1887, Boston, Massachusetts
Ever so quietly, Rose eased the high wooden gate closed behind her. Not sparing a glance for the row houses directly opposite, with their shutters closed against the night air, she hurried along the brick alley behind her house on Mount Vernon Street. Passing their coachman’s front door, she pulled the hood of her traveling cloak more tightly around her dark hair. Having tiptoed down the rear staircase before slipping out the back door of her family’s gray-shuttered home to the lane behind, she was determined not to alert her mother, or the servants, to her latest escapade.
As she turned left on Willow Street, Rose let out the breath she’d been holding and started to run, continuing to do so until she reached the long oval patch of grass surrounded by the Greek Revival homes of many of her friends. Louisburg Square.
With the expansive grassy Common behind her, all but deserted at such a late hour, Rose traversed Beacon Hill. She knew it was foolish to be out so late and unaccompanied anywhere in Boston.
More than foolish, it was downright dangerous. Her heart pounded with exhilaration and excitement.
Her brother would wring her neck if he ever found out. Her mother would faint on the spot. Her sisters would shake their lovely heads in dismay.
Rose continued moving quickly until she reached her best friend’s house on Myrtle Street and the promised carriage that awaited her discreetly a few yards past.
Giving a whispered thanks and a penny to the lad who’d agreed to wait with the runabout in the moonlight until she arrived, Rose climbed aboard the lightweight vehicle. A wave of relief accompanied the gentle swaying as the mare started forward.
Bless Claire for helping! She was always there when Rose was in a prickly situation. And this one was pricklier than most and ever so important. Rose simply had to see Finn before he left once more. He would be out at sea for nearly a month.
One wretchedly long month. She couldn’t stand it. Unfortunately, she would have to, unless she stowed away on his vessel. And even she was never so bold. Her family would disagree, no doubt, especially if they knew the extent of her involvement with Finn. She smiled, feeling a shiver of anticipation as she approached the rooming house on Bowdoin Square.
Knowing Claire’s docile horse would stand for hours without fussing, Rose left the carriage pulled up close to the sidewalk, the reins tied tightly around a hitch. As she approached the three-story brick building, she couldn’t help looking up at the second floor, the first window on the left. Was he watching for her?
Darting up the short flight of stone steps to the main door, she let herself into the foyer.
A lamp was lit, and a shiny black candlestick telephone sat on the hall table alongside a pile of mail for all the residents of the three-story building. She hurried up the stairs and rapped softly on Finn’s door. Instantly, it was wrenched open, and Rose nearly found herself sprawled across the threshold. Instead, she fell into Finn’s arms.
“My Rose,” he murmured against the top of her head, his lips on her hair. She loved the way her name sounded with his Maine accent.
With her face against his chest, she breathed in the brisk ocean scent of him that somehow clung deliciously to his skin and his clothes.
“I don’t like you coming out so late, love,” he said. “You should have let me come to your house.”
What a dear man he was for worrying over her.
Unbuttoning her cloak, she removed it, laying it over the chairback while choosing her next words carefully.
“You know you cannot do that,” Rose told him, looking up into his beloved face.
Finn took a deep breath and released her abruptly, walking to the window and keeping his broad back to her.
“How long do you plan to keep ‘us’ a secret?” he asked, looking out into the dusky evening, lit by the flickering gas lamps that dotted the neighborhood.
Rose sighed, watching Phineas Bennet fold his strong arms over his chest and look like an immovable mountain, stubborn and silent, but she didn’t want to have that conversation with him. Not again, and especially not on the eve of his departure.
“Please, Finn, let’s not discuss this now.”
She ventured closer, eventually wrapping her arms around his trim waist, pressing herself against his solid back, and leaning her cheek between his shoulders.
Rose could feel his tenseness in all the lean muscles of his body, though the longer she nestled against him, the more relaxed he became. His breathing steadied. At last, he turned in her embrace.
“We’ll have to settle this sometime. We can’t hide forever. Your family will have to accept me.”
