His staff and his head wife had avoided him for most of the dancing, sensing his ill temper. Some seemed to exchange knowing glances with one another as if they knew the answer to his puzzlement. If they did he wished they'd share it with him. He had been sure earlier his foul mood was due to Tuptin's theatrical performance followed by her sudden disappearance. Now though, he had this strange feeling racing through his body, pumping through the blood in his veins he wasn't so quick to give the girl credit for what he was feeling.
If he didn't know better Mongkut would say he was jealous. Imagine him, a man with thirty-nine wives, eighty-two children and ruler of all of Siam, jealous over a woman who was so proper he doubted she knew the meaning of the word passion. Of course she had her son, Louis, and there was a daughter as well, but Mongkut knew full well that babies did not always come from passion.
She looked beautiful tonight, her gown covering so much and yet at the same time revealing so much. It was odd to him that bare legs were forbidden but bare shoulders and vast amounts of back and chest was not. As with everything about her, it was a contradiction, a tease. For the first time that he could remember there was something he wanted but it was off limits to him. She was not one of his wives, a concubine or a servant; she was the teacher to his children. She was the doorway to the western world for his children, especially his son, Prince Chulalongkorn. She had done a good job of teaching them so far. Sometimes, yes, she tried to push him but overall she seemed to know what his boundary was and while she might toe the line she rarely purposely crossed it without reason.
He had come to rely on her and her opinions. She was worldlier than any other woman he had contact with and he doubted he would ever come across another one who was not only as worldly but as free with their opinions as Anna Leonowens was. He respected her, Mongkut realized, and he had never before had that feeling for a woman. As he watched her tilt her head back and heard the light sound of laughter that was distinctly Anna's he realized his feelings ran deeper than respect. There was a current, an electricity between them that he had fought like hell to stifle.
He saw Edward's hand slide to the small of Anna's back and felt his back stiffen in response and decided it was time to let this Edward know just which man she was here for. He was not going to lose her to a man who reminded her of her dead husband and wanted to take her away from Siam and from him. All of the guests aside from a few stragglers had already left.
Edward seemed to take his cue from the approaching king. The look in his eyes conveyed his confusion, but just what he was confused about Mongkut did not know nor did he care. "Anna,” he grunted in his crisp tone.
"Your Majesty,” she said with a polite curtsey, her hand lifting her skirt as she did. "Edward was just leaving.”
"Good,” Mongkut said and realized the harshness in his tone. "I mean, it is late and you have early morning tomorrow with children. No sleeping in for school teacher.”
Edward laughed politely at the king's attempt at humor and kissed Anna on the cheek politely. He and the handful of remaining guests took their leave.
Mongkut felt his blood boil at the kiss, polite or not it was improper for this man to kiss her thusly in front of him. Who did he think he was? Better yet, who did he think she was?
With his mood as foul as it was he knew he should bid her good night and leave it at that, but as he felt the feather like touch of her fingers closing around his offered arm he knew that wasn't going to happen.
"You enjoyed your evening, yes?”
"Oh yes Your Majesty, it's been a long time since I've been a dancing girl, so it was nice to feel like one again. Even old widows like to feel young now and then.”
"You are not so old, Mrs. Anna. You certainly do not dance like an old maid.”
"Don't I, Your Majesty,” she asked demurely. "I notice you didn't dance. Was the music not to your liking?”
He hesitated for a moment before answering. "I do not know the English style of dancing. It looks difficult to learn.”
"I suppose it might to an outsider, Your Majesty. But we are taught as young children to dance, so it's as much a part of who we are as eating or our lessons.”
"You will teach me to dance like so, so that at next formal dinner I can join in.”
"But Your Majesty, the musicians have all left for the night.”
"How can I teach you without benefit of music to aid in keeping time,” she queried.
"Teach me the steps. I will make music for us.”
"Your Majesty,” she protested.
"You tell me no, Mrs. Anna?”
"Oh, all right, Your Majesty, we'll start with the waltz.”
She moved through the steps alone while he watched, "1, 2, 3 and 1, 2, 3 and,” she counted aloud as she moved along the now empty dance floor.
"That doesn't look so very hard.”
"Of course not, Your Majesty. Would you like to try?”
"Yes, yes, please. We try,” he said, taking both of her hands in his.
