Summary: With age comes wisdom . . . sometimes. A gentle, erotic WHN for “Marie, My Love.”
Rated: MA WC 3300
The First Time
“I’ll be right back, cheri.” At that lovely promise, delivered with her light French lilt, Ben’s stomach flipped over. In just a few more moments, his beautiful wife would be in his arms—and in his bed.
It felt like forever since he’d been with a woman. Call it a strange morality, but he would never compromise a woman he cared for by asking for intimacy outside of marriage. This, coupled with his firm resolve that his sons would have no reason to believe that he frequented the brothels of D Street, left very few options. Fortunately, ranch business required travel to places like San Francisco and Sacramento, where a man might enjoy a woman’s company discreetly, but those trips didn’t occur nearly often enough for his tastes.
On the other side of the dressing room door, she was undressing. He closed his eyes, savoring the idea that, if he listened hard enough, he might hear the pieces of her ensemble sliding from her body. First, the hat; he could almost believe he heard the pin being set on the dressing table. Then, the buttons on her surprisingly modest forest-green suit. He didn’t know what the fabric was, but it was simultaneously rich in color and texture and demure in silhouette. A high neck, and buttons from her chin to below her waist. Not as form-fitting as he’d expected . . . hoped, he admitted to himself now. The skirt swept up into a bustle, draping her body and leaving him to imagine what lay beneath the layers of fabric.
He pictured the bodice being tossed over a chair, leaving her undergarments exposed. He wondered what she’d worn. A corset, of course; no proper woman would go out in public without one. But what else? He imagined that he could hear the swish of the skirt dropping to the floor, and he felt himself harden at the thought of how she looked at that moment, bending to pick up her skirt and stretching to hang it up.
He caught himself then. It wouldn’t be seemly for her to return attired for bed, only to find him still fully dressed. He crossed the room swiftly to where the bellman had left his valise. He dug among all his utilitarian clothing for the item on which he’d splurged secretly, a dressing gown of maroon satin. He’d felt positively wicked purchasing such a garment, but he was not going to seduce his new bride while wearing a cotton nightshirt or a simple pair of trousers.
He fingered the dressing gown as he recalled his wedding night with Inger. No fancy hotel suite for them, no satin dressing gowns and champagne. . . .
* * *
A friend of Inger’s had taken Adam for the night. Before leaving for their wedding, Ben had pushed together the two beds in the hotel room he and Adam shared. It wasn’t much, but it was the best he could do.
When they returned to the small room after exchanging their vows, he closed the door behind them, shutting out the world. He turned to her with anticipation, and he saw that the light in her beautiful eyes was now tempered a bit by her nervousness. There was, of course, no question that she was a maiden. A warm protectiveness rose up in him as they kissed for the first time in the privacy of their room. As the kiss intensified, he reached without thinking for her breast.
She startled, breaking off the kiss and bowing her head in embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” she breathed. “I—I wasn’t expecting—”
“Ssssh,” he said. He kissed her forehead, and she looked up. “It’s all right,” he whispered. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“I know,” she said. “I just—I never—”
“I know,” he assured her. “But you have nothing to worry about. I promise.” His work-hardened hand stroked her cheek as softly as he could manage until she managed a small smile. Then, he leaned in to kiss her again, and her arms went around him as she returned his kisses with increasing fervor.
After several minutes, he broke off the kiss. “May I?” When she nodded, he began to unfasten the buttons of her simple white blouse. Her gaze remained on him, nervous but trusting. As gently as he could manage, he untucked her blouse from her skirt and finished unbuttoning it so that it hung open. For the first time, he saw the curves of the tops of her breasts, and he felt a rush of heat to his groin.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispered. He kissed her jaw, then her throat, and finally meandered down to her breasts. Her hand caressed the back of his head, and he felt her bosom move beneath his lips as her breath grew quicker. He continued to kiss her as he reached behind her to unfasten her skirt, allowing it to fall to the floor. Then, he stepped back and gazed upon his bride.
“You are exquisite,” he murmured. He wanted to continue undressing her, but he knew that she was likely to be uncomfortable if he remained fully clothed. He sat on the edge of the bed, where he made short work of removing his own shirt and undershirt and pulling off his boots and socks as she watched. Then, he reached for her, bringing her to sit beside him. He unfastened her boots and slid them off her feet. As he reached for her again, she drew back.
“What’s the matter?” He squinted at her in the dim lamplight.
“Is the lamp supposed to be lit?” She sounded almost fearful, as though they were doing something sinful.
Ben smiled gently. He didn’t want to appear amused by her modesty. “It can be. It’s up to you. Would you prefer if we blew it out?” Blushing, she nodded, and he rose to blow out the lamp, careful not to show his disappointment.
He shouldn’t have been surprised, he reflected; Elizabeth had been the same way in the beginning. Later, as she became more comfortable with their marital relations, she grew more willing to allow him to see her body. At first, though, his ladylike maiden wife had seemed to be overwhelmed by the idea of allowing him to see the body he was touching and entering.
