Eleanor Moore sat next to her husband and watched Mrs Jenkins hammering on the piano keys; the voice of the middle-aged woman frayed the nerves of the guests. Eleanor could see Mr Jenkins’ hand stroking Mrs Hardy’s knee, and she marvelled that the singer was able to retain her composure. Her chest heaved as her voice rose even higher, as though the volume might somehow dissipate her spouse’s poorly hidden advances.

Eleanor’s husband leaned closer to her. She felt her skin tingle at his nearness.

‘I’m afraid, my dear, that there are some letters to which I must attend.’ He turned to Eleanor’s mother. ‘Mrs Whitely, would you be so courteous as to allow me the use of your study?’

‘Yes, of course. Go right through,’ Mrs Whitely said. ‘It was my husband’s favourite room, before he died. You should find everything you need. Bess is working in the room next door. Give her a call if there’s anything else. She won’t mind the interruption.’ She flicked a hand toward a passing servant.

‘I will not be long, my darling,’ said Mr Moore, kissing Eleanor’s hand.

‘I pray that your correspondence will not keep you from me for long.’

Eleanor smiled at his back as Moore swept from the room.

She continued to stare long after he had left and absently twisted her wedding ring around her finger. She had been married but one day, and the band of gold still felt strange, uncomfortable. They were still enjoying their marriage celebrations at her mother’s home, and would travel onward the following morning to Moore’s establishment in London

Mrs Jenkins voice reached a new level. Eleanor could no longer class the sounds coming from her mother’s guest as singing. No, it was something much less … endurable.

Mrs Whitely leant toward Eleanor and said, ‘Stop it, child!’

‘Mother?’

‘Fidgeting. It isn’t seemly.’

Eleanor willed herself to relax, but the previous night remained at the forefront of her mind.

It had been her first time.

He peeled away her dress until she stood only in her under-garments. She shivered as he looked at her. His eyes wide with passion and desire … >

‘I said, stop fidgeting,’ Mrs Whitely snapped.

‘Yes, mother.’

She avoided her mother’s stare and looked instead at Mr Jenkins. He leaned closer to Mrs Hardy and whispered something. Mrs Hardy giggled. Eleanor glanced at Mrs Jenkins. The older woman’s face had hardened. She stared ahead, her voice not quite as steady as it had been a few moments before.

Eleanor’s thoughts slipped once more to her wedding night. To the way her husband had been so tender, the way he’d settled her nerves.

He slipped the shift from her shoulders. Naked, she looked up at him, her lips parted in fear and wonderment. He touched her shoulder and waited for a reaction. She flinched, then relaxed, and he took a step closer …

Mrs Jenkins reached the highest note; thankfully it was the last. She pushed back her stool, gave a small bow, and the intimate audience applauded her effort. With a grim smile she strode across to Mr Jenkins, who removed his hand from Mrs Hardy’s knee, sat up straight with a little cough, shuffled to one side and patted the couch next to him.

Never I, thought Eleanor.

She was young, but she had observed the same awkwardness in other marriages. They all seemed so distant with one another, passionless, stale. But she and Moore would never be so cold. No, there would always be warmth in their marriage. Always.

He ran his hand from her shoulder to her breasts. She gave a small gasp, and he smiled. He leaned forward and found her lips with his own. He took her bottom lip in his mouth and she melted, kissed him eagerly. He cupped her back and pulled her against him …

‘And how are you, my dear?’

‘Pardon?’

‘Wake up, girl. Mrs Jenkins asked how you are,’ her mother snapped.

‘I am very well, Mrs Jenkins. Thank you for asking.’

‘A married woman, eh? You’ll be on your own now, I suppose, Mrs Whitely? Just you and your eldest daughter? Or will your son be returning soon?’

On her own, Eleanor mused. Her mother had been on her own since her father had passed away. She had retreated from society. Friendships that had once been so vibrant had now all but evaporated. Even tonight’s soiree was something of a rarity, in honour of Eleanor’s impeding departure to the city. Or perhaps it had been she who was alone. With her mother a virtual recluse, her sister, Grace, too ill to be in the company of others, and her brother, Edward, away, scraping an income to support them and repay his father’s debts, Eleanor, too, had been alone. But now she had a husband. Older, yes. Considered by neighbours and friends to be a substitute for the affection her father had once bestowed. But he was still a man who had shown her more love and affection in one day than the rest of her family had in a twelvemonth. It was a mystery to her, how her relationship with her family had become so strained since her father’s death.

‘Mr Moore,’ she said.

‘You’re so beautiful,’ he replied. ‘Your skin, your hair, your eyes.’

He stroked a lock from her face with hands that betrayed his age. She curved her back, pressing into him. He bent forward and kissed her again …

With no other volunteers, Mrs Hardy sat before the piano, shuffled the sheets of music, and began to play. Mr and Mrs Jenkins sat beside one another, listening in stony silence.

Something occurred to Eleanor. What if her husband had intended that she follow him into the study? Perhaps he craved a private moment with her? Perhaps he could not wait to resume the passion of their wedding night? Or would she be disturbing him, delaying his return to her side still longer? Yes, she decided, he would think her a nuisance, and she cursed herself silently for such thoughts.

She tried to think of something else as she listened to Mrs Hardy’s performance, but she simply couldn’t. Her first experience of intimacy played on her mind and she was unable to concentrate on anything else. She shook her head, but nothing worked. She wanted Henry again, just like before.

