CHAPTER 1

Steam hissed along the platform when John took her hand to guide her into their compartment. Although his mother had knotted her brows in dismay when they had told her about their intended honeymoon, in this they had had their own way, if in nothing else regarding their marriage. Mrs. Thornton and Aunt Shaw had seen to it, that everything was handled "seemly" and "properly" and all John and Margaret had done was to say "I do". With their meekness they'd bribed the tow ladies to let them disappear after their wedding breakfast and now they joined the train, heading for the Seaside, to spend some days all alone, before on their return John would reopen Marlborough Mills. When Margaret took her seat and John put their belongings in place their eyes met, like they had done so often on this day, showing clearly their mutual thoughts.

„Well", John said with an ironic smile, „I'm not quite sure Dixon won't jump out of one of the suitcases and straightforward forbid me to sit next to you!". He looked around in the otherwise mercifully empty compartment, sighed deeply with relief and let himself plunge to his wife's side. „But", he continued wistfully, „today we will have our own ends, I should say."

Margaret instantly took in the double meaning and blushed deeply. It seemed that she had been waiting ages for this day to come and she remembered so well the nights of their short engagement. After returning to Milton she'd stayed with the Watsons, for propriety's sake. When John had left her there in the evenings, after they'd spent the whole day together, she'd felt torn apart, watching him heading in the night towards Malborough Mills. She'd lain awake, thinking about him, imagining him lying in his bed – though guiltily - and aching for him to be with her. Well, she couldn't explain her feelings to herself, but although she was still longing for him she felt – she felt nervous. Tonight there would be no need to part, no need to stop, and although she loved this man more than her own life, she felt uneasy. How should she know how to behave? What would he like her to do? What if he should be disappointed? More than anything else she yearned for his respect – what if she involuntary did something to bold, or something he considered wanton? Her Aunt Shaw had taken it upon her to talk to her on the evening before her wedding day and what she'd told her had mainly been about of wifely duties, the "ways of men" and unpleasantness to be endured for the sake of procreating. When John had held her in his arms she'd never thought in those terms so far. She'd enjoyed his attentions, something which, according to Aunt Shaw, was most unladylike! All that came to her mind now and so, for the first time in weeks, she felt uneasy in John's company and nervous about the things to come.

John, knowing nothing about the turmoil behind his wife's forehead, stretched out his long limbs and put his arm around her shoulders. But pulling her towards him he felt her restraint and immediately sensed her distress. He searched her eyes but she avoided his gaze, which alarmed him even more.

„Do you think about your parents?" he asked sympathetically, for he knew how much Margaret must have felt their loss on a day like this.

She blushed again, ashamed of the thoughts that had run across her mind. In her imagination she had let him become Dixon's wild Northerner, this man who had always loved her so steadily, so gently, so honourable.

„What a fool I am to let Dixon and Aunt Shaw get the better of me!" she scolded herself inwardly. „Even when I disliked him so much I knew him to be trustworthy and honourable. And now as he is my own beloved husband I allow myself such silly thoughts. I will trust him as I have always done and I know he would never wilfully disappoint or hurt me!".

With this conclusion she pulled his arm around her shoulders and nestled her head at its very own resting place on his broad chest, hearing his steady and powerful heartbeat. „I thought about them a lot today", she answered his compassionate question, smuggling her own arm behind his back and under his jacket. She felt the warmth of his body through his waistcoat and spread her fingers to soak it in. Again and again he felt blessed by her open display of love when she so eagerly sought his embrace. He took her other hand between his, gently stroking it.

„So did I", he admitted, stroking her fingers. „Do you think they would have been happy for us?"

She turned her head upwards to look in his face. „They married for love, you know. They would have been more than happy to see their own child love a man so worthy."

He smiled „I rather would have taken you from your father's hand than from Maxwell's. To know that such a good friend should have entrusted me with his beloved daughter – I would have felt very honoured."

„Father saw from the very beginning the man I still had to find."

„You helped me to become that man, Margaret. Unwanted as your reasoning with me then had been – what should have become of me without you?".

She blushed. „Oh John, I do love you so very much!" „Margaret", he whispered heatedly, rejoicing in calling her so, „just now you don't want me to show you how much I love you!"

He felt the heat flooding her face and felt guilty for talking to her so boldly. So he kissed her fingertips, apologizing, and kept quiet. Silence enfolded them, the only sound to be heard the steady rattling of the train and the gentle rustle of his fine cotton shirt where her hand stroked his back Just like it had been on their last journey it was John who at least gave in to the monotonous shaking and fell asleep. He had been awake nearly the whole previous night, his nerves to highly strung to allow him to rest. But now the closeness of Margaret's warm and soft body worked like a sedative, the small and darkening compartment enclosing the two of them like a shell, and he could let go all those fears and worries that had haunted him the night before. She was his, he was hers – he stretched to find a more comfortable position and let his hand linger on the soft spot of skin just at the base of her throat. Then Margaret felt him relaxing, felt his whole being come to peace in her embrace. She heard the deep steady rhythm of his breath and a huge wave of happiness rolled through her whole body. He felt at home with her, he found rest with her ... Her hand began again to slide along his back, to the sensitive and slender place just beneath his ribs, and back to his spine. In doing so she felt the hem of his shirt. It must have come off when he had stretched and turned in his seat to make himself comfortable. Her fingers rested there, felt the fabric of the cotton, the seam of the shirt. A hot stream of desire seemed to float through her body, such an ardent wish to feel his skin, to touch it only once, only with the tips of her fingers. He seemed so fast asleep - for sure she could try without waking him up?! They were all alone, darkness had risen outside and she was his lawful married wife, wasn't she? So she tried, touched the bare skin at his waist and was lost in an instant. Her whole hand immediately crept under the shirt, feeling the unbelievably soft and warm tenderness of his body. She moved her fingers just so and, oh god, his flesh felt so firm, his skin so soft, she never would have believed it. Her cheeks coloured in the dark when she experienced for the first time what he must have felt all the last weeks. Desire stabbed her with such vehemence, she only wished to let her hand roam freely about his body, sliding around his male waist to his chest, downwards to his flat belly, upwards to the strong muscles of his arms. She was completely lost to him. Her heart hammered while thoughts raced through her brain. Good heavens, should he wake up, what must he think of her. But on the other hand this was just to delicious. She dared not move her hand, neither how she wants nor how she knows she must.

When Margret had tugged at his shirt, John had been wide awake in an instant. First he had thought of a rather too vivid dream, calling himself to order even in his sleep. But then he had heard her sharp intake of breath and immediately felt her hand creeping at his skin, small, soft and cool where it came to rest. Her breathing stopped altogether while she moved her fingers ever so slightly, nevertheless sending thunder and lightning through his whole body. And then, slowly, unwillingly, the hand went away again and he felt her arm sliding gently off behind his back. When he opened his eyes he saw her sitting with her hands before her face, facing her very own passion, not kindled by his doing, but found all by herself only through his then mute and impassive presence. She wanted him, not only in response to his desire but because of her own. Knowing her character as he did he should have expected her to be like this, in no way his creature, never only responding, but in all ways just being herself.

He said nothing at all but took her face between his hands and kissed her softly, trying to tell her how he felt.„I love you. You're my equal. I feel what you feel. I want you, too."

Neither felt a wish to speak, so they kept their silence, wondering again and again about the power of their love. In their small and confined shell they sat, twilight engulfing them, lost to time and place. Just when it seemed like their journey was never to end they felt the train slow down. John took out his father's watch to take the time and hurried to his feet in astonishment.

„Oh Margaret, let's gather our belongings, for I think we're there at least".