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The Best of 2013

The Afternoon Circle Jerk Society
by Amanda Earl

Beating the Gothic Out of Her
by Amanda Earl

Real Irish
by Amanda Earl

Mercy and the Man. . .
by Amanda Earl

The Revenant
by Amanda Earl

The Vessel
by Amanda Earl

The Too Beautiful Boy
by Arthur Chappell

The Accidental Fetish
by Corvidae

Never For Punishment
by Daddy X

Like a Brother
by Big Ed Magusson

Old Dogs
by Big Ed Magusson

Goodbye Roger
by Huck Pilgrim

He Sends His Regrets
by Huck Pilgrim

A Small Favor
by Huck Pilgrim

Ava's Honey
by john e

LOX
by john e

Eclipse Sex
by Oxartes

Adam and Eve on a Raft
by Robert Buckley

Dead Man's Switch
by Robert Buckley

Does Immortality come with a Pension?
by Robert Buckley

Embraceable Ewe
by Robert Buckley

A Fragile Desire
by Robert Buckley

Surviving Winter
by Robert Buckley

You're the Only One
by Robert Buckley

Dissolve
by Sybil Rush

Bing Cherry Silk
by Valentine Bonnaire

Colony, Collapsed
by Valentine Bonnaire

Have a Nice Day
by Valentine Bonnaire

l'heure bleue
by Valentine Bonnaire

Once Upon A Time . . .
by Valentine Bonnaire

Red Suede
by Valentine Bonnaire

Yellow, like the daffodils
by Valentine Bonnaire

Novelette

Invisible Lines
by Raziel Moore



Archives

By Alan
Curtain
Other News


By Alice Gray
Slick 50
The Fourth Veda
Stolen Hour


By Amanda Earl
Daddy Complex
The Graffiti Artist
Sex With An Old Woman
The Vampire Responds


By Ann Regentin
What Never Dies
Newborn
Remembering
Surrender


By Big Ed Magusson
The Fix
Methadone


By Brady Sutton
Girls for Leash
The Peculiar Case of...


by C. Sanchez-Garcia
An Early Winter Train
The Doll
The Lady and The Unicorn
Riding the Dog
Fidelis


By Cervo
An Evening At...
Readiness Is All
Chinchilla Lace
Fridays At The Benoit
Cruising On A Sea...
Bitsy Takes a Test
Touring Persephone
Are You Kidding?
Quigley’s Harvest
Mr. Merridawn's Hum
Angels’ Spawn


By Cherry Black
Mrs. Priestly
Face Down
Just A Simple Black Dress


By Chris Bridges
Second-hand
Fast-forwarding
The Whitechapel...
Passing Notes


By Daddy X
Nikki Didn't Like It
Overscratch
A Woman in My Position


By Dominic Santi
Drillers
Kiss of Peace


By G. E. Russell
Judgement Day
Nebulous
First Love, Last Romance
Snow White
This Desolate Eden
The Glass Cage
You Like It Like That...


By Helen E. H. Madden
When The Angels Fall
Husbands and Wives
The Fifth Horseman
The Monster Beneath...
Neighbor of the Beast
Over the Rainbow
Going Viral
Virtual Love


By Helena Settimana
Balance
Highway 69
Amadou
The Space Between


By J.T. Benjamin
The Question
Thornburg Sex Survey
Alternating Weekend
Secret Lives and Lusts
What are Friends For
Olivia's Ulterior Motive
Advice From Miss Millicent
The Baby Doll
The Journals of Chastity
Use Me
Zachary's Perfect Date


By Jill
Kidnapped
Sheila Discusses ...
It's About Sex
A House On Fire?
Maureen and Sheila...


