Her hands are trembling, and she decides to ignore it.
She has been here before - not in this chamber, not in this nightgown, not with this man. But she has done this before. She is a widow. She knows what this bed is for.
She turns down the covers further than the maids thought to, exposing almost the whole of the clean white sheets. For any other wedding night, she supposes, those sheets would be marked and used as proof of consummation, but there is no need for that here.
She wonders if that disappoints Richard. Edward had told her that it was less fun, after the first time.
She makes herself comfortable - it is a good bed, Richard’s bed, the mattress firm beneath her and the sheet soft - and tucks the covers and blankets loose around her waist. He can move them as he sees fit, move her nightgown to suit his needs. Edward had always preferred that she keep her nightgown on, saying that she had not enough wiles to entice him, and it was easier for him to imagine another beneath him if he did not have to look at her bare.
She wonders - will Richard think the same? Will he think of Mistress Haute while he moves above her?
He said that he loves her, in the snow in the yew garden. But did he mean it? Or is he just as bad as his brothers - George, who hardly seems to notice Isabel, Edward, who fucks every willing woman and cares not what his Queen thinks?
The door opens and shuts so quickly that she almost thinks she imagined it, imagined the rumble of noise from beyond this spartan chamber of Richard’s, imagined the flush on his face before he turned to bolt the door.
He stays there for a moment, facing the door, and Anne waits. She turns to look at the ceiling as soon as he turns to look at her, and feels her whole self blush, toes to hairline.
“Are you warm enough, Anne?” he asks, voice quiet and deafening in the confines of the room. She’s become so used to hearing him outside, or in the vastness of the church, that it feels odd - even more intimate than lying in his bed in just her nightgown, somehow.
“Plenty warm, thank you,” she manages, still not able to look at him.
His doublet hits the floor and it sounds so impossibly loud. Everything is so loud, especially the sob that Anne tries her best to swallow down.
“Anne?” he says, sounding alarmed now, and she wipes away the foolish tears burning at her eyes before they can fall. “Anne, what is it? Are you unwell?”
“I am- perfectly fine,” she says, and even she does not believe it. She closes her eyes, and flinches away when the mattress tips at her left hand.
Richard takes her hand regardless, lifts it and touches his lips to her new wedding ring. It is a simple thing, a band of gold that sits snug and well-made on her finger, and it is more dear to her than the gaudy ring Edward put on her ever could be.
“I am sorry,” she says, refusing to open her eyes because she is so ashamed. What kind of wife will she be if she cannot even do this without crying, like a scared child. “I- just a moment. Please.”
“As many as you need,” he says, and she dares to look. There is no disgust there, no disdain, only concern and something else - his eyes skim over her face and shoulders and the tops of her breasts, and he is shameless in doing so. When they return north to meet hers, they are darker than usual, and warm, and she feels her blush return. “I am in no hurry, my lady.”
He kisses his ring on her hand again, and then sets her hand against her stomach, over the blankets - and rises.
Without his doublet, with only the thin linen of his shirt, she can see the curve of his spine that he so hated when they were children together at Middleham. It is not so bad as he’d always worried, she thinks, and then looks away. Edward hadn’t liked her to watch him, and she does not want to anger Richard even before he lays a hand on her.
“Would you like some wine, Anne?” he asks, sitting down in one of the high-backed chairs by the fire. Lit up from one side, he is all angles and shadows, and when Anne sits up, his mouth softens and goes a little slack, and he has never been lovelier to her eyes. “The Queen sent it, as a wedding gift - Malmsey wine, from her personal cellar.”
There is no robe for her to wear - that will be brought in the morning, like as not, by some maid sent to ensure that they are in bed together, as proof that the marriage has been consummated - so she gathers the topmost blanket off the bed around herself, wondering if the white of the York roses embroidered into it suits her as ill as the red of Lancaster had.
He smiles, when she sits opposite him, and somehow that makes it worse. She wants to kiss him so badly, but they are here, alone, and there are not enough candles lit, and it so reminds her of her other wedding night that-
The clatter of her cup on the flagstones of the hearth startles her, but not so much as Richard’s sudden appearance at her feet. He is kneeling before her, her hands clasped in his and pressed again to his soft lips, and she wants to free one, to sink her fingers into his thick hair, to find out if it is as soft and heavy as it looks.
When he lifts his head to look at her, there is a question in his face, and she knows that she must answer.
