Two Hearts... December 1851
By the time darkness blanketed the modest cabin, the snowstorm finally calmed its tempest fury on the surrounding area. Aniela shivered as she watched the last few flames dance from the crimson embers of the diminishing fire. She lifted her head and glanced at the wood stacked along the wall, debating on whether to extract herself from the warmth of Jaylon’s arms and the blanket of furs; or get up and fetch wood to rekindle the dying flames.
Peering back at the embers, she resolved to linger a while longer and settled her cheek on his bare chest. The slow rise and fall of his tranquil breathing left her mesmerized and a calming like she had never felt in years took hold of her soul. His heartbeat thumped gently like a pendulum ticking with its slow, mesmeric rate against her cheek. His one arm was bent across her hip, while the other lay beneath her, cradling her neck.
Her eyes drifted up his bare chest and for the first time in a long while, she wasn’t fearful of being in a man’s arms.
She knew deep in her soul that Jaylon would never harm her. Not physically anyway.
If only she had heeded his words, and they hadn’t been arguing so terribly that day on the island. She would never have left his ship or him, and things would have ended up so differently for both of them.
But his disappointment at not being able to bring her memory back and the overwhelming frustration and anger between them, delivered them spiraling into a separation that neither could anticipate the horrendous outcome too.
She lifted her hand and let it drift up his bare chest as her eyes roamed over his masculine frame. Three years did nothing to diminish his beauty... she only wished she could claim the same about herself.
Her feathery touch caused him to stir and prompted him to draw her tighter to his body. But to her surprise, he didn’t open his eyes. Lifting her chin, she studied his chiseled features and had to squelch the impulse to reach up to glide a finger across his parted lips. A memory entered her mind of a time when she desperately welcomed his kisses and a shiver flowed up her body.
She would give anything to go back to that day on the Ocean Monarch when he appeared at her cabin door. He offered himself to her, but she rebuffed him. The hurt and pain she detected in his eyes was almost unbearable to recall.
A sob escaped her lips, and she wiped a lone tear threatening to flow forth.
Jaylon stirred again, he looked down at her with hooded eyes and drew the fur up tighter around her shoulders. “Are you okay,” he murmured, his voice was groggy with sleep. “Are you cold?” He folded his arms around her. “Don’t worry, I will keep you warm.”
She settled her cheek on his skin and closed her eyes, wishing they could remain in this place and never leave. If only the real world could never catch up with them, tarnishing this peaceful moment.
He proceeded to stir, allowing his hand to wander up her back; massaging and lingering on her skin.
Even though she longed for his touch, she found herself holding her breath and becoming paralyzed with fear as his hand roamed up and down her body.
He lifted his hand to rest on her cheek, then urges her chin upward to stare into her eyes. “Aniela,” he sighed, with sleep-laden eyes. “Please don’t fear me. I will never hurt you, I vow on my life and honor.” His eyes searched hers, then they traveled to her parted lips. “May I kiss you?”
A knot formed in her throat as fear clutched her insides and squeezed. Licking her lips, she nodded her approval and lifted her chin. She closed her eyes and waited for his lips to cover her own.
Jaylon stared at her feeling her tremble in his arms. “Don’t close your eyes,” he pleaded, caressing her cheek. “I swear I won’t hurt you Aniela. If you want me to stop, I will stop.” He lowered his head and let his lips hover just above hers. “I want you to see me when I kiss you, not someone else.” He paused, expecting for her to halt him, when she didn’t, he tentatively covered her lips with his own.
His lips were gentle and persuasive; he tasted just as she remembered. It didn’t take him long to tease her mouth open with his tender caress. He moaned into her and thrust his tongue between her parted lips.
Her mind tangled with the emotions he stirred deep inside her belly. She longed for him and craved his gentle touch. But an overpowering terror boiled intently ingraining deep inside her mind and threatened her very existence. Her breathing suddenly became strained and panic was commencing to take hold of her insides; threatening to compress the air from her lungs. She retched her lips from his and shifted her head to the side gasping for air. “I’m sorry Jaylon,” she sobbed, feeling sick and dizzy. “I just can’t... I’m sorry.”
