At this last revelation Stephen, or the Stephens, because there was more than one of him, looked very stricken, and said softly, “My dear, of the three of us, you are the one who has done the least wrong.”
“All right, then,” she said, trying to see Jack’s face, but there was more than one of him too, and they were too far away. “Though how long have you two been doing this? Diana said she first understood it on your engagement, but thought it started much earlier. Did it before ours?” She thought Jack was nodding, but couldn’t tell for sure.
Poor Sophie had determined she wouldn’t cry about this. She had cried too much about the Halifax girl; she supposed that had been the fault of Stephen getting engaged to Diana. But with this last revelation she was overcome-with relief. But when the men saw the tears come out, they thought them from a less nice motive. The Jacks were closer to her now, tentatively held out their arms, unsure whether she would accept them or not.
Sophie stumbled about until she landed in his embrace and closed her eyes, letting the spinning room coalesce into the warm, solid feel of him. “So it wasn’t me,” she sobbed. “It had nothing to do with the fact I wouldn’t...that I couldn’t...”
“No, Sophie,” he murmured fervently into her ear. “It had nothing to do with that.”
“And even if it had,” she heard Stephen say, “Diana was always convinced Jack was more to blame in that matter than you, that if he merely had any idea on how to please a woman, he would have found you a good and willing wife on enough occasions.”
“What?” Sophie felt Jack turn, she herself opened her eyes, though the multiple Stephens she was now looking at suddenly made her feel dizzy. “When did Diana start talking about that?” Sophie too wondered exactly what circumstances would lead to Diana forming an opinion about how Jack was in bed. She knew Jack had courted Diana at one time, but surely they hadn’t-no, she corrected herself, surely they had, knowing them both, and it was high time she just started accepting it and reminded herself that that too had to have been before Jack had been bound to her by any promise.
“About the same time she began dropping hints to Sophie about us. Of course, I think she was convinced no man could be good in bed unless he was taught how to be, and she thought it unlikely any woman you were likely to be with would make that effort. She took it upon herself to train me.”
“But how could I have?” asked Sophie. “‘Trained’ Jack, I mean. I didn’t even know...still don’t know...how to do anything! Mama only told me I should just lay there and Diana and Clarissa told me some other things but I couldn’t understand them.”
She was very grateful Jack didn’t ask when Diana and Clarissa had told her these things, but less so when Stephen suddenly said, “I think such things are better demonstrated than explained, though I do wonder how Diana learned them. Was she lucky in her first husband, perhaps?”
And then Jack said, “Well then, I am afraid we are at a loss. Unless you were to demonstrate things for me on Sophie, oh, ha, ha, ha!” And he laughed so hard at the idea that he nearly toppled over and took her with him.
Sophie’s vision wasn’t entirely clear, but Stephen’s expression suddenly looked contemplative. “An interesting idea,” he mused. It had to be the drink. They would never be talking like this if they were sober. “If, of course, she was willing.”
At this, Jack really did topple over, and started snoring. Sophie extricated herself from him and asked Stephen if he could help her get him to bed.
They dragged him through the drawing room and towards the stairs when Stephen asked, “Would you be willing, my dear?”
Sophie gave no response, but thought the matter over as best she could(despite the difficultly of thinking at the moment) all the way to her and Jack’s bedroom. Eventually she decided that it had always been a problem when it came to her wifely duties, and if that problem could be solved, and she able to do her duty with pleasure rather than reluctance, then surely solving the problem by whatever manner proved necessary was part of that duty. Even if she might not be at fault, refusing on those grounds was too petty by far.
She finally spoke when they had placed Jack in his bed in only his shirt. “I would be willing to do this, but I am not certain he would be.”
“We shall have to ask him tomorrow. Good night, dear.” He kissed her chastely-very chastely-on the cheek and departed.
She could not ponder this at first, not with the headache. She and Jack both lay abed until very late in the morning, and what he was thinking she could not tell.
When her head finally cleared, she reflected first on her reasoning from the previous night, and conceded that it was not entirely without merit. Then she reflected on her agreement and if she was required to be as good as her word, or if her being so much in wine excused her backing down. Eventually she decided that if her reasoning wasn’t complete nonsense, and she had agreed to it, if Jack now thought it a good idea those three things combined meant she ought to go through with it. She didn’t really think he would anyway.