Aided only by the moonlight, he made his way back to the bed. The truth was that making love in the dark felt like only half the experience. Sometimes, he reflected, it didn’t pay to know what he was missing.
Long before he met Elizabeth, when he was a lad of sixteen, he’d met a young lady named Livia who was slightly older than he and curiously free of the inhibitions and rules that seemed so important to most girls he knew. Livia had opened an entirely new world to the willing young Ben. It was she who introduced him to the notion of making love, rather than merely relieving an urge. In her softly-lit room, on a grassy hillside under the summer sun, on a moonlit beach, Livia had taught him to enjoy every aspect of lovemaking. She had encouraged him to take his time, to tantalize and pause, to enjoy the sights and sounds and smells of a woman as well as the touch of her body.
An ardent student, Ben had learned well to appreciate the gift of a woman. The pert rosebud of a nipple, taut and expectant, just before his mouth closed over it and his tongue began to play with its lovely saltiness. The sight of a creamy round breast beneath his hand, or an equally creamy and round bottom as she walked across the room, her hips swaying as though she was dancing to music only she could hear. The thick triangle of hair that hid her most private parts from his sight as she walked back to him, and the thrill of her climbing on top of him, straddling him and rubbing the tip of him on her secret place until he was nearly ready to explode. Then, only then, did she slide him into her beautiful wetness, so hot and tight, gripping him tightly with muscles no man could see and riding him as he would one day ride the wildest broncs.
He shook his head to banish thoughts of Livia and the reckless glories of passion. They had plenty of time, he and Inger. They were young, and they had the rest of their lives. If Inger was timid now, he felt confident that she would not always be. One day, perhaps soon, he would begin to share with her some of the marvelous lessons he had learned. For tonight, though, he would go slowly.
And so, he unfastened the tie of her pantalets and slid them down her long legs, dropping them on the floor by the bed.
* * *
He watched the door to the dressing room as he pulled off his boots. Where in the disrobing process was his lovely Marie, he wondered. He pictured her tossing her corset aside, her breasts ripe and ready for his hands, his lips, his tongue. In his mind’s eye, she dropped her pantalets and stepped free of them as she unpinned her honey-colored hair, letting it fall in heavy curls down her naked back. Ben licked his lips as he rose to remove the trousers that were becoming ever tighter as he anticipated the opening of the door. He slid off his drawers, almost wishing she would come out at this moment.
He turned to pick up his clothing, and he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Almost at once, his smile faded.
The man in the mirror was not the ardent young sailor who had cavorted with Livia in her boudoir. Nor was he the lithe young husband who had charmed Elizabeth and enchanted Inger. He hadn’t realized that so much time had passed, but now, as he saw the man across the room, he felt for the first time a genuine pang of nervousness.
This man was broad-chested, but the hair that covered that chest was more gray than black. The once-trim midsection had thickened. The scar from the knife in his shoulder gleamed dully. He slapped his stomach, and even from across the room, he saw the rippling of the flesh that was no longer taut. With growing trepidation, he turned his back to the mirror, noting over his shoulder that even long days in the saddle had not been enough to keep his buttocks from beginning to sag. His legs were still strong and muscular, but this was small comfort as he watched the effect of his increasing nervousness on his manhood.
Marie was no maiden. Until this moment, he hadn’t bothered about that. Her past, he’d told firmly, was indeed past. All that mattered now was their future. She’d looked dubious, but he’d been sure enough for both of them.
But now, as he thought of the lean young men who had frequented D’Arcy’s club, the thick, gray-haired man in the mirror looked increasing old and heavy.
He grabbed the dressing gown and wrapped it around himself, belting it firmly. He was a fool. How had he ever thought that he was still man enough for a woman like Marie?
He shoved the valise under the bed and blew out all of the lamps except the one on the table by the door. His fingers fumbled as he removed the wire hood from the bottle sitting in the silver ice bucket. He reached for one of the glasses and knocked it over, grabbing for it before it shattered against the floor.
He spun around as though he’d heard a gun click behind him. Marie stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the lamplight from the dressing room.
Even in the low light, she was exquisite. She wore a silken blue undergown with a nearly transparent robe. Honey-colored waves tumbled across her bosom, reaching nearly to her waist. The delicate beauty of her face was strangely enhanced by the shadows that defined her high cheekbones. She was a woman who would have stopped any man’s heart.
He swallowed hard. “Marie.” His voice was husky with trepidation and desire. He busied himself popping the cork from the bottle and pouring the champagne. He handed her a glass and lightly clinked his against hers. “To us,” he murmured.
“To us,” she said. Her eyes questioned as she sipped, but he merely smiled as though he had no idea what she meant.
He didn’t mean to drink so quickly, but the next thing he knew, his glass was empty. He started to reach for the bottle, but Marie placed her hand on his, setting her glass beside his.
