Everyone had something to say, but no one cared one whit what I wanted, and their incessant chatter buzzed in my ears like a swarm of mosquitoes until the pitch pushed me over the edge. I surged to my feet, the sudden motion silencing my potential father-in-law who was busy discussing what the privilege of marrying his son was worth.
“Zoe!” my mother’s tone was like ice, but I was oblivious to it, having had years to adapt. From my parents I’d only known disappointment, anger and distance, and as they sat in the very elegantly appointed study I could see my life slipping away before my eyes. Ever the proper young lady I had spent my youth in needlepoint, sitting silently in a corner during my mother’s Salons and being sharply corrected until I mastered proper etiquette and the very thought of one second more of it made me sick.
Lunging across the low table I slapped the tea cup from my mother’s hands, the hand- painted china sailing through the air leaving an arc of chamomile tea in its wake before shattering on the floor. “No Mother! No more will I pander for your approval by flawlessly regurgitating the day’s lesson. I will not sit silently while you harp at me about not being good enough so wed a leper; you do not determine my worth!”
I heard my father shift in his seat so I spun and pinned him with my furious gaze. Reaching out I snatched his cane from his hand, turning and smashing it against the edge of the marble mantle, not even flinching as splintered mahogany showered down on us like confetti. “And you, Father, you who were so disappointed that I was not a precious son that you couldn’t be bothered to notice me at all save for the beatings you meted out on a whim.” I pointed accusingly at the broken cane as I ranted; it’s highly polished beauty masking its sinister function.
Without a backward glance I picked up my skirts and ran from the room, my heart hammering in my chest; I’d been too well taught not to know that what I had just done ensured me the beating of my life. I also knew that I now wouldn’t be permitted to marry His Lordship Henry Paul Worthington III, son of the Duke of Sussex, and as I ran toward the barn my heart soared with that knowledge, hammering anew with anticipation in place of fear.
I rounded the corner of the smithy, the heat of the forge like a wall that made it hard to breathe for a moment and my eyes locked on the broad shoulders of Master Bruce’s apprentice, William. I hesitated for half a heartbeat, questioning my own sanity until he turned and his sapphire eyes found me, and then the world melted away. I ran to him and claimed his mouth, his surprise brief, then his arms snaked around me and he eagerly returned my kiss.
We tore at each other’s clothes with an urgent need to touch, skin to skin, exploring with brazen lips, fingers and tongues. We tasted and touched and fell together like the teenagers we were, stripping off title, class and wealth with each layer of fabric and rejoicing in the simple passion we shared, consequences be damned.
My heart and mind soared to new levels of euphoria under his touch, my body sang and I wrapped myself around him, holding him against me with slick arms and legs as he filled me. His breath was hot against my neck, and taking his face in my hands I claimed his mouth and his breath, arching against him as the new sensation of release surged through my every cell moments before he gave his essence to me.
We lay in a tangle of arms and legs, our skin slick and our breathing ragged as we stared into each other’s eyes from inches away. He smoothed my tousled hair away from my face, his calloused hands rough on my cheeks and I relished the texture.
“Make love to me again.” I said, unashamed of my boldness, or my newly awakened lust, and he smiled down at me with a look that told me he would be happy to oblige.
“You can never have too much of a good thing when that good thing is you,” he said. My heart swelled with the love I’d had for him since I was 12, and I writhed under him, lacing my fingers into his hair and reclaiming his mouth.
I blinked to clear my vision, shaking my head to lift the fog from my mind and I stared at the delicate teacup my mother was holding out to me. I glanced around the room, taking in the ever disappointed face of my father and the sour expressions of The Duke and his son as they discussed my dowry.
Looking out the window my brown eyes locked on the intense sapphire stare of Master Bruce’s apprentice William, and my heart floated and sank at the same time. Taking the proffered tea I quietly stared into its pale amber depths, ever the proper young lady.