“He hurt me,” she says, uneven and aching, and she thinks that this must be what a damburst feels like, for the dam. “He told me not to move and he hurt me, and I am afraid.”
The silence weighs heavier than even the darkness, and Richard watches her. Waits for her.
“I want to kiss you again,” she says, stunned by her own forthrightness but pleased by it all the same. “But I am afraid, because kissing and bedding are two different things-”
“They needn’t be,” he says, chin resting on their clasped hands. “I won’t ever stop kissing you, if that’s what you desire.”
He leans up, slowly, and she can taste the wine she spilled without drinking on his tongue when he slips it carefully into her mouth.
His hair is thicker than she thought it would be, and heavier, and he makes a noise when she tightens her fingers through it. When he pulls away, her hand still in his hair, his mouth is shining, and it is soft again.
“Tell me,” he says. “Tell me how to take away the fear.”
“Candles,” she tells him. “I want more light. No darkness. Please.”
He rises easily, and in just his shirt and breeches and boots, she can make out more of the shape of him, and finds she does not care about the curve of his spine. She likes the lean lines of his legs, and the strength of his shoulders, and watches him light candle after candle, until the whole chamber seems to shine.
“I- I don’t know.”
He kneels before her again, tucking the heavy blanket around her shoulders more securely, and darts her a small smile.
“Will it frighten you,” he asks, “if I disrobe?”
She almost laughs, because what few inappropriate dreams she has had have almost exclusively featured what she imagines might lie beneath Richard’s shirt, but instead she leans down and kisses him, just a little, and smiles.
“It is not you that I am frightened of,” she says, and that fleeting smile returns. “It is all that I do not know. I do not know how to… How to please you, my lord.”
He stands again, steps a little away from her, and tugs his shirt over his head. His skin looks so smooth, pale and glowing in the candlelight, and she wants to touch him.
“You cannot but please me, Anne,” he says, as if it is some secret admission, just to be shared between them. “I have been thinking of this for longer than I would like to admit.”
He braces his hand on the bedpost when he leans down to untie the laces of his boots, and the curve of his back is more pronounced now that he is not holding himself rigidly straight, as he usually does. His shoulders are not as broad as she imagined, and bare like this, he looks as young as Anne feels.
That is a comfort, somehow. She knows that he has as much experience at this as she does, likely more - he told her of his children, after all, a little boy and a girl who is hardly more than a babe-in-arms, and had sworn that from now forward, his only children would also be hers - but he looks as shy as she is. She can see it, see it in the way he fumbles his bootlaces and flushes down the back of his neck, over his shoulders.
She wants to touch him there, too, to touch that dusting of pale freckles across his paler shoulders, and is mortified by it. A lady should not- shouldn’t want such things, should she?
His boots are long, of soft black leather, and they slump quietly when he places them by the hearth before kneeling once more at her feet, now in just his breeches. The firelight flickers, casting strange shadows over his back, and Anne realises suddenly that here, kneeling at her feet with his head bowed over her hands, over her lap, he is like a supplicant before her.
“Oh,” she says, and he lifts his head and is beautiful. So beautiful.
“May I kiss you again?” he asks, and she leans down to taste him again, to feel the warmth of his mouth on hers, gentle and greedy at once.
“Oh,” she says again, when she draws away a little, to breathe. His eyes are closed, lavender against his pale, pink-flushed face, and he brushes his nose against hers before claiming her mouth again.
She could kiss him forever. She could, especially if kissing him is the root of the warmth blossoming in her belly, which feels so lovely.
When she draws away again, his eyes are open, and they are wild.
“Let me show you something,” he says, pleading and hungry. “Let me show you what I can give to you, in our bed. Let me show you why you need not be afraid of this, Anne.”
She hesitates - he’s never spoken to her like this before, voice low and urgent, and she realises for the first time that his hands are on her knees, thumbs pressing gently into the softness just below her thighs.
“I- move your hands,” she blurts out, because Edward had always shoved her open by the knees, and-
Richard’s hands are cupping her face in an instant, warm and rough with callouses from pen and bowstring and sword, and he kisses her again, lingering this time to flick his tongue against the roof of her mouth and make her shiver.
Oh. She does not say it aloud this time, but it is there. It is… Nothing like she has experienced before. Oh.
