Hi all! I'd gladly apologize for the lateness as usual, but i fear this might be getting quite repetitive and tiresome :-) So I'll just say this: this is the final chapter, with a small epilogue at the end. Please consider this story as complete.
If I ever find enough inspiration, I might post a few random one-shots as companions to this piece. But please do not hold your breath and if it happens, it will hopefully come as a pleasant surprise :-)
I'd like to thank you all for reading and taking the time to comment. I try to answer you all but I've fallen behind since the last chapter. I'll try to fix that soon. Each and every message I receive from you brings a huge grin to my face, so please do not hesitate to let me know your thoughts about this finale, good or bad, mistakes or things I did right, I'll take them all :-) And thanks again, so much, for tagging along and for bearing with my preposterous slowness ;-) Much, much appreciated!
Last thing before I leave you alone: you might want to re-read the last two chapters before, since this one picks up right after and, er, it's been a while :-)
"Good night, Margaret", he says.
There is a moment of heavy silence that betrays her surprise, and, dare he hope, her disappointment? Then her voice wafts in the air, an unsure quality to it:
"Good night, John".
She has been staring helplessly at the ceiling for the better part of a half-hour. She cannot believe he has not reached for her tonight. He is actually lying casually next to her, only meaning to sleep. The cheek! Does he no longer love her then?
She tries to reason herself. Surely married people do not engage in marital congress every single night. She will not blow this... incident out of proportions. She will quietly go to sleep and maybe tomorrow... or the day after...
Or maybe she will just go insane with frustration.
"I... I was just wondering if you were asleep already. Obviously you are not."
"Obviously." he echoes non-committally.
A few seconds pass. Margaret bites her lower lip. Shame and dignity fight a lost battle against the physical need that plagues her. She cannot believe what she is about to do.
Inconspicuously, inch by inch, she creeps closer to her husband's still form until her side touches his. She holds her breath. Nothing happens.
Good grief, what more can she do without appearing to throw herself at him in a most unladylike fashion? Can he not sense how desperate she is? Her hand is now pressed against his and she slowly trails the back of her index finger along his thumb, his wrist, his forearm.
A strong hand suddenly clasps her wrist, effectively ending her progress. She freezes.
"Is there something you wanted?"
His voice is laced with amusement and she closes her eyes in mortification. When she does not answer, he raises himself on an elbow to look at her.
Through her lashes, she peers at him. The moon casts a dim light in the room, partly revealing his features. He makes little effort to conceal a smirk.
"There is nothing", she claims feebly, hating the faint tremor in her voice.
"Really? I was under the impression that you were trying to convey a message."
He arches an eyebrow. He knows.
Humiliation brings a vivid red to her cheeks.
"What kind of message would I possibly try to convey?" she answers haughtily, anger slowly building up.
How he likes when she hides behind this regal mask. It used to make him furious, but he knows better now. He knows this is only a façade that she is currently using to hide her embarrassment.
"I have no idea. You tell me."
"Well, I am sure I haven't got the slightest idea either, whatever you are trying to imply."
"You thinking that I was implying something seems to indicate that there is indeed something to imply", he points out with mischief. "Now, why will you not tell me?"
There is hope in his eyes, but she does not see it, as fury and shame bubble over and she abruptly flings the sheets back.
"You are impossible! There is nothing to tell!"
She gets out of bed and quickly heads for her dressing room, but she is stopped in her tracks by a pair of arms catching her waist from behind.
She stays still, fists clenched at her sides. She wants to turn to him and pummel his chest with her fists for teasing her so shamelessly and for making her feel such unbearable, shameful need. But she knows she is behaving foolishly. This outburst is so unlike her that she barely recognizes herself. Tears of mortification sting her eyes; she swallows them back, holding her chin high.
Silently, he holds her. And holds his ground. Whatever happens tonight will happen because she asks for it, not because she agrees to it. She will initiate it or he will be damned!
Several long seconds tick by, their breathing the only sound in the shadowy room.
And then, just when he is starting to think it is a lost battle, her hand creeps up to unclasp one of his arms and she slowly guides his hand down, between her thighs.
"Please", she whispers, and that is all he needed. His heart soars with sweet victory.
