Marie woke as she felt cautious fingers wiping the tears from her cheeks. She could stifle the sobs and hide her shame at his rejection, but there was nothing she could do about the tears.

Galen was lying near her, still on top of the blankets, still wrapped in his own covering. Delicate light filtered in through the lone window. His face looked absolutely serious, and just a bit confused. “Marie, why are you crying?”

She reminded herself that he was from a time centuries before. He didn’t know her story. He didn’t know her shame. “I’m just remembering the early years of my marriage. How I lay in my husband’s bed, night after night, still a virgin after eight years of marriage.”

“Eight years?” His tone was incredulous, and she couldn’t blame him. “Why? Was that the custom?”

Marie shook her head. “No, no. Quite the opposite. Every day, the maids and various courtiers would check the sheets for signs of blood, signs that I had been “deflowered,” but years passed, and… nothing.”

“But why? You did eventually have children…”

Marie nodded. “Eventually, yes.” She took a deep breath, trying to figure out how best to explain. “My husband was a younger son. He was not raised to rule. When his father and older brothers died and he became the heir… it was overwhelming. Suddenly everyone expected everything from him.” She lost herself for a moment, thinking about how their lives were both the same and yet different. “He always tried to please them all. But of course, that’s impossible. Many people did not like the idea of him marrying an Austrian princess. As long as our marriage remained unconsummated, he could have easily gotten rid of me.”

Galen did not look shocked, but his furrowed brow definitely showed disapproval. “Get rid of his wife? What kind of a man was he?”

Marie wanted to reach out and touch Galen’s face, reassure her that it was simply the way things were done, but she was afraid even that simple touch would be too much for her to bear. “Louis was a gentle man. And unfortunately… weak. He did eventually consummate our marriage, and I produced an heir to the throne.”

“And then all hell broke loose.”

“Yes. Then all hell broke loose.”

She watched the gears turning over in his mind. She loved watching him. He had a keen intellect, and often saw through problems that those residents from more… technologically advanced ages couldn’t figure out. He had a way of simplifying things.

“Sophie died. That is why she is here with you.”

Marie nodded. She didn’t like to think about it, she was only glad to have her.

“And here… you know your husband is gone… so you are free to take lovers.”

Marie was torn between feeling insulted and giggling at his obvious discomfort with the idea. She peered into his eyes, trying to figure out the source of his discomfort.

She saw jealousy.

Galen… is jealous… of… of Phillip? Of one brief indiscretion in a moment of weakness and desperation?

She thought back to the night of the ball, how Galen had seen her with the man from The Castle. He hadn’t shown an iota of emotion then.

Then again, he seldom does. Only with the babies does he let his guard down.

“My Louis loved me, but it wasn’t a passionate love. He cared dearly for me and our children, and he wanted me to be happy. After I had produced an heir to the throne, I did have lovers. Louis knew. I think he might have been a little jealous, but only because he knew they were giving me something he himself could not. He staunchly defended me from my critics, even when the things those critics were saying were completely true.”

“You do not believe in the sanctity of marriage?”

Marie fell back against the pillow, exasperated, but patient. Galen had absolutely no idea of just how decadent was the French court before the Revolution.

“I wish with all my heart that my marriage could have been… different. But it was what it was. A political alliance. An affectionate union.” She paused, looking at his face and hoping for some hint of what was behind the facade. At least he was listening… really listening. That was a rare thing to find in a man, in her experience. “I spent my life being jealous of my friends with real marriages. Even those whose unions were politically arranged, like mine, sometimes found love.”

Wheels were turning in Galen’s head, and it drove her mad that she couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

When he spoke again, his voice was so soft, she almost couldn’t hear. “What do you want, Marie? More lovers?”

She curled into herself. She wanted to be held, but knew that was too much to ask of him. “I’ve never been adept at making a good man love me. Lovers… lovers are much easier to come by.” She looked at her own hands, just to have an excuse not to look at him. “Perhaps lovers is all I will ever have.”

She closed her eyes, wishing that the tears would not come, but knowing she was powerless to stop them. When she felt his lips pressed to her forehead, she told herself it was only his way of comforting her, that it meant nothing.

When the blankets shifted, and he joined her in the bed, all sense of reason vanished. He brushed her hair away from her face and she opened her eyes. The face that was usually hard and unreadable had softened. He wasn’t quite smiling, but there was something in his eyes that wouldn’t let her look away.

“I don’t want to be just your lover, Marie.”

His hand snaked behind her head and his lips met hers. He bent to her instead of pulling her to him, and he kissed her softly. One slow, gentle kiss was followed by another, and her hands drifted over his shoulders and through his hair. She couldn’t think straight, but she knew instinctively that both her body and her heart were safe with this man.

She leaned her head back and he brushed kisses over her throat, patient and loving all the while. His hands pushed away the last of the blanket she’d been wrapped in, and he slowly began to explore her skin.

A jolt of pleasure shot through her as his mouth found her breast. She writhed, first curling towards him and then stretching to give him better access. Skin on skin, he paid tribute to every inch of her body, stroking her arms, kissing her belly, and caressing her soft curves.

Marie explored him as well. Galen had the body of a gladiator, a man used to frequent combat. His arms felt like steel under her small fingers. She pushed away from him just enough to allow her hands to seek lower. She found his erection waiting for her, and she smiled when he gasped at the feel of her fingers. She watched his face as she stroked him. She discovered he especially liked it when she ran her fingers along the prominent vein, and he tensed when she cupped his sack. He didn’t seem to realize he was slowly rolling onto his back, and she took advantage of his distraction. She straddled him, pressing his cock against his stomach as she covered it with her own folds. She stroked his chest, enjoying the sensations his erection was giving her before she even took him inside.

Marie stretched down to kiss him. It was a more heated, voracious kiss than the tender affection they’d begun, and she felt his erection spring skyward. Galen reached one hand down to hold himself in place as she sank onto him, enfolding him completely. She wobbled slightly, and he grasped her hands in his, intertwining their fingers. He held his arms steady, and she used him to adjust herself, taking a few strokes at a time to find what new sensations she could experience. His hips moved beneath her, undulating as she writhed.

She released his hands and braced herself with her hands on his chest. Galen leaned up slightly, shifting his weight to his elbows. Marie found his shoulders and Galen raised his hips, methodically stroking into her as she held onto him. She found herself falling up, climaxing before she even realized she was close. She collapsed against him and he enfolded her into his arms, somehow stroking and petting her without ever letting her go.

Marie melted into him, unaware of anything but his masculine form protecting and encircling her as well as penetrating and impaling. Soon, his hips started to move again, and she realized she was under him. He kissed her again, tenderly, and her legs wrapped around him instinctively. The bed became a cloud, and he was her sky. She was lost in the sensations of making love, of finding love that had been denied too long.

In the distance, she heard someone knocking, and she wondered who had found them. But she realized it was only the headboard banging against the wall as Galen pounded her into the mattress. She exploded again, becoming stars in his sky as the rapture encompassed her. She clung to him as he shuddered into her, moaning loudly with his release.

And she fell asleep as he gazed down at her, entwined in a way that promised he would never let her go.

What Would Have Been

What Would Have Been is a short story (or novella… who knows?) that I am publishing one chapter at a time… as I write it. It’s a fun exercise for me, and hopefully a bit of entertaining reading for you!

This story is dedicated to the Janes. The real ones and the fictional, the ones who survived, and the ones who didn’t. For all of you.

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