Relief flooded through Kathryn's veins when she finally reached the front entrance of Grey Manor and pulled old Ginger to a halt. Every muscle in her body ached from the long, tiresome journey from Dartmoor. But actually, it really wasn't from the journey itself as much as it was having to spend the night before sleeping on the cold, hard ground. What a terrifying experience that had been, she thought miserably. Every little sound had made her jump, causing Dodger to eye her wearily before laying his head back down and closing his eyes. Not to mention she had neglected to bring a blanket, like a fool, believing she could make it home in one night. Maybe she could have if she would've taken Starr, with her lightening quick speed and long endurance. But she wouldn't take anything of 'his'. Just the mere thought of him caused images of raven black hair to flash through her mind. She quickly suppressed them. It took all her will power to stop thinking about him. She must concentrate on the matter at hand. Like what was she going to tell the servants when she went inside? Fortunately, her father and his new wife would be in London so she wouldn't have to face them yet, she sighed with relief. He hadn't been out to Grey Manor in over two years. Suddenly it dawned on her, the servants wouldn't even know that she'd been missing, she thought realistically. They would think she was just now returning home from London. She looked down at Dodger, who was waiting patiently for her to decide what she going to do and then slowly dismounted the tired old horse's back. "We're home at last Dodger," she whispered and tied Ginger's reins to the hitching post until she could find John, the head groomsman, who would unsaddle her and give her some fresh oats to eat.
Opening the front door, she quietly walked in and stood in the main hall. It seemed like so long ago that she'd left here for London to meet her new step-mother but in all actuality, it had only been a few months. "So much has happened," she thought before hearing voices drifting in from the drawing room.
"Would you go and check, Robert." Cassandra whined, "I know I heard the front door open."
"Alright, alright. I'll go look, if it will make you happy my dear but I didn't hear anything." Squire Grey slurred, dragging himself up out of his chair and headed for the main hall.
"You wouldn't hear anything if it was right next to you, darling." His wife sneered at him, seeing a definite weave to his walk and knowing he was drunk again.
Kathryn froze and then looked around in a panic for a place to hide, instantly realizing her father and step-mother were here, at Grey Manor. What a time for him to pick to come home, she thought wildly. Suddenly, she came face to face with him, for he was peering at her through blood-shot eyes.
"Kathryn, is that really you?" He mumbled, trying to get a better look at her but how could it be his poor Kathryn, she was lost to him forever.
"Father, it is me. I'm home now." Kathryn tried to say cheerfully, for she hadn't seen him in this bad of condition since her mother had died so many years ago.
"Kathryn! You've come back to me!" Throwing his arms around her, he began to cry over her shoulder.
"What's all the ruckus about out here?" Cassandra demanded with an irritated tone, stomping out of the drawing room. "You!" She screeched when she saw Kathryn standing there. "Where have you been? Do you have any idea what you've done?"
"I can explain...."
"You've had everyone out searching for you for months! How dare you run off to god knows where, for three whole months?" Her eyes were blazing now with pure hatred as she glared at her step-daughter with open disdain. "I just hope we can undo the damage you've done with your insubordination, young lady!"
Kathryn glared right back at her with the same intensity. How dare she yell at her! What nerve! Who did she think she was, anyway? She had no right to speak to her in that manner.
"Are you going to answer me or are we going to stand here all night?"
"Well, I would, if I knew what damage you're talking about! Kathryn said, curtly.
Suddenly a look of sheer terror came over Cassandra's face just before she let out a high, piecing scream. "What's that mangy thing doing in my house? Get it out! Get it out right now!" Ending in a shriek, she grabbed her husband's arm. She despised animals, especially one's that bite. Why God ever put those horrible creatures on earth, she didn't know.
Dodger's body became ridged as he crouched down and stared up at Cassandra. Snarling up his mouth, he bared his teeth at her with a vicious growl, which grew louder by the minute.
Cassandra jumped back quickly seeing his intent. "Do something, Robert! He's dangerous!"
Kathryn quickly stooped down next to him, placing her arms around his neck. "Quiet boy, shh, it's okay," she whispered trying to calm him down. Dodger responded to her by closing his mouth but kept a wary eye on Cassandra.
"You better take him outside, Kathryn. He can stay in the stable." Robert said quietly to her.
"No! I want him to stay in my room. He's use to being with me all the time!" She replied huffily at her father.
"There's no way that monster is going to stay in my house!" Cassandra stated firmly and stood there with her hands on her hips, daring Kathryn to disobey her.
"This was my house, long before you ever came along!" Kathryn quipped, drawing her mouth up in a tight line, preparing herself to do battle with this witch.
Cassandra's eyes went black with rage as she glared back at the defiant Kathryn, through narrow slits. "But I am the lady of this house now darling, and what I say, goes!" She said boldly, letting Kathryn know exactly who the boss here was now.
"You'd better let John take him outside, child," Robert uttered, looking pleadingly at his daughter to understand.
But Kathryn didn't understand. This was her home and now this bitch was here, dictating to her. How was she ever going to be able to tolerate it? She had to though, for her father's sake. But it wasn't going to be easy. She gave Dodger one last look before she allowed John, who had come up while she was arguing with Cassandra, to take him away.
"Now young lady, I think you'd better come sit down and tell us where you've been for the last three months." Squire Grey said, ushering the two angry women into the drawing room.
Kathryn's mind was spinning, she didn't expect to find her father and step-mother here and now she was going to have to try and explain to them where she'd been all this time. She couldn't tell them the truth but what else was she to say. She had to remember what Emma had suggested but she felt so light-headed and upset at the moment, she couldn't remember anything. "Father, could we possibly talk about this in the morning? I'm not feeling very well..." she started to say before collapsing on the floor.
"My god, what's wrong with her?" Robert screamed, before he quickly picked up her limp, unconscious body and laid her down on the velvet settee. "Get some water, I think she's fainted!"
When Kathryn's eyes finally flickered open, she was amazed to find herself in her old room, changed into a thin, muslin night gown and tucked comfortably in her own soft canopied bed.