"You want me", he breathes in wonder, but she mistakes the tone of his voice for incredulity and her distress increases.
"What have you done to me?" she whispers with a broken voice. "I no longer know or trust myself. Since we have married, all I can think of is that the night can never come soon enough..."
Her words flow him like a medicine, erasing all doubts in his mind. He presses her back against him, his hand still cupping her. He speaks low.
"I feel exactly the same, Margaret. So much so that it has taken me quite a healthy dose of self-control to stay on my side of the bed earlier on".
Startled, she turns her head to him.
"Because", his eyes fall to her lips, "I wanted you to want me."
With that, his mouth covers hers and for a second, she forgets everything. As his hand starts to move gently between her legs, she leans against him, bracing her palms on his thighs for support.
His lips leave her mouth and skim the skin of her neck. She exhales shakily, feeling light-headed. His voice vibrates through her.
"Whenever you want to... Wherever you favour it... I want you to come to me. Never fear that I would find it shocking."
This last word strikes a chord in her and she pulls back abruptly, breaking his embrace.
"Do not say such things." She takes a few steps back, and stops when her back hits the vanity. Her heart is beating fast. "You cannot possibly want that."
She sees his surprise, soon replaced by an expression of frustration as he pinches the bridge of his nose, his eyes closing briefly. It makes her heart sink.
"Are we back to this nonsense, then? You thinking that society has a say in this? Should dictate our conduct?"
She shakes her head, swallowing hard.
"It is not that."
Startled, he searches her eyes.
She ducks her head and for a long moment, she nervously toys with the bangle at her wrist.
"I am afraid I might lose your love" she quietly admits, eventually.
At first, he is so shocked by her statement that he remains silent, his eyes holding a pained expression. When he finds his voice again, he says softly:
"Margaret, my love. I do not follow you."
Gripping the edge of the vanity, she raises her head defiantly and words tumble out of her mouth.
"What if I do show you my yearning for you, and you find me wanton? What if it makes you lose all regard for me? I could not bear to see that look in your eyes again, the one you gave me when you thought me... untrustworthy." Her voice, fierce at first, falters and she repeats in a murmur, "No, I could not bear it."
This wretched misunderstanding between them is still fresh in his mind and he closes his eyes briefly at the reminder.
"Margaret, if I could go back in time and change how I behaved..."
She shakes her head to stop him.
"I do not blame you. You know that. But you cannot deny that you despised me then... I am afraid that history might repeat itself."
"I see", he says after a while, looking at her thoughtfully. And he does see. He understands, now, her reluctance to give free rein to her sensuality in view of his past condemnation of her supposedly indiscrete behaviour.
But he is also determined to point out an essential difference in their present situation.
He leans against one of the columns of their bed, opposite her, and starts hesitantly.
"If a woman threw herself at me with no other feeling than lust, then... yes. I believe I would lose all esteem for that woman, if I had some to begin with. However, I fail to see how this applies to you. What we share is certainly not mere lust, although part of it is. Do you think any less of me when I show you my need?"
Margaret smiles faintly at that.
"No... It makes me feel loved, and cherished."
He smiles back.
"I am glad. Because you are loved, and cherished. And in no danger of losing the unbreakable hold you have on me."
His words glide like a caress on her skin and they light a warm glow within her. They stay silent, she at the vanity, him against the wood column of their bed. He is looking tenderly at her, all quiet strength and confidence, and so devastatingly handsome. Under his gaze, the warm glow spreads, becoming a sweet and aching tension in her belly. Her heartbeat picks up.
She cannot help it. She takes a step toward him, then another one. He does not move, but watches her progression with a hopeful glint in his eyes. His lips part slightly in anticipation as she closes the distance between them and, sliding her arms around his waist, she claims his mouth. His response is immediate, and fiery. He frames her face with his hands and pulls her to him roughly, drinking her in like a parched man, his rekindled desire so imperious that everything around them fades, his focus solely on her. They kiss as if it were the last time they saw each other, again and again and again, soon out of breath and yet unable to stop.
To her surprise, he slowly starts to back her up toward the vanity. His mouth leaves her and his eyes, feral, bore into hers. Deep and husky, his voice starts weaving its magic, reaching her past the pounding pulse in her ears.
