Riders
by Tieranny

Mireille walked through the tall grass that rimmed the beach and stood at the edge of the shoreline. She savored the feel of the water as it soothed her feet, gently washing away the sand and the worries of the day. It was an empty landscape, lit by a moon that hid behind a few filmy clouds and illuminated the water surface so brightly that it looked like a field of snow. At its edge, the field melted into foam that swept the sand smooth, then quietly retreated back into the silvery night. She and Druer had walked the beach many times over the years, but she had not had the courage to return to it alone, not until now. Why shouldn’t I, she thought angrily. We kissed for the first time on this beach. We made love here and promised ourselves to each other, right here! This place was ours. It belongs to us still!

Besides, the summer house was uncomfortably warm and damp, even late at night, and she had felt strangely drawn to the outside grounds. The fragrance of fresh flowers seemed more intense in the darkness as the scent floated on the sea breeze, filling the night air with its irresistible perfume. She had not intended to venture far from the house and had taken only a shawl to cover her light muslin chemise and linen overdress.

Though a lady was required to wear multi-layered garments even in the most humid weather, it was nighttime, and just this once, with no one else around, Mireille was going to please herself and enjoy a beautiful summer night in comfort. In a brief moment of quiet defiance, she had even forsaken her close-fitting undergarments along with other superfluous items women of her social position were expected to tolerate for the sake of modesty and propriety. She was conspicuously "less than dressed" and it felt wonderful, just as she had felt with her husband when, at last, they were alone. On those long summer nights when they had lain together, cloaked in darkness, savoring their unencumbered intimacy, their bodies had entwined with a glorious madness, and their hearts seemed to beat together in a single blended melody.

She pulled her knitted shawl up around her shoulders and imagined Druer’s arm around her as she walked along the foamy edge of the surf. It was just as she remembered it. They had stood here, under the same moon, beneath an endless ocean of stars, and he had kissed her, this elegant, wistful young man.

Jacques Francois Clemente Druer, IV. Lt. Col. Druer, to be exact. The fourth generation of a proud family that traced its forebears to European aristocrats, adventurers, and at least one flamboyant highwayman, who, ironically, was to be his namesake. They had laughed about that – the idea of their favorite son being the descendant of a common thief. "But, to be sure, a very successful one!" he’d insisted. After all, that Druer was unceremoniously deported to the Colonies as a pauper in the 1770’s, and over time and considerable effort, became a man of enterprise and achievement, raised several children, and helped to establish the family as one of the most prominent in the fledgling country. No one really new exactly how many children there had been. "It’s a lucky man who knows who his father is," Druer would say, and grin just as seductively as his notable ancestor surely had years before. "Oh, mon cher," she would reply, "what a bete noire you must be…."

She had marveled at his wonderfully romantic name and announced that it was too long to remember each time she addressed him. So she simply called him Druer, and only in formal or very intimate circumstances did she use his preferred given name, Francois. He dominated her thoughts almost from their first encounter, swiftly and irrevocably capturing her heart, and became the spirit of her very existence. In their innocence, they walked together like the only two lovers on earth in a secret, undiscovered Eden. Together, they had whispered their love to each other, planned their lives, their family, all the while oblivious to an uncompromisingly hostile world that would soon, coldly and cruelly, seal their destiny. With Druer beside her she was complete and content to spend her days loving him in every way she could imagine. With him, all things made sense. Without him, nothing did.

Loud splashing abruptly broke the gentle rhythm of the waves and Mireille was torn from her reminiscence by the unmistakable pounding of horse’s hooves as they slashed through the water. She turned quickly and almost stumbled as the horse and its rider pulled up along side of her, lurching sideways to avoid her.

"Damn! I almost rode over you!" the rider yelled, his voice full of concern and unconcealed annoyance. "Didn’t you hear me?"

Mireille’s surprise was instantly replaced with annoyance of her own. "Didn’t you see me?" she countered with equal emphasis, realizing only then that her dark shawl had effectively hidden her from view.

He stared at her for a second, then swung his leg over the horse’s neck and slid off its back, landing on both feet with a splash. In two long strides he was standing in front of her, facing her squarely in a confrontational posture, as if he was about to reprimand a misbehaving child.

He was barefooted, which surprised her. She couldn’t remember when she’d seen a man, except her husband, barefooted. His dark curls lay damp against his neck and face and his finely woven cotton shirt was loose and wet from the surf as well. It clung to him in a way that revealed his shoulders and chest, and his slender waist…. It was almost like being naked and she nearly laughed. He was so close, she could hear his breathing in spite of the sound of breaking waves. It was rapid from the sudden exertion and surprise, and, she supposed, from concern that he had nearly killed her.