Would they? Rose knew there would be a confrontation, which she hated. She imagined the repercussions and stern discussions. Lastly, there would be disapproval. She couldn’t stand to think of the look on her mother’s and brother’s faces as they learned of her decision, one they would consider rash and ruinous.
Moreover, they would be crushed by her deception.
“I’m your husband,” Finn said, running his hands down her back and pulling her even closer. “There’s not a bloody thing they can do about it.”
Rose shivered at his seductive touch but felt a frisson of fear as well. Her brother was renowned for his legal mind. Oh, she had no doubt there was something Reed could do about their hasty marriage. Especially as they hadn’t yet consummated it.
As if reading her mind, Finn lowered his head and kissed her, sweeping his tongue into her mouth without warning, stealing her breath and her senses as he always had. His hand left her back and slipped inside the opening of her silk dolman, his fingers brushing across her blouse to tease her breast beneath.
As usual, she wanted him desperately. And as usual, she denied them both.
Leaning back, Rose shook her head. “I’m sorry.”
Finn gave a groan of frustration and sat down on the bed with her still in his arms.
Resting upon his muscular thighs, she nestled against his chest and tried to calm her rapidly beating heart.
“When everyone knows about us,” she promised. “Besides, it’s too late to do anything about it tonight. If you go away tomorrow, and I’m with child, there won’t be a shred of me left to come home to after my family finds out.”
“Don’t be silly,” he said, nuzzling her neck and causing fingers of pleasure to run up and down her spine. “I’ve listened to your stories about them. They love you beyond words. As I do. When they find out you’ve fallen in love, they’ll be happy for you.”
Rose wanted to believe that. Except her mother was never going to like the fact that Finn’s father was a joiner working in yards on the rugged coast of Maine or that Finn made his living as a shipbuilder and would sometimes go out to sea on test sails. That was the part Rose dreaded most — the times he would have to leave her.
Moreover, this was the first such sailing since they’d met five months earlier.
She still found it hard to fathom it had been a mere five months. From the first, her heart had cried out for him. Her body had followed suit, tightening and pulsing in all the right places whenever he was near. She’d been walking where she shouldn’t have been, on the East Boston docks with her best friend, Claire, after eating lunch at the Maverick House.
There, across the harbor in Eastie, they had decided to view up close the spectacular cruising vessels at the Cunard dock, dreaming of a time they, too, might take a long sea voyage. Finn worked on merchant vessels on a nearby dock.
As Rose and Claire strolled, some unknown movement momentarily blocked the sun. That was when she’d spied him climbing the rigging of a tall ship, looking like a modern-day pirate. Shielding her eyes from the sun, she’d stood and simply stared at the fine specimen of a man until Claire stopped walking, realizing Rose was no longer beside her.
Somehow, Finn had caught sight of her as well, staring right back. Later, he told her he felt she’d bewitched him with her dark-haired beauty. He had climbed down while she’d grabbed Claire by the hand to continue walking. Within a few moments, however, he’d chased her down, asked her name, and made sure he could find her later. Under Claire’s watchful eye, Rose had flirted, as was her wont, all the while thinking she’d never again see the brash sandy-haired man, full of dash-fire and spirit.
Rose had not only been wrong about never seeing him again, she’d married him. Why exactly, she couldn’t say, except that nothing in the world could have stopped her. From the first moments they spent alone together, when he’d ambushed her the following Sunday afternoon as she came out of her house to visit friends, she’d felt as if Finn were hers, and she, his. When he was anywhere close, both her body and her brain were always aware of him. Indeed, she swore when he entered a room or even glanced at her, she knew with a prickling sensation.
Their courting involved picnics out of town and far away from anyone who knew her. They took carriage rides in her father’s old enclosed brougham hidden from prying eyes, walked the East Boston docks as Finn pointed out vessels he admired, or shared a bottle of wine in his room.
