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Allegiance - Chapter 4

by The Stowaway


One year later in Port Royal. Elizabeth's wedding ball

Elizabeth Norrington paused to look over the crowded ballroom, her hand tucked in her father's arm. Her eyes met those of her husband, as he danced with old Lady Westonfold, and she blushed.

"He is a fine man, Elizabeth," her father said.

Elizabeth smiled, her eyes still on the dancers. "He is, Father, very fine."

"I could not have parted with you, my dear, to anyone less worthy," the Governor continued. He sighed. "Your mother would have been so happy to have seen this day."

Elizabeth, seeing the sorrow in her father's eyes, stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. After a moment, he smiled and patted her hand. "Well, well, ancient history! Come, my dear, allow me to get you some punch."

They made their way toward the refreshment room, but their progress was slowed by the number of well-wishers who stopped them to offer their felicitations to the bride. They had not gone far when they were joined by the Commodore, who, freed at last from duty-dances, had every intention of dancing the next set with his wife.

Elizabeth took his arm and walked on between the two men. She smiled and chatted to their guests, if with a slightly mechanical civility; the greater part of her attention was fixed upon her husband, although she was careful to avoid looking his way, fearing for her composure if she did so. A pleasant yet uneasy fluttering had been growing in her breast all day; this was her wedding night. Unconsciously, her hand tightened upon James's arm and he turned to look at her. Feeling his regard, she blushed again, and dared to glance up at his face. His eyes had darkened in a way that made her pulses race and she looked hastily away, biting her lip. At this moment her father, by no means oblivious to this byplay, said, "Ah! There is Master Boniface. I must speak with him. My dears, if you will excuse me…" and he left them with a smile.

The Norringtons walked on. The music struck up and, for a moment, everyone's attention was on the dance floor. Elizabeth, seizing the opportunity, tugged sharply on James's arm and whisked the two of them through a curtained archway.

"Elizabeth, what in the name of heaven…" James began.

"Shhh!" she said, hurrying him along the corridor until they reached a closed door. "Father's office," she whispered, opening the door and pulling him through it.

The lock clicked and she turned to him, her face a study in mischief. "There! I have been wanting to be alone with you forever." When he didn't move, she danced closer to him and looked up, all prim mouth and teasing eyes. "Why, Commodore Norrington," she murmured, provocative and demure at once, "you look shocked. Surely the Scourge of Piracy in the Caribbean is not… afraid?" and she placed her palm delicately on the breast of his coat.

The next instant she was swept into a crushing embrace. "Elizabeth, you are playing with fire," James said, his voice shaking.

"Oh, James, I do hope so," she smiled.

He laughed at that. "Why, you little baggage!" he exclaimed, and kissed her.

When at last they separated, she clung to him, afraid her legs would not support her. "Oh my," she said, panting a little, "You have never kissed me like that before!"

Concern sprang into his eyes. "Elizabeth…" he began, but she stopped him, pressing her fingers to his lips.

"Do it again?" she asked. "Please?"

His brow cleared but he shook his head ruefully. "Not yet, else we will never make it back to the ball."

She made a moue of disappointment, then brightened. "Supper is in half an hour, at midnight. We can leave after the healths are drunk; slip away before the dancing begins again. Father can arrange for our carriage to be ready without alerting anyone. Come!"  She took his hand and they went back to the ball.

**********

As the dawn light filled their bedchamber the next morning, James Norrington watched his wife sleep. She lay on her side, facing him, one slim hand tucked beneath her pillow. His wife, he thought. A surge of tenderness shook him. Her hair was tumbled about her head, one tendril lying against her sleep-flushed cheek. Very gently, he tucked it back. She stirred, murmured something, and settled again into slumber.

The light was increasing; the sun would soon be up. Through the open window he heard the cocks crowing and the sound of shutters being pushed back in the rooms below. The house was awake. He lay staring out between the parted drapes (open at Elizabeth's insistence) and thought of the night just past.

Innocent, eager, ardent, and fearless; she had met his passion with one of her own, to his great delight and secret relief.

