Deception By Proxy. Ch 22: A Revealing Encounter

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

It did not take long for her mother to appear downstairs. The other girls had gone into the scullery and were busying themselves helping with the evening meal.

“I think she is not as bad as I might have feared, thanks to you, William. She should be abed by now. She is in need of your company before she falls asleep. Take pity on her, she has had to make some severe re-evaluations of you and of herself in the last day or so.”

“I know. I’ve been doing that of myself too.”

He walked quietly in upon her in his stocking feet and was surprised to see her standing on a towel in front of her wash basin, facing the window with her back to him, completely devoid of clothing and washing herself. The evening sun shone full upon her and showed her in her mirror as a fully mature and well-developed young woman. The startling and unexpected vision quite took his breath away and confused him. He took in his breath to mutter an apology and to remove himself from the room, but then he saw that she had her eyes closed with the glare of the sun in her face and the words died even as they were about to be spoken.

She moved the cloth across her body, unaware that she was being watched. She was devastatingly beautiful in her natural state. Her full breasts gently, and hypnotically moved with her actions. She was lost in thought, unaware of his presence. He knew he should leave as quietly as he had entered. He had not been expected so soon after her mother had appeared downstairs. He remained where he was, against his better judgment, entranced by such a vision of exciting loveliness that he had never before seen quite so clearly revealed in any woman.

She was still not aware that he had entered her room. She seemed deep in thought as she wielded a wet cloth across her upper body and tried to reach her back and shoulders but seemed not entirely able to do so, for she gasped and groaned at some sudden pain and flinched, almost dropping her cloth as she tried to reach to her shoulders and upper back. He realized for the second time that he should not be here at that moment but discovered that he was rooted to the floor at this sudden stunningly-beautiful apparition that was entirely unaware of his presence and that left his mouth dry, with the blood pounding in his ears. He found that he could not immediately leave. He took in as much of her as he could see in the mirror and of her back, and felt both nervous and alarmed at how she might feel when she recognized that he was here and watching her so intently. He should leave.

He noticed then that there was a large bruise on her back and another on the back of her arm and yet another on her upper leg. All of which possibly contributed to her discomfort.

His earlier concerns returned, and he backed toward the door and blundered into the edge of it, almost closing it so that he could no longer retreat, and betraying his presence in no uncertain way.

She froze in horror and tensed, with her arms reflexively raising to cover as much of her breasts as she might. She seemed confused and alarmed in that one instant of time as she opened her eyes wide and saw him standing there watching her in the mirror.

He could not escape easily now that he had been seen. He decided to brazen it through and not comment upon the obvious, standing before him. “I hope I did not cause those bruises.” He surprised himself at his calmly-outrageous audacity in daring to speak to her at such a moment and not immediately leaving the bedroom as had been his original intent.

Her eyes opened wider as she watched him behind her in the mirror and took in his unexpected presence and the almost closed door. She brought her hands tighter across her breasts and blushed in her embarrassment, unable to speak or say anything at that moment. Her eyes revealed her near panic at his unexpected presence close behind her, wondering what his intentions might be.

“William! Whatever are you doing here? You should not be here to see me like this.” Was he about to be revenged upon her in the worst possible way for her untrusting behavior of him over the last few days? The look on his face was not one of anger, however, nor one that might cause her immediate dread, but she could not easily be reassured about why he was here.

He remained calm, though he did not feel it. “Your mother told me to come up, Annis. I am sorry to have blundered in on you like this.”

“You should not be here. You must leave. What did Mama say? She should not have sent you up here so soon, for I decided to bathe. You should have knocked. A gentleman would have knocked.” She spoke softly but with deep feeling as she stared at him intensely in the mirror. She had two bright spots of red upon her cheeks. He hoped that she might turn to face him in her confusion, but she didn’t. Modesty prevailed, yet she was discomposed with him and almost certainly even angry at his intrusion.

