Master Of Paradise

Master Of Paradise

 

by

 

Virginia Henley

 

 

First published November, 2011

 

Copyright © Virginia Henley

Cover Copyright 2011 © Marsha Canham

 

 

This book is an original work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical without permission in writing from Virginia Henley.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

He had waited so long, four years to be exact, but now the waiting was no more. He reached across the bed and gathered her close against his powerful body. She came eagerly. The privacy of the big bed formed a delicious cocoon about them, shutting out the world and everyone in it, save this pair who were about to make love.

He slipped the thin gown off her shoulders and down her body, his mouth following its descent until he tasted the luscious breasts, all velvet cream and rosy pink in their swelling perfection. Her silken thighs opened willingly to his hands as they explored the secret valley, and his shaft throbbed with the pent-up torture of the long denial.

She was trembling beneath him. Small incoherent cries filled his ears and his nostrils flared with the intoxicating scent of her. She reached her mouth up to his in a slow, soft kiss that began with a rich warmth, then rapidly changed to a burning, fiery blaze that threatened to consume them in its intensity. Poised above her, his hands shook as they caressed the soft curves, now quivering with anticipation that matched the passion he felt. His voice was hoarse with his desire as he whispered love words against her ear. He could wait no longer; if he did, he would die with agony.

Suddenly he felt a shimmering, dissolving, as she moved away from him, out of his reach.

"No!" he cried sharply. His vision was clouded by a dark veil, then it brightened to a red mist. The mist thinned and separated and he shot up from the pillows, fully awake, as the dream dissolved and evaporated like mist on a summer morn.

He took a great gulp of air and tore the clinging bed sheet from his naked torso. As the morning air cooled the powerful throbbing of his body, he stretched his arms beneath his head and let out a long, slow breath. He gazed up at the ceiling where the morning light sketched a pattern of dappled sunshine and realized that this was his wedding day.

As every bridegroom since the beginning of time, he experienced one moment of doubt. He crushed it instantly. He was doing the right thing. He had made the right choice. He would be master of his own fate unless the Gods were laughing at him; playing with him. This day would culminate a four-year period that had changed his world, his life totally. When had it begun? When had the Fates stepped in to alter the course of his life? Four years were swept aside like four seconds, as his mind winged back to that blazing October afternoon in 1856...

 

Among the men laboring beneath the weight of the massive masonry stones, one back stood out from the rest. It was browner, broader, and stronger; it was also naked. The muscles and sinews, under the weight of the massive stones, stood out in bold, bulging beauty. The rest of the magnificent body matched the back in its physical perfection. The corded column of the neck flowed smoothly into wide shoulders. The rippling muscles of the chest were covered by a dark mat of curling hair. A single dark line of hair ran down, straight as an arrow, to his navel, and even beyond when his breeches did not cover him, across his belly and into that other thick mass of black curls that covered his groin.

His six-foot frame was hard, his ribs lean and his whole body glowed with a healthy bronze tan, covered at the moment with a fine film of sweat that made him glisten. Nicholas Peacock gloried in physical exertion, especially with the warm sun playing over his muscles.

"Christ lad, give us a minute t' catch our breath," the head gardener complained, over-familiar with Lord Peacock's firstborn. "Rome wasn't built in a day, ye know!" He watched Nick's face to see if he appreciated this fine piece of wit. Lord Peacock had a passion for his gardens, and his latest fancy was an 'authentic Italian ruin' to set off to perfection some valuable marble statuary he had just imported.

Startling white teeth flashed in the tanned face as Nicholas's ready smile appeared and he said in his usual, amused way, "Sorry Ned, I got carried away. I wanted to get it finished to surprise Father."

The head gardener winked at his underlings, who included three stablehands and two under-gardeners, "Well Master Nick, I expect it's because y'er better fed at the big 'ouse. Ye can't do much heavy haulin' off bread an' water."

Nick threw back his head and laughed until the cords in his neck stood out. He had an easy-going nature and loved nothing better than a good laugh. "By Christ, Ned, I don't know how you have the bare-faced effrontery to utter such cock and bullshit. I saw you with my own eyes shoot one of my father's bucks only two days past."

Ned shot a guilty look from beneath his shaggy brows over at Nick's sixteen-year-old brother to see if he had overheard their conversation. The boy sat patiently under a tree, waiting for Nicholas to finish his labors.

Nick grinned and slapped Ned's shoulder. "Philip's all right. He won't say anything, and beside you old devil, don't think for one moment you're putting anything over on Father. I learned years ago that's an impossibility." The amused curve of his mouth lessened as he said seriously, "Watch out for the head gamekeeper though. He's so keen, he acts as if he owns our deer park, all thousand acres of it."

Peacock Hall was a battlemented Elizabethan manor house with superb views over the deer park and the Weald of Kent, which now boasted an Italian garden, a rose garden, maze and topiary. It housed over a million pounds worth of art treasures, including paintings by Canaletto, Verrio, and Rubens. Peacock Hall was the showpiece of the county, reflecting the pride and joy and love that were lavished upon it.

Unaided, Nicholas lifted the last massive stone into place. His long, brown fingers almost caressed the rough surface, admiring the natural beauty of its color and texture, then he stood back to admire his handiwork and survey the garden as a whole. Satisfied with the afternoon's efforts, he praised the men and, unheeding, dusted his hands on his breeches, sending a sharp pang of envy through his younger brother.

