Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach; three fields to cross till a farm appears; a tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch and blue spurt of a lighted match, and a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears, than the two hearts beating each to each! - Robert Browning
He folds the little note with trembling fingers and tucks it into his waistcoat pocket, waiting until the others have turned in for the night before climbing the stairs to his room, knowing every minute he delays is a minute without her. He regards the line of his jaw in the mirror, deciding a shave is well worth the time. He adjusts and straightens, re-knots his tie, and takes one last look before leaving his solitary room, closing the door behind him with a click of finality.
In the guest corridor, the halls are quiet and empty. He stands before the door, placing his hand flat against the wood for a few moments before turning the knob and moving toward his future. The room is warm and softly lit, and she’s not yet there. He experiences a beat, an instant of worry that she has changed her mind. Then he remembers the look in her eyes as she folded the scrap of paper into his palm, letting her fingertips linger against his wrist before walking away. He had stared at the private words, the lines that brought him here tonight, printed in her delicate hand, with simultaneous disbelief and gnawing want.
He moves to the foot of the bed, reaching out to touch the duvet, sliding the silky edge between his fingers. This is nice, he thinks, far more elegant than anything he could have hoped to provide for her tonight. He removes his watch, placing it on the mantle. The handle of his cane hooks nicely over the arm of the chair, and he sits, relaxed. Waiting.
When she slips into the room, slightly out of breath from the thrill of sneaking around, she’s still in her maid’s uniform, sans the apron and cap. She gives a little shrug and a secret smile, just as she might do on any other regular evening, and the contrast between what he sees in front of him and what he knows is on her mind makes him feel dizzy.
He stands and takes a step forward, offering his hand, an invitation. She comes to him slowly. Her fingers meet his, and she steps into his embrace, turning her face into his chest and breathing in. They remain pressed together for a long while, his large hands moving across her back, his heartbeat hypnotic beneath her ear.
He presses his lips to her hairline gently, then moves to kiss her forehead, her fine cheekbones, her nose. His hands frame her face, and he tilts her chin so that her eyes meet his before lowering his mouth to hers. He is utterly taken with her, mesmerized by the way her lips part in anticipation.
She touches his face in turn, letting her fingers slide across the plane of his cheek. His soap-spiced skin is smooth beneath her fingers. “You shaved for me?” She smiles, pleased.
His lips meet hers again, moving deeper, and she rises on tiptoe to meet him, his strong arms tight around her waist. She pushes at his coat, and he shrugs out of it, tossing it onto the chair behind them. He notes the faint tremor in her fingers as she unknots his tie, and he stills her hands gently with his. “If you’re nervous, we can just…” He swallows hard. “Simply sleeping next to you tonight would far exceed my expectations.”
Indeed, no more than a few hours ago, they were lamenting their need to remain apart for a while longer. He knows that Anna, because of her work and their previous encounters, is not completely naïve to the nature of the marriage bed, that she is inexperienced in practice but well-acquainted with the idea. It’s been such a long time for him, too. He has experienced so many lonely nights, years of turning his face into his pillow in frustration. Even so, the frank desire he always sees mirrored back to him is something he couldn’t anticipate, a gift he’d been too afraid to hope for. No one has ever responded to his touch as eagerly and fully as this normally gentle and reserved woman. She astonishes him. And now she’s here and soft and perfect, with the warm glow of the candles dancing in her eyes, painting her hair silver and gold. In all honesty, he finds their current situation a little overwhelming, and he would truly be content to simply drift in the firelight, curled protectively around her, if that’s what she wants.
He needn’t worry; it’s the intensity of his touch that’s making her hands shake, the hot rush of excitement at the thought of finally being able to have him this way. She grasps the end of his tie between her thumb and forefinger, looking into his eyes as she slips the material from under his collar, allowing it to fall at their feet. “I’m not nervous,” she whispers. “I’m with you.”
He smiles, his warm hands moving to her waist as he backs her gently against the bedpost. “We have all night?”
She sighs as he stoops to trail his lips across her neck. “Yes-” Her reply is cut short as he moves to kiss her again, pressing into her, the cool ribbed wood of the bedpost firm against her spine.