She had not become hysterical and insist he immediately leave as he had at first expected, though she was not easy with his presence. How could she be? He smiled at her confusion and felt overwhelmed by a sudden rush of tender feeling for her but did not betray any uncertainty or embarrassment himself. He recognized that he was walking on dangerous ground and must tread carefully if that were still a possibility. He spoke gently. “Then I am excused, Annis, for I am certainly not a gentleman in far too many ways as I think you have suspected for some time, and as my behavior has already shown on several occasions. I lost most of my sense of moral values and what few virtues I may have had while I was abroad. They were doing me little good anyway and would have soon got me killed.”

She was clearly alarmed but said nothing more.

He walked over to her and before she might further object, gently took the cloth from her hand resting at her shoulder and dribbling water down her back before she knew what he planned and left her in no doubt what he was about to do as he tenderly washed her neck and then her back where she had been unable to reach. She might protest further but could see that he was not about to leave. She was helpless to do anything except remain immobile. She could not fight him from her room without revealing too much of herself, or attracting others to her predicament.

She could not scream at him or insist that he immediately leave, for he was not about to pay her any attention in that way. But then she did not immediately fear for herself at that moment either.

He saw her more clearly now in her mirror and was not able to tear his eyes away. Her arms, defensively crossed over her obvious bosoms, did not cover her fully, and there were other areas of similar deep interest to him that his eyes were drawn momentarily to.

She knew that he was scrutinizing her in her naked entirety, and though deeply embarrassed, was surprised to feel that she was not too angry at him but had become resigned to it. She might even deserve his contempt, and yet, he betrayed no such suggestion of punishing her for her earlier distrust. However, she did not feel too threatened by his presence even with her as naked as she was but was more annoyed with her mother for putting her in this position. She was drained of anger over the last few days anyway, having been shown to have been wrong on so many fronts about him.

“William. You must leave. Please.”

He ignored her softly uttered plea. “Did I cause these bruises on your back and your arm and leg?”

She swallowed her fear, frustration, and anger. Revenge did not seem to be on his mind. He seemed to be in a strangely gentle mood, and unconcerned by her obvious fears. Her eyes flashed to his. “Yes. I bruise easily. I think when you grabbed me to stop me falling and then took me across to your saddle I may have got those. And I pulled a muscle too, using that sidesaddle, for I am not used to it, and that limits my movement.”

“I could see you were uncomfortable.”

“But you must not be here, William.” She was emphatic about that. She had done everything in her power to try to hint him away, without any effect. He was even smiling at her, and there was that mischievous look on his face.

“Yes, I know that I should not be here, but I am, and I want to be here at this moment. You are so exceedingly beautiful, far more beautiful than I might ever have imagined, and I cannot escape now and would not choose to. But this bruising upon your arms and back. I am a clumsy brute at times and do not know my own strength.” He sounded angry with himself. “I would not have hurt you for the world.”

She digested that comment. She did not regard herself as beautiful. Why was he being almost apologetic when she was the one who had done him the most harm by what she had believed of him? He should still be angry with her. She recognized that she had a strange and unnerving power to attract his attention, and in a kindly way, but was not sure why. Of course, she knew that a poorly clad woman invited the wrong kind of attention from most men, for her mother had told her often enough to protect her modesty at all times, and that men had a strange fascination for a mature and well-formed woman and everything about them, especially when they were unclothed, and she should be careful never to be alone with any of them if she could avoid it. But she did not know why it might be so, for she could defend her own honor if the need arose. She was strong. She could not see any attraction in her own body and did not regard herself as beautiful in that way. Her hips were bigger than she liked, compared to those of boys and men, and her body was too soft and not able to do those things that a man might do. Her breasts were a major aggravation to her and seemed to attract the wrong kind of attention most of the time when she had attended the occasional ball in the village.