“Kiss me,” she whispered. Her arms slid around his neck, and he pulled her to him, crushing his mouth against hers. Almost desperately, he clutched her as his tongue parted her lips. He felt nearly as though he wanted to devour her—anything to taste as much of her as he could before she recognized his shortcomings and turned away in disgust.
“Ben.” She was pushing away.
No, please, he thought. Not yet. He turned away, unable to bear the disappointment in her eyes.
“What is it, my darling?” she asked. Her hand on his arm gave him the courage to turn to face her. Her eyes were dark, braced to hear whatever he was going to confess.
One of the first things she’d said to him, that day as he’d walked her home from the convent, was that falling in love meant putting your happiness in someone else’s hands. At the time, he’d had no idea what she meant. Now, as his heart pounded, her meaning was painfully clear.
He had never been a coward before. Ben Cartwright had faced pirates and rustlers, gunfighters and thieves and murderers of every kind. He had stared down the barrels of rifles, heard bullets whistling a cat’s whisker from his ear, seen the glint of moonlight on a knife an instant before it slashed at him. He had held his Inger in his arms as the arrow in her back took her life and all around them, savages whooped and gunfire blazed. He had faced Édouard D’Arcy under the oaks, amid the dank hanging Spanish moss, knowing that he was one wrong move away from orphaning his sons.
He drew a deep breath. He owed it to her to be honest. And if he failed to measure up to what she wished . . . well, he just wouldn’t think of that.
He took her hands in his, holding them against the maroon dressing gown where it covered his graying chest hair. “There’s something you need to realize,” he said. A tiny crease appeared between her brows, but she gave no other sign of worry. He gathered his courage and said the words: “I’m not a young man any more.”
The crease between her brows deepened. Then, the concern in her eyes melted, and she looked down, biting her lower lip slightly. After a moment, she lifted her head. The slightest dimple showed in her cheek as she murmured, “Thank God for that.”
She laid a finger on his lips to silence him. “You, mon cheri, are all I want,” she said. “I don’t want some twenty-year-old boy who knows nothing of life, who has no idea how to rejoice because he’s never mourned, who wants nothing more from a woman than what she can give him. I want you, Ben, exactly as you are. Only you.”
For a moment, he stood motionless. He didn’t deserve her, not a bit. How little he’d understood of this magnificent woman. She should have slapped him and stormed out, outraged at such an insult. How horribly he’d misjudged her. Trembling now, he began to babble. “I’m so sorry, my love. I was foolish, and nervous, and—”
“Stop.” She waited until he had closed his mouth. Then, she turned and walked several paces away. She turned back to him, tossing her head. Deliberately, she dropped the sheer robe to the floor. As he watched, she reached behind and released the clasp at the back of the gown. She seemed not to notice his arousal poking at his dressing gown as she slid the gown from her shoulders, letting it fall into a satiny puddle at her feet before she kicked it aside to stand before him.
Her breasts were not as pert and firm as those of the young Livia. Instead, they hung heavily, the nipples a dark rose, almost brown. Her abdomen was soft, her hips generous. He couldn’t have said how, but he’d have known just from looking at her that she had borne and suckled a child. Her thighs bore the slightest trace of dimpling on their inner edges. A small scar gleamed dully on her left arm, near her shoulder.
“I’m not young either, Ben,” she said.
He went to her then, wrapping his arms around her and holding her as tightly as he could. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” he said, and it was true. Her body, with its evidence of life and sorrow, was infinitely more beautiful to him than any taut, trim young woman could ever have been. He nuzzled his face in her neck, mindless of the slight softness in her jawline. He slid his hands down her back, caressing her bottom without noticing that it was not as firm as it might once have been. He felt her press herself against his hardness, and he felt himself responding even more.
“Let’s get rid of this,” she suggested, reaching for his dressing gown. He let go of her, and she untied the belt. She slid her hands beneath the fabric, her fingers caressing his chest hair, lightly circling his nipples, and sliding down his body to stroke his hardness. He moaned, and she kept one hand below as she lightly pushed the robe from his shoulders.
“Oh, my darling,” she murmured in obvious delight. He surrendered to the feel of her hands exploring his body. Just when he was afraid he could wait no longer, she reached up to touch his face.
“I love you,” she said. “You are exactly the man I want. Exactly.”
He felt tears starting as a joy like none he’d ever known swept through him. He picked her up and kissed her deeply as he carried her to the bed. Laying her down, he gathered his courage. “Darling?”
“What is it?”
He bent to kiss her breast. “If it’s all right with you—I’d like to light another lamp or two.”
This time, it was his exquisite bride whose eyes glistened. “It’s fine with me,” she said. He felt her watching as he moved around the room, lighting more lamps, pouring more champagne. He held himself tall, knowing that she saw him as he was—and knowing, too, that this was just what she wanted.
He returned to the bed and set the glasses on the bedside table. She reached for one, but he said, “Not yet.” There would be time for champagne afterward.
And with that, he lay down and began to make love to his wife.
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