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Nothing Like This

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New York Society didn’t quite know what to do when the rumors began that John Moore was courting Sara Howard. They were both from good families to be sure, but while John Moore had the scandal of a broken engagement, he was still a handsome and wealthy bachelor not yet married. He could have chosen a wife from many of the young ladies his grandmother had brought to tea. But he had chosen Sara Howard. And Sara Howard was a spinster who chose (of all the unladylike things to do) to work.

It was all very shocking, with Mrs. Astor claiming, what a shame it was John Moore had gone to such an outlandish woman as Sara, which was very rich of her, considering it was her son who had robbed John Moore of his first marriage to begin with.

Sara was very good at ignoring the rumors; the not so discrete questions posed by her peers and their mothers; even the astonished male gazes that turned her way at the few parties and suppers she did attend. It did not matter that she was still young, and while she was not beautiful, she wasn’t what society would deem ugly either.

It was not that Sara was against marriage. She wished for love and affection, but she would only marry a man who would not try to change her or prevent her from having a career. She was ambitious and eager to improve her place as a woman in society, and most men of her class were incapable of accepting a wife who did not want to assume the domestic role usually assigned her gender.

So, she remained a spinster; the last in her class from Vassar.

Sara had always imagined the man she would eventually marry would be her intellectual equal; someone who shared her same interest in police work and science; a man who read the same books as she did and could converse on subjects that were outside the realm of ordinary polite conversation.

When she met Lazlo Kreizler, she thought he was that man. He was attractive in his passion, determination, and intelligence, and she had found herself drawn to those qualities.

But whatever romantic notions she had had about him were destroyed the day he had raised his hand against her. She had forgiven him, and they had made their amends. She knew she could be provoking, but that he had lost control and struck her when she had challenged him was something she could not forget. And he had truly loved Mary Palmer, not her. Perhaps he had been smitten with the idea of her, and what she represented: someone slightly more acceptable in society than he-but he had never truly entertained the idea of loving her. Not really. They were better as friends and colleagues, which they remained still.

Soon after the events of the Beecham case, Sara had realized that her problem in finding a partner truly lay with her own idealism of what a man should be. She had made the same mistake many men did in creating a vision of a perfect partner that did not lead to reality. She had also completely disregarded the more intimate matters of the heart, thinking that if her intellectual requirements were met, the rest would follow naturally.

With a sigh, Sara leaned back in her chair and stared out the window at the blue autumn sky. Feeling warm and comfortable, she closed her eyes.

The thought came to her as though it had always been there, and she just hadn’t been listening: she wanted a husband who was a partner in life; a man who viewed her as an equal, but one who could be affectionate. She wanted a man who was at his core good, who understood the horrid things that she had seen and would love her throughout it all.

She shivered as the memory of warm lips and sandalwood brushed her senses. She needed a man who was as interested in her own experiences in the marriage bed as he was in his own, and who would not stray.

Someone like John Moore.

Her eyes snapped open. John Moore. She wanted someone like John Moore.

He was not a chauvinist, but he had been raised as a man of his class with clear gender roles in place, and he sometimes had trouble seeing past them. He could be pompous, old-fashioned, and entertained ideas of chivalry best left in the middle ages. But he was also loyal, intelligent—when he wasn’t playing the role of society bachelor—and most of all he cared; he cared so very much.

He had been deeply wounded by his brother’s death, his parent’s rejection, and most recently, the breaking of his engagement to Washington socialite, Julia Pratt. He had been jilted in the worst way, for the worst sort of man (a womanizer) and had taken up drinking to excess and visiting brothels to ease his pain, something Sara had never quite understood. In the past she had seen his behavior as something of a moral failing, but since her experience in the police force, she had grown her capacity for compassion and understanding. There was much more gray than black and white. She had her own demons, and perhaps, had she been a man, she might have done the same.

She had seen how his experience with the Beecham case and in growing close to Joseph, had changed him. He had stopped drinking and no longer visited prostitutes, claiming he had no longer had any need to exorcise Julia from his memories. As far as she knew, he was still sober and she had not heard anything sordid about his nightly activities in more than a year.

But why did she think of him now? Was it because he had shown interest in her?

No, it was not that. The image of him appeared in her mind, of his vulnerable shrug when he had told her he thought he was falling in love with her. He had not declared he was, but that he thought he was. She had not then, but she could now, see the distinction, and it was a beautiful moment of the honesty she had always thought he lacked when he made jokes or silly romantic gestures. He had been so open, so self-aware, something she had never seen in him before. When he told her not to tell him he had no feelings for her she had stood there stunned, her heart pounding loudly against her breast.

Then he had kissed her. First her forehead; her cheek; and then softly, gently, her mouth. It had been sensual, tender, and so very, very unexpected. It was singularly the sweetest moment she had ever known, and certainly the most romantic. She could still feel the brush of his nose against the down of her cheek as he drew away.

Since the night he said he’d wait for her, (and then stolen her cab, leaving her to fend for herself in a display of trust and admiration) he had not spoken of his love again. He was never forward, never tried to kiss her again, or even linger in touching her hand. He continued to see her regularly, as a friend; as a colleague; as someone she had known all her life. Somehow it had been easy to push it from her mind, to not think of how their relationship had been changing, and what he had most recently become...which was someone very dear.

Suddenly the urge to see him overwhelmed her and she felt jittery.

He had been having tea more often than of late with his grandmother and whatever young debutantes she thought might be suitable in making him a wife. Sara did her best to ignore these events, but it was increasingly difficult when the gossip she endured focused directly on him. He seemed to have grown significantly in popularity in the last few months and his attendance was sought after by all of society, including the Astors’.

Worry crept up on her, and then she wondered why she was worrying. He had said he would wait for her. If he did not intend to stay the course, she didn’t want him. Or did she?

Sara was never one to deny her own feelings, so when they came to her, she was usually quick to act. Of course, matters of the heart were not usually what she acted upon and she was finding it rather difficult to know what to do and how to do it.

Perhaps it was not the best choice, but she decided to start by following him. She could see how he spent his time and some surveillance practice for when she opened her own private agency.

But when she enacted her plan, it soon became clear she had made a fatal mistake in her confidence that he would not see her. John was no longer a novice, and he had a keen awareness for Sara in particular, so the day she attempted it, he noticed her following him long before he made her aware of it. When he finally did, outside St. Thomas', she had but for a moment lost sight of him in the crowd. The next time she saw him he was looming over her.

“Hello, Miss Howard.” He tilted his head to the side, his eyes bright with humor. “I do believe you are following me.”

