A Lady's Pleasure


For the duration of the storm, let us simply be Abigail and Robert.

Lady Abigail Wynfred escapes to a seaside cottage to bid her dreams farewell before marrying a staid English lord to please her family. Colonel Robert Coally convalesces in a nearby cottage to recuperate from a battle wound before returning to the Boer Wars. When a storm strikes, Robert takes refuge with Abigail. He has seen too much death. She has experienced too much loneliness. They vow to fulfill each others fantasies until the storm ends. But passion, they discover, is as unpredictable and life-altering as the elements ...


Chapter One

"My desires were excited to the highest pitch. I depicted to her the pleasure she would experience when, after arriving at the chateau, I should deflower her of her virginity, and triumphantly carry off her maidenhead on the head of this, 'dear Laura,' I said, as I took one of her hands and—"
A raging black wall of wind and rain turned candlelight into night, swallowing whole the illicit, newspaper-type print that was in that second the sum total of Abigail's existence.
Blindly, instinctively, she scooped up the forbidden journal she had been reading. Beside her, frenzied fingers rifled through the earlier installment of erotic literature, whipped it through the air. Behind her, china clicked and clattered in the cupboard. And before her—
A dark silhouette, darker than the storm outside, filled the space where the cottage door should be.  Where it had been but a moment before.

Abigail's heart slammed against her ribs as she made the mental transition from the fictional Laura who was being initiated into the pleasures of sex to the flesh-and-blood spinster that was herself.

Another explosion resounded through the one-room cottage—the door slamming shut. Barring the buffeting wind and the drumming rain. Barring what light the night provided.
Barring Abigail inside the cottage with an intruder.
An intruder who, judging by the height and breadth of the silhouette that had filled the doorway, could only be a man.
A very large man.
Lingering desire pulsed through her body—and dawning horror.
She was all alone and she had forgotten to bolt the door.
Abigail surged to her feet—naked feet, defenseless feet, where had she put her shoes? "Who are you?"
Her voice was loud—too loud in the sudden quiet. Certainly it did not belong to the placid spinster everyone took her to be. No more than it belonged to the wanton woman she had been but a moment before.
Hair rose on the back of her neck as she strained to see through the black abyss that was all that separated her and certain theft or death. "What do you want?"
Droplets of water pelted her in the face—as if some great animal shook itself dry.
"What do you think I want?" The low, masculine growl came from the vicinity of the door. "Lady, in case you haven't noticed, there's a storm outside. I want shelter."
Abigail's breath escaped in surprise at the blistering censure in the intruder's voice. His accent proclaimed that he was no local boy, but an educated man.
"I am fully aware that there is a storm outside, Mr.... "
"Coally. Robert. Colonel," the disembodied voice curtly supplied.
White dots pricked the blackness in front of Abigail's eyes. "I am fully aware that there is a storm outside, Colonel Coally, but you can not possibly stay here. There is a"—warmth flooded her cheeks at mentioning the unmentionable—"a little house out back. You will find shelter there."
"Lady, I am soaked; I am cold; I am hungry. I am not going to spend a night in a privy. Light that candle before one of us does ourselves an injury."
The order was abrupt, imperious and rude. As if Abigail was a soldier—a rather dim-witted soldier at that—derelict in her duties.
A tide of shock washed over her; it was followed by rage.
She forgot that the colonel was an intruder. She forgot that gently bred ladies such as herself fainted in the face of danger and submitted to the voice of masculine authority. She forgot everything but the fact that she was not going to take orders, here, in this seaside cottage that she had rented far away from the dictates of society so that she could enjoy one precious month of freedom before she gave up everything, and how dare—
A dull clunk of boots on wood ripped through Abigail's fury—the colonel was bridging the darkness that separated them. The clunk was interspersed by a dragging sound, as if he limped—or staggered.
Military men were notorious for their drinking habits.
Abigail hastily stepped back.
Only to collide with the chair she had just vacated. It skidded across the floor.
"Please stay where you are while I light the candle." Her voice in the darkness was just as sharp as the colonel's. "Are you injured?"
A grunt was her answer. And a flare of light.
