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We return to our story with Guy and Lizzie making plans for the future as their special day together winds down. There is plenty of preparation that must be made . . . and some interesting developments are on the horizon.
This chapter rated PG-13 for a scene of a sexual nature. All rights reserved; thank you, Leigh for your continued help.

The Lady & the Panther
~Chapter 18~


“A new beginning for us, Guy. A new life together.”

We were once more sitting on pillows in front of the fire in the borrowed townhouse. I was snuggled between Guy’s long legs, my arms loosely wrapped around my knees. As I leaned back against his broad chest, I thought of how comfortable I felt.

~As if this is just where I belonged all the while~

We watched the flames and talked of our plans for the future.

Plans to leave England and our old lives behind, to take new identities and with them new lives. Plans for the Panther to pull off one more daring escapade—his greatest yet--before his retirement.

“If only I did not have to return to Dillingham House. To Horace,” I said. I rested my head against Guy’s silk-clad shoulder and gave a regretful sigh.

His hands lightly caressed the curve of my hips through the bed sheet--my makeshift dressing gown—as he spoke in a honeyed rumble.

“I know. I wish you would never have to spend another night under the same roof as his lordship.” Guy trailed soft kisses along my shoulder.
“I would love to sweep you off your feet one dark night, Lizzie, and simply race away astride Rogue. Leave Horace and Barkley and—our old lives behind.”

He expelled a breath.

“However, that would not be a wise course to take, Ma Cherie.”


Watching the tongues of the flames dance before us, I smiled at Guy’s words.

“Do you know, I dreamt of something very much like that. I was on some road, alone and in the dark—and you and Rogue appeared. And took me away with you.”

I laughed softly as I hugged my knees.

“I was hanging on to Rogue’s mane for dear life and I had never before felt such exhilaration.”

“Have you dreamt of me often, Lizzie?” His hand moved up to capture a ringlet of my hair and lazily wind it around one of his fingers.

I slowly nodded.

“Yes, Guy, I have. Some very—interesting dreams.”

“These dreams. Have they been of--an intimate nature?” His voice was a teasing, husky whisper.

“Why ever would you think that?”

He pressed another kiss to my shoulder as he nuzzled my neck.

“Perhaps—because my dreams of you are. Intimate. Passionate. Wild, and yet—so oddly reassuring, Mon Ange.”

I entwined the fingers of one hand with Guy’s as I reached back and stroked his jaw with the other.

“It is the same for me, Guy. Do you know, I once dreamt of you as a little cat that appeared in a meadow--”

“A LITTLE cat?” He interjected with a growl as he made a move to nip at my ear.

“Wait, Monsieur.” I spoke in a reproving tone.

“Allow me to finish. A little cat that changed into a powerful panther standing over me—yet I was not afraid. I welcomed the panther as he licked me with his big, rough tongue and grazed me with the talons of his paws . . .”

“And what happened after that?” Guy breathed, his hand stealing up to cup my breast through the sheet. I smiled.

“The panther turned into a tall and beautiful man, a man like some--glorious heavenly creature, who made passionate love to me in the meadow. It was wild and yet--I knew I was quite safe.”

“A heavenly creature, you say? Interesting . . . what a fortunate woman you are, Mon Ange.”

I laughed and squeezed his hand. “I should never have mentioned such. You are quite vain enough, my darling.”

He pressed a kiss to the top of my head, his voice huskier than usual.

“Perhaps. But honeyed words mean more when spoken by the woman you love. Who loves you in return.”

The wistfulness in his words tugged at my heart.

~He has had lovers, many of them. But has he had enough love? Have either of us?~

“Oh, Guy.” I turned so that I faced him completely and cupped his jaw in my hands, looking intently into those fathomless blue eyes.

“I do love you so very, very much. In the very beginning, I suppose it was the excitement, the thrill, the sense of danger. And now, yes, my glorious, heavenly Guy--”

Guy raised a brow and smirked as I paused, a smile tugging at my own lips. “Yes, I feel a strange sense of security with you. Safety and—freedom. Even in my present circumstances with Horace.”

