Authors: Connie Mason
Sophia raised her hips to take him deeper, tightening her sheath around his pulsing heat. He growled his approval and began the dance of love. He thrust and withdrew, again and again, pulling out, then pushing deep, faster, harder, sweetly caressing her body with each powerful stroke.
The ragged hum of his breathing resonated like sweet music in her ears. She felt her body begin to tremble, heard herself moaning. Chris buried himself deep with a guttural groan, and then Sophia soared, tasting Paradise. Shuddering, his name on her lips, she was tossed upon turbulent waves of shimmering pleasure.
Dimly she heard Chris shout, felt his body stiffen, and then she sank beneath the waves. Sophia was nearly asleep when she felt Chris slide away and settle down beside her. Then he curled himself around her and drew her into the curve of his body.
“Do you have any idea how much I love you?” he whispered against her neck.
“Not until tonight. Never stop loving me, Chris.”
“I couldn't possibly.” His hand closed over her breast and then slid down to her stomach. He splayed his fingers over the barely discernible bulge. “When were you going to tell me about our babe?”
Sophia sighed. “I never intended to tell you if you continued to punish yourself for Desmond's death. I needed to hear you admit that you loved me.”
Astounded, Chris asked, “You would have let me return to Jamaica without telling me you were carrying my child?”
“If I had to. I couldn't live with you until you purged your heart of guilt and forgave yourself.”
“Thank God I came to my senses in time. Will you return to Jamaica with me after the Christmas holidays? Justin and Grace have their hearts set on having the family together for the holidays. I can't wait to tell them we're having a child. I'll bet Casper is thrilled.”
“I've told no one but Grace, but I wouldn't count on her keeping it a secret from her husband. We can tell Casper together. He's part of our family.”
Chris caressed her creamy cheek. She was so dear to him. How could he have been so stupid? He should have realized that his determination to marry Sophia had been based on more than his desire to protect her. He had loved her even then. He rose up on his elbow to tell her, but subsided when he saw she had fallen asleep.
Chris had scarcely settled down to sleep when someone tapped lightly on the door. Cursing softly, he rolled out of bed, dragged on his trousers and cracked the door open. “I thought I told you I didn't want to be disturbed until morning.”
The innkeeper scraped and bowed. “Forgive me, sir, but the constable is below. He asked me to fetch you.”
“Tell him I'll be right down.”
Chris closed the door and donned his boots and shirt. Then he left the room, closing the door softly behind him. When he returned a short time later, he found Sophia sitting up in bed.
“Did I awaken you?” Chris asked.
Sophia chewed on her bottom lip. “I sensed you weren't in bed beside me and woke up.”
Chris quickly undressed and joined her. “Oh, my love, did you think I wasn't coming back?”
“I suppose I haven't fully accepted yet that you love me.”
“Believe it, love.”
“Where did you go?”
“The constable came to the inn to tell me that Rigby was gone when he arrived at the cottage. The bedroom door had been kicked in.”
“Rigby said he was sailing for Jamaica in the morning,” she said.
“Let him go,” Chris said. “One day he'll pay for what he tried to do to you. Before we leave London, I'll obtain a warrant for his arrest and let the Jamaican authorities take care of him.”
Sophia relaxed beside him. “There are still three weeks left until Christmas. What shall we do until then?”
“Why not just have fun doing all the things we can't do in Jamaica? We can go to the theater, attend plays, explore the city with Casper, visit Justin and his family, and shop. Would you like that?”
“As long as I'm with you, I don't care what we do. I'm sure Casper would enjoy your company as well. Perhaps we can take his tutor to Jamaica with us, if he's agreeable.”
“We'll ask him. Can you sleep now?”
She turned in his arms. “Not yet. I want to taste Paradise again.”
“He won't object.”
“Or she. Just shut up and love me.”
He moved over her. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure.”
Their time in London was everything Sophia could have hoped for. Because of the Earl of Standish's influence, Chris and Sophia were accepted into Society once again. Not that they cared. They attended plays and the opera, went to Vauxhall gardens, enjoyed leisurely strolls in the park when the weather permitted such activity, and took Casper on a variety of outings.
Christmas was spent quietly with Justin and his family. It was the first Christmas Sophia had celebrated since her mother's death many years ago. It was Chris's first Christmas with family in seven years and Casper's first family Christmas ever. But after celebrating the New Year at a ball, Sophia, Chris and Casper were anxious to return to their home in Jamaica. As it turned out, Mr. Dexter, Casper's tutor, happily agreed to accompany them.
On the fifth of January, a cool but rather pleasant winter day, the
slipped her moorings and set a course for Jamaica. A noticeably pregnant Sophia, along with Chris, Casper and Mr. Dexter, were joined by Lord Chester and his family.
Sophia rarely left the cabin the first two weeks of the voyage. The biting wind and intermittent snow kept the passengers from straying topside. But once the ship entered warm waters, the passengers spent their days strolling about the deck, enjoying the sun and tropical breezes. The heavier London clothes were packed away, replaced by lighter garments. Sophia renewed her friendship with Dirk Blaine and some of the sailors she had gotten to know during her previous voyage to Jamaica.
They arrived in Kingston at the end of January, three weeks and two days after they had departed London. The moment he stepped ashore, Chris became aware of a pall hanging over the city. There were no smiling black faces hawking their wares, no one, either white or black, strolling along the sun-drenched streets.
