Disclaimer: Doc Martin and the characters, places and themes all belong to Buffalo Pictures.

Author's Note: This story is rated M for sexual content. It is intended to be romantic rather than raunchy but please be warned and don't read if this subject offends.

With My Body, I Thee Worship

(Begins at the close of episode 5 of series 3.)

As he walks towards the door, carrying his medical equipment, she is overcome.

"You're an extraordinary man, Martin."

He looks at her, briefly, sadly, still stung by her decision two days ago not to see him anymore.

"No, I'm not." He turns to leave, but stops. He can no longer restrain his emotions.

"Marry me," he says, still looking at the door, at the bleak prospect of life without her if he simply walks away. He turns to face her, with the room still a gulf dividing them.

She is stunned. "What's that ?" She cannot trust her own ears.

"Please, Louisa. I can't bear to be without you. Will you marry me?" His voice is choked with emotion and there is anguish on his face.

She nods first, blinking back tears.

"Yes, yes Martin, I will."

She crosses the room to him at a run, rushing to his waiting arms which lift her up and hold her tight. The whole world narrows to just this place, just these two. Their lips meet in a powerful kiss; not the tentative explorations of their previous encounters – this is a soul-rending, heart-filling, mind-blowing kiss. They cling like drowning victims in a sea of emotions.

When at last he gently lowers her so her feet are on the ground, she is still walking on air, buoyed by happiness beyond imagination. He bends to kiss her again, running his hands down her arms. She shivers slightly and his eyes open. He looks at her more carefully, and blanches slightly.

"Louisa, are you cold?"
She shakes her head, not sure what he is getting at.

"Then would you mind removing your cardigan?"

She looks at him with a seductive smile, undoing the buttons. "If we're going to undress, perhaps we'd be more comfortable upstairs . . .?" There is promise in her voice.

He looks shocked, and then flustered. "Oh, I didn't mean . . . that is to say I didn't assume . . . God. I just meant that your cardigan has some of Holly's blood on the sleeve, and, well, it's going to make it difficult for me to continue . . . to, er, concentrate . . ."

Her face falls a bit, but she continues with the buttons, and then shrugs the offending garment off.

"Of course."

"Thank you, that's much better." He takes it from her, folds it neatly, and sets it aside.

"Now where were we?" she asks, softly, moving back into his arms.

Without the cardigan he can see the outline of her breasts through her thin, white cotton tank. He swallows hard. She is so beautiful, he thinks. She steps closer to him and he runs his hands gently up her bare arms, raising gooseflesh as he goes. When his hands get to her shoulders, he raises them to cup her face lovingly and she sighs gently, before pulling him in for another kiss. Her mouth is full and generous and he feasts upon it hungrily, like a starving man at a banquet. His soft lips become demanding and she moans as she succumbs to the pulse of his insistent tongue.

His hands are big and soft –she's noticed before how soft they are and reflected on their role as surgeon's tools. But this afternoon, that thought is far from her mind, as his hands set every nerve on edge memorizing her back. Her own, smaller hands move from gripping his shoulders to stroking his silky cropped hair.

He breaks the kiss reluctantly, but he is desperate to come up for air and to look into her seductive eyes. His breathing is ragged, and she can feel his heart beating rapidly as she buries her face against his broad chest.

His fingers entwine in her hair, tangling in its shiny length and he inhales the sweet scent of her shampoo. His hands pull at the elastic band and the pins, desperate to release it from the pony tail. She senses what he needs and helps him and he takes in a sharp breath as he sees her with her chestnut hair all around her shoulders. Her arms curl around his neck, her own pulse racing to match his. Her roving lips taste the edge of his throat where it disappears into his stiff shirt collar.

"Martin, maybe we SHOULD go upstairs," she says, softly.

He flushes, yearning to accept her invitation and all that it promises but, feeling constrained by his own manners and lack of confidence, finds it necessary to give her a second chance to bow out.

"I didn't mean to imply that we . . . or assume. . . I mean it is ok if you'd rather not . . ." he begins, looking uncomfortable. She is not sure how to interpret his words, but is confident herself about the direction this afternoon needs to take. She chalks it up to his natural reticence and clasps his hands.