Guy took one of my hands and pressed it to his mouth for an ardent kiss, giving me one of those dark angelic smiles I found hard to resist.

“I believe I understand you very well, my Lizzie. I have shared more of what is in my heart with you than I have with anyone in—well, a very long time.

“It seems I can be myself with you. The wild part of me--and the part of me I have kept hidden from most people. I do believe my secrets are safe with you.”

I smiled, pleased to hear him speak of his trust in me. “And mine are safe with you, Guy.” I leaned in to press a soft kiss to his cheek and laid my head on his shoulder as he stroked my hair.

“Guy—do you think you will miss it a great deal? Being a highwayman, I mean. You will not feel as if you have had your wings clipped, will you, living an, an—ordinary life?”

Expelling a deep breath, Guy spoke, his voice faintly mocking.

“Will I miss constantly looking over my shoulder, trying to stay one step ahead of the thief-takers and hangmen? Trying to remember which name and history I am using that day? Wondering just whom I can trust? Wondering who would betray me for his own ends? Look at me, Lizzie.”


I lifted my head. The expression in his eyes was a sober one even as Guy’s mouth twisted into a wry smile.

“No, sweet Lizzie. Whilst it has its pleasures, it is not an occupation that gives one expectations of a long life. I have been clever and careful. But I am not fool enough to think my good fortune will last forever. Too many others like me have not died peacefully of old age in their own beds.”


He took my hands and clutched them tightly in his own, the earnest tone of his words reflected in his beautiful eyes.

“I believe an ordinary life t’would suit me just fine. If I can live it with you.”

“You know I long for that very thing, Guy. And if all goes well with our plans for Horace—and with all else—I hope to live my long and ordinary life with you—and Amelia, of course.” I gave him a mischievous smile.

He nodded, laughing. “It goes without saying, milady. I shudder to think of what might happen if we attempted to flee without her.”

He tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear and caressed my cheek lightly with his knuckles.

“I promised to tell you something of my history. You deserve to know the truth of my life, as much of it as I know. I have been trying to learn more, bits and pieces . . . it has been akin to trying to solve a difficult riddle.”
I pressed another soft kiss to his lips. “We still have some time before we must prepare to leave. Tell me a tale, Panther.”

He expelled a breath, and gave me a half-smile.

“When I was a young child, Lizzie, I lived in a small coastal village in France . . .”

*~*~*~*


It was the third day after our visit to the townhouse. I was back in my usual role of the model wife, hostess and mistress of the manse. Only in my dreams—and in the moments Amelia and I stole to talk together—was I able to unmask myself.


Amelia, who had, as Guy prophesied, thoroughly enjoyed her “wonderful” day complete with “masses of good food, and the naughtiest songs, and ever so clever the card tricks they were,” was wide-eyed at the stories I had to share of our plans and of Panther’s past as we settled back into the routine at Chadwick Place.

I had awoken that morning as I oft had of late—absolutely famished and still drowsy.

As I ate my breakfast, Amelia bustled around the bedchamber, dashing in and out of my dressing room, chattering all the while, albeit in lower tones than usual.

“You never know, milady, who might have bigger ears than they should,” she had informed me with great seriousness.

“So that’s why he speaks French so well, milady. He lived there as a little boy. Bless him, he didn’t even know who his mother was or who he belonged to . . . do yew reckon he’s right? That his father was some titled gent who ruined a young lady and she had his child? And who were those little girls? Oooh. It is all quite mysterious and romantic . . .”

“Not quite so romantic for Guy’s poor mother,” I murmured to myself before taking a bite of my poached egg. I thought of my husband and hoped, for their sakes, he did not indulge himself with vulnerable young women such as Celestine.

I always felt the horse-faced Widow Fleming and her kind could take care of themselves.