Mary was across the room in no time when she saw Kathryn awake. Scooping her up in her arms, she hugged her tight against her massive chest, in what would be deemed a motherly fashion. "Ya fainted child," Mary said softly to Kathryn's unasked question. "Ya sure gave us quite a scare when ya done and disappeared like that. I was worried sick when your father and step-mother came home a few months ago and said ya had left London on your own and at night! Lordy mercy, what could've made ya do such a dangerous thing, child?" Mary said, her voice ladened with concern. "Then I get this letter from my sister, Emma. That was you out there in Dartmoor, wasn't it?" Mary asked, suspiciously.
"Yes, I was in Dartmoor but Mary, we can't let father know. Please, he can't find out!"
"Well, I'm not a fixin to tell him but where are ya going to tell him you've been if ya don't tell him the truth?" She asked in puzzlement.
"Since I had amnesia, I was going to tell him I didn't know where I was and when my memory came back, I came straight home!" Kathryn explained. "Most of it is the truth, Mary. Except I did know where I was but that's all."
"Sounds likely enough but that new wife of his will never believe it!"
"How could he ever marry someone like her?" Kathryn whispered, shaking her head slowly. "I guess Emma told you everything."
"No, actually she only wrote me once, asking for your description. What did happen out there, child? She asked, raising her eyebrows and looking at Kathryn questionably. "Like where did ya get those ugly marks on your neck?"
"Oh, Mary, there's so much to tell you, I don't even know where to begin." She said dejectedly to the housekeeper.
Taking in the paleness of Kathryn's face and the slight slump to her shoulders, Mary had her lay back down. "I think ya probably should be gettin a good night sleep first, ya look exhausted honey. Then ya can tell me all about it in the morning." Mary had a determination in her voice that Kathryn knew very well and also knew it was pointless to argue with her when she used that tone.
The sun was just starting to shine through her bay window when Kathryn opened her eyes to see Sally, the chambermaid pouring the last bucket of water into a tub that had been placed in her room. Rising slowly from the bed, she stretched out her arms and had to think for a moment where she was.
"I've added some nice rose-scent to the water Miss Kathryn," Sally informed her, curtsied and then left the room quickly, running smack into the housekeeper in her haste.
"That girl will be the death of me yet...." Mary grumbled under her breath before turning to Kathryn.
"Let's not dally all day, child. I want ya to get in that tub before it gets cold!" She said sternly, coming over and helping Kathryn off with her night gown. "Honey, I don't know what's happened to ya out there but I sure would like to find out!"
Kathryn eased herself into the nicely rose-scented water and felt the warmth creep into her tired achy muscles. Laying her head back against the side, she explained to Mary the sequence of events from the time she left Grey Manor to the present.
Mary listened attentively until she was through. "That's quite a story honey and I can see now why ya don't want your father to know." She said, her voice full of sympathy. "That Lord Christopher sure is a bad one, yes sir-ry. Why Emma likes him so much I'll never know."
Kathryn could feel her anger rise when she thought about the Marquis's treatment of her during the time she'd had amnesia. She had left out certain parts of her story because she was too embarrassed to tell Mary about them; like everywhere Lord Christopher was involved, intimately. A slight blush came to her cheeks when she remembered the details of their lovemaking. "How could he do that to me," she thought furiously, and now I'm to have his child!"
The bath water was becoming cold so Kathryn stepped out quickly and dried off. She opened her coffer and was glad to see the wide assortment of day dresses there, remembering how she had come to despise that old blue and white flowered one she had worn on a daily basis. She donned a thin cotton chemise and viewed herself in the mirror. There was a maturity there she'd never possessed before. As she looked closer, she wondered if maybe she'd grown up in the past few months. She frowned when she noticed a slight bulge in her abdomen and ran her hand slowly across it. Her breasts were also a little larger than they'd been before. "Oh, how am I ever going to bear the shame of having a child out of wedlock," she thought miserably. "Well, I hope this child doesn't turn out to be anything like his or her sires," she mumbled to herself before donning her pale yellow day dress, preparing herself to go downstairs to face her father.
Robert Grey was in the drawing room with his wife when Kathryn finally entered the room. Walking over to him, she placed a slight kiss on his cheek and sat down next to him.
"Good morning, father," she said, before folding her hands tightly together in her lap.
Squire Grey viewed his daughter lovingly and bade her a good morning greeting in return.
"Bah! Why all these niceties. Let's get down to more serious matters, shall we. Like whose bed she's been warming these past few months!"
"Cassandra!" Robert snapped. "Why do you always suspect the worst in a situation?"
"Well darling, where else could she have been for this length of time but with a man," she drawled.
Both sets of eyes were on Kathryn as she sat silently next to her father.
"Well, Kathryn. Can you enlighten us about where you've been?" Squire Grey asked softly.
Kathryn lowered her head and stared at her hands in her lap when she began to speak. "I was traveling alone on the main road from London, as you know, and was attacked by two highwaymen. Somehow I fell from my horse and was knocked unconscious. When I awoke, I had amnesia, I didn't even know who I was!" She looked up to see how they were taking this and saw the disbelief in Cassandra's eyes, who was leering back at her, a vicious grin on her face.
Robert took in his breath. "Oh my god, Kathryn! Then what happened," he probed her gently, wanting her to continue.
"I don't remember much after that, not until just a few days ago that is," she lied. "When my memory came back, I found Ginger and came straight home!"
"Really darling, that's the biggest story I have ever heard! Do you really expect us to swallow this?" Cassandra asked incredibly, shooting daggers at Kathryn's innocent decorum. "Why don't you tell us where you really were and quit the lying, you little twit!"
"Cassandra! Why would she make up something like this? She has no reason to lie to us," he said angrily to his wife.
"Well, I guess it really doesn't matter now that she's back. We'll just pick up where we left off in London! I took the liberty of sending word this morning to the Earl of Somerset, informing him of her safe return. When he comes to see her, I think we should drop the part about the highwaymen in her story. Don't you, darling?"
Robert just stared at his wife in disbelief.
"We don't want him to suspect she's not a virgin, do we? At least not until their married," she said, cunningly.
