** Well, here it is, completely finished, as I promised so many of you for so long. Hard to believe, right? As always, you should probably re-read Part 16 to refresh your memory – hell, you might have to re-read the whole friggin’ thing! It’s been THAT long! Again, I apologize for that. To those of you who stuck by me and kept me afloat through my accident and then my Father’s passing, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so very grateful for everyone’s patience and support. Thank you, thank you, thank you. **
For disclaimers, etc., see Intro.
As night fell upon the castle one eve, Gwynneth decided to climb the tower and have a quiet moment to herself. The burgeoning Spring was proving to be warm, but the evenings still held a chill, and the Lady pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders, glad that she thought to bring the garment with her.
As she looked up at the bright stars, Gwynneth thought about how much her life had changed in the space of just a year. She had come to Weldon a simple, innocent girl, naive and unwise in the ways of life and love. So much had happened since then. The girl she had been was long gone. In her place now stood a woman...a wife...a mother. And nothing was simple anymore...everything was complicated.
Nearly a fortnight had passed since the Lord and Lady had confessed their feelings in the meadow, and Gwynneth felt the weight of her fear and indecisiveness grow greater every day. Anton had not touched her since. He remained cordial and polite, but it was obvious that the Marquess was saddened, or worse – disappointed. To know that she was the cause filled Gwynneth with great distress.
Anton had said that he missed her, and more importantly, that he still loved her. Gwynneth did not doubt the sincerity of his words, nor did she think that he’d said them merely as a cheap attempt at seduction. He said he loved her and she believed him. Anton’s tender honesty, and the fact that he made it clear he was willing to wait for her to make up her mind melted her heart. Gwynneth was torn.
She looked up at the stars, wishing things could be different, in many ways. She wished she could simply devote herself to her babies and not worry about the vexing situation with Anton. She wished she could just forget temptations of the flesh altogether and simply disregard things like love, passion, and desire. But...she could not. When she lay down in her bed at night, all she could think about was Anton...his fiery kisses, his tender caresses, the longing in his beautiful eyes. Gwynneth shook her head and sighed. Though her mind was at odds with the situation, her body was not, and she feared that it was not strong enough to continue to resist temptation. Her eyes began to burn as a surge of tears filled them.
If only she could convince her mind to simply throw all care and caution to the wind. It would be so wonderful; to take Anton in her arms and just love him, just forget that anything was different and be with him as a lover. How glorious it would be to just pretend that nothing had changed and simply act on her wants and desires. Deep down inside, Gwynneth knew that was what her body wanted to do, what it craved to do. If she were to go to Anton’s chambers right now and find him there, looking at her with those soulful blue eyes, she knew she would give in to her wants. She fancied it would be sweet relief to simply let him take her.
A tear broke free and rolled down Gwynneth’s cheek as she looked heavenward, hoping and wishing that the starry sky held an answer for her.
“If I go to him willingly, knowingly,” she began aloud, her voice a quavering whisper, “if I let him love me...if I give in to my wants and desires...does that make me wicked and sinful? Will we be punished for being unnatural and loving one another?” Her voice broke with anguish, “God above, if you hear me, tell me what to do!” Tears streamed down her face, but the sky remained silent.
Gwynneth was not surprised. She really didn’t expect an answer to such a complicated dilemma.
It was late one afternoon when a courier brought a letter to the Manor. Anton was in the library reading when a servant brought it to her. Assuming it was for her, the Marquess broke the seal, opened it, and began reading. As her eyes devoured the words, the words began to devour her heart.
Lady Marina was sitting in her chambers quietly working on her needlework when a sharp knock sounded at her door.
“Come,” she called out. Anton entered and the Lady smiled, returning to her sewing. “Oh, good evening my dear.” When she received no answer, Marina looked up, realizing something was amiss. “What’s the matter?”
Anton walked forward, her face tight, her body radiating anger. “We’ve just received a letter from Sir Richard.” Marina looked at her expectantly. Anton held up the piece of parchment, “He states in it that Clarendon has been fully secured and restored and is ready for Gwynneth’s ‘occupation’.”
Marina’s eyebrows lifted upward, though she said nothing. Anton walked closer, coming to stand in front of the older woman.
“Do you know anything of this, Mother?” she demanded, angrily tossing the scroll onto Marina’s lap.
Marina calmly dropped her needlework and picked up the parchment, reading it quickly. “I knew that Gwynneth had, at one time, stated that she intended to leave here and go live at Clarendon, if that’s what you’re asking.” Marina replied evenly.
“You knew?” Anton accused.
Marina frowned at the inference in her daughter’s voice, “Yes, and so did you, Anton. I told you some time ago.”
“Yes, but...” Anton hesitated for a moment. She vaguely remembered her mother telling her about this, back when she was still bed-ridden and Gwynneth was in seclusion. However, so much had happened since then, she did not think that it remained so. “Well, some time ago is much different than now! She can’t wish to leave now! Not after we’ve spent so much time rebuilding things between us and growing close again!”
Anton spat the words out quickly, crossly. She really didn’t want to reveal too much to her mother. She wasn’t sure if the older woman knew just how close she and Gwynneth had become – or rather, were trying to become – and she certainly did not want to get into a discussion about it now.
Marina studied her daughter’s angry, distraught expression. Anton had obviously forgotten about Gwynneth’s declaration to leave Weldon once the children were born and Clarendon was ridded of all Gerrod’s minions. Obviously the Lord thought that the Lady had changed her mind...about many things. In truth, Marina had hoped it too. Hoped, but not assumed, like Anton had done.
“You assumed she’d be staying now that tensions have eased between the two of you. Is that it?” Marina queried carefully.
“Yes, I...I suppose I did.” Anton sighed loudly, running a hand through her hair, “It just never occurred to me that she would wish to leave, still.” Her voice dropped in intensity as the hurt began to take over. “And Richard...? Of all people, Richard is assisting her with her abandonment. ...How could he betray me so?”
Marina watched as Anton’s face and body began to slump with dejection. She truly hated to see her daughter distressed and unhappy yet again. It seemed as though things had been going well with the young couple; that they were repairing the damage between them and steadily rebuilding their relationship. The idea of Weldon enjoying some happiness actually seemed attainable. If Gwynneth left now, Anton would be crushed, and the children would most likely bear the brunt of the misery that would overwhelm the Manor.
Marina’s thoughts were interrupted by Anton abruptly turning and walking toward the door. “Where are you going?” she asked anxiously.
Anton looked back, “To speak to Gwynneth, obviously.” Her voice was again terse, her demeanor stiff.
The Marchioness Dowager sensed an imminent explosion behind her daughter’s darkened eyes. She hated the idea of more turmoil and misery. “Anton, wait,” she said, rising out of her chair and quickly walking toward the Marquess. “Take a moment to reflect before you do or say something you may later regret.”
“Tch,” Anton sniffed angrily as she snatched the parchment out of the older woman’s hands, “Odd advice coming from you, Mother. I should think you’d be happy to see Gwynneth go.”
Marina’s mouth fell slightly open, not expecting the harsh sling from her daughter. But, instead of snapping back, as was her instinct, she remained perfectly calm. “Perhaps I have realized the error of my ways.” she said evenly. “Perhaps I am able to look beyond my likes and dislikes enough to realize that Gwynneth is a good wife and a good mother.” She looked at Anton gravely, “Perhaps I have come to realize that there are some things that are worth fighting for.”
