her groggy husband's forehead, Marian turned a little in his embrace so she could switch off her alarm clock. "We've got to attend the post-wedding brunch at Mrs. Shinn's, remember?"
Harold sighed, and his eyes fluttered open. "Must we really?" he asked ruefully, tightening his arms around her.
"Believe me, this wasn't my idea!" Marian said with a laugh. "But how could we refuse the invitation? Attending is the least we can do, to repay the Events Committee ladies for their kindness in planning the wedding."
Harold still looked less than enthused. "I suppose we should be grateful that Mrs. Shinn and her ladies waited a whole day before imposing their social demands on us," he muttered. "Makes me wish we did go on a honeymoon tour, after all… "
"It is a tempting idea, at times like these," Marian acknowledged – she was just as loath to leave the warmth of their bed as he was. "But even with its downsides, I'm still glad we stayed in River City."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "And why is that?"
Surprised by the emotions his question stirred within her, Marian paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. "Because our first memories as husband and wife will always be here, in our home," she said softly.
She saw a similar upswell of feeling in Harold's eyes. "That's exactly why I wanted to stay home with you in the first place," he agreed. "Most of my memories are scattered in unfamiliar hotel rooms; I didn't want those of our honeymoon to be as well. Traveling with you would be wonderful – but right now, it feels a little too much like my old life."
Marian couldn't help smiling at this admission. "I thought that might be the case."
He grinned. "Did you, really?"
"Well, it's a lot more romantic than saying you didn't want to incur the costs of a honeymoon tour, after establishing a business, purchasing a house and planning an elaborate wedding," she teased.
Instead of issuing a lighthearted retort, Harold's grin faded, and he regarded her with serious eyes. "Marian… wherever you are, I am home."
Feeling a wonderful burst of warmth in her heart, Marian pulled her husband even closer. But what started as a gentle kiss soon became much more ardent, and it wasn't long before husband and wife were pressing fiercely against one another in a passionate embrace.
"Darling, we're going to be late for brunch," Harold whispered – though his lips continued to caress her mouth and his fingers eagerly unbuttoned the fastenings on her nightgown.
Marian gave her husband a sly, encouraging smile. "Not if we hurry."
The post-wedding brunch wasn't the only communal event Harold and Marian attended during their honeymoon. A week after the music professor and librarian's wedding, Marcellus Washburn and Ethel Toffelmier also tied the knot. However, unlike the music professor and librarian, the couple had opted for a small wedding in the Squires' parlor, followed by a quiet dinner with family and friends.
As Harold watched his former shill exchange vows with a beaming, pink-cheeked Ethel, he started to feel surprisingly choked up – a sensation that only intensified as the day progressed. But he made sure to provide as pleasant, stimulating company as he ever did, and his congratulatory toast was both rousing and touching; even couples who had been married for decades exchanged tender looks, their Iowan stoicism fading for a moment as they remembered their own wedding day.
As they made their way back to East Pine that evening, Marian gazed at Harold with shining eyes. "You really do have a way with words," she said fondly.
Harold chuckled; it was truly a rare moment when his sharp-tongued librarian bestowed such admiring compliments. "Indeed – I wouldn't be surprised if River City's population suddenly increased next September."
Marian let out a scandalized laugh and swatted her husband on the arm. "I should have known better than to flatter you!" she said, shaking her head.
Harold flashed her his trademark grin. "You simply couldn't help yourself," he replied, giving a theatrically weary sigh. "It's a common problem for many people."
"Is that so?" Marian challenged in a mock-outraged voice. "Well, let me tell you something, Mister Hill – "
But as soon as they arrived home, their adversarial banter came to an immediate end. When Harold took Marian in his arms, her reserve melted away, and he made love to her as gently and reverently as if it were their first time together.
The following morning, River City received its first snow shower of winter. And it didn't disappoint – great, fat flakes floated to the ground and quickly accumulated, bathing the barren landscape in a charming blanket of white. Early that evening, when the sun began to set and the sky turned lovely shades of mauve and lavender, Harold and Marian decided to brave the chill and venture out onto their front porch to observe the glories of nature.
"This will be the first cold winter I've experienced in a long time," Harold said wonderingly, gazing at the delicate fog of his breath as it mingled with his wife's and dissipated into the atmosphere. "I always went south with the birds when the temperature dropped."
In response, Marian simply smiled, planted a kiss on his cheek and turned to drink in the beauty of the landscape. Harold was vaguely aware of his wife running her hands along the edge of the snow-covered porch railing, but her seemingly innocuous gesture didn't fully register in his mind until she faced him again and, with a mischievous grin, lobbed a snowball in his direction.
Flinching as the snowball bounced off his shoulder and sprayed his face with droplets of ice – Marian really had quite an arm on her – Harold gaped at his wife with a lopsided grin. "Why, you little vixen," he scolded, and scooped up some snow from a nearby bush.
Giggling like a girl, Marian skittered down the stairs and took off around the side of the house. Also laughing, Harold chased after her. But she continued to maintain the upper hand – as he rounded the corner, he was peppered with a barrage of snowballs. Harold attempted to retaliate, but Marian had taken refuge behind a cluster of dense pines, so hardly any of his snowballs hit their intended target.
Harold soon realized his only option was to storm the fort. Gritting his teeth against the continued onslaught, he charged through the foliage and captured Marian in his arms.
Still laughing breathlessly, his wife attempted to wriggle out of his embrace, but he kept a tight hold on her. "I was only trying to show you a little of what you missed," she protested.
"None of your alibis, Madam Librarian," Harold said sternly. "I'm going to have to teach you a lesson."
"Is that so?" she asked with a defiant smirk.