He thought with amusement of the letter he had received last month from his sister Jane, Lady Greenhill. She was ten years his senior; a formidable and outspoken matron and he loved her dearly. Her letter had astonished him; he had been mortified and even a little angry, but he had read it often enough in the weeks following its arrival to be able to quote parts of it from memory.

"I fear that you will let your innate chivalry prompt you to be over-careful with your bride in the marital act,"  she had written with the paralyzing frankness that characterized her. "As I am your eldest sister, I am sure you will not take it amiss if I just give you a hint. I know you, Brother, and the very gentleness which will make you an excellent husband may prove your enemy on your wedding night. Strive to remember that delicacy is not the same thing as fragility. Your Elizabeth is stronger than you yet realize; she is not made of glass. Cherish her judiciously; do not be afraid to demonstrate your love for her. She will thank you for it; as you, in turn, will - or ought to - thank me."  She had gone on to praise Elizabeth, whom she had met the year before in London, as a remarkably unaffected and refreshing girl. And she had closed with still more forthrightness. "You are, I trust," she wrote,  "inexperienced - in the carnal sense - with young women of our class. Let me assure you that gentlewomen are as capable of enjoying 'bedsports' (as my dear Greenhill so divertingly names them) as are their less sheltered sisters. You are a very fortunate man, my dear James; do you take care to make good use of your opportunities."

Dear Jane, he thought with a smile, knew a thing or two; that was certain. He would write - as ordered - to thank her before the next courier sailed for England. How she would enjoy that.

Beside him, Elizabeth stretched and opened her eyes. She blinked sleepily and then nestled against James, one arm about his waist and her head tucked under his chin. "Good morning, husband," she mumbled into his chest as his arms went around her and held her close.

James kissed her hair. "Good morning, wife," he replied, marveling at the easy familiarity of the moment. "I love you," he whispered.

At that she tilted her head back to look at him. Very slowly, she smiled. "I love you," she said, offering him her mouth. He kissed her softly; mouth, each eyelid, chin and mouth again.

"How do you… feel, this morning?" he asked.

"Mmmmm," she hummed, stretching once more. "Most excellently well, barring a little - rather pleasant - soreness here and there."  Her eyes began to dance. "I am not made of glass, darling James."

He chuckled. "So I am told," he said.

"By whom?"

"My sister Jane."

It was her turn to laugh. "Dear Lady Greenhill," she said, snuggling closer. "She wrote to me, you know."

"Did she," James replied, suddenly wary, "What did she have to say?"

Elizabeth grinned against his chest. "I shan't tell you. She said it wouldn't be good for you to hear, and I agree with her."

"This is a fine thing," he said, aggrieved. "Not yet a full day in the family and already you are in league with my sister against me. I don't know what you deserve."

"Kisses," she replied promptly.

"Shameless wench!" he grumbled, "I don't know that I shall oblige you."

"Ah," she cried, sitting up and clapping her hands. "Then you must pay a forfeit."

"What sort of forfeit?

"Take off your nightshirt," she said, suddenly serious. "Please? I have never seen a man… unclothed."

He hesitated only a moment - during which a tiny, shocked voice in his mind cried impropriety, until he told it to hush. He kicked the covers aside, sat up and pulled the garment over his head. "Just as you wish," he said, lying back down.

"Oh," she said, eyes wide. She studied him without moving, her rapt gaze surveying him from head to toe. "But you are beautiful," she whispered, and blushed.

James flushed, completely taken aback by her reaction to the sight of his body. He gasped as cool fingers ran through the sprinkling of hair on his chest and stroked his nipple, which hardened at the touch. Wonderingly, Elizabeth brought her other hand to her own breast, lightly pinching until her nipple stood out against the linen of her nightgown. James replaced that hand with his own, cupping her breast and rolling the nipple very gently between his fingers. She sighed and continued her exploration. Her hand moved across his chest and abdomen, until it found the trail of hair leading down from his navel. Feather-light, her fingers moved lower still, running through the thicker curls at his groin before closing softly about his erection.

"Elizabeth," he groaned.

"James?" Her voice was low and breathless.

"Have a care," he said, with the ghost of a laugh, "It is loaded and might go off in your hand."