Anton regarded her with a frown, absorbing her words and their meaning. She was surprised at her Mother’s admissions; still, it did not erase the crushing hurt she felt. Her voice was small when she finally spoke, “I cannot fight for someone who does not want to be fought for.”
“How can you be sure she doesn’t want you to fight for her?” Marina offered, smiling gently.
“She knows how I feel.” Anton snapped. “If she truly wishes to leave, I’ll not stand in her way.”
Marina shook her head, “Don’t let go of her so easily, Anton. Perhaps Gwynneth’s mind is not made up just yet. Perhaps you can change it.” She reached up and cupped her daughter’s cheek. “If you want her, fight for her.”
Anton frowned again, her expression darkening, “She knows that I want her! If she does not want me, the fight is pointless! I’ll not humiliate myself any more than I already have!”
Marina closed her eyes and sighed. How can I make her see reason when her mind is so closed. “Just take a moment to reflect before you confront her, Anton. Things are not always as they appear. This you know better than anyone.”
Anton stared at her Mother for a moment before turning and exiting the room. Once she left, Marina released a long sigh of frustration. She wondered if life at Weldon would ever be harmonious.
Anton strolled through the gardens for hours after leaving her Mother, her mind a maelstrom of thoughts. She re-read the letter, thinking that it did indeed sound as though Gwynneth still intended to carry out her plans for desertion. In Anton’s mind, it also seemed to shed light onto why the Lady repeatedly hesitated being physical and shied away from her. Gwynneth claimed that she still cared for her – was she lying? Playing with her emotions? Maybe getting back at her for her own deception? Anton didn’t want to think that her sweet wife would do such a thing. She wanted to think that her Mother was right; that Gwynneth’s feelings had changed and, as her Mother said, things were not as the letter seemed to indicate.
But what if they aren’t? Anton’s heart constricted at the thought. What if Gwynneth has finally come to the conclusion that she is too ashamed to be with me, to be intimate with me? What if she’s decided she’d rather be with someone else...someone like Richard? Feeling greatly depressed, Anton sat down upon a bench and stared up at the darkening sky, her eyes stinging and her heart aching. Still, how could Gwynneth leave the children? ...It doesn’t seem possible that she’d be willing to do that. Knowing she’d never get answers by herself, Anton finally gathered her nerve and headed inside to confront her wife.
As Anton approached Gwynneth’s chamber door, she cautioned herself to be calm. She did not want to be harsh with the Lady, but the feelings of hurt and betrayal were still simmering inside her. Drawing a deep breath, Anton knocked. A soft voice bade her to enter, and she stepped inside quietly.
Gwynneth had both children lying on the bed with her, appearing to have just fed both of them. A white kerchief was still laid across her lap and the front of her chemise was untied. Her hands rubbed and tickled the babies gently while she murmured soft, playful words. Giving Anton a sidelong glance, she smiled at the babes and said in a sing-song voice, “Here comes your Poppa to play with you.”
Anton almost turned around and left. Seeing Gwynneth with the babies just twisted the knife in her heart and caused a fresh wave of pain.
Wondering at Anton’s silence and distant stance, Gwynneth looked up. She felt a chill race down her spine, knowing immediately that something was amiss. Anton had a strange, somewhat fierce look on his face, not soft and adoring as usual. He held a rumpled piece of parchment in his hand. “Anton?” Gwynneth queried softly, “What is it?”
Girding herself, Anton walked closer and thrust her arm out, tossing the piece of parchment onto the bed. “Richard sends word that Clarendon has been secured and is ready for your occupation.”
The words were clipped and spoken sharply; Anton was obviously upset. All color drained from Gwynneth’s face as she quickly realized what was going on.
The Marquess stepped even closer, the feelings of betrayal swiftly resurfacing, “Is that what you’re planning to do? To leave Weldon? To leave me, and the children!”
Gwynneth blinked nervously, her mind refuting the accusations, but her tongue stumbling with the words. “I-I didn’t...I don’t—”
Anton interrupted, “Know this, Gwynneth, if you are planning to leave, you shall be going alone; the children shall stay with me.” She glared at the blonde, daring her to argue. “And I would request that you leave immediately, before the children become attached to you in any way.”
Gwynneth was shocked at Anton’s harshly spat words. She placed a hand over her chest, acutely feeling a stab of pain. The abrupt turn of events had rendered her speechless.
Anton hated the stunned, bewildered look on Gwynneth’s face, and she could feel her own heart breaking, but she could not waver. She had laid the ultimatum before Gwynneth as she had to. Now she had to walk away. She would deal with her feelings later.
Turning on her heel, Anton briskly stepped away, her mind racing and her heart conflicted. She reached the door and began to open it, but suddenly, she stopped.
She just could not give up so easily. She had to have some answers. ...She had to know the truth.
The loud slam of the door made Gwynneth jump and the babies’ eyes went wide with surprise. She watched with fearful trepidation as Anton banged his fist against the door then slowly turned around to stare at her with an unreadable expression. Memories of another time when Anton exploded with fury replayed in the Lady’s mind, and a wave of fear rippled through her body.
Anton blinked long and drew a deep breath, determined to control her emotions and speak calmly. She approached the bed slowly, her expression changing from one of anger to one of sorrow. Looking down at Gwynneth, she spoke quietly, “You said you were happy.”
The words came out so soft and sad and heartbroken that Gwynneth’s heart clenched tight. She was filled with new feelings of anguish, and tears immediately began to flood her eyes.
“Why?” Anton continued, her voice nearly cracking, “Why could you not tell me the truth? Why could you not tell me that you wished to leave?”
“I-I...” Gwynneth fumbled with an explanation. “I changed my mind about it,” she finally managed.
The Lord frowned, “About what? About leaving Weldon in favor of Clarendon, or leaving me in favor of Richard?!” The feeling of jealousy reared its ugly head, making her soft words become hard again.
The Lady gasped, “Richard? No, I—”
Anton forged on, “Is that why you have repeatedly spurned me? Because you simply can’t bear the thought of being with a false man when you have a real man waiting for you at Clarendon! Is that it?!”
Gwynneth was horrified at Anton’s line of thinking, “What?! Anton, no—”
“Don’t LIE to me, Gwynneth!” Anton’s voice boomed suddenly, loudly, her fury instantly erupting. Frightened by the ruckus, both babies began to cry.
Somehow Gwynneth found the fortitude to quickly speak her mind instead of shy away, as she’d done before. She knew that she had to make Anton see the truth, or all would be lost. “I am not lying to you!” she said with conviction. “Richard is but a friend to me, that is all!”
Anton stared at her, demanding explanation, his eyes radiating fire and rage.
Gwynneth took a deep breath, trying to steady herself, “After Gerrod was killed, I asked Richard to take some troops and secure Clarendon. I wanted to make sure none of Gerrod’s filth remained there.” She drew another deep breath, “Then, after I...after I found out about...about you,” she stammered uncomfortably, “well, I began to think that perhaps it would be best if I went away...to Clarendon.”
Anton frowned at her, “But why?” she stared pointedly at the blonde, “Did I repulse you that much?”