So she didn’t think it would actually happen, but even so she felt during the next few hours as if she were on pins and needles. After failing to calm herself with the thought that it was unlikely, she tried reminding herself that even if it did happen, she ought not to be afraid when her trust in Stephen was absolute, but this too was to no avail. She wished Brigid was at Woolcombe, or even one of her own children; though they would have been less of a distraction, their presence might hamper the three of them from engaging in such activities.
By dinner, being in the same room as either of the men was enough to send her heart pounding, and when she saw down at the table with both of them, she could not think that they did not see how she trembled. She saw Jack’s looks of concern, and wondered if he even remembered Stephen’s suggestion the previous night. From Stephen’s concerned, contemplative look, she thought that he remembered everything, but with a suddenly swell of affection understood he would not hold her to her word, though it scarcely mattered, since she would hold herself to it if both men were willing.
But Jack must have remembered some of the events that had taken place, because he was very conservative with the wine, as were the other two. Nor did he say much, and this meant the meal was silent, since Stephen wasn’t much of a talker in the best of times and Sophie could not get a word out of her mouth, and it was a very uncomfortable time all together.
Finally when they were almost done Stephen spoke. “I believe since last night, Sophie, you may have changed your mind on certain matters, and under the circumstances, if you have, I will absolutely understand that.”
Sophie opened her mouth to say that she hadn’t, but instead found herself looking at her husband, who appeared to be quite anxious. “Sophie,” he said, “I was speaking truthfully, when I said it had nothing to do with you.”
Now that she had more possession of her mind, Sophie thought that might not be entirely true, but certainly she was not the main cause of it, and that would have to be enough.
“Not that, my dear. There was another matter we discussed after you passed out.”
“What matter?” Jack glanced between both of them, and Sophie wondered again if he remembered or not, a question which was settled when he said, “Did it have anything to do with teaching me how to behave in bed? I can’t see you ever consenting to that, Sophie.”
“She did.” said Stephen. “But we were all very drunk; if I had not been I would never have asked her.”
“My consent still holds,” she finally managed to say. “That is, if Jack consents.”
Now came the moment that would save her, but Jack, when he lost his stunned look said, “Well, I don’t know. Seems like a damned odd thing to me.”
“Joy, we are both very odd,” said Stephen.
“Well, let me think about the matter anyway.” Jack undecided like this was a very rare state, but Sophie knew well he was not delaying an acceptance or even a refusal; he was incapable of even that kind of deceit. But if he could not make a decision at this time, when would he?
Jack and Stephen did not stay too long with the port, but joined Sophie shortly in the drawing room, where Stephen suggested they play some music. This was hardly the first time they had brought their instruments into the drawing room after dinner, and both of the other two agreed readily.
Sophie did not even attempt to knit; she knew her yarn would only be tangled and wasted. Instead she watched as the men tuned and set to playing.
She had often enjoyed their music, but that night sitting back with her eyes closed, she allowed it to take her mind completely. Jack’s violin lifted her from her chair, up, up, up, and she floated even as the cello caught her feet, allowed her to glide. Loud notes tossed her on the wind, others buffeted her and gently lowered her down-but not all the way down. She was nearly to the ground when up she went again, the violin almost embracing her, until the movement ended and she fell and landed back in the armchair.
And so it went until it was well into the evening, and all tension was long gone from Sophie, and she had almost forgotten about what had been left to consideration. Her limbs were warm and tingly; she was loath to move.
The violin and cello were put away, and somehow Jack and Stephen ended up standing near her looking down. And Jack said, “Help me carry her upstairs.”
It wasn’t until they were halfway up that it suddenly occurred to Sophie this was a strange thing to request of Stephen, especially under the circumstances. Her relaxed mood was instantly gone; she was tense, terrified. “Why are you doing this?” she demanded.
Her frightened tone stopped both men in their tracks. Stephen looked at her in confusion, Jack in what looked like disappointment. Then Stephen looked at Jack pointedly and asked, “Are we doing this?”
When Jack nodded, Sophie did too, and tried to relax. “Would you prefer to walk?” Was his next question.