Men were different, she knew that. She had grown used to their being stronger and better coordinated in many ways, and they did not have breasts to get in the way of whatever they might choose to do. She had noticed that as she had watched William shaving on that first morning stripped to the waist, and had found him interesting to watch. It had been a strange recognition for her, but she had been curious. The cold water had not bothered him nor had he been concerned that anyone might see him as undressed as he was. He had large shoulders and was well shaped with obvious muscles where she, herself, seemed to have none. She had only ever seen her father shave and had even helped him bathe in the past when he had been injured, but that had not been the same. She would never have lingered long enough to watch her father once her first curiosity had been satisfied, nor to have noticed those other things about him that she had noticed about William.

Her eyes rose to William’s face, watching him in the mirror as he washed her. She did not feel he should be trusted. She knew so little of him still, and yet she seemed to know everything about him, with too much of it so confusing and awkward. He seemed to be looking at her with some concern rather than with any other awkward emotion. She recognized—hoped—that he was probably not about to trespass further than he should, which had been her first fear, though his presence at this time was entirely outrageous and far beyond what might be tolerated. “Sir, you should not see me like this.” She was distraught and almost in tears. “I know what it might seem like, but I did not encourage you and I did not plan this.”

He spoke gently. “Please do not be afraid, Annis. I do not think any such thing. I know you did not plan this. Nor did I. A simple mistake. But I am here now, and I would rather be here than anywhere else on this earth. My name is William, remember? But why should I not see you like this? There is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor afraid of. Surely you know me enough to know that I do not present a serious threat to any of your family. Nor to you, though the temptations around you are unbearable.

“You are an extraordinarily beautiful young lady, and I am a man who appreciates beauty without overstepping certain limits, though that might be difficult to believe, considering my reputation. I must confess that I have long wanted to see you like this. To me, you are a very interesting and mature young lady. Besides, I am now family, am I not?” He recognized that his argument would sound flat and unconvincing, despite her mother having suggested that he was. He was certainly not family in that sense.

She was angry with him and blushing profusely yet spoke quietly so they she might not attract the attention of others. “It is not the same. You know it is not the same. Oh why will you not leave? You are nothing like my sisters, for indeed, you are a man. And not only should you not be here at this moment, even if you were a brother, and you are not that, but you should also not look at me so intently.”

He continued to wield the cloth on her back. “You are right. It is not the same. I am nothing like your sisters I am glad to say, though not because…. You know what I mean. You are a far too intoxicating sight for the likes of me, as I suspect you are now aware, and I would rather not be denied this vision of beauty.” She could sense the truth of that statement in the intensity of his glance. “But I will not further betray the precarious trust that I realize I am now in danger of losing. We are both adults. I am still in control of my own actions, and you need not fear that I shall overstep them further than I already have by being here. You are right that I should not see you, so I shall not see you. Please do not be too upset. I do not pose an immediate threat to you. I shall close my eyes, if I can, but I shall wash you, as you cannot reach your back properly without some discomfort, or raise your arms high enough to do what you need to do. I can at least save you from that. I would like to do so if you do not object.”

She did object, but he was ignoring her. She resigned herself to say nothing, realizing that he was not going to leave; and though he really should not be there at all, he was, and she began to recognize the disturbing effect she was having upon him. His hand had trembled as he touched her at the shoulder as his gentle words had similarly affected her once she had got over her first rush of panic. She would never dare to admit it, but at this moment she was not afraid of him being here and actually even seemed to welcome his gentle words and his strangely admiring presence.

She recalled her mother’s frank admissions earlier and of suggestions of her own emotions getting out of control. Could she be so much her mother’s daughter that she might stand here and not scream in panic or at least object more forcefully?

“As I do not hear any great complaint or further protest over my ill-timed presence, then I will take it that you do not object, and would like me to help you.”

She saw his eyes were tight closed and she began to relax. “I said no such thing. I do object. I also fear any protest I might make would fall on deaf ears in your present mood, and I have asked you to leave several times and you have ignored me.”