Gwynneth shook her head, “No! No, Anton, it was just...just...” she blinked rapidly, struggling to express herself, “I was just so confused! So bewildered! You can’t imagine!” Tears and emotion began to choke her and she couldn’t think or speak clearly. The babies wailed louder, sensing their mother’s distress.
Anton wanted more answers, but it was obvious that it wouldn’t be possible with the babies, and Gwynneth, becoming so distraught. When she leaned in closer to Gwynneth, the blonde shied away slightly, and Anton felt ashamed. Backing up a step, she stared at the Lady and spoke quietly, “I’ll only say this to you one time...after this, it shall be up to you.”
The words were calm, but the Lady held her breath anxiously, her eyes wide.
“I ask you not to leave. I ask you to stay here with me, with the children.” Anton pressed on, her feelings jumbled, “Perhaps with time, you might come to love me...but, if you cannot, then...I shall learn to live with that.” She nearly stumbled over the words, but continued on, “Please, Gwynneth...please don’t abandon the children. Don’t leave them without a mother.”
Gwynneth could only stare, dumbfounded. They held each other’s gaze
for a moment, then the Marquess turned and abruptly exited the room,
leaving behind two crying babies and a shell-shocked Lady.
Carefully gathering up both children, Gwynneth held them in her arms and closed her eyes, rocking gently as she began to cry along with them, “You don’t understand, Anton,” she whispered mournfully, “You don’t understand!”
The Marquess was hiding in her room, numbly watching the dancing flames of the fire as it burned bright. She had poured herself a brandy and sat uneasily in a chair as she contemplated what she could do about her wife.
A rap on her chamber door interrupted her misery. Opening it, Anton was surprised to find Gwynneth standing there looking small and nervous, her eyes red-rimmed.
“You have had a chance to speak your mind, My Lord, now please allow me to speak mine.”
Anton stared at her for a moment. She hated it when Gwynneth addressed her so formally. It was a clear indication that the blonde was ill at ease with her, and Anton could hardly stand that. Still, she was surprised that Gwynneth was brave enough, and perhaps determined enough, to come and speak to her. Not very long ago, the young Lady would never have done such a thing. Anton said nothing; she simply opened the door wider and bade the Lady entrance.
Gwynneth was trembling as Anton closed the chamber door. She followed him over to the fireplace where they both sat down facing one another. Swallowing several times, Gwynneth finally worked up the nerve to talk. “Firstly, allow me to say that I never meant to play you nor fill you with doubt about any of my intentions.” Anton just looked at her, expressionless. Twisting her hands nervously in her lap, Gwynneth forged on. “At first, I will admit, I did not think it would be possible for me to stay here. I thought that I should just leave. But I have long since changed my mind.”
The Marquess seemed to relax at that, but only slightly. Still, Gwynneth saw the subtle reaction, and felt that she could speak more openly. Her voice softened, “You must understand how incredibly overwhelmed I was, Anton. Finding out your true identity was so...unbelievable to me.”
Anton’s gaze fell away as she felt a twinge of guilt.
“It was all so unreal, so incomprehensible. I felt so terribly betrayed.”
Again the Lord felt guilt and she closed her eyes as the feeling began to crawl up her throat, threatening to choke her. It hurt to hear Gwynneth say these things aloud.
The Lady continued on, “I felt as though it would be impossible for me to stay here and live with you. I was distraught and confused, and I didn’t think I would ever get over it. I didn’t think I could accept the situation...or you.” She ended in a shameful whisper.
“And so you were simply going to leave? Just like that? Without speaking to me about it?” Anton’s voice was soft, but strained.
The Lady looked down, blinking as moisture began to fill her eyes and her throat constricted with emotion. This was so difficult, but she was determined to continue. “I couldn’t talk to you...not at first. I didn’t know how.” She looked up, meeting Anton’s frown, “I...I felt like I didn’t know who you were anymore, and I...” she hesitated, hating the thought of stirring up more pain, but she needed to get the truth out. She closed her eyes and a tear rolled down her cheek. “...I didn’t think I wanted to know you. At the time, I was sure that the best thing was to simply leave and get away from you. I didn’t think it would hurt anyone; I didn’t think anyone would really care.” She opened her eyes and locked gazes again, “I realize now that it was heartless and cowardly of me to think those things.”
Anton remained quiet for a moment, thinking as she watched the tears run down her wife’s tense face. She thought about what her Mother had said about fighting for what she wanted. But, based on what Gwynneth was saying, she still wasn’t sure that she had anything to fight for.
Sky blue eyes studied blue-green ones intensely until Anton finally spoke. “I am truly sorry, Gwynneth, for so many things. I regret that I lied to you about who and what I was. I regret that I filled you with such a sense of worthlessness that you felt no one cared about you.” Gwynneth frowned but Anton continued, “I’m sorry if you felt you couldn’t talk to me. I’m sorry that I am no longer who or what you want, and I apologize if you feel trapped or imprisoned here.”
Tears continued to trail down Gwynneth’s cheeks and she shook her head, opening her mouth to refute Anton’s words, but the Marquess held a hand up to silence her.
“Do not misunderstand me when I say that I wish for you to stay here and remain my wife. I know you do not want to live a life of lies and false pretenses. I assure you that I do not want you to feel obligated to be anything nor do anything more than appear as my wife publicly, and be a mother to the children. As I said, I shall learn to live with the reality that you cannot function as my wife in private, and I will grant you as much freedom as I can without arousing too much suspicion—”
Gwynneth quickly slipped out of her chair and clasped Anton’s upheld hand, instantly silencing the Lord. “You haven’t allowed me to finish, husband.” Her voice warbled with emotion but she was determined to speak her mind as she knelt in front of him. “I wish to stay here with the children and with you, and I wish to be your wife, in every sense of the word.”
Anton’s heart leapt into her throat. Gwynneth’s voice was soft and her face, though streaked with tears, was open and sincere. She held her breath as the blonde continued.
“If I have insulted or humiliated you with my hesitation, I am truly, deeply sorry. I am sure that you must be frustrated and angry, and if you cannot bear to be with me right now, I shall not blame you.” She hesitated before adding, “But, please understand that I do wish to be with you.”
Anton did not want to give herself away by reacting too strongly, and it was difficult to hide her feelings of surprise and relief. She felt like she would burst with emotion. Her throat was closed tight and her eyes began to burn with unshed tears...tears of hope and joy that were pleading to let loose. She blinked her eyes rapidly as she glanced away, fighting to control herself.
Gwynneth could see that Anton was trying very hard to hide his feelings behind a mask. It made her feel a little more certain that she could say what she wanted to say. She gathered his hands in hers, holding them securely. “With everything we’ve been through, Anton, you have remained true to me; you have been my anchor and my guiding light through all the storminess.” Dropping her gaze for a moment, the Lady continued, “I know that things can never be as they were before, but that doesn’t matter. I have come to realize that my feelings for you have not changed, and I know now that deep down, you are still the same person.” She paused, clutching Anton’s hands tighter, “I still love you, Anton,” she whispered, “and I want to be with you, as your wife...and as your lover, if you will have me.” Looking up again, she saw Anton’s eyes brimming with tears. “If you are willing to be with me...to go slowly with me,” she hesitated, her face coloring slightly with embarrassment, “If you could show me how to please you,” she blinked long and swallowed against her dry throat, “If you will teach me, I am certain I can be what you want.”