Abigail stared at the intruder alias colonel—from across the scarred wooden table instead of from across the room where he should be.
Her first thought was of how dark was his skin—as dark as the gentlemen of her acquaintance were fair.
Her second thought was how ridiculously long his eyelashes were. They created jagged shadows on his cheeks as he concentrated on touching the head of the match to the wick of the candle.
Then he was entirely visible, illuminated in a widening circle of light.
Droplets of water trickled down off pitch-black hair. His face was lean, shaved clean of the sideburns or mustache that fashion dictated. The hand holding the match was as brown as his face. His fingers were long, strong, with square, blunt tips.
Far, far too large to fit inside a woman other than one at a time, surely, was her third and totally incongruous thought.
Shaking his hand to extinguish the match, the colonel abruptly straightened.
Unwittingly, Abigail's gaze followed his movements.
Standing five feet nine inches tall, there were few men Abigail did not top, but she had to tilt her head back to look at this man. Eyes the color of pewter locked with hers.
The one-room cottage shrank to the size of a closet.
She had never seen such stark eyes. There was nothing soft about them. And yet they were beautiful in their uncompromising masculinity.
The dark lashes flickered; she could feel the touch of the cold gray gaze on her lips, her throat, her breasts—
Breasts, she suddenly remembered, that were confined by neither corset nor chemise.
Her fingers involuntarily clenched—about damp, curling paper.
A hurried glance downward confirmed her suspicion.
The colonel wasn't staring at her breasts; he was staring at The Pearl, A Journal of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading, NO. 12 June 1880. Which she clutched to her chest with the cover outward.
She whipped the journal behind her back.
Simultaneously, the colonel pivoted toward the iron bed against the right wall.
The covers were turned back in ready invitation.
Alarm leapt up her spine. "What are you doing?"
He bypassed the bed and limped to the smaller of the three trunks that sat at the foot of it.
Scalding blood filled Abigail's face. Just as quickly it drained.
For the first time in her life she thought she would faint.
She darted after the colonel. "Now, you wait just one minute—"
Too late. He thrust open the trunk.
To reveal a jumbled collection of leather and paper. Books with unmistakable titles: Adventures of a Bedstead; The Story of a Dildoe; Tales of Twilight, or the Amorous Adventures of a company of Ladies before Marriage. And more copies of The Pearl.
No one had ever seen her collection of erotica.
Anger that this man, this colonel had barged into her private retreat and discovered her secret vice overrode fear and shame.
"I asked you a question, sirrah, and I expect to be answered! What are you doing?"
The colonel stared at the contents of the trunk for a long moment before he lifted his gaze to hers.
For a second there flared inside the gray eyes something that caused Abigail's nipples to harden. Then the eyes became cold and flat, like his voice. "1 am looking for a towel. And a blanket."
"Well, you will not find them there." Abigail threw the journal inside the trunk and slammed shut the lid. She glared up at him, daring him to comment on the literature that no lady was supposed to know about, let alone possess. "There is a towel by the pump in the corner near the stove. Why do you want a blanket?"
She must have been mistaken at the brief flare of heat in those eyes. They were as hard as the pewter they took their color from. "My clothes are soaked, Mrs.—?"
"Miss." Abigail hesitated. She was not about to give this autocratic colonel her last name lest he know someone in society who was acquainted with her family. "Miss Abigail."
"My clothes are soaked, Miss Abigail. I want a blanket so that when I strip down I can cover my nakedness."
Abigail stared. The words strip and nakedness momentarily drowned out the pelting rain and the relentless wind.
"Colonel Coally." She drew herself up to her full height. "I will give you shelter from the storm, but 1 will not allow you to—to—"
The gray eyes were implacable. "Miss Abigail, there is nothing you can do to stop me."
Abigail bristled, fully prepared to fight—or flee.
A crack of thunder shook the cottage.
A warning that she had nowhere to run.
A reminder that she was behaving more like the juvenile Laura in The Pearl than a mature spinster dressed in a faded green shirtwaist and who, furthermore, was already sprouting a few strands of gray in pale-brown hair that was straggling free of its bun.
