Talisman Ch. 3: Katebymlyn©
Kate was tired and frustrated as she wandered through the market place. She didn't really want anything nor did she really need either. But when her sister had said she was coming to town, Kate had decided to tag along. Yet everywhere she looked, it appeared that all of the street vendors were selling the same items. Turning to speak to her sister, Kate was surprised to find they'd gotten separated in the crowd. Quickly deciding to continue in the direction they had started, Kate knew they would meet eventually.
Several minutes later, as she was looking at some unusually made chairs, a couple of young boys, obviously bent on mayhem, rushed past her. Unaware that she had been spun around completely, Kate continued down the long aisle of sellers. Slowly she noticed that the sellers had changed, as had their wares. Somehow, Kate had gotten off into a different branch of the street fair and was now surrounded by less reputable business people. Realizing what had happened, she turned to go back when a soft, elderly voice caught her attention.
"Over here, pretty lady, if you are looking for something that is truly rare and unusual."
Kate found herself looking into the wrinkled face of a very old woman. Her hair was long, gray and wavy. Her clothing was brightly colored fabrics, very exotic in nature. Kate realized with a start of surprise that the woman was a gypsy! She came to stand in front of the old woman's stand. Her feet had moved on their own accord, because her brain had been telling her to get out of there now!
"Are you married, pretty lady?" The old gypsy woman asked. Kate shook her head no. You would think that at the ripe old age of 25, Kate would have accepted and grown used to the fact that she officially considered an "old maid." She'd been on the shelf so long, parts of her had collected dust! But gypsy woman merely nodded and smiled. "I have just what you need then, miss. Come closer because we must be very careful that no one else sees this very valuable item."
Kate came around the stand and approached gingerly. Watching the old woman, she opened a large chest at her feet and pulled from within a small item wrapped in an old velvet cloth. "For just one pound this exquisite good luck piece will be yours." Slowly folding back the edges of the cloth, the gypsy revealed a tarnished box. Opening the box, but only enough to give Kate a glimpse of the inside, the old woman added, "Inside is a pretty charm for you to wear around your neck. This will bring you good fortune, pretty lady. For just one pound you can have this wonderful necklace."
Something stopped Kate from just walking away. Ignoring her common sense, Kate stroked her fingers over the tarnished metal. "For the box and the necklace, one pound."
Cackling, and then coughing, the old woman smiled at Kate. "You are thrifty as well as pretty. Very well, for one pound."
Kate paid the money, already hearing what her sister and brother-in-law would say if they could see her now. Accepting the box, covered again in the cloth, Kate nodded and thanked the gypsy. She had tucked the box in the crook of arm when she thought of a question to ask the old woman. Turning to walk back, she stopped abruptly. Kate was sure that was the direction she had come from, but there was no sign of the woman, or her small stand. Slowly, Kate turned in a complete circle, scanning the crowd and the merchants, but nowhere could she see the wizened old woman. A breeze seemed to blow out of nothing, and it caused Kate to shiver. Holding her reticule and the box close to her body, Kate hurried back towards the entrance of the shopping fair. She was out of breath when she saw her beautiful blond sister looking all around.
"Over here, Amelia!" Kate called out to her sister, waving her arm. Immediately she saw the frustrated look appear as the younger woman saw her.
"Kate! Where have you been? Why didn't you stay by my side? You don't know your way around here yet. Now, hurry, or we'll be back late for tea! You know how upset Howard gets when his tea is delayed."
Kate stayed silent through out the carriage ride back to her sister's home. Her younger sister had married a well-to-do baronet her first year out and moved to live in the modest family seat in Northumberland. Only a year apart, they were night and day in both looks and personality. Amelia, whose blond and blue-eyes loveliness had attracted many suitors, had a fairly angelic disposition to match her looks. And Kate was more robust, as evidenced in her strong body, freckled skin from repeated exposure to the sun. Her reddish brown hair seldom behaved, often escaping to form wild little curls around her face and neck.
