The Devil's Inheritance Ch. 06bysushi_taco©
Rain finally broke the dry spell of late August but had only made the heat worse. James walked through the streets of London, trying once again as he had every day this past fortnight to forget about her. His desperation to be back in the city had stopped making sense. The nights smelled like burning mitre and the days smelled like hundreds of moving sweating bodies. The waste water of the Thames cloyingly hung in the humid air.
His mind drifted back to Sophia and the countryside; of making love to her in the millpond and eating fresh picked berries off her naked body. He cursed himself again. He needed to forget her and leave her to her piece of land. Whitcomb had a courier deliver to him the final deed for the farm, but he didn't dare go back to tell her. Instead he'd impotently sent her money every week, putting off telling her the truth or facing her ever again.
He thought about the smell of the fresh earth on the road to the farm, the quiet rustle of the ash trees lining the pond, and the clover scent of her hair. He stopped in his tracks. He needed a woman to forget about her. This wasn't the first love affair that had ended in his life and each time he would return for a day or two to the Rose Tavern and all would be well.
His heels turned on their own and started walking toward Drury Lane, picking up pace until they reached the gate of the Rose. Already he could see plump prostitutes wandering in and out on the arms of men of every station. He walked up to the door when a frizzy haired brunette in a tattered red gown answered.
"Wha' you doin' 'round 'ere? Thought you couldn't ge' it up for a real woman no more," she said, chewing on the words and flashing a shoulder.
"Kindly shut your mouth, Evelyn," James said to her, "Your breath smells like other men's cocks."
Her mouth gaped wide open before she closed it again. A relatively prim woman with a streak of gray interrupting her auburn hair came up behind the insulted doxy, "Well, if it isn't James Gardiner. I didn't think you would come back to us."
"Madame Brown," James said, removing his hat, "It's been too long. Might I come in?"
She pushed Evelyn aside and opened the door. James stepped in to raucous noise at the bar and a blur of red velvet curtains and uplifted breasts, rouged cheeks and painted-on beauty patches. The entire place smelled like gin and sex covered up with the cloying scents of lavender, roses and vanilla. Normally this would have been enough to excite him but he felt nothing. Several drinks would cure that.
He grabbed a pint of ale and listened to Madame Brown titter away with London gossip before he started growing impatient. There was a time when James would to listen to the Madame through several rounds, the woman occasionally divulging something important about a potential business contact that James could use to his advantage. Now, he simply could care less. He set down the empty pint and ordered another.
"I want to see your very best girl. You know the one," he said, looking at her as she floundered for a moment, "Now!"
Madame Brown looked at him with a half smile, "You asked for this a month ago if I remember and then we didn't see you again. You're not going to waste my girl's time again, are you? Last time you took her out to buy a dress and—"
"No. This time it's straight to business," he said setting down the emptied second round, "Where is she?"
Madame Brown pulled aside a youthful, bare-chested young man with kohl lightly riming his eyes, "Charles, fetch Julia, would you?"
"Right away, mum."
Madame Brown turned back toward James who was drinking half way into round three, "Julia was none too happy about last time you saw her. Five guineas. In advance."
James clenched his teeth and fished around in his pocket for the coins before slamming them down on the table in front of her, "As I said; straight to business."
"No refunds," she said, biting down on the side of the first coin, "And if you've really gone sly on us as she suspected last time, Charles would be more than happy to—"
"No. Julia will do. Thank you," he set down the empty third pint and watched her appear at the top of the stairs, delicate dyed blonde curls framing a heart shaped face with an upturned nose. She wore a blue and turquoise silk robe. James looked up at her. Before Sophia, he had rutted on this woman many times. Now all he could do was compare her. Her smile was forced and imperious; not sweet and shy like Sophia's. Her hair was too well coifed; not wild bunches of curls he could get lost in, like Sophia's. Her eyes... James tried to snap himself out of it. This was purely business. He'd never be able to have his life back the way it was if he didn't put Sophia out of his head, and a quick round with Julia was the perfect solution. He ordered a shot of gin and tossed it back quickly.