“There. You do know me.” Still with his eyes closed, and with his hand touching lightly on her shoulder, he washed her back and shoulders where he had seen she could not easily reach. “If you have not noticed, I have now closed my eyes and shall keep them closed until you tell me I may open them.” He felt her begin to relax more. Undoubtedly, she was watching his face in her mirror to see that he did not still look at her. She did not entirely trust him not to peek and kept her arms where they were, but he seemed resolved that he would not betray her trust at that moment.

“I think I must seem like a…a shameful… disreputable… to allow you to stay in this way without making a greater fuss than I am.”

“I think nothing of the kind, Annis. You did make a great fuss, which I ignored. I, on the other hand, feel a privileged scallywag. If you were a woman of that stripe, and there is nothing wrong with them either, then neither of us would have our eyes closed. We would both be devoid of clothing, and she would also be washing me as I would be washing her, but neither of us, so gently with each other, or with such gentle consideration.”

“I do not think that that is a topic for polite conversation, sir.”

“No, it isn’t. But you raised the issue, not I. I should let you know that you had no choice in my presence at his moment, and you did try to encourage me to leave, but I wouldn’t. So that is what you must protest if anyone comes in on us. But they won’t. The blame is all mine. I do not judge you ill for this. Quite the contrary. I think I shall be forever in your debt for treating me so well when I do not deserve it.”

He was relieved to find that she did not shrink from his touch or complain further at his complete lack of decorum at being there when he should not be considering that she was now standing before him in a relatively unprotesting manner compared to her first momentary panic when he first betrayed his presence. It was all so wrong, and so unexpected.

She watched him as he continued to bathe her. It seemed so wondrously strange and delightful to feel that she excited this man in such a way, despite the outrageousness of his presence.

“Not only do I not deserve to be here like this, but I also think I am lucky that your pistol is not so close at hand.”

She was surprised at his attempt at levity. She had forgotten his pistol, lying to the edge of the dresser and within reach if she chose to retrieve it. But then what? Would she shoot him? She doubted that, now.

“Yes, you are. But I doubt I could so easily shoot you now anyway.” She watched his face in her mirror as he laughed at that unwise admission and saw that his eyes were still closed, though she recalled that he had waited for some time before doing so, as he had seemed intent on observing her in every embarrassing detail before he did so. She could do nothing about it. There had been no escape. She had been disturbed by his sudden and intense scrutiny, for she did not regard herself as particularly beautiful but had not found it displeasing or threatening for some reason that she began to recognize. She did not feel that he had taken advantage of her, and she certainly did not feel violated in any way by his presence or his actions.

She was puzzled to recognize that she had seemed to want his closer attention in that way, as he had when they were close to the inn, as a sign that he had forgiven her for her previous ill-feeling misjudgment of him, but she had not actually taken any steps to try and achieve it and possibly giving the wrong impression of herself. Of being too forward.

“But what will we do if my mother and sisters come in and find me like this and with me not complaining and objecting as I know I should?” The possibility was a cause of some concern to her, though did not seem to be for him.

“You did complain and object, but I ignored you. I am glad that you are resigned to my staying and are not now complaining too much. Besides, they all seemed to be on their way out of the house to gather roses to brighten up the parlor as I came up here, and have abandoned you to my ministrations, so you need not fear that anyone will come in for the moment. Besides, your bedroom door is mostly closed, so you must let me continue to wash you.”

She realized that he was not about to leave her, and besides, it felt so good that he was able to reach where she had not been able to with her stiff arm and sore back, both of which caused her pain as she had tried to reach behind herself, or indeed to move at all. He reached around her with both arms—a moment of panic did overwhelm her then—yet his eyes were still closed. She felt him breathe onto her shoulder and into her hair at the back of her head as he rinsed off the cloth and put more soap on it, and then, before he continued with his task, he gently kissed her on the neck. She stiffened but did not seem to object in any strenuous way to that gentle trespass, though it did startle her, as he could sense from her audible gasp and tensing once again for a second or two, uncertain of his true intention for just a moment.

“A gentle brotherly kiss, my dear, nothing more to be afraid of.”

“An encroaching kiss. I am not sure what your next trespass may be and it is unnerving me.”