Kathryn couldn't believe what she was hearing. How could she marry the Earl of Somerset? She despised every inch of him. Everything came flooding back to her of why she had left London in the first place. The only way she could possibly save herself and her father from the Earl was to tell the truth. That she was being held captive by the Marquis of Dartmoor all this time and that he had also gotten her with child. Then honorably, he would be forced to right the wrong he had done to her and marry her and make her child legitimate. Kathryn rolled her eyes up in dismay at the prospect of being married to Lord Christopher. Would this be any better than being married to Roger Chatsworth, she wondered despairingly.
"Kathryn!" Robert shouted for the third time. "I've been talking to you but you've been off in your own little world again."
"Oh I'm so sorry, father," she said with a forced smile. "I've just been thinking... about how nice it is to be home again."
"I see. I guess you would be happy to be home after having suffered such an ordeal as you have these last few months," he said, patting her hand gently.
"Are we finished now, father? I would really like to go out and check on Dodger that is if you don't mind."
"Of course, Kathryn. I quite understand. Run along now and see to your pet. Your step-mother and I have a lot to discuss." Squire Grey said as he watched his daughter's departure and then let out a heavy sigh. On one hand, he was overjoyed that she'd made it home unscathed after so many months but on the other hand, she was still going to be forced to marry a man against her will. What else could he do? She had to marry the Earl. Maybe someday, she would grow to love him.
As soon as Kathryn entered the stables, Dodger spotted her, his tail instantly began to wag and he practically knocked her over in his excitement to see her. With only a few pieces of straw still sticking to his fur, he didn't look any worse for wear. "Oh Dodger. I'm so sorry I ever brought you here. I should've left you back at Crestwood Hall," she said, plopping down next to him on the pallet he had made for himself. "Things just aren't working out her as I'd planned. I can't marry the Earl, I just can't," she blurted out and then threw her arms around his neck and squeezed him tightly. A few stalls down, she caught a glimpse of her dapple gray mare and let out a squeal. Her mood changing from feeling sorry for herself, to one of excitement. "Oh Shadow, how could I've forgotten about you," she said and quickly opened up the gate to her stall and went inside. "You look as if you could use a long ride across the countryside!" Observing the added bulk to the mare's stomach. Looking up, she was surprised to see John, standing by the open stall, gazing at her with a wide grin on his face.
"It's so good to have ya home, Miss Kathryn!" He said, before she threw her arms around him and gave him a big hug, like she did when she was a child.
"It feels so good to be home John, at least for a little while, that is." She said, feeling some of her excitement ebbing away.
"Now Miss Kathryn, don't fret so, everything will turn out alright. Ya just wait and see," he replied, wiping a tear from her cheek.
"I only wish I could feel that confident. But I know there isn't an easy answer to the dilemma I find myself in."
"Ya know, things have a way of righten themselves and later on, you'll look back on it and realize it wasn't nearly as bad as ya thought it to be." Kathryn gave the groomsman such a sorrowful look, he would've given anything to set things right for her. But he also knew that it was hers alone to bare.
After Kathryn left the stable, she decided to stay as far away from her step-mother as possible so she headed directly to her room where she stayed the remainder of the day going over every possibility of her predicament. Mary had brought her up a dinner tray but she hardly touched it when Mary came back to retrieve it.
"Honey, ya got to try and eat something, if not for yourself, then think of the child ya have growing inside ya."
"How did you know I was with child?" Kathryn asked incredibly, her eyes growing wide with surprise.
"Ya seem to forget that I've raised ya from a baby and I know every inch of that beautiful body of yours. Yesterday, when I helped ya get undressed, I saw the beginning signs, honey. I also know a great deal about Lord Christopher and there's no way he could've had someone that looks like you under his roof for three months and not have had his way with ya. Especially, under the circumstances that you were there." Mary explained to her in a soft voice.
"You never cease to amaze me, Mary." Kathryn said, shaking her head. "Well actually, I'm glad you know. I was just too embarrassed and ashamed to tell you about it this morning."
"Don't be ashamed, child. None of this was your fault. Men will be men and we women usually have to suffer the consequences." She declared, knowingly.
"You're so much like your sister Emma, she gave me very similar advice. How I was ever blessed with the two of you, I'll never know." Tears now were streaming down her face so Mary pulled out a handkerchief from her pocket and handed it to her. "Dry your eyes, child."
"Oh, thank you, Mary." Kathryn sniffled as she dried her wet face. "You know my step-mother sent word to Lord Chatsworth, don't you?"
"Ya, and I know why too!" Mary said in a huff. "The very idea of that woman insisting on you marrying that dirty rotten scoundrel, it just isn't right. That's what I say!"
"But Mary, how am I ever going to get out of it without telling him of my condition?" Kathryn exclaimed. "You know they're going to be watching me like a hawk, so I can't run away again. And even if I did, where would I go?"
Mary pondered the situation for a little while before she spoke. "There's only one thing ya can do honey, and that's to tell your father privately that you're with child. Then he couldn't possibly continue to pursue this marriage arrangement."
Kathryn walked over and looked out her bedroom window. "I guess you're right, Mary. I'm going to have to tell him the truth except... I don't want to tell him who the father is. With this information, the Earl wouldn't want me even if my father and Cassandra tried to go ahead with this arrangement. The Earl of Somerset doesn't seem to me the kind of man who would want a soiled bride. Especially one with a bastard in her belly!"
Several days had passed since she had arrived home and Kathryn never could find her father alone, not even for a moment so that she could inform him of her condition. She would go down to the stables every day to visit Dodger and Shadow but she wasn't allowed to go out riding. Cassandra's orders. She was afraid she may run off again, so she was having Kathryn watched very closely until the Earl came to make her his bride. She knew he would be here sometime late this afternoon, according to his message that was received this morning. All preparations for her departure with him had been made while she dreaded his arrival. She had decided to tell Lord Chatsworth himself of her impending birth since Cassandra was keeping her father away from her.
It was four o'clock when Lord Chatsworth's coach pulled up out front as the dread Kathryn was feeling came rushing to the surface. She watched the Earl being escorted in by her father and Cassandra and knew her time had come.