His hands gripped her arms and she heard him saying, "Are you all right? What in the hell are you doin’ out here this time of night?"

The tone was accusatory, and she felt her irritation rising again. "I could ask you the same thing, sir!"

He dropped his hands, apparently satisfied that she was not injured, and slightly taken aback at her response. His expression softened into a smile, made all the more impressive by the neatly trimmed beard that accentuated it. "I guess I was enjoyin’ myself too much," he laughed gently, and a little nervously. "I didn’t imagine a night like this could be any more beautiful … but I think, perhaps, that I may have been mistaken."

"Oh my," she replied with all the coyness she could conjure up. "You’ve managed to excuse yourself very easily. Only a true gentleman would be so adept. But you have me at a disadvantage, sir, not to mention that this is hardly anyone’s notion of a proper introduction."

This time his smile widened, in pleasure as much as relief. She became suddenly aware that she had mimicked his drawl, maybe unconsciously, but probably to conceal her own nervousness and lack of composure. Her intonation, was unmistakably Charlestonian, however, and he had, no doubt, recognized its origin.

"You’re a long way from home, and alone, it appears. I’d be remiss in my duty if I allowed a lady to wander unescorted and unprotected so far from her own familiar surroundins’. May I at least offer you some humble transportation? That is, if you don’t mind sharin’ a ride…."

She looked at him in a way that most men would regard as a challenge and received a bright, engaging grin in return. "Why, how gallante," she said. "How could I decline such a magnanimous offer?" Good Lord! She was flirting with him! A complete stranger! Alone… on a beach… in the middle of the night! She could hear her Ma’m Jessey, along with every other female relative in the family, exclaim in exaggerated protest. Her mother would already have fainted.

She looked at him as he stood directly in front of her. He had not politely stepped back, nor retreated in any way. A soft breeze lifted a few wavy strands of his hair so that a halo of moonlight shone around the edge of his face, highlighting strongly drawn features and reflecting in his dark eyes. He smiled down knowingly, reflecting the challenge back at her. It was a look of confidence, control, and of daring anticipation. Mireille knew that look, though she had not seen it for a very long time.

He turned, picked up the reins from the ground, and bounded onto the horse’s back. It was a magnificent animal, a polished young thoroughbred issued from the finest bloodlines, full of fire and barely contained excitement. A horse bred to perfection and the ideal symbol of his noble heritage – just like his rider. Two stallions, she couldn’t help thinking, and perfectly matched.

He looked at her and held out his hand. She took it, remembering its strength at their first touch. Then he reached down her arm, grasped it just above the elbow, and with one powerful lift, swung her onto the horse behind him. Her arms instinctively encircled his waist and before she could adjust herself, he nudged their steed into a slow, rolling canter. With her arms around him she could feel the power rippling through him, the strength in his back and the tight muscles of his stomach flexing slightly as they moved in tandem, absorbing the sensual rhythm of the horse’s rocking gait.

Mireille had not forgotten what a man’s warmth felt like, but she had not entirely remembered either. The hurt of loss had forced her to abandon her needs and ignore her natural desires in favor of things like duty, responsibility, proper decorum … faceless, unemotional things that would fill her days and leave her empty and alone at night. She seldom slept for more than a short time before waking with tremors after some chilling nocturnal fright. And then she had to face another day of duties, responsibilities, and another night with the same nightmares that would not let her sleep. She had resolved never to care about a man again, not as she cared about her Druer when they gave themselves to each other, proclaiming their mutual passion and trust. Their love was the kind that every woman hopes for, but does not dare to expect. They were complete in each other, and when he was gone, it felt as if her soul was gone too. Their loving had been their fulfillment, and had transcended mere physical gratification. At their young age it had meant entry into the adult world, validation as a couple and as mature human beings. In it was acceptance, completion, and immense satisfaction. The luckiest of people have one great love in their lives, and Druer was hers. Was….

And now this elegant, arrogant, would-be "prince," as she imagined him, was here to entice her into a seductive duel, to slyly question her devotion, to tempt her with his rakish charm. If he too was an heir apparent, then he embodied everything that role demanded – intelligence, uncommon good looks, ruggedly sophistication – and he was probably as demanding of himself as he would be of others. But all that was on the surface. Beneath the refined exterior she perceived a leonine sensuality that was nothing if not fascinating. His body was not that of an Adonis, but it possessed a quality that exuded an irresistible aphrodisiac, a volatile masculinity that Mireille found absolutely hypnotic. He was dangerous, and he was hungry. And he was capable of satiating another’s appetite as well and fully as his own.

