The Officer’s Temptation, Chapter 4
The Dinner Party
Hartsthrone Hall was much larger than his parents’ house, stretching proudly atop the crest of the hill. Its pale stone exterior was still lit up from the last rays of light that stretched across the top of the rise, making the facade gleam with a golden warmth. The windows, unlike the last time he had visited, were shining like bright lanterns, allowing tiny peeks into the world behind their glass. Inside the house, somewhere past the heavy marble columns and glittering windows, Lady Arabella Balfrey waited for him. Along with her husband.
His chest was a confusing flutter of feelings. It was tight with anticipation, his heart feeling too large to be contained behind his ribs. And of course, there was that mysterious elation, the giddiness of knowing that she was near. He barely registered the grandeur of the front hall as he followed his parents, walking behind them in a daze to the sitting room where they were led. Hartsthrone Hall was much larger than his parents’ house, stretching proudly atop the crest of the hill. Its pale stone exterior was still lit up from the last rays of light that stretched across the top of the rise, making the facade gleam with a golden warmth. The windows, unlike the last time he had visited, were shining like bright lanterns, allowing tiny peeks into the world behind their glass. Inside the house, somewhere past the heavy marble columns and glittering windows, Lady Arabella Balfrey waited for him. Along with her husband.
His chest was a confusing flutter of feelings. It was tight with anticipation, his heart feeling too large to be contained behind his ribs. And of course, there was that mysterious elation, the giddiness of knowing that she was near. He barely registered the grandeur of the front hall as he followed his parents, walking behind them in a daze to the sitting room where they were led.
It was not the same intimate parlour where she had taken him before. This was a massive room, built to impress. It had changed somewhat since he had been there as a boy, over ten years prior. The details of his memory surged with the incongruence of the present. He took in the long pale blue curtains that framed the large windows, the sprawling carpet in its mix of buttery tones and light blues. Stiff looking round-backed chairs were arranged around a few cornflower blue settees. Behind them, a small fire was lit, working along with the dozens of candles to burn away the shadows of the encroaching twilight and its corresponding chill.
Then he saw her. Arabella. Her face was already trained on his, pale green eyes wide and serious, mouth soft and seductive. She was dressed in pale blue, with the light of the candles reflecting in her golden curls. She had looked so much in harmony with the room that he hadn’t noted her at first. She belonged here, it was clear, this mistress of the golden hall. She was walking towards him now in small dainty steps, followed by a dark stranger at her elbow.
But of course, it was not a stranger after all. It was only Nicholas–Lord Balfrey, her husband. He had changed only a little since Marlowe had seen him last. His face was the same, a little long with a slightly pointed chin, a broad nose, and dark eyes that were both kind and sad. He had always had the look of a mournful cow, Marlowe thought unkindly.
Nicholas’s wide mouth broke into an unexpected smile as he clasped him by the forearm in a friendly gesture. “Marlowe! What a pleasure to see you again! Or is it Lieutenant Hughes, now?”
“It’s whatever you please, my lord.”
He scoffed. “No titles then. For either of us. I would prefer to recall the golden days of our boyhood than my current obligations. Do you agree?”
Marlowe gave him a curt nod. His eyes drifted anxiously to Arabella at his side. Nicholas immediately noticed and smiled. It was such a small thing, but Marlowe thought he could see a change come over Nicholas as he looked at his wife. He stood up straighter, his shoulders broader, his chest swelling with pride. “Let me introduce you all to my charming wife, Lady Arabella Balfrey.”
Marlowe forgot for a moment to breathe as Arabella extended her small hand to his. “A pleasure,” he gasped and then quickly moved aside for the introductions to be made to his parents. He stared at Arabella stupidly. She looked away, a mischievous smile on her face, but they had no time to talk, for the next set of guests was already entering. The Jennings had just arrived and Marlowe rushed to them, pulling them into conversation as soon as the greetings were done with in order to distract himself from paying too much heed to Arabella, who was now chatting sociably with his parents and Nicholas.
Miss Jennings smiled at him warmly. “I’m still indebted to you for your hospitality the last time we met,” she said. “My mother was most scandalized about the whole situation. Though she won’t mention it for embarrassment now…” She smiled in the direction of her mother, who had joined Marlowe’s parents on the settee. He caught Arabella’s eye for an instant and looked away immediately, back at the beauty before him. Miss Jennings was wearing her dark hair pinned up and a few dark curls had escaped to frame her face. Pearl pins dotted her dark hair like constellations in the night sky. Her other winning features, which had been so much on display when she had arrived at his home after the rainstorm, were now only hinted at underneath a lovely peach silk gown that brought out the flush in her cheeks.