Spotting her, he stopped in mid-sentence while his eyes traveled down the whole length of her body, hovering momentarily on her heaving breasts before coming back up to meet her eyes. "You're as beautiful as I remembered, Kathryn," he cooed, and then walked over to her. He reached out and ran his finger down her cheek as he was very fond of doing, giving Kathryn a chill that ran all the way down her spine. She was already breathing hard from the moment his coach had pulled up front, with her uneasiness very apparent to all that was present in the room.
"My waiting will soon be over, my dear," he whispered, causing a horrified expression to cross Kathryn's face.
"Lord Chatsworth, I would like to have a word with you, privately, if I may." Cassandra said sweetly, not being able to stand all his attentions being directly solely at her step-daughter.
A twitch tugged at his mouth was the only outward sign of his irritation when he bid Cassandra to wait a moment. "I'll be back shortly, my dear and then we can pick up where we left off when last we met," he drooled.
Cassandra closed the door of the study with Lord Chatsworth demanding to know what was so damn important that it couldn't wait for a few minutes.
"Darling, you'll have the rest of your life to paw her, thanks to me!" She said, boastingly. "Don't forget it was I who pilfered all the Squire's money away, giving you something to hold over their heads if she balked too much about this marriage arrangement. You know the girl despises you on sight," she snickered loudly at him.
Roger glared at her with contempt and then threw her several hundred pounds. "Your husband's debts are also all paid off and a large sum of money has been deposited to your account in London my dear, per our agreement. Now will there be anything else, or are we finished," he sneered, having no respect for this woman at all.
"Oh no, we're quite finished, Lord Chatsworth. It's been a real pleasure doing business with you." She said simply. There was a gleam in her eye as she stared at all the money he'd thrown on the desk for her.
They quickly made their way back to the drawing room where Squire Grey and Kathryn were waiting impatiently. With a worried frown on his face, Robert wondered how he was going to inform the Earl of Somerset of Kathryn's delicate condition. She had told him about it while they were alone in the drawing room, just before Cassandra and Lord Chatsworth returned from their meeting in the study.
"Can I get you a brandy, your lordship?" Robert asked hesitantly, while he poured himself another glass.
"Yes, thank you Squire Grey, I think a toast is appropriate at this time." Taking the glass in hand, Roger raised his in the air, "to my bride-to-be, may she live up to all my expectations I have long awaited for," he said and curled his lips into a vicious grin. Donning the brandy in one gulp, he threw his glass into the fireplace and tossed his head back with cynical laughter and then wiped off the trail of brandy that was dripping down from his mouth.
"Lord Chatsworth, the wedding is off. It will be quite impossible now for you to marry my daughter." Squire Grey blurted out, taking in a shocked expression on the faces of everyone in the room.
"What are you talking about, Robert?" Cassandra shrieked. "Why would you want to call the wedding off, now?" She said, incredibly. "You're just drunk again you stupid fool!"
"What is the meaning of this, Squire Grey?" The Earl demanded with a black scowl on his face. "Have you lost your mind?"
"Lord Chatsworth... I just found out that... Kathryn is with child," he said hesitantly, waiting for the axe to fall.
Cassandra's eyes went black with rage and leered at Kathryn. "I knew you were lying, you little bitch! Now see what you've done! You've ruined everything!" She screamed at the top of her lungs.
Kathryn lowered her head down, not wanting to see the disgusted looks on everyone's faces as the news of her impending birth was discussed so openly among them. The humiliation was almost too much for her to bare.
"So someone else got to you first!" Roger sneered, staring at Kathryn in an insulting manner. "Why didn't you protect her better?" He spat at her father. "You knew I wanted her to be pure! Now she's nothing more than used baggage, not worthy enough to be my wife!" He said, ogling Kathryn rudely. Suddenly another thought crossed his mind," but... she has a while before the bastard would interfere with... my pleasure. I will still take her with me, but only as my whore! You will see to it, won't you my dear, Cassandra," staring at her in a knowing way. "Or else the deal is off!"
Kathryn sat there horrified at the way the conversation had turned and felt a warm tear run down her cheek. How this could be happening to her, she wondered sickly. It was bad enough she was going to have a child out of wedlock but to be made the Earl's whore! But if she didn't agree, then he would most surely have her father thrown in debtor's prison, where he would spend the rest of his life.
All eyes were on her as she peered back at them through a misty haze. "I will go with you willingly, Lord Chatsworth but on one condition."
"And what is that, my dear?" The Earl cooed, feeling his manhood tighten again his thigh, just thinking about what he would do with her.
"That I be allowed to come home here, to Grey Manor, when the time comes to deliver my child and that I be allowed to remain here to raise it."
"And if I agree to your terms, will you pleasure me, willingly, in all ways I desire while you're with me?" He asked her boldly.
"Yes," she said, her voice barely about a whisper.
"Then it's settled. We'll leave here at once for my estate." Lord Chatsworth responded quickly, a satisfied grin on his face.
"I don't think so!" Christopher said, dryly from the doorway.
"Christopher, darling! What on earth are you doing here?" Cassandra drooled when she saw him stroll into the drawing room. "What an unexpected surprise. Isn't Glastonbury a little off your beaten path, though?" She asked sarcastically, viewing him from under her long sultry lashes. "I do say I am honored you came all this way just to see me, darling."
"That's hardly the reason I'm here, madam!" He said with a sneer, ignoring her altogether.
"Then why are you here, your lordship?" Squire Grey asked in puzzlement, wondering why the Marquis of Dartmoor would have any reason what-so-ever to be here in the small shire of Glastonbury.
"I came here sir, to marry your daughter, Kathryn." He replied in a nonchalant manner before walking over to the table and helping himself to a brandy.
"Marry, Kathryn?" Cassandra shrieked. "Why in the world would you want to marry that harlot?" She asked, incredibly, thinking he had lost his mind. "Well darling, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but she's carrying a bastard in her belly," she said, her upper lip curling into a vicious snarl. "Do you really want to marry someone like that?"
