Driven By Desire: Part Twelve
Sienna returned home and went straight to her chambers. Antonio, she presumed he was still out working on unlocking the case and she needed some time alone, to think.
She went to the Baroness’ morning room off her bedchamber, and, tucking her legs under her, she sat, reclining on a chaise lounge and remembered. Let sensation wash back over her as she recalled that fleeting glory.
She had heard whispers of the pleasure a women could find in a man, but she had never even fathomed that she could feel what she just felt.
Sienna knew what was coming, even for one as inexperienced as she was, she could read the signs reasonably well.
She had always expected to be apprehensive about having relations with a man; she had a full understanding of how marriage worked among her class, but the prospect of being with Anders only excited her.
One chance, one opportunity to be with him, perhaps twice if she was lucky, a chance to have those memories seared into her memory forever was worth the cost of her virginity.
Plus, she rationed, no one ever cared when a man was first with a woman. It was supremely unfair that she should be held to some arbitrary standard. It was her life and her body; it was her decision.
Sienna supposed it was better to have loved and lost, than to never know what it was like to love.
That thought froze her.
Loved, in the physical way, she reasoned. I want to love him, and have him make love to me physically; to know him in a biblical sense; not emotionally. I can’t afford that. And neither can he.
She remained there, lost in thought, until Susan found her, “Lady Strand, your bath had been drawn.”
“Yes Susan,” Sienna rose, “And I think the cream gown with the green this evening.”
Susan nodded, “It should be pressed by the time you’re done.”
“Lady Sophia called this afternoon,” Antonio remarked over the artichoke soup that evening.
“Did you receive her?” Sienna asked.
Antonio nodded, “Vaguely. I was just coming in after running to the smith’s again as she was leaving with two other ladies. She requested that you accompany her to Lady Aldeers’ tonight.”
Sienna finished her spoonful, “We need to stop by Lady Carraways’s, but we can add Lady Aldeers’ to the list as well.”
Antonio studied his cousin; “I haven’t seen you since this morning, where did you go out calling today?” he asked lightly.
Sienna concentrated on her soup, “Yes. Not anywhere in particular. I visited the Crowther mansion.”
“Did you find anything of interest?”
She almost choked, “Not particularly. Grandfather doesn’t keep anything too sensitive at his London home.”
“You went into his study?”
She nodded, “He knows I’m my father’s daughter. And it’s not exactly as if he would put it past me.”
“And if he asks you about it?”
“I’ll tell him it was me. I can’t decide if he’ll applaud me or be disappointed.”
Antonio laughed, “I would guess the former.”
“Any progress?” she asked deliberately, changing the subject in Tuscan after their soups had been cleared away.
“Yes and no. The construction is fascinating; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before. I think I’ve figured out how it functions, now all I have to do is open it,” he grinned.
“Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it?” she asked.
“It is indeed. Hopefully tomorrow. I don’t want to rush into anything, but I would think I should be able to open it tomorrow.”
Sienna nodded, and twined her hands together in her lap. This is what she needed to be focusing on, her family, her father, not some dark haired man.
Lady Carraways’s affair, the first of her evening, was smaller than many of the previous crushed Sienna had attended, but no less intimidating. Sienna and Antonio found their hosts and greeted the Viscount, his wife and their three daughters who all eyes Antonio with large ever-so-English blue eyes. Sienna spent most of that portion of their evening surrounded by men hoping to catch her eye, Antonio always a reassuring presence.
When they had said their farewells and Antonio directed her coachman to the next ball, Sienna suddenly felt giddy.
A small smile made its way onto her lips.
Antonio noticed immediately and remarked suspiciously, “Are you looking forward to something in particular?”
Sienna pursed her lips at him, “Perhaps I’m beginning to enjoy the company of London,” she remarked airily, slightly annoyed at herself for seeming eager, but more annoyed at her cousin for being eerily good at reading people.
When they arrived at lady Aldeers’s, the rooms were already bustling.
Their regards given to their hosts, Sienna searched the rooms for the Pensam family.
Sienna found Sophia dancing with another English giant and she and Antonio made their way across the room, stopping often in the crowd to exchange greetings with others who they found in their path. Sienna was slightly surprised with how many gentlemen stopped and spoke to Antonio; she had only ever observed him in his protective mode, where he only looked at others for the danger they posed, but apparently when he did leave her side, and it did happen occasionally, the time he spent at his club meant more to him than a drink and the evening papers.
