When I see your face
There's not a thing that I would change
'Cause you're amazing (amazing)
Just the way you are (are)
And when you smile
The whole world stops and stares for a while
'Cause, girl, you're amazing
Just the way you are
Emma had settled in plugged into her Pandora station while she read more in Belle’s diary. She was determined to get as close to the end of the writing as she could, convinced it contained part of the answers to the puzzle.
The carriage lay on its side and, at first, they were both stunned and still.
“Master Goldark, Miss French? Are you all right?”
It was Billy, calling out to them.
“I think so,” Goldark called back to him. His first awareness was that his leg had been wrenched and was now positioned in an acutely painful attitude. He was then aware that he was lying on top of soft curves, the sweet smell of lavender and roses rising to his nostrils.
“Belle, are you all right? Anything broken?” He asked, lifting himself up onto his elbows, looking down into Belle’s bright blue eyes now widened in alarm.
He was so very aware of the welcoming feel of her body beneath his. He was indeed lying on top of her, chest to bosom, stomach to stomach, lying between her thighs with their legs intertwined. It was as if he was a lover about to make a manly effort to satisfy his woman. His body was rapidly reacting to the evocative posture and, biting back a cry of pain, he shifted his weight to one side, not wanting her to become aware of his growing interest.
Belle gingerly moved each of her limbs. She was still savoring the delicious feel of his weight on her body, how he had pressed into all the right places, the sweet sensation that had ended too soon when he had shifted off of her.
“I’m fine,” she managed to mutter breathlessly.
Vaguely they both heard Billy shouting to make himself heard above the downpour, “Sir, we hit a spot that must have washed out and we've broken an axle. One of the horses is badly bruised but the other one seems ok.”
Goldark had managed to pull himself up. The carriage was lying on its side, resting on one of the doors. He attempted to stand, ending up with his head out of the free carriage door window. Rain was pouring into the carriage through the opened window of the door.
“Sir, why don’t I ride back to the house and get another carriage. I can ride one of the horses and lead the injured one back. I should be able to get back here within an hour.” Belle could hear Billy’s plan as he continued to shout to them above the storm.
“That sounds like a good idea. Billy,” Goldark shouted out to him. “One moment. You don’t want to ride barebacked all the way back to house.” He turned and shouted down to Belle, “Miss French, can you get the blanket out? We’ll need to give it to Billy as a makeshift saddle.”
Belle now managed to pull herself up and working into the sideways seat, found the blanket and handed it up to Goldark.
He continued shouting to Billy as he handed off the blanket, “Miss French and I will be fine. We may get a little wet but we should be able to manage.”
“Yes sir. Take good care of Miss French.”
Belle was touched. She had always gone out of her way to treat all of the household staff and the farm and stable workers with dignity and respect. It was nice to know that at least one of them thought well of her.
Still standing, Goldark pulled off his coat and tucked it along the open carriage window, which in its current position was allowing rain to pour into the carriage cab.
It made the carriage even darker but it did keep the rain from falling through the carriage window onto them. Goldark sat back down next to Belle and they leaned up against the seat. The temperature had begun to drop.
For a while, neither one of them spoke. They could hear the rain coming down on the carriage in a steady, heavy downpour. When there was a flash followed almost immediately by thunder, Belle jumped.
“You aren’t afraid of thunder or lightening, are you Miss French?” he asked her, a bit surprised at her reaction.
“Of course not! When I was very little, Mr. Franklin explained to me that lightening was electricity. It is dangerous but not something to be feared, just treated with respect,” Belle told him.
“He was the one who taught you to play chess, wasn’t he?” Goldark asked her.
“Yes, my father had supported the revolutionary forces and often did printing for them. Mr. Franklin came frequently to our house and he . . . well . . . he seemed to like me. He often took time to talk with me. A very nice man.”
“A remarkable man,” Goldark agreed with Belle.
They sat in awkward silence again.
Belle bit her lower lip. This was so uncomfortable, sitting hip to hip next to this difficult, but alluring man. She didn’t dare look at him. Her body still felt tingly from experiencing his weight on her. Part of her wanted to climb onto his lap and have his arms wrap around her. She wanted another kiss. She wanted. . . She wanted. . . She told herself it was nothing more than nervous energy and excitement from the aftermath of the carriage accident.
Belle wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. With the drop in temperature, it was becoming a bit uncomfortable.
“Are you cold?” she heard him ask her.
“A little.” Why deny it?
“Miss French, come here,” he said it as an order, not as a request.
Hesitantly Belle inched over to him and didn’t bother to stifle her cry of indignation and surprise when he pulled her onto his lap. Wasn’t this what she had wanted? He wrapped his arms around her and, after stiffening and considering resisting the man, she relented and leaned into him.