He rolled onto his back staring at the ceiling while his chest heaved and he sought to steady his breathing. He angled his head and looked at her. “I am the one who is sorry. I should never have tried to force something on you before you were ready.” He rolled onto his side facing her. “I can wait for you Aniela. However long it takes for you to be comfortable with me again. I will wait.” He reached for her, forcing her to look at him. “I’m in love with you. Do you understand? I swear I have never stopped loving you.”
A sob escaped her lips, and she hastily sat up, twisting to face the fire. “You can’t love me Jaylon,” she murmured, as tears pooled in her eyes. “I don’t want you to be in love with me.”
He shook his head and raised up behind her. “You can’t order me not to love you like I am a child or some kind of pet,” he asserted with frustration. “Do you have any understanding of what I went through trying to find you?”
She shook her head, wiping her tears, and shifted away from him, tucking her feet under her shift.
Her action frustrated him even further. “I was gone from my home for practically two years and was almost disinherited by my father. I nearly killed my men, sailing from Martinique to Sierra Leone, where I spent months searching for you because a man I never met before swore he knew you. Then from Sierra Leone to Cape Verde. From Cape Verde to Liverpool, where I regrouped and implored my family for more money. From there I left again and sailed to Recife in South America. In Recife, I had the pleasure of encountering a man named Cabul, who swore on his honor-” He faltered when his voice broke and spilled over with emotion. Shaking his head, he reigned in his feelings allowing a sad laugh to flow from his lips. “He swore to me that he knew with certainty that you had been auctioned to a slave ship and delivered from Recife to Paramaribo.” He bowed his head in defeat and kneaded the back of his neck. “I searched in Paramaribo for months, until my father declined to send me any more money.” He lifted his head and stared at her blankly. “Then I went back home and attempted to force my life back together without you. Do you have any understanding of how painful it was for me to move on as if nothing happened? All because of that fateful day you resolved to walk off my ship and out of my life.”
Her stomach coiled into knots by his words and the anguish in his voice. Lifting her hand to her lips and was confident she was going to be sick. “I’m sorry, Jaylon,” she sobbed softly. “I wasn’t in my proper mind back then and I presume I ruined both our lives by my foolish act.”
He crawled over to her and stopped to seat himself in front of her. “But you don’t understand Aniela,” he answered, reaching for her hand and raising it to his lips. “All of it doesn’t matter if it meant I could have you back in my life and in my arms again. I wouldn’t change a thing.” His lips glided over each of her knuckles until he turned her hand over and placed a smoldering kiss on her palm.
“But it does matter,” she sniffed shaking her head. “I’m not the same girl you remember.”
“I don’t care.”
“You should care!” she cried. “You’re just caught up in the past and how it used to be between us.”
“But you are wrong.”
“I’m not wrong!” she exclaimed, seeking to make him understand. Taking a few deep breaths, she reached up and looped her fingers into the neckline seams of her shift. With trembling hands, she pushed it off her shoulders until it settled at her waist, exposing her back for his eyes. “This is what I am now Jaylon. And those are just the scars you can see. The ones I hold deep inside my brain will never heal. I am damaged both inside and out.”
He leaned back on his heels, staring at the raised pink scars scattered across her back. His eyes wandered over each of the marks and for some reason, his irrational mind counted them. There were fourteen in all, strewn in no particular direction. Some were longer and faint in color, but it was the smaller ones that appeared to have thick scarring. It was proof how deep they had cut into her flesh.
His jaw clenched. “Give me a name Aniela,” he urged with a simmering rage. “And I pledge I will kill him for what he did to you.”
She closed her eyes and bowed her head. A sad low laugh emitted from her lips. “It doesn’t matter,” she murmured. “What’s done is done. It was my ignorance and naivety that prompted me to believe his words...” She stopped, choosing not to reveal more. She struggled to pull her shift back up onto her shoulders, but his hand stopped her. She peered back at him and felt his hand stray over the scars.
Jaylon bent his head allowing his lips to glide over every scar his hands touched. “These don’t matter to me,” he whispered against her skin. “You are beautiful. You need to know that.”
She closed her eyes and groaned; not having the fortitude to argue with him any longer. His touch and gentle words managed to demolish the barriers she had formed around herself. Her breathing quickened and she could feel her pulse pounding in her veins. “Jaylon, please,” she implored, as his lips scorched a trail from her back to her neck; ending only when his lips claimed hers.
