He was outside himself. The smell of Isidore and her curvy little body, her laugh, the sound of her voice, the way she touched him without fear and without shame, took him to another place.

He threw his head back and roared like a man who was never quiet, like a lion claiming his mate.

Chapter Thirty-three

The Dower House

March 3, 1784

Simeon came back into his body very slowly. Valamksepa used to talk about a noncorporeal experience that fasting monks experienced. Simeon never thought it sounded like an appealing prospect, but he might have to rethink that naïve supposition.

He was covered with sweat, panting as if he’d had a long run, and happier than he’d been in years. Isidore had her eyes closed, so he drank her in: the slightly exotic tilt of her eyes, her little nose, her creamy skin. She was exquisite. She was his. She was impulsive and infuriating and all too emotional, but she was his fate.

There are exquisite aspects to surrendering to one’s fate.

“Did it hurt, Isidore?” he asked, suddenly remembering that she too had been a virgin, and rolling off her body.

She opened her eyes. “No, not at all. Did it hurt for you?”

“No, but no one says that it ought to.”

“It was not terribly uncomfortable,” she said, coming up on her elbows and peering down her body.

He followed her eyes. She had the most curvy, creamy body that he could have imagined.

“No blood,” she said relievedly, flopping back down again. “A few bruises on my hips. So what did you think?”

Simeon had never been very good at explaining things. How could he explain a rush of pleasure so acute that it felt as if his skin were alive, as if he knew her body as well as his own, as if he was seeing the world in color after being blind?

“I liked it,” Isidore continued.

That was good. Simeon lay back because if he didn’t stop looking at her, he would leap on top of her again. His rod stirred at the thought.

“It’s not something I would want to do every day,” she continued, “but from what I hear, people don’t do it all that often anyway.”

Simeon turned his head.

She was looking at him, rather shyly. “Do you mind that we consummated our marriage, Simeon?”

It didn’t sound as if Isidore had fallen out of herself while making love to him. In fact, now he thought about it…

Not that he knew much about women’s bodies. He’d always avoided salacious campfire talk. She didn’t experience great pleasure.

That was entirely unacceptable.

Likely she wouldn’t wish to try making love again for a time. That too was unacceptable. He made a plan and implemented it, all in one second.

“We weren’t very good,” he said, propping himself up on an elbow, ignoring her question.

She blinked. “We weren’t?”

“No.”

“I thought—”

“We need to work on it. You shouldn’t like to be a failure, would you?”

She didn’t respond as impulsively as he hoped. “I don’t think I was a failure,” she said. “Nor you either. What were you expecting?”

“More,” he said, though he wasn’t actually sure there could be anything more than what he’d experienced. “It’s because we’re beginners,” he added hastily.

“I suppose that could be true,” Isidore said. “What do you think we did wrong? How did it feel for you?”

“Short,” he said, realizing that was true. “Surely it should take longer than a few minutes.”

“I don’t know,” Isidore said. “You’re—you’re—” She waved her hand.

“One of the things that’s odd is that we were so intimate,” Simeon said, realizing he really meant it. “We joined our bodies together, and yet I don’t truly understand your body.”

“How could you understand it?”

“Well,” he said, reaching out delicately, “how does it feel to have breasts?”

She started laughing, a delicious low gust of laughter. “How does it feel? Simeon, do you think that you’re a normal man?”

“It seems like a logical question to me. I don’t have anything of that nature standing out from my chest. Are you aware of them all the time? Do you know they’re there?”

“Do you know that your knees are there all the time?”

“Only when I use them. But those don’t have any use. That is—”

“Of course they have use,” she said, sitting up. “I just don’t have a baby to use them yet.”

“Will you nurse your own children?”

“My mother nursed me,” Isidore said. “Italian gentlewomen nurse their own children. My mother believed that babies are less likely to survive if they’re given to a wet nurse.”

Simeon didn’t want to talk about babies. “I just thought,” he said slowly, “that women’s breasts felt good. For example…” He reached out his hand, realizing with a certain remote part of his brain that his fingers were trembling, and cupped the sweet heaviness of her breast. “What does that feel like?”

“Fine,” she said. “My goodness, it’s strange to think that you can just touch me like that. No one touches me.”

“But I’m your husband now. In truth and in law.” He let his thumb wander in a little caress.

“I suppose.”

“And how does this feel?” He rubbed his thumb over her nipple.

“Oh—”

He did it again. “Isidore?”

She opened her mouth but no words emerged. “I have heard that women find this quite pleasant as well,” Simeon said, feeling more cheerful. He bent his head and put his lips to her breast.

She cleared her throat. “Simeon, you’re not a child and—”

His lips closed around her nipple. Children had nothing to do with the way desire coursed through his legs, through his heart.

Her hand fell from his shoulder onto the bed, boneless. He started suckling her, and her head fell back. Harder, and a muffled little sound hung in the air. His body was rigid, throbbing. But he was in control.

He pulled back. “See?” he said, talking around the tightness in his throat, the groan that wanted to come out. “We’re not there.”

She opened her eyes. They were a little dazed, sweet, unfocused.

“Where?” There was a tremor in her voice.

Simeon forced himself to roll away, sit up casually. “We don’t know anything about each other’s bodies,” he said over his shoulder. If he looked at her any longer, he’d leap on top of her. “We’ll have to practice.”

“Practice?” Isidore’s voice was husky and a little irritated. He loved it.

“Tonight, perhaps.” He pulled on his shirt, still not looking. “If we feel like it.”

There was a sudden motion and she was sitting up. But the next thing she said was a mile from the husky nymph he was imagining.

“Simeon!” A shrew would be proud of that squeal. “What did you do?”

He swung around. “What?”

She was staring down at her legs. “You—you peed on me!” She swallowed. “In me!”

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