A Devil's Touch

By: Victoria Vane

A Devilish Vignette

Are Sun, Moon, or Stars by law forbidden

To smile where they list, or lend away their light?

Are birds divorced, or are they chidden

If they leave their mate, or lie abroad a-night?

Beasts do no jointures lose

Though they new lovers choose,

But we are made worse than those.

Confined Love by John Donne

Chapter One

Medford Abbey, a stately home in Kent - February 10, 1784

Enfolded in a snug cocoon of silken bedcoverings, Diana slowly opened her eyes…to discover herself alone. She anxiously scanned the room, finding the only proof that Ludovic had ever joined her in bed was the indentation of his head on the pillow beside her. This evidence—that he had come and gone again without even waking her—incited an anxious pang deep within her chest.

With the exception of the two agonizing months they had spent apart immediately before their marriage, ne're a day had passed without Diana waking up to Ludovic's big warm hands caressing her body, his bristled jaw nuzzling her neck, and his eager cock nestling between her thighs. Since they had first run away together eighteen months before, they had greeted each and every new day thusly—with a lazy and languorous bout of lovemaking. It was a ritual she had readily adopted, but now for the eighth consecutive day, she awoke to find him already risen from their shared bed. He was once more gone without a word—a circumstance that made her bleary eyes burn.

They were barely three months into a marriage that had begun on rather shaky ground. Was it possible that for him, the novelty of it had already worn off? This had always been Diana's greatest fear, for Ludovic was a man with a voracious sensual appetite, one he had honed with years of endless variety and constant, unrestrained indulgence. Diana, on the contrary, had known only one true lover—this same perplexing man who was now her husband—the one who had made her heavy with his child…and now left her alone in a cold bed.

Fighting back tears, Diana tossed aside the bedcovers and heaved herself up, wondering if the changes in her body— the enlarged blue-veined breasts and a belly far too protuberant to hide—had put him off at last. Now that she considered it, he had seemed unusually preoccupied of late and uncharacteristically restless…even edgy.

Although Ludovic had seemed perfectly willing to retire with her to the country for her confinement, now she worried he had already wearied of domesticity, or worse, if he was simply bored…with her. Maybe he had come to regret married life? The more she thought about it, the more distressed she became. The soft rap upon her bedchamber door interrupted her disturbing ruminations.

"Come in," Diana said in a husky voice, her pulse racing in hope it might be him. But the door opened to her maid instead, and her heart sank.

"Good morning, my lady." The girl bobbed. "I trust you had a restful night?"

"Yes. Thank you, Sally." Diana pasted a cheerful smile on her face. "Perchance is his lordship about?"

"I don't rightly know, my lady." Sally drew open the heavy drapes to reveal a morning far more advanced than Diana had expected. "I saw him go to breakfast, but that was nigh on three hours ago."

"Is it truly so late?" Diana asked.

"Nearly eleven, my lady. I asked his lordship if I should wake you for breakfast with him, but he insisted that you not be disturbed. Right solicitous is my lord." The maid grinned. "Would you care for chocolate or tea, my lady?"

"Neither, Sally. I would much prefer to bathe and dress. Do you think you could find any of my better gowns that still fit? If not, I'll have to send for the sempstress again. I may be breeding, but I refuse to be a dowd."

"I'm sure we can find something."

"And my hair, Sally." Diana fingered her long braid. Even if she did feel less than herself of late, she was determined not to let her appearance give that away. "I've been lax of late in wearing it loosely dressed. I shan't wear a cap today. Could you please put it up?"

The girl smiled. "Of course, madam."

Diana told herself she was just being fanciful, that any number of things could be occupying her husband's mind. Perhaps even concern for the impending birth? After all, it was only weeks away and their close friend Edward had lost dear Annalee in childbirth. Although Diana had her own fears in that regard, she refused to dwell on what was well beyond her control. Her marriage, however, was another matter altogether.

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