On the day Miss Claire Hastings turned twelve, she rambled to the woods near Madley Lodge, a neighbouring estate, two miles from her home, and came upon a dark-skinned woman who was suffering from heat stroke. Claire’s quick action in getting her some water from a nearby pond saved her life. She helped the woman out of the woods. As a token of her gratitude, the woman, a fortune teller, gave her a crystal ball, and told her she could see into the future with it.
Claire often took her prized possession out to examine it. Although she did not seem to be able to see the future in the ball, she was fascinated by two tiny words engraved on it – “Da” and “CB.” As she was engrossed in a newly published novel, Pride and Prejudice by A Lady at the time, she named the gift from the elder lady “Darcy’s Crystal Ball,” after the name of the hero in the novel. Claire was one of four daughters of an impoverished country gentleman, and the estate had been entailed away in the male line. She identified with the characters in the novel and truly hoped to find her soul mate in a gentleman as brave and honourable as Mr. Darcy.
Four years later, she met the elderly woman again, telling fortunes in a circus in Lambeth, London. Mesmerised by the fortune teller’s uncanny ability to foretell the future, she soon found herself learning the skills of a gypsy. Since then, with the help of her uncle and aunt living in London, she performed the rites and rituals of a gypsy fortune teller secretly for a few days every year under the elderly woman’s guidance. However, in spite of her training, she was still unable to see anything in the crystal ball. Nevertheless, she enjoyed observing people and would use her sharp observation skills to sketch people’s characters. She loved learning about people’s personalities and their fate. It also provided her with some pin money, most of which she diligently saved, although she did spend some on her sisters. She normally charged just a few farthings for fortune telling, unless patrons looked excessively rich or annoying.
1821 Lambeth, London
Claire sat inside the gypsy wagon, counting her day's earnings; two pounds! Londoners were very generous indeed. She had to pay the circus owner half of her earnings, but still, two pounds was a good sum. And a few interesting characters had entered her wagon that day. She went to the back door and was about to slip out to tell her uncle she was finished for the day when she heard two people speaking near her wagon.
“Come, I have heard from my dear friends that this is the residence of Videre the Gypsy Queen, who is a very accurate fortune teller. Do you not want to know what the future holds for you?” a woman with a shrill voice asked.
“Thank you, Miss Blackwood. I believe the future is in our own hands,” a male baritone voice replied. The voice of the man disturbed Claire. It sounded mature, decisive, and authoritative. On the one hand, she agreed with him, as she was a woman with a positive attitude; on the other hand, she believed in the magical power of the crystal ball, which she had used for many years.
“You are such a killjoy. Do you truly not want to know anything… about your bride, for instance? Is she as tall as I am? Is she as slim as I? Does she like you dressed in green like I do?”
Claire rolled her eyes. The woman was testing her patience; but she wished the man would come into her wagon and allow her to predict his life. His voice was intriguing, and he must have an interesting character.
“No, thank you,” the man said. “I prefer to leave my prospects to the future. Physical beauty cannot last a lifetime. It is the character traits of my bride that are most important.”
“Oh, your philosophy is so noble! But I for once want to indulge myself and see the strong gentleman who shall protect me forever. Perhaps my life shall be tied to… a tall gentleman from the north. Now, you promise you will wait for me here? I will be excessively scared if I come out from the wagon and cannot find my way back to our carriage.”
“I promised Blackwood to deliver you back to the carriage.”
“Until then, sir, my future awaits,” the woman said in a flirty manner.
Very soon, Claire heard the bell ring as the door of her tent was pushed open. Due to the immense popularity of Videre the Gypsy Queen throughout the years, her uncle had talked the circus owner into putting a stained-glass screen from an old church in the tent, which separated Claire physically from her patrons.
