Author's Note: I've tried to keep this from following either of the two main story lines found in Loving Wives, mostly because I'm curious as to the reaction. If you're looking for a vampy wife or a wimp husband, this is not the story for you. If you're looking for something a little different and with a bit more romance, set in a historical setting, then this might be for you. If you decide to read then I hope you enjoy.
Lord Warren watched as his childhood best friend, Duke Christopher, married the most beautiful young woman he'd ever seen, the innocently seductive Lady Mary. Eighteen years old, with lovely ivory skin, brown hair that had been kissed by the sun, and large brown eyes surrounded with an extravagant abundance of lashes that were currently lowered demurely onto her rose pink cheek. His friend didn't seem to be overly interested in his bride or the service, but he didn't do anything to embarrass anyone either.
Christopher had been avoiding marriage ever since his father had died ten years ago and he'd had to step into the role of a Duke at the tender age of nineteen. Fortunately he'd been raised to rule, but it had still been a hard transition on the young man. Finally, at the age of 29, he'd given into the pleadings of his mother and allowed her to conduct a search for a suitable bride. Lord Warren cursed his own lack of funds and lower title that made him less appealing to the Verdant family as an appropriate spouse for their daughter. He would have married her in a heartbeat, but he had never even been in the running for her.
The wedding feast was pure torture as Christopher ignored his lovely bride, preferring Warren and his other companion's company. His heart went out to the quietly blushing girl and he came over to sit beside her.
"Congratulations," he said.
"Thank you," she said softly, but without feeling, not even looking up at him. Instead she stared at the plate of food in front of her which she had barely touched. The poor thing looked terrified, and she was shaking slightly in her wedding finery. The long falls of clothe didn't do her any favors, making her look even more petite and smaller than she was, but the fitted waist and bosom showed off a fine feminine figure. Which was apparently being utterly waste on his idiot friend.
Determined to make her day a little better, Warren lowered his voice and rattled off a string of silly jokes that soon had her more relaxed and laughing. By the end of it she actually looked at him full on in the face, her rosy lips slightly parted as she listened to him talk about the people in the room, relaying all the latest scandalous gossip. It was obvious that she was unused to the crush of people, and hearing about their faults seemed to relax her, as if she'd believed that their high and mighty facades were actually who they were.
By the time her mother came to collect her, to ready her for the marriage bed, Warren was cursing himself. He'd forgotten she wasn't his.
Mary wished that she didn't have to go to her marriage bed, she wanted to stay with Lord Warren who was at least kind to her. Christopher had barely had a word to say to her before or after the ceremony and she was terrified of him. Her parents had kept her rather sheltered and she had liked it that way, up until she'd realized that she had none of the experience she needed to live anywhere but a nunnery. Unfortunately that option was not open to her. This marriage was advantageous for her parents, and for herself of course, and her future children, and the dowry that had been paid had been quite large. Her children would inherit the Christopher's Dukedom, her own welfare was assured, and that of her family's.
That was really all she could ask for. In addition, many young women in her position would consider her rather lucky. Christopher was young, athletic and handsome, with thick blonde blonde hair that he kept held back in a clasp at the nape of his neck. Secretly she didn't think he was as good looking as Lord Warren, however. The Lord's dark eyes and hair made him look roguish and almost cruel. She'd been quite frightened when he'd first approached her at the feast, but under his threatening demeanor there was a very gentle and sweet person. At least sitting with him she hadn't felt so alone, and she'd just started to truly enjoy herself when her mother interrupted.
Which was probably as it should be. She shouldn't be craving the company of a man more than she craved her husband's.
The lecture her mother gave her as she dressed her for bed, in a thin gossamer nightgown that was practically see through, was absolutely terrifying. Her mother went on and on about the inevitable pain that would eventually pass - probably, the need to do whatever her husband told her, and the fact that she would need to get him an heir and a spare as soon as possible. After that she wouldn't have to deal with the "undignified mess" - as her mother called it - anymore.