Her heart leaping into her throat, she let out a yelp and jumped back. Her shoe caught on a cobblestone and she fell backwards. For a moment she was sure she was going to end up on her bottom in a pile of mud and horse manure, but instead she felt John’s arms wrap around her waist, strong and warm. He pulled her against his chest.

“Are you alright?” His hands gripped her shoulders and he peered down at her, concern and amusement playing across his face.

“It isn’t funny,” she said crossly, withdrawing from the rather too comfortable circle of his arms.

“No,” he agreed soberly. But his eyes betrayed his humor, for they still twinkled.

“You frightened me!”

“I am sorry,” He said a trifle pompously. “But you were following me.”

She inwardly cursed the blush she felt spreading across her face as his eyebrows rose. His face lit up in a smile that made her heart flip, and annoyance warred with pleasure.

“I’m flattered. But what have I done to warrant such close scrutiny?”

She had once thought his teasing was because he wasn’t serious, but that wasn’t true at all. Even now he was teasing but there was something in his eyes that told her he was very interested in why she was following him. That he was interested in her.

“I merely wished to know what you do during the day....” She paused. “...and night,” she tacked on reluctantly.

He turned to her, a genuinely curious expression on his face. “Why do you want to know what I do?”

“I—” She couldn’t say it, not here in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

Her flustered response seemed to amuse him. “During the day I’m at the newspaper. What do you think I do at night?”

“I don’t know, do you visit brothels?”

All humor vanished, replaced by shock. “Pardon me?”

She hadn’t meant for it to sound so accusatory, but while she was offending him, she might as well get the worst of her questions over with. “You haven’t any social diseases, have you, John?”

“Good God, Sara,” he muttered, his face turning as red as hers had been moments before. “The things you say, sometimes.”

“Well?”

“No! I do not! Why are you asking me such things, is that really what you think of me?” The hurt was palpable in his tone. “That I would presume to court you and visit prostitutes on the side?”

Sara looked up in surprise. It was the first time he had openly admitted to actively pursuing her.

“Why do you look so surprised? Didn't I tell you I’d wait for you?” He absently took his hat off and began to fiddle with it. “Is that why you are following me? To see if I meant what I said?”

“I wanted to see what you did when I wasn’t around,” she admitted, avoiding his intense stare.

“And did you find child welfare reform and journalism insidious? Visiting Joseph? Sleeping alone in my own bed? Having tea with my grandmother?”

“And half the debutantes of New York City,” she replied acidly, unable to help herself.

“I am unable to control who my grandmother invites for tea, Sara,” he protested—then his eyes widened in shock. “You’re jealous!”

She was jealous. And she was frightened about what it meant.

“You are!”

“Oh please, John, enough!” she exclaimed, feeling that everything was spinning out of control. “I simply thought it pertinent to know if the man I had chosen to share my bed with was infected with syphilis. I’d rather not find out later when my nose is falling off!”

She wasn’t quite sure where that had come from; the stunned silence that followed this pronouncement; the flash of emotions across John’s face she couldn’t quite understand; it made her blush again. She was blushing entirely too much for her usual standards. Sara Howard didn’t blush. She wasn’t the type. But somehow in front of this man she couldn’t seem to help herself.

John stared intensely at her before finally saying in a low and remarkably steady voice. “The man you are to share your bed with?”

The words coming out of his mouth; she felt them like an electric current through her entire body, starting with her brain which went fuzzy, and then bolting downwards where it coiled, hot and aching in her lower belly. Had she really said that? Trying to cover up her discomfort, she adopted a condescending sort of tone she had always hated. “Yes. You once asked me what I would say if you were to ask me to marry you and mean it, do you remember?”

“Yes, of course! I could hardly forget such a thing.” His voice sounded strangled and his knuckles were white from where he gripped his hat. “So—so you would accept my offer of marriage if I were to ask again?”

It was somehow not a question, nor was it a statement, and it was delivered not at all like a man who was glad to have his suit accepted.

She felt suddenly hesitant, even as she replied, “Yes.”

He did not answer but regarded her with a mixture of wariness and something more stirring and less definable. She had not known what answer he would give, but she had not counted on nothing, and she felt her confidence start to fall apart. Cold dread washed through her countered by the humiliation that heated her face.

“Have I made a mistake? Do you no longer wish to marry me?”

“No!” he said quickly. “No that is not it. I am—” His eyebrows drew together slightly, and he shook his head, as though he was searching for the right words and could not find them. “I believe—I would like to know why?”

Sara frowned. “Why?”

“Yes, why now, exactly?” Suddenly his face went pale. “You’re—you’re not in trouble, are you?” He put specific emphasis on “trouble,” and there was no mistaking what he meant.

Sara felt her mouth drop open, aghast that he could even think such a thing, let alone say it aloud.

“No! Do you really believe I would do such a thing to you?”

Panic flashed through his eyes, and he stepped forward. “No, Sara, that is not what I meant—”

“I think it’s very clear what you meant! Oh, forget I mentioned anything at all!” She turned away, walking quickly and blindly, not caring where she was going.

A firm hand gripped her arm. “Please. Don’t go.”

It was those words, low and pleading, that kept her from wrenching her arm away and bolting. Spinning, she pulled out of his grasp, but there was no resistance. He had already let go.

“We cannot do this here,” he muttered, turning to the street and waving down a hansom cab. When one pulled up, he looked back at her and held out his hand, his eyes darting over her face. “Will you come with me?” His voice was urgent and intense. “I will not force you, but I hope...”

He looked so compellingly attractive standing there, she felt riveted. She acquiesced but did not take his hand, climbing into the cab on her own.

He made no comment, but climbed in after her, telling the cabbie his address. As they jolted forward, Sara jerked against him. He reached out and grasped her arm, steadying her. She looked up into his face. Their eyes met and she found she could not look away. They were dark brown, but there was a bit of gold there too. And his expression…

She had never been so sensuously aware of him as she was at this moment, not even when he had kissed her the year before.

Sara tore her eyes away from his and sat up feeling prickles of sweat break out under her arms and beneath her breasts. Her cheeks burned hot as she looked out the window.

This cab ride was only tolerable because they swayed from side to side as the wheels rolled over roughly cobbled streets. If she had been absolutely still, she didn't think she could have suffered such silent torture.

Finally, after an agonizingly long time, the cab stopped with a lurch and John got down. He held out his hand to her once again, and after a moment’s hesitation, she took it.