Clothed or buck-naked, there was little likelihood of a man like him forcing his attentions on a woman like her. Especially chilled through and through as he no doubt was.
Dripping water formed a dark circle about his boots.
"I asked if you are injured."
The coldness in the gray eyes intensified. "No."
"Good," she said curtly. "Then you will have no trouble walking to the table and taking a chair. I shall procure you a towel—and a blanket. But first let me stir up the fire in the stove—"
"That won't be necessary."
"Colonel Coally—"
"Miss Abigail, there is a full-fledged storm going on outside your door. You have a thatch roof. If the wind should remove your chimney, it will, if the stove is blazing, quite probably cause a fire. I would as soon suffer from a slight chill as roast to death."
Abigail took a calming breath. Even her elder brother, the Earl of Melford, was not as overbearing as the colonel.
"Very well." Tight-lipped with anger, she retrieved a towel. While he briskly dried off, she flounced toward the bed and yanked off the top blanket.
When she returned to the table, he had dried his hair and slicked it back from his forehead. It was not black as she had earlier thought it to be, but the color of burnt umber. The water, she noted, did not bead on it, which meant he did not pomade his hair like his contemporaries in London.
Abigail could not recall the last time she had seen a man who did not pomade his hair. His cleanly shaven skin, tanned from the sun, was extremely—virile.
She dropped the blanket onto the table.
"I will wait over by the bed. Pray tell me when you have changed and I will hang your clothes up to dry."
The wailing of the storm did not hide the creak of the chair as he struggled to remove his boots, or the thunk they made when they dropped to the plank floor. Cloth, too, made a sound, she discovered. It whispered, the outer clothes a harsh one, the inner clothes softer, more beguiling.
She suddenly wondered if all of his body was as brown as his face. And fought the flare of heat the thought engendered.
"You may turn around."
He sat at the table with the blanket wrapped like a toga about his body. The stark gray gaze snared hers as he held out a wet bundle of clothing.
Quickly averting her eyes—the naked brown arm and shoulder sticking out of the gray blanket were indeed as brown as was his face—Abigail accepted the sodden mass of clothes.
They smelled of rain and damp wool and something indefinable. Spice. Or musk. Something strictly male.
Bending down, she grabbed the mud-caked boots.
Only to have a cat's-eye view of a pair of long, narrow feet. He had shapely, muscular ankles. 
They were brown, too. And liberally sprinkled with fine dark hair.
Abigail had never before seen so much man—naked.
Cheeks burning, she straightened.
The gray eyes were waiting for hers.
"In the future, draw your curtains, Miss Abigail. Few men can resist a free peep show. And bolt your door. Some men might take more than you are willing to offer."
For a second Abigail thought she would burst with rage at the insinuation that she might welcome such attentions. Humiliation immediately followed, at the thought that perhaps unconsciously she had. Hostility was born, that the intruder should guess at her secret desires that were not at all ladylike.
"Colonel Coally, I have been at this cottage for an entire week and the only man I have encountered who was unable to resist a 'peep' is yourself. Furthermore, how dare you castigate me for not bolting my door when it is you, sir, who are the intruder—"
The violence of her feelings erupted in a shatter of glass.
Pivoting, she stared in astonishment at the tree branch retreating through the window closest to the bed. Wind and rain tunneled into the jagged hole it left behind.
The candle flickered and flamed, creating a wild jig of shadow and light. 
"Stay where you are!" The colonel's command was pistol sharp. "The floor is covered with broken glass. We need something to bar the window—the cupboard will do. Hand me my boots, then douse the light."
Abigail gritted her teeth. The colonel had issued one too many orders.
Turning, she took deliberate aim and dropped the heavy, mud-caked boots.
Brown toes curled back in the nick of time.
"Do you move cupboards best in the dark, Colonel Coally?" she asked politely.
"Not at all, Miss Abigail." The gray eyes staring up at her were narrowed. "I thought only to spare your blushes."
He stood up and dropped the blanket. 
Abigail dropped the sodden mass of clothes that was the only thing between them and dove for the candle.
The cottage plunged into swirling darkness. At the same time, something brushed against her hip.
She instinctively put out her hand—and grabbed naked flesh.