While he did flub some of the steps, he thought he did very well and was quite proud of himself. This English dancing wasn't so bad. The woman he was dancing with helped he realized. He couldn't help but notice the contrast in their skin tones as his larger hands held her smaller, more delicate hands. But Mongkut did not like that she went so willingly into this Edward's arms for dancing but maintained her distance from him.
"You did not dance like this with your Edward.”
"Oh yes, Your Majesty, just like this. You did wonderfully.”
"Not with hands like this, Anna.”
Her cheeks actually colored at his words. "No, Your Majesty. Not with our hands like this.”
His eyes were intense as they watched her, amused at her blushing. Why was she embarrassed? He had said nothing wrong or inappropriate. "Then you are teaching me wrong.”
"Well, the steps are the same; it does not matter where your hands are.”
"Ah, but to lead the woman around as your Edward did tonight, it cannot be done as gracefully with hands like this.”
"Perhaps, Your Majesty, but polite society dictates.”
"We are not among polite society right now, Anna, we are just the two of us. You are teacher and I learn to dance. So teach.” He didn't give her a chance to make further protests as he took her into his arms as he had seen Edward do earlier. "Like so?”
"Like so,” she affirmed her voice weak.
Winded after several rounds across the length of the ballroom Mongkut realized that Anna must be more out of breath than he was with the restrictions of her underthings. He wasn't sure what all the layers were beneath her dress, but he had seen the whale bone contraptions women like her wore and couldn't imagine they offered much breathing room. He paused, grateful for the reprieve but he was hesitant to release her.
Their brief physical closeness seemed to bring them emotionally closer for the moment as well. He could not ignore her hooded eyes clouded with both confusion and, yes, desire. He was sure both emotions were depicted clearly in his eyes as well. He enjoyed holding this English woman in his arms, knowing that while she might yield she would never completely bend to his will.
"We do it again,” he said with forced bravado, still not entirely recovering his breath from their first go around. He gave her no chance to object as he began to lead her in a waltz again. His arm was still around her and his other hand was still joined with hers, so she had little to do but follow his lead.
Both breathless when they stopped, Mongkut heard the distant ring of the gong but paid it no attention. "Who is this Edward, Anna?”
Anna couldn't help but smile at the way he said her name. "He's an old friend, Your Majesty, nothing more.”
"He behaved not like an old friend.”
"He proposed to me once before my late husband did.”
Mongkut's eyes lit up as her words registered with him. Of course, she was beautiful now she must have been even more so as a young maiden coming out. Suddenly, his eyes narrowed at the thought of many men vying for her attention.
"I said no, of course.”
"Why of course?”
"I don't know. I just knew,” she said simply.
"That I didn't love him, Your Majesty.”
"Yes, love, Your Majesty. You've heard of the word, I'm sure.”
"Of course.” He paused, his hand at his chin. "How did you know you did not feel such emotion for him?”
Color crept to her cheeks and neck once more. "I'm not sure how to explain it.” Her eyes lifted to meet his. "One just knows,” she whispered softly, her voice barely audible. She shivered visibly despite the night being warm.
Their hands still joined, he brought the pair of hands to his heart. He flattened the palm of her hand against his bare chest and held it there with his hand on top. "One feels it here.”
"Yes, Your Majesty. It is not something to try and understand scientifically.” She tried to pull her hand away but Mongkut's hold on her hand was too strong.
He shook his head and gently drew her closer with his free hand. "There is nothing scientific about this, Anna.”
He felt her try to draw away but he didn't let her. This very moment had been inevitable from the beginning he realized. This dance tonight was merely a physical play out of the symbolic dance they had been engaging in all along. Kissing this woman was entirely different than kissing one of his concubines or even one of his wives. Mongkut prided himself on being good to the women who served him, but he wasn't sure how one went about treating a lady.
She seemed to sense just what he was contemplating and why he was hesitant in doing it. Not wanting to appear indecisive or afraid he closed the distance between them and kissed her. He was hesitant at first, knowing full well she was not the type of woman to accept a kiss from just any man. Her late husband of course would have kissed her and perhaps even others like this Edward he met tonight had as well.
This thought, that Edward had kissed her, combined with her seeming acceptance of his kiss made him deepen the kiss. He was still gentle and a little cautious with her. He had never kissed a woman like this before, not knowing whether it would lead further or not. Other than his children, and even then only his daughters, he did not engage in kisses outside of a bedroom. He was far too busy a man to engage in such simplistic and common behavior.
His hand at her back caressed the satin of her ball gown, enjoying the feel of it beneath his fingertips. He knew his touch was not affecting her as she probably felt nothing with all of the layers she wore between his hand and her body.