“Please, Anne,” he says again, the urgency in his voice sharper now, thrilling her. His hair is ruffled and tangled, his mouth shining once more but pink now, and Anne thinks to herself, I have done this to him. “Please, sweetheart, let me show you pleasure.”
She nods, because… Because surely there must be pleasure in this act. Why else would girls ruin themselves, if there was not? Edward was a brute in all things, so it makes sense that his exceptional brutishness extended even to the marital bed.
Richard kisses her again, but not on the mouth. Instead, he drops his hands to cradle her calves, and dips his head to kiss the inside of her knee.
“Ssh,” he murmurs against her skin, and she shivers again. “Let me show you. Let me-”
He kisses the flushed skin there on her inner thighs, now, his mouth open and soft and so warm, and Anne wonders - is this it? This coiling warmth? Is this what people throw their reputations down for?
“Spread your legs for me,” Richard murmurs, turning his head to kiss up her other leg, tongue pressing firm to the back bend of her knee and making her gasp. “Please, sweetheart, spread your legs.”
She does, in a daze, and lets him guide her to sit closer to the edge of the chair. He looks so beautiful, firelit and delicate, despite all the muscle on his arms and sides and shoulders. His hair is soft against her thighs as he kisses up and up, nudging her legs even wider and then-
Hooking one over his shoulder. Spreading her wide, bare to his gaze as her nightgown slips all the way up her legs, to pool about her hips.
He brushes his fingertips over the curls above her sex, something reverent and lovely in his eyes when he looks up to her before dipping his head again.
She cries out, startled, when his tongue spreads her open, flat against her sex and gentle, and he laughs, right there against her sex!
“Surely this is a sin,” she gasps, clutching for the arm of the chair with one hand and burying the other in his hair, which makes him moan and lick up her slit again and oh, oh-
“I will confess my sins tomorrow,” he says, and when he lifts his head to grin at her, one eyebrow cocked in tease, his mouth and chin and the tip of his nose are shining and slicked, and if it wasn’t so pleasureable Anne would surely be mortified. “For now, I wish to pleasure my wife - surely that cannot be sinful?”
His mouth is on her again before she can answer, this time surer and hungrier. He licks into her again and again, and then his tongue presses in, really in, and she jumps - or she would, had he not such a firm, gentle hold of her hips.
He lets go of her left hip, and she doesn’t understand why until his tongue disappears, until he rests his head against the inside of her thigh and sinks one long finger into her.
It doesn’t hurt - not at all. Not one little bit.
“God forgive me if this is a sin,” he says, and his voice is raw now, strained and delicious. “But I don’t repent, not even a little bit.”
He dips in again, lips this time closing over that little nub above her opening, and Anne cries out again, louder this time, at the sudden rush of pleasure that burns through her. The pressure of his mouth on that nub and the gentle curl of his finger in and out of her, and the vision he presents with his dark head bent between her legs and his pale back spread below her, and the sound of it all, wet and illicit and so different to what she is used to, it’s all far too much, and something in her belly goes snap and-
He is smiling up at her, when she opens her eyes. His chest is heaving, but he is smiling, and he has tucked her nightgown back around her legs.
“Would you like a moment?” he asks, barely above a whisper, and she nods. She feels as if she will fall apart if she moves from this spot, and doesn’t know how he might put her back together. “I will be here, Anne, whenever you are ready.”
He rises and steps away, behind her, but she cannot hear a thing over the pounding of her pulse in her ears, so she doesn’t know any more than that.
Once her heart stops trying to break through her ribs, she lets go of the arm of the chair, and rises unsteadily to her feet.
He has unlaced his breeches, dropped the placket and unlaced, and does nothing to hide himself when she stands facing him. Quite the opposite, really - he holds her gaze while he pushes his breeches down his hips, uses the movement of stepping out of them to come closer to her, and then he is naked, and Anne does not know where to look.
She settles on his eyes, for now - she has never seen them so dark, so intent on hers, and when he slips an arm around her waist and draws her close, they seem to flash bright for just a heartbeat.
“You are so beautiful,” he says, lips almost touching hers, but not quite. “So lovely, sweetheart.”
“I think,” Anne says, wondering how he can do anything but tell the truth after spending some indefinable time with his head between her legs, “that I am too warm now.”
She keeps her hands on his shoulders as he unlaces her nightgown, as he spreads the linen and lace wide and eases it down her shoulders, to her elbows - and then she drops her arms, and it hits the floor.
