She pulled away from the growing pressure of his mouth, not allowing this to become a long, passionate kiss. She vaguely wondered if she was incapable of a sustained intimacy. Were these subtle rejections of passion, a reflection of a deep flaw in her libido?
Maggie Newsome had taken a few casual lovers since she turned seventeen, the question of a healthy sex drive had never occurred to her. Especially at her relatively young age of twenty-five.
But in the arms of this sexually attractive man, she found herself more and more distant and unwelcoming of his intimate attentions. She felt herself moving away from him mentally, but unable to make a complete break.
“See you at Isabella’s tonight, Collin,” Maggie said, while disengaging from his arms and heading toward the staircase.
“Why don’t I stay for a while, darling, and we’ll drive over there together? Harrison is getting the Rolls spiffed and I’m in no hurry. We can go riding if you’d like, or just walk around the village if you prefer.”
Collin Fitzhugh felt put off by Maggie’s rebuff of his passion, wondering how much more of his fiancé’s odd behavior he would have to endure. The wedding was four months off. Their engagement was barely two weeks old and she’d been withdrawing more and more into herself ever since it was announced.
As the wealthy owner of a large timber processing business, he considered himself landed gentry. Not many of the day would object to his elitist attitudes. And he surely never expected to encounter any resistance to his romantic overtures from any woman, least of all, his fiancé.
He was talking to her back now, as she moved up the staircase, her slender form, impossibly desirable to him.
She wore her thick black hair in the defiantly short “bob” of the day. Like all her fashions, she reflected the very essence of a modern woman.
Maggie stopped on the landing, turning that glossy dark head, to look back at him, fixing her cold, blue-violet eyes on him.
“Walk around the village, so the peasants can view our magnificent selves? Honestly, Collin. There are times I wonder if you’ve converted to colonial attitudes altogether. Before you start singing Hail Britannia, I can’t lazy about here all day. I need to get to my office and prepare the questions for my interview of the Mayor next week.”
Maggie felt irritated that Collin seemed dismissive of her work as Publisher and Editor at the Paxton Guardian, a small, but influential paper founded by her grandfather, George Maynard Newsome. Her father, George Jr., ran it, until his unexpected death, a few months earlier.
A disturbing scene flashed in Maggie’s mind, staring down at him, when Collin went so far once, to suggest that she’d sell more papers if she covered fashion and local gossip.
That’s when she nearly threw her dinner plate in his smug, albeit handsome face.
They were seated at an intimate dinner party at the time, with a number of influential businessmen and the socially prominent guests who frequented Collin’s generous table.
Collin looked mortified at her response to what he thought as news-worthy material.
“I don’t believe the cut of a woman’s skirt is more relevant than the cut to the public monies that support local charitable programs. I also find gossip to be a distasteful and often poisonous form of entertainment. The Paxton Guardian has higher standards than the local pub tittle-tattle!”
A silence descended on the group like a thick fog rolling in from the sea. There was much clearing of throats and forks scratching at bone china, as guests moved their food around, trying to ignore Maggie’s social transgression.
All except one guest as she recalled.
Grayson Gerrard, newly introduced to this social scene as an important artist and protégé of the wealthy Isabella Butler. She and her secretary-companion, Leslie Porter-Booth, both turned their eyes to the dashing man as he spoke.
“Your point is well taken, Miss Newsome,” his deep, velvety voice cut through the dense silence.
The other eleven guests looked up from their plates at the virile artist, who was handsome enough to grace any painting himself. He had become a local sensation when he suddenly appeared among them a few months earlier. He had a definite aura of mystery about him that seemed obvious even to the most obtuse among them.
No one knew where he came from, but none could deny his chiseled features and charismatic qualities, when he entered their closed society.
The women tittered behind gloved hands to their women friends, about how they were tingling in places they believed long dormant. The men tried to puff up, to look more macho when he stood among them.
His patron, the reclusive and very wealthy, Isabella Butler, insisted that he be invited to any social event she chose to attend, or she refused the invitation. Her companion and, some whispered, paramour, Leslie Porter Booth, was already an assumed guest, along with the mercurial Isabella.
The trio made quite the splash entering any gathering.
Isabella, a short, stout woman, always dressed in black, looked uncannily like a fat spider, sitting patiently and waiting to pounce on the unwary. Her lineage was impeccable, even if her fashion choices were not.
