Jane Grey: Chapter One

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The Loire Valley, France
September 12, 1850

Of all the many mistakes Matthew Brontë had made in the pursuit of art and love, the first was the one he remembered most fondly. He was sixteen at the time, unschooled in the ways of love, and utterly unaware of his attractions to the opposite sex.

"Have you ever kissed a girl?" his cousin Charlotte had asked.

"No," he replied, ashamed to admit his inexperience.

"Would you like to kiss me?"

Yes, he would. Very much indeed. For he'd always found her as bright and lovely as the day they were presently enjoying picking berries in the garden of the parsonage where she lived with her family in Yorkshire. At the same time, he knew kissing her would be wrong. He was, nevertheless, tempted. She was a quiet, thoughtful girl whose petite figure and diminutive hands and feet were very much to his liking. Her face, too, was pleasing with its large almond-colored eyes and bowed mouth, which, at the moment, was stained with the juice of the strawberries they'd been eating. So was her little gauze dress with its faint pattern of flowers.

"I want to, but we shouldn't." The day was warm and he was sweating under his neckcloth and waistcoat. "If we are found out, there will be the devil to pay."

"Don't be afraid of that." She stepped closer, canted her head, and began to play with the knot on his cravat. "We can go into the garden shed where no one will see us. And if someone should come, we can pretend we were only looking for something. A basket or bucket, say, for the berries."

Though her plan seemed solid, Matthew was too afraid of what his unreasonably strict father would do if he caught them. Yes, people often married their cousins, but not at his age and not in his family.

Eventually, her powers of persuasion—helped along significantly by his raging adolescent hormones—won out and he followed her into the dark and musty shed. When she turned to face him, he stood there awkwardly, unsure what to do next. He understood the mechanics of kissing, of course, but understanding how to do a thing and actually doing that thing were hardly the same.

When she set her hands on his shoulders, he felt a quickening in his groin. Holding his gaze, she tilted back her head, offering him that tempting strawberry-stained mouth of hers. Still, he hesitated, fearing the repercussions.

Somewhere outside, a crow cawed. The unexpected noise made his pulse race faster. He was sweating profusely now and his penis was as hard as flint inside his breeches.

She raised a hand to his face and ran her fingers along his jawbone. "Don't you want to kiss me, Matthew?"

All at once, his neckcloth was strangling him. "I do, but..."

She danced her fingertips over his lips. "You are too handsome for your own good, dear cousin. Mark my words, your face will bring you trouble one day."

He swallowed before lowering his face to hers. "And you are too clever and self-possessed for yours, dear Charlotte, which will bring you trouble in equal measure, I'll wager."

Before she could respond, he joined his lips to hers. They were as supple as rose petals and tasted scrumptiously of forbidden fruit. As he swiped his tongue against hers, he slid his hands to her buttocks and pulled her tiny body against his.

As the kiss grew more rapacious, they rubbed the sinful parts of their bodies together, longing to connect more than their mouths. When the dinner bell rang an hour later, they exited that shed with far more experience than they'd possessed when they went in.

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