Christopher glared at Cassandra in disbelief, not realizing just how much of a bitch she really was. Lord Chatsworth was silently snickering, thoroughly enjoying watching him being told of Kathryn's condition. "Yes, I still want to marry her," he stated bluntly.
"Why on earth for, your lordship?" Robert interrupted. "She's been soiled!"
"Because Squire Grey... the child she is carrying is mine!" Every eye in the room was on him as their mouths fell open in shock.
"Yours!" Cassandra roared. "How could it be yours? I didn't even know you knew her, let alone get her with child!"
Squire Grey pondered this information for a few moments and then realized that Kathryn probably had gotten herself mixed up with Lord Christopher somehow during these past few months. At least he was doing the right thing by her and marrying her, he thought with respect.
"So you're the one who robbed me of my pleasure. I've been waiting to have her ever since she was a child!" Lord Chatsworth sneered. "I won't forget this Steele! Why don't we let the lady here make her choice between us? With me, it would only be for a short time, then she could do as she pleases but with you, it would be for the rest of her life!" He said, looking over at Kathryn, who was now sitting on the settee in total bewilderment.
"That's an excellent idea, Lord Chatsworth." Christopher spat. "I don't think any woman could stand to spend one night alone with you, let alone several months!"
"Christopher, this is crazy!" Casandra said worriedly, seeing that Christopher was still determined to marry Kathryn.
"Shut up, Cassandra! Let Kathryn make her choice." He bellowed as he viewed Kathryn's low-spirited manner. "Who shall it be, my little bandit?" He asked her in a softer tone.
Kathryn met his eyes where they locked together for a few moments, in a warm embrace. Feelings she didn't know she had come rising to the surface, for she was mesmerized by his tender, blue eyes before they were rudely intruded by images of his humiliation of her just before she had left Dartmoor. Oh what should she to do, she thought despairingly. Which one was the lesser of two evils?
"Make your choice, my dear," Roger demanded, growing impatient with her delay.
"I will marry... Lord Christopher," she said at last, deciding that this would be the best choice for the child she was carrying.
"This isn't the last you'll hear of this, Steele!" He spouted out. Drawing himself up, he turned and stomped out of the room, knocking over the old gentleman who had been standing in the hallway, unnoticed by all, except one. Christopher quickly helped him to his feet and ushered him into the drawing room. "This is Richard Comstock, a vicar I've brought with me from Dartmoor. He'll be performing the marriage ceremony." He announced abruptly.
Kathryn stared at Christopher in sheer amazement. How sure he was that she would marry him, she thought furiously. This was typical of his arrogance, the nerve of him to actually bring a vicar along with him!
"I have also brought with me a special license to marry, so if you're ready sweetheart," he said, first glancing over at Cassandra briefly to see her reaction, before turning back to Kathryn.
"This is happening just too fast." She said in a very confused state, while still staring at the vicar in disbelief. "I need some time to think about this and to... prepare myself for the wedding."
"What's there to prepare for, you're here, I'm here and the vicar is here. We have witnesses, so what else is required?" Christopher expounded, staring back at her.
"This isn't exactly how a lady would envision her wedding day, sir! I would've at least like to have had a wedding dress instead of this old day dress, Lord Christopher." She felt miserable, standing there wrenching her hands together.
"Begging your pardon, your lordships," Mary interrupted, looking between Squire Grey and Lord Christopher, "but Lady Grey's bridal gown is upstairs. I've kept it in readiness all these years just for Miss Kathryn's wedding day." She said with a twinkle in her eye.
"Well, there you go Kathryn, you've got your wish." Now hurry up and go get changed, I don't have all night to stand around here waiting for you to 'prepare yourself'," he said, gruffly.
Kathryn saw the smile on Mary's face and quickly rose from the settee and followed her upstairs, anxious now to get this ceremony over with.
A half an hour passed when Mary helped Kathryn into the bridal gown and stood back and inspected her handiwork.
"Oh Miss Kathryn, ya look beautiful in that dress." Mary said, remembering back to Lady Grey's wedding day. "You're the splitting image of your mother, child." Reaching over, she picked up the veil that was laying on the bed and placed it on top Kathryn's head. "There, the final touch!"
Kathryn viewed herself in the gilded mirror and didn't recognize the reflection she saw there. The dress was made of the finest white satin with a tightly fitted bodice that was low cut and covered with row upon row of tiny pearls. It was attached to a fully flared shirt with a long train that reached a good two feet behind her. Around the bottom of the skirt were evenly spaced panels of rose color brocade that matched the puffy sleeves. Just about the panels, a single layer of fine white chiffon was draped in scallops and attached at the peaks by gold buttons, surrounded by a ruffle of the darkest rose hue.
"I never thought I would see the day I would ever be married," she whispered softly.
"Now child, I can't believe ya really expected to go through your entire life and never be wed!" Mary said, doubtfully. "Now let's try to smile honey, after all, it's your wedding day!"
Impatiently, Christopher shoved his cheroot that he'd been smoking out and began pacing again, wondering why it was taking so long.
"You might as well relax, Lord Christopher," Squire Grey said lightheartedly. "For some unknown reason women take forever to get ready for anything!"
"Well, I'm not a patient man, Squire Grey and Kathryn had better get used to that fact right now!"
Robert just shook his head and viewed the younger man. Maybe Lord Christopher was exactly the kind of man Kathryn needed. Someone who could rule her with an iron hand.
Christopher took in his breath when he saw Kathryn, finally descending the staircase for she was a vision of loveliness. He was glad now he had allowed her to change her clothes for she made the most beautiful bride he had ever seen. Walking over to her, he gave her his arm and escorted her the rest of the way into the drawing room where the ceremony was to take place.
"If everyone would take their places we can begin now," the vicar said as Christopher escorted Kathryn to the altar that had been set up while she was upstairs.
Cassandra was seething silently. Christopher had totally ignored her when she'd made her grand entrance in one of her more seductive ball gowns. She didn't want to be out done by her step-daughter. But her efforts were pointless.
Everything became a blur while Kathryn took her vows and stood facing Christopher for what seemed to be an eternity as he slid the ring upon her finger. Finally, he lifted up her veil and placed a soft, tender kiss on her lips. When she gazed into his eyes, she saw no sign of hostility or anger there, only a tenderness she had never seen before, which left her slightly shaken. Will she ever understand this man?