When their lips part, he rests his forehead against hers. “Well then, I don’t think we should hurry.”
His attention returns to the creamy skin of her neck in earnest while her fingernails dig into his shirtsleeves, and he ventures under the collar of her dress, leaving a mark that will take a week to disappear. Later, when he’s locked away, she will run her fingers over her love-bruised collarbone as she stands bared before the mirror in private, and she will think longingly of this moment.
Her fingers stray to the front of his waistcoat, working at the closure. He leans back slightly to assist her, tossing it to the floor as she starts to undo the buttons at the front of her dress.
“Wait,” he says gently. “May I?”
She nods, suddenly embarrassed. “I didn’t have time to get anything proper for a wedding night.”
His hands slide flat across the backs of her shoulders. That she’s wearing the same clothing he sees her in everyday, so familiar, the way he’s imagined the two of them coming together for years, only makes him want her more. “You are beautiful.”
She reaches out to run her fingers under his braces, using them to pull him closer as he makes quick work of her dress. She lets the fabric slip down her shoulders, and he slides the demure uniform over her hips, revealing a side of her that’s reserved only for him. She steps out of her skirts somewhat awkwardly, leaning against him as he extends a hand to steady them against the bed frame.
“Shoes,” she says, and they both laugh quietly together.
He watches, fascinated, as she bends to remove her heels, then slowly unclasps and removes her corset. Her peaked nipples stand out against the softness of her chemise as she reaches up to let down her hair, the soft curls falling around her face.
“Come here,” he growls. He scoops her up and tosses her lightly onto the bed, and she gives a surprised squeal, clamping her hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter.
“Be careful of your knee,” she says, giggling.
“You’d be surprised at what I can still do.” He removes his shoes in turn and approaches the bed, leaning over her to steal a kiss. “Is this alright?”
“Of course.” She makes room for him to lay down, and he stretches his long body out beside her, propped on his elbow.
“What do you want to do now?” he asks, feigning innocence.
“I’m sure you know, Mr. Bates,” she teases.
He runs the backs of his fingers across her cheek, traces the pad of his thumb over her lips, and his breath catches when they part to taste him. His strong hands graze the rise of her breasts through her chemise, and she sighs beneath him, closing her eyes. Her fingers slide to the back of his neck as he takes a nipple into his mouth through the fabric, the sensation cutting into her.
“Call me John,” he whispers against her breast.
“Hmm?” she asks dreamily.
He pulls away so that he can look into her eyes. “Call me John?”
“John,” she whispers, smiling at the foreignness of the word.
He grins at her. “What?” he asks, gently freeing her breast from its silken confines. His mouth closes around her bare nipple, sending a burning jolt of pleasure zinging through her like a live wire.
“John,” she sighs, her fingers tangling in his hair. She will say his first name once more tonight, later, as his tongue moves between her thighs and she shatters against him for the second time.
She can’t slide his braces off of his shoulders from her current position, so she settles for untucking his dress shirt, then his undershirt, letting her small fingers creep beneath, across his bare back. He gets the message, letting her nipple fall from his mouth, wet and glistening, so that he can remove more of the layers between them.
He sheds his braces as she works at his shirt buttons, but he quickly becomes frustrated. He yanks both of the offending articles off over his head and throws them to the floor before covering her with his body once more.
She sighs at the feel of his pleasant weight pushing her into the bed, his broad shoulders bare beneath her hands as he envelops her, solid and warm. Instinctually, her hips shift to receive him, and she starts at the contact as he settles between her thighs. She can feel the hot, hard length of him even through their clothes.
“Oh,” she smiles against his lips. “That’s nice.” She slides the instep of her stockinged foot up the back of his leg, and he shivers as she begins to rock against him subtly, falling into a primal rhythm, old as time.
Suddenly, she finds herself on the verge of something hot and bright, wonderful, and she struggles toward the sensation building deep within her. He senses her quickening, and he asks her what she needs, whispers the question against her ear, continually amazed that she can come so close to the edge with little more than his touch.