Even though Kate remained quiet, she did have to listen to Amelia carry on about the dangers of the city (despite it being a small village.) Her mind wandered as her sister rattled on. It had been nearly three months since she had come to live with her sister and brother-in-law following the death of the maiden aunt who had cared for them since the deaths of their parents when they were young children. Amelia had insisted that Kate come and live with them. It wasn't at all seemly for an unmarried woman of Kate's age to be living alone in London. Kate had finally given in and moved in to an empty guest room.
Kate excused herself the minute the carriage stopped and hurried up to her room. She set the velvet cloth on her bed and put away her things. Starting to move towards the bed, a knock on her door stopped her. "Yes?" she called out.
Amelia opened her sister's bedroom door. "We need to dress for dinner, Kate. Howard has invited the man who purchased the horse breeding property next to ours. I've ordered bath water up for us both, so hurry!"
Kate turned from the door in frustration. Before she could more than stamp her foot in frustration, a knock on the door again signaled the arrival of the water. Once the tub was full of hot water, Kate stripped her clothes off. She started to climb in when in the corner of her eye she saw the cloth on her bed. Walking to the bed, she uncovered the box and opened it. She reached in and pulled out the golden necklace. The chain was golden and woven of intricate strands. Most interesting was the medallion that hung from the chain. It was a carved piece of what she guessed was ivory, but it was also quite dirty. Seeing that the chain had no clasp, and was itself woven in and around the holes that surrounded the rim of the medallion. Sighing, Kate lifted the necklace and settled it around her neck. She walked to the tub and climbed in.
Sitting in the steamy water, Kate drew her knees up to her chest. She couldn't explain why she felt the need to wrap her arms around her legs in a protective gesture. Finally, she lifted the lavender scented soap and began washing her body. She wet her hair and washed it as well. She would dry as much as possible, but she felt the need to wash all the grime from her skin. Kate washed her body using the sponge, unaware that she was moving more slowly and deliberately. She soaped the medallion and worked for several minutes to wash the grime from the intricate carved figures. Eventually she made out the figure of a woman, dancing. She couldn't be sure, but she thought it looked Hindu or Buddhist in design. Turning it over was the fierce looking figure of a man.
Climbing from the tub, Kate wrapped a towel around her wet hair. The ivory medallion rested against her damp skin, nestling just above her breasts, flat against her skin. Instead of immediately pulling her robe on, Kate dried her skin and then moved over to her vanity. Languidly, she took the time to rub a sweet smelling cream into her skin. Her hands seemed to be caressing her own skin as she rubbed the cream in thoroughly. Almost unaware, Kate took quite a long time to rub the cream into her round, full breasts.
A knock on the door alerted Kate to the fact that she was late. Shaking her head to clear the fog, she combed her wet hair and folded it tightly into an unattractive bun at the nap of her neck. She dressed in a simple dress with a rounded neckline. Slipping on half stockings and shoes, she hurried down the stairs. Voices could be heard in the sitting room, so Kate walked in that direction. Inside the room, Kate immediately saw her sister on the sofa, sipping sherry. Howard was standing at the mantle above the fireplace. Both were looking at their visitor.
Kate turned also and felt her breath catch in her throat. Their visitor was a man in his thirties, dark haired, tall and looked very fit beneath his stylish clothing. As Kate's heart began fluttering in her chest, she was dimly aware of the man's deep laugh in response to something Amelia had said. And then, his head turned in Kate's direction. His midnight black eyes met her hazel ones and the smile faded from his attractive, tanned face. Amelia and Howard noticed that their visitor's attention had strayed and turned towards the door as well. Amelia spoke first.
"Come in, Kate, and meet our new neighbor."
Kate walked towards the fireplace where the others were seated or standing. Over the roaring in her ears, Kate heard Howard introducing the visitor.
"Lord Carstairs allow me to present my sister-in-law Miss Katherine Bannister."
Kate curtsied, as was the custom, but his lordship extended his hand towards her, so she was compelled to take it. Suddenly her breathing became constricted as Lord Carstairs bent low over her hand, kissing it. To one side, Amelia gasped in surprise at the continental greeting of her sister. Kate had never received any offers during her season in London. Nor, as the years passed, did she ever receive any callers or invitations to ride in the park with a gentleman. To see this wealthy, and immensely attractive lord of the realm seemingly entranced by her plain sister was more than startling to Amelia.
