One Summer of Surrender(10)

By: Jess Michaels

Need, want, relief aside, Stenfax realized what he had just done. The thing he’d vowed never to do again. He’d just let Elise have the upper hand over him. He’d just revealed a piece of himself to her.

And that was an utter mistake.

Chapter Three

One a warm summer night very much like this one three years before, Elise had stood before this man and given herself to him. Not since that night had she felt such passion and desire and utter pleasure. Certainly not with her husband, who she had never found or even sought pleasure with. Not even with her own hand, when she feverishly tried to reach the same heights she recalled with Lucien.

Now her body thrummed with pleasure and peace, like this was where she had been meant to be all along. And in truth, it was. What she had done, how she had turned away from Lucien, it never should have happened. This was where she belonged. He was where she belonged.

She smiled up at him and he met her gaze cautiously. When she saw the hardness of his expression, the anger and the hate still bubbling below the surface, her peaceful feeling faded into numbness. In that moment, she saw nothing had truly changed between them. And why would it? Lucien didn’t understand what she’d done, he never would.

Even if she could explain it to him, he’d never forgive her. Trying to find those words seemed futile, they would only cause more pain for them both.

For him, this night hadn’t been about reunion   or repair, but something else. As if to prove it, he shoved to his feet and began to fix himself. He turned to the chair and caught up his jacket, flinging it over his shoulders without looking at her.

“That was a mistake.” His tone was so harsh that it felt like a physical strike.

She closed her eyes and drew in a few long breaths so her own voice would be calm when she said, “I see.”

He froze in his motions as she got to her feet and let her gown fall back over her half-naked body. She reached down and began gathering up the pins that had fallen from her hair and then moved to a mirror across the room to fix it. She could almost see the tracks of his fingers through her locks, and God, how she wished she could keep them there as proof that he had wanted her.

“You shouldn’t do this,” he said softly, his tone much gentler than it had been.

She looked at him through the reflection in the mirror rather than facing him. That was too hard in this moment, she didn’t want to give him too much. She already had.

“I understand that you feel that way,” she said.

His eyes narrowed. “But you’ll do it regardless”

She nodded once. “I will. You don’t have a right to tell me what to do, Lucien. Not anymore.”

His jaw stiffened at those words and he straightened even taller. “No,” he growled. “I suppose I don’t. Good luck, Elise.”

She flinched. That was the first time he’d said her name in what felt like forever, and it was said with such anger.

“Goodbye,” she whispered.

He shook his head as he strode to the door and closed it none too gently behind him. When he was gone, she bent forward, gasping for breath as she gripped the table before her.

For years he had avoided seeing her. She knew that was true. She’d heard all about the lengths he went to in order to do just that. She’d never fought it, never tried to subvert him, because she knew in her heart that seeing him was going to be too painful.

Tonight, she realized she was right. It was too painful. She had never stopped loving Lucien, not for one moment. She loved him still, even though all his love for her was long gone, destroyed by a choice he thought she’d made. A choice she had made that was worse than anything else she’d ever done in her entire life.

She straightened and looked at herself in the mirror. She could almost see his fingerprints on her skin, almost still feel his breath against her body, his mouth on her mouth. Those sensations would fade, of course, and she would miss them as desperately as she missed him.

“But that is the past,” she said to her reflection, wishing her voice didn’t tremble. “He is gone and all your wishing doesn’t change a thing. You can’t let this steer you from your course. It is still the only way.”

Saying the words out loud to herself helped, at least a little, and she finished fixing her hair before she threw her shoulders back and walked from the room. She didn’t dare take a look back at the settee for fear she would burst into tears. She just walked out with as much pride as she could and made her way back into Vivien’s main hall.

In the hours that had passed since she arrived here, much of the debauchery had ended. There were still couples or groups here and there, drunkenly playing. But most of the couples had either gone to rooms to finish their pleasure or gone home after completing it.