Through the screen, Claire saw a tall woman wrapped in fashionable silk. Her head was decorated with colourful feathers, and she walked elegantly. Her flirty manner, however, evaporated when she entered the tent. She scowled at the dimness of the wagon and used her hand to cover her nose. She did not seem to like the smell of the incense Claire burned in the wagon. She moved forward and sat gingerly on the cushion on the floor. Then, in an abrupt tone, totally different from the flirty demeanour she portrayed for the gentleman waiting for her outside, she said, “My friends told me you were a fine fortune teller. Can you tell me if the man outside, my heart's desire, will make an offer to me soon?”
“Lady of high fashion, your outlook comes with a price.” Claire said.
“My friends told me you cost a fortune. How much?”
“My fee is one pound.”
“One pound! That is a ransom. How much time will you give me? What if your prediction is wrong? I could have no recompense. I will give you five pence instead.”
“Your future is not worth a farthing! You can bargain with the devil but not fate’s messenger. Leave now if you are not serious about your future.”
Miss Blackwood’s eyes glared with anger. She reluctantly pulled out the money from her reticule and threw it on the table. “You had better tell me something good or I will send the bailiff to chase you down.”
“There is no good or bad, but only the truth. Pray, give me your right hand.” Claire put her left hand through the screen. She used some powder and paste to make her hand look dark and wrinkled like that of an old woman.
“Your hand is filthy. Can you not tell my fortune without touching me?”
“Hand on the crystal ball and I shall tell all,” Claire demanded in a stern voice.
Reluctantly, the woman put out her hand. It was neatly manicured. Her fingers were long and her skin smooth, showing her to be a woman who did not have to do harsh work. Claire pulled her hand toward her, placed it on the crystal ball and covered her hand with her own. She closed her eyes, concentrated, and willed herself to see into Miss Blackwood’s future. No picture came into her mind. She sighed. She had to rely on herself. From the dismissive tone of the man outside, he was not interested in her. Claire wanted to save the woman from heartache. She said with a compassionate voice, “The master of the large estate is not your destiny.”
“What! I am certain Mr. Davies paid me more attention this year than he did the last. Why would he agree to accompany me to the circus today if he is not interested in me?”
The man is not her heart’s desire, not even her betrothed. The woman is deluding herself if she believes Mr. Davies will offer his hand to her in marriage. Claire was certain of her speculation and tried to dissuade Miss Blackwood’s hope again. “The master of the large estate is not courting you.”
“You are lying! He shall be travelling with us to a backwater place for more than a month soon. We shall be in each other’s company every day. There will be no woman as elegant or possessing such exquisite taste as I. There will be no competition to me. What can he find more interesting than my company for the next few weeks? I am certain he accompanies me only to court me with the prospect of marriage in mind.”
Claire shook her head and repeated, “The master of the large estate will not offer his hand to you in marriage.”
“If he does not court me, I can think of a scheme to compromise him. He shall be mine soon. You are a fake! Give me back my one pound!”
“Forced marriage leads only to heartache and unhappiness,” Claire said, her sympathies secretly but expressly favouring Mr. Davies.
Miss Blackwood squealed loudly, pulling her hand from Claire’s grasp and thumping it on the table where the crystal ball was. “I shall not believe in your lies! Filthy, ugly, old gypsy! I shall make Mr. Davies offer me his charms in marriage by next summer. I shall come back and tell the whole of London you are a phoney. Now give me back my one pound!”
Claire lost her patience with the woman. She delivered a warning, “Lady of high fashion, let bygones be bygones! Improve your character and a bright future awaits. Continue your temperament and a dark prospect prevails.”
Miss Blackwood was screaming loudly by now. She was banging on the glass screen and yelling, “Give me back my one pound! Give me back one pound!” The bell rang and a man with blond hair pushed open the door. He rushed in.
“Josephine! What on earth is the matter? Why are you screaming?” The man’s voice was filled with concern. It was not the voice of the man Claire had heard before.
The woman stood up, pointed her finger at Claire and said, “This gypsy cheat tricked me out of one pound. She talked rubbish. She said Mr. Davies was not interested in me. When I demanded she give me back the money, she refused! Can you believe the audacity of this dirty con?”