Not that she should be surprised, Antonio was, of all his brothers, one of the most free spirited for all his spy-like qualities, but she supposed his way of making others feel at ease only helped him in his endeavors.
After an Earl Sienna had never seen before exchanged a particularly friendly clap with Antonio on his shoulder and a jovial remark about something Sienna knew absolutely nothing about she raised her brows, “I had no idea you were making friends.”
He shrugged, “I reasoned that as long as I was here I should try and integrate myself as much as I came into society. You’re to be a permanent fixture here and though I don’t know your plans for me after you are settled, I would like to at least leave this place with more memories than the boredom of London life with just you,” he winked at her. “They aren’t all bad, after all.”
“That, coming from the relative who would rather I sat up in some Ivory Tower, far away from any man?”
“They all might be dogs, but some of them are my kind of dogs,” he reasoned.
They had found a quieter corner and stood there, surveying the crowd.
There was a buzz about the ton that night; every eligible debutante seemed to be out, twirling about in their spring gowns, while all the gentlemen still held onto the dark vestiges of winter in their dark coats and elegantly tailored breeches.
Sienna had taken up residence with a group of ladies her own age and slightly older after Antonio had been waved over to a group of gentlemen from his club.
Exceedingly pleased with her cousin’s seemingly effortless transition into the world of the English aristocracy, Sienna didn’t notice Anders and Sophia’s approach until the younger girl was grasping at Sienna’s elbow and pulled her into a very continentals style embrace.
“Baroness Strand,” Anders’ voice was low and sultry, it awoke feelings in Sienna she had been trying to suppress as soon as she entered the ballroom and brought a twinge of extra color to her cheeks as he bowed over her hand.
“Lord Anders,” she replied, trying desperately to regain her lost composure.
“I came to call on you, Lady Strand, but you were out. Anders said he ran into you?” Sophia asked.
Sienna felt her eyes widen, What exactly had he told his sister? “Yes, I bumped into Lord Anders while I was visiting my Grandfather’s residence in town.”
“Yes. I left a message with Mr. Di Lisio, I see that he passed it onto you.”
“He did indeed.”
“But,” Sophia leaned in closer, “I had another message to deliver as well, one I wanted to give to you directly.”
“Oh?” Sienna asked.
“Tomorrow evening, you and your cousin, and your grandfather as well, if he is in town, must join us for dinner and then accompany us to my Aunt’s ball.”
“Lady Sophia, as flattered as I am, I don’t know if I should really attend something to personal.”
“Nonsense, it’s a personal ball for close family and friends, mother especially requests your presence. I would enjoy it as well,” Sophia said with wide eyes.
Sienna smiled, how could anyone say no to Sophia? And Sienna was rather fond of the younger girl, she was the sort of female Sienna could imagine herself being if she had been raised in England; charming, intelligent, someone who knew who to work society.
“We would be honored to attend,” Sienna found herself accepting, “Though I’m afraid my Grandfather is at Crowther at the moment, I’m not sure if he will be back in the capital by tomorrow evening.”
“Regardless, I would love for you to attend. I’ll go tell mother we’ll be expecting two more for dinner,” Sophia turned to Anders before leaving. “Behave,” she ordered him before sweeping from their circle.
“Behave?” Sienna asked as she watched Sophia’s slim figure disappear into the crowd.
“Trenton is refusing to come out of hiding in the South and, as the senior Pensam family male in town, my mother finds it fitting to constantly remind me to not growl openly in polite company,” his eyes were dark, as they always were, but Sienna saw a hint of laughter in their depths.
She smiled at the thought of Anders being told off by his mother to behave; it was exactly like Antonio and his brothers, her aunt was always yelling at one of them to act civilly. “I would find myself inclined to agree with her,” she spoke softly, recalling his less than acceptable manners that afternoon.
He offered her a purely animal grin, “I’ll behave,” he dropped his voice even lower, “for now.”
That look in his blue eyes sent a shiver down Sienna’s spine, but whatever Anders’ plan were for her, he didn’t particularly misbehave that evening.
At least not in the way she expected.