Kate was just as stunned. Her heart was still hammering wildly in her chest while her breathing was rapid and shallow. Her skin was flushed and she getting some very strange feelings in lower belly and her womanly flesh. She assumed that she was getting sick, since she knew of no other explanation for these feelings. And all the while, the ivory medallion rested between her breasts. It was strange to Kate, but she was intensely aware of the cool ivory against her skin.
As the evening wore on, Lord John Carstairs flirted almost shamelessly with Kate. On one level, the usually reserved Marquis was astonished by his own behavior. He was noted for his character, and had never been involved in any kind of scandal. He had been a serious and studious boy, and then young man. Even after he had inherited his title, his behavior and lifestyle had not changed greatly. He enjoyed filling his hours with his various studies, and his love of horses. There was no great pressure, in his opinion anyway, to marry and sire an heir, since he had a younger brother who was already married and had fathered two sons and a daughter! So why he was paying so much attention, and actually flirting with the rather plain, auburn haired woman made even less sense to him.
It was nearly time for Lord Carstairs to leave, when he suddenly turned to Kate and invited her to go riding with him the next day. He even added that he would bring a picnic basket. Kate argued with herself, offering several good reasons to decline. And yet, she heard her voice agreeing to the outing!
*** Kate's mare was saddled and waiting for her at the stables. She was seated on the sofa in the morning parlor, watching Amelia pacing back and forth.
"I can't believe that you accepted this invitation Kate! You only just met the man last evening."
"And what is different from meeting a gentleman in London at a soiree or the theatre, and going riding the next in the park?"
Amelia glared at her older sister, wanting to disparage her logic, but not coming up with a good way to do so. "What if he tries to take advantage of you?"
Kate couldn't help but feel a frisson of desire shoot through her body at her sister's words. But her well-ingrained common sense spoke louder. "Really, Amelia, I seriously doubt that he would even consider it. After all, he is a marquis!"
Both women turned as the footman announced his lordship's arrival at the front door. Kate had asked to be notified as he approached so that he wouldn't have to dismount and face her sister's interrogation. Kate jumped up eagerly. "Thank you, Peter. I'll see you later, Amelia. And get some rest and don't worry! Remember it isn't good for the baby." Kate reminded her sister, knowing that would get her attention. Amelia had given birth to perfect blond replicas of herself so far, and she and Howard were hoping for a son this time.
Kate reached the front steps just as the marquis approached. She saw him smile when he saw her. "Good morning, Lord Carstairs," Kate greeted him.
John nodded as he pulled on his high-spirited stallion's reins. "Good morning, Miss Bannister." He stopped as one of Howard's stable boys approached with Kate's mare. He placed the mounting block, and Kate lithely vaulted onto the sidesaddle, quickly arranging her riding skirt. Kate thanked the boy, and turned her mount to follow his lordship. As she rode, she became intensely aware once again of the ivory medallion dangling at the cleft of her breasts. There seemed to almost be warmth rising from the medallion, but that didn't make any sense at all.
After riding for nearly an hour, with only desultory conversation, John suggested stopping beside a stream. He was surprised that when he turned to assist his companion, she had already hopped down and was tethering her mare. He tossed a blanket onto a grassy section that was partially in sunlight and shade. After placing the basket down, he went to offer assistance to Kate, but found that she once again had not waited, but had removed her short-waisted riding jacket and taken a seat on the blanket. John removed his own jacket, to be comfortable, but stopped abruptly when he went to sit down. He'd deny that he'd looked, but to be honest, he was as red-blooded as any Englishman! And when offered a glimpse of a female bosom, he wouldn't turn away.
Kate had worn a scoop-necked blouse that showed her impressive cleavage, and also allowed him to see the unusual necklace she was wearing. John came down on one knee beside Kate, ignoring her startled look; he reached out and lifted the medallion. His fingers brushed against her skin and Kate gasped in surprise. But she didn't scream in outrage at this obvious intrusion and social faux pas. Instead Kate was overwhelmed by the feeling of John's warm fingers resting against the soft flesh of her left breast. She felt warm, knew her face had to be flushed a bright pink and couldn't ignore the need to press her hand more fully against her breast.
