“Ah, and you are the blushing bride,” the statement was spoken quite softly, without infliction nor concern. Its speaker was a petite woman, angular in the face, and intense in the eyes. Blond strands swept across the forehead and down the length of her torso, stopping at a romantic end just slight of her breast. The eyes, almond and antwerp blue, a more subtle baby near the pupils. The distinct qualities of a hungry feline fitted in the face, though impassive with thought. “I did not expect one so chaste.” The words were colored with seductive amusement, emphasized when she strolled lazily forward and reached for the tiny wrist, admiring the delicate web of blue veins. “How delectable.”
Eifa started at the feel of her thump resting against the pulse, thundering apace with uneasiness. “Yes, indeed,” she only managed to reply, her eyes conservatively watching the open delectation upon the woman’s features. The fixed gaze felt inappropriate, as a male may enjoy the visual pleasures of a woman. Idly, she wondered had the woman noticed how hollow the response was, but the other had not seemed to notice, so intense their gazes.
“My manners. I am Anatasie, old family friend. I am afraid the handler had the misfortune of consuming fish somewhere in the East End. I forget you are not from here; I’m sure you do not know the influx of immigrants we have gotten…the disease and poverty here now. Unpleasant conversation, I’m afraid. Especially without the luxury of afternoon chai after your journey. Please, follow me.” She lead the girl by her held wrist in the adjoining room.
Here, in the low light, she admired the blue boned bustier, the ribbons of tafetta across its surface, the bobbinette sashs that hugged her hips over a velvet underskirt. Her beauty was remarkable enough to make the young Eifa feel quite inadequate.
“When might I be having dinner with Prince Albert?” She inquired softly, sipping the tea with all the refined grace of elite women. “The opportunity to speak to him seems to dwindle.”
“Indeed. It shalln’t be for a while. He is in Abergeldie…ah, Scotland dear, handling imperial matters. Do not fret, you are in good, experience hands.” She sipped her tea leisurely, finding herself staring almost distasteful towards her companion. “Perhaps it would be of import were your footman to carry your trunk upstairs. You will not miss the room, I’m assured?” Gauthier opened his mouth to speak but was silenced by the uncompromising stare. It would be strange: an unmarried youth, holding inappropriate intrigues with the domicile aid. Silently, he complied, and disappeared from the foyer. “As I mentioned, you will have nothing to fear. Tomorrow, at the Duke Farsid, you will presented as the betroth.”
Eifa continued drinking in silent fascination of the entire situation. “Why so soon? We have yet to court, visit one another…”
“Never any mind to such trivial things. The Prince shall love you in due time.” She grinned, showing all teeth. “You have duties to attend.”
“And what might my onuses consist of?” The inquiry, while innocent in its posing caused only a grander smile to clinch the full lips of Anatasie, her gorgeous eyes dancing with unreadable mirth. They sat in an anticipated silence; Eifa perched upon the edge of the Velvet Gargoyle carved chair, her back rigid with tension and wonder, and the blond with all the ease of a contented feline watching her prey hide in its corner.
Finally, the woman sipped her tea, and darkened the smile to one no more fitting of the juncture. “And here the monarchs have been deceived into believing the French were the hedonistic of creatures.” The tease dripped with liquid seduction, her eyes to locate every avenue of unadorned skin. Never before had Eifa been the subject of such intense and unashamed analysis; she settled against the chair, uncomfortable, but silent to such discomposure.
“A romantic sort of people, though hardly debauched.” The response reflected a false self-assurance. The desire for Gauthier to return had flared intensely, but she continued to drink her tea and engage in conversation, the flush of fever adorning umber skin a cerise. As future Duchess, it would be much easier to stir unpleasant conversation to more apposite topics, but here, she could not dare broach such impropriety. She lifted her delicate chin higher, and removed the sou’wester, revealing the beauty of her heritage: the oval face with the soft chin and extraordinary cheekbones, the straight bridge that raised to a gentle upturn of the nose, the lush silhouette of the mouth like that of petals of magnolias, the almond eyes with the slightest hood. More striking than the overall artist composition of her features, were the eyes, a pale iridescent gray with gold ignition from the iris, motes of hazel branching towards the long lashes. “I should hardly be the example of the French ardor.”