“Think nothing of it,” he said. “Twas nothing more than any friend would do.”
“Hm, yes. Speaking of friends, is it true that you grew up with Lord Balfrey there? My family met him and in London during the season.”
He caught Arabella’s eye again on accident as he looked towards Nicholas. “It’s true.” He looked back at Miss Jenning’s face, allowing himself to be lulled by her reassuring presence. It was an odd sensation, to let himself relax around her while still knowing Arabella was watching somewhere behind his back. It was rather like being caught in the ocean between two shifting currents.
Miss Jennings laughed. “Well, then I shall have to ask him for some of your more embarrassing childhood escapades.”
Marlowe must have made a face, for she laughed again. “I promise to wait until after dessert.” She eyed the lavish room. “It’s like a treasure trove in here, is it not? And Lady Balfrey there like Helen of Troy. She would make quite the portrait, would she not?”
He shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “Yes, quite.”
She didn’t seem to notice his discomfort. “I am hoping that we shall be friends,” she confided. “I barely knew her in London. The season was so busy! But I have longed for better friends in the country.” She smiled again. “Though I suppose I can add you to my roster now that you’re back. I must confess that while your parents are charming, there is something to be said for keeping company with younger blood. I am feeling quite rich in neighbors now.”
He gave her a small smile in return and found it frozen as Nicholas approached them. “Miss Jennings, I do believe I overheard you asking Lieutenant Hughes about our childhood escapades?”
She blushed prettily. “Forgive me Lord Balfrey. It was perhaps impertinent of me!”
Nicholas smiled at her warmly. “On the contrary, I fondly remember those halcyon days.” He gave Marlowe a mischievous glance. “Did the lieutenant ever tell you how we stole a horse on accident?”
Miss Jennings’ eyes lit up as she clasped her hands together in excitement. “Indeed not! Whatever happened?”
Marlowe groaned and looked away as Nicholas laughed. “No need to be embarrassed, Marlowe. We were… what was it… fourteen, perhaps? Well-“
But his story was cut off as the new guests arrived. Lord and Lady Keating were being shown into the room and the conversation stalled immediately as introductions were made. The pair were rather older than everyone present and very stiff and formal. Lady Keating was tiny and wizened. Lord Keating was the opposite. One of the largest men that Marlowe had ever seen, though dressed impeccably.
They joined the others on the settees and the conversation grew stilted as the party waited for dinner. When it was called, Marlowe leapt to his feet, thinking to escort Arabella on his arm. But his father had already offered her the courtesy, and Marlowe found himself unfortunately leading his mother.
There had been no question of sitting near Arabella at dinner, as he did not rank highly enough for that honor, but he had still managed a nice enough time, chatting pleasantly with Miss Jennings and her father who were both near to him. He even found the elderly Lady Keating to be a surprising wit. And of course, there was Arabella. Just be nearing her, basking in her presence was enough to make the dinner worth his while. He drank in glances of her between bites, between sips, noticing that she seemed to be watching him the whole while, a secret lurking in her eyes as she chatted with the others.
It was not until after dinner that he managed a moment alone with her. It was carefully contrived. She had led the procession from the dining room–the women following her to the sitting room to chat while the gentlemen went for a smoke and a drink in Lord Balfrey’s study. Marlowe had dawdled behind the pack of gentlemen. And Arabella was lingering at the door after the ladies had filed into the room ahead of her.
His heart beat faster at her scent as he drew near. “I have an idea,” she whispered as he walked by. “Play along when it is time.”
He nodded his head briefly before taking a few quick steps to catch up with the other men. He wasn’t sure what exactly Arabella had in mind, but he felt nervous, ignoring his brandy in the study while Nicholas tried to pull him into reminiscings and his father chatted about banking with Mr. Jennings and Lord Keating.
When it was time to join back up in the parlour, Marlowe’s heart was beating faster. His palms were itchy with sweat. If Arabella was planning something, it must be soon. For the evening games and chatter would surely not extend more than an hour or two longer. Lord and Lady Keating, citing their advanced ages, were already excusing themselves from the company.
Only moments after they had departed, Arabella caught his eye and then turned to Nicholas.