“There will be none. That will be the full extent of it at this moment, Annis. I promise. So far only and no further. Now, please turn around, and I shall wash the rest of you.”

“No.” She was suddenly alarmed again.

“Yes. I understand you are afraid.” She was about to protest that challenging comment. “But, strange to say, you are safe with me at this moment, and I am not about to leave until I have helped you. My eyes will remain closed.”

“Promise me that you will not….”

“I promise whatever you would wish. I also promise you that if you insist I leave you at any moment, even now, that I will immediately, but reluctantly, do so. But I would not like you to do that until I have been able to help you as I want to, so I shall not go beyond what is reasonable at this moment and invite my expulsion.”

“Oh. But you have already gone well beyond that.”

“Yes, I have, haven’t I?”

“If I were to ask you to leave now, you would do so?”

“I promised that I would.” He began to feel defeat and disappointment.

She could sense the possible disappointment in his voice. She hesitated. “Then I shall turn, but you must keep your eyes closed if I do.” Where she found such courage, she did not know, but she began to feel more than just a little secure despite the circumstance.

“Of course, I will. I did promise.” He felt her turn in front of him and then touching her only with the cloth, except for the gentle touch upon her shoulder to gauge her position but able to feel every firm contour of her body, he wiped her upper body and each arm in turn, as she was able to allow herself to become uncovered in that way in front of him, and move each arm to the side so that he might wash her side too. He was not to know that she wished he would lean down and kiss her on the lips now rather than on her neck, but he was otherwise occupied. She noticed that there was a bright flush upon his face and his ears seemed more flushed and reddish than they usually were, and he was breathing in a more labored way than he might be, as though he were out of breath. She even began to feel a similar excitement. She should have felt guilty at tolerating this, but didn’t.

He leaned into her, taking her once more by surprise at his closeness.

“Sir.” there was a momentary concern in her voice.

“I am only rinsing out the cloth behind you again, Annis. Nothing more.”

He was far too close. She could feel his cheek brush upon hers as he rinsed out the cloth and applied soap once more. This time he quickly kissed her on the neck, under her ear. She said nothing, nor did she resist. Then gently, as he put a cautious hand upon her waist in front of him, covered by her own hand lest he might not be as trustworthy as he had protested he would be, he washed her upper and outer legs and lower back which, with her stiffness, she could not follow him to do. He rinsed off the cloth again but this time did not steal a kiss as she expected he might, and wiped off the soap left on her naked body and then repeated that action as she turned around, before he put the cloth back into the basin. She was relieved, but also she discovered, disappointed to note that his eyes had remained closed throughout, and that he had not tried to kiss her again as she would have liked, for she was standing exceptionally close to him and facing him and could feel his warm breath upon her face, but he was not to know that, and could not be told of her suddenly turbulent feelings at his intimate closeness.

“Now the towel, please.”

He felt her reach out, noticing her breast touch his bare forearm as she leaned across to the back of the chair and put the towel into his hand.

She felt him hesitate and take a sudden indrawn breath and then tremble, and he froze for a few seconds at that moment with that sensation, but he did not take advantage of her and give in to the feelings that clearly enveloped him, being so close to her and her without clothing to cover and protect her.

“Thank you.” He continued to dry her off, not applying pressure, but just dabbing with the towel, where he knew she was tender and was able to reach her shoulders and back where she had seemed to have difficulty. Once, while he was close to her, she saw that he briefly opened his eyes to see her looking up into his face and then quickly closed them again lest he alarm her. He felt his own color to be heightened at what he was daring to do and could not dispel from his mind the vision created as he had moved the cloth over her body, despite his closed eyes, so he did not notice her smile at his almost inevitable trespass and the sudden feeling of puzzled empowerment she felt, able to so visibly disturb him in the way she was now experiencing. But she realized that it was still a precarious situation.