She smiled as she tightened her grip a fraction. "Would that give you pleasure?"

James groaned again and closed his eyes for a moment. "Very much," he replied, "But I have a better idea." She tore her eyes away from his cock long enough to look a question. "Would you like to ride me?" he asked.

Elizabeth's mouth fell open in astonishment. "Ride you?" She giggled. "Oh yes, if you please!"

"But first," James said, as she rose to her knees. "Take your nightgown off."

In a twinkling, the ribbons at neck and wrists were undone and her gown floated down to join his on the floor. He sighed with pleasure, admiring the slender body thus exposed to his view. She blushed under his gaze and met his eye shyly. "What do I do, now?" she asked.

"First, like so." James helped her to straddle his waist. The sight of the blood staining her thighs gave him pause. "Elizabeth," he said, drawing his hands from her waist to her knees, "perhaps we should wait. It might be uncomfortable for you, so soon after last night."

Elizabeth smiled and leaned down until her mouth touched his. "Beloved, please believe me, I wish with all my heart to do this."

"But I would not cause you pain."

"I will tell you if you hurt me," Elizabeth said, kissing him again. "You have my word."

James allowed himself to be persuaded, urged by the soft thighs clasping his waist and the buttocks nudging deliciously at his cock. "Very well then," he said. He helped her to rise up and move back over his hips while with one hand he positioned his erection.

As she sank down onto him a soft cry burst from her. "It stings," she cried. He steadied her, clasping her waist and willing himself to stillness.

"Wait," he said, "Let us see if it does not pass in a moment."  He drew her down and kissed her again and again, nibbling on her lips and teasing her tongue with his own. After a short time, she sighed and sat up, settling down all the way until their bodies were pressed together.

"Ohhh," she gasped, "You were right. It feels so good now."

James, his hands on her hips, urged her to rise and sink down again. Her eyes closed and her head fell forward as she moved, languid at first and then faster, harder. James began thrusting upward to meet her. Her head came up and her eyes flew wide. As their motion grew wilder she gave little cries, breathless whimpers of pleasure. James slipped a hand between their bodies, deftly stroking her as his own climax neared. Her cries became ragged and ended on a wail; she stiffened and her head fell forward again as James spent himself with one last thrust.

Gently he drew her down to lie atop him, soothing and cradling her as she shuddered and sighed. He rolled them onto their sides and settled her against him, her head upon his shoulder. When he tried to tilt her chin up to kiss her, she buried her face in his neck and would not look at him.

"Darling, what is the matter?" he asked.

She whispered something that sounded to him like "I'm sorry."

"Sorry, Elizabeth?" James said, astonished, "Sorry for what?"

It was some time before he could persuade her to speak up, but at last, with much coaxing she whispered in his ear. "Those noises I made… I couldn't stop them… so ashamed…."

He stopped himself from chuckling just in time. "Darling, look at me," he said, kissing her temple. "Come, look at me." She raised her head, eyes bright with unshed tears, and his heart turned over with love and pity. He smiled and kissed her gently. "It took you by surprise, that is all," he said. "It is perfectly natural to cry out in pleasure, dearest, did you not know?"

Elizabeth shook her head and blushed. "It sounded so … wild," she whispered.

"And did you not feel wild at that moment?" James asked her. Her blush deepened and she nodded. "Well, then…?"

Elizabeth still looked doubtful.

James tried another tack. "Darling girl," he said, kissing her nose. "Do you have any idea how beautiful you were in that state?"

"I was?" she asked, astonished.

"Exquisitely so," he nodded. "More lovely than you have ever been, which is saying a good deal."

"I don't believe you." She blushed yet again and tried to hide her face but he prevented her.

"Elizabeth," James said, "I do not know how to express this without sounding like a coxcomb. To bring you to that - to the very peak of ecstasy - doubles my own pleasure; the sight and sound, the feel of you at that moment, fills me with something beyond words. I am both proud and humbled." He kissed her again. "If you could but see with my eyes and hear with my ears, you would understand."

After a long moment, she relaxed against him and put her head once more upon his shoulder. "It's just that it frightened me," she said, her voice soft and dreamy.