Anton squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head a little, not quite able to believe what she was hearing. “Gwyn,” she finally responded, “Oh my Gwyn.” She leaned forward and reached out cup the blonde’s face, “I am the one who should be asking all these things of you!” Drawing the Lady closer, she spoke quietly, with great emotion. “I want to be with you more than anything. You have always been what I’ve wanted, what I’ve needed.” No longer able to contain her feelings, a tear escaped down her cheek. “I will do whatever you want; I will give you whatever you need, and we shall go as slowly as you command.” She bent and brought their lips together in a soft kiss. “I just...I don’t want you to do this out of some sense of duty or obligation—”
“No,” Gwynneth interrupted, shaking her head. “It is not out of obligation. I do this of my own free will, because it is what I want.” She reached up and placed her hands on top of his, “You are what I want.”
Sky blue eyes desperately searched jade ones, still finding the words hard to grasp. Anton clutched both of Gwynneth’s hands in hers and squeezed them, “You have been so uncertain for so long...why the sudden change?”
Gwynneth smiled gently, assuredly, “I love you. I never stopped loving you, I was just afraid. Afraid to go against convention and follow what my heart was telling me.” she whispered.
“And you’re not afraid now?”
She smiled wider, “No.” She wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck. “You allay my fears. You always have. I want to be with you, Anton. I need to be with you.”
Anton wanted to weep as she bent and pressed a kiss against tender lips, “My love, you have no idea how long I’ve waited for this.” Again they kissed, then Anton pulled back to look deeply into her wife’s eyes, “I just don’t wish for you to do something you shall later regret. I want you to be certain.”
Gwynneth stared deeply into his eyes, “I am certain, and I shan’t regret it.” She returned the kiss, pressing a little harder. “I love you. You are my husband, my dearest friend. I want to show you how much you mean to me.”
Anton sighed and closed her eyes. Leaning forward, she touched their foreheads together and whispered, “Thank you, Gwynneth...thank you.” She opened her eyes and they looked at each other intently, “I love you so very much, my wife.”
“I love you too, my husband.”
They smiled at one another before joining their lips together again and again, their renewed passion arising slowly, but certainly.
Breaking apart, Anton cupped Gwynneth’s face, “Stay the night with me.” The Lady’s eyes widened. “Just to lie together, that’s all,” Anton quickly added. “I just want to lie next to you and feel you in my arms.”
Gwynneth relaxed and closed her eyes, smiling, “Yes...that would be wonderful.”
For several nights the Lord and Lady slept together in the same bed. Gwynneth would strip down and change into her chemise and Anton into a long sleeping shirt. Determined to go slowly and not rush one another, they went no further than kissing and caressing. They simply laid in each others arms and enjoyed the feeling of their renewed connection and warmth.
It was almost a fortnight until things began to change. The kisses started to become deeper, the caresses bolder. They both knew they were at the precipice of consummating their revived love. It was just a matter of someone taking the initiative and making the first overture.
The Lady stood in the bathing area, waiting for the servant girls to finish filling her tub with hot water. As the girls hustled and bustled around the room, the blonde’s mind was adrift with thoughts...thoughts that mostly centered around Anton and their rejuvenated feelings.
Gwynneth felt certain that she was ready to fully rekindle the intimacy that she and Anton had once shared. Through their nights of kissing and nestling together, she realized how very much she’d missed her husband’s touch. Anton made her feel safe, loved and aroused like no one else ever could. Gwynneth could not deny that she was excited at the prospect of finally making love, though she still wasn’t sure what two women could do together. She assumed that Anton knew and could tell her.
Gwynneth constantly wondered if Anton would be ready and willing to give himself completely. She wondered how he might go about it. Would he only wish for her to doff her clothing, as they’d done in the past, or would he at last doff his clothes as well? Would he allow her to see and feel all of him?
“Yer bath be ready now, Milady.” The servant girl’s voice pulled Gwynneth away from her thoughts. “Shall we attend ye?” The girl asked, holding up a towel for the Lady to use.
“No, thank you, girls,” Gwynneth smiled, deciding she wanted some solitude. “I can manage myself.” The girls curtseyed and left the room, Gwynneth locking the door behind them.
As the Lady undressed, she looked over her own body with critical eyes. She realized that, when and if Anton gave himself to her, this would be what she’d be seeing – a female body. Sliding her palms up her thighs, she wondered how they would compare to Anton’s thighs. She trailed her fingers up her torso, caressing her stomach and her breasts. This is what I’ll be touching...what I’ll be loving, she thought as her eyes fluttered shut, a woman’s body.
As she continued with her tentative self-examination, she wondered what Anton might feel like. She had only ever felt Anton’s body through his clothes, so she had no idea. Would his skin be silky and smooth, or rough and coarse? She wondered whether any parts of his body would be soft and fleshy like hers, or if it would all be hard and muscular, like a man’s.
Stepping into the warm water, Gwynneth considered how her body had become fleshier from her pregnancy. Her once flat stomach was now gently rounded; her pert breasts had become heavy and fuller; her narrow hips and rump were now more pronounced and curvaceous. She cupped her breasts with her hands, feeling their warm weight, wondering what Anton would think of them. Would he find her appealing? Gwynneth didn’t think she had become terribly unattractive, but she had definitely changed; she felt older, more matronly. She could only hope that her husband would find her desirable, as he once did.
A vision crept into her mind, unbidden: she imagined going to Anton’s chambers and simply dropping her robe and offering herself to him. What would he do? Gwynneth smiled. He would gladly welcome her to his bed, she was sure of it. She could see the look of surprise that would cross his face...he would whisper her name, his voice tremulous with arousal...he would touch her gently, his fingers trailing fire all over her skin...and he would hold her so tightly as they kissed and touched and loved...
“Mmm,” Gwynneth moaned aloud, closing her eyes. She pushed her hands down into the water, letting them slide across her stomach and down her thighs. It felt nice to be touched; it would feel nicer if she weren’t doing it herself. She liked the feel of soft, silky skin beneath her hands and decided that she not only wanted Anton to feel her this way, she wanted to feel him as well. I can only imagine what it might be like to feel Anton’s skin against mine...to touch his legs, his stomach, his...
The Lady blushed as her thoughts produced a hot flush that raced down her body. She was going to drive herself insane if she continued to fantasize and think lustful thoughts. Only one way to stop the insanity, she thought, expelling another loud sigh.
The Marquess had gotten ready for bed some time ago and now sat in front of the fireplace in her chambers, wondering where Gwynneth might be. They had gotten themselves into a comfortable little routine, and Anton very much looked forward to their nights together, even if they were still rather chaste.
Though she wished she could be loving Gwynneth in the flesh, literally, Anton was grateful they were sharing as much as they were. Lying with her wife every night, kissing, touching and holding her close...that in itself was a wonderful gift.
Anton smiled as she thought about Gwynneth. Though she had grown and matured so much as an individual, Anton marveled at how shy and unsure the blonde could still be at times, especially during their more intimate moments. She often wished she could ravage Gwynneth and show her just how much she wanted her, but, no, she would never do such a thing. Anton had promised to take things slowly, and she was bound and determined to do just that. She will come ‘round one day, Anton told herself as she peered at the dancing flames. And if she doesn’t...I will still be happy and grateful for everything I have. The Marquess smiled and closed her eyes.