By john e
I Wish My Dick...
johnny's jackoff journal
Saturday Morning


By Julius
In Praise of Pussy
Tight, Tighter, Tightest
You Rang Madam?
The Newcomer


By Juniper Maclay
Lunch Break
The Scientist
Public Transportation


By Keziah Hill
Laying Down the Law
Strawberry Flavoured Joy
The Second Coming
Angel
Dutch Masters


By L.A. Smith
Missionary Position
Both Hands


By Lara Nickles
Almost
Hero


By Lilie Berlin
Naughty Little Girl
Color Less Ordinary


By Mike Kimera
Kneading
Soft Option
At the Adult Bookstore
Postcard
Playing With Barney
Deserving Ruth
Till Death Do Us Part
Happy Anniversary
Mating Calls
It May Not be Art...
Living With It...
The Last Taboo
Hand-Jobs
Fucking Ugly
Paying For It
Sex with Owen
Ask Alice
The Sisters
Bar Snack

Husbands and Wives
by Helen E. H. Madden © 2007



Davy sat alone at a scarred wooden table outside a small cafe. Twilight draped the sky above him in velvet shades of blue and purple. Stars studded the far horizon like crystalline splinters of ice. Their glinting light sent a chill down Davy's spine. This was his ninth evening in the city of Matrimony, and he still had yet to find his bride.

The door to the cafe banged open, startling the young man. A matron, heavy-set and gray-haired, pushed through carrying a pitcher. The hinges squealed in protest as the listing door swung shut behind her. A week ago, the cafe had overflowed with patrons and the door had been brand new, painted in a checkerboard of bright red and green, the colors of marriage and fertility. The whole city had been new and bustling back then, built in the midst of the barrens to provide a meeting place for the throngs of prospective husbands and wives who came every season for the wedding festival. But the city, like the festival, was short-lived. Its temporary structures were little more than plywood shacks and canvas tents. None of it was meant to last. The paint on the cafe door, so bright and pretty eight days before, was now cracked and peeling. The awning above it sagged and all of Matrimony seemed to sag with it, tent stakes slowly pulling loose from the crumbling ground. There was nothing beyond the city's tarpaulin borders to support it; just miles and miles of sun-burnt grass waiting for the place to fall. After tomorrow it would, and Matrimony would become nothing but a memory to be packed up and put away for the next season.

The matron, a kindly woman named Magalia, wandered over to Davy, holding up the pitcher in her leathery hand. "Another drink, dear?" she asked.

"Yes ma'am. Thank you."

He watched her refill his empty mug. "Don't you worry," Magalia told him. "It's not too late. There are still plenty of good women out there looking for a fine young man like your self. You'll walk out of here with a bride tonight for sure."

Davy gave a weak smile in response and the matron shuffled off. The hinges squealed, the door swung shut, and he was alone again. His hands shook as he lifted the drink to his lips. He hoped the old woman was right. His mother and sisters were depending on him to make a good match, to marry a wealthy woman who would support her husband's kin. Of course the richest brides had long since wed, having snatched up the most promising husbands on the first day of the festival.

Davy winced as he recalled that day, the day he had ruined his best chance. He had stepped off the dusty train that had carried him all the way from his home on the east coast to Matrimony and was thrust into a maelstrom of shouting, frantic females.

"Are you healthy? Have you ever been ill?"

"How many children does your mother have?"

"Do you have sisters or brothers? Any children from them?"

"Are you a twin? A triplet, even? What about your mother or father? Are there any multiple births in your family?"

Prospective grooms filed off the train to become the immediate targets of intense scrutiny and speculation. The women turned them around, looking them up and down, all the while barking out their questions. The men could barely get a word in edgewise, but when they did, they parried with sharp queries of their own.

"Who is your family? What's their business?"

"How much money do you make?"

"What families are you allied with? What are their prospects?"

"Will you give my sisters a job?"

"Can you pay my mother's debts?"

The questions were as old as the wedding festival itself, and had become part of the ritual over the years. Men looked for wealthy wives to support their mothers and sisters. Women looked for husbands from healthy, fertile families to give them children. And Davy? He was looking for a place to hide.

A woman—thin, blonde and sharp-featured—came up as he tried to make his way through the crowd and began to interrogate him. Scared, he backed away, only to run into a second woman who spun him around to check his teeth. A third woman came up from behind and put her hand on his buttocks to give a squeeze. With a wild howl, he twisted away and ran, shoving through the mob, desperate to escape the grasping feminine hands that reached out to stop him. 