Wasn’t this what she had wanted?
“This is nicer,” he told her.
“It is,” she agreed. It was nice . . . very nice. It was also exciting and stimulating. She could feel the strong muscles in his thighs under her. She could lean into his chest and feel warm and supported. She felt protected. She felt safe.
She felt loved.
They sat for a while, her sitting sideways on his lap. Belle’s teeth were chattering and she was shivering from the sudden cool combined with the dampness. His arms were around her and his body heat was beginning to warm her.
“I didn’t like seeing you with all those young men. They were too familiar with you,” he confessed to her.
“You were jealous?” she asked him.
“No, of course not,” he answered her quickly. In a moment he added, “I just can’t imagine that you would find that any of them would meet your standards.”
“Well, could any of them play you a competitive game of chess? Could any of them offer insight into the spiritual meaning of a well written poem? Could any of them give you a reasonable, rational political argument?” he asked her, smiling as he offered these questions. “They appeared to be more concerned about how to tie their jabots or what might be a fashionable cut for the curve of their waistcoats.”
“Well, we weren’t pretending that we were an intellectual salon, sir. We were just chatting.”
“That Gaston? Would you ever consider a macaroni like him? Do you think he would, could ever, appreciate your many virtues and attributes?”
“We weren’t about to announce our engagement, sir. We were. . . .”
“Just chatting, I know,” he interrupted her. He looked directly into her eyes. “Do you think a lout like Gaston would truly appreciate someone as exquisite as yourself?”
Belle found herself looking deeply into his eyes, his dark, comforting whiskey-brown eyes. “I don’t know,” she finally whispered her answer. “He was boring and self-absorbed. All he could talk about was himself.”
He chuckled and pulled her in closer to him. “I want to kiss you, Miss French,” he whispered to her.
“We shouldn’t you know,” she admonished him all the while leaning into him, lifting her face to his.
“No, we shouldn’t,” he agreed with her as he dropped his mouth onto hers. Their lips locked together and Belle once again felt cast into a maelstrom of feeling and turmoil. She felt dizzy.
She somehow managed to pull her lips away from him and, experimentally, she began to kiss him down his chin, down his neck. She stopped at the hollow of his neck, just allowing her lips to rest against his throat, drinking in his scent, the unique mix of ambergris and rosemary and Rumach Goldark. He was so warm, so inviting.
He had put his head back resting it against the carriage and had gladly allowed her sweet, tentative explorations. He put his hand into her hair, softly tugging it down, running his fingers through her silky tresses. His sweet, responsive girl.
She seemed content to remain with her lips nestled onto his neck but again, he gently lifted her head so that he was looking into her eyes, clear, sparkling cerulean pools of blue surrounding the wide black circles of her pupils.
“Miss French,” he whispered. “Please, I want to touch you, touch you in a way you have never been touched. I want to give you pleasure.”
At that moment, it had become important to him that he be the one to show her, to teach her about sensual pleasure.
“I don’t understand,” she told him honestly, “There’s more?”
She could barely see his face in the dim light but knew that he was smiling. “Oh yes my sweet. So much more. And while I promise I will not tamper with your precious maidenhead, I still want to show you some of the rewards to be found in the marriage bed.” His voice was a sensual whisper, sending a deep thrill into her very core.
Belle had no idea what the man was talking about, but she was intrigued -- intellectually and emotionally. How else would a young woman who prided herself on her open-mindedness and willingness to try new things respond to this promise of a rich new experience?
“I am always agreeable to new experiences and to gaining new knowledge sir,” she told him, her voice soft and husky.
She felt him. He was slowly lifting up her skirts, his hand stopping to rest on her thighs on top of her stockings. His touch was firm and sure and . . . exciting.
“Miss French, if you want me to stop, you must tell me ‘no.’ I don’t want to frighten you,” his hand had inched up above the tops of her stockings and was now resting on tender flesh. She wiggled, unsure of what he wanted her to do.
“I don’t know what you want me to do,” she told him. Belle knew about sex, she’d been around farm animals all her life. She knew what happened between a man and a woman to create a baby. But this. . . what he was doing. . . this, she didn’t know about.
He stroked her thighs, stilling her. “You don’t have to do anything,” he assured her. When she didn’t speak, her silence gave him license and he slowly began to move his hands, closer and closer. . .
Belle closed her eyes, unsure of herself, but enjoying the sensations the man’s clever fingers were affording her. He coaxed her legs apart to allow him greater access. She began to raise herself to his fingers, relishing his sure touch, stroking and gently massaging her. She began to feel an unfamiliar tightening in her lower abdomen. In the darkness, she could hear him muttering sweet, comforting words, his voice soft and deep, filling her stomach with butterflies.