“Do you reckon he will ever find out who his father really was—if it was the mysterious Monsieur? Terrible that he was thrown out of his school like that, with never a word as to what happened . . . it’s no wonder he fell in with thieves and the like.”

I took a sip of my tea and eyed Amelia over the rim of the cup. “Dear Amelia, if you wish to talk about Panther, come here instead of all that flitting about. I am already a bit giddy-headed and watching you is not helping. That must be the fourth time you have straightened my secretary this morning. And how many gowns can I possibly wear in one day?”

She flushed a little, clutching a bronze-coloured overskirt in one hand and a pair of ivory shoes with silver buckles in the other, and bobbed a quick curtsey.

“Beg pardon, milady. Sometimes it is as if my life is changin’ so much, I can’t quite take it all in. And, of course, I can’t talk to anybody else about it all, what with it being a secret. And—I am accustomed to being busy.”

I gave her a reassuring smile. “I am not chastising you, Amelia. Get the chair with the petit point back and draw it up beside me.” I gave a little sigh as I eyed it.

“I laboured over stitching the blasted thing long enough it might as well get some use.”

Amelia took her seat. Folding her hands demurely in her lap she looked at me expectantly.
“Now, what--” I was interrupted by a knock on my door.

“Yes?”

“It’s Daisy, milady, wiv a message fer yer.”

I raised my brows and glanced at Amelia.

“Come in.”

The downstairs maid, a rather stork-like London girl who had just recently gone into service, stepped in and bobbed an awkward curtsey.
“Beg pardon, milady, but a small boy ‘as brought a letter for yer.”

I frowned.

“A boy? Who is he? What does he look like?”


The maid shrugged. “‘E didn’t give no name, milady. As to ‘is looks, the boy’s got a mop o’ curls the colour of carrots, teeth like an ‘are—and ‘e was in a right state o’ filth.”

Daisy wrinkled her freckled snub nose with disdain. “Smelled like it, too. I surely wouldn’t let him in the front ‘all, I’ll tell you that. Shoulda come to the tradesmen’s entrance.”


I motioned for her to bring the letter to me. “Thank you, Daisy. That will be all.”


“Yer welcome, milady.” Just as she bobbed another curtsey and turned to go, Daisy paused. “O, ‘e did say it were from a Mister Jasper. About some wine you were orderin’ fer ‘is lordship.”

I smiled. “Ah, yes. Mister Jasper. I was expecting to hear from him—about the fortified wine. Thank you.”

After the maid exited the chamber, closing the door behind her, I listened as her footsteps faded away.

“Is that our Mister Jasper, milady?” Amelia breathed, her eyes bright with curiosity.

I gave her a broad smile. “None other . . .”

~*~*~*~
As I had told Lizzie, I was certainly willing to leave behind my profession as a notorious highwayman and thief.
I would gladly exchange its excitement and dangers for an ordinary life, as she calls it, in the American colonies, working as a wine merchant in one of the seaports.

Coming home each evening to a proper house instead of another inn or one of my bolt-holes.

Coming home to the woman I loved.

However, I was not quite ready to give up my life of lawlessness.

After all, starting a new life in the New World with Lizzie (and Amelia) would be costly. Obtaining identification papers in our new names, paying for our passages across the Atlantic on one of the better ships, establishing that new home and business once we arrived: it would all take money.

Whilst I enjoy good food, drink and a well-tailored wardrobe—all of which require an outlay of money--I do not over-indulge. I enjoy the occasional card game, but a gambler, I am not—at least, not in that sense. I have had no home to furnish, carriages to maintain, servants to pay or enormous debts to settle.

Thus, I had managed to put aside a not inconsiderable cache of gold coins over time, enlarged by the sales of the re-set gems from the king’s ransom of jewels I had liberated.

I must say, without boasting, that I was very good at my profession. If you are going to break the laws of the land by taking from the privileged few, you might as well do a proper job of it.

I am not an excessively greedy creature. However, a nagging fear, small yet ever-present in my mind, has always served to remind me of my dark days of impoverishment. I have no desire to experience such days again.