“Husband, I have something that might be more diverting than a card game for tonight’s entertainment in mind.” Her voice was raised loudly enough so that the whole room turned to hear. A playful smile lurked in the corners of her eyes, but she studiously avoided looking back at Marlowe.
Nicholas smiled indulgently at her. “What is it, my dear?”
“What if we were to view the moonrise from the abbey ruins? It is such a striking view. And the moon is to be full tonight.”
Nicholas hesitated. Puzzlement clouded his eyes. “At this hour? It is so dark! I wouldn’t want to risk injury to any of the ladies in the party…”
“We could take a lantern, dear. I just thought it would be something novel. You know how I tire of cards and games!”
Marlowe’s mother grinned at Lord Balfrey. “Lord Balfrey, do not hesitate on account of us ladies! I for one think that it would be quite interesting to get out of doors.” She turned to the Jennings women. “What do you think, my dears?”
Mrs. Jennings nodded her agreement. Miss Jennings smiled slowly. “It does sound like a picturesque view. The moonlight on the ruins…”
Her father smiled indulgently. “Much like one of your paintings. I would be willing to take the exercise as well.”
Arabella clapped her hands in delight. “Then it is settled! Send for the lanterns, Husband.”
Nicholas shrugged good-naturedly and went to do as he was bidden. In a few short moments, he returned with a servant, bringing in a few small lanterns for the gentlemen to carry and the party was ready to head out-of-doors.
Arabella grabbed Marlowe by the arm. “Come, Lieutenant Hughes. You must walk with me. I have a passion for horses. You must tell me about all of the breeds that you encountered in Spain.”
Nicholas smiled at his wife indulgently. “It’s quite true, Hughes. She will talk your ears numb about horses. I hope you have the stamina for her!”
Marlowe dipped his head politely as he and Arabella fell into a conversation, walking slowly behind the others past the house gardens and across the rolling field that sloped towards a wooded area. It was not very difficult to find their way. The sky was a deep and luminous purple, still rich with the dredges of lingering summer twilight and dotted with brilliant crystalline stars. The night air was crisp and refreshing in his lungs and the slight pressure and warmth of Arabella’s arm was a constant a pleasure at his side. The voices of the others seemed to fade away as he and Arabella spoke of nothing and everything, lost in each others company. After about fifteen minutes, and nearly halfway to the ruins, Arabella grabbed his arm. “Now,” she whispered in his ear. They were under the canopy of dark leaves now, and the air was close, full of secrets.
And then she cried out. “Oh!” and clasped his arm, bending at the waist. The light of his lantern bobbed in the sudden movement, sending golden beams across the black crisscross of branches above. He worried for a moment that she had injured herself, but she squeezed his arm reassuringly.
The party ahead stopped and shifted. “What’s wrong?” Nicholas turned around, walking a few steps closer as the others shuffled behind him. A moth with pale wings fluttered near his head. He swiped at it as he hurried to Arabella’s side.
She scoffed. “I’m such a clumsy thing. I seem to have twisted my ankle a bit on a root.”
Nicholas eyed her with concern, setting his lantern so that it shone against her leg. She raised her skirt a bit and pretended to check it. “How is it?”
“It is a bit sore to put weight on.” Arabella bit her lip in a convincing manner. “But it looks well enough.”
“Then we must turn around.”
“Oh no, dearest! We musn’t! I did promise our guests the view…”
“Well, you shouldn’t go all that way if your ankle is hurt. I shall escort you home immediately.”
Arabella fluttered her lashes. “But no! You must lead the others there! I will go back on my own.”
Arabella looked from Marlowe to Nicholas innocently. “Perhaps you are right. But someone must lead the others to the abbey. What if Lieutenant Hughes were to escort me? Surely he has seen the ruins before. You two must have explored them as lads?”
Marlowe jumped to attention. “Yes, Nicholas. That would be the better way. It would be my pleasure to escort Lady Balfrey back home. You must go ahead with the rest of the party. My mother and Miss Jennings seemed especially eager for the novelty. We mustn’t disappoint the ladies.”
Nicholas shifted from foot to foot for a moment and eyed the others who were waiting patiently under the sprawling branches of an oak. “Yes, yes, you are both quite right. It’s the only thing to be done. Thank you, Hughes, for the gallantry towards my wife.”
Marlowe swallowed uncomfortably. “Think nothing of it.”