"Because you were not expecting it," he soothed, rubbing her back and kissing her hair. "Next time will be better. Sleep now, dearest."

Elizabeth nodded. "Yes," she said. Her eyes drifted closed and in a few moments her breathing took on the rhythm of sleep.

James pulled the sheet up to cover them and let sleep take him.

He woke to broad daylight and the feel of Elizabeth's lips pressed to the underside of his jaw.

"You taste good," she murmured between kisses.

He tipped his head and captured her mouth with his. She sighed happily as his tongue sought entrance, opened to him and shivered as their tongues played lazily, stroking and gliding in a slow dance. "So do you," he replied at last. He tucked her head under his chin and smoothed his hand from her shoulder blade to her hip and thence, when she threw her leg over his thighs, to her knee. He repeated the caress slowly, rhythmically and Elizabeth hummed her appreciation. For some time neither spoke. James marveled again at the undemanding, easeful comfort of her presence and knew himself for a very lucky man. It had been worth it, the long wait; his beloved Elizabeth was his at last.

He was unaware that he had spoken this thought aloud until she said, "I was always yours, James." Her arms tightened around his waist. "I knew it eight years ago, on the crossing from England. You were so kind to me when Father and my maid were both ill."

He smiled. "I rather thought that keeping you occupied was being kind to your father and the maid."

Elizabeth ignored this sally. In a thoughtful voice, she continued, "Of course, I couldn't let you know until I was sure you would be successful. Couldn't risk throwing myself away on a nobody! But, once you were made Commodore, my qualms were allayed."

"Pull the other leg, dearest, it's got bells on," James chuckled. "If your motives in bestowing your hand were entirely mercenary, then how is it that you did not accept Lord Bolton's proposal, when he was here two years ago? If you had done so, you would have been a Duchess by now."

"No," she replied seriously, "That is where you are out. It is common knowledge that the family is all to pieces; quite rolled up. They have let their town house and every acre of the estate that isn't part of the entail was sold off years ago. A pauper Duke is no catch." She paused. "And he wrote me such very bad poetry."

"That ridiculous puppy had the effrontery to write you poetry?"

The outraged disgust in his voice was too much for Elizabeth and she giggled. "Terrible poetry. It was the most bewildering mishmash of images and sentiments imaginable. I could never work out whether he thought of me as a rose or the new Diana. I think I saved one example - would you like to see it?"

"No, I thank you," James replied in so revolted a tone that Elizabeth giggled again. Her laughter was cut off on a gasp as he rolled over on top of her. "I will never write you poetry, Elizabeth."

"Then I must endeavour to master my disappointment," she sighed. "Alas that I have married a man of actions and not a man of words."

As he kissed her, Elizabeth wriggled until she could bring her legs up and wrap them around his waist. "Speaking of actions, madam," James said, looking down at her with a grin, "yours are shamelessly provocative."

"And how do you mean to respond, sir?" was her pert reply.

"I would show you, save that it will make us rather late for breakfast."

Elizabeth pulled him down with a laugh. "Breakfast can wait." 

**********

The following months were happy ones for the Norringtons. Administering Fort and fleet kept James in Port Royal much of the time and his infrequent cruises were for the most part of short duration. Elizabeth took to married life with ease and great joy. James had built her a house on the hill near the Government House; a comfortable, commodious residence, quite without pretension. She spent considerable time in arranging the rooms to her satisfaction. The grounds were not extensive but included a lovely fall of ground behind the house, with wide view of the water far below. Together they undertook the layout and planning of the gardens and set the work in progress. Lawns, flower beds, hedges, a shrubbery walk and a gazebo - one by one the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

One morning, about six months after the wedding, James and Elizabeth were breakfasting on the small, shady terrace behind the house. The morning mail had arrived and they read as they drank their coffee.

"The Wilsons are giving a ball on the twentieth," Elizabeth remarked, "To launch Cecilia. We should attend."

"Mmmm, what?" James looked up from his letter, "Ah, yes of course." He sorted through the small pile of mail on the tray. "Here's a rather thick envelope for you, my dear." He handed it across the table. Elizabeth glanced at the return address and put it aside a little hastily.