Shivering she sat in bed, waiting for her husband. Eventually she heard rowdy voices approaching the door as they made crude suggestions. Mary felt herself on the point of tears as she huddled under the sheets and blankets, wishing with all her heart that she had been allowed to join a nunnery and never have to face this indignity. Or the pain. What kind of pain would it be like? She had no idea.
It seemed to take forever before the door opened and her husband came in. As soon as he closed the doors behind him and turned to see her, wide eyed and frightened in bed, he groaned and rubbed his head, muttering something under his breath about how he hadn't drunk enough. But how was that possible? He seemed quite inebriated to her. Did men need to be drunk to do their duty?
Hovering near the door, her husband seemed almost an anxious and uncertain as herself. That made Mary feel a little better. Perhaps this was just as terrifying for him as it was for her. Had he been warned about the pain?
"Your grace?" she asked, her voice soft and timid. "Do you require any assistance?"
"Nay," he said, waving his hand at her as he began to walk towards the bed, a look of stony resolution on his face as he began stripping down. Mary was transfixed, unable to look away as he did so and she got her first good look at the nude male form. Christopher wasn't looking at her as he undressed, so she didn't have to feel ashamed of staring at her new husband and she was able to look her fill. His athleticism was apparent in his muscles, the broad shoulders and tapered waist, but what really intrigued her was the soft looking piece of flesh hanging between his legs. That's where the biggest difference between their bodies was.
Once he was naked, Christopher slid under the covers, coming towards her, and Mary froze.
"Relax," he said, pulling her into his arms. She could feel the heat of his body through the thin fabric of her nightgown, the hardness of his muscles against her softer flesh. "Just lay here with me for a few minutes."
Mary could do that. Laying there wasn't scary. In fact it was almost comforting to be held, something her parents hadn't done since she was very young. Snuggling her face into his shoulder, Mary took a few deep breaths, gently laying her hand against his broad chest and feeling the wiry hairs under her palm.
Christopher was in hell. He'd finally given in to his mother's demands that he beget an heir, and he was relieved that he'd chosen a young woman as sweet and pure as Mary, but he had no idea how he was going to go through with this. Although he'd tried so hard not to be a sinful man, he had a secret, an affliction. One that he was not alone in, but that had prevented him from the womanizing so many of his friends indulged in. Mary's pliant, soft body held no allure for him, despite the trusting way she had curled against him. Holding her was pleasant but not erotic for him.
Yet he must do his duty and produce an heir. And also prevent the rumors which had started to circulate, the rumors which were another reason he'd allowed his mother to finally conduct a bridal search.
Women just held no interest for him. Not like his friend Warren did, with his dark good looks and firmly muscled body. Thinking about Warren at least roused the appropriate physical reaction a little, but not much. But he had to try. With an inner sigh, Chris reached down and tilted Mary's face up to him. She really was quite pretty. Leaning down he kissed her, as gently as he had at the alter. Mary tensed for a moment and then relaxed, accepting the kiss. Trying to pretend she was Warren wasn't working though. She was too soft and curvy and small, and she smelled completely different. Like flowers.
But he tried. He really did. The more they kissed, the more his physical reaction dwindled, despite the fact that Mary was starting to respond now. Rolling over on top of her, he tried to get a physical reaction out of himself, but her body tensed beneath his immediately which distracted him and her pillowy breasts against his chest and the curly mound beneath his pelvis held no attraction for him. When he put his fingers down there he found her slightly damp, but it did nothing for him. Other men were able to couple without being physically attracted to the woman, but for some reason it just wasn't working for Christopher.
Frustrated he rolled off of her again. Looking over he could see the concern on his new wife's face.
"I think I'm too tired sweetheart," he said. "Would you mind if we waited? But we couldn't tell anyone, or they might annul the marriage."
Astonished at her husband's gentleness and compassion, Mary immediately agreed. She also felt a great deal of relief, despite the fact that nothing Christopher had done hurt, and some of it had even felt rather nice. Thinking ahead, Christopher pricked his finger and rubbed it on the bed sheet, and some on her nightgown, so that tomorrow no one would be able to gainsay that their marriage had been consummated. Feeling quite blessed by her good fortune, Mary was determined not to let her husband down in any way.