He was strong, his hand braced under her weight, his grip sturdy but not crushing. She had never noticed before, but it struck her how a man’s hands could make one feel. Limp or firm; rough or gentle. It was indicative of personality and he was consistent. She did not think he realized it, but he never let her go, holding onto her even as he paid the driver; even as they made their way through the gate and into the garden. He did not drag her, but he was in a hurry and she did not understand why.

“My grandmother is home,” he explained as though hearing her thoughts. “We would have no privacy.” With a wary look up at the house, he led her into the back, under the rose arbor. It was September, so all the roses had gone, but the leaves were still thick and green, and the bower it made hid them from any sharp eyes. Only then did he drop her hand. He let out a sigh.

“I didn’t mean to imply that you—that is to say...that—”

“That I am pregnant and need you to rescue me?” She interrupted, hotly. “But you did. You did imply it.” It had hurt, pricking into her conscious. Was this what he felt when she accused him of going to a brothel?

“I have been courting you for nearly a year and not once in that time did you give me any indication that my feelings for you were reciprocated.” He chose each word slowly, carefully. “I merely thought—no, I did not think. There was no thinking involved. It was the first reason that came to me that you would consent to marry me.”

Sara shook her head in dismay. “Consent? You make it sound horrid, like it is something begrudge. Let us be clear: I do not need you, John Moore. I can live well on my own.”

“I know that very well.” His eyes crinkled slightly, and when he spoke it was with an acknowledgement of the familiarity they had with each other.

“And yet you seem to know nothing of yourself! Do you really believe you have no qualities to recommend yourself as a husband? That I would only want to marry you because I needed you?”

“Is that not it?” His voice was stiff. His hands crushed the brim of his hat, fingers clenching tightly as though holding more than just felt, and in that moment, it became clear to her exactly how much truth was in her words—how little regard he had for himself. If he were any other man, he would have assumed she’d have fallen madly in love with him. But not John. He might have been that way once, but not now.

A rage she did not know she had rose within her, hot and red. It burst out of her in a fierce torrent. “Damn, Julia Pratt! Damn her to hell!”

He recoiled slightly at her uncharacteristic display of emotion and use of foul language, but she was not finished:

“She was a fool for preferring Jack Astor to you, an utter fool! And she did you a great disservice in making you believe you are impossible to love, because it is not true.”

The rage sputtered out like a fire doused in water almost as soon as it had begun, and she faltered as more vulnerable words emerged. “You are loveable...you are…” She looked down at his hands. They were warm and gentle, and capable when he wanted them to be. A manifestation of his heart, so very fragile and yet also courageous. And even after his heartbreak he had opened it to her. The thought of it took her breath away.

How many women could claim such a gift?

Without lingering any longer on her remaining doubts, she reached out and took one of his hands between hers, stroking the place where his thumb met his finger. Bringing his hand to her mouth, she pressed her lips against his knuckles.

His breath hitched in his throat, making her skin tingle, and the air around them seemed to crackle with heat. She trembled as his finger touched her chin, gently tilting it up. She waited until the last moment before letting her eyes drag to his. They were filled with hope and longing that made her heart pound and her throat tighten. She felt suddenly that her clothes were too small; that she was too small.

“Sara?”

“You are not impossible to love, John.” She blinked as tears formed hot in her eyes. The words slipped out easily as though they’d just been biding their time. “Because I do...I love you.”

A mourning dove landed in the thicket above them, cooing and calling its mate. The wind rustled the leaves and the autumn sun came out from behind a cloud and filtered through the branches, its warm rays dancing across their faces.

“You—” His throat bobbed up and down and his eyebrows drew together. “You love me?”

“Yes, I do. Very much.”

His hands were shaking as he cupped her cheeks between his palms. She closed her eyes and nuzzled against them, her nose brushing his fingers.

“Truly?”

“Yes.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “But—when?”

“I don’t know...recently...maybe?” She gave a watery laugh. “I am quite dreadful at this.”

“No, you are not.” His eyes were bright as they darted over her face, a tiny smile forming, making the dimples on his cheeks more pronounced. “You don’t know how I have longed to hear those words.”

“Well, it only took a compliment on your handsomeness to make you love me,” she chided gently. “I didn’t quite believe you meant it.”

John laughed breathlessly, brushing a stray tendril of hair behind her ear. “I know. You made it very obvious you found it unbelievable.” He then grew serious. “And have I convinced you? That my feelings for you are not fleeting? That I want to marry you because you are wonderful and brave, and the only woman I want to be with for the rest of my life?”

His words tugged her heart in happiness, and yet—

“I am not a young debutante. You already know I cannot be content to stay at home and play the society wife.” She paused on her last lingering doubt. “I am not—I cannot be like Julia Pratt.”

Her name fell between them, but it was not heavy, and easily brushed away on the wind and his words.

“We cannot go back to the way we once were,” he said quietly. “Nor should I want to. I only want you.”

She did not speak, her emotions and desires outweighing any need of propriety.

Finally...finally... she would begin to understand, and it was with the anticipation of knowing how a man felt under her fingertips; her lips; and how he might respond in return, Sara acted, placing her palms against John's chest.

He did not protest as she pressed firmly, forcing him to step back, further into the darkness of the arbor. Cradled by the leaves and the faint trace of roses in the air, she looked up and found his eyes dark, his lips parted, and his breathing just as shallow as her own.

Arching her fingers, she slid her hands up to the lapels of his coat, feeling the fine wool under her fingertips. She grasped his coat and lifted herself up onto her toes, softly pressing her lips against his jawline. He made a soft noise, and his scent of sandalwood and tobacco, and warm skin surrounded her. Then she kissed his lips.

She felt his shuddering gasp more than heard it as he parted his lips, giving his mouth up to her. All the hair on her body stood on end in a sort of painful pleasure as it rubbed against her clothing. She felt as though every part of her was awake to him, and when he tentatively touched the tip of her tongue with his own, she felt a rush of warmth between her legs accompanied by the ache of desire. It was familiar, desire was…but not like this.

His tongue was like warm velvet and the skin behind his lips like silk, and she was sure she would melt into a puddle at his feet. Then he finally touched her. Palms flat against her back, he slid them lower and lower until she felt his fingers curve over her bottom and press into the tight muscles, pulling her up against him.

Whimpering against his mouth, she wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face there, her head spinning.

He let out a moan that she felt deep within her bones and suddenly it was her up against the arbor with her feet dangling over the ground. Unconsciously she opened her legs and he slid between them, surprising them both.