Robert Grey took his daughter in his arms and gave her a fatherly kiss on her forehead. He wished her well with her new husband and then shook Christopher's hand.
"Darling, congratulations are in order," Cassandra cooed, wrapping her arms around Christopher and hugging him a little too tightly. Bringing up her hands, she placed them behind his head and brought it down to meet her full, sensuous lips. Christopher finally had to pry her off for he was totally disgusted by her wanton display in front of the others.
"You will spend the night here tonight, won't you?" Squire Grey said politely to his new son-in-law.
"Of course, but we need to get an early start in the morning." He replied back at the same time watching Kathryn being taken upstairs by Mary, to prepare her for her wedding night.
"Oh Mary, does he really have to sleep in my room tonight?" Kathryn asked, despairingly.
"Now Kathryn, ya must consummate your wedding vows. Otherwise, your marriage isn't valid." She explained. "It's not as if you and his lordship have never...." She stopped, seeing Kathryn's embarrassed expression. "Ya know what I mean."
"I guess you're right Mary, after all, he is my husband now." Kathryn said, trying to reassure herself.
She stepped out of her wedding gown while Mary assisted her with the massive amount of buttons that held the dress together, allowing it to fall to the floor. Next came the petticoats and finally her chemise. Mary slipped the pale, pink chiffon night gown over her head, pulled the bodice together and buttoned it up with the row of tiny satin covered buttons that adorned its front. Blushing a little, Kathryn climbed slowly into the canopied bed and pulled the covers up under her breasts as she waited nervously for her husband to join her.
Her door swung open, but it was Cassandra who sauntered in and viewed Kathryn sitting in the bed wearing only a thin, transparent night gown. "Why if it isn't the sweet, innocent bride waiting for her bridegroom to arrive," she taunted viciously.
"Cassandra, what do you want?" Kathryn said harshly, her step-mother being the last person in the world she wanted to see coming through her bedroom door at that particular moment.
"Oh, nothing really. I just wanted to talk to you before Christopher comes up." She moved across the room and came face to face with Kathryn. "How did you do it, my dear? Trap the infamous Christopher Steele I mean. He usually isn't fooled this easily, darling. How did you ever convince him this was his bastard you're carrying?"
"I didn't tell him at all! I left Dartmoor as soon as my memory came back and that's when I found out I was with child! His housekeeper must have told him." Kathryn shouted in her own defense.
"Playing the innocent victim to the very end! I see, I never thought of that!"
"Cassandra, if you don't really want anything, please leave. I would like to have some time alone before his lordship comes..."
"His lordship! Such formalities!" She said and walked back to the doorway and turned, taking one more look at Kathryn before breaking into a malicious laughter which could be heard all the way down the empty hallway.
"That woman! I hope I never see her again as long as I live!" Kathryn swore aloud soon after Cassandra left.
"Whom do you never want to see again as long as you live?" Christopher chuckled, for he had heard her talking to herself when he'd entered the room.
Kathryn's eyes widened in horror and her hand flew up over her mouth, realizing he'd heard every word that she'd just said. Her cheeks were burning and she felt like crawling under the nearest rock to hide from this embarrassing situation but instead, sat silently frozen on her knees in the middle of the bed.
Christopher's chuckles turned quickly to groans when he got a closer look at Kathryn. The transparency of her pale, pink night gown shimmered ever so slightly as the candlelight danced off it with even the slightest movement. He could see a definite outline of her ample-sized breasts where the light penetrated through the thin material. He couldn't believe the effect she was having on him as he stood there helplessly watching her, mesmerized by her beauty. Her hair was now unbound and was cascading over her soft, white shoulders that he ached to kiss. How long had it been since he'd last had relief? Was this why he was aroused so quickly?
Kathryn realized he was boldly staring at her and became very conscious of her own body. Shyly, she scampered back under the covers and pulled them up tightly under her chin, wishing he would say something, instead of just standing there, staring at her. She knew he was her husband now and had every right to look at her in this manner but it still didn't stop the trepidation she was feeling at the moment. In some ways though, she actually found it exhilarating to have him boldly exam her body with his eyes but she wouldn't ever tell him that!
Her sudden movement had broken the spell he was under and was finally able to bring himself back under control as he made his way over to the bed, where he sat down, pulled his boots off, and let them fall to the floor with a thud.
Kathryn jumped when she heard them hit, causing Christopher to chuckle even more at her nervousness. He realized for the first time, just how shy Kathryn really was. Would she allow the deep rooted passion he knew her capable of come to the surface.
She watched him curiously as he unbuttoned his shirt and removed it slowly, exposing his broad, muscular back to her, causing a warmth to spread through her body she didn't quite understand. But she couldn't keep her eyes off him. She'd been brought up a proper young lady so she had never really seen a man's body unclothed before and was very curious about it. When he finally stood up and removed his breeches, her eyes traveled ever so slowly downward, where she could see the black curls that were plentiful on his chest had also trailed far below his waist, encompassing the object of his pleasure. Shock over took her as she suddenly looked away, realizing where her eyes had traveled and became instantly embarrassed all over again.
Christopher's breath caught in his throat when he felt Kathryn's eyes watching him intensely and he could tell from her reaction that she had allowed herself to briefly view his most private area. A surge of sheer, unadulterated pleasure seized him with this knowledge, leaving him somewhat shaken by this unique experience. Never in his entire life had just a mere look from a woman, especially one so innocent and naïve as Kathryn would cause him to be so aroused with desire. Why did she have this effect on him every time he was near her? All he wanted to do right now was to unleash his primitive instincts, grab her, crush her body to his and make wild, passionate love to her. But his common sense prevailed, causing him to curse under his breath. After a few minutes had passed, he leaned over and blew out the candle, which had been sitting on the night table and climbed into bed beside her. "Go to sleep, madam," was all he was capable of saying before he presented his back to her, facing the opposite direction. Indeed, if he'd only seen the disappointed expression on Kathryn's face, he would've had a much more enjoyable evening then the one he had chosen for himself.
