Mrs P’s Lullaby
A Christmas Tale
Songs I Like Series
Text copyright © 2017 Mia Soto
All Rights Reserved
December; Italy; 1814
The cold winter air cleansed him after a meeting of the families. Dinner the evening before had been a success. He was praised for securing Elizabetta the prize of his town. Two ancient and rich families joining together was always a moment of importance for everyone from the servants to the patriarchs. Elizabetta accepted the good wishes with her detached serenity as he counted the minutes until he might see the one he loved again.
So when she was not at her place behind the desk at the familiar shop when he walked in his mood turned from disappointed to sour. The near frozen river babbled as he passed along its banks grumbling to himself over her whereabout. In the distance he saw a silhouette hunched over her book ignorant to the sharp winds or the remoteness of her sanctuary.
Flipping a page, she happened to look up and smile at his approach. His angry scowl brought her immediate bemusement. He saw the steel rise in her spine a sure sign she would meet him like for like if he chose to be contrary. Like always, she had that gleam of mischief in her eyes welcoming the challenge of his anger.
He swooped down from his horse with a flourish throwing his cloak over his shoulders. She watched his theatrics in amusement not even rising as he walked toward her with threatening strides. “Haven’t we spoken about the dangers of the forest? Particularly for a lady in solitude? I know we have. Again and again. Yet your recklessness abounds!”
She pursed her lips with a quizzical brow. “You may have, signore. But you are not my father. Nor my husband. Why, we aren’t even lovers. I fail to see how any of this your concern.” He frowned in the face of her wry look. She laughed. “What a face! Careful or it may set that way forever.”
“It is my concern,” He gritted out. “because I don’t wish any harm to come to you. I could not bear it. Not a mile from here our servants ran away a band of gypsies.”
The cold air had rouged her cheeks and lips causing her beauty to flourish like a garden in winter. Her hair flowed unheeded around her in the cold winds and it was obvious that his indignant manner had tickled her amusement. There was devilishness dancing in the brown eyes peering up at him through those spectacles.
“A mile is ways away, signore.” She looked down the river as if pondering the distance. With a resigned sigh, he sat beside her on the rock. Her face softened as she asked, “surely there is more to your pique than my sitting here in the cold air alone?”
He kicked at a rock in a boyish way. “I went to look for you at the shop. But you had left.”
“Hmm.” She nodded her agreement peeling the spectacles away from her face and dropping them on the overturned book sitting on her lap. He picked them up inspecting them with a look of askance.
She shrugged. “It has been a struggle for some time to see well. The letters they print are so small.”
“Your beauty shines in them,” he said and she huffed her disbelief trying to grab them from him. He held them away and put them up to his eyes with a wince. He looked at her bemused as he said, “a bit more than a struggle.”
With annoyance, she reached for the spectacles. “A bit!”
He refused to yield them and soon her cold hands were sheltered in between his while he rubbed them for warmth. They exchanged soft smiles relaxing as the heat built within their intertwined hands. He brought her hands to his mouth to puff on them. “Where are your gloves?”
“Home, perhaps.” A light breeze lifted her hair away from her face and for a brief moment she looked just like an angel.
“You are scandalous,” he teased.
“I can’t turn my pages with them on.” She argued with a flush to her face that had nothing to do with the cold air.
“Aren’t they part of proper attire for ladies?” In annoyance, she tried to steal her hands away, shrugging her answer. He refused to release her chilled hands. “No, I need them still. I need to warm them. I particularly like this digit and I don’t want to see it lost.” He wiggled her pinky and gave her a silly sideways. A smile tickled the corners of her lips. “There it is, my smile. Bigger now. I want the entire display. I deserve that much after braving the cold like this for you.” The smile grew. He turned one of her palms up to him and sank a warm kiss into the middle of it. “Perfect.”
She sighed leaning into him. “You are being bold signore.”
One of his hands caressed her jaw. His thumb ran over her full pout. “That mouth,” he said more to himself than anyone. “It has haunted me these months away.”
He rested his hand around the column of her throat feeling the shift of the muscles as she swallowed. The energy between them went from coursing to dangerous in a blink. With great effort, he resisted the urge to ravage that mouth knowing it would only serve to scare her away.
“I have something for you.”
“You do?” Surprise etched on her face.
“I do.” He brushed the hair from her nape so that he could enjoy the soft, round line of her neck and shoulder. It was irresistible and he leaned in to nuzzle the crevice behind her ear. She melted into him smelling like a garden in spring. “My beautiful Maria, you don’t think I could travel away from you for so long and not bring you something? Some sign of my deepest affection.”