“Oh,” he mumbled dragging his lips from her and looking down. “I should have realized you would be wearing one of those newfangled split skirts. They really are much more practical than I ever realized.”

She couldn’t answer for now he moved closer, his obvious desire pressed into the very center of her. She was hot, but shivering, and the ache only grew.

“But they are also hindering.” His breath was ragged against her neck, lips nipping, tongue caressing. “Very hindering—”

Distracted by the pulsing throb between her legs, she wasn’t sure what was him and what was her, she only knew she—

“John Schuyler Moore!”

She abruptly found herself dropped to her feet as John’s grandmother's shrill voice called out from somewhere beyond the roses. Dazed, he jerked away from her, and they locked eyes in mutual panic. He desperately ran his hands through his hair, and with shaking hands tried to straighten his tie.

“I know you are in there!”

“Damn!” he whispered harshly. “Damn!”

Sara’s hat was askew, and her hair was a fright, but with the pounding of her heart in her ears, and her lips raw from his kisses, her hands were useless, shaking with adrenaline.

“What do we do?” She barely recognized her own voice, for it was high pitched and shrill.

“I’ll go first,” John muttered, and without a backwards glance he hurried out to overtake his grandmother before she could find them herself. If she knew what they had been doing they would be married before the sun set.

“I know you have Sara Howard back there with you!”

Sara’s heart sank as she frantically tried to re-pin as much hair as she could back into her chignon. It was already too late.

“I saw you practically drag her back there, and if I saw, its possible someone else did as well. You cannot be so stupid—”

“Grandmother,” John tried to interject, but she continued over the top of him.

“—so unbelievably stupid as to compromise her reputation. She may be a spinster, and somewhat odd, but she is still unmarried and a gentlewoman, and—”

“Grandmother, listen!” John said in a very loud voice.

“—you have no idea what this will do to her!”

“Yes, I do!” he snapped finally. “I’m going to marry her!”

Without a mirror, she didn’t know how straight her hat was, so she gave up. She took his announcement as her cue to step out into the light, where she found John’s grandmother staring at him with raised eyebrows. She turned her gaze to Sara, taking in what was probably her disheveled appearance and the redness of her cheeks and lips, and said,

“Well! It’s about time.”

Sara stared at her in astonishment and Mrs. Moore looked disdainful.

“You don’t think I actually wanted him to marry one of those ninnies I brought around for tea, did you?”

Before she had time to answer such a question, Mrs. Moore stepped forward and wrapped her surprisingly strong fingers around Sara’s upper arm.

“Now—” she started as she none too gently began to pull Sara towards the house, ignoring John completely. “—as I cannot trust my grandson not to do something more disastrous to your reputation than he already has, you must not be alone with him again, and speaking of reputations, you don’t plan to continue working at that police station do you? I understand your need for something to fill your time, but the police? That simply isn’t—”

Sara desperately turned back to find John, looking as bemused as she felt, rushing after them.

“Grandmother!”

But Mrs. Moore continued to ignore her grandson. “I have a need of great grandchildren, so you should get started right away, though from what I could tell you already were under my rose arb—”

“Grandmother!” John interrupted in a pleading tone. “Please!” He practically jumped in front of them and they came to an abrupt halt, almost running into him.

Mrs. Moore looked affronted. “John! Get out of the way!” she ordered, but he refused to move.

It was all rather funny, except for the throb between Sara’s legs that had not yet dissipated. That was rather embarrassing, though she knew Mrs. Moore knew nothing about it.

John was looking down at his grandmother with a stern expression. “We make no promises of great-grandchildren.”

Sara threw him a startled glance, which he ignored. Mrs. Moore’s head snapped up, and in her distraction, he managed to pry her vice-like grip off of Sara’s arm.

“Excuse me?” Mrs. Moore glared between the two of them. “No children? And who is to carry on your name?”

“Oh, bother with that old-fashioned nonsense,” John said in a pompous tone that caused his grandmother’s face to turn tomato red.

“One,” Sara interjected quickly, hoping to avoid what was to be a familial confrontation that didn’t seem to involve her at all. “You will have at least one, if not more.”

John raised his eyebrows at her and she responded in kind. She never said she didn’t want children.

“He has promised me lazy, stubborn children,” she continued. “Though I hope they will not be too much so.”

John guffawed and Mrs. Moore glared at him.

“But Sara will continue to work.” John straightened his face and turned his entire focus on his grandmother. “If she wishes, for as long as she wishes. And whatever else she might want to do.”

He was laying it on rather thick, but Sara felt a warmth bloom in her chest that was something close to pride. He had changed so much in the last year, or perhaps he was just coming into his own at the ripe old age of thirty-nine.

But Mrs. Moore was staring at her grandson with such a terrifying look, Sara was firmly glad she was not at the other end of it.

“I see,” she said, her lips pinched together in a flat line. “Well, I suppose that's something I can live with. She looked sternly between the two of them. “But I want at least one great-grandchild.”

“We will do our best,” John announced, then realizing what he said, turned a dark red and began sputtering “I mean...well…”

Mrs. Moore’s eyes narrowed. “But not before you are married. I don’t want tongues wagging over an eight-month baby!”

“Yes, Mrs. Moore,” Sara said quickly in what she hoped was a reassuring tone. “We will do nothing that might cause a scandal. You have nothing to worry about, does she John?” She looked pointedly at him.

“Nothing,” John agreed quickly.

“Quite,” she sniffed, but looked mollified. With a wave of her hand she picked up her skirts and walked back towards the house. “See her home, John dear,” she called over her shoulder. “But if you do not return in twenty minutes, I shall send the police after you.”

A look of horror crossed his face, and Sara had to hide a smile.

“She means it, too,” John said with a shiver that was not one of pleasure.

“I know.” Then she laughed, happiness bubbling up within her that she had not felt since she was a small child.

A smile slowly spread across John’s face, his dimples more pronounced and his eyes sparkling with such incandescent joy, it was all she could do not to throw herself into his arms and kiss him full on the mouth.

“Sara Howard,” he said softly, “in love with me.”

She watched as he seemed to remember something, and reached inside his coat, withdrawing a small velvet box.

Opening it revealed an engagement ring with a small mine-cut diamond.

“John,” she whispered as he slid the gold band onto her ring finger. “Have you really been carrying this around?”

He shrugged shyly. “I wanted to be prepared.”

“It’s beautiful.”

He brushed her cheek with the back of his forefinger, suddenly serious. “If it were not for your expectations that I could be better..." he trailed off, the words left unspoken. "You believed that I could be something more.”