He moved his other hand from its place at his chest, holding her hand against him, and slowly moved it to cup her cheek and draw her deeper into his kiss. Desire pumped through his blood, stoked by this kiss he shared with this Englishwoman unlike any kiss he'd shared before. It spoke of so much more yet there was no certainty of more. This was not a woman who would let him have his way with her.
She returned the kiss briefly, for longer than he had expected but not nearly long enough as he would have liked. He felt her draw away and waited patiently for the inevitable, her delicate white hand coming in contact with his face. But the slap he had expected, he did not believe it mattered that he was king just now, did not come.
His breathing was still elevated, as was Anna's, but he knew it wasn't solely from their vigorous dancing of a moment ago. He felt cool air against his chest where her hand had remained until she pulled away from his kiss. His large hand grazed over his smooth head as he waited for her to say something. Her eyes reflected her conflict, and while he knew which side he'd like her to decide upon it wasn't his decision to make.
"I think you have the hang of it rather well, Your Majesty,” she whispered.
Mongkut smiled widely as her hand still covered by her formal evening gloves reached for her lips. He watched as she traced her lips with her hand. "So it would seem,” he observed.
Mongkut stopped whatever she was going to say by placing one of his long fingers over her lips. "I think this is one of those times, Anna, where we don't need words.” He ran his finger over her lips lightly for the first time in his life he realized how it was that a man could be content with merely one woman. He had never met a woman before now who had even made him consider such a preposterous thing. He certainly had never been jealous before tonight. He'd never had reason to be, his wives were more like possessions to him than anything else.
His hand dropped into hers, his eyes never wavering from his intense hold on her eyes. He slid her hand over his arm and wordlessly began to walk from the large room they were in. They walked wordlessly to her palace suite. Her son, Louis, had a room here too, but it was on the other side of their private sitting room.
"Your Majesty,” she whispered.
"Anna,” he said as he continued walking in the direction of her room. She followed after a moment's hesitation.
"This isn't proper, Your Majesty,” she said meekly.
"Would you rather come to my room?”
"No,” she said quickly.
"Teach me the meaning of all these layers you wear,” he said as he stalked up behind her. He was not giving her time to back out now that they were here. Of course this wasn't one of his palace women, no would indeed mean no. He hopefully would convince her quickly that she didn't want to say no.
"The meaning, Your Majesty,” she said with a soft exhale of breath. "I'm not sure that any explanation I could give would teach you anything. It's just how a lady dresses in my country.”
"But you're not in your country, Mrs. Anna.”
"No,” she hesitated. "I'm not.”
He felt rather than heard her inhale sharply as his hands moved to her bare shoulders. Her skin was cool beneath his hands, which were warm in part he admitted due to nervousness. He had never attempted to bed a woman who was not his to have, a woman he had emotional attachments to, this love she spoke of. He hoped it would not hinder his ability to perform satisfactorily for them both.
He realized that there was yet another significant difference for him, and perhaps she as well as he moved his hands to her back where the buttons on her gown began. There were so many of them and they were so tiny. How did a man ever get his wife out of her clothes? His taking someone to bed was usually for the purpose of reproducing, though children didn't always result from every joining. This was the first time that he would take a woman to bed and have to take precautions not to get her with child.
He would accept any child she gave him, but he knew the rules of her society would frown upon her having a child out of marriage. While he might be able to give her love, he could not give her marriage. Not the type of marriage she and her countrymen were accustomed to at any rate. He would never insult her by offering to make her one of his wives.
The buttons unfastened, Mongkut parted the gray satin fabric at her back his fingertips grazing the side of her breasts. He leaned forward, kissing her left shoulder and then the side of her neck to her ear. "My Anna,” he said softly, betraying with his tone what he could not actually say to her. His hands dropped to her corset so he could unlace it. He was slow and deliberate, finding the contraption both intriguing and sickening. To think that a woman felt she was more desirable wearing one of these things.
There was something to be said for the element of surprise, covering up so much of a woman that a man didn't actually know what he was getting until she was completely unwrapped. He had known for quite some time that he would like the unwrapped version of Anna Leonowens but never dreamed until tonight that he would get the chance.
The corset completely untied, he released it from around her waist and set it on the arm chair. Her dress was still at her feet, she hadn't moved for him to pick it up off the floor. Aside from the yards of gray satin at her feet, she stood now only in a white cotton slip of some sort. Was there no end to these layers? Did she have something more yet underneath this thin piece of material?