James walked up the stairs, grabbing her roughly by the wrist, "Why it's Jamie, returned to us! My, and aren't you in a hurry for what will probably be a whole lot of nothing again..." she said as he led her down the hall to an empty room, not saying a word. He slammed the door behind them; drowning out most of the pub noise downstairs and the sound of muffled fornication in the rooms upstairs. It did nothing to drown out visions of Sophia dancing in their room to the sound of the violin.
"Quiet. Get on the bed."
Julia walked backward seductively and lay on the pillows, her knees spread out to reveal the cream white insides of her thighs ending in the shorn and naked pink lips of her sex, "So something quick then? Are you looking to burn down a guinea a minute?"
"Just be silent," he snapped, "Remove your clothes."
As Julia complied as the words triggered James's memory. Julia slipped off her robe, revealing her sumptuously curved naked body only interrupted by white heeled shoes and silk stockings climbing up to her thighs. James thought back to that first conversation past initial introduction he'd made with Sophia. Though he'd behaved like a beast toward her, the thought of being inside of her again powerfully hardened him momentarily. But with one look at Julia, he was slowly softening once more. He had to take drastic action. James quickly undid the placket of his breeches and lunged over her, hearing her breath catch as he lay astride of her suddenly.
He stared at her, inches from her face. She was open to him, waiting. James looked down at her once more and leapt away cursing himself, pacing the room and running his hands through his hair.
"God's wounds... twice, now?!"
James bellowed up at the ceiling above him, continuing to pace drunkenly as he fixed his pants shut once more.
"If I didn't know better Jamie, I'd say you're in love," Julia said calmly, "It's almost cute."
"Shut up, you silly strumpet. Yes, I'm in love! Desperately. Are you happy? I can't get her out of my mind," he paced again, looking up at the ceiling, "I need to be rid of her."
"Well... what does she need?" Julia said, standing up.
He froze. It was the one thing he'd been avoiding this entire time. He felt sick, and not just from a stomach full of ale and gin. Sophia most likely hated him now, if she ever cared about him to begin with. He wasn't sure which possibility he disliked more: that she was relieved to be rid of him or that he had broken her heart by leaving. James turned back to Julia, "Lie back down again."
Julia shrugged, "All right, but I don't think it will— Hey! What are you doing?"
James silently removed one of her shoes and held up her stocking-covered foot to the palm of his hand, carefully examining it against his hand.
"James, I don't do feet. Talk to Annabelle if—"
"Will you please be quiet? I'm trying to see something here," Her feet were just a little too short, but they would do, "You're coming with me today."
"Clothes modeling? I'm not staying out for hours on your paltry three shillings, again. That was just a favor last time, because I thought I would get to have a go at that beautiful cock of yours later on. And besides, rainy days are the best draw for me."
"I'll pay you a guinea an hour."
Julia's mouth turned up, "I think we have ourselves a deal."
Sophia woke up and looked out the window at the rain, listening to it smack against the roof in waves. The millpond's surface was broken into pieces by the fat drops of rain. She lay in bed in her chemise and listened to Katje bustling downstairs, cooking and talking to Aletta in Dutch. She felt like a stranger in her own house, unaccustomed to being waited on. Here she sat on the bed in her long chemise, wrapped in David Farthing's old cream-colored silk robe. Katje had insisted upon it, but Sophia was bored to death and needed something to take her mind off of James.
She hopped off the bed and instantly felt dizzy, a wave of nausea come up again. She had been sick intermittently for almost a month and now nearly every day this week and wondered when it was going to let up. She attributed it to the new array of food Katje was subjecting her to, and her growing melancholy about James. Still, she walked over calmly now to the chamber pot and let loose the emptiness filling her stomach.
She felt better. Katje bustled into the room just as Sophia was wiping her mouth off with a handkerchief and set down a tray of berries and cream before walking over to Sophia and fixing her hair.
"What... Katje, what are you doing?"
"You have guest downstairs."
James? Her heart flew into her chest, "Is it him?"
Katje sighed and shook her head before muttering something foreign, frustrated and slightly angry under her breath, "But I think that Master James send him."
Sophia bolted downstairs and saw a young man with red hair and a stack of white boxes next to him. He had removed his coat and hat near the door and had knelt down to talk to little outgoing Aletta. He looked up at Sophia and stood to bow slightly.