"Martin" she begins, looking him straight in the eyes, "didn't I just agree to be your wife? That more than implies an agreement to go to bed with you, hopefully on a regular basis. And given that we've gotten to this point on nothing but a handful of kisses despite NOT being in a Jane Austen novel, I think it is fair to assume that it is time we got on with it!" Her cheeks are flushed. She looks at him, gauging his reaction, hoping she has not once again tripped over one of his taboos and pushed him away.

He takes her hands and brings the palm of each one to his lips. It is a form of worship. "Thank you, Louisa," he says, reverently, still in awe that this incredible woman desires him. He brushes her forehead with a grateful kiss before turning her towards the staircase. He squeezes her hand as she leads the way.

As she walks up the stairs, Louisa is not sure what to expect. Martin can be such an enigma. There is clearly a spark between them – she's felt it for a very long time now. And the kisses they've shared have been all she had hoped for – the only problems coming from his insensitive and wholly inappropriate comments afterwards. She thinks she recognizes passion in his kisses and the way he stares at her when he assumes she isn't looking. But there is a prickly side to him too, no doubt about that, and one that seems to have more than a few hang ups when it comes down to taking the initiative with the opposite sex. She speculates it is less about disapproval of sexual activities as it is bashfulness, even lack of experience. She can't know, really. They'd never had the "tell me about your love life" conversation. But her own encounters with him have lead her to believe that it is extremely difficult for him to make a play, even when he professes his love, and there certainly has been no sign of prior conquests among the women of Portwenn.

She has no doubt that he will be a considerate lover – his knowledge of anatomy and attention to detail will assure that. And there IS heat, she knows, bubbling under the surface. She'd seen it when he bolted out his proposal this afternoon. She is anxious that this be a memorable experience for them both and, let's face it, eager to sample finally what Martin has on offer. With every intention of stripping away his inhibitions along with his suit, she leads him towards the bedroom.

Following closely behind her, he gazes admiringly at the curve of her hips and the roundness of her denim-clad bottom. As she moves, he sees that the hem of her shirt has come untucked. It flutters, giving him the slightest glimpse of the pale skin on her back. He imagines touching her there and it mesmerizes him.

As she enters the room, she stops and looks about. "I guess Holly is not a very tidy houseguest," she says, surveying the tousled bed and the clutter on the bedside table. She pulls away from him to smooth the sheets and straighten the duvet. Watching her prepare the bed for their use is erotic in ways he never could have imagined. As she bends to fluff the pillows, he catches sight of the top of one breast as it shifts under the neckline of her shirt. He is transfixed.

She is nervous as she straightens the bed and is grateful when his arms go around her waist from behind to pull her to him. She nestles her bum against his thighs provocatively. His hands rest on her flat belly just above her belt. As he turns her to face him so he can again devour her mouth, his hands slide under the hem of her shirt and come to rest on her back, the same tantalizing spot he'd imagined caressing as they climbed the stairs. "You feel so marvelous," he murmurs. Her skin is smooth and somewhat cool to his touch. His hands are warm and surprisingly nimble as they stroke her dexterously. Perhaps not so surprising, she thinks, given the magic they are capable of in an operating theatre. As they roam under her shirt, they flutter close to her breasts without touching them. Feathery forays to the band of her bra but no further. She longs for his touch and kisses him harder and more ardently with the hope of encouraging his exploration. She presses her chest against his, willing him to sense her excitement.

The message is received and his hands move to the hem of her top. With a question on his face he looks at her closely, silently asking for permission. She raises her arms in response and he drags the shirt over her head.

"Oh, God, Louisa, you are so beautiful," he says, his voice reverent. "So, so beautiful." He touches her skin like a hand reading Braille, sensitive to every nuance, taking it all in. He drops his mouth to taste – her neck, her shoulder, the base of her throat. His hands slide up her sides and cup her breasts, still encased in lacy white fabric. He weighs them in his hands and judges them perfect. He feels the crests harden in response to his touch, and slowly drags his thumbs across them. A small moan escapes her lips. "I need you," she whispers into his neck.

He is emboldened by her reaction. He sits on the edge of the bed, with her standing still between his knees. He moves his hands, first to cup the softness of her bottom, like the halves of a ripe peach, then to undo her belt and the button on her jeans.