And so I formed my plans to relieve more of those in the haute ton of the burden of their riches. One last adventure . . . before I bade a life of lawlessness adieu.

An adventure with a very select victim in mind. My Lizzie deserved nothing less than my best effort.

*~*~*~*
~“I cannot stay here any longer, ‘Toinette. You have been so kind, but you cannot keep me hidden from the baron forever.”

We are in her bed, the first light of dawn peeking through the curtains of her boudoir’s windows. The air is sweetly scented from her perfume, the scent of violets, mingled with a faint, enticing muskiness.

I am going to miss her so.

I hold her tightly and wish I did not have to let her go. But as she herself has told me, our intimate acquaintance cannot be a permanent attachment.

I must strike out on my own. But what can I do?

Educated as a gentleman, fit for no useful trade. Gentlemen do not work for their daily bread.

“C’est vrai, mon petit,” she replies with a sigh and turns over to face me, softness in those lavender eyes as she tenderly caresses my jaw with the tips of her fingers.

“But—where will you go? Are you still determined to find out more about your famille?”

“I—hope to know more. I want to go back to France, to my old village. I speak French fluently enough that I can manage. Perhaps there is someone who remembers me there. Who remembers my mother . . .”

I expel a breath and give her a grateful smile. “Thanks to you, ‘Toinette, I still have what little money I had when I left my school.”

My lips twist. “When I was thrown out of my school.”

I give a disdainful sniff. “As if I would bow and scrape before my former classmates.”

She presses a kiss to my mouth, and I feel a pang at the thought of forgoing the taste of her sweet, ripe lips. “Do not dwell on their mistreatment, Mon Coeur. What’s done is done, Guy. As I have told you—prove that you are, in the end, the superior man.”

‘Toinette threads her fingers through my tousled locks as she nuzzles my throat. I sigh. Even after our numerous trysts, her touch excites me as much as it did that first time she brought me to her home.

She lifts her head, tossing back her tumble of fair curls, her brow creasing in thought.

“I have some money put aside . . . one must be prepared for any eventuality, you know, Mon Coeur. This I can give to you--”

I start to protest and she presses her fingers to my mouth.

“No arguments. We are friends, n’est-ce pas? Friends help each other. Maybe one day—you can return the favour, eh?”

“I promise you, Antoinette. I will repay you.” There is a huskiness in my voice and I blink hard.

She kisses my cheek, rubbing her face against my stubble on my jaw like a violet-eyed feline bestowing her scent on me.

“I am quite certain you will, Mon Coeur. But you must find some form of employment.”

I raised a brow. “I suppose I might—tutor someone’s miserable brats. Except they would want references. I am quite good at fencing . . . p’rhaps I could teach that. Except I would need equipment . . .”

Her lips curve into a sly, teasing smile as she shrugs her pretty white shoulders. “Or perhaps you could become a thief . . .” Her fingers graze my bare chest, pausing to tease my nipples.

“I think—I think you could certainly be a thief of hearts, if you wished.”

I capture her hand and raise it to my lips.

~So could you, Antoinette~

“Tell me, ‘Toinette—will you miss me at least—a little?”

Her eyes glint as her hands trail down my body. “Perhaps—even more than a little. And not merely for your physical charms, either.”

I lean down to take one of her hardening nipples in my mouth, laving and sucking it before raising my head to look into those beautiful, heavy-lidded eyes, her ripe rosebud of a mouth curved into an smile of anticipation.

“But you will miss this—with me?”

A throaty laugh. “You know that I will, Guy.”

“Then show me.”

“Avec plaisir . . .”

*~*~*~*

“It seems Guy has one last escapade planned,” I told Amelia as I perused his letter.

“Ooh, what’s he got planned now?”

I looked up into her eyes, bright with curiosity.

“He does not provide the particulars. Only that ‘this will help make M. and Mme. Brouchard and their maid very comfortable in their new home. Although milady and her maid will likely have to make use of their seamstress skills if all goes well.’”