Hot, hard, naked flesh. It was shaped rather like a thick pump handle, half-cocked, with skin as smooth as silk. Underneath it was a throbbing vein—
She jerked her hand back. "Colonel Coally—you surprised me."
"Miss Abigail." The voice in the dark was colder than the wind shrilling through the broken window. "If you insist upon grabbing what you cannot see, you will someday suffer from more than surprise. Edge your way over to the bed and stay there. I don't want to have to worry about surprising you again."
Abigail stood her ground. "Nonsense, Colonel Coally. This is my cottage. I am quite capable of assisting you."
"Let me put it another way, Miss Abigail. I am not so much worried about surprising you as I am of being surprised myself. Use your wits, lady: You have no shoes on. I have no desire to minister to both a broken window and bleeding feet."
Speechless with fury, Abigail stared up into the blackness.
Surely he could not have thought that she had grabbed him on purpose. It was he who had brushed against her!
And then, how dare he comment about her wits—or her person! A gentleman did not mention a lady's feet.
"Very well, Colonel Coally."
She stalked to the bed, skirting wide the area in front of the broken window.
The mattress sagged beneath her weight. Planting her bare feet firmly together on the cool plank floor, she wondered where the colonel planned to spend the night. Then she wondered what it would be like to sleep with a man. Naked. With his warm flesh curved around hers.
The grate of wood on wood interrupted thoughts that she had no business thinking. The colonel was pushing the cupboard across the floor, steadily, heavily. The gale whistling through the cottage abated to a dull moan. 
"There. That should hold it."
Suddenly a hand weighted down the top of her head, slid down to her ear, her cheek. The fingers were cool, slightly damp from the rain. They rasped against the softness of her skin, against her breast—
Fire shot through her body. "What do you think—"
Her hand that reached up to push his away was clasped in a firm grasp.
A hard, calloused grasp.
He forcibly curled her fingers around—dog-eared paper.
"This was lying on top of the cupboard."
So that was where the wind had whipped the other journal.
She held her spine ramrod straight. "Thank you, Colonel Coally."
He released her hand. "My pleasure, Miss Abigail."
Heat dispersed the cold of the darkness—his body was mere inches away from her face.
She wondered if he had donned the blanket again. A particularly intriguing scene from The Pearl flashed before her eyes.
If she leaned forward, would she kiss wool or—
"Are you all right?" he asked abruptly.
"Perfectly, thank you." She jerked her head back, wondering if she was losing her mind. "And you?"
The end of the mattress dipped. "I'm an old warhorse—moving a cupboard is hardly dangerous work."
Abigail rolled up the damp journal. The colonel was far from decrepit—as he must very well know. There was not a single strand of gray in his hair. "Fishing, Colonel Coally?"
"Merely stating a truth." She jumped at the shock of a heavy thud—a boot dropping onto the floor. Another thud followed. Then the entire bed shook. She sensed rather than saw him scoot across the mattress to sit with his back against the wall. "I am thirty-five years old. The last twenty-two years have been spent in the Army. What are you doing out here all by yourself?"
Abigail refused to be cheated of her anger. "What are you doing here, Colonel Coally?"
There was a brief silence. "Convalescing."
She craned her head back in the direction where she knew he was sitting. All she could see was darkness. "There is another cottage near here?"
"No. Not nearby."
Straightening, she listened to the tempest outside the cabin for long seconds. "Twenty-two years ago you would have been thirteen, Colonel Coally. The age of consent for a noncombative position is fifteen."
"You are correct, Miss Abigail." The voice in the darkness was dismissive. "I lied."
Lied? Twenty-two years ago or now?
"What are you convalescing for?"
Again that silence, followed by a reluctant, "A bullet wound."
She remembered his limp. And the sight of a well-shaped muscular ankle sprinkled with fine black hair. "In the left leg."
Abigail followed the war movement through the newspapers. "By a Boer?"
The seaside cottage was miles away from the nearest thoroughfare. She had deliberately chosen it for its isolation. "That still does not explain why you are here, Colonel Coally."
The silence was longer this time. She concentrated on the cool damp of the journal rolled in her hands and not the throbbing warmth that came from the end of the bed where his legs stretched out.