He gave her a beautiful smile that did nothing to make the ache between her legs disappear. It only made it worse.

Just as she was about to move into his arms, not caring what anyone thought, a carriage pulled up to the curb. Startled, they looked up to find Cyrus and Stevie, who was grinning at them.

“Good afternoon, Miss Howard,” Cyrus said with a tip of his hat and a gentle smile. “Mr. Moore.”

“What are you doing here?” John asked, too surprised to be upset.

Stevie hopped down and looked back and forth between them before saying cheekily,

“We was told to come and take Miss Howard home before something “untoward” happened to her.”

“I say,” John said in an irritated tone. “How does Doctor Kreizler even know where we are?”

Stevie saluted him. “While she was following you, I was following her.”

“Stevie!” Sara admonished, her face heating up. “Why on earth—”

Stevie shrugged. “Someone’s got to look out for you when you go wandering about on your own.”

“Yes, well that would be me from now on,” John said firmly. “She’s going to be my wife.”

Sara bristled out of habit. “John, I don’t need you--”

“Of course, you don’t,” he said briskly. “But then who will watch me?”

She smiled at that. And so, she let John help her into the carriage. After the door was shut, she reached her hand out the window to him.

He took her hand. A slight smile lifted the corner of his mouth, still reddened from her kisses, and he said, “Soon.”

There was a promise in his words that made her heart lurch.

“Soon,” she repeated. Then the carriage pulled away and his hand slipped from hers. She watched him grow smaller and smaller, until they turned a corner and he was completely gone from her sight.

With a sigh, Sara sat back against the seat.

She smiled slowly. Married. She was going to be married. And now not one spinster among them from her class at Vassar.

How very disappointing.

 

Epilogue

John entered and quickly shut the door. She watched as he turned to her, letting out a huge breath. He looked slightly rumpled, his bowtie askew and his hair a bit out of place, but he was so very handsome. Sara felt her lips turn up into a smile on their own accord.

“Hello, John.”

He startled. It was a rather strange thing to say as they had spent the entire day together, but now they were alone. He seemed to realize that and let out a soft laugh.

“Hello, Sara.” His voice was warm and low, and then with a hint of pride, “Mrs. Moore.”

“Yes, you are finally married,” she teased. “Another of New York’s eligible bachelors, gone, married to a plain spinster with lofty ideas about her sex.”

“Well, then they know who is in charge in this marriage,” John replied, still smiling. It could have been a placating jest, but Sara knew that he meant it in an endearing way. He would not try to dictate what she could or could not do.

The smile left his face. “But you are not plain, Sara, you are just…practical with your dark suits and simple hair. Not plain.”

She felt his gaze roam down her body, even as she watched it, feeling the heat of it. Her skin tingled and suddenly she was aware of the silk of her gown on her arms.

“But not today.” His voice had taken a hoarse edge to it. “Today you are radiant.”

She flushed with pleasure.

Her hair had been pinned into a chignon, but a few curls escaped around her ears and lay soft at the nape of her neck. She knew John found that alluring, as he had been staring at her neck all through dinner. She had broken out in goose bumps, which he had to have noticed for all he couldn’t keep his eyes off her.

Her wedding gown had been made from alternating strips of luminous ivory satin and the duller luster of faille, creating an unusual, but pleasing, effect. The train was small, the sleeves only slightly puffed and made of lace. In contrast, the bodice was covered in lace and tiny seed pearls, with silk ribbon at the neckline.

As she had stood in the church, the morning sunlight filtering through the windows, she had given John the vision of a beautiful angel. And perhaps to him she was. She was the one who had made his life worth something and gave him hope for the future.

Now in the evening lamplight, she looked warm and inviting, but every bit as beautiful, with flushed cheeks and bright eyes.

John tossed his hat and walking stick onto a chair and taking a moment to loosen his bowtie, she watched with growing anticipation as he drew closer to her. He smelled of linen, sandalwood, and his own slightly musky scent. It had been a very long day, after all. Even his usually immaculately shaved jaw was showing signs of a shadow.

His gaze was tender and warm when he stopped in front of her, but he was hesitant in his movements, a slight tightening of his mouth that belied there was something he wanted to say but found difficult.

“What is it?” Sara asked softly. “Tell me.”

He spoke a trifle haltingly, and a bit abashedly. “I have known you for such a long time. As a girl with torn stockings at the knees charging around like she was off to war, and now as a woman more confident than anyone I have ever known. We have already gone through much together, and yet we will have many years to come.” His eyes grew warm. “I am a very lucky man, to have a woman such as you.”

Fingers trembling, she rested her hands against his chest. "And I, you."

He watched her as she removed his tie, pulling the silk out of his collar and dropping it to the floor. She pushed his coat off his shoulders and let it too, fall.

He removed his cufflinks and she began to unbutton his shirt when he stopped her, placing his hands over hers. “I want to see you.”

His voice was husky, and it felt like a bolt of lightning pierced between her legs.

She nodded and turned, the silk of her dress catching between his legs. “Then undress me, John.”

She was surprised at how steady her voice was, for she didn’t feel steady at all. Her heart was thumping loudly against her ribs and she felt her breath hitching in her throat.

His hands covered hers, then slid up her arms, fingers drifting over the lace of her sleeves to her shoulders. Her neck was covered by fabric, so he brushed his fingertips up the curve of her jaw. His touch caused goosebumps to break out over her arms, and when his tongue traced the delicate shell, she couldn’t help the shiver that ran through her.

They moved up into her hair, loose pins falling out, others dropping to the floor as he drew them out. He hair fell in waves down her back, and he wove his fingers through it. Her scalp tingled as he said, "It has been a long time since I have seen you with your hair down."

"Yes, I was twelve or thirteen."

She felt him bury his face in her hair, breathing deeply, and it made her knees shake.

"You smell like June roses and summer rain, and just a hint of cardamom."

Sara smiled to herself. "How do I smell like all that?"

"I don't know," he murmured. "But you do."

"Are you going to undress me?" she teased. "Or shall I do it myself?"

She felt his fingers find the first button on the back of her neck, but then he paused, and then said in an aggrieved tone, “There are so many buttons.”

Sara let out a joyful laugh as he began to slip the pearl buttons out of their loops. “It encourages patience.” Then she added cheekily, “And will increase the dexterity of your fingers.”

“You have no idea what my fingers are capable of.” His voice was a hot whisper, making her gasp as his hands moved lower and lower as each small pearl button was released.