Mireille realized the horse had stopped and she looked around at a rocky cliff that surrounded them. It was a cluster of small monoliths that rose out of the sand in a mysterious configuration, somewhat like Stonehenge. She couldn’t remember seeing it before, but then, she had never wandered this far along the beach.

"I wanted you to see this," he said. "It’s one of my favorite places."

She could understand why. It was quiet, secluded, secret, and, she thought, somewhat unearthly. But he had chosen to share it with her, and in its austere serenity, it was really quite beautiful.

"I’ve climbed these rocks a hundred time," he mused, "and I always see something I never saw before. Morning begins here. It’s like standing on the edge of Heaven, watching the night melt into morning. I want you to see it with me. It’s … almost as if you could start your life over, if you wanted to…."

He slid off the horse onto a solid landing and reached out to help her down. He caught her as she slipped off the animal’s broad back into his waiting hands. They moved up her arms to her shoulders as she felt the surf sweep over the sand at their feet. She thought he was about to kiss her, but he stood still, looking beyond her, out to the sea and up at the canopy of stars above them. The water’s silvery surface reflected in his eyes, and for an instant he looked not like the young person that he was, but like an older man – distant, unreachable, and irreconcilably sad. It was surely a trick of the light, she was certain, but for a brief second, he looked as though he had tears in his eyes. She reached up and touched his face, and he smiled slowly as his gaze returned to her, silently complimenting her womanly form, her eyes, her face, her lips….

She was aware that his hands were still on her shoulders and that his eyes had drifted downward from her mouth to her breasts. They settled there and he smiled approvingly. She watched his eyes absorb her. They were shadowy and dark as he stood with his back to the moonlight. She felt a shiver pass through her as his fingers leisurely caressed her arms, then moved thoughtfully around the fullness of her breasts, lingering at the sensitive tips, awakening them despite the layer of cloth that covered and confined them. His hands were broad with long, angular fingers, squared off on the ends, and surprisingly soft. Had she anticipated that for some reason, or had she simply remembered Druer’s hands touching her in that way? Druer actually had a pet name for her breasts when, in the privacy of their boudoir, he beckoned her to him. "How are ‘the Girls’?" he would say. "Come closer so I can say hello to my girls." She would always laugh then and he would caress her lovingly, just that way….

The young man’s hands moved lower and he smiled again as he spanned her waist with outstretched fingers, silently admiring her slenderness. Her own hands seemed to be ignoring her initial hesitation as they reached for his arms, venturing up to his shoulders and down to the elbow, tracing along each sculpted curve. Wet from the sea spray, his cotton shirt molded to his form as if it were painted on. He was not overly muscular, but he was beautifully shaped, like a young lion seething with energy that strained to be released. Soft hands moved to her hips as if they were searching, exploring, asking … and then, with quiet strength, he reached behind her and pulled her close to him, nearly lifting her off the ground.

His dark eyes were suddenly illuminated by the moonlight and shone a translucent amber, as if a flame glowed from within them. What fire flared there, she could only imagine. Her arms were around his shoulders, her hands were stroking the back of his neck, combing through his hair, winding the dark curls around her fingers. He felt so warm, so solid in her hands. She wondered if she was asleep and he was merely an aberration of the passion she had denied, or if she was in some kind of trance without knowing it. But he was real. And, at least for the moment, he was hers.

Her clothing imprisoned her and she pulled at it, trying to free herself of the heavy, wet fabric, which felt stiff and plastered to her. Then she felt his hands glide over her body, and up under the limp skirts of her chemise and her linen overdress as he peeled them over her head, all in one smooth motion. His own clothes were off in seconds, with slightly less grace than hers, but with a certain practiced efficiency. He stood back, gathering in the sight of her, admiring her from a short distance, rather like a hungry man enjoys a quick glance of the meal he is about to consume.