"I didn't dream of this," she begins, haltingly "this morning, when I was getting dressed. If I'd known, I'd have broken out the company knickers." She blushes at the confession.

"What are you talking about?" He has stopped what he was doing, so surprised by her comment.

"You know – when a woman expects, or even only hopes, she's going to have company undressing, she starts with her very best knickers – maybe something fancy or an exotic colour, a bra to match, that sort of thing. You have caught me off guard and I hope you're not disappointed with the state of my knickers."

He looks at her in astonishment and, for what seems like the nine millionth time, he acknowledges that he will never understand women.

"Louisa, that's rubbish. Who thinks like that? Any opportunity I have to see you in your knickers? Rest assured that my one and only thought will be how to get them off you. Really. Caring about the knickers is like sending a thank you note for the wrapping paper."

Her smile is wide as she ruffles his hair, then in her most seductive voice, she replies "well, then, I don't think you'll be disappointed."

She kicks off her sneakers and, as he looks on eagerly with his hands on his knees, she strips off the jeans and stands before him in just her underclothes. The knickers, he notes, are pale pink and slung low across her hips. They could not possibly be more alluring.

He is stunned by the sight of her. He stands and pulls her tightly to him, tight enough that she can clearly feel the evidence of his desire pressed against her belly. He strokes the skin covering her ribcage and the spot just below her navel. He slides his hands up her back and fumbles with the hook on her bra. He flushes, feeling as awkward as a teenager with his first conquest. She helps him, and her breasts tumble free as the bra joins her shirt on the floor.

Her breasts are magnificent – creamy white with luscious tips like ripe berries. His hands draw slow, warm circles around them before he pulls her to the bed so he can feast upon their sweetness. First with his tongue, then his lips and finally with light nips of his teeth, he lavishes his attention on the sensitive buds. She arches against him and cries out.

The exquisite perfection of this moment confounds him. I have been dreaming of her, of this, for years but no matter how realistic it seemed, it never came anywhere close to this experience. The soft perfection of her skin, the intoxicating fragrance of her hair, the way she feels against me, like she was made to fit, the sultry way her eyes grow darker when I kiss her. What have I done to deserve this? To deserve her?

"Martin," she whispers urgently, rubbing the length of her body against his like a cat. "You're wearing far too many clothes for this occasion." He looks down and sees that he is still fully dressed – suit, tie, shoes. He looks sheepish, then rises and shrugs off his jacket, draping it over the chair by the bed. He loosens his tie, and carefully removes it and adds it to the pile. "Not enough," she whispers, "not nearly enough. I need to touch you." And she begins to unbutton his shirt.

"Wait, wait," he says, undoing the cufflinks before she pulls off his shirt. Although he's still in his vest, she can now touch skin – on his arms, at the base of his throat, at the back of his neck. She takes every advantage.

He kisses her mouth, drinking her in gulps, then shifts himself away just long enough to shed his vest and shuck off his shoes and socks. She sits at the edge of the bed, watching him, with her hair coyly covering one breast like a mermaid. As the last shoe thunks to the floor, she attacks his belt buckle and then his fly and runs her greedy hands over the hardness she finds beneath. Soon he's wriggled out of his trousers and folded them over the chair. She smiles at his fastidiousness as he walks back to her, now down to his impeccable white boxers. She wants to touch every part of him, skin on skin. They both revel in the contrast of her soft breasts against his broad and sturdy chest, her smooth legs against his hairy ones. Her dark hair mixes with his light on the pillow and his desire grows hard while hers grows soft and moist.

She pushes at his shorts, impatient to experience what lies inside. She wants to see, to touch, to smell, to taste. She slides them over his hips and his thighs until he kicks them off impatiently. Her hands eagerly encircle his straining erection, and she marvels at its size and its power. She runs her deft fingers over the shaft then bows her head to kiss the tip. As she takes him into her soft, warm mouth, he shudders with pleasure and desire.

Her tongue is busy, lapping and laving, and her fingers find the sac beneath and roll its contents seductively. His member pulses and she thinks his control is beginning to waver when he abruptly stops her and pushes her away. He levers himself up and buries his head in his hands. She becomes quite alarmed.

"What's wrong, Martin?" She is fearful as well as frustrated.

"Oh how stupid. Stupid, stupid." He is frowning.