"You are Miss Sophia Latwicke?"
Sophia curtsied to greet him, "Can I help you?"
"Aaron Ravenscroft, apprentice to the Shudalls."
"Should I know..." Sophia trailed off looking at him quizzically.
"...the premier tailoring house on Saville Row?" he paused and quickly cleared his throat, "I have been sent by a... Mr. James Gardiner... to deliver these for you. Along with this note."
Sophia clutched the note, dumbfounded. She watched as he wiped off the wet boxes with a cloth and opened each of them, starting with the small square package on top of the pile which Aletta was examining closely
"It's presents for you! Miss Sophia, can I help open them?"
"Of course you can, Aletta. Bring it here."
Aletta walked forward, the box filling her small thin arms, as Sophia removed the cover. Inside was a pair of white shoes. He had remembered what she had wanted to have from that last day they spent together before he left for London. She looked at her first name in his handwriting, so similar to Mr. Farthing's, and cracked the wax seal bearing his initials. Only two words appeared on the paper.
Sophia held it close to her as Ravenscroft and Aletta unwrapped the four remaining long flat boxes. She drifted away in thought, swept back to their last night together, remembering the exact moment when he confessed that he loved her. She felt warmth suddenly low in her belly as she was taken back to when he lay with her, skin on skin, deep within her. How afraid she was to return those feelings to him...
"Miss?" the young man said, interrupting her reverie and indicating the opened parcels.
Sophia knelt down to look at the dresses spread out before her, thin paper delicately framing each one. Here was a rich burgundy silk sack back gown, with white lace and a matching chemise, followed by a pistachio and cream nightdress with a white long-sleeved nightgown. She peeled back the paper of the third and fourth boxes to find a brilliant sapphire blue gown in one and a light golden one that matched her hair in the last box. She stood backed away from the boxes, her face white as a sheet and dizzy.
Aletta was jumping up and down as though it were Christmas morning, "Oh, Miss Sophia, they are so beautiful! Did Master James have these made for you?"
The tailor's apprentice straightened up again, "Mr. Gardiner told me to tell you that these are only the first four."
Sophia blanched, "The first four?"
"He had us put a rush on them. The remaining eight gowns are still being tailored."
"And you came all this way..."
"Mr. Gardiner insisted."
She started to feel dizzy again for a moment, "Can you please wait for me to write a letter in return?"
Ravenscroft smiled, "I would be very happy to, honestly. Would you mind if I sat by the fire and took some tea? It's quite a drive back to London."
"It won't be a long letter, but please do," Sophia went to David's old writing desk and wrote out four words. She calligraphied James's name across the front and sealed the back before handing it to the tailor's apprentice.
It had mercifully stopped raining, the first time in over a week. James dropped two coins in the apprentice's hand for his service and information and shut the door of his Westminster townhouse behind him, keeping out the humid evening noise of the streets. It was from her. His hands shook and his heart raced as he examined the closure. It was his uncle's seal, but Sophia had drawn a rough 'S' with the end of a quill through the red wax, marking it as her own. He smiled, his pulse drumming in his ear as he opened the letter and read its brief contents.
"Only if you return."
Sophia would forgive him if he came back. The thought brought joy and terror to him all at once. He needed her by his side, and her infectious charm and love for the countryside had spread now to his view of the city. There was so much he needed to be here in the city. He was a financier of transport, a gentleman, a man to see and be seen, a climber into the society forbidden to his farming forbearers.
He looked at her letter again, his uncle's seal standing out. James was no pawn. This game that Uncle David had played with both their lives was a cruel joke; he had certainly predicted that James would need to have her, but David hadn't predicted that James would fall in love with her. He was a self-made man, not consigned to the lot of a wealthy yeoman farmer as his family had been, and intended for his eventual heir to climb even higher than he.
But this sweet country girl had spun him about. James had intended on marrying some penniless lesser noblewoman in a marriage a la mode for heirs one day after he'd finished having his pleasure with London. Now he found himself wondering what the point of all of his struggles truly were.
When he took a hard look at himself his social climbing seemed pithy and unimportant in the face of true happiness. He pictured her as she had whirled about in the bedroom, dancing to the sound of the violin as he played for her. She was so unconsciously innocent, able to make him see a more beautiful and perfect world through her emerald eyes.