She moaned as the desire heightened. She closed her eyes and he stroked her pale, innocent face. He kissed her again, fiercely, without restraint …

Eleanor felt her heart beat faster. Her face grew hot and she ached with longing. Mrs Hardy attempted to outdo Mrs Jenkins with her falsetto, but nothing of the rivalry between the two women could penetrate Eleanor’s thoughts. Henry had been with her in a way she had never experienced, never imaged.

She bit her bottom lip, crossed her ankles and clenched her thighs together in order that the pulsating sensation she felt might diminish. Beyond misted glass, the stark garden had a crispness about it; clear skies and bare branches betrayed an oncoming frost.

He unbuttoned his trousers in a desperate frenzy. She clawed at him, teasing him with an enticing look …

She wondered once more if her husband’s wish had been for her to follow him to her father’s study. Were her thoughts those of a child? But after last night, she had become a woman. She pushed the notion to the back of her mind. It was her desire that she go to the study, not his. She glanced out of the window once again in a futile attempt to find distraction. Two birds circled one another in the distant sky, but it was hard to make them out now the mist on the windows had thickened. As the fire crackled in the hearth, Mrs Hardy’s voice reached a higher register, and Eleanor’s thoughts dwelt on her wedding night, she found her seat in the music room increasingly confining.

She kissed him this time. She gave herself wholly. She had been nervous at first, not sure what was expected of her, not sure what to do, but now …

Eleanor’s breathing became faster as the pace of the music quickened. She touched her cheek and felt hot, moist skin. Embarrassed, she took out a handkerchief and dabbed her face.

‘Mother.’

‘Yes, Eleanor?’

‘I’m going to walk in the garden for a moment.’

‘But Mrs Hardy is not yet finished. And Mrs Jenkins wishes to play another tune for us.’

‘I’m feeling slightly unwell, mother. If you don’t mind?’

Mrs Whitely sighed. ‘All right, but do not be long.’

‘Yes, mother.’

He let out a breathy groan as he guided himself into her. She returned a gasp …

In the hallway, a servant held Eleanor’s cape for her, which she received gratefully and fastened around her neck. Outside, the cool air bit into her pale face and she lifted the hood, pushing her mousy curls forward across her cheeks. Her boots crunched on the frosting gravel as she walked along the far wall of the garden, her breath forming misty plumes and her nose growing cold.

Despite the chill, the fire inside her had not been extinguished. She could feel where Moore had been – she ached, she burned, with the memory of his touch.

He licked her face, more like an animal than a gentleman, and she threw her head back exposing her neck and chest …

Eleanor sat on a stone bench on the far side of the garden. She looked at the house her parents had shared for so many years. She was excited by the prospect of leaving for London, of being with her husband, but she could not help feeling that she was somehow deserting what remained of her father, of her family, by allowing Mr Moore pride of place in her heart.

He bit her nipple as the longing between them intensified. She pulled him into her, insatiable …

She missed her brother, too. Edward had been gone almost three months. He wrote often, sent money, but their friendship had dwindled long before as a result of her father’s death. She thought again of Mr Moore, and how his age, his authority, made her feel safe and protected. Every one of his embraces was a small moment of bliss. And of course, his large estate meant she would never again have to worry about money. She wondered, now she was married, if her brother would return to live with her mother. Moore’s money would help fund the family home and ensure that Grace remained in good health. They could afford the best possible physicians now. But she had sensed a certain bitter tone to Edward’s letter of reply after she had written telling him of her upcoming nuptials. He was entitled to be considered the head of the house now, but Eleanor suspected her brother felt that the older and richer Mr Moore would intrude upon that position.

Both their bodies gleamed with sweat. They were part of one another now, so lost in the same moment …

Moore had been a friend of the family since she was a girl. When the proposition came, her mother pushed her forward fervently saying her older sister was too ill to marry before her. Mr Moore was a handsome man, but Eleanor hadn’t thought she would be able to love him. It had seemed so unlikely, the possibility that she would one day she might marry a man of her father’s age.

She looked down at the ring on her finger and realised she had been twisting it again. She sighed with contentment.

She was on top of him now. He clutched her face between his hands and pushed his tongue into her mouth …

Unable to bear the cold a moment longer, Eleanor stood and continued to walk along the path leading back to the house. A faint breeze had picked up. The sun was no longer visible above the trees and a shadow had fallen across the estate. It would be dark soon, and Eleanor would be alone with her husband once more.

He pushed into her. Faster, fulfilling their appetite for one another…

She could hear Mrs Hardy, or perhaps it was Mrs Jenkins, singing in tones ever more shrill, accompanied by viciously struck piano keys. She looked to the sky and smiled at the hilarity of their predicament, knowing that she and Henry would never become like them. Not after the way she had satisfied him.

She accompanied every satisfying thrust with an appreciative murmur …

She reached the east corner of the house and walked along the front, smiling to herself.

Faster, harder …

Eleanor passed the study window and wondered if Moore had finished writing his letters. She wasn’t sure she could bear to sit for another moment in that room without him beside her.

She cried out …
The sound of the piano reached a new level of volume and Eleanor wondered where Mr Jenkins’ hand had wandered to by now. She picked her way between the shrubs and, as the high-pitched female voice filled the night air, peered through the small, misty pane of the study window.

Spent, Moore stood up and fastened his trousers. He plucked his jacket from the chair. Hearing a noise outside, he turned and saw Eleanor’s face at the window. Grace hastily retrieved her dress from the floor, lifting it to cover her nakedness.

Jane lives and works as a graphic designer in the English Lake District. She specialises in book covers and typesetting. She is also the editor of the FREE online writing magazine, Words with JAM, and writes historical fiction.