“Shhh, it is only one pound. You paid five times more for some ugly feather not half an hour ago. Davies is standing just outside. You do not want him to overhear your tantrum. Remember, I told you not to believe in fortune telling. You chose to trust your friends instead, so bear with it. Though I believe the woman is correct. Davies is not interested in you. Now we will go and find Hannah.”
The conversation drew Claire’s attention to the tall gentleman standing a few feet from her wagon. Through the open door, she could see that this Mr. Davies had dark curly hair and broad shoulders. He was immaculately dressed in a green overcoat, light brown breeches, and shiny boots. He was standing still, seemingly deep in thought.
As Miss Blackwood and the blond man walked out of the wagon, the man with the dark curl hair turned around to look at them. The outgoing pair blocked Claire’s vision, and she managed to catch only a glimpse of his ear.
That night at her uncle’s house, Claire was following her ritual of wiping the crystal ball clean after her fortune telling session, when a sudden urge to see into the future overwhelmed her.
In the past, when she’d had this urge, she mainly saw people she knew well such as her sisters, her father, and her family. The events would usually come true not long afterwards. In fact, none of her predictions had gone unconfirmed for more than a year or two.
She was eager to see what was in store for her that night. She closed her eyes, put both hands on the ball and concentrated. First she saw a tastefully furnished room that gave the appearance of wealth, but not a vulgar display of money. The room was spacious and adorned with pastel green wallpaper covered with a pattern of wildflowers. Then a huge bed appeared, with rumpled, lavender-patterned bed sheets that indicated the bed had been slept in recently. Two golden pillows on the bed, each with an indentation, confirmed this was a couple’s room.
Her vision moved deeper into the crystal ball, and to her utter shock she saw the naked back of a man bathing. He was in the company of a woman, but could see neither of their faces. She felt her face flush because this was the first time she had seen anything so scandalous. She continued the vision.
The man had short dark curly hair and wide muscular shoulders. He looked vaguely familiar to her. His fingers were slowly massaging the woman’s head. He then took an ivory-coloured comb from the side table by the bath and drew it through the woman’s cascading dark tresses. He was slow and attentive, making his movements sensual and caring. After a few minutes, the man abandoned the comb and used his fingers to massage the woman’s head, hair and neck before sliding them over her shoulders. His fingers were long and his hands strong. He lowered his head, pushed the woman’s hair aside and kissed her neck and shoulders.
Claire had never beheld such a sight in her fortune telling. She felt hot and flustered, as if she were intruding on the couple’s most private moments. She wanted to end the session, but her hands might as well have been glued to the crystal ball. She did not understand why she could not take her hands away.
She then saw the man press the woman to the side of the bathtub, her face away from him. He raised his body slightly and she could see a birthmark on the back of his waist, near the spine. It was heart shaped.
She watched him move in slow motion, as if he was riding… riding the woman! Claire’s breath became shallow. She was shocked and mortified to witness this intimate coupling. She did not know couples could make love in a bath and that a man could ride a woman in that fashion from behind. She tried to pull her hands away from the crystal ball, but they would not move.
The muscles on his back rippled during the motion. His big body covered the petite shape of the woman. One of his hands entwined with hers on the edge of the bath while the other was dipped into the water, out of Claire’s vision, doing lord knows what.
After a long time of riding and thrusting forward, his frantic pounding motion stopped with an arching posture. He thrashed his head slightly backward to the side, allowing Claire to catch a glimpse of his features. His ear attracted her attention. Her breathing nearly stopped. It looked vaguely familiar!
Claire finally managed to open her eyes and take her hands away from the transparent globe. She put her hands on her cheeks; they burned. She ran toward the mirror and looked at herself. Her face was red and she was panting. She noticed her nipples had hardened and pushed against the cotton nightgown. She did not know what was happening to her.
As a country girl, she had seen animals mating before, but watching a virile man throbbing into his woman up close was totally unimaginable. She wondered how they could feel pleasure in such an awkward position. The direction of her own thoughts shamed her, and she ran back to lie on the bed, where she pulled the bed sheets over her head, blocking the vision from her mind. But it wouldn’t go away.