Between them was a current of understanding, of like-mindedness, and of the deepest desire to enjoy each other and to make the other one happy.
True, Rose was a tad impetuous. Some would say more than a tad. Yet standing before a judge, just the two of them, with only Claire knowing about the marriage beforehand, Rose had felt it to be precisely the right thing to do.
Telling her family, however, had seemed impossible, and Finn had not pushed it, until now.
He rolled backward onto the bed, taking her with him. Splayed across his chest, Rose let out a peal of delighted laughter.
“I suppose you’re right,” Finn said, surprising her. “I wouldn’t do that to you, leave you in such a precarious position. If only you had let me go to your family . . .,” he trailed off when she climbed to a sitting position, straddling his thighs and looked down at his handsome face, gazing into his eyes which seemed to her to be the color of a stormy sea.
“I can’t think straight, love,” he admitted, “with you sitting on me and looking at me like that. All I can think about when I have you in my arms is kissing you. And a few other things.”
Rose smiled demurely, and he grinned back. However, she simply couldn’t give herself to him, even though he was her husband of nearly a month, not without her family’s approval of their marriage first. She’d had no idea she would want that approval so desperately, yet she did. Like Reed with his beloved Charlotte and like her two older sisters, one with a banker for a husband and one with a doctor — Rose wanted her husband to be not only accepted but also welcomed and loved by her family.
She could not simply spring on them her shipbuilding man, with his tar and resin and solid oak scents that she’d come to love as part of him. All things she feared they would despise.
“Maybe when you return,” Rose began, but he shook his head.
“Don’t think about it now. In a month, we’ll deal with it. I know what you worry about, sweets. I know I’m not exactly a Brahmin. Still, I’ll make a good living for us and our family. You’ll see.”
She knew he would. She would start to prepare her family for the shock of her being the wife of a shipbuilder while he was away. After all, at the young age of 24, he was already a quarterman, not an unskilled laborer, not a small cog like a riveter in an iron shipyard. Whereas some men his age were still assigned cordage duty, he was helping to design and build.
When he returned, she would take him by the hand and march up to her mother and confess that her heart was taken by this incredibly kind and intelligent man. That he looked like Michelangelo’s David didn’t hurt either.
A month, not that long to wait really. Yet as she looked down at his relaxed face, with his quirky smile and single dimple, she felt foreboding wash over her. A whole month, it was an eternity!
“Sweets, what’s the frown for?”
He pulled her down on top of him and gently took her face in his hands, holding her in place while he kissed her.
“It’s too long a time to bear,” she said when he, at last, let her breathe.
“I know.” And he held her close. “When I’m out at sea with a bunch of rude sailors, I’ll think on this moment and try to recall how it feels to have you in my arms.” He kissed the top of her head, his warm breath on her hair. “I know my memories won’t come close to this. You are my heaven, Rose, and I’ll leave my heart with you.”
She didn’t want to cry, didn’t want to leave him with that image of her, red nosed and teary eyed. So she lifted her head and gave him her brightest smile.
“I’ll keep your heart safe for you, Finn. I promise.”
He kissed her again, and she felt him move under her, felt the familiar sensations of her mouth going dry as her body went soft and hot for him.
Suddenly, she couldn’t wait another moment to join with her husband. Sending her own tongue darting into his mouth, she slid her hands down the length of his torso, stopping at his waist. She slipped her fingers into the band of his trousers and tried to touch his skin.
He froze while she struggled with the layers of his shirt and unmentionables, eventually able to stroke the skin across his hips.
“Rose,” he warned, and she felt his own hands take a journey down to her backside, which he then cradled in his palms.
“Finn,” she teased back, but then she pushed against him and sat up. Looking down at this comely man, it didn’t matter a whit that their love was a secret. Before the eyes of God and the Massachusetts legal system, he was hers and she, his.
In short order, she slipped off her jacket and began on the buttons of her blouse. Forget her shoes. Leave her stockings. Though maybe she should have started with —
His hands closed over hers, stopping her movements.
