“I love you,” I groaned when the kiss broke. Clara’s eyes stayed trained on mine, and as I felt the first spasm of pleasure grip my cock, I saw sadness wash over her. We rode out our climax together, but I refused to relinquish her when the waves subsided. She pulled against my hold and I loosened my grip, but only enough to allow her to draw back. She slapped me with a force that vibrated across my cheek.
Shoving me to the mattress, she extricated her body from mine and backed away. “Don’t ever touch me again.”
“Clara.” I sat up, alarmed. Every ounce of me wanted to go to her and hold her while she raged and sobbed. Whatever it would take, I would give—just as she’d given me my darkest fantasy. But I stayed still. Right now the best thing I could do was listen and hear what she was saying. “Clara, I—”
“Don’t bother,” she advised me, her voice rich with warning. “I asked for it, didn’t I? So that made it okay?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but she held up a hand.
If there was ever any question that she was a queen, that command laid it to rest. She lorded over me, too far to touch as I got to my feet. I hesitated and turned to her, but she looked past me as if she couldn’t see me. Or perhaps, and the thought left a sick dread in its wake, as if she didn’t want to.
I bent and collected my pants from the floor. Sliding them on, I tried to buy myself more time with her. Maybe the more willing I was to meet her demands, the sooner she would unleash the full force of her fury. I didn’t look forward to that, but facing the storm would be better than remaining in purgatory. When I slid the buckle of my belt into place, she was still pointing at the door. I guessed I had my answer. I collected my shirt and left the room, shutting the door behind me. A few moments later I heard the lock click in place.
“Good job,” I told myself. I couldn’t help but feel torn. Had I really expected a different outcome? My eyes clenched shut and before I realized what I was doing, my fist slammed into the wall. The ancient plaster cracked but didn’t give way.
Why had she let me touch her if she was that angry? She had every opportunity to use her safe word. Instead she had asked me to touch her. I didn’t know what it meant but my heart sank into my stomach.
Penny, the nursemaid, came around the corner and stopped dead in her tracks. She gawked at my half-clothed body and I felt my anger rise to the surface.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be,” I barked.
The poor girl jumped a little, then scurried away. I could only imagine the rumors that would be circulating amongst the staff in a matter of hours. Wadding my shirt in my hands, I stalked back to the bottle of bourbon I’d left behind.
After an hour, I checked our bedroom door and found it unlocked. I peeked behind it, but the room was empty. The only sign of occupancy were the wrinkles we’d left behind on the damask bed spread. The fireplace was unlit and that fact, combined with Clara’s absence from our bedroom, left the space cold and lifeless. If my wife wasn’t enjoying the few hours of sleep she could expect before Elizabeth woke us in the night, then she was fuming. I didn’t dare think of it as sulking or pouting. She had a right to her anger. What I’d done was inexcusable, even by my standards and since I had no plans to apologize, I knew I shouldn’t expect a reprieve. We might find ourselves well into the new year before she forgave me.
Abandoning the empty bedroom, I sought her in the only other place she ever frequented in the short time we had lived here. I’d made certain that the Queen’s Sitting Room was updated for her use as soon as I learned that we must move. My grandmother had been the last person to use the parlour regularly and I knew Clara would appreciate neither her decorating or feeling as if she was under the former Queen Mother’s thumb. Grandmother had removed herself to Sandringham shortly after the coronation, so none of us would have to keep up the pretenses of civility.
I’d asked the staff to make the room feel light and airy, wanting to give Clara a place that felt entirely different than the rest of our palatial home. It was impossible to cover up the gilded carvings around the room, but they’d been minimized by sheer curtains that allowed sunlight to stream into the room. Now at night ribbons of moonlight slanted across the furniture inside. Clara was tucked into a ball on one, staring out the window into the starless night. I cleared my throat to warn her of my entrance, but she didn’t bother to look to me.
“Poppet,” I tested the waters with my pet name. Still no response. I debated my options. If I continued to call out to her, it was likely she would continue to ignore me. If I went to her, I could expect a physical response. She’d never had control over her body in my presence. However, given what I’d put her through, it felt wrong to rely on such provocation.
“Are you going to stand there and muse all night?” she said softly, her eyes directed away from me.
The fact that she was talking to me seemed a good sign, but I didn’t miss how she kept her body turned from me. It was a message. I crossed an important boundary. Throughout our relationship, I had been the one to insist on precautions to protect her from my unpredictable nature. What was worse that I had disregarded my own rules or that I didn’t feel sorry for them?
“Clara, I…” I trailed away, unsure what I should say.
“Don’t apologize,” she demanded.
“I wasn’t going to,” I told her softly. Despite her command, she turned a furious gaze on me. It wouldn’t be the first time a woman said one thing when she felt entirely the opposite. I’m not certain what it said about the male sex that it still surprised us.
“You should!” she exploded, wrapping her arms tightly around her knees and clutching them to her body.
“You’re giving me mixed signals, poppet.” It was the wrong thing to say. I knew the moment it left my mouth, and now I would suffer the consequences of two verbal slip-ups.
“I am?” she asked in disbelief, her blue eyes flashing darkly. “I’m giving you mixed signals. Well, Your Majesty, you have a convenient habit of choosing which of your own rules you want to follow.”
“I deserve that.” But the admission wasn’t going to appease her.
“For example, you were the one who insisted that we have a safe word,” she continued, “but you have to be in the same goddamn room to know if I’m going to use it.”