He tugged the bodice off her shoulders, baring her skin to the cool air of the room. The dress fell to the floor in a pool of Brussels lace and satin, which she stepped out of. Ever the gentleman, John picked her dress up and brushed it off, laying it neatly over the an overstuffed armchair near them. When he turned back, she had already removed her corset cover and tossed it to the floor. She had no such concerns for crumpled clothing.

She watched him still as his eyes widened and his mouth opened. It shouldn’t have shocked him—he’d seen many corsets, she knew—except for the fact that it was red—and not just any red, but a deep cherry red—the luster of the silk offset by delicately embroidered sprays of blue forget-me-knots under the bust.

“Do you like it?”

“I—” His voice cut off as he swallowed hard.

“It came from Paris. I had it specially ordered.”

“Yes, I imagine you did. I am assuming my grandmother didn’t see it?”

“No.” She smiled slowly. “I was afraid she might have an apoplectic fit if she saw my bridal trousseau.”

“There’s more?” he asked faintly.

“Oh yes. You should see my garters.”

He looked so like was about to pass out, she took pity on him, turning her back to him again. “My laces, please. I assume you know how to loosen them?” She said this in a light teasing tone.

He merely snorted, and growled, “Women wear entirely too many complicated pieces of clothing.” He gave the strings of her corset an aggressive tug.

Her breath rushed out of her body as he made the corset tighter even as he tried to loosen it.

“This is the way women’s clothing is made,” she gasped. “For it is men that dictate what women must wear, and you all have strange ideas of what shapes we should make for your pleasure.”

“Yes, yes, I know.”

When it was finally loose enough, she unhooked the busks in the front and it fell away, allowing her to take the first deep breath since she had donned it that morning. Feeling a giddy rush of adrenaline and the reality of the situation, she kept speaking, not knowing how to stop.

“Do you know, John, the Gibson girl and her proportions is not even real? She is a fantasy, a creation of men’s minds to satisfy their sexual desires. How could any woman ever live up to a drawing?”

Her petticoats were quickly untied, and they collapsed to a frothy heap around her ankles.

“John, you aren’t listening!”

His eyes snapped up. “Of course, I am! But I’m distracted!”

“By what? There are only two of us here.”

He looked at her as though she’d lost her senses. “By you, you silly thing!” He gestured to her. “By you and your French lingerie! Do you really think after all that, I would be able to focus on social issues? That damn corset, all the blood in my brain is currently elsewhere.”

“You forgot the garters…” She trailed off as her mind and her eyes went to his trousers.

“Right,” he muttered, rubbing his hand over his face. “The garters. Mustn't forget the garters—damn it all!”

Before she knew what was happening, she had been lifted into his arms and he was striding towards the bed. He lowered her down and kneeling, looked up into her eyes. Her heart was pounding so hard she couldn’t speak. All his nerves seemed to have vanished, and what replaced them was confidence. He was a man who knew what he was doing, and that change in him made her nervous, excited, and...

“When you mentioned your fingers, you meant what you said, yes? That you know what to do with them?”

He looked up, indignation flashing across his face. “Again, Sara, excuse me? God, I feel like a broken gramophone.”

Sara ignored the remark. “You know how to pleasure a woman without the use of your…” she waved her hand, not quite sure which term to use for his male anatomy.

“My cock?” He was so blunt, she blushed, unable to remember a time that she had heard the term spoken aloud.

“Yes,” she replied, clearing her throat. “Your cock.”

“Yes, Sara,” he said roughly, putting his hands on the tops of her knees, eyes flashing. Desire jolted through her. She was extremely aware that she was exposed to him, that he could see all of her. But he did not take his eyes off hers, and his hands stayed away from the place that most desperately ached to be touched. Instead, they slid up her thighs over the silk of her drawers, slowly and with purpose.

“I do know how to pleasure a woman.” He circled her waist, untying the ribbon that held them up. His fingers slipped inside against her skin, and she lifted herself without thought, so he could slide them off. “More specifically, I will please you.” He discarded the scrap of silk to the side, all thoughts of properly folded garments, gone.

“I admit, I never imagined I would be so thoroughly questioned about my "abilities" on my wedding night, of all things, and by my wife."

"John!" she protested.

But as he pushed her chemise above her knees, she fell silent. The air seemed to thicken around them as she watched his expressions shift in the dim light.

Her stockings and garters were exposed, no longer in shadow. The garters were red, just like the corset, with small bows in matching silk ribbon. And her stockings...

“Are your stockings pink?” His voice was hoarse.

“Yes.” Her stockings were indeed a lovely shade of pink. Due to her boots, no one had seen them during the wedding or afterwards, but of course that had been the point.

“I thought you’d like them,” she told him feeling suddenly shy. The sweet expression he gave her made her flush with pleasure.

“I do.” he whispered. “I do very much.”

“And the garters?”

“I have a feeling that they will be very useful again in the future.”

Then the sweetness disappeared, replaced with promising darkness in his eyes. “Now, would you like me to show you what my fingers can do?” He slid her chemise higher and she burned, trembling with anticipation.

She swallowed hard, her mouth dry as she finally revealed to him her most intimate place, chemise bunched at her waist. She was not afraid, but she was exceedingly aware of her vulnerability and the knowledge that she could be hurt dreadfully. She knew she wouldn’t be, it wasn’t that. But the feeling was there, nonetheless.

He hadn’t yet touched her, and she realized he was waiting for her to give him permission.

“Show me,” she whispered.

“Lie down.”

She did, letting her thoughts go and giving herself permission to trust him completely.

He gripped her thighs from beneath and pulled her towards the edge of the bed, and her chemise rode up even higher, spreading her legs gently so that her knees were bent, her feet flat on the bed.

She felt him unhook her garters, and slowly rolled the silk down her legs, the downy hair there, rising in the cool night air. There was a fire in the fireplace, but it was on the other side of the room and its warmth had not yet reached them.

His fingers brushed it down along one shin, and he took her foot in his other hand. When he placed his lips on her arch, she jerked her foot in shock, though he seemed to have expected that, and held it firmly. Next, he kissed her ankle, his lips lingering on the round bone, delicately covered with skin and little else. But when he found the place behind her knee, she let out a sound that was halfway between a gasp and a moan. His tongue drew circles on the crinkle of skin there, and she couldn’t decide whether it was abject pleasure she felt, or she was being tickled. She didn’t have to think much more on it, because suddenly his hot breath was on her thighs and his fingers were pushing them further apart.

“I knew you would be lovely,” she heard him murmur. “So very lovely.”

“Oh...” She burned, the heat of her face competing with that of her body.