She was suddenly self-conscious of her nakedness, and her vulnerability. She knew she was no great beauty. Her looks were adequate, no more really. Her body was still shapely, but she had no illusions about the whole effect, and it was with some effort that she held on to her last vestige of feminine vanity. She was also, well, not so young anymore, and here she was with a man younger than she – by several years. What was he thinking? He could have any woman he approached, and most likely had, up till now. He was more confident than she could ever dare to be. It wasn’t seemly for a lady. She was beginning to feel uncomfortable in this peculiar and most improper situation. And yet, here he was, a stranger, holding her face in his hands and telling her with his eyes and with his touch that she was … beautiful.

"Maybe you thought I was someone else," she ventured, hoping fervently that she was wrong.

"Why is that?" he drawled with mock curiosity.

She squirmed a little under his gaze. Surely she needn’t explain. He had to know what she meant. She wasn’t young enough, or pretty enough for him, and she knew it.

He lifted her chin and looked straight into her eyes. "If I may be so bold," he said in a tone that did not allow for dissent, "I think you are quite lovely." His hands were firm around her face, his eyes dark and intensely serious. "Remember that." His voice resonated deeply. "Promise me you will always remember that."

He leaned forward and kissed her cheek just as a breeze blew lightly through his hair and a wisp of it brushed across her face. He kissed her cheek again, slowly, and then his mouth moved toward hers. Suddenly, he stopped, leaned back and waited as if he was asking for permission to continue. It surprised her, pleased her, and she reached up to touch her lips to his. They were warm and soft, just as she knew they would be. She pressed gently at first, then more firmly, lingering, luxuriating in the aromatic flavor of cognac and good tobacco. She couldn’t resist the taste of him and drew her tongue along the edge of his teeth, pausing at one that stood out slightly before continuing over his upper lip and along the neatly trimmed edge of his moustache.

She nibbled on the corner of the silky bristles and traveled along the outline of his beard up to his ear. She felt him squinting, trying to suppress a laugh, a clear indication that he was ticklish there. She seized the advantage and drew her tongue along the outside of his ear, then teasingly around the inner contours. He wove his fingers into her hair and pulled on it slightly, retrieving control from her as he tipped her head back. He kissed her throat, her chin, then fully on her mouth, taking her lower lip between his teeth, subduing her and disarming her completely. His tongue traced around her lips and slipped between her teeth as her mouth opened wider to accommodate him. His breath had that familiar perfumed scent of sweet, after-dinner liquor – a scent she had almost forgotten, as intoxicating as the taste itself.

One of his hands reached around her waist while the other kept a grip on her hair from the back to hold her head at the angle he desired. Her own hands raked down his back till they reached his hips, and she pulled him closer so that an unmistakable hardness pressed against her belly. He was a good, healthy size, not huge, but in very nice proportion. "It’s quality, not quantity," she’d been told by close female friends, and both were more than adequately represented. Her hands floated smoothly over his backside and she rocked her hips in response to the pounding rhythm she felt radiating from his body into hers. All the while, his heart beat close to her own in syncopation as a rush of blurred sensations washed away the sounds of lapping waves.

His fingers continued their exploration slowly up and down her back, tickling the top of the crevice, and drawing feathery circles on her derriere. She didn’t need to look to know how anxious he was. She could feel him pressing against her. Her hand reached down to touch him, to feel the pressure that was building there, and she heard him sigh almost inaudibly as she took him in both hands. One hand closed around the pulsating shaft while her other reached further down, ever so gently, to the tender orbs that contained his manly essence. Her fingers carefully separated them, kneaded and stroked gently upward, and gathered them back in one hand.

Changing her focus, she squeezed lightly on his handsome erection, working toward the end to its hooded tip. Very sensitive, she remembered, and took care as she gingerly eased the foreskin downward, then back over the end. A little seminal fluid escaped and she used the lubricant to enhance her delicate massage.

His hands had moved back to her shoulders and he held on to her firmly, as if he needed her to keep his balance. Indeed, she felt a tremor move through his body as he stood with his eyes closed and lips parted as if to say something. Instead, however, he merely strengthened his grip on her shoulders and released another sigh, this time with a slight smile. His eyes stayed closed and his brows furrowed with a small crease between them. But his expression did not suggest pain, even though the thin, fragile skin of his "male member" stretched tight around the solid engorgement within. He swayed a bit, and abruptly opened his eyes as if awakened in the midst of a pleasant dream.

Suddenly, his arms were around her as he scooped her up off the ground, jubilantly swinging her into the air and laughing. Then somehow, his knees gave way and they both tumbled onto the wet sand at the water’s edge. He was on top of her, playfully trapping her in his arms and laughing as they went rolling into the cool, salty surf. The gentle waves splashed over them, washing away a small valley of sand underneath and spraying them with a briny mist before withdrawing into its silent depths.