Her fear increases, what is he talking about?

"Louisa, I'm sorry." "Not sorry about this, I mean," he adds hastily, for her benefit, "but we've a small problem, one that I of all people should not have overlooked."

"What's that, then? Don't tell me you have a prior commitment this evening?"

"No, nothing like that. But I'm a doctor. How could we get to this point without considering our options for contraception? It's kind of automatic – the next step is to reach for the condom and I, well, I haven't got one. I never would have thought to bring one when I came chasing over to see to Holly. There's a carton at the surgery. Hundreds of them, maybe a thousand, in neat little packets. And not one here." He moans.

She smiles. Then she chuckles wickedly. "You bought a case of them? Jut for me? I like the sound of that . . ."

"No, of course not. I mean, I hadn't thought we, well – I mean I had THOUGHT about it of course, but well it didn't seem a realistic possibility did it? Not after I mucked things up so much."

"Then why lay in a supply?"

"Not for my personal use – for the surgery. For patients."

"Oh." She caresses his arm, drawing lazy circles with one lascivious finger.

"No, don't get me any more worked up," he pushes her hand away, "not unless you want to get dressed and hike back to the surgery now." He pauses gruffly. "Blast!"

"Well, I don't think we need to do that," she purrs, looking at him seductively. "There's some foam in the bedside table that I think will solve this little problem"

His sense of relief is palpable. His shoulders sag against her and she draws him in a close embrace. His hands hover at her waist, and then slip lower. "Who is overdressed now?" he quips, and with surgical precision he removes the tiny scrap of pink that is the last remaining barrier between them.

As he pulls her knickers off, he tentatively touches the dark, damp curls at the apex of her thighs. He gently pushes them aside to reveal her sex, unfolding for him like a rose, pink and glistening. He is overcome with a desire to taste her.

She is surprised to feel his lips; in her daydreams she has debated with herself whether his puritanical streak and his preoccupation with hygiene would make him squeamish about this particular pleasure. She writhes at his attention, feeling his hot, wet tongue touching her most sensitive parts and his talented fingers stroking the inside of her thighs. She lifts her hips up off the bed and his hands move to cup her bottom as he laps her up like a drunk with a pint of lager. He feels her tense – taut like a bowstring – before she cries his name and shatters into a million soft, juicy pieces.

He scoops her up against his chest and she clings to him, quivering and speechless. She reaches up to kiss his mouth, in wonder, in gratitude, in passion. From her perch in his lap, she is well aware of his increasingly urgent need for his own release. She fishes a can of contraceptive foam from the bedside table and for once is grateful for his ability to shift effortlessly between his romantic and clinical personas. He swiftly sees to its application without breaking the mood.

While he attends to this business, he idly wonders when she purchased it, when she was planning to use it—and with whom. But as his hands caress the damp pearl at her core and his lips linger over the dusky peaks of her breasts, those thoughts vanish from his mind and he concentrates on the sheer pleasure she brings him.

She lies on her back, preparing to pull him down into the deepest and most complete embrace of them all. He shifts direction so she sits astride him.

"In my dreams," he croaks, his voice husky with emotion, "I always see you on top."

She needs no further invitation. She welcomes his pulsing length and finds a rhythm to suit them both. The fit is bespoke – he fills her, completes her like no one else ever has. His hands are at her hips, supporting her. As she rocks, her head is back and her hair spreads across her shoulders. He briefly thinks of Lady Godiva, naked on her horse. Intoxicating.

As he feels the first quivers of her climax, he reaches up to gather her. Pivoting, he pulls her underneath so his final deep thrusts can carry them together into the stratosphere. The single word, LOVE, is on both of their lips.

After a few moments to let the stars re-align, he rolls to his side and cuddles her against his shoulder. Their legs are entwined and they are both sweaty and breathing hard.

"Louisa," he says, finally. "Louisa, that was . . . that was – well I can't express what that was." He leans over to offer a thankful kiss.

"Martin," she replies "that was just the beginning."

In both their minds is regret for waiting so long to give in to their obvious attraction to each other. How many lonely nights over the past two years could have been filled with pleasures had they taken this plunge before? Who knows where they might be now if their kiss on the morning after Peter's operation had not been followed so closely by Martin's insensitive comment about dental hygiene. But the sense of regret is not so overpowering as to cast a pall over their joy at finally being together, with the promise of marriage before them. Nor can it dampen their sincere delight to have found they are sexually compatible and more than able to satisfy one another.