"I like that, out in the open, you are Mrs Thornton, a respectable, lovely and admired lady."
He carries on, taking her another step backward.
"But I also like that, in the privacy of our chambers, you are only Margaret. No less respectable, even lovelier, and less... formally attired."
Her eyes widen at him, fire coursing through her veins.
"And I like that you give yourself to me in a way nobody else could have you."
One more step.
"And that nobody else knows what you look like without your clothes on..."
"John!", she protests, blushing scarlet.
He goes on, undeterred, taking the last step to the vanity. Seizing her waist, he swiftly perches her on top of it, so that they are now eye-to-eye. He leans in.
"And that nobody else knows that look in your eyes when your pleasure peaks", he whispers in her ear.
He hears her gasp and draws back to look at her, gauging her reaction to his words with a wicked grin. She is embarrassed beyond words, he can see that, and yet after a second she looks up at him and holds his gaze almost defiantly. His lips are tantalizingly close, almost grazing hers.
"Do you know that these two Margarets have a trait in common?" he says.
"They do?" she answers in a whisper.
"Yes. They are daring. Something that I have always admired about you..."
He fits his lips to her again. His hands slowly slide down from her thighs to her knees, and he gently parts them, stepping in between.
Amidst the haze of desire in her mind, his last sentence resonates. He really, truly wants this from her, she realizes. He wants this new side of her, and her willingness to voice out this feeling of not being whole until their bodies are joined. This, this is love, too. And he has never been afraid to show it to her. So why should she be?
Taking a shaky breath between two kisses, she grabs his shirt and makes quick work of the buttons, pulling the garment off his shoulders and to the floor. Her fingers work at his waistband, undoing the buttons there too while kissing him feverishly. But this time, she does not stop there. She lets the trousers fall to the floor, and then, she tentatively reaches down and places a trembling hand around him. His hands that were clasping her knees suddenly grip the edge of the table instead, and he releases her mouth, bending forward with a muffled curse.
She withdraws her hand quickly as if burnt, her heart pounding furiously in her chest. But he quickly regains his senses.
"No, please", he says and, taking her hand, he wraps it back around him. She searches his eyes.
"I do not know what to do...", she pleads, feeling terribly awkward.
He shows her then, his hand firmly guiding hers in a back and forth motion, his skin surprisingly soft in her palm. His gaze never falters from hers, his eyes almost black from hunger, his mouth half open, exhaling shakily against her lips with each pass of her hand. In all these months of lovemaking, she has never touched him this way, nor seen him entirely naked. Seeing her like this, so shy and yet so eager to pleasure him, is almost enough to send him over the edge. He fights it with all his might, his brow furrowing and his eyes falling shut as he desperately tries to ground himself.
"Am I not... doing this right?" he hears her say hesitantly, her movement slowing down.
He briefly chuckles, reopening his eyes.
"Quite the opposite", he answers hoarsely.
He raises his other hand to cup her neck and brings her mouth to his. This time, the kiss is much slower and sensuous, matching the rhythm she has resumed below. He seeks entrance to her mouth and she grants it, their tongues slowly duelling with each other. God, how she loves his kisses. His hands leave her and rise to the ribbon that ties her nightgown. Releasing it swiftly, they slide the fabric off her shoulders, letting it fall at her waist. He wastes no time cupping the graceful weight of her breasts, caressing them softly. He has always been quite partial to her feminine forms, even before they were married. Now that they are, everyday is a struggle to keep his hands to himself, his mind constantly flooding him with thoughts of his fingers digging into her flesh, of his mouth feasting on her.
He gently teases her nipples, already hard under his palms, and so sensitive that she moans. He grins boyishly against her lips but soon lets out a gasp of pleasure as she retaliates lower. His response to her touch makes her feel powerful. There is something incredibly thrilling about how responsive and vulnerable he feels in her hand. He has fully bared himself to her, like she did for him.
It occurs to her that she is sitting on her vanity, half-naked, touching her completely nude husband in the most intimate way possible, and that he seems to enjoy it thoroughly. And for the fist time, she does not worry about decorum. It is the last coherent thought that crosses her mind before his hand slides down, past her nightgown, and finds the moist heat between her legs. A whimper rises in her throat and she ceases her ministrations, unable to do anything but hold on the edge of the table. She breaks their kiss, her head falling back.