“Are you sure we should be doing this?” she somehow managed to ask. “You won’t think me wanton?”
“I will think you are wonderful,” he promised her.
And it was so sweet, so wonderful.
She had turned to butter, to clay, in his hands, letting him mold her and turn her as he wished. The feeling in her core increased, a tightening, a coiling. Her breath began to come in shorter gasps. She heard herself beginning to pant.
“Relax, my sweet, let it happen, let go, give in,” he was urging her.
Let what happen? Let what go? Give in to what? She knew something was about to happen but she didn’t know what. She couldn’t escape, didn’t want to stop the steady, teasing pressure of his fingers.
Abruptly she stiffened, her entire body going rigid and at that moment there was a close lightning strike and a loud clap of thunder and as nature let loose her fury, Belle felt things explode within her body. She might have screamed out, her own voice lost in the loud, rolling voice of the thunder. She shuddered and shook, holding onto the man, her fingers grasping the fine cotton of his shirt, her nails digging into the hard muscles of his arms.
“Beautiful,” she heard him whisper.
Her breathing returned to normal slowly. “Did I do all right?” she asked him timidly.
“You were magnificent,” he was giving her little kisses along her cheek.
“What happened? What did you do?” She had never been more exhilarated, had never felt more alive.
“I believe the medical profession calls it a hysterical paroxysm. There are other names for it, but it’s a normal, healthy response to stimulation.” Let her show interest in any of those boys now, he thought selfishly.
Belle rested against him, enjoying the close warmth of the man, the quiet droning of the rain fall, the clean scents of her own rose and lavender and his distinctive aftershave, as well as her own subtle female fragrance that his administrations had pulled from her body.
“It’s going to be very difficult to just go back to being your clerk now,” she observed.
Goldark closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the carriage. Oh hell, he thought, he had been selfish, so selfish, wanting to introduce her to her own sensual nature, just so that she would always associate him with sexual pleasure. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have touched you,” he admitted. “Oh Miss French. What have I done?”
Belle gave him a gentle kiss on his jaw line. “You’ve given me a moment of happiness that I will always cherish and I thank you, I thank you for that. But my heart breaks that we can never, ever have anything else between us.”
Goldark continued to hold her. “You are right. It hurts, but you are so right. If we continue on this path, I will surely lose control at some point and press you into greater intimacies.”
Belle leaned into him. She knew there wouldn’t likely be many, if any, future opportunities for this level of familiarity. She relaxed against him.
“You smell good,” he murmured. “Like roses and lavender. It’s one of the few smells that doesn’t nauseate me.”
“It’s from Cora,” she whispered back to him. “She concocted me a tisane, but,” Belle giggled, “I accidently tipped it over and spilt half of it. I had to add water so she wouldn’t know.”
“Cora brews my aftershave. She just gave me a new bottle. It may be the only nice thing she does for me as a wife.”
Belle sat still a moment, pondering, considering. It couldn’t be. . .
“Did she give you a new bottle right after. . . right after. . . you had spent the night in her bedchamber?” she asked.
He thought a moment, “Yes. I was shaving when she came in and took my old bottle. She said something about it having gone off. I remember because I’m not used to seeing her up that early. She startled me and I cut myself. She gave me her handkerchief to stay the blood and the new potion. Why?”
“It’s silly. I’m being silly. But. . . you began to feel ill soon after you began using the new aftershave, right?”
“Well, I know this is. . . not rational, but is it possible Madame Goldark put something in the potion?”
Goldark shrugged, “It’s not like I’m drinking it?”
“You wouldn’t have to. There are many poisons that can go through the skin. I’ve been reading in some of your medical books. . . again,” she told him risking his disapproval.
He didn’t immediately reply. Finally, he began, “There was the rumor that Cora had poisoned her first husband, but there was no evidence and I didn’t give it any credence.”
“Well, you could stop using the aftershave and see what happens. If you start to feel better. . . perhaps. . . “
“You think she put something in yours, too, don’t you? But you diluted it so you haven’t felt any effects yet.” He nodded. He lifted her face to his. “I’ll stop using mine, if you stop using yours.”
It was more than an hour later when Billy returned with another carriage. By this time, the rain had stopped and they were able to return to the house with no one the wiser.
So they went back to being most careful and very formal, interacting only when necessary and talking only about work.
As they sat in the library, late one sleepy afternoon, Belle picked up her tea cup.