A soft tap at the door opened Anton’s eyes and increased her grin. She hopped up out of the chair, anxious to greet her wife.
“Ah, here you are,” Anton smiled as she opened the door for the Marchioness. “I thought perhaps you had fallen asleep in your chambers without me.”
Gwynneth half-smiled back, “Oh no, not at all.” She entered the room, butterflies filling her stomach. “I took a hot bath, and, uhm...I suppose it ran a bit lengthy.” Her mouth twitched in a small grin as she nervously tucked her hair behind her ear.
Anton noticed her wife’s anxiety. She would obviously have to tread very lightly tonight. “No worries, love.” She bent and placed a quick kiss on tender lips. “I’ll just bank the fire and we can go to sleep.”
As the Marquess tended the fire, she wondered what had caused Gwynneth’s disquiet tonight. The fact that she was later than usual made the Lord worry that perhaps the Lady was having second thoughts about them sleeping together. Anton felt a slight wave of frustration ripple through her, but she pushed it down. She was absolutely determined to practice patience.
“There we are, that should hold us—” The words died on her lips when she turned around.
Gwynneth stood before her with her white gown unbuttoned and opened wide, exposing herself in all her wondrous, naked glory. Anton could only stare, dumbfounded and open-mouthed.
Gwynneth fidgeted with her hands. It had taken every ounce of courage she had to come to her husband’s chambers like this. She didn’t want to lose her nerve now. “I-I wondered if tonight we might be...closer.” She blushed at Anton’s blatant stare but forged on, “if we might feel each other...skin against skin.”
Anton still gawked, struggling to grasp what she was seeing and hearing. When it finally registered what Gwynneth was asking, she nodded her head vigorously, “Y-Yes, of course.” She walked toward the blonde, coming to stand in front of her, “that would be wonderful.” She smiled with relief.
The Lady looked up at her husband shyly, her cheeks still reddened from her bold actions. Gwynneth worried that Anton would think her a harlot for trying to seduce him, but once she saw the flash of hunger in his eyes and tasted the passion on his lips as he bent and kissed her, she knew she’d made the right decision.
“Come,” Anton said, taking the Lady by the hand and leading her to the bed. Gwynneth’s hand shook, making Anton stop. “You’re trembling,” she said, sliding arms around the younger woman’s waist.
Gwynneth dropped her head and rested her palms against Anton’s chest, “I’m a little nervous.” She admitted in a whisper.
“Don’t be.” Anton said, lifting the Lady’s chin up. “I love you,” He bent and kissed her, “and I’ll do whatever you want.”
He kissed her again, wanting to reinforce the words, and Gwynneth responded by wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him deeply. In between kisses, Anton slowly pushed the rest of her wife’s gown off her shoulders until it dropped onto the floor, leaving her completely nude. The Lady shivered as her husband looked at her with darkened eyes.
Anton placed her hands on Gwynneth’s shoulders and ran them down the softest arms she’d ever felt, “You’re more lovely than ever,” she whispered, her voice rough with desire.
“I...I was afraid,” Gwynneth whispered ashamedly, “that my body had changed too much...that perhaps I wouldn’t be appealing to you any longer.”
“Never,” Anton hushed, drawing her closer, “you will always be beautiful to me, Gwynneth.”
The light from the fire illuminated Anton’s face, and Gwynneth could easily see the truth shining in his eyes. She smiled, feeling reassured and emboldened as Anton kissed her again before directing them both up onto the bed.
Lying beside one another, Anton leaned over her wife and smiled down at the lovely flushed face beneath her. She brushed some golden hair away from Gwynneth’s face and lightly stroked her cheek, marveling once again at the blonde’s beauty.
Reaching up, Gwynneth tenderly traced around Anton’s lips with her fingertips, appreciating and enjoying the calm, gentle intimacy of the moment. Anton turned her head and pressed her lips against Gwynneth’s palm, making the Lady shiver and blush hotly. Tugging lightly on her husband’s neck, Gwynneth brought their lips together in a loving kiss.
True to his word, Anton moved slowly, completely allowing Gwynneth to set the pace. The Lady let herself go to enjoy the soft caress of Anton’s lips, the soothing touch of his hands, the mild pressure of his body against hers. She felt her arousal growing steadily and realized how very much she had missed this intimate connection. She was certain now that everything would turn out just fine and they could at last put all their difficulties behind them and be happy once again.
“My love,” Anton murmured, breaking their delicious contact. “I have wanted this for so very long.” Anton closed her eyes and pressed her face against a soft neck, then pulled away, gazing deeply into Gwynneth’s eyes, “Are you certain that you will not hate me come the morn? That you will not feel shame?”
Gwynneth smiled and ran her hands through his hair, pulling him to her and kissing him hard before peering back into open, hope-filled eyes of the most beautiful blue. “No,” she whispered, “I shall not.” Anton visibly relaxed and smiled.
Shifting and sliding their bodies so that they were even closer, they kissed again and again before Anton changed her focus and began to trail her lips down Gwynneth’s neck.
The Lady pushed her hands into her husband’s dark locks as he continued to kiss a path all along her collar bones and her chest until he reached the warm, downy valley between her breasts. When hot, moist lips wrapped around a nipple without hesitation, Gwynneth gasped quietly, her eyes fluttering shut.
Anton smiled at the soft noises Gwynneth made as she gently tasted and sucked each turgid nipple before continuing her exploration. Her hands eagerly stroked and caressed while lips kissed, nipped, and sampled soft skin. Squeezing tender buttocks, Anton returned her mouth to Gwynneth’s and they kissed deeply while her hand finally parted soft thighs.
As soon as her husband’s fingers slid into her wetness, Gwynneth cried out, her body automatically arching up against Anton’s. Her hands grasped at broad shoulders and her legs wantonly spread open as the fingers pushed deeper into her.
Anton felt the sting of fingernails digging into her shoulders and she kissed her wife passionately, loving the feel and texture of the body she’d remembered so well. She continued to move her hand, pressing her palm against the center of her wife’s pleasure as she touched her deep inside.
“You’re beautiful,” Anton whispered against Gwynneth’s lips.
Gwynneth struggled to open her eyes. When she looked at Anton, he was smiling, and he kissed her face tenderly.
“You’re so beautiful, Gwyn.”
Tears filled the Lady’s eyes, and she reached up to lay a hand on her husband’s cheek. “I love you, Anton,” she whispered with great emotion. Gwynneth kept her hand on Anton’s face, needing to maintain the connection as her pleasure rose higher and higher until she felt herself erupting. She gasped loudly, shuddering and clutching Anton’s shoulders as her climax ripped through her body. Tears leaked from her eyes, the emotions overwhelming her as her body slowly began to relax. It was so wonderful to be loved this way again. Gwynneth felt as though an unbearable weight had finally been lifted from her shoulders and she’d been set free at last.
Anton gathered the small blonde in her arms and held her, pressing her face against silky hair. “Gwyn,” Anton whispered as she held the blonde tight, “I adore you.” She kissed a damp forehead and stroked blonde hair gently. Gwynneth wound her hands around her husband’s waist, letting her tears flow freely as she absorbed the soothing touch of his hands and listened to the thumping of his heart. They lay like that for a long time, the only sounds being their thunderous heartbeats and ragged breathing.