He was strongly aware of every gentle contour and every part of her body presented to him and yet beyond his visual senses. Nonetheless, his other senses more than made up for it in truly alarming ways, for he was deeply conscious all of the time of a young and vibrantly naked woman in front of him, trusting him not to trespass beyond what he was already doing.

“Your mother has now returned.” He heard voices from downstairs as they entered the house. “I think we may finish this and get you into your bed before we are discovered. Now your nightdress, please, to close off this tempting mental vision of loveliness and save me from temptation and trespass if the returning hordes did not.”

“My mother left me this for the moment. I decided that I should try to sleep for a while after my…difficult day.”

“Yes, I was a fool for taking you so far without thinking it through better.”

He could hear voices downstairs as they decided where to put the pots of roses that they had collected. They would not be coming upstairs so very soon.

He felt a thin nightdress placed in his hand. He discovered the neck and its hem and the open front of it, flickered his eyes open for a second to see that it was as he assumed, and then closed them again. She could not raise her arms over her head, so he moved away from her and slid the nightdress onto her arms before he lifted the back of it over her head, and then brought it down around her at the back and then the front, briefly encountering one of her breasts with the back of his hand. She did not flinch and said nothing of that.

“Now that you are covered, may I now open my eyes, please?”

She made a few adjustments before she answered him, ensuring that it had indeed fully covered her. “Yes, William. Now you may.” She was looking up at him in a strange way with her nightdress now settled on her body though with its neck open and revealing a suggestion of cleavage between her breasts. She did not mind his presence now that she had some covering, as minimal as it was.

He leaned into her and kissed her upon her lips before she knew what he was doing and then watched for her objection as she pushed him away for breaking his promise for a second time. She did not object, and she did not seem inclined to push him away. She had not seemed to mind but had momentarily blushed and had then leaned closer to him as she rested her hands on his waist and had even briefly but unmistakably returned his kiss as she raised onto her tiptoes.

He was relieved more than words might express at that simple response and to discover that he was not about to be banished forever for his entirely unforgiveable lapse of judgment and abandonment of moral consideration.

“Now I will leave if you demand it, though I do not want to at this moment.”

“Too late now, I think. Thank you for helping me and for not….” Her breath caught in her throat, and she turned away to climb into her bed but not before he had seen, he thought, a tear standing out in her eyes. “Thank you for not taking advantage of me as I perhaps may have des—” She left others words unsaid, but there had seemed a suggestion that she would not too strongly have objected to more bold of a trespass than just a kiss or two, though he knew that she would have eventually, and his place in their secure and welcoming family would not be so welcoming, or secure. He had risked too much and might have lost it all. Yet he hadn’t. It was a strangely disturbing recognition. What word had she held off using? Deserved perhaps, or desired? He closed off both of those possibilities as leading along dangerous pathways.

“Thank you for the privilege of being allowed to help you. I did not deserve it. Yes, I did take outrageous advantage of you. I am sorry for that moral lapse, but I am not sorry that I stayed instead of retreating and immediately leaving as I should have done; as a gentleman under your roof would have, but I found that I could not just leave at that moment.” He looked both sheepish and apologetic. “You did not immediately banish me from your room or your presence or this house, as I began to suspect and fear would be my fate when I first walked in on you in your…wondrous state, but I did not know you were bathing.”

She savored the mood that overwhelmed her at that moment. She felt a sudden elation at his unexpected confession of his admiration of her in her naked state, and at his obvious inability to leave her at that moment as he should have done. Before today, she was sure she had seen what might have been an amused condescension, even remoteness in his dealings with her, though she could have misread him in that too. She did not understand how he might find her interesting in the way that he obviously did. She had been more afraid of his disapproval over her lack of more voluble protest. “How could you have known? Mama should have stayed to help me herself. But then she did not know that I had decided to bathe when she left to go downstairs.”

“Then both your mother and I are excused from plotting anything so improper.”

They heard others begin to mount the stairs. His hand fell upon hers. “Relax, my dear. Neither of us should feel guilty. I don’t. I shall also remove the satisfied smirk that I am sure I have upon my face, but I doubt that I can remove my flush so easily.” Nor my memories of seeing you as did.