“Oh, but you have the allure, darling.” A purr poured languidly from the elegant throat of Anatasie. Eifa startled at the sound, sloshing the tea against the delicate silks of her dress. A cry of disbelief rose from her throat, though she immediately distracted a handkerchief and began to dab. Her companion stilled the frantic hands, thumb caressing once more the thundering vein. The pupils expanded, nearly drowning all color from the iris, and what little color remained seemed to deepen in color, taking a more lupine quality. Was that pleasure that encompassed her face at the sound of a fluttering heartbeat, an unashamed desire when her hand encircled the waist of the young girl, and drew her closer? “You appear as though you’ve seen a beast,” she hummed softly, her breath scented with something metallic and hot. The fingers prodded against the softness of her flesh, warm as though the material parted like melted margarine.
. “Ana…” she responded softly, the hypnotic effect of the eyes lulling the terror into a latent caution. Her hands fell limp against their defense, and their bodies seemed to meld, two positive entities with an unnatural adhesion. “I’ve spilled tea on the dress. I must tend to it quickly.”
“Of course. We don’t want your pretty clothing ruined.” Promptly the space alleviated, though her hands remained twined upon her waist, and did not fall back into proper conversing until Gauthier returned flushed with exertion, though short lived triumph emerged in his smile. “I shall show you to your bathing closet.”
Eifa stood facing the empty space, her hand still lifted, and breath still held. Then, she composed herself, and followed soundlessly behind.
“Here it is,” the woman announced, and held the door open, her eyes watching Eifa enter. Nothing reflected the earlier mirth and desire, only a mild disintrigue. “I’m sure you shall find your accommodations as luxurious as your rearing.” The door closed, leaving the woman to her thoughts.
The room was large, cream walls adorned with beautiful artwork, paintings of an older period. Usually, curio would hold her enthralled, force her to ascertain the technique, shade, and color precisely, but her mind had other matters to attend. There was a washing closet for more personal endeavors; towels of differencing shades of sage, falun, and bronze lined across a white vanity dresser. The mirror was adorned with beautiful lights disguised as ornaments, the carpet lush and full, made to match the walls.
She appeared at ease, her hand passing lightly through the ornate bath of ivory she perched upon. Her features were careful to reveal only wonder at the splendor of her environment, and not the turbulent sentiments that burned through her torso. Had that entire affair been imagined, or had it truly happened? Never before had she felt herself so flushed with excitement at the touch of another—not just flagrant fear! Surely, it was the result of such a long journey in the heat, the pressures of married life to that of pristine royalty? Whatever the case, Eifa would let the worries wash with her bath.
There were body exfoliates scented peach, berries, and honey, but she chose one of honeydew. It smelled light and lovely. With a sigh, she slipped into the warm waters, her pale skin flushing from the caressing heat. She moaned with pleasure, her body taut like a primed crossbow, lustered and awaiting the perfect musician. Such would be her future husband—the first and only man that would know the pleasures of her supple body. The thought caused her to sink lower in the ornate tub, staring past the scented waters, to study her long legs, unmarked and smooth, the girth of her hips, hardly subtle in the open light, the high swell of her breasts like full fruits.
How strange would it be, to feel the touch of a man invading her virgin shores, with little regard to her own pleasures and passions? Would her life here be empty and meaningless, filled with anguish and despair? The thought brought tears unbidden to her eyes, and silently the girl wept, oblivious to the eyes inspecting her.
The stretched silence remained unbroken aside from gently hushed sobs and the intermittent globule from the faucet. In the flickering lanterns, sleepy whiskey eyes rose, dusted with despair, and found themselves riveted idly to her discarded clothing, admiring the gown, the jewels that had adorned the delicate curve of her throat. The flirtatious French style of dress would not be apposite to the eyes of her fiancé neither her oblivious insolence to such wondering eyes. The girl dragged her fingers teasing across the flesh of her bicep, an educed gesture exposing apprehension—her mother had done such when she was a small child, comforting her against the sounds of raging heavens. Since then, the distant feel of the fingers drew focus to her wondering thoughts, her rampant fear at the unknowing quandary her passive nature inserted itself in.