"My horse threw me. I walked for a while, but there was no shelter to be found. Then I saw your light ... and here I am."
"But why were you out in the storm?"
"Why do you read erotic literature?"
Abigail prepared to defend her choice of reading material—it was educational; it was amusing; it was none of his business. She surprised herself by baldly stating, "Because it is the only way a woman can learn about sex."
A current of electricity passed through the darkness, as if lightning had struck nearby.
"I could be mistaken, of course," the colonel's voice was gravelly, "but I believe there exists another method that a woman may discharge her curiosity." 
"I never met a man who I was interested in 'discharging' my curiosity with, Colonel Coally," she said repressively.
Outside the cottage, the force of the storm rose. The wind howled around the cupboard. Waves pounded on the beach below. Thunder roared in the skies above.
It occurred to Abigail that a very real danger existed. The wind could take the thatch roof off. Waves could swell up out of the ocean and swallow the tiny cottage. Lightning could—
"I wanted a woman."
The unexpected words jarred Abigail back to reality. "I beg your pardon?"
"You wanted to know what I was doing out here in the storm. I rode out, hoping to find a village. Or a tavern. And a willing woman."
The confession was abrupt. 
Colonel Coally begrudged the need that had driven him out into the night. As Abigail begrudged the conventions that did not allow a lady the same privilege.
She should have felt shock at the admission no gentleman made to a lady; instead, she felt the lingering remnants of rancor evaporate. It was replaced by a strange sense of camaraderie.
This man had seen her trunk filled with erotica and he had not judged her. It was the height of hypocrisy to judge him now, when he obviously had his own needs.
"I envy you, Colonel Coally. Were I a man, I, too, would have ridden out in search of companionship."
"It wasn't companionship I rode out for, Miss Abigail."
"I know very well what you rode out for, Colonel Coally."
"Do you, Miss Abigail?" The voice in the dark was curiously passionless. "Do you know what it is like for your body to burn and throb until you want to throw aside everything you have ever believed in for just one moment of oblivion?"
Abigail closed her eyes against a lifetime of wanting things that could never be, gently reared as she was. Things she would never have, spinster that she now was. "Yes, Colonel Coally. I do."
The bed shifted. "Do you have fantasies, Miss Abigail?"
Unbidden images danced behind her eyelids. Forbidden images of a man's naked desire filling a woman's body. Sexual images of things she had never done. Things she had never seen. Things she had never even read about.
Yearnings that in the next three weeks she must somehow put aside.
"Yes." She opened her eyes and stared into the darkness. "I have fantasies."
"Tell me." The abrupt command was harsh.
"I ... " How could she tell this man who was a virtual stranger what she had privately dreamed about for years? But the darkness provided a certain anonymity. It almost seemed as if she talked to herself ... or a fantasy. "I fantasize about what it is like to kiss. Not the small peck that I give and receive from my family and friends. But a real kiss ... like they do in my books. With their ... tongues." Before she could lose her courage, she blurted, "Do men and women really kiss that way, Colonel Coally?"
"Sometimes. What else do you fantasize about, Miss Abigail?"
Abigail transferred the journal to her left hand and scooted sideways across the mattress so that her back rested against the iron headboard. The sole of her right foot brushed against wool—and a muscular leg.
Heat shot up her calf.
She curled her foot underneath her skirt. "I ... fantasize about what a man looks like. I mean ... I have little nephews and I ... have changed their nappies. They are ... not really very impressive. Yet in the books they describe a man as being ... much larger. There. Are men as large in real life as they are in books?"
It could have been the intake of his breath that she heard. Or perhaps it was hers. Because suddenly she realized exactly what it was that she had grabbed in the darkness, all silky sinew with pulsing veins.
And yes, it had been very large indeed.
"Some men are large, some men are small." The voice in the dark deepened. "Just as some women have large breasts, and some have small. Is it important to you?"
"Yes," she said softly, wondering what or even if he had thought about her breasts during that fleeting touch, wondering how large were his measurements, wondering if all men were his size. Then she laughed self-consciously, embarrassed yet strangely exhilarated at discussing a man's anatomy. "I mean—I suppose it would not matter as long as a man can give a woman satisfaction. Is it possible, Colonel Coally? Can a man give a woman satisfaction?"