John was looking at the medallion, turning it over to see the opposite side. He looked up and her lovely hazel-colored eyes snagged his eyes. "Uhh..." John had to clear his throat before he could go on. "This is a very interesting medallion, Miss Bannister." And then it dawned on him how silly it sounded to call her so formally while his hand was in such intimate contact with her entrancing bosom. "May I call you Kate?"
Kate nodded, and forced herself to say something. "Yes, Lord Carstairs."
John smiled and then did something that caused him to question his own sanity. He allowed his hand to lower slightly until it rested more fully against Kate's lovely breast. And if that wasn't bad enough, he actually rubbed his fingers back and forth, savoring the warm softness of her flesh. "Please, call me John."
Kate had to fight the overwhelming urge to push her breast more fully against his hand. And in her mind, she envisioned his hand suddenly dropping the medallion. But instead of deserting her needy flesh, his hand turned and cupped her large breast. In her imagination, she could see, and almost feel his hand massaging her bosom eagerly. Closing her eyes briefly, she struggled to remember what was right and wrong. "I just bought it yesterday."
John reluctantly released the medallion. "Really? Do you know anything about its history?"
Kate shook her head, watching as John sat down facing her. "No. I bought it from a rather odd looking gypsy woman at the market yesterday." Her eyes seemed unable to move away from his all of a sudden. And then it was if someone else was speaking for her. "It feels strange, since I put it on."
John let his eyes move down to the medallion. "Perhaps it has some unusual history attached to it."
Kate swallowed hard. Feeling John's eyes on her breasts, or the medallion, was making her dizzy, warm and aroused. She had to fight the urge to throw herself into his arms, pressing kisses all over him. In the next instant, an embarrassed flush stained her cheeks. It didn't make any sense!
"If you would like, we could go to my home. I have a pretty extensive library. Perhaps we could do some research into the figures on the medallion."
Kate nodded her head yes vigorously. She couldn't shake the ominous feeling that if she stayed here, so close to his lordship that she was going to do something that she would really hate herself for later!
*** Kate came running down the stairs at her sister's the next afternoon. She had agreed to meet John at his home today. They had spent several hours yesterday, muddling through book after book, trying to discover some information about the unusual medallion. Kate had finally sat down and sketched the front and back of the medallion to leave with John, so he could continue researching. She couldn't explain why she had not wanted to leave the medallion behind. But even as the thought had formed in her consciousness, her body had rebelled at being separated from the medallion. Of course, it didn't make any sense, but she had still left wearing the ivory medallion around her neck.
Kate happily managed to leave the house without running into her sister or her brother-in-law. She did leave a message for Amelia with the footman, Peter, should she inquire on her sister's whereabouts. Riding her mare, Kate reached Lord Carstairs home in twenty minutes. Even as she dismounted she told herself it was foolhardy to be coming to a single gentleman's home with proper chaperoning. Granted that she was no longer a young debutante, living in London, whose reputation could so easily be tarnished. But even in the wilds of Northumberland, people loved to gossip! And she should think about Amelia and Howard, and how her actions might affect them.
John suddenly appeared at his front door, smiling at Kate. One of his stable hands was already running in her direction, to help her dismount. To leave now would appear as if she was running away...
"Hello, Kate! It is so nice to see you again. I made a lot of progress after you left yesterday, and I've had a nice afternoon tea prepared for us."
Kate dismounted and walked up the stone steps. "Oh really? That sounds wonderful, Lord Carstairs."
John reached and lightly touched his finger to Kate's lips. Immediately he felt heat zinging up his arm, along his nerve endings. He had spent most of last night thinking, pondering and generally not understanding the strong physical attraction he was feeling for this woman he had just met! It didn't make sense. Certainly he had never been a rakehell with the ladies, but he had never lacked for female companionship either. So why he was feeling so strongly attracted to this woman made no sense! She was no great beauty, although her face was pleasing, and her eyes a lovely shade of hazel. And her lips were full, soft and a luscious shade of mauve. But why was he so aroused when he was near her? Why did he have to keep fighting the need to just reach out and caress her petal soft skin? Why had he lain awake most of night, imagining and wondering if Kate's nipples were the same color as her lips?