It had been too much, too terrifying. Before that day, the only women Davy had ever known were his mother Joanna, and his sisters Alicia and Grace. His entire world had consisted of them and the little bower where he had lived in the back of their house, with its windowless walls and small enclosed garden. The only time he had ever been anywhere beyond the garden's high stone fence was on the day he had been born, and that was only because he'd come too soon, catching his mother unawares as she piloted her ship along the Elizabeth River.

After his birth, Davy's family met with one financial downfall after another. No matter how hard his mother and sisters worked, they could not dig themselves out of their growing debt. Though they never said so, Davy knew he only added to the burden, being an extra mouth to feed and an extra body to house and clothe. He couldn't work. "Boy children are so precious," his mother sighed. "If you left this house, strangers might steal you away!" His only contribution to the family's finances lay in his potential as a future husband and father. Over the years as the family business declined, more and more of his family's hopes became pinned on him, until at last he was the only hope they had. "Marry well!" his mother had pleaded, wringing her hands as he boarded the train for Matrimony. "Our future depends on it, Davy. Make sure you marry for money, not love!"

Love. To his impoverished family, it was a luxury they couldn't afford. So was fear, but that hadn't stopped Davy from fleeing the swarm of voracious females buzzing around Matrimony's train station. He ran blindly through the city, feet pounding the dusty roads in time to his racing heart, until he collapsed at the red and green door of old Magalia's cafe. There he curled up beneath one of the tables and sobbed. He wanted his mother and sisters, the only women he had ever known, ever needed. He didn't want those horrid creatures who had pulled him this way and that like a dog on a leash. Why had his family sent him into this madness, he cried, wrapping his arms tight around his knees? Why? Because of the baby, a small voice reminded him. Why else?

Three weeks before Davy left home, his sister Grace had given birth to a daughter. He remembered the infant, all pink and wrinkled, with eyes impossibly blue and wide with wonder. Grace had insisted on pressing the wriggling bundle into his arms, wanting him to appreciate the first good thing that had happened to their household in years. The vitality emanating from that tiny, perfect form had shocked him and he had wept when he finally handed her back. He could still recall her sweet, fleshy scent and the tiny fingers that had gripped his own. As he hid beneath the table in Magalia's cafe, he wished he could see her again. He knew he never would.

It was his memories of the baby that finally brought Davy back to his senses. She needed food, clothing, a roof over her head that didn't leak, a warm bed at night, and so much more. No, she didn't just need these things. She deserved them. All his life, Davy had depended on his mother and sisters to care for him, and they had given him everything he needed until they were bankrupt. Now it was his turn to provide for them, to find a wife who could help his family get back on their feet and make sure the baby had whatever she needed, no matter what.

So Davy had crawled out of his hiding place, dusted off his clothes, and stumbled into the mob of anxious men and women, looking for his bride. The women came and went, asking their questions and answering his in return. There were several he would have wed, but his intentions went unrequited. He was a healthy, attractive male, but his family was so poor, even the richest women refused to take on their debts.

He spent nine days and eight nights wandering through Matrimony, continuing his search. The matrons did their best to help, especially Magalia. Whenever she saw him hesitate, she coached him on what to do. But even with all that, he still had no luck. And with every passing day, his chances diminished. All around him men and women met, got married, and consummated their relationships. Then they disappeared, their business in Matrimony complete. Of the hundreds who had flocked to the transitory city, only a few dozen still wandered the streets, the last lonely candidates looking for a mate.

Davy set down his mug with a weary sigh. He should have braved it out at the train station and found himself a rich woman there. Instead, he had let his fear overwhelm him and that had cost him his best, maybe his only chance for a good match. Tonight was his last night to find a wife; then came Beggar's Day, the last day of the wedding festival. If he was still unmarried by dawn tomorrow, the matrons would select a bride for him from among the only women left. Beggar's Day brides were notorious for their poverty. There would be little chance one could pay off even a tenth of his family's debts.

Not that there was much chance he could still find a rich woman tonight. It was so late. But the longer he waited, the poorer his wife would be. He needed to get out there and start looking. Maybe he'd get lucky. Maybe. Besides, wouldn't it be nice if he chose who he married, rather than have a wife assigned? In truth, it was the only choice he'd ever get in life. Better to take it while he still had it.

Davy pushed back from the table. Time to get moving. He'd walk the streets all night if he had too. He stood up, straightened his jacket, and looked out at the city. And promptly sat back down.