She expected him to sneak her away and do God knows what in a dark room, instead he did nothing that wasn’t inappropriate. At least, in the context of a gentleman and a a Baroness.
But Anders was far from a perfect English Gentleman. He would touch her, a gentle place of his hands on her elbow, her lower back, with just enough pressure and heat to drive her wild. It was nothing outside what he was entitled to, or any gentleman was entitled to when in polite company, but the intensity of how he did it made Sienna frustrated in a way she had never felt before, set her on edge. Sienna was sure the looks she was giving him told everyone in the ballroom; perhaps in the whole of London, she was wanton for the man.
He, much to her annoyance, seemed to be unaffected; he sent her self-assured smiles and even he was sure of his ability to keep himself under control until Sienna left the circle to which they have found themselves in the center of and gently, ever so gentle and discreetly, brushed her hand over the front of his breeches.
The sharp intake of air she heard as she glided away and the heat of his gaze at her back as she danced with Antonio was sure satisfaction. Two could play at that game. And Sienna intended to play. She may be less than knowledgeable in this realm, but she had read The Decameron, after all.
Anders took up stance behind his mother, hovering protectively, subjecting himself to the wagging tongues and sharp tones of the grand dames. His family’s’ position was less of a political one, but the title that held them together forced him into the company of the elite. It wasn’t that Anders completely disliked all of his contemporaries; he just could only take them in small doses.
He found himself in need, however, of what usually drove him to stalk out of a ballroom such as this one, to keep himself from striding across the ballroom, tossing Sienna over his shoulder and finding the nearest bedroom and have his way with her. Hell, he didn’t even need a bedroom; a chair would do at this point, the floor, anything. He needed her, needed to bury himself in her sweetness, to lose himself in her, until he lost all sense of time and reason.
But he couldn’t. At least, not yet. She was willing, more than willing even, but he wanted their first time to be slow, excruciatingly slow even. He wanted to savor her savoring him, so that she would remember every touch, every embrace, every stoke, everything.
That, and the fact that he wouldn’t, couldn’t, take her until she had agreed to marry him. She needed to know that he held her above a simple seduction. He hadn’t been this affected by a women…maybe ever, and he was willing to marry her to ease his ache.
Subjugating himself to the prattle of the husband chasers helped him forget the physical distress she caused him.
But that knowing smile she sent him every time their eyes met over the crowd did nothing to ease his pain. She knew what she was doing to him and she took pleasure in it, something he reveled in. She knew he wanted her, but she also wanted him.
And for now, that was all Anders could cling to as he gritted his teeth and tried to focus on his mother.
The fact that Anders didn’t approach her for the rest of the evening made Sienna feel ridiculously pleased with herself. He looked at her like a man deprived.
Which, she supposed, he was.
Sienna and Antonio departed before the spree ended, neither of them enjoyed being caught in the heavy traffic as the elite found their way home, but not before the Pensam family intercepted them and Anders placed a light departing kiss on the back of Sienna’s hand.
It was tender and gentle, perfectly acceptable in polite company, but its effect was more intense than all the glances they had shared that night. It was a kiss full of promise, a promise of something that could never take place between two of their class. It was a simple lovers kiss.
And it made Sienna weak in the knees.
When they had rattled him and she finally retired to her room, Sienna allowed Susan to take the pearl pins that studded her cinnamon mane out as she thought of ways to get Antonio out of the house and Anders in it.
One night. All she wanted, all she could afford, really, was one night.
Even she wasn’t sure if she could trust in her own ability to sneak out and rendezvous somewhere illicit with him.
Not that she particularly cared if Antonio knew. She was sure he suspected something, but it shouldn’t matter, she reasoned. Men took lovers left and right, why couldn’t she?
She didn’t care.
Well, she did care, she realized. She had a duty. A duty she had to keep to her family.
It shouldn’t matter, but it did.
Perhaps, she reasoned, she could keep him. Once she married. Or at least revisit him.
Sienna sat in bed and was filled with a strange and terrible weight, a foreboding that she knew would never feel this way about another man again, and the prospect of losing it forever frightened her.
To be continued…
Emily Gardner is a writer living in Washington, DC. Her debut novel, Driven By Desire, will be published in installments here on Coffee & Stink. She is currently working on her as-yet-untitled sophomore novel.