She frowned and snaked away from his caress with a look of annoyance. It was a surprise that his words displeased her, until she clarified. “I would think there are others. Those before me in the wait for your good graces. That might be more likely to receive your trinkets.”
His brows drew together perplexed until understanding dawned. He smiled and scooted near again leaning in to sniff the touch of perfume along her hairline. “Is my dove jealous?”
“Your arrogance is second only to your self-admiration.” She huffed but did not shy away from his caress. He took this as a great sign and let his fingers play along the nape of her neck and hair. She continued in a haughty tone even as she tilted her head to give him better access for his caresses. “I know my place and it is not in a position of importance. There are others well ahead of me in your good estimation.”
“None,” he disagreed. “There are distractions and obligations but you, my sweet, are the beginning and end of my desires.”
The delight and shock at his words lit up her face in the most charming way. Looking down at her cold hands, she put aside their playful mood for a more serious one. “You mustn’t say such things.”
He cupped her chin bringing her eyes back to his, all manner of play gone. “Even if it is true?”
She placed a finger to his lips. “It can’t be,” she whispered as if any could hear them in this icy den.
“One cannot will away the truth. It is true that my heart’s desire lies with you and only you. Nor will there ever again be one who gladdens me in such a way. Haven’t I said as much, in my letters, in my deeds, words? It has been torture to be away from you.”
“There is Elizabetta, Eloisa. How many others that I know of and those I don’t know of at all?” Heavy lashes fluttered downward hiding her eyes from his probing. Words that had started in mischief ended with a heavy thud.
“Don’t, don’t be sad,” he begged. Emotions were never something he handled well but her sadness, displeased him most of all. “Please, my sweet love.” His thumbs caressed her cheeks. “I cannot change my past nor certain truths in my future.” Her wince felt like a sword wound. “I only know I do love you. More than any sonnet or song. You could be mine forever if you’d only consent.”
“No,” she choked yanking her face away from the loving cradle of his hands. “I won’t be your whore.”
He wanted to silence her with passion or violence, maybe both. Frustration, anger built in him and mixed with the volatility of electric desire. They were a pair destined to combust. He could not give her what she wanted and she would not relent to what he offered.
“You would not be a whore. You would be loved in ways many wives are not. In ways my wife never would be if you were to consent to my offer.” He stroked her hair away from her face and placed a soft kiss to her temple.
“You must know. Those words give me no pleasure. To steal from a wife what is hers. I could not.” Her eyes were woeful.
“It could never be hers. Not so long as you live.” He was empathic, his face dangerous in its seriousness.
They sat in the silence of the bubbling river and the sounds of winter brought a peace to their human drama. Holding her was the most natural thing to do, like his arms were made to wrap around her. His body had been preordained with a special nook in which her little body fit with perfection, molding into the shelter of his broad chest and thick arms.
Her face rested in the crook of his neck as they embraced. These were stolen moments as a clock ticked somewhere marking the time not far from then when they must part again. His hands roamed stroking her hair. His lips followed kissing her brow.
He tilted her face up to him. “No more words of anger or sorrow.”
She nodded her agreement. Her dewy lips parted and reason abandoned him in his moment of need. With inching anticipation his lips draped hers in a sweet announcement. Their mouths pressed together beginning an easy dance of soft lips clinging with urgency. It was chaste and more all at once, until it was over.
“Perfect.” There was an awe to his words. His anticipation of their kiss those that tickled his daydreams, fantasies, in a twist of unusual fate, had fallen far short of reality. Her hand rested on his chest and she pressed against the package sitting against his breast. “Would you like it?
Her eyes shone in anticipation. “Yes.”
“I’ve kept it by my heart everywhere I have gone since securing it. Knowing it would be yours and these hands would hold it.” He kissed her hands. “I think it will meet your approval.”
In a slow reverence she opened the lacy cloth. As it became obvious what the gift was, her smile grew like moonbeams shining. Books were a luxury she could scarce afford. The few that she owned he had given to her. With a cry she flung her arms around him and he welcomed it crushing her in his embrace She admired the books snuggling into his embrace with naïve obliviousness to their nearness.
“Pride and Prejudice.” She read the title patting the hard leather. “What an interesting title. Have you read it?”
“I have. I found the story very, appropriate.” Her brow quirked in an irresistible way. So irresistible, he tucked her chin in his fingers and brought her mouth to his to kiss it fully. Her eyes lingered close with a dreamy smile after he released her. “In London, I bought a copy and read it. I knew at once you must also read this so I bought this copy for you. Then as luck had it, I met her at a dinner hosted by a local Earl in Hampshire.”