The Butler line was well-established when Southern Louisiana enjoyed a short-lived separation from the Union, and declared for the Confederate side. That ended in disaster when General Benjamin F. Butler marched in at the head of his Union troops and began a campaign of hanging anyone who didn’t cooperate in the repatriation under the Stars and Stripes.
The General enjoyed the comforts and luxury of the plantation he occupied so much, that he over-stayed his welcome by three generations as the locals liked to quip.
Where he was ruthless in his efforts to show the cost of war was high, Isabella Butler was ruthless in her social dictates.
Her companion, Leslie Porter Booth, was willowy and statuesque. She would never be described as pretty, but she was striking. Her pale, blue eyes were seemed always slightly hooded, as if afraid to take in a complete view of the world. She wore her long blond hair braided and wrapped like a yellow crown on her head. She favored dark colors in her own wardrobe, a drab reflection of her employer. Her only break with that monotone, were the colorful silk scarfs she was never seen without, flowing like liquid rainbows around her neck and washing down the long curve of her back.
Grayson Gerrard had gone on to address the stunned dinner guests that evening.
“There are many safety nets that are being systematically dismantled by our governing bodies and the poor are paying the cost every day of their shortened lives.”
At the time, Maggie was as surprised to hear such an opinion spoken aloud by this enigmatic man as everyone else in the room. Even his closest confident, Isabella Butler, wore a look of surprise.
Maggie only met Grayson Gerrard once, before that evening’s dinner party, but that was enough to have made a lasting impression.
He was impeccably dressed both then and at this evening’s soirée. His dinner jacket was subtly showing off the pumped-up biceps and well-developed shoulder and back muscles. He stood well over six feet, Maggie observed, when first introduced to her at Isabella’s. Her fiancé was six feet and Gerrard was a good three inches taller.
She noticed at the time that Collin looked like he was stretching his neck to compensate for the lack of stature every time he encountered the man throughout the evening.
While they had only exchanged the expected bland small talk, Maggie felt the weight of his lingering gaze on her throughout the evening. At one point, when Collin had to excuse himself from her side to speak to a business acquaintance, Maggie found herself gazing up into the slate-gray eyes of Grayson Gerrard.
He never said a word to her, only stood looking down on her upturned face. She saw a slight smile playing at the corners of his sensual mouth as he watched her becoming more uncomfortable. She felt like a speared fish, hooked on the lance of his all-seeing eyes.
As Maggie looked over at Grayson Gerrard this evening, she realized he was addressing his comments to her alone. She felt the same urge to squirm under that steely gaze, but forced herself to return the open look.
“I appreciate your support Mr. Gerrard and can only wish others shared your insights,” she said, directing her response to him, as if the others had vanished.
Maggie had not thought of Grayson Gerrard until they were to dine at Isabella Butler’s that evening. Now her memory seemed jerked back to his all-consuming looks.
She was disturbed by her thoughts and turning her back on her fiancé, began to climb the stairs to her room.
Collin stood looking up at her, wondering how he could rekindle that hot flame they once shared.
Without speaking he took the stairs two at a time and before she could resist, swept Maggie into his arms. He carried her, protesting, into her bedroom, kicking the door shut with a bang.
“Collin, what do you think you’re doing? I need to…”
Her next words were lost under the hard demand of his kiss. His tongue filled her mouth as he pushed her down on her bed. He was pulling at her clothes, his passion rising with every button pulled open from her blouse. Before she could object, Maggie was swept away with the moment, as Collin found the exact spot that he knew would bring her to complete release.
After she climaxed, he was quick to come inside of her. Shuddering with pleasure at the moistness between her legs, he gave himself over to his own ecstasy.
After several panted breaths, he shifted onto his elbows and looked down at her beautiful face. Her eyes were closed and there were tears spilling down her cheeks.
“Despite your protests, you enjoyed every second,” he said, tying to ignore her silent crying.
She didn’t answer. Chiding herself for her obvious pleasure in his rough, demanding love-making, she rolled away when he got off her.
Going to the bathroom, she closed and locked the door. She felt furious with him. Strangely, she was almost as angry with herself for giving in to his knowing touches.
Both would have been foreign thoughts until recently, and she couldn’t begin to understand the changes she was feeling toward the man she was to marry.