At last the tears ceased and Gwynneth raised her head to look at her love. Anton’s eyes were soft, his face wearing a most tender expression. He reached out and touched Gwynneth’s face with gentle fingers, wiping away the traces of tears.
“No second thoughts?” Anton whispered, her voice laced with cautious hope.
Gwynneth smiled warmly, “None.” Wrapping her arms around her husband, she kissed him soundly, laying his fears to rest.
Anton awoke with a start, surprised to realize that she’d fallen asleep so quickly. She sat up slowly, trying not to disturb her bedmate. Seeing that the fire was all right, the Lord turned her attention to the blonde beauty lying beside her.
Gwynneth always looked like an angel when she slumbered. Anton smiled down at her, adoring this lovely creature more than she ever had. The intimacy they’d shared tonight went a long way in healing all the rifts between them, and for the first time, Anton truly felt as though the deep slashes in her heart were beginning to heal.
Feeling eyes upon her, Gwynneth awoke. She blinked and turned her head to find bright blue eyes twinkling at her. She smiled and reached up to touch her husband’s face. “Did I fall asleep on you? I’m sorry.”
Anton grasped her hand and kissed it. “Don’t be; I dozed off as well.”
The Lady smiled. “Were you watching me then?”
The Marquess lay back down on her side, propping herself up on her elbow. “Mm hmm. I like to watch you sleep.” She reached out and caressed her wife’s face. “I like to listen to you breathe. It soothes me.” Gwynneth blushed, embarrassed yet pleased with Anton’s words. Seeing the blonde’s shy reaction, Anton smiled and leaned down to press their lips together. It didn’t take long for the kisses to grow in intensity.
To Gwynneth’s surprise, she felt her desire flare to life once more, the strength of it shocking. But she did not want to concentrate on her desire this time. She wanted to venture in a different direction. “You make me feel so loved, Anton.” she whispered against his lips, “I want to make you feel loved too.”
Anton tensed slightly at the implications of her wife’s words. “I do feel loved, dearest.” She resumed the kissing but the Lady pulled away again.
“Wait,” Gwynneth said, placing a hand against Anton’s chest and looking deep into his eyes. “Darling, can we not partake in pleasure together this time?”
Anton ceased all movement and averted her eyes. She was wondering when, and how, they’d cross this hurdle.
Gwynneth reached up to cup Anton’s face, forcing him to look at her, “The pleasure you give to me is so wonderful; I would like for you to feel such bliss too.”
Anton half smiled, “Giving you pleasure gives me pleasure.” It was a weak argument, but she had to try.
“Anton, you know what I mean.” Gwynneth was surprised to see a blush cross his face as he dropped his gaze. She smiled and placed a quick kiss on solemn lips, “I would like so much to make you feel good, my love.” The Marquess closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. “Please,” Gwynneth wasn’t giving up, “show me how to touch you and please you...teach me what to do.” Anton sighed. “Please, love...trust in me.”
Anton opened her eyes and looked at Gwynneth, “I do trust you, it’s just...” she couldn’t complete her thought and she lay back down on the bed, feeling anxious and a little embarrassed.
The Lady expected for her proposal to be met with some uncertainty and resistance, and truthfully, she was nervous about going into uncharted territory. But she knew that she wanted to do this; she wanted to make love with Anton, truly and completely. Now what she needed to do was convince him that she wanted him – the man and the woman.
Gwynneth propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at Anton. She reached out and stroked the side of his face, wanting to ease his fears, “I know that this is new for us, and you may feel a bit uneasy – I do as well – but I assure you, love...I want this more than anything.” She leaned down and kissed him gently, “I want you, Anton...all of you.”
Anton looked up into understanding blue-green depths and felt her discomfort lessen, but only a little. “I just don’t want you to be disappointed...or worse.” Her timid whisper conveyed her feeling of unease. “What if you don’t like what you see?”
“Never.” Gwynneth kissed him again, wanting to dispel his fears, “I could never be disappointed with you, Anton. I love you, every bit of you.”
They held gazes for a long moment until Anton finally sat up and began to loosen the ties of his nightshirt. Gwynneth sat up too and watched with excited amazement as Anton slowly lifted the shirt over his head, leaving him exposed, save a white band of cloth wrapped around his chest.
When Anton looked at Gwynneth hesitantly, the Lady knew she was witnessing something very precious and fragile. Here, at last, was the real Anton. She was seeing her husband as she’d never seen him before, completely vulnerable, with his secret and his soul totally exposed. Her actions and words right now were far more important than any desire she felt. She had to tread carefully. She wanted him to remove the cloth band, but she knew that removing it would signify complete trust, complete surrender. Would Anton do that? Would he reveal himself – reveal herself – completely?
Wanting to ease Anton’s fears and proceed as carefully as possible, Gwynneth scooted close to him and gently leaned in to press tender kisses on the pale skin of his shoulder. She traced her fingers along the edge of the cloth band that bound Anton’s breasts, finally resting her hand in the center of the wrap. Looking up into hesitant eyes, she whispered, “Will you take this off too?”
Anton took a deep breath. Surely Gwynneth realized how hard this was. All kinds of doubts and fears ran through the Lord’s mind. What if Gwynneth ended up being wrong about her feelings? What if the revelation of her true gender, not to mention her ugly, scarred body, repulsed the Lady? Unsteadily releasing her breath, Anton gave her wife a last pleading look, hoping that somehow she’d change her mind. But Gwynneth was still looking at her with hope-filled love and understanding. Her hands shaking, Anton unwrapped the binding. As it fell away, she held her breath and closed her eyes.
A silent moment passed and then Anton felt the bed shift as Gwynneth moved. Before she could open her eyes, she felt small, warm hands touch her naked chest. Anton drew in a sharp breath, the sensation so shocking. When she opened her eyes, she saw that Gwynneth was kneeling right beside her, her wide eyes riveted to the flesh that was exposed to her at long last. When those eyes lifted to meet hers and Gwynneth smiled brilliantly at her, Anton expelled the breath she’d been holding, her eyes immediately pricking with tears.
Gwynneth saw and felt Anton’s reaction; she knew this was difficult for him, and she loved him even more for being so brave and trusting her with something so intensely personal. She reached out and turned his face to her, kissing him deeply, trying to convey all the feelings and love she had inside her. Anton responded in kind, and they kissed lasciviously until the Lady broke away. “Lie back,” Gwynneth whispered, wanting to see and feel more of the wonder that was Anton. The Lord hesitated, and Gwynneth pressed a gentle kiss against his lips. “Please...I want to touch you,” she whispered against his lips.
Anton mutely acquiesced and lay back down on the bed. Every nerve and fiber of her being was on edge, and she nearly felt sick. The sickness almost flew from her mouth when she suddenly felt Gwynneth maneuver herself to straddle one of her thighs.
Seeing the shocked expression on Anton’s face, Gwynneth feared that she was pushing too far, too fast. Honestly, she wasn’t sure where her boldness was coming from; she only knew that she had an overwhelming need to connect with Anton and see, touch, and taste him like never before. “Is this alright?” she asked with quiet uncertainty.
Anton swallowed her shock and slid her hands up to caress Gwynneth’s thighs, needing to ground herself with the feel of her wife’s body. She managed a nod and whispered back, “Yes...it’s alright.” In truth, it was more than alright; for Anton, it was nothing short of a miracle.