“Something is wrong,” Chris said, voicing everyone's fears.
Chris and Lord Chester had planned to go directly to the livery, where they had left their carriages in anticipation of their return, but changed their minds. With wives and children in tow, they walked to the King's Arms.
Mr. Ludlow seemed surprised to see them. “This is a bad time to be returning to Jamaica,” he said grimly.
“What happened?” Chris asked. “Did something unforeseen take place after we left the island?”
Ludlow's eyes looked haunted. “It was terrible. Too many people died. I suppose word hasn't reached England yet. 'Twas a catastrophe, right enough.”
Lady Agatha herded the children into the common room. “You can tell me about it later,” she told her husband. “This is probably something the children shouldn't hear.”
“Was it a slave rebellion?” Chris guessed. “I thought the danger had passed.”
“After you left,” Ludlow began, “stirrings of rebellion flared up again. “Daddy” Sam Sharp continued to preach passive resistance, and it looked like the slaves took his words to heart. But then things took a violent turn. Over Christmas and into the New Year, marauding slaves, some say up to twenty thousand, began burning plantations and murdering planters all over the island.”
“Oh, no!” Sophia cried. “Is Sunset Hill gone?”
“Your plantation was left untouched. Your workers protected your property, and Sam Sharp and his people joined them in holding off rampaging slaves.”
Chris let out a whoosh of breath. Sunset Hill had been spared. He couldn't believe it. Thank God he had freed his slaves.
“What happened at Orchid Manor?” Lord Chester asked.
“Gone,” Ludlow said, shaking his head. “I'm sorry.”
“We'll rebuild,” Chester vowed.
“What about our neighbors?” Sophia asked.
“Some of your neighbors survived and others didn't. Wombly and Humbart escaped with their lives but lost their plantations. Sir Rigby died when his plantation was set afire. He arrived in Kingston aboard the
a few days before the onset of the rebellion. He picked the wrong time to return.”
“Rigby got just what he deserved,” Chris muttered.
“How did the rebellion end?” Chester asked. “Everything seems quiet enough now.”
“It was a dreadful time,” Ludlow said sadly. “The slaves were tricked into laying down their arms with false promises of freedom. Over four hundred were hanged immediately, and hundreds more were whipped. Terrible, just terrible,” he repeated. “Christmas of 1831 will long be remembered in the archives of Jamaican history as a bloodbath.”
Sophia turned so pale that Chris reached for her, fearing she would faint. Mr. Dexter looked equally pale.
“I want to go home to Sunset Hill,” Sophia whispered, “and you must invite Lord Chester and his family to stay with us until his new home is built.”
“What about it, Chester? Will you accept our hospitality?”
“Thank you, that's very kind of you. Agatha insisted that Sophia should have a woman who knows about childbirth with her when she delivers,” Chester said. “I should have listened to you, Radcliff. I should have freed my slaves. Had I done so, Orchid Manor might still be standing. I think we all learned a lesson from this. Human life is valuable, no matter what color a person's skin. I intend to free my slaves at once and pay them decent wages to work my land.”
“Well said,” Chris agreed. “It's settled, then. Let's fetch our carriages and take the women and children to Sunset Hill. We can pick up our luggage later.”
“I'm coming with you,” Casper said. “I'm not a child.”
Chris clapped the lad on the shoulder. “Indeed you're not, my boy. And Mr. Dexter can come along, too, if he wishes.”
During the ride to Sunset Hill, they encountered acres and acres of tobacco, sugar and coffee that had been torched and destroyed during the rebellion. But when they reached the outer limits of Chris's lands, the difference was glaringly apparent. Flowers still bloomed, birds still sang their sweet songs, and crops were flourishing. The house rose tall and majestic against a bluebell sky.
“Home,” Sophia whispered as Chris handed her down from the carriage. “I hope Jamaica never experiences another bloodbath. I can't wait to see Kateena and the others. London is nice to visit, but this is home. This is where our family will grow and prosper. Sunset Hill is our own personal Paradise.”
personal Paradise,” Chris said as they entered the house arm in arm. “Thank God we found our way back to one another.”
Five months later.
Chris was holding Sophia's hand when their daughter was born. It was an easy birth, according to Lady Agatha and the midwife. They named her Angela, because Casper thought she looked like an angel. The following week, the Chesters moved into their new home and the island slowly returned to normal.
I hope you enjoyed
A Taste of Paradise
. I have been to Jamaica several times and was impressed with the beauty of the island. Many disasters have plagued Jamaica over the years, including volcano eruptions and hurricanes. But no disaster was more horrific than the island's frequent slave rebellions, including the one that took place over Christmas of 1831.
After four hundred slaves were hanged and thousands of others whipped, a wave of revulsion swept England, prompting the British Parliament to abolish slavery on August 1, 1834. Although free, the slaves were still bound to slave owners' compensation schemes, which could be likened to apprenticeships, until 1838. The freed slaves still faced extreme hardship, marked by another rebellion in 1865. It was brutally repressed and the island subsequently became a Crown Colony.
My next book will be a Scottish themed Medieval romance. Look for it in the spring of 2007.
I enjoy hearing from readers. For a newsletter and bookmark, please send a business-sized self-addressed stamped envelope with your request to me at P.O. Box 3471, Holiday, FL 34692. For more information about my books, visit my Web site at www.conniemason.com or contact me by e-mail at [email protected]