After a restless night, Christopher woke at the break of dawn where he propped himself up against the pillows, not wanting to get up yet and viewed the sleeping form that laid next to him. Chuckling to himself, he thought of her shocked expression at his timely arrival yesterday. Why didn't she expect him to follow her? Did she really think his housekeeper would withhold that kind of information from him for long? Just long enough for her to make her escape, he thought angrily, remembering the day he'd found her gone. But never again. She was his wife now. Images of her dressed in her bridal gown came to mind. She was so beautiful; more beautiful than any other woman he'd ever seen and then, how irresistible she'd been kneeling in the middle of the bed, like a tigress, when he'd entered their bridal chamber. Her mood had changed to one of submission when she saw him, causing him to chuckle again at her shyness. It had taken all of his will power to keep his hands off her last night for he didn't want to frighten her anymore then she already was. He hadn't spoken with her since the incident in his bed chamber, the night before she'd left, where he had degraded and humiliated her so. He wanted to make amends to her for his actions but she had fled Crestwood Hall before he could do so. Why he cared what a woman felt, he thought curiously. Why was it so important to him that this woman's feelings not be hurt? He couldn't care her; he didn't care about any woman, they were put on this earth to pleasure men and to bare their sons, but Kathryn was very different than other women. She wasn't after money or power, she wouldn't even accept his offer of new clothing, even though she had only one day dress to wear. What it was going to be like being married to a woman like her, he wondered. One minute she was submissive and the next, a little spit fire. If nothing else, their lives together wouldn't be boring.
Kathryn woke when the sun rays came flooding through the window and shined across her face, causing her to squint her eyes as she came fully awake.
"Good morning my dear wife," Christopher spoke softly, a hint of humor to his voice.
Kathryn gazed up at him and timidly uttered a morning greeting in return. She didn't want to believe that the sequence of events really happened last night and that they all weren't just part of a very bad dream she was having. She didn't understand why he didn't even lay a finger on her last night, let alone make love to her, which would've consummated their wedding vows. Would this mean their marriage was invalid? Panic seized her suddenly as she continued thinking along these lines... and if their marriage was invalid, then he could leave her at any given time and then she would be left with nothing, not even a name for her child.
Christopher saw the worried expression on her face and couldn't quite understand the reason for it. He gently put his finger under her chin and lifted her face up to meet his. "What's troubling you, sweetheart?" He asked softly, his brow creasing with concern.
Kathryn hesitated a few moments before she answered him in a small voice. "I was just wondering why... you didn't... do anything last night...?"
Is that all that's bothering you," he said with relief and then smiled down at her. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. That his not making love to her had upset her so much. If he'd only known that last night, he could've saved himself a lot of agonizing frustration. "Kathryn, the reason I didn't make love to you last night was because I didn't want you to fear me again," he told her sincerely.
She looked up at him in amazement, seeing the tenderness that was in his eyes. "You really did that for me?" She asked, incredibly.
Leaning over, he placed a gentle kiss upon her lips and then said with a thick voice, "does that answer your question, my little bandit?"
Kathryn's mind was spinning. He'd done that for her sake, her mind kept saying as that same unfamiliar warmth she'd experienced last night spread through her loins again, undoubtedly from the contact his lips had made with hers. Maybe, he wasn't quite the ogre she'd made him out to be. "Christopher... I am no longer... afraid of you..." she assured him as she unconsciously slid her arms around his waist and molded her body sensuously against his, causing Christopher to suck in his breath. Surprised by his reaction, she looked up at him innocently and found his eyes closed, his mouth parted and his face unduly strained. Had she caused this just by merely touching him? Kathryn was intrigued now. She must explore this further. Gingerly, she moved her hands slowly up his chest until they reached almost to his shoulders where they paused for a moment and then reversed their direction. When they ventured below his waist, a loud groan escaped from his lips.
Christopher couldn't withstand the bombardment of his senses. The mere touch of her fingers sent unbelievable burning sensations rippling through his body and then when she found what she'd been searching for, his breath locked in his throat. "Kathryn, he croaked just before he crushed her body to his, unable to restrain himself any longer.
His mouth came down hard on hers, forcing her lips apart savagely as his tongue invaded her with such force, Kathryn had to grasp for air. She felt like she was on fire, for the now familiar warmth that had spread through her body, intensified tenfold. His hands never stopped moving as they finally found the row of tiny satin buttons holding the bodice of her pink chiffon night gown together. Instantly, they were ripped off in his haste to free her soft, supple breasts. The contact his fingers made with her bare flesh caused Kathryn to moan aloud, never knowing how deeply her passion could be aroused by a man's caress. As the sensations mounted, she felt like screaming for fulfillment, her need was so great.
Christopher lifted his head and stared down at her, his breath warm; his voice husky. "You're mine, Kathryn. And what is mine, I keep! No one else will ever taste your sweetness but me. No one!"
Kathryn shuddered at the hungry look she saw in his eyes as he continued staring at her. His hands clasped her breasts, squeezing her nipples until they were hard, rigid peaks. But he still kept staring, watching her reaction to his every touch. She closed her eyes, reveling in the ecstasy that was flowing through her in waves of burning fire. "Oh Christopher," she cried, her body aching for more. "I never knew it could be like this...."
Her words exploded in his mind and he couldn't bear it another moment. His hand quickly moved between her thighs, which she parted for him unknowingly, and pressed his fingers inside her. She was already moist and ready for him as he moved atop her, bringing their hips together while his hard, erect manhood searched for its place of entry, gently and tenderly, for he didn't want to startle her.
Kathryn's eyes opened wide, shocked at the wild frenzy she felt when his male hardness pressed against her most secret spot. Instinctively, she reached down to guide it to its final destination. But her innocent actions caused Christopher to go insane with passion. He couldn't contain himself. He needed to reach his ultimate peak of organism right now. So he thrust himself deep inside, crushing her to him, covering her with fevered kisses until she was matching him thrust for thrust.
