The candles had burned low before Philipe came to her. She had dozed, but the sound of his footsteps, that sound she had anticipated with both dread and delight, woke her from her slumber. She sat up, sleepily clutching the bedclothes to herself. He halted at the door. For a moment, she thought he might turn away, that the sight of her, horrible and ugly in the candlelight had made him realize what a foolish mistake he’d made.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I suddenly realized that I have waited fifteen years for this night, without ever dreaming it might come.”
It was you. She was always you. His words, already scored into her mind through hopeful repetition, erased the last of her fears of rejection and humiliation. Fifteen years of loneliness had vanished, leaving behind only a clawing need. She wanted Philipe, as she had wanted him all those years ago, but had never been brave enough to have him. She was braver, now.
He sat on the bed to pull off his boots, and she wanted badly to touch him, to rise on her knees behind him and press her body against his, to run her fingers through his hair as he untied his laces. But she could not make herself move. It was fear of the unknown, and she supposed it was something every bride faced on her wedding night, so she did not chide herself for being silly.
Kicking aside his boots, he pulled off his rough spun tunic and pushed down his breeches and then she saw, as he climbed beneath the blankets beside her, the desire he could not fake. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and looked away.
“Blushing like a maiden,” he chided, his naked thigh brushing against her bed-warmed skin.
“I am a maiden,” she reminded him. “Time changes much, but not that.”
“No, but I’ll change it.” He drew her down, to lie in his arms. Johanna remembered the heady thrill of his bare skin, but his body was so different now than it had been when they’d been young. He’d been soft and hairless as a babe, now every muscle was hard and a dusting of hair shadowed his chest. There was a touch of gray in it, as in his beard, and she covered her mouth with her hands to stifle her laughter.
“What?” he laughed with her, looking down at himself. “I haven’t gotten fat from your fine northern cooking, have I?”
It took only the touch of his lips on hers to silence the laughter in her throat. It was too serious, his arms around her, his skin hot against hers in the cold of the tower room, and too bright and real. His kisses turned to soft bites, down her jaw, to her throat, her collarbones. His fingers trailed over her back, and she felt the pressure of them, if nothing else. It was enough. Her cleft grew slick and hot. She remembered that too, that feeling of aching incompleteness. If she had given in to him then, what would her life be like now?
It seemed churlish to sully the moment with regret. The world, already spinning, seemed to cant even more as his mouth roved over her breasts. He cupped one in his palm, a broken groan spilling from his lips before they closed over her nipple. She moaned at the feeling, familiar and strange, just as every time he had touched her in the past. Her head reeled, and she looked about the room, the oddest feeling of displacement coming over her. It was her bed, she slept in it every night, but it seemed a foreign landscape with him in it.
“Relax,” he murmured, raising his head and circling with one finger the wet flesh his mouth left untended.“This doesn’t seem real,” she confessed.
He stroked the backs of his fingers along the side of her breast, down her ribs, and she shivered. “Do you remember the night I came to you here? When I bribed someone to distract your nurse, so I could come inside and bar the door?”
She blushed hot at the memory. “Of course I remember. It was the night before you left.”
Gently, he urged her to turn over, so that she lay with her back against his chest, just as that night when he’d surprised her by kissing her awake in her very bed. He did not shudder or flinch away when his skin touched the mass of scars on her back. He kissed her shoulder, then her neck, and whispered, “Pretend it is still that night. Do you remember what we did?”
His arm draped over her waist, he slid his hand over her stomach, down to the curls between her thighs. She held her breath as one fingertip probed the crevice there, then slipped between her folds. The contrasts of her own flesh shocked her, the dry, soft skin and hair of her mound, the smooth, slick mouth of her cleft, strangely like her scars in that respect. She buried her face in the pillow, because she couldn’t bear the sudden shyness. He rolled his fingertip over the pearl there, his breath calm and even while hers sounded thin and frightened to her own ears.
“That’s better,” he said, nipping at her shoulder. “Now show me how.”
Uncertain, she brought her hand down to join his. Though he’d done a fine job on his own fifteen years ago, she guided him to just the right place, pushed with just enough pressure. His manhood pressed against her backside, and he ground against her as she rocked her hips in time with the stroking of his finger. Closing her eyes, she gave over to the sensations that had not changed, despite the scars, despite the years. She groped behind her, between them, to close her fingers over his hard, rigid flesh. She hadn’t been so bold the last time, but now she’d need no coaxing to touch him. His mouth was on her everywhere, sucking at the back of her neck, down her shoulder, all the while his fingers working over her aching flesh, until her body tightened and her breath rasped from her throat, eager at the promise of release. He stopped, only for a second, to take up the work with his thumb, and slid one finger inside of her untried cunny. She gasped at the intrusion, and the way he curled that finger, stroking along her walls deftly. Though she remembered feeling a loss of control before, she’d never felt the desire to yield to it the way she did now. Her entire being focused on one desire, to climax as he held her sex in his hand and buried his mouth against her neck. When she did, it was with a ragged cry, almost of surprise, and she felt the heat and the wet intensify tenfold.
He brushed aside the fingers that gripped his cock and rose above her, settling between her legs, limp and splayed in the aftermath of her pleasure. The gentle slide of his fingertips over and in her flesh had drawn a new, desperate awareness from her. She lifted her eyes to his, saw the care and the passion in them. He really did want her, no matter her appearance. And then she knew, with a joy so keen that her heart felt as though it might never beat again, that when he looked at her, he did not see the monstrous scars and the youth lost. He saw the beautiful girl he had loved, perhaps had never stopped loving, all those long years ago.
She did not look away from him as he guided himself to her. She lifted her hips, rubbing against him, coating him in her wetness. When he slipped inside, she took a sharp breath at the suddenness of it. One moment, they stood on the edge of the familiar, and then they’d stepped off, easy as breathing.