“Indeed?” She flipped him a smile while leafing through the first few pages. “I shall cherish it always!” She held it into her breast. “I must return your father’s books. I borrow them and then I borrow more but I never seem to get the old ones back to their proper place.”
“Hmph, you needn’t worry a single hair on that matter. Take them all. It’s not as though he reads them.” A stone cold set in his brown hazel eyes. The thought of the miserable old bastard coming within a stone’s throw of her left him cold all over.
“You are so kind to me. Truly, I love it.”
He clasped her hand kissing the cold palm. An easy tug pulled her into him. His other hand wrap around her neck. Her eyes closed in anticipation. “I’m going to kiss you again, Maria.” She nodded not opening her eyes, tilting her head ever so slightly back encouraging him.
Then he did, just like that. His mouth possessed hers. Her lips were so soft, gentle, unsure. They sunk and mashed following his until he coaxed her tongue into the game. He felt her fumble with her book placing it behind her then scooting into him.
Somehow their lips never broke their lock. Soft curves pressed against him. His fingers weaved into her hair like ribbons to tilt her head so that he could deepen the kiss. Her sigh spurred him on. Sweet passion easily erupted into brutal want.
It was a breathless meshing and tearing of tongues and lips. A heavy hand slid down her body to rest on the swell of her breast. She turned into the caress and seizing his moment he slipped his warm hand into the low cut of her gown to cup a ripe, cold breast. A whispered moan mingled with her gasp as his thumb stroked her. His lips trailed her face down the length of her alabaster neck.
“Your skin is like velvet against my lips.”
He might have stopped there but her back arched in obvious askance and so he continued downward to his hand cupping the breast he fished out of its shallow pool. A quiet gasp escaped her lips. He could feel the contrast of the heat of his mouth, tongue, tugging against her cold skin until the soft mound peaked into a delicious button point.
“Everything about you is beautiful.” He muttered moving to her other breast. Why wasn’t she wearing a coat? A special prayer of gratitude for that tonight.
With an angry whinny, his horse reared up and clopped down in warning. They fell apart. She fumbled trying to fix herself as voices drew near.
“Someone is coming,” she whispered.
He nodded brushing her shaking hands away. He took off his cloak and threw it around her for warmth and modesty. The lace kerchief she had tucked into her bodice had fallen to the ground and the swell of her breast was more enticement than he cared to give a stranger’s eye, really any eye other than his.
He stood to block her from the unexpected group passing by. They were vagrants waving and hurrying along not wishing to bother and hoping not to be bothered in return. He sat down with a worried glance at her. She was smiling and soon they were chuckling together.
“You see. It is as I said. There is danger lurking in these trees. You might be attacked at any moment.” His wry look brought a mischievous grin from her.
“Yes, signore.” She tried to sound sincere. “Any soul might wander along to take advantage of an innocent maid, plying her with gifts and studied talents.”
He laughed and scooped up her hands to kiss each finger with care and devotion. He fetched the lace kerchief which he handed to her and waited as she secured her modesty again. “Now. Back you go, to your home where it is warm and safe.” She started to unwrap from his cloak, but he stopped her. “Keep it.”
“No! Eloisa will know whose it is.”
“I don’t care what Eloisa might know or not. And where is your cloak? The air is frigid.” He frowned at her shrug. “Take it then and not an argument from you.”
A dare, he saw the fire light in her eyes. Her hands fluttered up to sweep it off but before she could so much as lift a corner he had her in his embrace again with a squeal of laughter. His mouth commanded hers in the softest way and her arms encircled his neck.
“It is an order. From your superior officer.” Her words of retort were smothered under his smiling kisses. He continued to sprinkle kisses on her mouth until she sighed in his arms. She was the perfect size for his arms, perfect. “Now let’s get you home.”
She gathered her books and gave him a shy smile. A glowing memory would forever hang in this icy glen one he would come back to again and again to relive. He lifted her onto his horse and then swung up behind her snuggling her into his chest.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever been so comfortable atop my mount. Well, perhaps once before.”
They shared a knowing smile and she sighed resting her head against his shoulder. He must have kissed her neck and brow a thousand times in the short ride to the edge of her family property. He set her down holding her hand to kiss every side of it over and over.
“You make me a fool, Maria. What am I to do?” It was a question meant for the gods because certainly he had no answer for his dilemma. He thundered away with the image of soft brown eyes calming him with want and love.