The Marriage Bed

By: Stephanie Mittman

Prologue





Maple Stand, Wisconsin

March 1894



He lay on the old oak bed in the darkened bedroom listening to the thud, thud, thudding of his heart compete with the sound of his new wife's ragged breathing, and stared through the window at the last two stars in the Big Dipper's handle. How did that little rhyme Kirsten had taught the children go? Star light, star bright, something about the first star at night . . . wish I may, wish I might, have my wish come true tonight?

Nearly that, anyway.

I wish ...

He glanced over at the woman nestled beneath the covers just inches from his side. Outside, the few dried leaves that still clung tenaciously to the dormant lilac bushes scraped against the glass panes. Wind whistled through cracks in the painted white frames of the windows.

I wish ...

She shifted slightly, the mound of covers moving like a snow drift in the wind, and a tiny whimper escaped her lips.

I wish I was dead.

"Olivia? You all right?"

"I guess," she answered softly. She sounded bewildered, confused. Of course she was. So was he.

"I'm sorry," he said, grateful the room was too dark for her to see the rush of embarrassment that heated his cheeks..

Not that she needed to see him to know how mortified he was. He told himself once again it was just too much wine, too many toasts drunk to a newly wedded pair.

The white mound moved again as she extricated a hand to lay softly against his arm. "Don't apologize," she said, sidling up closer to him. "It's not your fault. When a man and a woman . . . that is, a husband and wife . . . well, I knew it would hurt. I didn't mean to cry out. I'm fine now, really."

"I'm sorry about it hurting you," he said, annoyed with himself for being so lost in his own distress that he hadn't even thought to apologize for the pain he had caused her. "But, then," he said. "After . . ."

"After?"

Could it really be that she was unaware of what had just happened between them? Or was she simply being kind? Could she be so naive she actually thought that what they had done was all there was? No, she must have felt him suddenly grow soft inside her. Mustn't she?

"So then I guess I'm really, finally, truly your wife now."

He couldn't help but hear again her choked scream as he had broken through the thin barrier that separated a maiden from a wife. With no small amount of regret, he conceded as much. "I guess you are."

"I thought it would feel, I don't know, different."

So had he. Certainly it had been different with Kirsten. Hell, with a few minutes' rest in between, he had taken her over and over on their wedding night. He'd expected to get through it at least once with Olivia. After all, it had been more than two years since he had lain with Kirsten.

And it had started out well enough, considering it was Olivia's first time. He'd been gentle, slow, giving her time to get over the initial pain before setting up a rhythm between them.

In truth, it had been all right. Better, maybe, than just all right. But then she'd started to respond. He'd heard that same little moan from deep in her throat that he'd heard a hundred times, no, a thousand times, escape Kirsten's lips. And suddenly he'd been unable to go on. The sadness just welled up in him and ended his wedding night almost before it had started.

"I waited a long time for this," she said, admitting quietly what he and everyone else in Maple Stand already knew. "To be your wife and have you love me. Do you suppose we might have made a baby?"

"A baby?"

"Mmm-hmm," she said dreamily, squeezing his arm. "Do you think we did?"

It was as if she were looking for something good to have come out of the mess he had made of their wedding night. A mess of which, thank the good Lord, she seemed blissfully unaware.

"I ... I don't know," he choked out, choosing to lie rather than admit to her that there was no chance of it.

At least there was that to be grateful for. There would be no child from their aborted union      . And, given Olivia's lack of experience, if he was very careful, and he swore he could be, would be, there might never be any children.

Oddly, the idea gave him solace and he warmed to it, even in the face of his failure. "The odds are against it."

"But it could be, couldn't it? I mean we've done it and—"

"Not everyone gets with child on their wedding night, Olivia. Surely you must realize that, at least."

"But it could be," she said more strongly, her voice betraying the hope she felt. "Spencer, we could have just made a baby."

No. We couldn't have. "It's not a good idea to get your hopes up. Lots of couples don't have any children at all."

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