As she turned to face him, her arms crossed at her chest he laughed lightly receiving his answer. There was nothing but Anna, the woman underneath this last article of clothing. "Are all Englishwomen this shy? It's a wonder you had your children,” he said teasingly.
Anna blushed deeply. "In truth it's been so long and never under such circumstances.”
He silenced her by kissing her deeply, not giving her a chance to object. His hands capable of brute force gently pushed her arms away from covering her body. His hand cupped one of her breasts and he heard her gasp softly as he broke the kiss to take a breath. Kissing her was far different than anyone he'd kissed before; perhaps it was the feeling of love that centered on it. Love and respect, both things he felt only for this woman.
He removed his jacket, knowing he would get little if any help from her in disrobing. Draping the jacket over the back of the armchair he stepped behind her again and proceeded to remove the pins from her hair. He had seen it down once or twice, but had never been able to touch it. Now he had every intention of running his fingers through it for the duration of the night.
She reached back and helped him loosen her hair. "You have surprisingly dexterous fingers, Your Majesty.”
"I might surprise you in lots of ways, Anna Leonowens, if you let me,” he said, grazing her neck with his mouth as he leaned down to kiss her. "I don't have to show them all to you tonight either.”
She shook her head slightly now that the pins had been removed and sighed softly, contentedly as he ran his fingers through her hair. "Thank you,” she whispered.
He took her into his arms and carried her to the large canopied bed. "I should be thanking you I imagine for allowing me to touch it in such a fashion.”
He walked to her chamber door, ensuring the lock was thrown and the lamps were extinguished. He somehow didn't think she wanted the lights burning during this. He shed his sandals and pants, draping them over his jacket over the arm chair back before joining her on the bed.
The lamp by the side of her bed was on enough that he could see her features. She looked apprehensive but not afraid or unwilling. He took these things as good signs as he placed his hand around her ankle. "You are so tiny,” he observed, not having seen her legs before now.
"I'm not at all, Your Majesty.”
He merely grunted, indication that he was not going to argue with her nor pursue this line of conversation with her.
He worked his way up along the length of her legs, moving the hem of the shift up higher. He felt her hand reach down and stop his progression once he had reached above mid-thigh. He glanced up at her, his question written clearly in his eyes. He seemed to understand that she wanted to remove it without him looking at her so intimately. He moved onto his back, laying next to her on the bed his eyes focused on the canopy above them. He was tempted to look as she sat up and removed the shift but did not.
He moved on top of her again when she had lain back once more. Not wanting him to touch her no longer mattered to him. He couldn't help but touch her. His hands moved slowly over her skin, so smooth and unblemished wanting to touch all of her, not just her breasts and where her legs joined. Everything about her fascinated, intrigued, and aroused him.
He was patient, working diligently at ensuring he brought her pleasure before he actually entered her. He had never worked so hard at pleasing a woman before now. Not that his women had much to complain about with regard to his lovemaking capabilities but he was not as attentive to them as he was to Anna tonight. He would always be more attentive to her, this he knew, if she ever granted him permission for there to be a next time.
She was slow to respond, but once she did Mongkut was glad this Englishwoman had allowed him to see this side to her. She let him know that he was pleasing her. She even touched him, reaching out hesitantly at first with her hand to touch his chest. Her fingertips grazed along his male nipple and he thought he would lose his control there and then.
His eyes met her questioning gaze at his sharp intake of breath, his movements slowing to a complete halt to regain control. She was beautiful and so trusting, he could see it in her eyes. His control regained once more, he began to move inside of her again.
He withdrew from her well in advance of finishing, his breathing haggard and rough. He had pleased her he knew, she could have been lying but he didn't think so. He didn't believe she was capable of feigning such intense reactions. His hand caressed her face and shoulder as he remained on top of her his eyes watching her curiously. She had so much passion in her, he wished he could focus all of his attention on her and unleashing it. He felt curiously empty at the thought he could not.
"Can I stay?”
"Do you think that's wise?”
"It's probably not, but neither was my being here at all.” Her eyes fell closed, but she could not hide from his keen eye the wetness forming in the corners of them both. "But it was worth it, Anna. Everything about you is worth it, this was no different.”
"We cannot allow this to happen again, Your Majesty.”
"Why not,” he asked incredulously. "You enjoyed yourself as did I.”