A very enjoyable week passed, during which Christopher was charming during the day, although he didn't pay very much attention to her, and gentle at night as he held in her his arms. They usually kissed. Sometimes he climbed on top of her. Once he asked her to get on her hands and knees and face away from him. That night there was some fumbling at her womanhood, but Mary had grown used to him touching her there and no longer tensed up. Despite her mother's warnings, nothing ever hurt at least.
The only thing that bothered her was that Christopher's friend Lord Warren, who had been so friendly at their wedding, was now also ignoring her during the day. He was staying with them at Christopher's behest, and he was quite polite whenever he did converse with her, but she was starting to wonder if she'd somehow offended him. Sometimes it seemed as though he was almost avoiding her presence, and she tried not to feel hurt at his sudden change of heart and lack of interest. It would have been nice to feel that she had a friend as well. Especially because she felt quite drawn to him.
There were times when Christopher was kissing her that she found Lord Warren sneaking into her thoughts, although she was immediately horrified by the fantasy. But that didn't stop it from happening. During those times when she thought of Lord Warren, something strange happened to her body. Like an itch that she couldn't scratch. It was incredibly frustrating.
Warren wasn't sure what to expect when Christopher asked to have a private word with him in the study, but he knew what he needed to talk to his friend about. It was time to cut his visit short. There was no way that he could spend any more time here, lusting after his friend's wife. Mary was far too beautiful for her own good and even treating her with polite distance wasn't cutting it anymore. He was having increasingly erotic dreams about her, and the slight hurt on her face when he pretended to ignore her cut him to the quick. But there was never a moment when he wasn't aware of her, he always knew exactly where she was when she was in his vicinity. Which is why he never looked in that direction. Because every time he did she took his breath away and then his trousers started to get tight and he had to excuse himself before he embarrassed everyone.
Or worse, caused a fight between him and his friend.
There was no question of which came first, his loyalty to his friend or his own desires, and so he needed to leave and return to his own estate, as much as he regretted forgoing Christopher's company and the torturous glimpses of his wife. Hopefully Christopher hadn't noticed, unless that's why he wanted a private talk with Warren. If so, perhaps he would be content with Warren's speedy departure, which was surely the best solution for all parties involved.
"Here, have some wine," Christopher said, sounding irritable as he sat down in one of the chairs. Warren took the glass and sipped at it. Apparently Christopher was upset, but it didn't seem directed at Warren. Hopefully whatever was bothering Christopher could be solved quickly so that Warren wouldn't feel guilty about leaving. Although if his friend was in a true bind then he might have to stay a little longer. He winced at the thought.
"Thank you," said Warren, covering his thoughts as he sat in the chair across from Christopher. Whatever was bothering his friend was apparently profound, he'd never seen quite that expression on Christopher's face before. "What can I do for you?"
"Ah. Well, that is the question," replied Christopher enigmatically. Knowing that he would speak only when ready, Warren just sipped his wine and stared at his friend. Waiting. Fortunately, this time Christopher didn't make him wait too long. "I have a problem that I need your help with."
"Of course. You know that I'm always willing to do whatever I can for you."
"Yes, well, this subject matter might be a bit trickier than normal." Christopher scowled into his wine glass. Warren wondered what on earth his friend could have to ask him; normally Christopher was extremely blunt in private, although he maintained decorum in public. Despite himself and his desire to leave the estate as soon as possible, Warren found his curiosity aroused by Christopher's odd demeanor. "I'm having some trouble with my wife."
Exactly the topic Warren would have wished most to avoid. "Trouble? You two seem quite content with each other."
"We are. Mary is everything I could have wanted in a wife," Christopher said as Warren struggled to conceal his jealousy. "But the marriage remains unconsummated."
Two seconds ago Warren would have felt relieved if Christopher had returned to his blunt self. Now he was shocked. "But... but the sheet..."
As customary, the sheet from the bridal bed had been displayed the morning after the wedding as proof of consummation. There had been blood on it.