Philip did not dare mess up his clothes. His mother, Lady Pamela, expected him to be a young gentleman under all circumstances, and no other behavior was acceptable. Ever!

Nick's lucky his mother is dead,
thought Philip, then flushed a vivid pink with the guilt and shame of his wicked thought.

Nicholas picked up his shirt and bade the men knock off their labors for the day. When he moved off, out of earshot, Ned shook his head and said, "Ye can't help but like him. He never puts on airs, in spite of bein' brought up in the spoiled ways of the gentry. He's always laughing as if summat amuses him that the rest of us don't know about. Still, I shouldn't like to cross him. He's the image of Lord Peacock and we all know he's got the Devil's own temper."

Nicholas headed for the lake on the other side of the topiary. Good-naturedly, he slowed his steps to allow Philip to catch up with him.

"You don't mind my following you, do you Nicko?"

The white teeth flashed. "To the lake, no. But I'll give you a damned good thrashing if you follow me again when I go to visit Tess."

Philip flushed uncontrollably as he recalled what he'd seen yesterday through the window of the cottage where the coachman's pretty daughter lived.

Nicholas stripped quickly, waded up to his waist, cut cleanly through the water for about a hundred yards, then turned and swam back. The contrast between the two brothers was marked. Nick's powerful torso was so physically mature, a stranger seeing them might have thought them father and son. He was Philip's senior by five years, yet he looked and felt at least ten years older than the immature youthfulness of Philip.

"Nicko, did you speak to Father yet about teaching me to shoot?" Philip called.

Nick smiled his apology. "Sorry old man, I forgot. But I promise to speak to him tonight. It's bloody shameful the way he neglects your education. I've been allowed a gun since I learned to walk! Aren't you coming in?" invited Nicholas.

The boy looked wistfully at the water, "Mother would have a fit if she found out I'd been in the lake."

"Strip off your underdrawers so you don't get any of your clothes wet, and she'll never know," encouraged Nick, wondering what it was like to fear a parent.

"My hair... " Philip said lamely.

"You can use my shirt to dry your hair," Nick said, wiping away the last objection.
God, doesn't the boy know how to deceive a woman yet?

Nicholas tried not to stare too openly at his young brother as he slipped off his clothes, but what he saw stabbed him with a momentary pity.
Lord God, how underdeveloped Philip is. He's still riding a pony instead of being given a stallion to control. There's nothing better for developing strong thigh muscles than a plunging, unruly piece of horseflesh between your legs.

"I'll speak to Father about mounting you better, too. 'Tis ridiculous that you only have a pony." He noticed the boy was growing, but only taller and thinner. He did not have an ounce of muscle upon his whole, pale body. He was handsome enough, almost too pretty for a boy, almost angelic. Nick smiled to himself as he saw their twin reflections in the water.
The angel and the devil. We make unlikely brothers.

"Thanks Nicko. It's mother you know. She wants to keep me a baby forever," he said with sullen resentment.

Nicholas's ready smile softened. "Lady Pamela is so gentle and quiet, you must try to understand the very real and natural fears a mother suffers. Don't be too resentful Philip; a mother's love isn't something to scoff at."

It was Philip's turn to feel a twinge of pity for the brother who had never known a mother, yet try as he might, he could not summon pity for Nicholas. He was a true man, full grown, who exuded confidence and courage and seemed to need no one. He laughed at life and had no fear in him for any man. A true measure of his courage was that he wasn't afraid of their father, Lord Peacock, while Philip was rendered to a trembling mass of jelly by the stern man, and often thought he might faint from fear while receiving the whiplash of his cutting tongue.

"If you swam to the island and back every day it would develop your chest and arm muscles." God but the boy was slight as a girl.
I realize he's only sixteen, but even at that age I was developed. I had my first sexual encounter at fourteen,
he remembered wryly, recalling an arousing picture of the girl he had laid.

Philip set out for the island and Nick schooled himself to slow down and pace him. His brother's arms thrashed wildly in his effort to go the distance, and Nick realized if he kept it up, he wasn't going to make it.

"If you slow down a bit, Phil, and take longer strokes, you'll have more breath and the momentum will carry you along. That's it," he encouraged, "a clean stroke uses less energy." He could tell that Philip had gained in confidence by the time he swam back from the island. Nicholas splashed him playfully, then allowed himself to be ducked twice. They scrambled from the lake, laughing like young boys and Nicholas rubbed his brother's pale golden hair until it was completely dry, then pulled on the damp shirt, and they started off for the Hall. Nick left Philip on the driveway. "We won't go in together, then she won't be angry at you for keeping such disreputable company."

"She never tells me to keep away from you, Nick."

The ready smile flashed. "That's because she's too well-bred, but nevertheless we both know she doesn't quite approve of me," he said, amused.

 

The family dined formally at seven each evening. No matter what pursuits each member followed during the day, this was the one tradition they kept without exception. The dining room was formal with a superb eight-foot Queen Anne dining table with plate-glass top. The matching chairs with graceful legs had tapestry-covered seats depicting an abundance of fruits that were also carved into the arms and legs of the chairs and side tables. The deeply polished mahogany pieces were set off beautifully by a golden Aubusson carpet and a magnificent chandelier, from which hung long, crystal prisms.

Most usually they had dinner guests. Peacock Hall was famed for its hospitality and the fair hostess who presided at the Peacock table was unsurpassed in cool beauty, quiet charm, and flawless graciousness. As was her wont, she was there first to greet everyone, even though tonight they dined
en famille.

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