“I’m going to touch you with my fingers, but I’m also going to kiss you in a way that might shock you. But...trust me.”

“What?” She thought she hadn’t heard him correctly, but she felt his fingers press her folds apart and his tongue—his tongue! It was stroking, probing her entrance as she clenched and unclenched in shock.

She heard his voice, low and vibrating, “It is delicious, is it not? This feeling?”

Then he was circling that tiny spot where she brought herself pleasure, and she tilted her hips up automatically, the need to be closer overwhelming and primitive. She never imagined the slick slide of a velvety tongue could give her more pleasure than her fingers, but it did. Then his finger slipped inside her and she couldn’t think any longer. It lasted for what felt like hours. The swirls of sensation, the warm wetness of his mouth and invasion of his fingers...her own administrations could not match it. That such pleasure was possible made her want to cry in relief. She gripped the bedding below her, whimpers that she couldn't suppress breaking the sound of her uneven breathing. She thrust her hips into his hand until she found she could go no more, and her climax was released, stronger than ever before, and almost painful in its pleasure.

“Oh, John!” she moaned breathlessly, unable to answer, her body shuddering at the intensity of what it was experiencing. “John!”

Blindly she reached out for him. She felt the bed move under his weight, and when she opened her eyes, he was there above her, lips parted, eyes hooded.

“You taste of salt, and the brine from an oyster’s shell, fresh from the sea,” he said thickly. “It’s intoxicating.”

She pulled his mouth down to hers, tasting herself on his lips, his tongue. Her hands ran through his hair, to the curls at the back of his neck, then down to the front of his stiff and starched shirt, where, with trembling fingers, she managed to unbutton each button. As she tried to push it off his shoulders, he got to his knees and untucked his shirt tails. He removed it and then removed her shift, finally leaving her naked before him. Her nipples were hard, and grew even harder as she watched his gaze linger upon them.

"You are all pink and white," he murmured. "And so very beautiful."

He lowered his head to her breasts, and took the tender tip of one into his mouth. Sara gasped as his hot tongue swirled around her pebbled skin, and when he left it for the other one, the cool air made her shiver madly. She had never known her breasts could bring such sensation, and it was almost too much. But before she could moan for relief, he let her go, and taking her hands on his, placed them on his chest.

“Touch me,” he said, his voice pleading.

So, she did, running her fingers over his smooth skin, watching his eyes flutter, hearing the sound of his pleasure at her touch—until she reached the top of his trousers. He caught her eye and she blushed. But she did not remove her hands. She slowly undid the buttons and then stopped not knowing what she should do next. He gently touched her hands and removed them, bringing them to his mouth, where he pressed kisses against her knuckles.

It took him only moments to remove both his trousers and underdrawers, and then he was naked before her, climbing onto the bed. Fascinated, nervous, and flushed with heat, she sat up as he knelt before her.

She had seen male anatomy before, but never erect, and not this close up. It was different. Completely different.

“I hope I don’t frighten you,” he murmured, his own cheeks flushed with color. “I have to confess, I’ve never had any woman look so intently at me before. It’s—slightly intimidating.”

“No,” Sara replied softly, looking up at him. “You don’t frighten me, John. Not you.” And then she reached out and took him firmly into her hand.

He gasped, grasping her shoulders for balance as he jerked forward. “How wonderful it is that you are not shy.”

“I have never been shy,” she replied breathlessly, not looking up. She swirled her thumb around, the silky liquid that emerged making him slick and even harder. She felt a heady rush of warmth between her legs, making her throb. “Timidity is not in my nature.”

“No,” he replied in a low and husky voice.

Curiosity got the better of her, and she leaned down and took him into her mouth.

The moan that emerged from his throat, rippled through her, and as his hands gripped her scalp, fingers running through her hair, she felt a power within her that she had never encountered. She had the ability to bring this man to his knees, and he had not even tried to stop her. It was illuminating and intensely erotic.

The salty, silky, liquid that was of him, was not unpleasant to taste, and his skin was soft like the finest doeskin. She had never felt anything as smooth and warm, and she found that he liked it very much when she swirled her tongue around the tender skin there.

"Sara," he moaned. "Sara, I can't-"

He lifted her chin, and as he slipped from her mouth, she looked up at him. His expression was one of intense lust, and he brushed his thumb across her wet bottom lip, tugging it down in a way that made her feel wanton.

Before she knew what was happening, she was on her back, her knees spread wide, and he was between them, his belly pressed against her, his hardness pushing at her thigh. She threaded her fingers through his hair as he kissed up her neck to her jaw, and then to her lips. His kisses were intense and thorough, his tongue stroking hers just hard enough to create bolts of desire that swept through her lower belly with every stroke. It was as though he were already inside her, and yet it was still not enough.

But she did not have to beg, for he was already ahead of her, his hand on one of her calves, urging her to wrap her thighs around his waist. His erection pressed against her, tortuous and promising, and her heart thudded with anticipation. Settling atop her, his forearms resting on either side of her head, nose brushing hers, he met her eyes.

"I-I will not hurt you," he stammered as though he didn't quite believe what he was saying himself.

She was touched. "I know, John. I am ready for you." She slipped her hand between her legs and found her wetness, coating her fingers with it. Then she reached for him, brushing her wet fingers over the head of his cock. He jerked into her palm, gasping.

She took his lower lip between her teeth, biting gently. "Love me," she whispered against his lips. "John..."

"Then relax," he murmured.

So she did. She took a deep breath, and when she exhaled, he slid inside her, slowly, stopping when she clenched her muscles around him. She gasped, her nails digging into his shoulders.

“Relax," he said again.

He slid the rest of the way in, his mouth dropping open in pleasure She could feel him touching all of her, even places she hadn't known existed, and she let out a noise that was somewhere between a grunt and a moan.

He began to move within her, slowly, without penetrating too deeply, and she marveled as sensations bloomed within her.

"Oh," she said, her voice sounding strange to her ears. "How exquisite"

"Yes," he breathed into her mouth as he kissed her. "You are."

After a short time, she could feel the ache deep within her begin to grow, and unconsciously, she began tilting her hips up, her heels digging into his buttocks, urging him to increase his speed.

"Tell me what you need." The aching feeling within her eased, and then again, grew as he moved. "Sara, tell me."

"More!" she cried out, almost unwillingly. "John!"

He thrust into her harder and heat coursed through her chest as the ache was somewhat soothed. But soon that was not enough.

