Cassandra pulled her arms from the sleeves and let the heavy garment drop to the floor. After stepping out of the shimmering pale heap, she picked up the garment and went to set it in the cabinet. She turned to find his gaze drinking her in, every detail, from the ruffle trimming the top of her chemise to her light blue shoes.
“A superstition,” Cassandra said as she saw him staring at the shoes for an extra moment. “The bride is supposed to wear something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.”
Tom scooped her up, set her on the bed, and bent for a closer look at the shoes, which had been embroidered with silver and gold thread and embellished with tiny crystals. “They’re lovely,” he said, removing them one at a time.
She flexed her stocking-clad toes, which ached a little after the long, busy day. “I’m so glad to be off my feet.”
“I’m glad you’re off them too,” Tom said. “Although probably for different reasons.” He reached around her to loosen her corset laces, and carefully lowered her to her back, to unhook her busk. “I smell roses,” he said, inhaling appreciatively.
“Helen gave me a flask of perfumed oil this morning,” Cassandra replied. “It contains the attar of seven kinds of roses. I sprinkled it in my bath.” A quiver went through her as Tom bent to kiss her midriff through the crumpled linen chemise.
“Seven is my favorite number,” he said.
He nuzzled gently at her stomach. “There are seven colors in a rainbow, seven days of the week, and …” His voice lowered seductively, “… seven is the lowest natural number that can’t be represented as the sum of the squares of three integers.”
“Mathematics,” she exclaimed, laughing breathlessly. “How stirring.”
Tom smiled and pushed away from her. He stood to remove his coat, waistcoat, and neck cloth, then took up one of Cassandra’s feet and began to rub it. She squirmed in surprised pleasure as his strong thumbs stroked up her sensitive arches.
“Ohh,” she said, lying back more heavily on the mattress as he gently kneaded up and down the sole of her foot, finding every sore, tender spot. She began to dissolve in bliss as he wiggled her toes and pulled at them, one by one, through the silk of her stockings. It felt nicer than she could have imagined, pleasure zinging up to all different parts of her body. “No one’s ever rubbed my feet before. You’re so good at it. Don’t stop yet. You’re not going to stop, are you?”
“And you’ll do the other foot?”
He laughed quietly. “Yes.”
As he found a particularly sensitive place, she writhed and purred, and stretched her arms over her head. When her eyes opened, she followed the direction of Tom’s gaze, and realized the open crotch seams of her drawers were gaping apart. With a gasp, she quickly reached down to conceal the fluff of blond curls.
There was a flash of deviltry in his eyes. “Don’t hide it,” he said gently.
The suggestion shocked her. “You want me to lie here and expose my … my … fanny to you?”
Amusement deepened the faint creases at the outer corners of his eyes. “It would provide an excellent incentive for me to do the other foot.”
“You were going to do it anyway,” she protested.
“Think of it as my reward, then.” He bent, and she felt his mouth touch the tip of her big toe, his breath filtering hotly through the silk of her stocking. “Let me have a peek,” he coaxed. “It’s such a pretty view.”
“It’s not at all a pretty view,” she protested in an agony of shyness.
“It’s the prettiest view in the world.”
It would have been literally impossible for a human being to blush any harder than Cassandra was at the moment. While she dithered, Tom continued to rub her feet. His thumbs worked up her arch in a ladder of pressures that sent tingles from her soles all the way up to the top of her spine.
Closing her eyes, Cassandra recalled what Pandora had advised her yesterday.
“You may as well toss your dignity overboard right away,” Pandora had said. “It’s dreadfully awkward, your first time. He’ll want to do things involving body parts that really shouldn’t be keeping company. Just remind yourself the things you and he do in private are secrets only the two of you will share. There’s nothing shameful about an act of love. And at some moments, it stops being about bodies or thoughts or words, it’s only feeling … and it’s beautiful.”
At some point during Cassandra’s pondering, the train had started, and was now accelerating smoothly. Instead of the usual rattles and jolts, the railway carriage proceeded with liquid ease, as if it were suspended over the tracks instead of rolling along them. Her childhood home, her family, everything familiar, were slipping away. There was only this rosewood bed, and her dark-haired husband, and the train wheels conveying them somewhere she’d never been. This moment, and whatever else happened tonight, would become secrets between the two of them.
She bit her lip and surrendered her dignity, letting go of the open seam of her drawers.
Tom continued massaging her foot, his thumbs and fingers pressing exquisite little circles at the base of her toes. After a few minutes he moved to her other foot, and she relaxed with a little moan.
The rain-sifted light was weaker now, coming in through the transom windows in pallid silver and dark rainbow dapples. Through heavy-lidded eyes, she watched the play of muted color and shadow across Tom’s shirt. Eventually his long-boned, eloquent hands slid up over her knees and beneath the legs of her drawers. He untied her white lace garters and rolled her silk stockings down into neat circles. After dropping them to the floor, he unfastened his shirt and discarded it, taking his time, letting her look her fill.
His body was beautiful, built with the long, efficient lines of a rapier, every inch wrought with tough muscle. A light furring of hair covered his chest and narrowed down toward his midriff. Cassandra sat up on the mattress and touched the black fleece, her fingertips as shy and fleet as a hummingbird in flight.
Still standing by the side of the bed, Tom reached out to gather her against his chest.
Cassandra shivered at the feel of being surrounded by so much bare skin and body hair, so much hardness. “Did you ever imagine we would be doing this?” she said in a wondering tone.
“Sweet darling … I imagined it about ten seconds after we met, and I haven’t stopped since.”
A bashful grin tugged at her lips, and she dared to kiss his bare shoulder. “I hope I won’t be a disappointment.”
Gently Tom guided her to look up at him, his palm cradling her cheek and jaw. “There’s nothing for you to worry about, Cassandra. All you have to do is relax.” He drew her blush-heated face closer to his, and stroked the wild pulse in her throat with light fingertips. His faint smile held a sensual edge that dismantled her thoughts completely. “We’ll go slowly. I know how to make it good for you. You’re going to leave this bed a happy woman.”
TOM’S HEAD LOWERED, AND the light, erotic pressure of his mouth sent pleasure coursing through her. Every time she thought the kiss would end, he found a new angle, a deeper taste. Her body turned hot from the inside out, as if he were pouring sunlight into her. Dazed with pleasure, Cassandra slid her arms around his neck. Her fingers sank into the heavy, close-cut locks of his hair, as rich as black satin against her palms.