I sighed and gave a rueful shake of my head.

“There he goes, teasing me again. What do sewing and robbery have to do with each other?”


“Whot else does he say, milady? When will you see him again?”

I looked at the cryptic message at the end.

“He says, ‘We shall meet on the green, in China, Mon Ange and dance once more three days hence.’”

“Three days. On Saturday then, milady?”

“So it would seem—but China?” I shrugged my shoulders, furrowing my brow.

I adored my Panther, but he could be maddening at times.

“That seems rather a great distance for an assignation. And rather impossible to get there in three days.”

Amelia, her eyes narrowed, had folded her arms across her narrow chest, her small foot tapping the carpet. My little maid was in deep thought.

Suddenly she clapped her hands together and gave a crow of excitement.

“I know—green. Gardens. Ranelagh Gardens. They are openin’ up a Chinese Pavilion. I saw it in the paper! We’ll have to choose something lovely for you to wear . . .”

Ah, the pleasure garden in Chelsea, considered a more desirable destination for the upper classes than its competitor, Vauxhall Gardens. I had been there once with Horace. I looked forward to sharing its delights with Guy.

I looked up at her and smiled. “Clever creature. Whatever would I do without you, Amelia?”

“I don’t reckon you will get to know that for a long while, milady,” she replied stoutly.

“Amelia . . .” I paused and studied her face, wondering if I was being selfish by taking her away from everything she had known.

“You do realise that when we leave, it’s for good. We shan’t be returning to England. It would not be safe for Guy. You will be leaving your family behind just as I am my own.”

Amelia straightened her shoulders and gave a firm nod of her dark head. “I understand, milady. I’m not sayin’ I won’t miss my family, but there are so many of us they would hardly miss me. And I reckon—well, under the circumstances and all, you need me more.”

I leaned my head back against the pillows and gave my maid a rather sheepish smile.

“I must seem incredibly useless to you sometimes, Amelia. I can’t get dressed or undressed by myself, or arrange my hair--”

Amelia shrugged. “I reckon most ladies are the same. That’s part of bein’ a lady. Bein’ a bit helpless.” She smiled, that impudent dimple appearing in the top of her cheek.

“And yew certainly do have skills as a seamstress, milady. Look at my dress for our special day.”

“Hmmmm. Yes.” I took another sip of my tea, my lips twitching at the corners. I fear I was in a teasing mood once more. “You never told me. Did your new beau admire your dress, Amelia?”

Amelia’s cheeks pinked as she thrust out her sharp little chin and clasped her hands more tightly together.

“He’s not my beau, milady, just a fellow I enjoyed talking to and flirting with a bit. We are not goin’ to run away together or nothin.’”

I took another bite of my toast, heavily slathered in butter. For some reason I was craving butter of late.

“And Grey? Is he at all jealous of this flirtation?”

Amelia raised her dark brows, her eyes cutting away from me. “Oh—he might be. A little. But I am not plannin’ to run off with him, either.” She tossed back her head, her maid’s cap bouncing atop her unruly dark curls.

“Besides, I might take a fancy to one of those red-skinned savages they have in the colonies.”

I laughed. “I don’t think there are many Indians living in the
cities in America.”

Noting Amelia’s slightly crestfallen expression, I added, “But I am very likely wrong. There may be one on every corner.”

I looked at my empty teacup and plate and patted my stomach. “Do you know, I am still famished! I don’t know what is wrong with my appetite of late.”

“I’ll pop down to the kitchen with yer tray, milady, and get yew something else. Whot would yew like?”

“Oh—two more pieces of toast. Plenty of butter. And some of that quince jelly.”

“No pear preserves, milady?”

I shook my head. “Oh, no. The smell of the pears. I find I can’t abide the smell at present. And another pot of tea.” I smothered a yawn. “I simply must renew my energy.”

Amelia had lifted my tray and turned to go. She paused and slowly turned back to face me.
“Yew—yew have been very tired of late, milady.”