Totally relaxed again, he rolled over on his back with his arms open and bent lazily at the elbows, his legs separated slightly and his feet turned outward. He resembled a sleeping child, but in the dim light, she caught the reflected glint of one eye, accented by an unconcealed smile. He was tempting her, daring her to take the next step, inviting her to take advantage of him. She looked down at his languid body … languid and ready to pounce.

He rose up suddenly, seized her arms and pulled her down on top of him, laughing as she feigned surprise. If the man took the initiative, she’d been told, it was acceptable. How odd, she thought, to be concerned with propriety at this moment. She was lying stark naked on a beach with a man she didn’t know, and as hungry for him as she could ever remember being. She leaned back and spread her fingers over his chest, poring over every inch of flesh she could reach. She craved his touch and her hands absorbed his warmth and feel. She ventured along his collarbone, down the center of his ribcage and over to the sides, rubbing her thumbs along the ridge where the ribs ended and his concave stomach dipped inward. Impulsively, she kissed him on his breastbone and let her tongue trail down to the navel. It was a neat little indentation, like a punctuation mark on his trim belly.

Ah, another sensitive spot, judging by a small twitch. Tempting, she thought briefly, but she would, no doubt, place a distant second in a tickling fight, and besides, it might be wise to save her energy….

His chest expanded and fell with each breath but his belly remained beautifully curved and hollowed below his ribs. His hipbones protruded slightly and just as his beard framed his face, another dark web framed his … "manhood." She and her best friend had giggled at their polite name for it, too shy to describe it further. Nothing, she mused, was ever so aptly named! He was manhood personified – just as her precious Druer had been. He was virile, beautiful … perfect.

Her hands moved along the outside of his thighs, then carefully back to their juncture, and to the fleshy stalk that throbbed with eager anticipation. The skin was taut and shiny, and it begged, wantonly, to be devoured. She leaned over him with a hand on each hip while her thumbs kneaded the tight groin muscles. His feet flexed a little and the muscles of his thighs tensed at her touch. Her fingertips stroked the fluid pouch between his legs, persuading him to allow her more access, and in response, one knee bent up and willingly opened outward.

She wrapped her fingers around him and felt the hardness again. Her thumb played along the ridge on the underside while her fingers explored the length of it, and as she massaged the fragile sack with the other hand, she felt the energy surge through his body. She’d always marveled at the force concentrated in two tender organs, that a pair of innocuous little nuggets could wield so much authority, and only through them could true masculinity be realized. She wondered at the paradox, and at the indefinable power she held in her hand.

Stretching in blissful torment, he dug the back of his head into the sand and his hands reached up for her. They found her shoulders and rested there for a few seconds. Then she felt them pressing, gently coaxing her downward, so her head was closer to his lower region…. He probably thought she was shy, or reluctant to proceed with what he was suggesting. If he did, he was wrong. She had indulged thus with Druer, early in their courtship, at his persuasive urging and with his careful instruction. It was satisfying for both of them, and more importantly, it preserved virginity, at least in a physical sense.

Her mother could hardly tolerate the suggestion of it; "Only a ‘scarlet woman’ would do such a thing!" she had admonished her daughter on the rare occasions when Mireille had dared broach the subject of intimacy between men and women. There were prescribed ways and methods to fulfill her wifely duty and those methods did not include the use of one’s mouth for anything other than kissing, and then, only in private. How could she even think of doing something like that? But what might be abhorrent to some was tantalizing to others. Her mother never answered her questions about men, choosing only to emphasize the responsibilities of marriage, as if it had nothing to do with love and physical desire. That didn’t matter. How is it possible to remain innocent and naive right up to your wedding night, and enter the bedchamber with the knowledge and experience of a "madame"? There was certainly no answer forthcoming to that question!

Maybe her unnamed lover thought she actually was a "madame." He couldn’t be blamed if that was the case. Were she to be judged by her current behavior, he wouldn’t be far wrong…. No. He didn’t think that.