Tiny sounds began to emerge from her throat, and then grew to soft moans as he increased his speed. She felt the spiral of desire coil tighter and tighter.

“Is it always like this?”

“There are no words to define what this is. I have never felt anything that compares to this, not with any woman. Sara…there is nothing in the world so wonderful as you.”

Then he captured her mouth, kissing her deeply. Emotions roiled within her and tears pricked her eyes, but she was not sad. She was not happy, or content, or feeling much of anything that she could explain in one word. Pain, pleasure, intimacy, love, and even the sense of impending loss at the completion of the act in which they were engaged in, whirled around in her mind, in her stomach, and in her heart.

Eventually the ache grew until it was no longer containable, and with a cry, she jerked and shuddered burying her face into his shoulder, riding out the intense pleasure, which rose and fell like ocean waves, a little smaller each time, until she was so sensitive, it was nearly too much to bear.

He lifted her into his lap and sat back, still hard and moving within her. He nuzzled her cheek and kissed her, the fingers of one hand digging into her waist as he helped her move, the other threaded through her own hand, holding it tight as she used him to brace herself.

The ache once again built, but quicker this time, and shorter in length. She clutched him and pressed her lips against his forehead. Perhaps it was that, or just coincidence, but at that moment, John reached his own climax. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and let out a low moan, his hips jerking erratically against hers before he fell still and silent, save his heavy breathing into her breasts.

They sat there in silence, until Sara shivered with cold, and the stickiness of him between her thighs grew uncomfortable. Only then did John disengage himself from her.

He carried her over to the fire where he put her down and wrapped a robe around her, tucking it tightly under her chin. He ran his finger down her cheek, his expression so tender it caused her to blush, which was saying something since she couldn’t imagine having anything left to be shaken by.

“I’ll run a bath,” he murmured with light chuff on her jaw. She watched him walk naked into the bathroom and then turned and pressed her hands against her cheeks. There was nothing she had not shared with him now—except the truth about her father’s death.

She heard the taps turn on and with shaking hands, she took the bottle of champagne nested in a bucket of melting ice and popped the cork.

She poured out a generous amount and took a sip. Then she tipped it back and drank the whole thing. She had not noticed John come out of the bathroom, dressed in a velvet robe.

“Sara?”

Startled, she wiped the back of her hand over her mouth. “Is the bath drawn?”

He nodded, a worried look crossing his face. “Are you alright? Is…something wrong?”

She took a deep breath and put her hand in his, which he took tightly.

“No, nothing is wrong. But I…I want to tell you something.”

If anything, his look of worry increased.

“It is not about us, John,” she said in what she hoped was a soothing tone. “It may not be an appropriate time at all, but after…that…” she tilted her head towards the bed and dropped her gaze. “…I don’t want to keep any secrets from you anymore.”

The worry became outright anxiety, and she immediately went to him, wrapping her arms around him tightly. “Don’t worry so, John. Come, lets bathe and I’ll tell you.”

The water was indeed hot, and there was rose scented soap. The electric lights were off, but there was an oil lamp that reflected a warm glow in the white tiled room.

“Tell me, Sara, so I don’t imagine all of the terrible things it might be,” John ordered. face pressed into her hair.

Sara took one of his hands in hers and played with his fingers, that had, not to long ago, been inside her.

They were beautiful hands.

“It’s about my father’s death,” she murmured. “It was not what was reported in the papers. There was no hunting accident.”

“The rumors…”

“Yes.” She felt strangely hollow, the emotions of the experience absent as she began to relive them. “But they were only partially true. He suffered from melancholia. You may have already known... He hid it well when I was a child, but it eventually overwhelmed him, and he tried to take his own life.At the last moment, he lost his courage and tried to pull the gun away. I found him in his study with half his face gone.” Only then did her voice tremble. The image never left her though it did not haunt her as often as it once had.

She heard his sharp intake of breath. She didn’t dare look at him, but kept her eyes on his hand.

“He took my hand,” she whispered, unable to speak louder, “and placed it over his own…and we finished it together.”

“Oh, Sara.” His voice was low. “I’m so very, very, sorry.”

“I was not enough.” The feelings of helplessness and loneliness she had come to know as constant companions, poured out of her.

“Your father loved you.”

“I know he did. But that love was not enough. I was not enough.”

Suddenly she was held tightly, his cheek pressed against hers.

“Melancholia is a terrible thing, and you were so brave, and kind to do what you did. Not many could have done that.”

She shivered as tears pricked her nose, and he held her closer, the warm water lapping around them gently. She knew he spoke from experience.

“Perhaps your father couldn’t see beyond the darkness that closed around him when your mother died, but that means he loved her very much. When the light fades, sometimes you cannot move past it, even if there are others waiting for you." He paused, then continued in a thick voice. "If you were to leave me, I don’t know what I would do. You are enough for me, and I love you so very much.”

“Oh, John” she whispered, tilting her head back to look at him. His eyes were bright, even as he smiled down at her.

“There was never any choice in loving you. My choice was to be better, so I could deserve to love you.”

She buried her face in her hands, and he wrapped his arms around her tightly.

“I must alsio confess you are not the first I’ve told," she said, muffled by her hands. "I told Doctor Kriezler last year, after Mary died. He was in so much pain, and I wanted to repair what happened between us.”

John as silent a moment, and then said, “Then it was you who convinced to come back and catch Beecham.”

Sara was startled into lowering her hands. “Yes…yes, I suppose so.”

“Then you did what was right.” He paused. “But thank you. Thank you for telling me.”

 

As the water turned cold, they removed themselves to the fire, where they talked and laughed, eating shrimp cocktails and mince pies. They were still smitten with each other, the intimacy of what they had shared still present, even with the brief interlude of a painful confession. Sara drank more champagne and grew sleepy. Donning their respective night shirt and gown, they tucked themselves into bed.

John fell asleep almost right away, which was natural, Sara thought as lay in his arms, for he had done most of the physical labor of the evening. She smiled secretly into his sleeve, glad the thoughts were hers, and hers alone. Back at her Vassar reunion when she had been the only one without a husband or fiancé, she had suddenly felt so alone in her experiences, or lack thereof, and it had unsettled her. Her roommate had spoken of how wonderful it was to be intimate with a man, and how wonderful it was to be loved, and while Sara knew she wanted that, she also knew love and passion were not everything. Trust, respect, and equality were just as important, if not more so.

In John she had found them all, and it was with delight, that she fell asleep, finally knowing what all the fuss was about.

Outside the snow fell softly, and the the city that would be known as the City That Never Sleeps, slept.