“So beautiful,” he says again, reverent and aching, and she tips her mouth up for another kiss, not even caring that there is a salt-sweet tang on his mouth now, and she slides her arms over his shoulders, one pressing to the smooth skin of his back and the other threading through his hair once more.
He tugs her close, and when their bodies meet, he moans. It rumbles from his mouth into Anne’s, and she is sure that she can taste how much he wants her.
His mouth on her throat is almost unbearable, catching her breath somewhere in her belly and setting her pulse skipping like a volta. His chest is firm and solid, and she presses her breasts against him, hoping that it might ease the almost-painful pressure. If anything, it makes it worse, but he eases his hand from her hair to come between them, to cup her breast and run his thumb over her nipple, which is swollen, and hard, and so sensitive that she moans herself at his touch.
“Tell me if you wish me to stop,” he says, rough and hitching, and she tucks her face against his neck, feels his pulse racing as fast as her own against her cheek, and takes a deep breath.
“Take me to bed,” she says, while the pleasure and wanting burns hot in her veins, before the fear can return. “Please, Richard-”
He guides her with careful hands, lifting her by the backs of the thighs and settling her against the pillows before following, kneeling over her, shifting so his body is half-resting against hers-
“Stop,” she gasps, pushing at his shoulders, pushing and fighting and no, not again-
His weight is gone in an instant, and he is beside her, alongside her, pink all over and hard, his cock lying flushed against his upraised thigh.
“Anne,” he says, one hand fisted in the pillow near her head and the other cradling her jaw as though she is made of glass, “do you trust me?”
“You know I do,” she says, miserable for being so foolish but still half alight with wanting him. “Richard, help me-”
He dives in, kisses her again, turns them so they are lying facing one another on their sides, so he can curl one hand under her head but run the other the length of her back, around the curve of her backside, down her thigh. This way, they are pressed flush together, but Edward’s spectre is nowhere, there is only Richard, only the heat of his body against hers, the weight of his curious, careful hands.
She presses closer, and he draws away suddenly, rolling across the bed and hissing out a string of curses.
“Your shoulder,” Anne guesses, reaching out unthinkingly to touch his left shoulder, the shoulder he’s guarding like an open wound, to stroke it in sympathy. He calms quickly enough, seems largely untroubled by it, and smiles a little ruefully when eventually he turns back to her.
“I was ambitious,” he says, “and paid for my ambition. We will have to find some other way, sweetheart.”
He leans up on the other arm now, and kisses her thoroughly - there are still echoes of the taste of her on his tongue, and she relishes them, kneeling up kiss him deeper.
“Perhaps,” he murmurs, and then he is guiding her across him, sure hands on her thighs again, and she cannot help but blush absolute crimson at the sight she surely presents, straddling his lap with his manhood resting now against the curls above her thighs.
He notices, and grins before kissing her again.
“I want you,” he says, blunt and twice as sweet for it. “I think that you want me, too.”
She nods, unable to find words, and watches him take himself in hand, watches him wrap his long fingers around his cock and hold it steady.
“Take me,” he says, “for I am yours as much as you are mine.”
That more than anything looses the wanting in her belly, and she carefully, nervously, lowers herself down his length until her hips are pressed to his.
He lifts a hand to her chin, catches her lower lip with the pad of his thumb and tugs, so gently. His other hand is on her hip, squeezing in gentle encouragement, and she rolls her hips, just a little.
“ Anne,” he breathes, and opens his eyes wide to watch her.
What does she want? She doesn’t know, in truth, except that she wants to touch him, so she does, she spreads her hand wide over his chest and touches him.
Her husband. How wonderful, to want to lay claim to her husband.
“Please,” he says, twitching underneath her, “please, sweetheart, won’t you move some more?”
It's all so simple, really, like a dance she's half-forgotten but which was learned with him. His eyes never leave hers, and as their rhythm gains speed, he holds up a hand, links his fingers through hers and looks at her as if she is the most beautiful woman in England.
Perhaps, she realises, leaning in to kiss him again, because she loves kissing him, he does think she's the most beautiful woman in England.
He moans into her mouth, deeper and harder than before, and she lets go of his hand so she can brace herself on the headboard, to keep kissing him while her hips roll into his, over and over and-
His release startles both of them, the sudden rush of heat and pressure within her familiar to Anne, but not unwelcome. It is different, with Richard. Everything is different, with Richard.