He closed his eyes and felt his cock harden suddenly as he envisioned his hands on her hips, watching her writhe above him, her breasts riding high as she took him deep inside her body. Her innocence only held up to a point. He knew the ways to unlock her passion. James made his way upstairs and undressed for bed, placing her letter on the nightstand.
He writhed and twisted under the sheets, blood still pooling in his groin and his mind alive with visions of Sophia's creamy naked flesh. He pictured her again, her abdomen snaking in slow circles as he stared up at her. His hands moved down his thighs into the position of how he held her hips when she rode atop his body and thrust his groin slightly into the air. His fingers traveled inward, tracing the ridge of flesh upward and encircling the head with his hand, pulling down hard.
James sucked in air through his teeth, picturing her graceful glide over him, the smooth curves of skin and the hardened points of her breasts under a halo of flaxen hair. He gripped his shaft, pulling up and descending, cradling his scrotum with his left hand. His mind focused on that perfect velvet cavern that fit tight around him. He could see the look of desire and surrender in her eyes each time he entered her.
His mind trailed to the last time they had made love, of pausing as she came just to feel the extraordinary spasms of her flesh beneath his, held fast against his body as her tremors rolled through her. His thumb came up over the head and he could feel himself getting close. Her voice rang through his subconscious: return to me James, return to me...
A rushing heat shot through him, making him groan as he came. His back arched as a rope of his seed exited quickly, followed by a few spurted drops as his eyes remained shut. He cleaned up and looked to the nightstand where the open letter lay.
"Only if you return."
He blew out the candle and laid in the dark, the cold emptiness of the pillow next to him his only companion. He reached across the sheet for the woman he knew wasn't there, "Sophia..."
She at last stilled her damp finger on her pulsing bud, feeling her thighs twitch as she lay in bed gasping. A sheen of sweat clung to her forehead as her body recovered and waited in vain to feel his arms encircle and hold her. It was never the same. Her body needed him; her heart needed him.
She wanted to sit across the table from him laughing and talking, ride with him through the countryside, dance for him as he played the violin and feel the warmth of his arms around her as she slept. It wasn't just the sex. She loved him. Against all odds, she had fallen in love with him. But she could never tell him this while he owned her. It was compulsory if she did that, not genuine. She didn't want him to have to guess whether she meant it or not. She wanted him to know it.
Sophia smoothed down her new silk nightgown and turned on her side, holding one of the pillows close to her chest. She shut her eyes and drifted off to sleep, lulled by the chirp of frogs after the rain. When she awoke, her stomach was on fire. Dizzily, she pursed her lips together and made a beeline for the chamber pot, holding her hair back as she emptied the contents of her stomach.
This was only happening in the mornings. Her thoughts took her back to the orphanage when she was twelve and had just gotten her courses, watching pretty, ginger-haired Gwenny Millhouse wave goodbye to the younger girls when she was sent to work in the household of a ship builder in Ramsgate. She only lasted three weeks before being dismissed and sent back to the orphanage. Not long after, she began getting sick in the mornings, asking Sophia and the others to not tell the head mistress. Sophia had remained silent, but it became apparent very quickly that Gwenny was pregnant, her belly swelling a few months later. They had sent her to another home for girls in faraway Cornwall and she was never seen nor heard from again.
Sophia turned white with fear. When had she last had her courses? She tried to count back the weeks. Everything had happened so quickly for her; first the death of poor Mr. Farthing, then James sweeping into her life and turning it upside down. Ice crawled up her back. She had forgotten completely. Counting back she was supposed to have had her courses over three weeks ago, before James had shown up the second time and surprised her in the millpond. That meant...
She looked down at her belly and pressed her hand lightly just under her navel. Her mind flashed back to the iron candelabra she had planned to use to end him, how he had reduced her to a quivering mass of nerves at just the sight of his form rising off the bed to stalk across the room and possess her where she stood. She remembered lying in afterglow beside James the night he had initiated her into pleasure, his fingers resting on her womb as she had brought her hand to meet his, interlacing their fingers over her as they drifted to sleep.