"Oh," she said, carelessly, "Some pamphlets from my cousin, I believe. I will read them later." She took a sip of coffee and looked across the table to find her husband watching her with amusement.

"More nonsensical pirate romances, Elizabeth?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.

Her chin came up. "Yes, as a matter of fact," she replied. James grinned and she scowled at him. "Well and what if they are? You know how fascinating I find the subject and yet, when I ask you to tell me of real pirates, you refuse."

"It is only that I would not disabuse you of your romantic notions, my dear," he said. "Pirates are in truth disgusting creatures. Cowardly, bloodthirsty brutes, who commit the most callous and barbarous acts with no thought of remorse. They are much more like Attila the Hun than Robin Hood; hardly a fit subject for fireside tales."

Elizabeth, who had no answer to this, looked mulish, buttered a piece of toast with great care and, just before she took a bite, stuck her tongue out at her husband. James burst out laughing.

"You haven't done that to me since you were thirteen years old," he said, shaking his head at her.

She grinned. "Oh yes, I have. You are forgetting the Admiral's reception, two years ago."

"Why, so I am, you minx," he exclaimed. "I don't know how I kept my countenance."

"It was a great disappointment to me that you managed to do so." Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. "It was a setback, I must admit. For a time, I despaired."

"Setback? Despaired?" James asked, chuckling at her sudden air of gentle melancholy. "What on Earth are you talking about?"

"Why, of my campaign," she replied, with lifted brows. "You must know that it has been my object these many years to detach you somewhat from your beloved propriety."

"Indeed?" He said dryly, and leant back in his chair. "And how do you find that you get on?"

"Very prosperously, for the most part, I thank you," Elizabeth laughed. "You are greatly improved by my efforts."

James said nothing for a few moments, toying with his coffee cup and staring out at the bay as his smile faded. He glanced at his wife. "Am I in truth so stuffy, then?" he asked.

"Oh my dear," Elizabeth cried, leaning across to cover his hand with hers, "by no means. I was jesting, merely." She rose and came round the table, perched on his knee and kissed his forehead. James's arms encircled her waist and she leaned against his shoulder. "No gentleman who holds his wife on his lap at the breakfast table is quite so rigidly proper as all that," she said and he chuckled.

They sat in silence for some time, watching the cloud shadows run across the bay and the hills far beyond.

"James," Elizabeth said at last, "I wish to learn to fence. Will you teach me?"

He turned to look at her with surprise. "You wish to do what?" he asked, "Where did this come from?"

"Oh, I have long wished it," she replied. "Our talk of pirates just now reminded me. I thought that, since you are of an improper humour this morning," - she wriggled her hips against his thighs and grinned - "then you might be more likely to consent."

He smiled a little. "But, my dear," he asked, "why do you wish to learn to fence?"

Elizabeth thought for a moment. "Because there is artistry to it; because it requires skill and not merely brute strength. It seems to combine elements of dance and of chess in one exercise." She shrugged. "Because it looks like fun."

"To do it well requires much work and practice, you know."

She sensed him weakening and held her breath. "I am not afraid of hard work."

James was silent for a full minute and her hope wavered, but then he laughed and hugged her to him. "Very well," he chuckled, "Since you are so determined to learn, I will teach you. There, is that improper enough for you?"

"Oh, yes, deliciously improper! I am very proud of you, husband," Elizabeth cried, kissing him with enthusiasm. "Thank you for indulging me."

James smiled at her excitement, albeit a touch ruefully. "It is difficult to refuse you anything, Elizabeth. I hope I may not come to regret this."

She laughed, "You'll not regret it, James, you will see. When may we begin?"

"Is this afternoon, after tea, soon enough for you?" he asked. "I am needed at the Fort until then."

*********

Later that day, James dismounted in front of his house and handed the groom the reins. In the hall he removed his hat and wig, set them on the table, and scratched his head vigorously, to the well-concealed but perceptible amusement of the butler. James grinned at him. "Damnable things," he remarked, pointing to his abandoned wig. "But I needn't tell you that, eh Mullins?"

