What’s in a kiss? sings Gilbert O’Sullivan, and this week I’m looking for excerpts that answer that questions. The kiss itself, if you please, but also what it means to the hero or the heroine. One moment of bliss? A delicatessen supplying every need? Something less or something more?
My extract is from The Realm of Silence. Gil has absolutely no idea what Susan thinks of him.
Susan was washing her turnover down with a swallow of ale, shifting impatiently as her hands inched towards the knife and fork she had placed on her plate between mouthfuls, as proper table etiquette required. Her inclination to rush the meal and be on her way was clearly at war with her training in manners.
“Relax, Susan. A few minutes will make the world of difference to your digestion, and very little to our arrival time.”
What a valiant creature his goddess was. She managed a smile, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “I know you are right, you annoying man. I will try not to worry and to be patient.
“You are thinking I have no notion what you are suffering, and you are right that I have never been a father, and have never had to wait and worry about a child of my flesh.” Gil almost left it at that, but then he took a deep breath and spoke the rest of his thought. “But I have been an officer with men I loved and who loved and trusted me, and I have had to send them into danger knowing that some of them will be killed and others wounded. That perhaps gives me a small inkling of your feelings, goddess.”
He winced as the last word slipped out. She hated when people called her that, but it was how he felt. He had worshipped her from the moment he met her as a boy; carried a candle before her image in his heart since that day; held her as a beacon of the best of English womanhood through a thousand engagements on four continents and any number of islands. She was his goddess.
She was oblivious to his preoccupation, considering what he had said. “I had not thought about it like that. Yes. I imagine you were a father, or at least an elder brother, to your men. My brothers are the same. It is like, Gil. So you know how hard it is.”
Susan called him Gil, he noticed, when she was moved, just as he slipped into calling her goddess. He did not call her attention to his mistake, but when he moved her chair back to help her rise, and she stepped to one side almost into his arms, he could not resist wrapping them around her.
He had intended a brief peck on her hair. She lifted her mouth as if she had been waiting for just such a move, and he was lost. She was all that existed. The elusive scent of her filled his nostrils, her yielding curves filled his arms, and her lips and mouth consumed all of his thoughts as he tenderly explored them.
How long the kiss lasted he had no idea, but when she stiffened and pulled away, he let her go immediately, sense rushing back into his brain and berating it for the most arrant stupidity. She didn’t comment — wouldn’t even meet his eyes — but led the way out of the garden, almost running in her hurry.
They had to wait in the stableyard while the groom assisted a man in a hurry; a rider who spurred his way out of the yard without leaving a gratuity, much to the groom’s disgust.
“Didn’t give me nothing day afore yesterday, neither,” he grumbled to Gil as Gil helped him with the horses for the phaeton. “Silly fool. What’s he want to go dashing up and down to Scotland for?”
Gil looked after the disappearing hooves of the horse. “He’s come down from Scotland? Did he say how the roads were?”
The groom shrugged. “Bit of a slip at Grantshouse, but he said he was ready for it, seeing as how he passed it on the way up yesteren. So what does he want to turn around and come back for, I says. He had business in Scotland, says he, and now he has business in Newcastle. Silly fool.”
Gil backed the horse in his charge into the traces. It seemed a steady sort, and moved without complaint or resistance.
The groom was doing the same with the other horse, but he suddenly stopped. “Hey, I just thought me. You was asking ’bout the man what was following the French lady? That was him there, what just rode out of this yard. Got as far as Dunbar then turned around and come back. Must be mad. What’s at Dunbar?”
Amy and Pat, perhaps. That news would take Susan’s mind off his impudent kiss. If that was their mysterious pursuer, then they might be closer than they thought. Gil pondered the implications while his hands went ahead with the familiar tasks of buckling and fastening. The man was heading back to Newcastle in haste. Had he finished the task that sent him north? And if so, what did that mean for Amy and Pat?
Years in combat had taught him not to fret overlong about what he couldn’t know and couldn’t change. He thanked the groom and gave him a tip a dozen times the size of the despised measly offering for the pursuer.
“If that fellow comes through again, delay him, will you?”
Soon, they were rolling north again, and Gil told Amy what he’d learned, and what he had concluded.
“Will we find them at Dunbar?” she asked
“We will be there by late afternoon. We will find out then.”
She was silent again, probably worrying about her daughter, though Gil was finding it near impossible to think about anything but that devastatingly beautiful kiss. It was dawning on him that the goddess had kissed him back. What was he to take from that? He could reasonably conclude that she wanted to be kissed. Wanted to be kissed by him? She was a chaste and respectable lady; one, furthermore, who had managed her own affairs and those of her household and her husband for more than twenty years. She kissed him back, and he couldn’t believe that she gave her kisses lightly.
It was probably the situation. She was worried about her daughter and needed comfort. He dare not read more into it than that.