I sighed. “Yes, yes I have. I said so.”

“And yew are very hungry.”

I nodded wearily. “Very. Famished. You were on your way to replenish my food, I believe?”

Amelia did not appear to acknowledge my hint about my breakfast.
A curious look came into her eyes as she spoke in a slow, deliberate manner.

“Yew are bloomin’ like a rose these days, yew are, milady.”

I blinked. My maid appeared to be as addle-pated as her mistress. “Well, Amelia, the poets say that love is a great beautifier,” I said.

Glancing down at my belly, undeniably more rounded than it had been, I patted it. “I have certainly put on more flesh. However, Guy does not seem averse to it, thank fortune,” I added, with no small amount of self-satisfaction.

~Why is Amelia gawking at me in such a manner?~

“Your—bosom, milady. It is—bloomin,’ too, one might say.”

“Yes, Amelia, I am—blooming--everywhere and I am still famished and ready for a nap--”

Oh, my. How very, very stupid of me. Of course.

I heard my maid’s anxious voice as I closed my eyes and pressed my hand to my forehead. I gave a little groan as my head fell back against the pillow.

“Oh, milady—milady, are you going to faint? Should I get the smelling salts?”

Mutely, I shook my head and opened my eyes slowly.

“No, I think not.” I sighed and gave her a half-smile.

“After all, I have never been prone to swooning when I was with child, have I?”

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
cassiadewarren
Feb. 10th, 2012 12:13 am (UTC)
I'm very happy for Lizzie. She has a second chance to become a mother.

I'm really concerned about Guy's plans for the immediate future.
"One last adventure . . . before I bade a life of lawlessness adieu."
Be careful, Panther, the last adventure is always the most risky to accomplish!!
fedoralady
Feb. 12th, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, a chance to be the mother of a child she will share with her true love. There are many things Guy must mull over in the coming days . . .
auroraloo
Feb. 10th, 2012 04:32 am (UTC)
Oh I had a feeling you were heading towards pregnancy when she started "blooming" I'm very happy for this.

I absolutely LOVE your new blog on wordpress!!!
I have read every posting but hadn't tried to comment yet because I wasn't sure if you needed to have an account.

Thank-you so much for posting the video of Richard from 1994 in Cats. It made my night. I'd never seen it before.
I could just watch him dance.....
I'd also love to see/hear him play the cello.
Can you imagine watching those fingers caress it.

Also Miss Callie & Puddin are BEAUTIFUL!!!
They both have such expressive faces.
fedoralady
Feb. 12th, 2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
Sorry for the delay in responding, Aurora. I haven't felt my best lately and keeping up with the blog does take up some time (although I thoroughly enjoy it).

Yes, it will complicate things but now that she is carrying Panther's child, she has hope that this pregnancy will end happily with a healthy baby.

I don't think you have to have a wordpress account. I have been commenting at other wordpress blogs for a while now and didn't have an account until I started the blog last week.

Yes, isn't it wonderful to have a chance to see Richard dance? And I would adore the opportunity to watch him perform on the cello.

Thanks for the nice compliment about my "girls." I think they are very cute but of course, I am prejudiced. ;)

Charlotte Agersnap
Apr. 20th, 2012 09:37 pm (UTC)
Impatiently waiting for chapter 19 ;-).
As always lovely to read your stories and love love love the new blog :-). I'm sorry you have been poorly :-(. Hope you are on your way to recovery :-).

You cannot rush a writer, I know, but I'm really going stir crazy here in anticipation of chapter 19 ;-).

Have a lovely weekend :-).

Hugs

Charlotte
fedoralady
Apr. 26th, 2012 01:47 am (UTC)
Re: Impatiently waiting for chapter 19 ;-).
Dearest Charlotte,

I am about to post that long-awaited chapter. I do apologize for the long delay. Several things conspired against me. I hope you will enjoy it and I promise to try to get the next chapter posted in a more timely manner. Glad you are enjoying the blog, too!! :D
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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