As she knelt beside him she stroked between his legs, soothing him and lulling him further into contented submission. She leaned forward and kissed his inner thigh, running her tongue up to his knee, then slowly downward to the apex of his manhood. There, she pressed her lips to the darker wrinkled skin below the shaft, sucking one orb into her mouth, then the other. She could feel the tension building as he groaned with delight at her boldness, and at her willingness to please him. Her tongue followed the underside of the shaft up to the foreskin sheath slowly, drawing around it before taking the very end into her mouth. She eased the hood upward, and down again, circling inside it, then tenderly, with her teeth, massaged it, gently exposing the velvety flesh to an exquisite little bite. Her hand stroked his testicles as her tongue opened the small slit at the tip of the organ and continuing to encircle within the foreskin in a soothing, sensual motion. She tasted tangy salt, like that of the sea, but with a richer, earthy fragrance.

His hands twined in her hair as it draped over his hips, hiding her face and her actions from his view, and his fingers gripped large sections of it on each side of her head, as if to encourage her and coax her further. She reached up and laid one hand on his, quieting his reaction, and loosening his hold.

He relaxed his grip on her and lifted her chin up. "Did I tell you how lovely you are?" he said, almost inaudibly.

That word again, "lovely." What an elegant word. Druer would have used such a word in lieu of "beautiful" or "pretty." It meant so much more. It suggested the whole person, not just a face, or arms and legs, or…. She mustn’t think of Druer just now. Her lover was watching her, wanting her, as she quietly devoured him. She gazed at his full erection for a second, kissed it on the very end, and closed her mouth around it, taking in as much as she could. She could not reach to the base, but she could come close. She drew her lips around it and stroked the shaft with even pressure, relaxing her grip, then tightening it, all the time kneading the scrotal sack with controlled determination.

He dug his heels into the sand and turned his head to one side, held his breath for a moment and emitted a sigh of happy surrender. His capitulation was complete. He was helpless, totally vulnerable, and incredibly beautiful. Seminal fluid slickened the skin surface as her fingers moved easily up and down the throbbing shaft and over the distended pouch. She lifted it to press between the sensitive organs and traced further downward to the orifice below it. Ever so lightly, she drew a delicate circle around that opening, carefully, slowly, prepared to withdraw quickly if he protested. But there was no protest. She continued to draw, to press inward, probing slightly, waiting for his objection to her tender invasion. Instead, his hips rotated slightly, at first as if to escape her touch, but then unmistakably, to eagerly follow it.

With the sticky lubricant on her fingers, and with the same rhythmic movement she had employed previously, she probed deeper, carefully, gingerly, watching for his reaction. His hips moved with her, encouraging her to continue as he moaned his satisfaction. She felt the muscles contract around her fingers as she continued the internal massage, reaching ever deeper with each rounded motion. His body relaxed and tensed alternately and his breathing became heavier until he seemed to gulp the moist, salty air, hold his breath, then expel it in a rush of gratified release. He was close to climaxing and he knew it, but it was too soon. Not yet. Not just yet.

Abruptly, he raised up and grabbed her hand. "My turn," he announced, giving her no opportunity to object. "I wouldn’t want you to do all the work." He was grinning salaciously, and invitingly. With one arm around her, he shifted his weight forward and eased her down onto her back. Before she could utter a word he was lying halfway on top of her. He propped himself on one elbow so he wouldn’t smother her under him and caressed her throat.

"All the work, or all the fun?" she asked, trying to appear as casual as she could, trying to hide the fact that her heart was racing.

"Well, both, now that you mention it," he teased in return. His free hand was on her hip and glided over it, up to her waist, then back. He squeezed her thigh lightly on the outer side and spread his fingers as if measuring its circumference. Then quickly, his hand moved up and down her thigh in one full sweep, and slipped between her legs.

She was wet, and not from sea water.

"My, my," he crooned, "how flatterin’…."

She looked at him, pretending not to know his meaning.

"Well, a man likes to be reassured," he explained.

"You mean you still had doubts?" She couldn’t help laughing at his feigned uncertainty.

"La Donna e Mobile," he replied, alluding to a familiar aria, which she recognized along with its implied sentiment: "Woman is Fickle."

"I hope I haven’t shaken your confidence," she said, returning his smile.

"No, not in the least, I dare say! Somewhat to the contrary!" And with that, his fingers slid further into the warmth that was waiting for them.

His thumb deftly found the source of her sensations and moved leisurely around the spot. She thought she would faint at his first truly intimate touch, but her excitement sustained her strength and her legs moved apart with undisguised anticipation. His touch was as soft as she had ever experienced, and wonderfully unhurried. He would take his time with her. He would enjoy himself, and enjoy making her wait to offer him her unconditional surrender. He had, quite willingly, allowed her to "capture" him earlier. He had permitted her to take the lead briefly in their intimacy, all the while encouraging her to crave him, and now he was in total, indisputable control.