“I need…” She’s not sure what she needs. She feels empty, agitated, almost frantic in her desire to ease the burning ache centering low in her belly. She wants him to melt into her. She tells him this, and he groans, rolling them onto their sides, one long leg snaking between hers. He wets his index finger and touches it to the hollow of her throat.
“I think I know what you need,” he says, tucking her hair behind her ear, “if you trust me.”
She does, completely. That is her answer.
He gently separates himself from her and rises from the bed, gathering the pillows together in a mound against the headboard. She rests on her knees, watching.
“Come here.” He crooks a finger toward her, and she moves to sit at the edge of the bed. He slides his hands down her silken thighs, carefully removing her stockings and knickers. Her fingers move to his trousers, and he takes a shuddering breath as she peels the last of his clothing away.
She runs her fingers through the mat of hair that crosses his chest, the trail that dips low and thins across his navel before reemerging to frame his sex. She slips her arms around his neck, rising to stand beside him. His large hands skim her thighs, running under her chemise, across her buttocks, and up the curve of her her back. He removes the thin fabric in one motion, drawing his hands across her flushed skin. He holds her as they
stand bared to one another completely, absolutely nothing separating
them for the first time, and she’s never felt anything like this,
the way their bodies meld together, the sweet heat of his skin
seeping through into hers.
He settles onto the bed, half-sitting, leaning back against the pillows, and draws her near. She rises on her knees above him, hands on his shoulders for balance as his mouth moves to her breasts once more. Meanwhile, his fingers are working slow magic, rubbing lower and lower against her belly until they reach the vee at her thighs. He gently parts the slick folds with his thumb, searching for just the right spot. She cries out when he finds it, and the rest of the household might hear, but she is beyond caring. She sets up their familiar rhythm again, grinding unabashedly against his fingers. She pulls his face up so that she can kiss him. He watches with wonder as she bucks above him, ignoring his own need as he helps her find pleasure. He presses up against her with one long finger, finding her soft and ready, and her eyes snap open at the new sensation.
“More?” he asks, and she nods against his forehead.
A second finger joins the first, and she feels herself stretching, readying for him. She hums against the pressure, rocking against him in earnest now as he marks her neck with his lips. She reaches up to cup her breasts with both hands, and his mouth falls open. In his wildest dreams, he could not have imagined she would be this open, this free with him, and he’s surprised by it anew each time they come together. She really is the most seductive thing.
Her breath is becoming ragged now, and she closes her eyes, concentrating. She can feel herself drawn in a tight spiral, balancing on the knife-edge, and suddenly she springs free, riding waves of coursing pleasure until she collapses breathless against him. He catches her, soothing his hands down her back as she nips at his neck. She sinks down into his lap where he is thick and hard and waiting for her. Threading her fingers behind his neck, she raises up slightly and lowers herself down onto him as his head falls back against the pillows. He squeezes her buttocks with both hands, and she gasps at the hot burst of pleasure.
He fills her just to the point of discomfort, but not more, and she bites her lip against the sweet sting. They take languid strokes together initially, learning, their speed increasing as she becomes more bold. She takes his face in her hands as she rises up and slams down again, watching as he finds release, his head tipped back, exposing the arch of his neck to her. He gathers her to him, eyes watering, and he’s saying “Love.” Love, Love, Love, against her neck. Afterward, they rest on their backs, separated and panting, her right hand holding tight to his left, her hair a diadem, spiked and scattered across the pillow.
Eventually, they will drift toward one another again, and she’ll quiet his talk of trouble with her kisses. Deep in the night, he will watch her as she sleeps beside him, the taste of her still on his lips. In the morning, they will hold each other for a long while before parting to go about their day. “You are loved,” she will say to him. “You are so very loved.”
* This story was one of the first DA fics I wrote. Since then, I’ve written a couple of very important companion pieces. In fact, all of my DA-Era fic exists in roughly the same universe. So, this story occurs in April 1919, between Chapter 24 (Closer) and Chapter 25 (Evaporate) of Mystery of Joy. The story also has a directly related sequel: Homecoming. See the full timeline below.