“What are you doing, love?”
She stared into his gray-blue eyes. “Undressing. For you.”
He swallowed, blinked, then gave her a wry smile. “Like a sacrificial lamb?”
“No.” Her voice had turned husky. “Because I want you.”
That wiped the smile off his face. In about half a second, she found herself rolled under him with Finn looking down at her. The expression on his face warred between uncertainty and desire.
“Rose, why now? I’m so used to your resisting me with all the stubbornness of a Johnny Reb.” His gaze dropped to her lips, then back to her eyes. “You’ve thrown me off-kilter, like a sailor on his maiden voyage.”
He lowered his head and put his mouth to hers until she parted her lips. The weight of him upon her soft body was delightful as he seemed to fit into the cradle of her hips and sink into the sensitive place between her legs. Finn was careful not to crush her breasts as he plundered her mouth. Her body pressed up against him of its own accord, until finally, he lifted his head and gazed into her eyes.
“I want to be really and truly your wife. Right this very moment,” she added, lifting her hips as much as she could under him, which was barely at all.
“Sweet girl. You are my real wife, and you’ll always be mine regardless. And we’ll keep you as a virgin bride until I return.”
He looked to where the neckline of her gown gaped slightly and lowered his head to place a kiss on the upper swell of her breast.
She gasped, wishing he would do more, perhaps draw down the bodice of her gown. Instead, he trailed his kisses upward to her collarbone and her throat, up her slender neck, along her chin line and back to her mouth. She enjoyed every single kiss, every rasp of the faint stubble on his face, as it ran over her sensitive skin.
Then, to her surprise, he slipped his hand into the top of her gown and ran the back of his knuckles across one of her breasts, brushing her peaked nipple.
She moaned and heard him echo the sound.
“If we continue to lie here like this,” Finn added, “I fear you won’t be a virgin much longer.” He sat up, pulling her gently to a seated position. “Come on, love, I’ll walk you home.”
She shook her head. “I have a carriage. I want five more minutes in your arms. That’s not too much to ask, is it?” She stretched out in the warm place he had just vacated, offering him her most pleading pout and come-hither gaze. He looked down at her and sighed.
“Rose, you’re not playing fair.”
“Whatever do you mean?” she asked, fluttering her lashes at him.
“You know exactly what I mean. You’re too tempting for a man.”
“You’re not simply any man,” she teased.
“No, I’m the one who loves you more than anyone or anything on earth.”
Rose sobered. This was no game, and he was not an idle flirtation.
“I know. And I, you. Please hold me a few moments longer,” she said, wishing the fear of separation weren’t clouding the joy of being near him.
“Shall I ask Liam to keep an eye on you while I’m away?”
Liam was Finn’s closest friend at the yard, a quick-witted Irishman who helped whittle the scaled wooden models of the ships before they were built.
“I thought he would be going with you,” she said.
“As did I.” Finn twisted a lock of her hair around his finger and studied it. “He told me this afternoon he’d been pulled from the roster. I thought it only a fluke, but then he asked if I wanted to be pulled, too. When I asked him how he could arrange that, he said he was only joking and putting on airs.”
She felt him shrug.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I have to be on that ship. Someone’s got to make sure she stays afloat.” Then by the captured skein of her dark hair, he tugged her face closer, and she forgot about the small surge of fear she’d felt at his casual words of staying afloat.
“I don’t need Liam to check up on me,” Rose told him as his talented lips nibbled along the column of her neck. She had enough watchful eyes among her mother and older siblings.
“Besides, it’s only for a month. You haven’t told him about me, have you?”
Finn’s mouth stopped its pleasurable journey.
“No,” he said, sounding irked. “You asked me not to, and I didn’t.”
She relaxed, immediately sorry she’d touched on the sore point between them once again.
“Please,” she begged. “Continue, but on my lips this time.”
Then she let his mouth claim hers, and five more minutes slipped into an hour.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish