Kathryn stared at her reflection in the mirror. She was almost ready now to leave for her father’s funeral when she thought of the fact that she hadn’t had to wear black since her mother died several years ago. When she had tried her mourning dress on yesterday it had been much too tight but fortunately, Amanda was able to let out the side seams giving her ample room for her now enlarged condition. Placing the black veil on her head, she adjusted the cap to fit snugly over the massive red braid which she had piled up in a ring atop her head and pulled the veil down over her face. She could still hear the last few raindrops hitting her windowpane for the rainstorm that had started late last night was now beginning to subside. The sun was beginning to show through the dark clouds that were moving swiftly southward and would probably be gone by the time they would reach the church where the funeral services were to be held later this afternoon.
Christopher rapped lightly on her door before entering and viewed his wife for the first time dressed in all black. How beautiful she looked in that color, not many women looked good in black but with Kathryn, it offset her coloring perfectly. “Are you about ready to go, sweetheart?” He asked tenderly, not sure of what to say to her. He had never been in this position before, having to comfort a grieving woman and he felt at such a loss of how to help her during this distressful time. He walked over and stood behind her placing his hands on her shoulders. He could see her image in the mirror staring back at him from underneath the black veil as their eyes locked together for a few moments in silence. “We’d better be leaving now, Kathryn,” Christopher murmured softly in her ear.
“Yes, you’re quite right, we mustn’t be late,” she replied sadly and allowed him to escort her downstairs to the waiting coach.
The heavy rain had completely stopped now, leaving only a fine drizzle still coming down as they disembarked at the church where scores of ladies and gentlemen, all dressed in black were scampering from their carriages in an effort to make it inside the church without getting too wet.
Kathryn and Christopher slowly made their way down the middle aisle to the first row of pews that were left open for the immediate family. There Cassandra sat with her head lowered when she had seen them coming, playing the part of the grieving widow perfectly. Christopher, seeing her sitting there decided to sit in the first pew on the other side of the aisle and guided Kathryn to their seats.
“Oh Christopher,” Cassandra wailed, irritated that he chose to sit away from her. Standing up, she quickly moved to the pew across the aisle and plopped down next to him, placing his arm around her shoulders as she leaned up against his warm, muscular chest. Dabbing her tearless eyes with a handkerchief she gazed up at him in mock grief.
Christopher could see the horrified expression on Kathryn’s face as she stared at him embracing her step-mother. Quickly he removed his arm from around Cassandra’s shoulder and cursed under his breath. “You seem to be burying yet another husband, Cassandra,” he said cynically. “How many does this make now?”
“Christopher darling, how could you say such a mean thing to me, especially at a time like this,” she said, sticking her lower lip out in a pout.
Christopher seeing how distressed Kathryn was at his conversation with her step-mother, decided to ignore Cassandra and sit quietly for the duration of the services.
An hour later Kathryn made her final farewells to her dearly departed father and left the church on the arm of her husband. As they were climbing into their coach, Cassandra clutched Christopher’s arm desperately. “Please Christopher, I don’t want to be left alone right now,” she said imploringly. “May I stay with you and my dearest step-daughter for a little while? At least until I can come to grips with my husband’s death.”
Christopher felt sorry for her and wondered if maybe Cassandra could have truly cared for this man and really was suffering his loss. “Yes, you may join us Cassandra,” he finally replied and assisted her into the coach. The women sat opposite each other and Christopher took the seat next to his wife. He didn’t see the loathing in Cassandra’s eyes as she glared at Kathryn with open hostility, jealous that he sat next to her and saw to her every need.
“Kathryn couldn’t bear the looks Cassandra was giving her so she folded her hands tightly in her lap and gazed out the window. She could feel the tears ready to come pouring out at any time but she didn’t want to let this witch seated across from her see her cry. The journey back to the Steele townhouse was quiet as everyone was lost in their own thoughts. Kathryn immediately ran up to her room when they finally did arrive and threw herself across her bed and let the pent up tears come flooding out, there she remained until after dinner.
Several hours later, Christopher entered his own bed chamber taking off his coat and cravat. He started to go check on Kathryn but he changed his mind thinking it probably would be better to leave her alone for a while to deal with what just happened. He lit a cheroot and pondered the events that took place right after their dinner in the parlor. As soon as they were alone, Cassandra had feigned needing comfort and wrapped her arms around him in a warm embrace, slowly lowering his head to hers, she kissed him passionately, pressing her body to his in a seductive manner. Taking his hand in hers, she gently began moving it slowly over her sensuous body until she brought it up to her low cut bodice which exposed her supple flesh and began to kiss him savagely. He could feel her rapid heartbeat as his hand was moved back and forth across her breasts while Cassandra reached down with her other hand and ran it across his thigh, reaching for him. It became hard and erect as she stroked it softly, causing a moan to escape from his lips. It had been several months since he’d had any relief.
A shriek had sounded from the doorway as Kathryn had made her untimely entrance into the parlor and was standing there appalled, with her hand over her mouth at what she saw transpiring between him and Cassandra. Instantly, Christopher disentangled himself from her step-mother as the full impact of Cassandra’s actions showed on Kathryn’s face. Before he could say anything, she had fled up the stairs to her bed chamber, slamming the door behind her. Cassandra reached out for him to return to her but he pushed her away, cursing under his breath, he glared at her with open disgust and told her rudely to leave his home at once before climbing the stairs two at a time to find Kathryn. When he reached her room he decided at the last minute not to enter, there was no way he could explain to her that he had nothing to do with what just happened, so he entered his own room instead, feeling very frustrated and confused at why he had possibly allowed Cassandra to put him in this predicament. How could he have been so stupid to think her reasons for coming with them were anything but wanton, he chastised himself? Putting out his cheroot, he finished undressing and climbed into bed deciding to talk with Kathryn in the morning, after she’d had time to calm down and be reasonable.
The rainstorm had finally passed leaving a clean, crisp scent in the air as the sun rays glistened through the rainbow that had formed, causing a kaleidoscope of colors to cross the sky following the heavy downpour. Christopher waited impatiently for Kathryn to come down for breakfast but there was no sign of her. Grumbling to himself, he pushed his chair back away from the dining table and stomped up the stairs and entered her room without knocking. She was standing by the window that she had opened looking very solemn and demure. She glanced at him when he entered but turned back to gaze out the open window again at the beautiful rainbow that was there, causing him to curse under his breath. “Kathryn, I would like to speak with you if you don’t mind,” he said, trying to control his rising temper with her.
“Speak with me, what on earth would you have to speak with me about, I’m only your wife!” She replied sarcastically. “What have I done to be so rewarded with such a visit from my lord and master this morning?”
“Why are you acting like this,” he retorted, crossing the room in long strides grabbing her by the shoulders.
“I’m not a piece of baggage you can use and then discard when you’ve grown tired of me,” she quipped, glaring at him with disdain. “Why don’t you just go back to your new play thing and leave me be!”
Christopher shook her roughly while her eyes grew large with fear. “You’re not a piece of baggage to me Kathryn and I haven’t grown tired of you as you seem to think!” He bellowed with a black scowl on his face. “What happened down in the parlor last night was not of my doing? Your step-mother is not my new play thing!”
“It sure didn’t look that way to me, Christopher!” She spat, pulling loose from his hold. “My father wasn’t even cold in his grave yet and you were making advances toward his wife already. Are you going to put me through this kind of humiliation the rest of my life?” Rubbing your mistresses under my nose at every turn?” Her eyes went black with rage as she rambled on with her discontent. “I’m not stupid, Christopher!”
He stared at her in disbelief, not understanding why she was this upset just over the little scene she had witnessed in the parlor last night.
“I can explain what happened Kathryn if you’ll only just listen to me, sensibly.” Christopher said in a more controlled voice. Now come sit down so we can talk civilly.”
They both walked over to the rose hue chairs in front of the fireplace and sat down.
“Now, let’s get something strait right now, your step-mother is not my mistress. There was a time long ago before either one of us were married that we were… lovers. But that all changed when I returned from my last voyage from America. I told her I didn’t want to see her anymore but she won’t take no for an answer.” Christopher explained.
Kathryn was in shock, she had no idea that they had once been lovers. “Then… I don’t understand what happened last night if you don’t want anything more to do with her,” she said in puzzlement.
“Like I tried to tell you, I had nothing to do with it, Cassandra seemed very distraught over her husband’s death and needed comforting. I thought but that wasn’t her intentions at all. It was unfortunate that you came into the room when you did because I sent her packing when I realized what her plan was.” Christopher tried to reassure her.
“So you didn’t want to… do anything with her?” Kathryn asked, staring at him intensely.
“Definitely not! I can’t stand her actually. She’s nothing but a cold-hearted bitch and I only allowed her to come here yesterday afternoon because she is after all, your step-mother.”
Kathryn thought about what he had just explained to her and wrenched her hands together tightly. “Then, why Christopher have you been leaving me every day and not returning again until late in the night?” She inquired, hesitantly.
“I had business to take care of.” He said, lightly.
“Business! At all hours of the day and night?” She said, doubtfully.
“This is none of your affair Kathryn and I won’t have you questioning my every movement!” He quipped, irritated by her trying to make him answer to her on everything he did.
“I have every right, your lordship, when it affects me personally! And I have never heard of business being conducted at the hours you keep!” She yelled back at him with her eyes blazing.
“Damn it to hell! Kathryn!” He bellowed, coming out of his chair instantly and was now only inches from her face. “Since when are you an expert on business affairs, madam!” He spat at her.
“I’m not some ignorant country bumpkin Christopher and I do have a brain in my head,” she spat back at him.
Christopher couldn’t believe she had the nerve to stand up to him in this manner, where most people in London would be shaking in their boots just about this time. Slowly he began to pace the floor with his hands behind his back. “Kathryn, my late business affairs had to do with the sinking of the Mariner. My old ship that I turned over to my brother Jeffrey when I became the Marquis of Dartmoor. Someone sabotaged it and tried to lock my brother in his cabin so he would go down with the ship.”
Kathryn felt at a loss for words. She had no idea that something like this was keeping him gone all the time and not another woman as she had started to believe. “So you have been trying to find the person or persons responsible for this great misdeed?” She asked, incredibly.
“Yes. Someone is trying to kill Jeffrey and I won’t rest until I find out who’s behind it,” he stated bluntly.
“Oh Christopher, I’m so sorry I misjudged you, I thought….” Kathryn stammered, feeling guilty that she had falsely accused him.
“Next time madam, why don’t you just come out and ask me instead of coming to your own conclusions.”
“I will Christopher, I don’t know what else to say except, I hope you will accept my humble apologies,” Kathryn said softly with her eyes downcast.
Christopher viewed her as she sat there in the chair so meekly. Kathryn really was a very unusual woman he thought and he was right when he had imagined their lives together would be anything but boring. She had more nerve than most men he knew, standing up to him the way she did. He wasn’t use to anyone questioning him but to have just a mere woman do it, really amazed him. She sure did have quite a temper and it would rise to the occasion, he thought amusingly. How could she ever imagine that he would be interested in another woman after her? No other woman even came close in comparison.
Kathryn became very nervous at his delay in responding to her apologies and eyed him closely. “Christopher… are you still… angry with me?” She asked hesitantly, not knowing what he was thinking.
“No, my little bandit. I’m not. And I think I can now understand why you came to the conclusions you did, given the circumstance. I think it’s about time we head back to Dartmoor. There’s nothing else that can be done here in London,” he surmised.
“Then you haven’t found out who’s trying to kill your brother?”
“No. But I have a lot of sources working on it and if they come up with anything they will contact my uncle, who lives here in London and he will be able to get word to me out in Dartmoor. So my little bandit,” he said, pulling her out of her chair, “let’s start getting our things together so we can go home.”
Kathryn’s eyes lit up at the prospect of going back to Dartmoor and hugged Christopher tightly. “Oh Christopher, I’m so glad to be leaving here,” she said, excitedly.
Christopher could feel his passion beginning to grow at having her soft, supple body pressing against his causing him to take in his breath. How could just holding her in his arms cause this much feeling inside him to stir so quickly, he pondered. He ran his fingers through her hair that was flowing down her back for she hadn’t pinned it up yet this morning. Her eyes were like liquid as he looked into them tenderly. How he could lose himself in her, he thought. Reaching down he untied the belt to her robe and slid his hands around her waist gently. “Oh Kathryn,” he whispered as he lowered his head down to hers and kissed her deeply. He could feel her slightly enlarged abdomen pressing against him as images of the child inside her came to mind. His child. What it was going to be like to have a son, he thought as he held her closely against his chest. Some of his passion ebbed away at the thought of the possibility of any injury coming to the child during their lovemaking. Gazing into Kathryn’s face, he could tell she would come with him to his bed willingly but he didn’t want to take the chance of losing his son. Reluctantly, he withdrew his arms from around her waist and stepped back away from her as she looked at him in puzzlement. Clearing his throat he told her he had a few things to do before they left for Dartmoor, then he turned on his heels, leaving her staring dumbfoundedly after him once he had left the room.
Shaking her head Kathryn didn’t understand Christopher‘s actions at all. He seemed attracted to her, wanted her even but then something had caused him to suddenly move away from her. Walking slowly over to the gilded mirror, she looked at the reflection that she saw there. Turning to one side she could see the slight bulge in her abdomen causing her mouth to form into a frown. Was this what made him not want her, she thought, worriedly? Was it going to be worse when she grew larger with child and would he be totally repulsed at just the mere sight of her then? She closed her eyes for she felt a wet tear run down her cheek. “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it, all women must go through this,” she whispered to herself, but after the child is born, I’ll have my figure back and we’ll just see how he acts towards me then.
Dodger who had been sleeping all this time on his pallet, which she had made for him beside her bed, opened up his eyes thinking she was speaking to him. Yawning, he stretched out his fore paws and leisurely stood up.
“Oh Dodger, I didn’t mean for you to get up yet, we’re not going anywhere yet and I’m definitely not going to play ball with you right now,” she said to the dog, who stood there staring at her, wagging his tail. “Oh my, I can’t leave London yet. What about the clothes from the dressmaker. They haven’t been delivered yet, how could I have forgotten about them. Not that I could wear any of them now,” she murmured, “not even the special ones I had made.” Now that her father had passed away, it was customary for her to wear black for one year, to honor his passing. Looking in her coffer she saw the other mourning dresses she had worn during the year after her mother’s death and saw that Amanda had already altered them for her, knowing she would be needing them until after her child was born. “That Amanda, always knowing what I need even before I do.” Donning one of the black mourning dresses, Kathryn quickly finished her toiletries and sped downstairs hoping to catch Christopher before he left on his morning errands.
When she walked into the parlor, she shrieked in surprise for there she saw stacks upon stacks of dress boxes and hat boxes everywhere she looked. With her hand still over her mouth, she dashed into the room anxious now to see the final results of the dresses Christopher had ordered for her. Unknown to her, he was standing directly behind her enjoying her enthusiasm at the complete trousseau that had arrived this morning while they were still upstairs. Knowing that they would be leaving London soon, Christopher had stopped by the clothiers and informed them he wanted everything finished and delivered by the end of the week so they could take them to Dartmoor when the time came to leave.
Spinning around with one of the beautiful ball gowns held up in front of her, Kathryn saw for the first time Christopher standing there watching her with a wide grin on his face.
“Enjoying yourself, sweetheart?” He said with a cheerful voice.
“Oh yes, Christopher. They’re all just as beautiful as they could be. I never dreamed I would own dresses as exquisite as these. How did you ever know how to….” Looking down for a moment she realized the answer to her question before finishing asking him. A slight blush came to her cheeks as she knew of her husband’s black reputation for being one of the biggest rogues in all of London. Laying the dress back down she gingerly walked over to him to thank him for all the beautiful things he had bought for her.
Feeling ill at ease with her appreciation, Christopher grumbled under his breath, excused himself from her and went back into the study.