Mullins, his own wig impeccably in place, preserved his countenance, merely replying "I am sure I could not say, sir."  But his blue eyes twinkled as he said it and James chuckled. "Madame has ordered tea to be served in the drawing room as soon as you arrived, Commodore."

"Is Mrs. Norrington down?" James asked.

"Not yet, sir."

"Then I shall wait for her," James nodded, "Thank you, Mullins."

"Very good, sir," Mullins bowed and effaced himself.

James was going through the afternoon post when he heard a step and looked up to see a most extraordinary figure descending the stairs.

"Elizabeth, what in Heaven's name are you wearing?" he exclaimed.

Elizabeth scampered (there was no other word for it, James thought) down the remaining flight and paused at the bottom, her face alight with laughter. She raised her arms and spun on one heel. "Well, how do you like it?" she asked, "Will it do?"  She was wearing tan breeches, a full-sleeved linen shirt open at the throat and his second-best sword. Cotton stockings and low shoes completed the ensemble. "Well?" she asked again, clearly delighted to have astonished him.

James stared. Slim as she was, from the neck down she looked like a stripling. He found the sight oddly disturbing. "You can't mean to wear that!" he said at last.

"Of course I do," Elizabeth replied, "I cannot very well learn to fence in skirts, can I? It is not as if I shall be going out dressed this way."

"Going out! No, I should think not," James said.

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose at him. "Come and have tea," was all her reply. She led the way to the drawing room. . Despite his discomfort James grinned at the sight of her boyish swagger. Elizabeth, it seemed, had not left her fondness for play-acting quite behind in girlhood.

She rang for tea and they sat. He noted with amusement that she had been practicing; she neither tripped over nor sat upon her sword.

"Where did you get the breeches," James asked. "Or don't I want to know?"

Elizabeth laughed but Mullins entered at that moment with the tea tray and she waited until he had gone away again before answering. "Cook's grandson," she said,  preparing his tea and passing him the cup, which he accepted with a word of thanks.

After a short silence, Elizabeth asked, "Where shall we practice? I thought perhaps the lawn at the bottom of the garden."

"That would do very well," James agreed. "It is screened from the house by the new hibiscus hedge. We shall be quite private there" He set down his teacup. "Well, if you will excuse me, my dear, I shall go change clothes and be with you directly."

A few minutes later they strolled down through the garden to the strip of turf that was to be their practice floor.

"Now then," James said, "let us begin with the position of the feet." The next two hours flew by, as he taught Elizabeth the basics of the art of fence. They practiced the correct stance for some time before he would let her draw her sword. "No, you must bend your knees more, for balance," he said, demonstrating what he meant, "and point your right foot. Back straight and head up." Elizabeth copied him attentively, repeating the move until she had mastered it, without demur or complaint.

James was a firm teacher - demanding perfection at each step of the process - while at the same time both patient and kind, explaining and demonstrating tirelessly. He taught Elizabeth as if she were a boy, making no concession to her sex; it seemed to him dishonest to do otherwise.

At last they drew their swords. James taught her the proper grip. They drilled until she could go from at rest to en garde smoothly. He showed her how to extend her blade and recover, and they were beginning to work on displacements when he noticed her tiring and called a halt.

"That is enough for today," he said. They sheathed their swords and walked slowly up to the house, arm in arm. "You have made excellent progress, Elizabeth."

"Do you think so?" she replied, brushing her hair back from her damp brow. "It seems that we did so little."

"As with any skill, the first steps in fencing are deceptively simple," he smiled, "but they are the foundation for all that follows. Without mastering them, there can be no true proficiency."

She nodded. "That makes sense. When shall we have our next lesson?"

James laughed. "If I said next week…?"

"I would call you a teasing, provoking, wicked man," she retorted. "How about tomorrow?"

"No, for tomorrow I have business in Kingston, and we dine with the Groves's, if you recall," James replied. "Do you think you can wait until the day after?"

Elizabeth sighed. "If I must, I must," she said, "I shall endeavour to be patient."

They had by this time reached the house. And Elizabeth was about to go upstairs to change when James told her that he had ordered the bath to be prepared for her. "It will refresh you after your exertions," he said.