"Do you doubt it, Miss Abigail?"
"Oh, yes, Colonel Coally. Every time I look at one of my pomaded, bewhiskered brothers-in-law I doubt it. I try to imagine them kissing with their tongue or—or touching a woman's breast or—or kissing a woman between her legs, and, quite frankly, I cannot. I cannot imagine them doing any of the things I read about. I cannot even imagine them begetting their own children. They have fat bottoms, Colonel Coally. I simply cannot imagine those fat bottoms pistoning up and down."
Fat bottoms pistoning up and down rang out over the muted frenzy of the storm.
Abigail clasped her right hand over her mouth in horror at the words that had come from it. At the same time, a shout of laughter burst from the other side of the bed. The mattress shook and shimmied.
"I am glad that you find my speech amusing, Colonel Coally," Abigail said stiffly.
The masculine laughter subsided. "I suddenly find this whole conversation amusing. Here you are, telling me your darkest fantasies, yet you address me as 'Colonel Coally.' And here am I, equally reprehensible, calling you 'Miss Abigail.' Let's call a truce, shall we? For the duration of the storm, let us be simply Abigail and Robert."
It was absurd, of course, but calling the intruder by his first name seemed more intimate than telling him her "darkest" fantasies. As long as he remained a colonel instead of a man, then he was a part of the storm and she remained a spinster lady merely engaged in safe, however illicit, conversation. But cross that barrier and—
"Very well." Abigail took a deep breath to still the rapid acceleration of her heartbeat. "I find that I am sharing my fantasies, but you are withholding yours. What do you fantasize about ... Robert?"
"A woman, Abigail. I fantasize about all the things I would like to do to a woman."
Abigail's breath caught in her throat. She envisioned his tanned hands caressing the pale skin of a woman's body. And wondered what they would feel like touching her body.
Liquid desire pooled between her thighs. 
"What about ... size? Do you fantasize about the size of a woman's breasts?"
The short answer did not encourage further questioning. But this was the first man—indeed, he was the first person—who had ever discussed sex other than in terms of polite platitudes and Abigail wanted to know more.
When she returned to London in three weeks' time she would have this memory, at least, to chase away the lonely nights.
"Well, then. What sort of things would you like to do ... to a woman?" she asked casually, almost flippantly, while inside her chest her heart thudded against her ribs.
"Everything." The disembodied voice was a dark rasp. "Everything she has ever dreamed of. I want to ram my body into a woman until I lose myself inside her body, until her pleasure is my pleasure. I want to make her scream and beg for more. I want her to make me forget that I have spent the last twenty-two years of my life killing."
Abigail felt as if the air had been sucked out of her lungs.
Death was a part of war. The newspapers were filled with the tallies. Abigail read the accounts, mourned the victims, and had never once thought about the survivors, those soldiers who fought in the name of Her Majesty. Men who were not born to kill, but who did so nevertheless. Men who would suffer their actions for the rest of their lives.
As the autocratic colonel was obviously suffering.
For long seconds she clutched the cool, damp journal in her left hand, riveted by the raw need that radiated from the man at the foot of the bed.
As a soldier he had faced death; the only danger Abigail had ever experienced was that of exposure, should her erotica be discovered. As a man, he had endured physical pain; the only pain Abigail had ever borne was loneliness, pretending to be what she was not. Yet she felt the colonel's desire as keenly as she felt her own—he forced to seek forgetfulness in the midst of a storm, she forced to bury her frustration between the pages of illicit books and journals.
She wondered what it would be like to forget the future—in the arms of this man. Just as he sought to forget the past—in the arms of a woman.
She was a woman, she thought on a leap of reckless desire. In the darkness she did not feel like an aging spinster. Surely her body would not feel old, either.
Suddenly a voice came from a long distance away, surely not hers, any more than the ache in her breasts and the throb between her thighs belonged to her, a spinster who should be beyond the desires of her youth, a lady who should never experience such desires no matter what her age. "I will help you forget, Robert, if you will help me forget."


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