Nicholas nodded curtly. “Be careful, of course. We will be back home post haste. Just a quick peek and then we will return.” He turned to the rest of the party, waved to Marlowe and Arabella, wishing her a speedy recovery.
Arabella leaned heavily against Marlowe’s arm as they made their way down the path. As soon as the lanterns of the other party were out of view, she leaned completely into him. Her full breast slid against his arm.
She laughed. “Did I not tell you I would find a way for us to be together!”
He wrapped his arms around her small waist and kissed her on her magnificent lips. The smell of her was intoxicating - like wild violets growing underneath the pines. Her lips were sweet and soft against his, her tongue nimbly teasing against his lip.
“You appear to be an exceptionally bold little lass.” He kissed her again and then pulled away. “But are you not concerned that someone will wisen up to your ruse?”
She leaned into him, pressing her breasts against his chest, letting her body follow the curve of his as she kissed him deeply, gliding her tongue alongside his. “It is worth the risk to be with you,” she said seriously. Then she straightened. “Come, we must hurry if we are to have our time together. The others will be home in less than an hour. And I have much more entertainment for you yet!” The slight burr of her accent betrayed her excitement and she grabbed his hand, pulling him back down the path towards the house.
They went as quickly as they could back through the woods and field. As they neared the house, she pulled at his arm and pointed. “There!” He followed her gaze to a small stone outbuilding, a shed of some sort. “Blow out the lamp,” she instructed. “So that the servants do not spy us from the windows!”
He did as instructed and the two of the crept across the lawns to the small building. The smell of the garden’s flowers was thick in his nose. The air around them seemed to be knitting together. There was a hint of rain coming, he thought. A slight moisture building around them as Arabella fumbled at her pockets for a moment and then produced a small key, which she used to undo the door. He went inside, carefully stepping over the threshold. Arabella followed him in.
The scent of fresh earth tickled his nose and the air was hot and close, the little stone chamber having stored up all of the heat of the sun during the day. It was bordering on stifling in the small space and everything seemed too loud in the dead air–the rustle of her dress as she turned, the click of the latch as it settled into its place. Even his own breathing was too loud, as was her voice, scratching against his ear.
“Light the lamp.”
He fumbled with his tinderbox for a moment, wincing at the sound of the lid and then the dry catch as he lit a flame for the lantern. The acrid smell of smoke joined the scent of musty earth and Arabella’s perfume as the fire danced to light, beating away the deep shadows.
He could see now that it was indeed a small space, made even smaller by the pitch of the sharply-angled roof. There was a console table, battered and sagging against the wall. Various wicker baskets hung from the ceiling, stuffed with rags and other bric-a-brac. Gardening tools were hung on pegs against the walls, others heaped in piles in the corners. There were no windows, for which he was grateful–only a few small cracks in the wooden door worried him. Surely the light would creep out, alerting anyone who might be nearby to their presence.
He set the lantern on the table and turned to her. He was sure the tension would show on his face, that she would see it and think that he was having second thoughts. He watched her carefully.
Her eyes looked golden in the light, as sly and sharp as a cat’s, heavily-lidded and thoughtful under her long lashes. “We don’t have much time,” she whispered, reaching her small hand to his chest, down the smooth silk of his waistcoat. He felt his abdomen tighten, reacting to her touch.
He licked his lips. “This is a bad idea. Someone might find us.” A damp curl of his own hair tickled his ear. He was sweating, he realized.
“They won’t,” she said. Her hand went lower, gently trailing below his navel and hips. She pressed it boldly against the rising bulge in his pants. The heat of her hand soaked through the fabric, into the sensitive skin of his cock, which was tightening and rising at an alarming rate. He made a low, involuntary sound in his throat as she stroked him through the fabric.
She took it as encouragement, fiddling with his clothing, undoing the flap and fall that concealed his manhood. His length practically sprang out into her hand. It was exquisite torture as she ran her smooth hand up and down the shaft of hot flesh, and he gasped her name, drinking in the sight of her flushed face, light curls sticking to the curve of her cheeks, breasts rising in firm crescents above the top of her gown. He brushed away the sticky lock of hair and swallowed hard. This was a bad idea, his mind seemed to be saying. But the little warning voice was fading now into a whisper.
His fingers dug into her shoulders. He sighed in pleasure as she continued her ministrations.
And then she dropped to her knees. “What are you doing?” he gasped.