For a moment, Harold was too captivated to reply – with her pink cheeks and tousled hair, Marian looked delicious enough to eat.
The librarian's smile widened, as if she was well aware of the effect she was having on him. "Well, what's it going to be, Professor Hill?" she challenged.
As he gazed at his unrepentant wife, Harold was suddenly struck with the perfect idea. With a naughty grin, he leaned closer to her and said in his low, velvety voice, "I am going to bring you inside… take you upstairs… remove your clothing… and kiss you wherever a snowball hit me."
Marian gasped, and Harold saw her eyes frantically scanning his body as she attempted to recall just where exactly each of her snowballs landed. At first, Harold regarded his wife with an avid, expectant smile, but as her blush deepened and she started to tremble in his arms, he wondered if he had gone too far. Though his lips had traced languid paths along her pristine alabaster skin before, he had mainly concentrated his caresses around her head and neck. Eventually, as Marian grew more comfortable with their intimacy, he was planning to expand his repertoire. But for now, it was only his hands that explored her every curve and contour.
With a contrite sigh, Harold let go of his wife. "Marian… " he began.
To his surprise, she placed her hand over his mouth. Once he had fallen silent, she scooped a handful of snow from a nearby branch and, after fashioning another snowball, gently brushed his lips with it.
"It occurred to me that I missed a spot," Marian said with a coy smile.
Even as he gazed at her in awe, Harold still managed to find a retort. "I would have made an exception for that, you know."
Her eyes twinkled. "Well, I just wanted to make sure."
Without another word, Harold swept his wife into his arms and ushered her into the house.
About a week and a half into their honeymoon, Marian and Harold were invited to Mrs. Paroo's one afternoon to help her decorate for Christmas. Remembering Harold's reaction to the post-wedding brunch's interruption of their time together and the discord that resulted, Marian had originally balked at this invitation. But before she could tactfully ask her mother if it was possible to put off the decorating for another week, Harold told Mrs. Paroo that they would be delighted to assist her. And to Marian's surprise, he spoke these words with genuine pleasure in his voice.
As it turned out, they had a wonderful afternoon with her mother and brother. Winthrop was still young enough to believe in Santa, so his boyish anticipation of what Christmas Day would bring lent an infectious enthusiasm to the festivities. In fact, Marian and Harold were enjoying themselves so much that they stayed late into the evening, even after Mrs. Paroo declared it was time for Winthrop to go to bed.
As Mrs. Paroo brought her son upstairs, Marian and Harold sat on the loveseat next to the jauntily-decorated Christmas tree and helped themselves to a nearby plate of ginger snaps. At first, they were content to simply enjoy one another's quiet company, but Harold, whose expression had turned oddly morose, soon broke the silence.
"How old is your brother, now?"
Marian smiled wistfully. "He'll be eleven this winter – I don't think there will be many more Christmases where he eagerly awaits Santa's arrival."
"Probably not," Harold said gravely. "In fact, I'm a little surprised he hasn't cottoned onto the truth by now."
Marian raised an eyebrow at the bitterness in her husband's voice. "When did you stop believing in Santa, Harold?" she asked curiously.
Harold sighed. "When my father first left us. It was the middle of December, and he took whatever money he could lay his hands on. So there was no Christmas for the boy, that year. Even though my mother made sure things were back to normal next Christmas, the damage was already done. I was a smart kid, and quickly put two and two together." He paused, and his face took on the expression of furious concentration he always wore when he was trying to suppress a powerful emotion. "I was five years old when this happened – half Winthrop's age."
For a moment, Marian could see the injured little boy in her husband's eyes, and her heart ached for him. "Oh, Harold," she said consolingly, and wrapped her arms around him. "If only there was something I could do to make things up to you… "
His arm stealing around her waist, Harold pulled his wife even closer and buried his face in her hair. "You already have, darling," he assured her. "This is the first time in several years that I've looked forward to Christmas."
As Marian hugged her husband, she witnessed her mother descending the stairs. But before the librarian could react, Mrs. Paroo's eyes widened, and she quickly retreated into the kitchen – something she most decidedly would not have done if her daughter was still merely courting. With a smile, Marian tightened her arms around Harold and happily reflected that being married certainly had its benefits.
On the final evening of their honeymoon, Marian coyly asked her husband to take a stroll with her. Curious as to whether or not the charm of the footbridge remained, now that it no longer had the significance of being the only place where they could find romantic respite away from prying eyes, Harold accepted his wife's invitation.
To Harold's delight, this visit to the footbridge turned out to be his most enjoyable yet. Now that he and Marian were finally married, both the acute sensation of frustrated longing and the constant temptation to prematurely surrender to his passion had dissipated, allowing Harold to relax and simply enjoy a tender embrace with the woman he loved. In fact, he would have been content to linger with her at the footbridge for hours…
However, Harold hadn't fully realized just how knowledgeable Marian had become in the past few weeks. When he had taken the librarian in his arms during their courting days, he was always careful to hold her away from certain areas and, oddly enough, he found himself doing so this evening, out of sheer habit. But Marian seemed to have other ideas – as they embraced, she moved closer to him and pressed her hips against his. As he responded to her touch, she moved with him, their bodies swaying together in the intimate dance of lovers. And what charmed Harold most about this was that, just like when they embraced on the couch during the first night of their honeymoon, her actions seemed to arise out of unconscious thought. A pleasant shudder rippled through him as he reflected that Marian really did have a talent for lovemaking. Suddenly, the charming Victorian on East Pine seemed miles away.
Harold ended their kiss. "Well, what say we call it an evening, Mrs. Hill?" he suggested, his shuddery breaths betraying the intensity of his desire.
Marian beamed at him. "I thought you would never ask," she confessed, her breathing also heavy as she allowed her husband to escort her home.