Even though a part of her was relieved to be free of the secret that had kept her from being truly close with her wife, Anton was still uneasy about uncovering the truth. With every inquisitive step that Gwynneth took, she kept expecting the blonde to suddenly stop and turn away from her in disgust. But, as Gwynneth continued to touch her with gentle determination, she did not waver. Gwynneth said that she loved her, and because of that, she would not be disappointed. It seemed that those words, and her feelings, were true. Anton couldn’t imagine that it could all be so simple, but it appeared that it was. She tried to let her nervous thoughts drift away and just concentrate on the warm, gentle caresses of her wife’s dainty hands as they explored.
Gwynneth was absolutely fascinated with the body beneath her and her eyes flitted all over Anton’s body, greedily absorbing every detail. Given that Anton had always appeared, quite nicely, to be a man, it was incredible to see him, in the flesh, as he truly was. As the Lady continued to delicately touch and take it all in, Anton’s physical gender became very real to her. But instead of feeling confusion or aversion, Gwynneth felt amazement. There before her was evidence that Anton was a woman, and yet, in Gwynneth’s mind, he was a man. Anton was an amazing combination of both man and woman, and he was the most wondrous creature she’d ever seen.
Running her hands all over her husband’s pale skin, Gwynneth marveled at its smooth, silky texture. Despite the scars and obvious injuries he’d suffered from battle, Anton’s body appeared very strong and fit. The muscles of his broad shoulders and arms were evident, but they weren’t brawny or overly rugged; they were lean, toned and taut. The small breasts were firm and colored with dark pink nipples, which stood out starkly against white skin. Below that, a flat stomach, trim waist and narrow hips were followed by two long, sinewy legs that seemed to stretch on forever. And between those legs, hiding the most intimate, private treasure of all, was a small triangular patch of dark curls.
Gwynneth’s face flushed, her mind whirling with a dozen different thoughts and feelings. Again, she did not feel one bit of repulsion; she only felt excitement, curiosity, and arousal. A rush of heat coursed though her body and ended up as a hot surge between her legs, convincing her that she was most definitely feeling arousal.
Licking her lips, Gwynneth trailed her hands all over Anton’s flat stomach, watching as the body beneath her tensed and the muscles became more pronounced. She lifted her eyes to Anton’s face and saw that his eyes were closed, his head tilted back slightly as he breathed open-mouthed. Another rush raced through Gwynneth as she realized that her touches were pleasing to Anton. Eager to feel more and do more, she reached up and gently cupped the small breasts with both hands.
With that touch, Anton released a throaty groan. “Oh god, Gwynneth,” she whispered, ready to explode from the sensations she felt.
Gwynneth leaned close, excitement flooding her again, “Does that feel good, love?”
“Yes, god yes!” Anton gasped, bringing her hands up around Gwynneth’s back and urging her down against her. When their naked flesh pressed together, both of them moaned aloud. The feeling was like fire, and both felt the flames licking at their skin, scorching them as they kissed with desperate hunger.
Gwynneth was the one who broke away. “I want to feel more of you, Anton.” She hovered over him, kissing his face and raking a hand through his dark hair. “I want to feel all of you.”
Still plagued with a feeling of uncertainty, Anton hesitated. The uncertainty grew ever weaker, though, as Gwynneth continued to run her hands all over Anton’s body, gooseflesh erupting from the fluttering, gossamer caresses. Gazing up into those beautiful blue-green eyes she knew so well, Anton knew she was powerless to resist. She would do whatever Gwynneth wanted. Reaching up, she touched her wife’s face, “Whatever you want, my love...I give myself to you.”
Gwynneth smiled, happy at last to have fully gained Anton’s trust. Bestowing another kiss upon her husband’s lips, she sat back, sliding both hands along Anton’s stomach and hips. She drew a deep breath and paused, wanting to express her gratitude. “For so long, I’ve wanted to see you the way you saw me...wanted to touch you as you touched me.” Her voice was a reverent whisper and Anton held her breath, hanging on the blonde’s every word. “You are truly beautiful, Anton. More beautiful than I could have ever imagined.” Gwynneth leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on his lips. “Thank you...thank you for trusting me with this most precious gift.”
Her eyes welling with tears, Anton cupped the blonde’s face, replying in a hushed voice, “No, thank you, Gwynneth, for loving me so unconditionally.” Gwynneth smiled and they kissed again, first their mouths, and then more as the Lady veered away and began to press her lips all along Anton’s neck, then his chest, and finally his taut stomach.
Gwynneth loved the feel of tender skin beneath her lips, but she had no idea what she was supposed to do next. She only knew that she wanted desperately to please Anton. Allowing her instincts to continue to lead her, Gwynneth caressed Anton’s legs and thighs, luxuriating in the warm skin as she stroked gently. She felt a tremor pass through Anton, and she looked up to meet his wide eyes.
“I want to touch you everywhere, Anton,” Gwynneth held his eyes as she continued to caress, “May I?”
Anton trembled, waves of heat racing through her body as the blonde’s tentative touches continued to fill her with fire. “Yes,” she croaked, swallowing against a dry throat. She was breathing hard, a light sheen of sweat covering her from muscles tensing and clenching over and over.
Slowly, carefully, Gwynneth ran her hands all along Anton’s hips and
upper thighs, dancing near but not touching the dark treasure buried
within. As she did this, a unique sensation suffused her and settled
deep in her belly. She was more aroused than ever before and her want
of Anton was overwhelming...she just wasn’t quite sure what she should
and could do.
Desperate to forge ahead and give pleasure, Gwynneth leaned down and kissed Anton fiercely, “Tell me what to do, my love...tell me how to please you!” she begged.
“Anything, darling, anything – just touch me!”
Gwynneth quickly slid her hand down to cup the nest of curls at the apex of Anton’s legs. She flushed with arousal as her fingers gently tangled in the dark patch.
“God!” Anton gasped, feeling a surge of wetness between her legs. She reached out blindly, her hands seeking purchase anywhere on the blonde’s body.
Pleased at Anton’s reaction, Gwynneth smiled. “Tell me what I should do now, love...show me!” She was nearly breathless with excitement.
“Just keep touching me,” Anton begged. “Here,” she rasped, taking Gwynneth’s wrist and guiding her hand further between her legs. “Touch me here, like this.”
Gwynneth’s mouth dropped open as her fingers pushed through soft curls and came into contact with moist heat. It was like nothing she’d ever felt or done before. Even when she’d been daring enough to touch herself, she’d never been as hot or as wet as Anton was now.
“Now bring your body up here,” Anton husked, positioning Gwynneth so that she lay upon her while straddling a thigh, “and move with me.”
Letting her fingers work between Anton’s thighs, Gwynneth pressed herself against her husband, her hips moving of their own accord. Her body was on fire with carnal sensations, and she moaned softly at the pleasurable feelings racing through her.
They continued to move and thrust against each other, their mutual arousal quickly building until it crested in no time at all and they cried out, both erupting and shattering in climax.
The two of them remained still for a long while, both of them so shattered they were able only to lay there and pant raggedly. When she was finally able to move, Anton urged Gwynneth upward, pulling her close until the blonde was one with her, their bodies and hearts intertwined as they held each other.