She was facing his member, studying it with a vicious intensity as she held it in her hand. He was entirely in her power now, even her breath against his skin was enough to make him shake with longing. And then she suddenly shot out her tongue, flicking against his head as quick as a little snake. He struggled to contain a groan of pleasure as he wrapped her fingers in her hair. “Wherever did you learn this?” he hissed. It was really not proper, what she was doing… But he felt the questions dissolving as she continued, not bothering to stop to answer.
Her lips were kissing the tip of his manhood, and she was taking the head of him into her rosy mouth. He struggled against the sensation for a moment, thinking to stop her… to tell her that it was too much, too dangerous, but he couldn’t. He wanted her now, consequences be damned. His world narrowed into the vision of her blonde head, the impropriety of it forgotten as his thoughts faded into instinct–coarse and base instinct and desire.
He struggled against the animalistic urge, wanting nothing more than to shove his whole length immediately into her hot, sweet lips, to fuck her beautiful mouth as he suddenly longed to fuck her cunt. The feelings were enough to break him, the visions of him, holding her head still, pulling down those beautiful, perfect piles of curls, as he slammed in and out of her small mouth, but he resisted.
Instead, he pulled her up roughly by the elbows. Their mouths met in a slur of wild and violent kisses, teeth and tongue and lips crushing together as she pressed herself to him, guiding him to the console. He lifted her up without another thought, placing her on the ledge as she wrapped her legs around him. He thought he heard something outside, but damn it, he didn’t care if he was caught now. He needed to fill her, to be inside of her completely, and he pawed roughly at her fine blue gown, yanking it up above her knees.
His fingers slipped against her stockings and then the smooth expanse of skin on her upper thigh. He reached urgently between her legs, fingers slipping against her hot, wet entrance. He groaned to feel her, soaking with her need for him, and spread her open with his fingers. She bit her lip, rolling her hips towards him, a throaty moan escaping from her mouth. His cock was straining, dripping at the tip. He stroked it in one hand while he shoved his fingers into her with the other.
She made the most delicious sounds as she rubbed her. Her legs were spread for him now, braced against the table, and he could see her pink hole, shining with arousal under her slick curls while his fingers dipped in and out. Her back was arched against the wall, skirts yanked all the way up, her head back and eyes closed. He bent to her and bit her neck, as he guided his cock into her.
She yelped and grabbed him, wrapping her legs around him as his fat cock spread her. “Oh Marlowe,” she moaned. Then her language descended into something more primal as he moved in and out of her, fucking her roughly. Not words–only scraps of them, coarse, throaty moans and gasps and sighs. He scarcely recognized himself, now, transformed as he was by his lust. He wanted to possess her, debase her. He bit at her neck, sucked her supple skin as he penetrated her over and over again, grabbing at her waist, her breasts, her neck with abandon.
Distantly, he was aware of the cadence building in her low moans of pleasure, of the grunting he made with his exertion, of the heavy rocking of the table against the wall. But he didn’t care. He was buried inside of Arabella, his love, his muse. And then she cried out particularly sharply and threw her head against his shoulder. Her sweat was soaking his neck as she tightened her grip around his back, driving him all the way inside of her.
He felt it then, the wild clenchings of her release. He grit his teeth, and held himself still for a moment, only pulling his cock from her as her limbs grew limp around his. She looked at him questioningly, but understood as he guided her back down to the floor.
He pressed his cock to her lips, and she opened for him. The second his cock touched her lips, he gave into himself, pressing his shaft further into her while she gagged, struggling to accommodate him while he shoved himself inside of her mouth.
The smooth expanse of her wriggling tongue, the silky press of her lips, the slick texture of the inside of her cheeks caressed him, and it was only moments before the need for release overpowered him. He held her face firmly between his hands, gasping as he felt the rush of fluid spurting from his cock, dripping down her throat. She endured it without flinching, only coughing for a moment as she swallowed the hot fluid.
When he was done, he gasped, feeling suddenly weak as he pulled out of her mouth and helped her rise. The scent of the thick air was now thick with the animalistic musk of their sweat. She clasped to him, trembling and he wrapped his arms around her.
“Wherever did you learn that?” he murmured in her ear. But she froze in panic against his body. That was when he realized it too. There were voices from somewhere outside. He blew out the light of the lantern in a panic, and they stood, breathing heavily together in the complete darkness. Waiting.