That night she tossed and turned, unable to sleep. By dawn, she gave up and took out her sketchbook. She had another talent. She loved sketching caricatures to amuse her sisters and father. She sketched the bathing scene in pencil, exaggerating the potency of the man’s big body in comic drawing style. She could remember it so clearly!
Every ripple of his muscles, his powerful hands, his distinctive birthmark, the energy of his body and his charming ear! But Claire could not remember the woman's features at all. In trying to capture the details of her body, her face, Claire could only produce a blurry figure. Clearly her focus had been the overwhelming physicality of the man’s actions last night. When she finished the sketch, she finally fell into a deep sleep.
About 10 days after Claire returned from London, she came face to face with Miss Blackwood at the Brightside Assembly. Behind her were her younger sister Hannah and her brother, the blond Mr. Blackwood, and the dark-haired Mr. Davies.
Claire caught a glimpse of his ear. It looked extremely familiar. How can I be so obsessed with a man's ear; a man without a face!
The Brightside Assembly was a success for Claire’s elder sister Julia, as she seemed to claim the attention of Mr. Blackwood. Claire did not achieve the same success; she overhead Mr. Davies decline his friend’s initiative to introduce to her. And now she felt distinctly uncordial towards Mr. Davies. In spite of this, she could not stop sneaking glances at him whenever he wasn’t looking at her. There was no doubt in her mind: he was the man in the bath.
That night, in the privacy of her bedroom, Claire had an urge to look into the future again. On each of the 10 nights since her return from London, she had taken out the Darcy Crystal Ball with a measure of anticipation and apprehension, and willed herself to meet or to miss seeing the man with the heart-shaped birthmark again. No vision ever came to her mind. That night, after the Brightside Assembly, the crystal ball was calling for her.
She locked her door, put her hands on the crystal ball and let it take her to another world. It was a library. It looked vaguely familiar but she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. The room was splashed with extravagant decorations, and seemed to be lacking a full complement of books. The few books on each shelf looked too tidy; unused and unread. Claire’s eyes continued to move through the room. There was a big chocolate-coloured desk decorated in gold on the corners. It was very untidy, with piles of paper on it that suggested their owner was clearly an untidy person.
Her vision moved to the left of the desk. To her utter astonishment, she saw the man again! The same tall man with the well-built, broad back she had seen in the bath. She was sure of it.
Her heart nearly jumped out of her bosom, because this time the man wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing. He was as naked as the day he was born. Her breath quickened. She did not want to spy on him again, but his glorious form was pulling her in. He was standing in front of a ladder, his back towards her. She could see the muscles of his back clearly. This time, no bath water was limiting her view. As her eyes moved lower, she took in the cheeky expanse of the man’s bare bottom. Mesmerised by this extraordinary and incongruous vision, Claire felt her pulse rate quicken, a sensation that filled her with guilt.
Claire, you are shameless! How can you gaze at a man’s naked bottom and not lower your eyes? Just as suddenly as this question popped into the mind of this gently raised woman, another voice answered it. But he is truly magnificent! This is the most superb male form I have ever laid my eyes on. His bottom is toned and pert; his thighs strong and potent. He has the physique and countenance of a Greek god. Oh goodness, he is irresistible.
After a few minutes admiring this striking naked form, Claire’s attention was drawn to the fact that he was not alone. Out of the corner of the crystal ball, she saw another human being take shape… it was a woman, and she was walking gracefully towards him as he stood naked in front of the library ladder. And it was the same woman who had shared his body in the bath!
The first thing that caught her eye was the tiny foot of the woman as she leant towards him, gently tracing the back of his calf. It slowly caressed his leg, until it reached his bottom. The woman then used her foot to rub against his butt cheek in a circular motion. His wide form blocked the woman’s face, but Claire could see she was wearing a very expensive, yellow silk dress, with some colourful wildflowers elegantly sewn on the hem.