She kissed him with a smile. "What a considerate husband, I have," she said. Her smile became mischievous. She stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear. "Come up and keep me company."

"You rogue," he chuckled, but he allowed her to lead him up to their room, where they dismissed the maid. James began to undress her, fumbling with the buttons on her breeches. For a moment he was reminded of his discomfort at his first sight of Elizabeth in boy's clothes, but he was distracted by her nimble fingers at his waist.

"Clumsy," she mocked him, grinning. "This is how it's done." In a flash she had undone his breeches and was pushing them down to his ankles. "You need a bath as much as I," she said, "There is room for us both."

The undressing became a race - with much laughter and at least one muffled shriek. Before long they were both quite naked, their clothes scattered about the floor. "Into the tub with you," she said, giving him a little push.

It was a tight squeeze, but they had done this before and settled into the warm water facing each other, she sitting between his legs with hers wrapped round his waist. "Isn't this cozy," Elizabeth said, leaning forward to kiss him.

James reached for the soap and a cloth from the stool next to the tub and began to wash Elizabeth's shoulders. She tipped her head back and sighed as he reached her breasts. Her hands, meanwhile, had left his waist and disappeared beneath the water. "Elizabeth, he groaned.

One thing led to another and they were very late to supper.

**********

In the weeks that followed, Elizabeth's skill with the smallsword grew by leaps and bounds. It was, of course, wildly unconventional, but James admired both her will and her aptitude. He made no secret of his pride in her.

He had grown accustomed to the sight of Elizabeth in breeches. Indeed he was forced to admit that seeing her thus was distinctly arousing, and many of their training sessions ended in bed.

One afternoon, as they were sparring on the lawn, James realized that, while Elizabeth would never equal him in strength or endurance, she was a very good fencer; as fast as he was, if not faster.

The day was warm and they were both winded and sweating heavily when at last they broke off. Elizabeth tossed aside her mask and removed her quilted jacket before throwing herself flat on the grass. She lay there panting while James detached the buttons from their swords, then sat up and poured them cups of lemonade from the jug they had brought from the house.

They drank in silence; Elizabeth lay back again to watch the fair-weather clouds drift across the sky. After a time she laced her fingers with James's. He glanced down at her and smiled. "What are you thinking of?" she asked.

"That I shall miss this when I sail," he said.

Elizabeth's brow clouded. "I, too," she replied. "Will you be gone long, do you think?"

"Difficult to say," James shrugged, "That depends to a large extent on what we find. Our quarry is elusive."

"Is it pirates this time," Elizabeth asked, "or smugglers?"

"Either or both," he replied. "Or, the Spanish of course, but they have given us little difficulty of late. I intend to patrol the Windward Passage for a time to see what falls into our hands."

"And must you sail tomorrow?"

"I must."

Another silence fell. Elizabeth tugged on the hand she held and raised her other arm in invitation. Grinning, James rolled to lie half atop her. Between kisses she murmured, "You need a bath."

"So do you," he chuckled.

She giggled "You are rude, sir." Hooking her ankle behind his thighs, she drew him closer. "But I forgive you."

"See here, you temptress," James said, "Enough of this tumbling about on the grass." He got to his feet, drawing her up with him. "Come into the house." 

She rolled her eyes as they gathered their equipment. "Propriety," she sighed.

"Comfort," he replied, grinning again. He lowered his voice. "I want you naked in the bath and then under me in our bed." He kissed the back of her neck and she shivered. His voice dropped further. "You will be grateful for the softness of the mattress, before I am done with you," he growled.

Wide-eyed, she nodded. "I'm yours," she breathed, and led the way up to the house.

Much later, as they lay - sweaty once again - half asleep with legs entwined, Elizabeth stirred. She stroked James's cheek and he turned his head to kiss her fingers. In a shaking voice she began to whisper. James caught a few phrases. "To have and to hold… in sickness and in health… as long as we both shall live." She ended on a tiny sob.

"Elizabeth, beloved," James gathered her close, kissing her hair as she clung to him. "I will be back before you know it."

"Oh James, come home safe to me."

"Always, dearest, for am I not yours?"
 

 

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