She pushed up onto her knees; pressing her body into his and wrapped her arms around his neck. She kissed him with a desperation she didn’t know she possessed.
He rose to his feet and pulled her up with him, lifting her into his arms. He carried her to the fur bed on the floor and set her down on her feet. “Please allow me to see all of you Aniela. Please,” he whispered against her ear. Grasping the hem of her shift, he pulled it up over her head.
She seized it from his hands and attempted to cover her exposed body from his gaze.
Jaylon shook his head. “No,” he whispered taking the garment from her hands. His eyes traveled the length of her and he watched her cross her arms over her breast, but he interrupted her movement. Then let his hand glide up her torso until it halted, cupping her ample breast. “You’re so beautiful Aniela,” he whispered, leaning to seize her lips with his own.
She sobbed against his parted lips. “I’m not beautiful, Jaylon. I can feel the ugliness deep inside with every breath I take.”
Cupping her face in his hands, he refuted her words. “You couldn’t be more wrong,” he whispered against her trembling lips. “The marks on your body mean nothing to me and my eyes don’t see them. I simply see you for what you are... and you are the apotheosis of beauty and exquisite loveliness.” He lifted her again, thus laying her down on to the soft furs; covering her with his body. “I have dreamt of holding you in my arms and making love to you for so long. You can deny me, Aniela,” he sighed against her parted lips. “I won’t be angry if you aren’t ready. I swear it.”
Her only response was to open her mouth, accepting the passion of his tongue and lips.
Her action almost shot him over the edge, but he reigned in his desire, not wanting to move too quickly and possibly scare her any more than she already was. He pulled his lips from hers and watched her face as he settled himself between her thighs. If she displayed any traces of fear or apprehension, he would stop.
But he observed complete desire in her hooded eyes. He knew she wasn’t a virgin, but he didn’t know if she would yet feel discomfort. His lips cover hers. “Deep breath,” he sighed into her mouth, then slipped gradually into her. He could feel her body trembling beneath him; prompting him to close his eyes and pull his lips from hers. “I’m sorry if I hurt you,” he whispered against her ear, struggling to control his building desire.
Her nails dug into his back and she shook her head. “No,” she gasped, clinging to him. “You didn’t hurt me.”
Lowering his head, his lips scorched a trail from her ear to her waiting lips, tasting and probing until she was kissing him back with absolute abandonment. Rising back up, he caressed her cheek and commenced to slowly moving his hips, as her silken womanhood enveloped him. Her nails raked down his back and she crisped his name. “Lift your hips to me Aniela,” he instructed against her lips. When he felt her tentatively start to meet his every thrust it was almost more than he could bear. Their movements synced into a frenzied joining that sent them both into a spiraling climax.
His muscles contracted, and he called her name as he poured deep into core.
Spent and gasping, neither could find the will to move waiting for their pounding heart rates to return to normal. When Jaylon finally rolled from her body, he pulled her to rest against his chest. “Please tell me I didn’t hurt you,” he begged, as his hand traveled up and down, stroking her arm.
She shook her head then reached for his roaming hand and linking his fingers with her own. “No, I am okay.”
Kissing the top of her head, he drew a deep breath and watched as she lifted his palm to her waiting lips. She laid soft kisses on his skin, which generated a fire to rekindle and start a flame of desire. “Did you... do you think you enjoyed it?” he asked, struggling to suppress his fervor.
Shifting in his arms, she rolled onto her belly and braced herself up on her elbows. She peered down at her hands and could feel the heat rise up to her face. “You are obviously very sophisticated when it comes to lovemaking Jaylon,” she whispered tentatively She fidgeted with the fur pallet they shared, half afraid to glance up and meet his hooded blue eyes. “Thank you for showing me it...” she wavered and sought to gulp down her anxiety. “I... I mean, thank you for...”
Her words were halted by Jaylon’s persuasive lips. “I don’t require thanks Aniela,” he whispered. “I simply want you.” Pressing her onto her back, his mouth started a leisurely route from her lips and traveling down her body.
The full moon illuminated through the windows as fading embers in need of being rekindled lost their glow and the last of its burning flames wasted away.
Neither acknowledged the chill settling into the one-room cabin. They had reignited a burning desire in each other and they both were more than prepared to employ their bodies to snuff it out.