"I cannot be one of several, Your Majesty, I've never lied to you about my feelings on that subject. Not to mention if I were to end up with child that would be dreadfully difficult to explain to the children I already have.”
"This monogamy you think so highly of,” he said in frustration. He knew she was right, that they had perhaps engaged in something foolish. But he didn't regret it and wouldn't let her regret it either.
"Yes.” She moved to cover herself with the bed's sheet once he had moved beside her. "Not to mention your wives might not like it.”
"It wouldn't be unexpected, Anna. It is not their place to get jealous.”
"Of one another perhaps not, Your Majesty, but I'm not one of them.”
"No you're not one of them. Perhaps you're right this should not happen again, but how can we not? Are we supposed to start tomorrow as if this didn't happen?” His eyes fell closed. "I cannot allow that, Anna.”
She turned onto her side to face him, her hand reaching out with some hesitation to touch his chest. He had covered up with the bed sheet up to his waist for her sake, taking his cue from her modest attempt at covering herself up after they'd made love as they had.
"I have no say in this?”
"Of course you do, Anna, but how can you deny what you feel?”
"It's not a matter of denial, Your Majesty. It's a matter of practicality, you're a scientific man you should be able to understand that. It will be difficult enough for me to leave Siam when the time comes for me to leave. If I allow myself to grow more attached to and dependent upon you then what will I do when it's time for me to leave?”
"Who says you have to leave?”
"Surely you don't expect me to stay here forever. My daughter will need me when she's done with her schooling.”
His eyes grew cold and distant at her words. He hadn't thought of this other child of hers, her daughter. Of course she'd have to go to her eventually. Mongkut couldn't help but wonder what this girl child looked like. Did she resemble her mother or father? Did she miss her mother? Did she even know where her mother was? And he grew curious to know why he cared.
"No, I guess I don't, though you could bring your daughter here to Siam if you wanted to.”
"No, Your Majesty, I could not.”
He was quiet waiting for her to say more, but she did not. He couldn't understand why she couldn't bring her daughter to Siam. He was getting ahead of himself, he realized. He had to once again call upon the fact that she would not be one of many and he would never be monogamous. This was a huge obstacle for two people in love to overcome and he doubted they could.
He sat up at the edge of the bed, realizing he should probably go. Staying most of or all of the night was not going to help either of them. He placed his pants back on before he stood.
"Yes, Anna, it's best if I leave. For you, your reputation which I know you're fond of. Louis would not enjoy finding me here in the morning or if he wakes up during the night.”
"I'm sorry if I made you think you have to go.”
"You have nothing to be sorry for, I do. I should never have let this happen.” He went around the bed to the side closest to her and sat on the edge again. "It was my first experience with love involved, so I will not claim to regret it.”
"You love me, Your Majesty?”
"Yes, Anna, I would never have done this if I didn't. I don't make it a practice to compromise females who are not mine to compromise.”
"Of course, I wasn't implying you would.”
He kissed her, lingering for a moment as his hands found her hair once again.
"Say it please. Just once say it.”
"What? That I love you?”
She nodded her head slightly.
"I love you, Anna Leonowens. In another life perhaps our love will be able to bloom fully into what in this life we know it would have the chance of becoming if we let it.”
"Perhaps, Your Majesty.”
"Now it's your turn, Anna. Can you say the same words to me?”
Her eyes closed and she swallowed hard. She opened her eyes again and looked at him. "I love you, too.”
"Now we both have said it so neither of us can use it against the other one.” He kissed her again. "You have my promise that I will not initiate something like this again, Anna. You don't have to live in fear that I expect this of you and I don't want you to live in fear if it does happen that you will have another child. I wouldn't do that to you.”
"Yes, I know and understand. Thank you. But this changes nothing between us, I hope? Around the palace, I mean.”
"No. Please continue to bring me your opinions, but always,” he said with a smirk, "your head shall remain lower than mine.”
She smiled widely. "As you wish, Your Majesty.”
"Good night, Anna.”
"Good night, Your Majesty.”
He prolonged his exit for as long as he could, taking longer than necessary to replace his sandals on his feet and his jacket on his torso, hoping she would ask him not to go. As he quietly unlocked and opened the door from her chambers, he realized she was not going to stop him from going. He stopped himself from turning to look at her one last time, fearful of what he might see. Fearful that she would be sitting there waiting anxiously for him to go. If this is what love brought with it, fear and anxiety he would have rather lived without it.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com