The door opened, softly, nearly inaudible to absent ears, footfalls sunken into the lush carpet. Strong, veined hands grasped Eifa by her shoulders, pulling her pliant form to the verge of the ivory tub; instead of the scream that may have slid from betwixt lush lips, came only a leisure sigh. “I wondered what took you so long,” whispered across the warm water, arching her neck forward to regard her visitor.
A low growl of appreciation rumbled from his throat when he dipped lips, found purchase at the scented columns, and tasted the dewy skin, indulgently supple and velvety. Her hands traveled along the exposed chords of muscle in his arms, savoring the warmth radiating from him. No words were needed to express his lack of affection as of late, when his tongue laved her earlobe, tugging the fattish skin between his teeth. The drop pearl earring snagged, the gilded chain made a gentle sound of protest. “I was preoccupied by extant hostility.” The wet opened kiss that dragged across her collarbone cease any advancing riposte. “You must be careful to avoid raising suspicions.”
Her eyes fell to a close, surrendering to the languid seduction, her mouth fallen into a mien of pleasure. Until recently, the girl’s libido remained dormant, brimming with uncultivated potential, its vastness analogous to an ocean. Perhaps it had been the established ardor between the intimate friends that lead to a singular night of unfulfilled passion that inspired him to tease the elongate the inevitable. Her mind struggled to keep pace with her raged heartbeat, and respond to his words of caution, but found it was difficult to draw breath, let alone speak. His affections drove her to maddening silence.
“I doubt suspicion will be fallen upon you,” Eifa muttered at length, turning in his attentions to lavish few of her own. Her lips pedestaled against his throat, felt the humming of his erratic pulse, and suckled at the sweet skin. Her wet fingers were nimble to free him of the infuriating clothing, searching for more skin, more heat. Her ragged whisper continued unbidden. “The Prince remains away for an undisclosed time in Scotland. Surely they have not suspected a woman of my prestige to remain indifferent to the gazes of other men? To have not received the regards of another’s touch, previously?” When Gauthier stripped from all clothing and joined her in the bath, began the lazy kisses and hushed moans, the aches rumbling through her sluggish pulse.
“How unfortunate that you still are pristine,” he murmured softly, having taken in his fill of gentle caresses, and pinning her against the side again, her body unwillingly taut against his. His words were a reflection of her virtuous morals, her still unsoiled treasure. Absently, he raged she would relinquish the chastity to another, feel the bitterness of having to wipe blood from the cosset of her pale things, to hear the internal chaos when her husband had fallen into ecstasy induced dreams. She would weep in his arms later, and he would ascend her to the mountains, taste each peak, and let her avalanche back down. “To watch in calm when another spears you mercilessly. And no one shall ever know that you’re mine, but I. And you — exquisite, callow you.”
Saddened by his words, she retreated, her eyes revealing the discomfort. It were true. The responsibilities of her station dictated such. There were quiet murmurs amongst women of their liaisons, their clandestine marriages of hearts, and their fears of discovery. Imperial matters constituted more than mere union, to the birthing of healthy heirs, and such treason would end only with death of them both. What man could bear the indignity of his wife’s perfidy? What knowledge did she have that Albert had not return, sickening by the dampness of Scotland, and filled with excitement and melancholy of matrimony, would not to stroll through the doors at this moment, and find her quite comfortable in the arms of another man? What ignominy she brought upon her first night in his home. A heated blush crossed her features, tapering down to the tops of her breasts at the thought, and recoiled further, hoping to disentangle her infatuation with Gauthier from her rationalization.
“It is passion such as this that kills. The spirit is strong but the flesh will yield.” With her words, she quickly exited the bath, a bittersweet kiss left upon his lips. She wrapped the red gossamer robe across her damp flesh, and pulled tight, aware it did little to hide her scant form, and retired to the bedroom without bidding him sweet dreams.
Unspoken, the bubbles of their bath dissipated indiscriminate to the neglected lover; his eyes lazily monitored the quivering surface, felt the ache of agony gnawing with slow intent at his organs, and knew, just as she had upon departure,
the young Cinderlings would never be the same.