Mireille welcomed the luxurious torment. His fingers delved more deeply into her heated inner flesh, reaching a little further with each stroke while she leaned back on both elbows and closed her eyes in submission and ringing satisfaction. His free hand moved behind her back and pulled her closer to him. He kissed her throat, her shoulders, down to her breasts where he nibbled on the tips, sucking them into his mouth and pinching the sensitive flesh lightly between his teeth. The soft bristles of his moustache tickled her as it brushed over her skin and she shivered with excruciating pleasure. She could feel the tickle moving even further down her body, over her stomach, straight down with no sideways diversion this time, directly to her cleft. His tongue quickly located the small knot of tissue where all her senses were suddenly focused, and she shuddered with frenzied delight. The hand that had occupied the spot remained there, caressing just as it had until her body convulsed with heat and energy. His thumb continued its smooth manipulation as his fingers reached further down, probing tenderly as they advanced, and with one hand occupying both orifices, he clamped firmly around the bony arch of her nether region, rendering her helpless, like an animal caught in a spring trap. Helpless perhaps, but not entirely powerless….

He maneuvered to a position between her legs and she raised them up to rest on his shoulders. One hand was still behind her lower back, lifting her hips slightly as he feasted on her most sensitive, erogenous areas, devouring her hungrily, desperately. A blaze of sensations radiated through her body; feverish waves, vibrating chills, a feeling of dizzy, disconnected drifting through space with weightless effort. The seismic pounding in her head vanished, and the roar of the ocean merged with the exhilaration she felt at his touch. The joy of it was almost unbearable. It was velvety, electric, hot as flame and restless with desire. How could he know her so well, what she liked, and just the way she liked it? It didn’t matter. Happily, it seemed to be giving him equal pleasure.

Her body writhed with erotic sensation as his tongue continued its merciless pursuit. Her hands unconsciously reached for his shoulders to steady herself, and to encourage him with appreciative caresses. Her fingers entwined in his hair and she had to restrain her impulse to hang on to it too tightly. He seemed to sense that her climax was close and he withdrew his tongue and his hands, and leaned back on his heels to gaze at her as she lay before him, quivering with pleasure. Then both his hands moved to her hips, grasping them firmly and assuredly, and eased his body onto hers. His cock was amazingly hard as he drew it forward and back over the height of her pubic bone. Then he raised her hips and smoothly nudged the entire length of it into her. There was no fumbling, and no awkward wriggling for position. He simply glided forward to nestle comfortably inside her, accepting the warmth and longing she offered to him.

He moved with a languorous rhythm, back and forward, swaying to some imaginary music he heard, and moaned his pleasure at her response. With her hands spanning his back, she could feel the deep resonance of his voice murmuring something, but too faintly for her to hear his words. He had started slowly, leisurely, reassuringly, and his arms enveloped her with a strength she could only recall from distant memories. Gradually, his pace and intensity increased with the undulating strokes, rekindling and radiating energy from the fire he held within. Her excitement was echoed in his embrace as he crushed her lovingly in his arms, propelling her into ecstatic insensibility, almost beyond consciousness.

It was hard to breathe, not from the weight of his body on hers, but from the pure physical rapture that poured over her – the forceful drive of his thrust, the strength of his arms as they possessed her completely, his eyes, closed tight in some exquisitely painful wave of sensation, and his face, impossibly beautiful as it revealed the maddening joy of their bonding. Her body bolted with rolling shockwaves, and bucked like a pony as it raced to a blinding, deafening climax. His head bent backward as he released himself with explosive energy, uttering a short muted cry before he collapsed over her, speechless with relief and satisfaction.

Breathlessly, in the slowest of motions, he slid over to lie alongside her, barely summoning the strength to embrace her. He stroked her hair, smoothed it loosely back into place, and eased her body halfway over him like a soft blanket. Her head rested on his chest, over his heart, and she listened as its rapid beating slowly returned to a normal pace, calmly and peacefully echoing the steady, ancient rhythm of the ocean waves.

They lay silently together and his hand stroked her hair, just as she and Druer had lain so many times, bathed in contentment and safety, knowing their trust and their love had melded them together forever. Remembering him now, like this, made her unutterably sad, and yet, there was a mysterious, almost familiar feeling of contentment. She wondered at the strange, obscure resemblance of this man to her sweet Druer. They were so different, and yet oddly, almost disturbingly similar…. It was as if she had known him from the beginning of time, like no one else, ever. And now he knew her, too, … completely.