The man used his hand to brush the woman’s legs. His fingers were long and supple, and he leaned down to sweep them across her ankles, then brought them up slowly, delicately brushing her calves, knees, and thighs. When they reached the hem of her dress they pushed it up dangerously higher and higher, exposing more and more of her legs.
With her dress pushed up, the woman reclined gently against the steps of the ladder, her thighs spread wide apart. The man dipped his hands inside the hem of the dress. The woman’s leg muscles pulsed and trembled for a few moments. The man then moved back from her, and with a rough shake of his hand, he gripped her thighs and pushed them wide apart. He then moved forward and pressed against the woman. His hands moved up to wrap around her waist and he pushed into her with a mighty force. The woman, in turn, wrapped her legs tightly around his waist.
He began thrusting. Last time, in the bath, Claire had observed only his rippling back and the waves in the tub. This time, his amazing body was fully on display for her to admire. She could make out every twisting movement, the ripples of exertion and relaxation in the muscles of his back, bottom and thighs. His thrusts and withdrawals were fast and furious and had the ladder shaking comically in banging synchronicity with their movements.
Claire, totally pulled in by the couple’s extraordinary, almost savage, display of untempered passion, had lost any form of self-conscious embarrassment or guilt. She could only hear the sound of her heart hammering in her chest as she watched the muscles on the man’s bottom tighten. Then, with a mighty thrust, he stopped suddenly, and she saw him stand motionless for a few seconds as his body towered over the woman, trembling and shivering in the throes of orgasm.
Claire felt her heart stop. She was panting. Her whole body was flooded with an unstoppable heat that drained her of thought and brought sensations of pleasure that made her feel wild and wet. She wanted to take her hands off the crystal ball, but they would not move. As she strained her eyes at the unfolding sequence, she saw the man start moving again.
He lowered his body slowly to the floor and assumed a kneeling position. He then held up the woman’s limp right leg to worship. His head went down to her foot where he kissed her toes. Then he moved his mouth upwards, his tongue tracing a line from her ankle to her thigh. Was he now going to kiss her secret garden? Claire wondered. Truly not! That was unthinkable. Claire gasped loudly. She felt faint. Her eyes opened suddenly and her hands dropped from the crystal ball. The other world disappeared. Claire ran to her bed and lay down, burying her head in her pillow. She breathed in deeply, trying to erase the memory of the erotic encounter that had set her alight. But it would not go away.
She was not sure whether she was disappointed or relieved to be spared that particular vision. No amount of reading in her father’s library would have prepared her to watch such a scene unfolding. She had read about the appreciation of woman’s form and passionate love making in poetry, but she had never witnessed explicit paintings of a man kissing his woman in the most secret place.
Her curious mind wondered why the man would bestow such a favour if it were not pleasurable to either of them. She had learned in reading that men and women sleep together for the purpose of procreation. And although her innocence did not blind her to the fact that whores and mistresses existed, she struggled to assimilate the extraordinary images she had just witnessed. This man had not slept with the woman; he had engaged in the ritual of procreation in a bath and on a ladder. Did the man not have any shame? Was his carnal lust so strong that he could not check the impulse to cover his lady in their chamber?
And what about the woman? She must be a courtesan to allow him such a liberty in a library, of all places! Surely it was not proper. How could she allow the man to kiss her like that, with her dress still on?
Her mind went off in another direction. Was the man actually bedding the same woman? Or was the man a rake who had a passion for bedding courtesans in the bath and impaling them on the steps of a library ladder? Had he engaged in this lascivious activity on the same day? And why had she, Claire, been presented with such a vision of the couple? What was the significance? Her mind could not stop. She gave up thinking and decided to draw what she had seen again.
She concentrated on the full glory of the man. With every stroke, she created a powerful and lusty male with a breathtaking bottom. Her doubtful thoughts about his gentlemanly manner made her change the library setting. She painted a more decadent environment. She transformed the untidy pile of paper on the desk into a display of exotic fruit, accompanied by game food such as pheasant and grouse. She etched some tumbled wine glasses and set them beside a pile of books with forbidden titles. She changed the woman’s elegant yellow dress into a more elaborate and vulgarly expensive gown that would be fitting on a courtesan. Finally, she put the heart-shaped birthmark on the man. It was like her signature as the author of this caricature. She could finally sleep after she completed the drawing.