"I want to take you here", he says hoarsely, his fingers gliding over her wetness. "Please, say yes, please..."
She can only nod, unable to utter a word. His eyes trained on hers, he grabs her thighs roughly, bringing her right to the edge of the vanity. One of his hands slides to her back to support her while the other settles on her hip, and with one forward motion, he sheathes himself inside her with a hiss of bliss. She gasps as the sweet invasion awakens burning sensations in her.
And yet, it is different from the sensations she felt the previous night, when he used his fingers on her. It is an intense, much more centered kind of pleasure, white-hot jolts shooting through her from a place he hits deep within her. They leave her panting and whimpering, and yet, she knows instinctively that it will not crest.
She does not care. All she can think of is him, making a claim on her body and on her mind so thoroughly that she feels like she belongs to him, in this instant, belongs to him with no reserve, giving him every inch of her flesh, every thought in her head, loving him so unconditionally that nothing matters except his body seeking and finding pleasure from hers.
He, however, is of another mind altogether. Although he feels himself perilously close to climax already, he obstinately refuses to give in, determined to give her as much pleasure as the previous night. Whether it is his unfaltering close attention to her responses, or just instinct, he somehow senses that something is not quite right.
"Margaret, are you... do you think you can... this way?"
She understands immediately what he is delicately asking.
"I... I do not think so", she says, embarrassed.
He slows down, and gazes at her, half-lying on the vanity, beautifully disheveled and flushed from pleasure, her nightgown pooled at her hips. And he swears to himself he will not leave her behind. Bringing her flush against him, he catches her lips in a languorous kiss, and sneaks a hand where they are joined, gently stroking her there. She bucks against his hand.
"Like this, then?", he whispers against her lips.
She bucks again and whimpers "Yes... John..."
Still caressing her, he resumes his rhythm inside her, watching her intently through half-hooded eyes. Her eyes are screwed shut. Time seems to stop around them. This time, she can feel the pleasure build slowly, each circle on her flesh bringing her closer and closer, until she finds herself right there, teetering on the brink, unconsciously tensing in anticipation.
John feels it and picks up the pace, until she finally convulses in his arms, moaning his name loudly. John holds her tight against him, rocking her through her orgasm, pride and awe welling up inside him. For a few precious seconds, Margaret feels like the world is quaking around her and she is swept away in a current of water and light, her body at the mercy of powerful spasms. When they subside, John finally allows himself to be claimed by the wave he was holding at bay, surrendering to her body with a roar.
They stay like that for a few moments, panting erratically against each other's neck until at last, their breathing settle.
In the wake of their intense lovemaking, John suddenly feels mischievous and, taking a small step back to look at her, he raises an eyebrow and asks with studied nonchalance:
"Are you feeling better now?"
Her reaction is priceless. Her eyes widen in disbelief and her mouth falls open. For a second, she looks like she is about to slap him. But then she notices the devilish sparkle in his eyes, the twitch at the corner of his mouth.
"Of all the nerve!" she exclaims, swatting his arm, but her outrage is now laced with incredulous amusement.
He laughs heartily then, and she does not know if she is more shocked because of his previous comment, or because she has never heard him laugh that way before. She cannot help but grin at the sight of him so obviously entertained, even though it is at her expense. And as he lifts her from the vanity and carries her to their bed, she pulls his face to hers and steals his breath with a kiss.
John always remembered that night with particular fondness, because from that day on, he never doubted Margaret's love for him again.
The obvious approval with which he welcomed her caresses made her understand that physical love was indeed a gift, and although she could never bring herself to voice out her desire for him, she did find silent, subtle ways to seduce him whenever she needed him, and always found in John a more than willing participant, for he was quite powerless to resist her sensual allurement.
Margaret always retained a certain part of timidity. However, the brief flash of alarm in her eyes when he was about to take her, or her shocked expression whenever he whispered risqué things to her, proved to be the most potent of aphrodisiacs to her husband. For nothing was more thrilling than watching his beloved wife slowly surrender her dignified countenance to physical bliss, and John came to see this last shred of shyness as a blessing in disguise.