As they lay together, replete, each has more leisure to explore the other's body. He finds and kisses a mole at the base of her shoulder blade and fingers a dimple on her tailbone. She traces a scar on his lower abdomen and coaxes him to regale her with the story of an emergency appendectomy in medical school, performed by one of the tutors and witnessed by nearly all of his classmates after he collapsed in agony during one of his exams. She imagines how challenging it must have been to face his fellows when he returned to classes, and her compassionate heart grieves for his past embarrassment.

She places her ear to his chest. "I can hear your heart beat," she says, then moves her hand. "I can feel it too, just here."

He looks down and moves her palm slightly lower and to the left. "It's here, actually." Then he traces her chest with his hand "and yours is right here, see?" He uses his fingers to illustrate the paths of the major blood vessels across her chest in an impromptu anatomy lesson. She giggles and claims "it tickles, Martin!" She tries to find his ticklish spots and eventually locates a good one under his left arm and files this fact away for future reference.

It doesn't take long for their caresses to turn passionate. If their first time was raw and frantic, fueled by pent-up desire, the second is more about tenderness and finesse. It is exquisitely intimate, sitting up with her straddling his hips and their torsos pressed together. Her lips are on his neck and his nibble at her ear. She whispers endearments.

Long years of celibacy have given Martin exacting control over sexual urges. He mentally runs down the proper anatomical names for the bones of the foot as a way of distracting his mind, intent on postponing his release and waiting for her. His fingers rub against the place where their bodies have joined, and as he feels her engorge and begin to tremble, he whispers, quietly, "Louisa, come with me." She answers with a throaty cry and together they tumble over the edge, into oblivion. They collapse against each other and soon after, sated and spent, they sleep.

The stars are out and the bedside clock reads nine p.m. when Martin awakes, abruptly and immediately as in a medical emergency. It takes a moment to get his bearings. It takes several more minutes for him to realize he is here, in Louisa's house, in her bed, with her bare back nestled against him. His arms are around her ribcage, and he gives her a squeeze. He spends several more long minutes trying to convince himself that this is real and not just another in a long string of fantasies about amorous adventures with Louisa that have played out in his mind with increasing regularity over the last two years. But this time, his rational self argues, I couldn't have dreamed up this mole on her shoulder or the dimple on her bottom. I couldn't have imagined the way her body feels to my touch or the little sound she makes in the back of her throat when the orgasm first takes her. He is finally convinced when he notices how satisfied his own body feels too, quite different than the frustration that usually follows a dream about making love with Louisa. He pinches himself, just to be sure.

He shakes his head briefly in astonishment. After concluding that he is in fact here and has in fact spent hours in bed with the woman he loves, he has to admit that it is then very likely that he really has asked her to marry him, a scenario which still boggles the mind. And, even more staggering, she has accepted his proposal. Which means she wants to be with him, doesn't it? This is the least believable part of it all.

His next thought is of terror. Panic, even. He knows he has an uncanny knack for saying absolutely the wrong thing to Louisa, even, or perhaps actually especially, after a tender moment between them. He doesn't know why he does this. Hell, he doesn't usually even know that he's done it until afterwards and then it is always her reaction and not his own instinct that points out how he's stepped in it. He is flummoxed as to how to change it. But he desperately wants to avoid doing it again if at all possible. "Just don't spoil it," he tells himself.

What is he supposed to do now? He's never been engaged before and has no idea what the etiquette of fiancés is. And it has in fact been a number of years, more than he cares to remember, since he's had even a casual sexual encounter with a woman. And he's never felt quite like this about anyone. Ever.

Am I supposed to leave now? He wonders. Or stay the night? I could offer to go – maybe that would seem more chivalrous. Though it is hard to see myself as a gentleman the way I've been behaving tonight. Will she want to talk? Do we have wedding plans to make? Will she be keen to have another go? He blushes at that last thought. Recovery time is supposed to be longer in older men and, he has to admit, he's not a teenager any more. But there is no mistaking the stirring in his loins, an interest no doubt fueled by the feel of Louisa's sweet body in his arms, her bum tucked tantalizingly against him. His fingers toy with her hair and her breasts and he wonders what she is like when she first wakes up.