In the next few days, Claire met the Madley Lodge party again during a neighbour’s gathering at Bolton House. Her opinion of Miss Blackwood was confirmed. She was a snobbish woman, with good humour and manner only when she was with her own circle. Mr. Blackwood was easygoing, open and friendly, while Mr. Davies was reserved and cold to most people. But Claire noticed that the latter kept staring at her and standing near her when she conversed with other people. She did not understand why. But she was quite annoyed.
Not long afterwards, Claire’s sister Julia was invited to dine at Madley Lodge. She felt ill after riding through the storm from home to there, and had to stay in the Blackwood’s residence overnight. The next day, Claire visited her beloved sister. Julia was seriously unwell and Mr. Blackwood invited Claire to stay and keep her company.
During Claire’s stay at Madley Lodge, her sister’s health improved, and Claire had time and the opportunity to interact with their hosts. She observed with amusement how Miss Blackwood was determined to capture Mr. Davies. The woman flattered the man, his sister, his estate and even his library at every opportunity. Miss Blackwood agreed with everything he said. She tried to talk to him whenever she could; but the man treated her with little enthusiasm.
Mr. Davies had strong opinions on many subjects; such as the exhaustive list of skills an accomplished lady should possess. His temperament seemed totally different to that of Mr. Blackwood, yet their friendship was steady and comfortable. Mr. Davies still spent a lot of time staring at Claire, which she found exasperating. As Claire’s disposition was lively and playful, she expressed her irritation by teasing and challenging him whenever she could. Just like one evening, when he asked her to dance a reel with him, she refused and even dared him to despise her. She rather expected to affront him and was amazed at his gallantry. He simply said he did not dare, left her alone and continued to gaze at her. The increasing number of lively conversations in which Claire and Mr. Davies became engaged, was a source of great irritation to Miss Blackwood, who was clearly very jealous. She became more uncivil to Claire as time passed.
Early on Friday morning, Claire awoke and decided to explore the library while Julia was asleep.
When she entered the library, she gasped. It was the same library she had seen in the crystal ball! Yet it was not. The room itself, like the positions of the shelves, the size and prospect of the windows, was exactly the same as those she had seen in the crystal ball. Even the desk was the same. She suddenly realized why she felt this room had been so familiar in her vision. She had visited the Madley Lodge library when she was very young. The library had been in the same physical state in the past, in the present and in the future; but the decorations were different. In the present, the room had more useless things than books. There were luxurious statues, vases and even screens. Everything was expensively furnished, yet without good taste or style. The desk was the same colour as it had been in the past, and was in a similar state of disarray as it appeared in the future.
Claire’s eyes were drawn to the ladder, to the left of the desk. Her legs seemed to have a mind of their own, for they moved toward the ladder without instruction from her brain. She stood in front of it, and put out her hands to touch the sides. She shook it, and it seemed very sturdy. Unable to stop herself, she climbed a few steps and sat on the same step against which the courtesan had set her behind. Her petite form fit well, though it wasn’t the most comfortable sitting position. Without noticing what she was doing, she leaned back on the ladder and sat with her legs slightly apart, her feet resting on the next step to support her weight.
She closed her eyes and thought back of the image imprinted in her mind. So the couple I saw was mating in this library in the future. Who are they? It could not be Mr. Blackwood as he has blond hair. It could not be his brother-in-law, Mr. Hunt, as he looks fatter and shorter than that man. It could only be… Mr. Davies! Suddenly she felt hot and embarrassed at putting his face to the man she admired so much. This cannot be! He is so standoffish and so stiff. How could he be so passionate and so wild as to make love to a woman in a bath and on a ladder? And in such awkward positions! Not to mention kneeling down and kissing a woman’s… No! No! It could not be Mr. Davies. Some of the furniture remains the same as now, but the crude decorations are gone in the future. That means the house has been rented out again. That must be it. Madley Lodge has been leased to another family. The man in the crystal ball is not Mr. Davies!