Anton was exhausted, both mentally and physically, but her heart was full. Full of love and admiration for the woman who lay, spent, in her arms. The evening had ended in a blissful culmination of total trust and emotional, soulful merging. After everything they’d been through, they were at long last healed.
Gwynneth closed her eyes and listened to the gentle thumping of Anton’s heart while feeling his fingertips idly trace circles all over her back and shoulders. She felt happy, satisfied, and complete. She had made love to Anton, with Anton, and she had done it well. Tilting her face up, she kissed her husband’s cheek, “I love you,” she whispered before burying her face in his soft skin.
Anton smiled, “I love you too...so very much.” She tightened her hold on Gwynneth’s shoulders, wanting to stay forever in the safe haven of pure love that they’d created there in that room.
Late Summer was a beautiful time of year at Weldon. The air was crisp and the lands were full of energy as everyone hustled and bustled about working in their fields and preparing to harvest their crops.
Gwynneth walked along the bank of the small stream, seeking out the last flowers of the season. She spied a small cluster of meadowsweet and plucked a few white blooms, holding them up to her nose and inhaling the strong, sweet smell. She smiled, thinking that they’d do nicely in a little bouquet in her chambers. Now if only she could find some lavender.
The sound of laughter interrupted the Lady’s thoughts and she smiled wider, knowing who the laugh belonged to and why she was hearing it. Hitching up her skirts with her free hand, Gwynneth turned and headed off toward the pleasant noise.
“Come on now, stay here, you little imp.” Anton laughed as she scooped Anna Catherine up with her free hand, preventing the crawling baby girl from escaping the safety of the blanket they sat upon. The Marquess cradled a sleeping baby Edgar in her other arm, which made it difficult to continually chase down the determined little girl.
“You’re being quite a nosey little bird today. No wonder Mummy wanted to get away for a spell.” Anton kissed the baby girl’s head and she squirmed, whining her displeasure at having her father hold her captive. She didn’t want to be coddled; she wanted to investigate that curious green stuff at the edge of the blanket!
“What are you laughing about?” Gwynneth asked as she appeared beneath the tree where the blanket lay.
“This one’s being a pip.” Anton said, motioning toward Anna Catherine, who was again on the move and crawling purposefully toward the grass.
Gwynneth smiled, “Ah yes.” She deposited her flowers on the blanket and walked over to pick up the little girl. “My fleet-kneed little poppet,” she crooned, cradling the baby in her arms and kissing her soft forehead. “Always on the go, aren’t you?” The baby voiced her annoyance with another whine.
“I thought you said she’d sleep out here? She’s been awake and rambunctious the entire time.” Anton complained mildly.
The Lady stifled a giggle. She often found humor in watching her husband try to manage both children. Gwynneth spent much more time with them, so she of course knew just how to handle them, but Anton was easily flustered by the babies and, though it wasn’t very nice, Gwynneth couldn’t help but find it amusing.
“She’s stubborn.” Gwynneth grinned at her husband, “Edgar is much more calm and laid-back.” She maneuvered the little girl in her arms and began swinging her gently back and forth while patting her bottom. “You have to work a little harder to get her to drop off, don’t you, sweetling?” She cooed to the girl in a sing-song voice, smiling while continuing to rock her. Within minutes the little girl was quiet and still.
“God above, how do you do that?” Gwynneth laughed softly at Anton’s exasperated question. “That never works for me!”
The Lady walked over and laid the baby down on the blanket. “I told you, she’s stubborn.” She glanced sidelong at Anton, “A bit too much like her Poppa, perhaps?”
Anton feigned a hurt expression, but was inwardly humored by her wife’s gentle ribbing. Gwynneth, and her mother too in fact, teased the Marquess often about how much Anna Catherine resembled her and how alike their personalities seemed to be at times.
“Don’t listen to her, Anna Catherine,” Anton whispered toward the baby, “It’s good that you’ve got a strong spirit.” Gwynneth laughed lightly and Anton leaned over to quiet her with a kiss on the lips. Taking little Edgar from his father, Gwynneth laid him down beside his sister and the babies slept peacefully.
“You’re so incredibly good with them, Gwynneth. You never cease to amaze me.” Anton remarked as the Lady came to sit beside him.
“Oh, you say that all the time.” She snuggled up against her husband’s side.
“It’s always true. You know just how to handle little Anna Catherine, even when she’s at her most stubborn.”
Gwynneth smiled. “She can be a handful, can’t she?”
“Mmm,” Anton murmured in agreement. “Do you really think she’s so much like me?”
“Well, I only know of your childhood from what your mother says, but yes, it certainly sounds as though she’s a great deal like you.”
“Hmm, well, I suppose it’s conceited of me, but I do hope she grows up the same way I did.”
Gwynneth stilled, curious as to what Anton meant. They hadn’t really discussed how they’d raise the children, nor what ‘proper’ roles or duties they would fulfill, or not fulfill. Given the unusual manner in which Anton was raised, the Lady couldn’t help but wonder what Anton might have in mind.
Unable to keep from voicing her thoughts, Gwynneth sat up and looked at her husband. “When you say ‘grow up the same way I did,’ do you mean that you want her to be raised as you were...exactly?”
Anton frowned, not understanding what the blonde meant. When realization dawned, she laughed lightly, “Oh, wait – you think I want her to behave as a boy?” Gwynneth gave a questioning shrug. “Oh no, of course I don’t want that. I’m just saying, what I do want is for Anna Catherine to have the same freedoms and opportunities that I had. I want her to experience the things I experienced and learn the things I learned, if she so desires. She may be a girl, Gwynneth, but I shan’t have her be helpless and weak-willed. I want her to be independent and able to take care of herself. She’s an heir to Weldon and Wextony, just as Edgar is, and she must learn to be strong and competent so that she’s prepared for any challenge Fate might hand her.”
Gwynneth was silent, her face turned away. Sensing that she might have hurt her wife’s feelings somehow, Anton touched her chin and turned her face back. Finding tears in the blonde’s eyes, Anton felt bad. “Gwyn, what is it? Did I say something wrong?”
“No,” Gwynneth shook her head, “I just,” she hesitated, “I’m sorry...I know that it would be best for you to have a second son, and I know that I won’t be able to give you any more children, but—”
“Shh-shh,” Anton shook her head, placing a finger on the Lady’s lips. “Hush with that nonsense, love.” Anton whispered, slipping both arms around her wife and kissing her tenderly. “Gwynneth, you have given me two healthy, beautiful children – something I never thought I’d have, not in my wildest dreams. And you did that, dearest – you alone have given me everything I’ve ever wanted. This,” she squeezed Gwynneth’s waist and tipped her head toward the slumbering children, “this is all I shall ever need in my life.”
Her worry easing, Gwynneth smiled and pressed her face against Anton’s chest, hugging him tight.
“You’re a blessing to me...a truly magnificent gift,” Anton continued, his voice soft and full of emotion, “I am eternally grateful to Fate for bringing you into my life.” She reached down and brought Gwynneth’s face up to her again, “I love you more than words can say.”
Tears spilled from Gwynneth’s eyes, “I love you, too.”
They came together, hugging and kissing with all the love and adoration they felt inside.
They lay back on the blanket and rested peacefully together, their whirlwind, fate-entwined lives evolving, at last, into happiness.
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