“Yes, thank you.” They set her down, and all three rather timidly walked to Jack and Sophie’s bedroom.
“To give you any sort of instruction, I must of course be able to see what I am doing. So we will have to leave the candles lit.” Jack and Sophie had realized as much, and nodded together. Sophie was also quick to realize that Stephen might very well ask them to disrobe completely, and she blushed at this thought, since between darkness and nightclothes she wasn’t sure if either man had ever seen her completely naked, or she them.
“Now Jack,” Stephen said, “the first thing you must remember, when making love to a woman, is that in all probability she will not be in as much of a hurry as you. There may be some exceptions when you pair some women with some men, but you and Sophie are far more likely to be the illustration to this rule. It would not strike me as a wise idea to simply go at her with all guns blazing. I would advise you to mind the maneuvers.”
Jack was listening attentively, but he looked a trifle impatient, which Stephen saw and shook his head. “Now, I am going to give you the full set of maneuvers Diana taught me, although on very many nights she didn’t have use for very many of them. How many of them you should employ and how often, well, I’ll leave the two of you to talk out. She even taught me how to kiss properly. Observe.”
Actually, Jack’s kisses were often pleasant enough, as long as he wasn’t thrusting his tongue into her mouth immediately. But neither he nor Sophie made any protest. Sophie knew she was probably too stiff, too cold, as Stephen placed his warm hands on either side of her head and asked softly, “May I?” She nodded.
His lips brushed hers cautiously, then settled more firmly. She heard a soft thump and felt the bed sag, and then the warmth of Jack very near her. He had to be watching, she knew, as Stephen carefully moved his hands into her hair, unpinning it, and ran his tongue along her lips. He drew away to murmur, “Notice my hands are moving slowly,” before taking advantage of her parted lips to carefully push the tip of his tongue into her mouth. It did not feel invasive as Jack’s tongue too often had, and she let it in further, and suddenly felt his hands at her back and waist, caressing her so tenderly that she felt the warmth run through her body, felt herself yield to his hands and mouth.
And then there were four hands on her, as Jack imitated Stephen’s caresses. They were less certain, but his larger hands felt very, very warm, and she sighed into Stephen’s mouth to feel his hair, unbound, brush against her ear.
Stephen withdrew, Sophie leaned back onto Jack’s bulk. His hands stayed on her body, but they wavered, tightened. “You may undress her, Jack, and perhaps remove some of your own garments,” Stephen murmured. “But remember, she is a delicate sail, and I am sure for those you do not want to pull at the cloth too hard.”
Not even on their wedding night had Sophie felt this particular suspense. She had known so little of the world then, and been so convinced then that it was impossible for her to take pleasure in the act, that it had not occurred to her Jack might be surprised or disappointed when she didn’t, and nor was what he thought of her body much of a concern when they were in darkness. Now the pressure was higher, and while Jack must have had a pretty good idea of what her breasts looked like, when her dress and chemise fell away he gazed at them as if he had never before seen them. Her eyes suddenly sought out the signs of arousal, and found them, despite his breeches still being on. Things usually could not be quick enough once he was in this state, and she felt an even more powerful surge of warmth fill her from gratitude, counteracting the chilly air against her skin.
Stephen saw where his gaze was going, and he smiled and said, “Patience, Jack. We ought to seek out the sensitive spots of her neck first. And do try to not let her think you want to bite her.”
Jack looked confused at this last remark, and Stephen simply said, “Lie back, Sophie.” She obeyed, though it made her feel more exposed than ever, even with her drawers still on. She closed her eyes against the feeling, and felt the men’s breath against her neck. Then a tongue was on her neck, not an unpleasant sensation, and its crossing a spot near her shoulder made her gasp, and again when it traveled back there.
“Get a good feel for this spot here, Jack. This will not be quite so long a process if you know immediately where to go.”
And then there were two tongues on her neck, and if was hard not to moan at Jack’s almost tormenting her. She did moan when Stephen found another spot, and then moved down her body, searching with both mouth and hands, causing warmth to turn into heat, especially around her legs, until those hands landed on her breasts.
Jack removed his mouth from her side, and though he was out of Sophie’s line of sight she knew where his focus was. “Yes?”