“Miss Hastings, are you well?” The voice of Mr. Davies, up close, startled her. She opened her eyes and was confronted by the man in her thoughts. He was standing just a few inches from her with a look of concern and puzzlement. His manly smell flooded her senses. Their eyes were level. She noticed for the first time he had deep dark eyes, a straight, noble nose and an extremely handsome face. His ears were enchanting. She did not understand why she wanted to touch his earlobes, let alone kiss and suckle them.
Her unruly and wanton thoughts made her face turn bright red with embarrassment. She realised how improper she had been, sitting with her legs apart on the ladder with her dress hiked up slightly, while Mr. Davies stood close enough for her to wrap her legs around his waist.
Stop it, Claire! She chastised herself. She had to get away from the man. Without thinking or speaking, she raised her body and was ready to climb down the ladder when she lost her footing. Mr. Davies saw her precarious movement and wrapped his arm around her waist before she fell.
Pressed together in this sudden, quite unexpected embrace, Claire could feel her nipples harden and push through the thin day dress against his coat. She sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm herself, but this had the effect of pushing her body even tighter to his chest. She felt the vigour and scorching heat of his arm around her waist and the pleasurable helplessness of her thighs dangling against his strong legs. For the first time in her life, she felt like swooning. Her eyes rolled up and her head dropped limply back.
Mr. Davies acted immediately and picked her up. With his left hand wrapped under her knees, dangerously close to her bottom, he walked toward the chaise in the far corner of the room. There he laid her down and sat by her side. He then lowered his head with a worried look on his face. His hand touched her forehead. When their skin touched, Claire felt weak and torched. Mr. Davies must have felt the same too, because he withdrew his hand immediately as if it had been burnt by fire. Then he spoke in a trembling voice. “Miss Hastings, are you unwell? Your head feels very hot and your face looks flushed. Should I send for the apothecary?”
He was about to rise from the chaise when she held his arm to prevent him from doing so, and said weakly, “No, I am well. I may be more tired than I realise, having looked after Julia for a few days. Pray, do not concern yourself about it.” She then realised that she should not be touching his arm. Claire, get a grip of yourself. He will think you are using arts and allurements to entice him! She released her hand at once and raised it to cover her eyes. Then she groaned out in mortification.
Mr. Davies mistook her groan as one signalling pain. He forgot about propriety and used his hands to pat her cheeks, neck and shoulders to ascertain her injury. “Did you injure yourself during the fall from the ladder?” When his hand moved to her bare arms, her heart nearly stopped beating. She cried out weakly, “Mr. Davies!”
The call drew his eyes back to hers. He realised for the first time that her fine eyes were not filled with pain but with hazy…desire! She was panting. Her lips were slightly apart. The cherry-red sensual lips were like the nectar of a beautiful blossom, begging to be drunk in by a bee.
Mr. Davies could not help himself. He had been so bewitched by her quick wit and humour over the past few days that he had fantasised about having her many times. Now he was confronted with her naked desire. He lowered his head and tasted her soft, moist lips. They were sweet and sensuous, and he noticed they were trembling slightly, a quiver that took hold of her throat, her arms and the breast that strained towards his. Mr Davies knew he had suddenly arrived in heaven!
He was about to deepen the kiss when he heard footsteps outside. That startled him. He stood up, brushed his clothes down and quickly ran his hand through his hair. Then, as quickly as he had entered, he left the library without a backward glance.
Claire sat up slowly. She touched her inflamed lips with her finger and retraced the places he had kissed. Her breathing was still fast and shallow. How can I look at the man again! I must ask Julia to borrow Mr. Blackwood’s carriage. We must leave here at once.
After Claire had apprised her sister of her departure plans, she spent the remainder of the day avoiding Mr. Davies. However, an incident changed that, and made her more determined to leave Madley Lodge without delay.
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