ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 33

 

The Postmaster re-entered the barn, carrying a length of white lace and a bouquet of hand-picked lilacs. “The bride should have a bouquet,” he offered, pleased with himself. “My sister tends my garden.”

“Lilacs are my favorite.” Artemis glanced at Droughm, thinking that if this was not a sign of Providence, she didn’t know what was. “Thank you. And the lace?”

“One of the curtains,” he confessed. “But it is the right length for a sling.”

Laughing, Artemis asked, “Won’t your sister be unhappy with me?”

“No, lass—she’ll be that pleased when she hears of it.”

The men carefully twisted the sling around her splint, and then tied the ends about her neck so that her arm was immobilized against her chest.  With a flourish, Rayburn also produced a hair brush, as well as a bottle of Scotch whiskey.  Artemis directed Droughm to unplait her hair so that she could brush it with her good hand, and as no one knew how to re-plait it, Artemis had to be content with having Droughm draw it back, and tie it with a piece of string.

“Are ye ready, lass?” asked the Postmaster, and Artemis stood in her disheveled riding habit to take her place beside her bridegroom, who’d prepared for the ceremony by splashing his face with water from the pump.  She was beginning to experience the ill effects of her tumble, and ached from head to foot, but she smiled at Droughm, and took his offered hand. As she had no hand to spare, the Postmaster tucked the flowers into her sling, and then opened his Book of Common Prayer.

Artemis stood beside Droughm and listened to him answer the timeless questions in a voice that was steady and sincere. Another memory I will never forget as long as I live, she thought, as the horses moved about and the subtle scent of leather and dust enveloped them. It was appropriate in a strange way; it felt as if there was no one else in the universe except for the four of them, standing in a remote barn in Scotland.

After she answered her own set of questions, they were duly declared Mr. and Mrs. Penderton Michael Fitzwilliam Vincent St. John, and Droughm presented her with the wedding band she had already worn, when the occasion warranted.

He bent to kiss her as the two bachelors applauded. “Whiskey all around,” declared Rayburn, and as there were no glasses, they each took a turn drinking from the bottle, Artemis going first.

The Postmaster was cautious. “Have you had whiskey before, lass? You may not care for it.”

“I’ll be careful.” She was unable to resist a glance at Droughm.

They all toasted the bonny, bonny bride, then Droughm, and then bonny Scotland and then the poor King. Thinking she’d best keep her head, Artemis was careful not to drink too much, although the whiskey was indeed very smooth, and her aches proceeded to fade.

“If you’d like, you may stay at my house tonight, and I can sleep here with Roddie,” offered the Postmaster, his cheeks slightly pink.

This arrangement having been agreed to, Droughm thanked the men and then guided Artemis out of the barn, his arm around her waist.

“It was a great go,” Artemis declared to her new husband, as they walked in the cold night air back to the Post. “A wedding like no other.”

Smiling, Droughm leaned his head back to contemplate the myriad stars overhead. “I cannot argue. How does your arm?”

“It does not bear thinking about, so I will not.”

“My poor Artemis.”

“Mrs. St. John, if you please.” Despite everything, she was in the grip of a heady euphoria, and laughed up at him.

“The Countess of Droughm.” He opened the gate for her with a small bow.

“I’m afraid that does not bear thinking about, either,” she admitted.

Chuckling, he swung her up in his arms to carry her into the residence, taking care to avoid jarring her arm. He smelt of whiskey, and it occurred to her that he was rather well-to-go; he had imbibed a goodly portion of the bottle.

As he carried her into the building, she nuzzled her face in his neck, which inspired him to set her down and kiss her roughly, kicking the door shut behind him. Thinking to encourage such behavior, she caressed his head with her good hand, and opened her mouth to his, which in turn inspired him to pin her against the wall with a rather forceful movement, his hips pressed against hers.

“Ouch,” she protested. In the heat of the moment, he’d forgotten about her arm.

“Sorry,” he breathed, easing the pressure on her. “Let me get you situated, and then I will find some food and light a fire.” Despite these good intentions, he did not move, but instead began kissing her neck, his hands caressing the contours of her breasts.

“I’m not very hungry,” she confessed, and looked to the stairs.  “Where do you suppose the bedroom is?”

“We cannot,” he muttered into her throat, his hands busy. “We will re-break your arm.”

She gently nipped at his ear and whispered, “You are adorable, when you are trying to be noble.”

Cradling her head in his hands, he rested his forehead against hers, breathing heavily. “I don’t feel very noble, just now, but I must defer to reality.”

“Come upstairs, and we will discuss the matter.”

“Artemis,” he groaned. “I am too drunk to resist.”

“I will be the dragon atop your St. George,” she suggested. She’d heard the soldiers use the expression, and was given to understand that it referred to sexual congress where the female was atop the male.

He laughed into her ear. “Good God—I don’t even want to know where you heard such a thing.”

She reached to untuck his shirt as he leaned his head back and took a deep breath. “Reconcile yourself, my friend; we are going to do this—if we can just figure out how to remove the rest of this wretched riding habit.”

This, however, was apparently not a problem; he bent his head to kiss her neck and placed both his hands at her neckline so as to forcefully rip the seam along the shoulder.

“That will do,” she teased. “Come to bed, Pen—I feel a draft.”

They progressed up the dark, narrow stairs, pausing on occasion to indulge in a heated embrace to such good effect that by the time they tumbled into the bed, Artemis had been divested of the remnants of her shredded habit, and Droughm was shirtless.  As her attempt at playing the dragon did not go very well, Artemis ceded to Droughm’s urgent need and shifted to lay beneath him, doing her best to shield her splint from his weight because it was clear he was past remembering such niceties.  Lying between his arms, she kissed and caressed and accommodated him as best she could—it did seem easier, this time. And there was something so thrilling in the fact he could not seem to resist her—that she could so easily tempt him, despite her inexperience.

  Afterward, she carefully sidled away from his weight, and tried to find a comfortable position for her aching body. He’d fallen asleep, and his deep breathing resonated in her ear; he was no doubt exhausted, and the combination of good Scotch whiskey and lovemaking had turned the trick.  Idly, she wondered what she was going to wear on the morrow—as the saddlebags were still at the barn—but such practical considerations could not dampen her extreme happiness, as she awkwardly tried to pull the quilt over him so he wouldn’t be cold during the night. 

He’d spoken of that first night at the Ballantine ball, when they’d each recognized the need to form an alliance, so as to thwart those who schemed against the Crown.  But neither one of them could have foreseen the alliance that was formed on a more elemental level—the alliance that had brought them to this night. We looked upon each other, and were forever mated, she thought; it is truly enough to make one believe in Providence.

He started suddenly, and raised his head.

“All is well, Pen; go to sleep,” she whispered, and pulled his head to her breast.