He says her name, hoarse and adoring, and her body throbs around him at it. It is her, only her, that has done this to him. Only her that he sees in their marriage bed.
She climbs off him, blood still singing with want, and watches him gasp for breath, wide-eyed and beautiful. She doesn't care if men shouldn't be beautiful, because Richard is.
“You did not find your pleasure,” he says, dazed contentment turning to curiosity, to a little embarrassment. He turns, half-rolls, and brushes his fingertips over the bridge of her nose, the curve of her jaw, the line of her neck. “I must remedy that.”
She wants to tell him that she has found plenty of pleasure, more than she thought her body capable of, but her voice is a thousand miles away and he is kissing her anyway.
Her mouth will surely be swollen all day tomorrow, from all this kissing, and she does not mind one bit.
Richard’s hand is surer on her skin now, cupping her breast firmly and rolling her nipple between two fingers, stroking below her breasts and down her belly, the length of her thigh and back up.
“I want to kiss your cunt again,” he murmurs, lips brushing against hers as he speaks. “May I?”
He kisses her mouth instead of waiting for an answer, hand sliding firm down her belly, resting on her mound, fingertips just barely brushing against her slick, tender sex, and she wants everything, but doesn’t know what that is.
“Let me,” he breathes, barely audible, and nips the shell of her ear before pushing himself down the bed, between her legs, to lie with his cheek against her thigh. He watches her, luminous in the candlelight, and smiles. She sees him smile openly so rarely that it takes her breath away, because God in Heaven but he’s so beautiful, and he is hers. “May I?”
She nods, frantic, and twists both hands into his hair when he dips his head. It’s even better than before, in the chair, because now she can twist and arch, because now she is aching for him even before he begins, because now she knows, and the anticipation of that searing pleasure is a pleasure itself, really-
Two fingers curl into her this time, stroking against her as he sucks and teases, and she feels as if she is losing her mind. She pulls his hair so hard that it surely must hurt, but he only moans against her and redoubles his efforts, fingers crooking quicker and just a little harder, and he chases her right over the precipice into that glory which is so new, but so wonderful.
She cries out, wordless, and thinks she might cry his name, after. It is a sudden, sharp thing, this pleasure, and she thinks that if their marriage bed is always like this, she will never be able to leave it.
“If it is always like this,” Richard says, easing himself up the mattress to lie alongside her once more, “then I may not allow you to leave.”
She is mortified to have spoken aloud, but he laughs, low and rough as his voice still is, and gathers her close.
“Never be ashamed,” he says, easing onto his back so she can lie against his shoulder and chest. “I am your husband, you my wife - there should be nothing secret between us, Anne.”
“I did not know that marriage could be this way,” she says, not daring to look him in the eye. “I did not know that you could want me.”
“Your… Your previous husband did not want you?”
“He wanted the act,” she says, wondering if it is the lingering pleasure that is making her so bold, or if it is how bright the room is - there are no shadows where Edward’s ghost might linger, Richard made certain of that. “He wanted nothing from me but an heir, and even then…”
Richard tips her face up, and she can feel the callous on the ball of his thumb against her chin. It is a reassurance, somehow, that he is the man she knows him to be, that his hands are marked with all his efforts.
“I want you,” he tells her, something fierce in his lovely dark eyes, something that warms her. “When I told you I would be a true husband, I meant it, in all things. You are my wife, my partner. You have my love and my confidence.”
“Oh,” she says, and thinks she might cry. His confidence. No one has ever truly seemed to trust her before, and that more than his assurance of love comforts her.
Edward had never trusted her with a single thing, after all. Perhaps this will be as different as she hoped, perhaps it will be everything she used dream of when she used imagine marriage to Richard, when she was a girl.
“Thank you,” she says, stretching up and kissing him again, very softly, before resting her head against his shoulder. Her hand she lets rest on his chest, over his heart, and smiles when one of his hands comes up to tangle in her hair, the other to cover hers on his chest.
“Sleep,” he says. “We have a long few days ahead of us, sweetheart. I would not have you exhausted.”
Anne sleeps better than she has since her first wedding, that night, and wakes before him. The candles have all burned down, but the fire is still smouldering in the grate and the sun is peeping through the shuttered windows, so there are still hardly any shadows.
Richard’s face is soft in sleep, and almost smiling. It will be so easy to love him.