A cry suddenly escaped her lips as wave upon wave of sheer, raging pleasure ripped through her body as she arched her back and then it exploded, gloriously in its climax. Kathryn laid panting, her head buried in his chest, stunned at the sensations she'd just experienced. No wonder no one ever talked about what transpires between a man and a woman for if they did, then there wouldn't be any such thing as a virgin. Christopher had made love to her before this; how else had she gotten with child, but it wasn't anything like this.
Christopher's thoughts were along the same lines. He had made love to numerous women, including Kathryn, but he'd never had such an experience before and it left him awed. That this particular woman, who was now his bride, could take him to such heights. Reaching down, he lifted her face up to meet his and kissed her deeply. Tenderly until she melted against him, willingly surrendering herself to him again. When he pulled his mouth from hers, he chuckled. "I don't think I'm quite up to another go around so soon but give me a few minutes.
Kathryn's eyes were still smoldering from passion when she looked up at him innocently. "Is it always like this, Christopher?"
"It will be from now on with you, my love. But to answer your question, no. It has never been so...." Christopher couldn't think of an appropriate word that would properly describe their lovemaking.
His answer made Kathryn very happy, giddy as a matter-of-fact as she thought how exciting their evenings would be from now on. She knew now that she had made the right decision about marrying Christopher. Maybe she could put all the bad memories aside, and start over from this day forward. With that in her mind and she asked Christopher curiously, "are we going back to Dartmoor this morning?"
"No, I have some important business to take care of in London. I came here first to marry you, because it was on the way and then planned on taking you with me to London."
His nonchalant manner caused Kathryn to raise up and look at him sternly. "So you came by here first because it was on your way? She said angrily, pulling away from him.
Christopher stared at her in disbelief, he couldn't understand why this would upset her so. "And what may I ask is wrong with that?" He said, sarcastically.
If you don't know, then I can't explain it to you!"
"Madam, you're the most unpredictable woman I have ever met!" He threw his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. "We have to leave soon or we'll never make London by nightfall."
Kathryn was seething when she climbed out of the other side of the bed and slipped into her wrapper. "If you would excuse me sir, I need to get changed!" She said, defiantly to him.
Christopher shook his head, wondering how she could change her moods so quickly. "As you wish, madam! I will be downstairs and if you want to have some breakfast before we leave, then you better not dally and get changed quickly, or you'll have to go without!"
Christopher left before Kathryn could retort and stared at the closed door. "Men!" And their insufferable ways!" She spat and swiftly changed out of her night gown into her traveling clothes and was downstairs within ten minutes.
"I'm impressed," Christopher mocked when he saw her approach, pulling out a chair next to his for her to sit.
Robert watched with interest as the two of them eyed each other with open hostility. Newlyweds, he thought to himself, shaking his head.
Cassandra sashayed into the dining room and smiled sensually at Christopher, wanted him to notice her new low cut day dress. He greeted her coolly and turned back to Kathryn which infuriated her completely. She could see the slight blush to Kathryn's cheeks and the redness to her neck making it very apparent that they'd had to have made love sometime this morning. A black scowl crossed her face and she shot daggers at Kathryn. Hating the other woman with a passion. "I'll get even with you missy," she thought vindictively to herself before taking her place at the table.
"So you're going to London instead of Dartmoor, Lord Christopher," Squire Grey continued before he had been so rudely interrupted by his wife.
"Yes. I have business matters to attend to there and when they're complete, we'll be returning to Dartmoor."
"London!" Cassandra said. "What a marvelous idea! Why don't we all go to London together?" She exclaimed excitedly, glaring over at Robert who sat shaking his head.
"You can go to London on your own Cassandra because Kathryn and I are leaving as soon as we finish our breakfast!" Christopher stated bluntly, taking his last bite of ham that was on his plate. He wiped off his mouth with his napkin before turning to Kathryn. "Are you about finished, sweetheart?" He asked politely and then glanced over at Cassandra, a wiry grin on his face.
"Yes, Lord, I mean Christopher, I'm finished." She replied softly, wondering why he was being so nice to her now after their little tiff earlier.
"Then I suggest we be on our way." Rising from the table, he assisted Kathryn from her chair and then turned to Kathryn's father. "I appreciate your hospitality Squire Grey."
"It was my pleasure, sir." Robert replied, having more respect for Christopher than he'd had before he'd arrived.
"You can't go yet," Cassandra screamed in a panic. "I haven't had a chance to... spend any time at all with our dear, sweet Kathryn."
Kathryn stared at her, wondering what she was up to now, knowing Cassandra despised her.
"That's your problem, Cassandra." Christopher sneered. "But, we have to leave, now!" Turning toward the door, he escorted Kathryn to the waiting coach out front.
As Kathryn was about to step into the coach, she pulled back from Christopher who was giving her a hand up. "Wait! I can't leave Dodger!" She said horrified, for she'd almost forgotten about him in all the rush.
"Dodger! He's just going to have to stay here, Kathryn. We're going to be traveling much too fast for him to keep up with the coach." Christopher tried to explain to her realistically.
"No! If he doesn't go, then I don't go!" She said firmly stomping her foot on the ground. I won't leave him here! And since he can't keep up with the horses then... he will just have to ride inside with us!"
Christopher looked as if she'd gone mad. "Ride inside the coach?" He said incredibly, his voice rising a notch.
"Yes, and I want to take Shadow with us also." She continued with a definite resolve.
"Who the hell is Shadow?" He bellowed, wondering what other animal she had managed to rescue since last he saw her.
"She's my dapple grey mare."
"Well at least we can tie her to the back of the coach." He said with relief, glad that Shadow turned out to be a horse and not another dog or something that would have to ride inside the coach with them.
Quickly she darted to the rear of the manor reaching the stables where Shadow and Dodger were. She asked John, the head groomsman to bring Shadow around and tie her to the back of the coach and hugged Dodger tightly. "We're leaving, Dodger." She said excitedly to him as he followed her back to the front of the manor house.
Christopher just rolled his eyes when he saw them coming and wondered how he had ever let himself get talked into this mess.
Cassandra stood fuming as she watched the Steele coach pull away from Grey Manor, turning around she barked out orders for the servants to pack hers and Robert's things at once. They were going to London!