Just then her stomach growls. He is startled by the sound and his reaction wakes her. Her eyelids flutter and she seems surprised, then happy, to look up at him. She sighs and cuddles close to his warmth, and says "Hello, you." He smiles at her and says nothing, still fearful of making a monumental mistake. "Struck dumb, are you? Cat got your tongue?" she purrs. He answers by kissing her soundly, demonstrating definitively that there is absolutely nothing wrong with his tongue.

"I'm glad you're here, Martin," she says, almost shyly.

"Me too. I mean, I'm glad I'm here too. With you." He stammers a bit.

"Are you hungry at all? I see that we've passed your usual dinner hour, but I'm beginning to feel quite peckish. No chance for lunch either, what with Holly's accident, and it has been a long time since that toast this morning."

"Er, yes, well with these exertions, perhaps we do need some sustenance."

"Good. I'm just going to run to the loo and then I'll go foraging to see what I can find."

He feels bereft when she climbs out of the bed. He watches her pull a silky dressing gown over her nakedness and then wave coyly at him as she leaves the room. Now he is really not sure what to do. Reluctantly, he leaves the bed as well and hunts for his vest and his boxers among their discarded clothes. He contemplates getting completely dressed and wonders again what she has in mind. He pulls on the underclothes and decides to wait on the rest until he sees what she has on when she comes back. He hears water running and other mysterious noises from the loo and wonders what she is up to. At last he hears her soft steps going downstairs.

A bit later, as he sits in her bed with the sheet drawn up to his waist and his vest clearly visible covering his upper body, she comes back with a tray. Her face falters a bit when she sees him and he wonders what is wrong. "You're not planning to leave, are you?" she asks, looking pointedly at his clothes.

"Er, no, not leaving – that is, not unless you want me to. Just a bit chilly. Since you left, I mean." He is glad to see her smile and even more glad to have navigated one more step of the evening.

She smiles. "I've got some nice cheese and things, and the grapes I went out to get for Holly. There ought to be champagne to drink, I guess, to toast our engagement, but we'll have to settle for water because I haven't got any more wine – I finished the last bit after the concert the other night."

He flinches a bit, remembering that night and how devastated he had been. He wonders if she had been celebrating or drowning her sorrows. "Water is good. My mouth is, er, quite dry." He pours two glasses and takes a long drink, thinking about how his mouth got that way. He smells the toothpaste on her breath when he kisses her and enjoys the minty sensation.

With food to occupy them, they are less shy and formal towards each other. They still haven't found that easy camaraderie that one would expect of an engaged couple, but they are having fewer awkward pauses and blushing glances. They feed each other bits of cheese and fruit and lick their fingers clean.

Their third time is playful, beginning with a spilled glass of water that requires Martin to remove his vest. Louisa seizes the moment to remove his boxers as well, making cracks about the effect of cold water on certain parts of his anatomy. Her loving attention has miraculous restorative powers. It is not long before he is fully aroused and tearing at her dressing gown to help her catch up to him.

It takes longer this time – they both want to savor the experience like they savored their meal. He watches her sultry eyes go dark with desire beneath him as he presses into her and her hips arch up to meet every thrust. She reaches her climax first, and he follows her down, calling "Louisa, sweet Louisa," as he goes.

He catches his breath before moving to the side to avoid crushing her. As he does so, they hear a cracking sound and he feels something small and round smash beneath his arse. He looks mortified until she crawls over him and begins to laugh. "You sat on a water biscuit!" she chortles. "See, all the bits on the sheets? It must have fallen off the tray." He senses the mealy pieces sticking to his skin and feels decidedly uncomfortable. "Bugger!"

She teases him "I'll have to tell the ladies down the pub that you are CRUMB-Y in bed, won't I?" He looks at her in horror before he realizes she is joking. There have been so many jokes at his expense that he is wary. She notices his discomfort and kisses him. "Oh Martin, don't take things so literally. It's funny, really. How you looked just then."

"Glad I could provide some amusement," he says drily. He looks at her and she is so gorgeous and her laugh is so intoxicating that it takes only a moment for him to get over his grump.