“Please William, do not say anything about this, or I shall die of embarrassment. You did mostly behave as a gentleman would have. At least, the one confusing gentleman I have come to know in the last few days—very defensive of our comfort and security, but devastatingly outrageous and un-gentleman-like at other times. I think that you are more to be trusted than I had at first feared, but in other things you are not to be trusted far at all.” She had clearly come to some understanding of what kind of a gentleman he really might be.

He smiled at her, thankful that he seemed to be forgiven, when he knew he should not be. “You are entirely correct about that. Especially after the kiss I stole.”

“That was the least of it. Which kiss? For you stole three kisses and were becoming more bold by the minute.” She said nothing of her own turbulent feelings at that moment as she had returned that last one.

He said nothing of the kiss she had returned either. Or had he just imagined that? No, he had not. He felt strangely contented.

The footsteps retreated into a further wing of the upstairs. It seemed that Annis was to be allowed to rest, and they were not to be disturbed. Most unusual that no one came to check upon them, although her door had drifted open again somehow. He opened the door further and returned to her side. “It seems that you have been recklessly abandoned to my care once more.”

He smiled at her. “I know I was too bold by far. But as a man with a poor reputation, I was testing boundaries and limits without, I hoped, turning you completely against me. It…dalliance, is a fine art, years in the learning, and I am long out of practice. Had you objected, I would have pleaded for your forgiveness, blackened my face, and would have promised anything to remain in your trust and good graces. Though I fear I have not been in them, except for the last day or so when I seemed to have gained a precarious footing. I do hope I have not entirely lost it now again.”

He looked as though he might be entirely cast down if she said anything by way of criticism. She did not answer him at that moment. This was an entirely different William than the determined, serious, and even severe one she had seen over most of the last week and a half.

“However, what just happened between us shall be our secret. But, Annis….” his voice took on a cautionary tone, “…I should warn you that you must never trust me. I am a mere mortal man when faced with such striking beauty as yours and do not trust myself at times like that, or even like this when I am close by you, especially considering the disturbing state, to me, that you were in. The temptations were severe, but it would destroy me if I were to hurt or betray you or any member of your family who are as dear to me now as my own—perhaps more dear—so you must keep me outside of those boundaries that are comfortable for you.”

She continued to say nothing, contented to hear what he had to say, though she did look at him in a strange way. Had he regretted staying, for fear of what he might have done? His eyes told her that he was being sincere.

She spoke then. “I am…I know I should not admit this or say anything so forward, but you are family now in so many ways, looking out unselfishly for our interests as you did and have done and risking your own life to do so.” She now seemed prepared to let him into that select group.

“My unselfishness, as you put it, is not entirely without more personal interest, Annis.”

She realized that she must tread cautiously with him but was also intent on discovering some of those feelings that had suddenly been sparked within herself and what might be those boundaries that he spoke of, not only his, but also her own and how they might be tested without any disastrous consequences to a newfound relationship as well as to her own self-respect.

He spoke again after seeing the play of thoughts across her face as she seemed to become aware of her own growing influence over him. “Yes. I see you comprehend more than you are telling me. A sudden sensation of empowerment in a young woman is a force to be looked upon with awe. I saw it once in my sister, and….” He held off saying any more. “No matter. Now let us change this dangerous subject. Imagine, Annis, if you can, that I am truly a gentleman, and did delay for ten minutes my entrance. I have just now walked into the room after knocking as a true gentleman should, and being invited in, discovered you at calm and dignified repose in your bed—as you are—and that the delightful interlude we just experienced was merely a figment of my fevered imagination and did not happen. We can imagine also, one of your sisters sitting in attendance to ensure that all, proceeds as decorously and as proper as it ought to.” He cleared his throat, but not his mind, of those moments that would live with him forever.

Annis knew what had just happened to her, and to them both. It filled her with a feeling of euphoria as well as contentment.


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