Christopher grimaced. "My blood I'm afraid. Mary was willing to go along with the pretense. She seemed rather frightened of the marriage bed."
"Well, I can see how it would be hard to consummate with a frightened wife," Warren began to say, although he would have done his utmost to work through Mary's trepidations if she had been his wife. He surely wouldn't have an unconsummated marriage a week later. How did Christopher stand it?
"She's not frightened anymore but I still... I can't."
Now Warren was even more surprised. The fault lay with his friend? How strange. Although he'd heard some rumors that Christopher did not actually couple with the woman he was seen with, but he'd dismissed those as idle gossip. Perhaps he shouldn't have. If Christopher couldn't couple with as beautiful and desirable a lady as Mary, then mayhap he really hadn't coupled with any of those other women either. Warren racked his brain, trying to think of something comforting to say when Christopher finally got around to the real reason he'd asked Warren to come speak with him.
"I'd like you to take my place."
"Excuse me?" Warren asked, sure that he hadn't heard his friend correctly.
"I've thought about this a lot," Christopher said, leaning forward in earnest. "I need an heir. Mary must produce an heir. I would raise any child you gave her as my own. I'll be there the whole time, to make sure that no one interrupts. No one will ever know."
Emotions and fantasies that he'd been suppressing surged through Warren. Permission from the husband to bed the woman he'd been lusting after. But what would she say? Sweet, pure Mary, would she be willing to agree to such a drastic measure? To him? Blood stirred in his groin, telling him that his body wanted this, even though his mind said that it was wrong, that it would be a betrayal of friendship and a betrayal to the church in which Christopher and Mary had sworn their wedding vows.
But how could he say no? Especially if she said yes?
Mary was in her bedchamber that night, sitting in her night shift and brushing the long fall of her brown hair, when her husband and Lord Warren entered her bedchamber. Immediately she jumped to her feet, blushing hot red as she groped for a more covering robe. The night shift she was wearing was extremely thin and she knew that her rosy nipples and thatch of dark hair over her womanhood was clearly visible. More embarrassingly, it was obvious from the flushed heat on Lord Warren's face and the hot gaze of his eyes on her body that he was well aware of her assets as well. Only her husband seemed unaffected.
Striding quickly across the room to her, Christopher pulled the robe she'd found from her hands, dropping it to the floor. Mary turned her body slightly away from Lord Warren's view, not entirely sure why she was reacting so strangely. Not only did she feel overheated under his gaze, but her nipples had hardened and there was a strange itch between her legs. Having two men in her bedchamber was extremely improper, and being so scantily clad in front of them even more so. Even if one of them was her husband.
"Sweetheart," Christopher said, cupping her chin in his hand and pulling her eyes away from the staring Lord Warren. But she could still sense the other man in the room. "I want to talk to you about something."
"Do we need an audience?" she asked, softly enough that she hoped Lord Warren wouldn't be able to hear her.
"Yes," said her husband. "Because he's about to part of this. I hope."
"What do you mean?" Confused, she focused on Christopher's earnest face, doing her best to forget that Lord Warren was there and that she wasn't wearing more than a thin piece of cotton.
"I need an heir darling. And... I am so far unable to..." Now her husband blushed and Mary's heart went out to him. He was a good husband, but it was true that she knew they had not yet consummated the marriage. Truthfully she did not mind, but it put her in a precarious position. If their marriage remained childless, eventually people may suspect something. After all, they were both young and healthy. Despite their misrepresentation with the wedding night bed sheet, any midwife would be able to attest to her virginal state upon inspection. And if the truth came out then their marriage could be easily annulled and she would be back on the selling block. A second husband might be much older or younger than her, or much crueler than Christopher. She bit her lip, even more focused on what he was saying now. Did he have a solution? "I want to take care of that now."
"How?" she asked.
"I'd like Lord Warren to join us for the night." Mary jerked back out of his grasp, only to bump into a hard, unyielding wall behind her. Turning, she found herself looking up at Lord Warren, his dark hair curling around his face as his eyes seemed to pierce her soul, holding her frozen in place.