"I'll just pop in the shower, then, if that's ok with you." He looks at her questioningly, brushing off the crumbs as best he can.

"Oh, yeah, go right ahead. Do you need me to show you anything?"

"I think I can figure it out." He bends to kiss her fiercely before he goes.

She watches him go and has one more giggle at the trail of broken biscuit pieces falling on the floor behind him. She looks at the state of the bed and decides there is nothing to do but change the sheets.

As she spreads the clean sheets across the wide bed, she pinches herself to remind her that this is real. She's going to marry Martin Ellingham. They will have endless nights together, just like this one. He has managed to satisfy her every craving without making a single rude remark. It is a heady sensation. She wonders who she will call first with the news and hums the Prince of Denmark's March under her breath.

As she goes by the bedside table to put clean cases on the pillows, she sees the can of contraceptive foam. Be prepared is a good motto, she thinks, trying not to imagine what would have happened to this night if it hadn't been there lurking in the cupboard. She'd bought it for Danny, of course. Poor Danny and his latex allergy – no condoms for him. But that was years ago – before she'd ever met Martin. She'd dug it out of the cupboard in the lav when Danny asked her to marry him this last time, but in his new religious fervor he had been adamant about waiting for marriage to re-consummate their relationship. A load of rubbish, she thinks. You can't reverse 15 years and make me a virgin again.

She picks up the can, shaking it to see if there is any left, when she sees by her thumb a "use by" date. A closer examination reveals a date more than three years ago. She frowns. I wonder what that's for - I mean it's not like we're going to eat it or anything, she muses. Still, probably best not to let Martin see that, she thinks, and gives up the idea of joining him in the shower for one more round. I probably should bin this.

When he comes back, with damp hair and a towel wrapped around his waist, he smells faintly of borrowed soap and mouthwash. He smiles at the picture she makes, sitting prettily under the duvet on the freshly made bed, brushing her hair. She sighs deeply as he joins her, dropping his towel to slide into the bed. He settles her in his lap, then takes up the hairbrush and gently sees to her hair. It is so soft and luxurious and fragrant and shiny. He finds it comforting to sit like this, companionably together, to kiss gently her neck and the top of her head, to fondle her skin as he works. He imagines the joy of being able to sit and brush her hair, just like this, every night, when they are married, and he is content.

For her part, Louisa is enjoying his touch. While he works, she lazily catalogs his most attractive physical attributes – his strong arms, his broad chest, his long, sinewy legs, his expressive eyes. She feels so safe when he holds her, so precious when he looks at her. She loves his hair – short and businesslike, but surprisingly soft and touchable. His hands are the best part – large and warm with talented fingers and no calluses. She imagines that surgeons must guard their hands, and is glad he has. His lips too, she thinks. She noticed them right off when they'd met but they had seemed curled in a sneer so often that it had taken a while to appreciate their sensuous nature – broad and pillowy, just made for kissing. She reddens slightly as she adds his cock to the list – remembering how it fills her so completely when he plunges inside, the way it leaves her feeling, like her bones have melted. She leans back against his chest and feels the soft and silky hair there. She has chosen her future husband well, she thinks. They can make each other happy, she is sure of it.

He puts down the hairbrush and she switches off the lamp. He turns her a bit so he can tenderly kiss her mouth and her arms go around his neck. The kiss is simpler now, not as fraught as ones they have shared in the past. They have entered a new stage of their relationship and for this moment right now it seems to be working. There is an overwhelming sense of relief in each of them that they share through their kiss.

"Good night Martin, sleep well," she says, touching his face, and then turning to lie on her side.

He wraps his arms around her and spoons behind her. "Good night, Louisa, my, er . . ." His mind races as he struggles to choose an endearment. Is she his dear, his darling, his sweetheart? His luv, his pet, his honey? It seems important to get this right, to set the tone for their marriage. But as they so often do with her, words fail him. "My, er, Louisa," he stammers, feeling foolish. But it does sound right. Here, in this bed, she is his.


(Or just the beginning, depending on your point of view)

Author's note:

Thanks for reading. I love feedback and would appreciate your thoughts and constructive criticism. The title comes from the old version of the marriage vows – With this ring, I thee wed, with my body, I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.