It had been a long day with Belle entering in not only the late rent receipts but a variety of debt payments. As she absent-mindedly held the cup, she ran her tongue along the rim. Still in a fugue state, her fingers caressed the sides of the cup as if it was the most interesting texture she had ever encountered. She rubbed the cup against her cheek, closing her eyes, savoring the feel. She again put the rim to his lips and took a slow, small sip, allowing it to sit and luxuriate in her mouth. She swallowed the tea, using her fingers on her throat as if to trace the path the warm liquid followed. Her lips went to the side of cup and her tongue ran up the china surface and she went up and over the rim and dipped the tip of her tongue into the sweet brown tea.
“Stop that, you vixen!” he told her. “You know what you doing to me?” She turned her heated gaze to him. “You know I cannot help but imagine that it is me that you are touching and licking and rubbing yourself against.” His voice was a harsh whisper.
“I’m sorry, Master Goldark. But you do the same to me. I keep imagining that it is you that I am touching and . . . licking . . . and rubbing myself against. I remember how solid and warm and strong you felt that first time when I fell against you in the carriage and then when you kissed me in this room and then . . . and then there was that evening in the carriage. I keep trying not to . . . .not to remember, but sometimes it is all I can think about.”
“Miss French,” the emotion in his voice made him sound hoarse. “I think . . . I really think that you should return to your father’s. I . . . I will forgive his debts.”
Belle’s eyes reflected her distress. “I do not wish to be separated from you. Not to be with you at all? I think that would be far worse than being with you and not being able to . . . be with you.”
He looked at her steadily, quietly, as if making a decision. He stood abruptly, “I need to go for a ride. Belle, when I come back I will tell you my decision.”
Belle watched him leave. She knew he was strained, operating on sheer nerve, fighting whatever dark illness had taken root in him. He would come back with a decision and he was in such a mood that he would tolerate no discussion. She knew she should return to her father’s. There was nothing, would never be anything for her here. She felt hot tears begin to stream down her face.
Somehow she managed to wipe away her tears and put away his paperwork for the day. As always, she reset the ledgers and the writing implements. She straightened up the room so that all would be in order for the next day if there was a next day.
She picked out Mister Blake’s extraordinary book of poems. She was preparing to go upstairs to her room to read a bit before dinner.
There was a knock on the front door. Belle paused.
She knew that one of the housekeepers should answer, but after a moment there was another knock, sharper, louder, as if the person standing on the other side was growing impatient. And still there were none of the household staff coming out to answer.
Belle went out of the library. There was no one moving around downstairs. She shrugged and went up to the door and opened it.
She was confronted by an extraordinarily beautiful woman, tall, dark, striking. She was dressed in a brightly colored dress wearing the largest ruby Belle had ever seen, larger even than the one that Madame Goldark wore.
“Well, aren’t you a pretty little thing,” the woman remarked.
Belle curtsied. ”May I help you, madame?”
“Invite me in, dearie. I’ve come to see the master of the house,” the woman had a curt, abrupt manner.
“Madame?” Belle found herself stepping aside as the woman swept into the house.
“Rumach Goldark?! He’s still the master in this house, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is,” Belle confirmed.
“Well, where is he? I want to see him.”
“He’s out for a ride. He’ll be back shortly,” Belle told her thinking that when he returned that he would be holding her fate in his hands.
“I’ll wait,” and the woman walked past her into the front parlor.
Belle remembered her manners, “May I offer you tea or coffee . . . or water?” she asked.
“It’s been a long, dusty ride. Any whiskey?” the woman answered.
“Of course,” and Belle went back into the library to get some of Master Goldark’s special blend for the woman.
“You’ve ridden a long way?” she asked conversationally as she handed off a short glass of the warm brown imbibement. Belle thought idly that the rich color matched his eyes.
“Quite. From Boston.” And the woman downed the glass in one practiced motion.
“That is quite the distance,” Belle agreed. “May I get you anything else?”
“Please,” the woman held up the empty glass. As Belle poured her a second drink, the woman looked her over closely, examining her clothes, assessing her manners, considering her appearance. “You’re not a housemaid dressed as you are and I’ve heard that Cora Hart is a redhead. What position do you hold in this house?”
“I’m Master Goldark’s clerk,” Belle responded lightly.
“I am his clerk. I help him manage his paperwork,” Belle explained.
“Well shit,” replied the woman and took another swig of whiskey, this time downing only about half the glass. “That devil. I wouldn’t think he’d have that much in him to set up a fine deal like yourself.”
Belle stood, the woman made her uncomfortable. “Why don’t I send someone out to see if they can locate the Master?”
“Sure, I don’t want to be here all day,” the woman was quite agreeable.
“May I tell him who is waiting for him?” Belle asked, pausing at the door.
“Yes, dearie. I think that would be a good idea.” The woman poured herself more whiskey. “Tell him,” the woman turned to face Belle, “Tell him that his wife is here to see him.”