She could hardly bear to think of her husband the last time they had been together, the last time they had proclaimed and demonstrated their love for each other. She had known all along what his responsibilities demanded of him. His family, his forebears and a thousand years of tradition demanded that he and so many others join together to protect their way of life, so the last vestige of civility might survive the chaos of a warrior society that seemed bent on self-destruction.

They had quarreled about his determination to join his fellow officers, to leave her in favor of duty and love of country, to fight, and possibly die in a war that could only be lost. No matter what the outcome of the terrible conflict, and regardless of which side, North or South, would finally claim victory, the country would remain forever divided, devastated, and savagely torn apart in ways that would never allow it to become whole again. And all of for the sake of some archaic, antagonistic pride!

"I cannot tell you," Druer had said that last day, "that our decisions were born of loyalty or faith in some noble cause. They were spawned out of intolerance, spitefulness, hatred and unpardonable arrogance. But I must honor my responsibility to my family to protect them. And I must ensure that our lives together will honor their memory." He had held her close to him all night, soothing her, wiping away her tears and comforting her as best he could. "I do not fear death," he had said. "I fear that the best and the most courageous among us will perish, and all that they were … and all they could have been … will be lost. That the sons who would have honorably and proudly carried on our names will never be born, and that their mothers will cry for the children who never lived."

Lt. Colonel Druer had ridden away that morning, off to meet his regiment, to protect her and his family and all the other families that would send their sons away to fight. "I promise you," he said, "that no matter what happens, I will return to you somehow. I promise!" As he started up the long drive, he had turned to see her just one more time. His face was expressionless as they spoke a wordless goodbye, and with that he had galloped away, into the morning mist, toward a hellish haze of smoke and devastation, where blood flowed like an angry river through a tortured, mutilated landscape, where sacrifice was cruelly and savagely extracted, and where the suffering was unimaginable. All the brave young men, who were so eager to prove themselves in the glory of battle, had followed. Onward they had gone, willingly, anxiously, into the depravity of blind pride, into the insane, perverse, agonizing nightmare that was war.

And so her beautiful Druer, like so many others, the best and the finest of their generation, had ridden away, toward duty and honor and glory, beyond earthly oblivion … and into eternity.

If they had slept, she wasn’t aware of it, but the stars were vanishing and the sky’s dark beauty had already given way to a pale lavender dawn. My God! she thought quickly, they’ll be wondering where I am, maybe come looking for me – here! She knew if her absence had not already been noticed, it soon would be, and her hosts would waste no time flying into a panic. She must get back at once. She was in a small panic herself, worried that gossip would follow almost immediately if it became known that she’d spent the night outside the family home and its safe surroundings. Such an unacceptable occurrence would cause her family considerable embarrassment, not to mention their demands for an explanation she could not give them.

She scrambled into her clothes and saw that he had already reclaimed his trousers and shirt. Now she must say goodbye quickly, leave him, and try to imagine they had never met. How was that possible? Surely, he was expected somewhere as well.

He must have understood her expression, her pain at their imminent parting, and tenderly took her face in his hands, caressing her with his eyes as he brushed away a tear. "Remember what I told you," he said softly, and kissed her. Then he picked up the reins, just as he had done before, and bounded onto his horse’s sleek, broad back.

A breath of wind blew a soft wave of his hair across his forehead and back again. He gazed at her silently. His face was expressionless for a moment, then quietly softened into a smile. He nudged his horse backward for a few steps, stopped, and stood still in a silent farewell. Then he turned, and eased him into a slow canter. She watched as horse and rider continued up the beach with centaurian grace, moving effortlessly as they kicked up sand and splashed through the shallow surf. She watched the waves flow over their tracks, swallowing and erasing them, and calmly returning to the sea. As the first sunlight streaked through the sky, a warm breeze shifted toward her. It was the kind of morning she and Druer had watched and enjoyed, and with its first light, had begun their days, and their lives together. It was the same kind of morning the day he had left. Lt. Col. Jacques Francois Clemente Druer, her companion, her protector … her beloved Francois….

"Remember this morning," he had said. "Remember me, and the promise I made to you. Know that I am with you, that when you feel the soft breath of the wind, it is I, whispering your name, touching you, weaving my fingers through your hair. Remember me when the sea breeze brushes away your tears, and know that it is I, standing beside you, kissing your cheek, and caressing your lovely face."

THE END

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December, 2001


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