“Now,” Stephen had to take a deep breath, and Sophie was aware he had to be carrying on like this while as aroused as Jack, “I’ve no doubt you played about here, perhaps a little too roughly, am I right Sophie? Let me guide your hands.” And then it was Jack’s hands on her breasts, very large and very hot, and they were moving on them, not squeezing, but gently kneading, and she sighed below him.
“Keep doing that for the moment, Jack, but I would like to show you one more thing. This takes a good deal of patience, but is well worth it.”
Wondering what he could possibly intend to do, Sophie tensed again as he removed the last of her garments and gently spread her legs, leaving her the most exposed she’d ever been.
“Jack, have you ever looked down here?”
“Once. Molly Harte tried to get me to...” he drifted off and blushed. “But then she didn’t like it. Said I was no good at it.”
“So you have at least made an attempt at this, I see. You shall make another attempt at it now, and perhaps you will be better at it for that. Do come over.”
Jack moved and now Stephen was murmuring in his ear, and Sophie could not tell what he was saying, when suddenly a thumb-Jack’s she thought-brushed against tender flesh, causing her whole body to twitch with sensation. He pressed down; she cried out. More murmuring, then a tongue replaced the thumb; Sophie cried out again. Some vague part of her mind told her she should be embarrassed, but she could not bring herself to heed it.
Her eyes shut, but when the tongue started moving downward, she somehow forced them open and saw it was Jack doing the licking before his thumb pressed down again, too hard this time; she yelped and tried to pull away. “Gently,” she heard Stephen say. He moved up her body, planting kisses on her stomach, breasts, neck. Jack resumed also, Stephen’s hands moved to Sophie’s breasts, and Sophie, overwhelmed with pleasure, could do little more then moan and writhe. Never in her life had she felt like this, so heated, so open, so wanting, and so unafraid. Her hips were moving towards Jack, and she wasn’t even directing them, she heard Stephen’s gentle voice in her ear urging her to let go and she did, tossed high for the second time that night, but this time she flew higher and higher and closer and closer to some point she could not fathom until she broke upon it, her body all but dissolving into overwhelming pleasure, then fell back on the bed, and discovered that there were tears on her cheeks, which Jack and Stephen were kissing away.
She was so much in a daze that she barely registered Stephen gently taking hold of her until he had rolled her on top of Jack and was urging her with his hands to take him into her, while Jack struggled to get his breeches off. Stephen yanked them down to his ankles and Sophie did so, and heard Jack groan loudly in relief. It wasn’t as long and a good deal less unpleasant, without his weight bearing her down. Indeed, while this act held none of the intense pleasure that Diana had spoken about, but it was in fact rather enjoyable, once she had a strong enough grip on the sheets to withstand Jack’s mad thrusts, which otherwise would have bucked her as if she were riding a horse.
Jack finished with a load roar, and Sophie became aware Stephen’s hands were still on her when he removed him, and looking at him she saw him, panting, fumbling with his own breeches. Unlike Jack he was wearing smallclothes under them, and Sophie found herself moving over to help him take them off.
She had bared his legs completely and he had curled his hands around his prick when Jack took a hold of him and said, “Let me. Hold him, Sophie.” She took Stephen into her arms and did not flinch as she watched Jack take him into his mouth. She hadn’t really believed that act to be possible, but then, Stephen was a much smaller person than Jack, so it would make sense for it to be possible for them.
Here Jack did not need instruction, which was just as well, for after so much patient explaining Stephen had at last passed into a state where he was unable to give it. Was this what she had looked like not too long ago, when Jack had been between her legs? Had she thrashed this violently, cried out this loudly?
This did not take long either, before Stephen cried out Jack’s name and went limp in Sophie’s embrace. Jack pulled himself up to the pillow and lay equally limp.
The night grew a bit colder. They had made a perfect mess of the blankets, but Sophie pulled them up and over the three of them as best she could. Any jealousy she had once held she could be certain was gone when she watched Stephen move over to Jack and curl up to him, and found herself amused to discover he used him to keep warm the same way she did. She settled on Jack’s other side; he leaned over and kissed her forehead.
“I do love you, Sophie,” he whispered. “Never doubt that.”
“I never have, Jack,” she said, and indeed, when she said it she knew it was true. “I never have.”