He didn’t know she watched him through hooded lashes. She felt him rise and observed him as he stepped towards the fireplace rekindling its flames. He lifted his hands allowing the heat to warm his cooling extremities, but he continued to stare at the fire deep in thought and consternation. Her eyes drifted over his muscular chiseled body with an appreciation for his virility and raw manly beauty.
As if sensing the heat from her gaze, he shifted and their eyes met. The longing she saw there, generated heat to rise to her face, and she shivered clutching the fur tighter up to her chin.
“Are you cold,” he asked, moving away from the fire. He stepped to her and settled back in under the furs behind her.
“I am okay,” she murmured from beneath the fur.
“It will be morning in a couple of hours,” he whispered close to her ear.
She drew away from him, then rolled onto her stomach resting on her elbows. Her mind raced with thoughts of what was she going to do now. “Why do you yet want me Jaylon?” she whispered, glancing down at her hands. “I have been gone for almost three years.” She chewed her lower lip while her hands brushed the coarse fur she laid upon. “Surely there is another woman in your life now.”
His hand strayed up and under her shift. “I want no other woman but you,” he declared, bowing to graze the exposed skin at her shoulder with his lips.
She shook her head and echoed her previous statement. “I promise, you don’t want me.”
“But, I do,” he whispered, making her look at him and allow his lips to drift over hers. “Please let me in, Aniela. Explain to me what happened to you. I need to know, please,” he implored, against her lips.
It was like she could feel the desperation in his voice and pulled away from him. She dropped her head and closed her eyes. “I... can’t,” she whispered, afraid and too self-conscious to offer her past into words.
Her eyes pooled, and she gathered in a long stressful breath. “I will tell you in fragments,” she conceded, battling to maintain a calm voice. “I... I can’t promise you anything, or if I indeed have the courage to profess everything to you.”
He pulled her to him, kissing her shoulder, neck, and ultimately her lips. “Start where you’re comfortable,” he added, stroking her hair. “I’ll try not to press you, Aniela. I desire to know, for my own sanity.”
She settled her forehead down onto her arms contemplating her words. “That day on the island when I left your ship,” she paused sighing. “I watched you on the pier with another young woman. At first, I thought you were with a man or a boy, but you pulled her cap off and you both appeared to be arguing.” She laid her head to the side and exhaled heavily. Then she picked up her eyes looking at him. “I had your spyglass, and I saw how familiar you were with her. I felt betrayed. Because there you were, experiencing your life and walking around openly with another woman. While I in return was locked up in your cabin.”
Jaylon rolled onto his back remembering that day. His arm lay on his forehead and he stared at the ceiling in disbelief. “Is that the reason you left?” he urged, shaking his head astounded. “That young woman was Jessie! She was on the island with Lucian and I ran into her on the pier.”
She stared at him taken back by his admission. “I didn’t even know Jessie existed at that time and I had no recollection of Lucian,” she admitted in defense. She raised her hand and glided it up his arm. “I know my reasoning doesn’t make sense to you and now looking back; it doesn’t make sense to me either,” she admitted flatly. “But, I had no life and no remembrance of a prior life.” She observed him roll onto his side, facing her. “And, I had this amazingly handsome man, who seemed to care a great deal for me. But he became resentful and agitated by my lack of progression at recalling him or my past.”
He reached for her and caressed her cheek. “I had to keep my distance from you, Aniela,” he attested. “You didn’t open your eyes for two weeks after the accident and when you finally did; it was hard realizing you had no idea who I was.”
“So you stayed away,” she whispered, not seeking to conceal her accusatory tone.
“I wanted you so deeply, Aniela,” he admitted hoarsely. “And when I finally had you in my grasp; you were incapacitated with fear by my presence. I wanted to give you time to heal and time to remember at your own pace.”
They laid on their sides, staring at each other in challenging silence.
She sat up and leaned over to press her lips to his. “You abandoned me, Jaylon,” she charged. “So I, in return, abandoned you.”
He wrapped his hand in her hair. “You should never have left me,” he whispered against her lips.
“I know that now,” she murmured. “But, it’s too late.”
“I don’t believe that,” he countered, as his eyes raked over her. “And neither do you.”