A woman stood on the dusty path leading into the cafe. She was tall, with long dark hair and a flowing cotton dress. Swirling tattoos trailed down her bare arms in delicate henna spirals, depicting the traditional symbols of life and fertility. A smile played over her lips as she studied Davy.

"Hello," she said.

Davy stared at her. He had seen so many women in the past several days; more than he ever would have believed existed. No two had been exactly alike but his reactions had always been the same. Alarm, dismay, frustration, apathy—he had run through a gamut of adverse emotions. But this woman was the first to elicit something different from him, something new and positive. She did not stalk toward him, preparing to pounce on him and carry him off to the wedding chapel if he turned out to be good husband material. Rather, she approached him quietly, the way he'd once watched his mother approach a fallen baby bird before picking it up to put it back in the nest. A strange but pleasant prickle ran over Davy's skin as the woman walked toward him, and he felt as though he'd just woken up for the first time in his life.

"May I join you?" the woman asked.

His mouth gaped as he tried to form words. Why couldn't he speak? She stepped closer. Her dress swayed as she moved. The fabric was so delicate Davy could see the curves of her body outlined beneath, backlit by the fluttering lamps of the cafe.

"Are you all right?" she spoke again.

"Nice," he whispered, studying her curves. He felt the urge to reach out and wrap his arms around her ample figure. Then he shook himself. "No, I mean, fine! I'm fine."

The woman chuckled. "Hello, Fine. I'm Caroline."

Davy laughed with her, although he didn't understand the joke. His sister Alicia had warned him about dealing with women. "Laugh when they laugh, and listen when they talk. Whatever you do, don't just sit there with your mouth hanging open like an idiot!"

Which was exactly what he was doing now. Davy snapped his mouth shut and stood up quickly, knocking over his chair. He blushed, righted the chair and then held out another seat for the woman who called herself Caroline.

"Would you... I mean, if you're not going anywhere..."

"Yes," she said. "I would love to sit. Thank you."

She gathered her skirts and settled on the sturdy wooden chair. Davy sank back into his seat, heart pounding. He thought his mother and sisters had told him everything he needed to know about Matrimony and the wedding festival, but somehow they had failed to mention this. His palms were sweaty, his face flushed. His privates felt rock hard beneath his jeans. What was happening to him?

With a start, he realized he'd let the silence stretch on too long. He was supposed to say something to the woman, but what?

"My name is uh, Davy," he stammered. "I'm from the east coast. Susannahtown on the Chesapeake. It's very nice to meet you."

The woman grinned. "As I mentioned, I'm Caroline. I'm from Bethany, in the Allegheny."

She held out her hand. Davy surreptitiously wiped his on his pants leg before clasping it. Her slim fingers felt warm in his grasp, with just a touch of calloused skin.

"Caroline, from Bethany. That's not too far from my family's home."

"No, it's close actually, especially if you travel by water."

They lapsed back into silence again. The woman, Caroline, settled back in her chair. The winsome smile he'd seen earlier returned to her lips. Davy's mind raced. This was very different from his other interviews. She wasn't pelting him with questions. What was he supposed to do? If he didn't talk, would she leave? Desperate to get the conversation going again, he said the first thing that came to mind.

"I uh, I'm in good health. And I have all my teeth."

A look of surprise crossed the woman's face, followed by uproarious laughter. Davy cringed and covered his face with both hands.

"I didn't mean to say that." He could barely hear his own voice over her laughter. "I'm such an idiot!"

"No, no you aren't," the woman replied, wiping a mirthful tear from her eye. "You poor thing. Is that all anyone's asked you about? Your health and your teeth?"

He nodded, his face still buried in his hands. He heard her cluck her tongue.

"Oh now, don't hide. I didn't mean to laugh like that." She pulled his hands down and tucked a finger under his chin, tilting his face up to meet hers. "Come on, give me a smile and show me all those lovely teeth everyone wants to know about."

She was still chuckling, but the sound made Davy want to laugh with her in spite of his embarrassment. He felt a lopsided grin sprawl across his face.

"Oh, very nice. You've got a beautiful set of teeth, and a handsome face to go with them."

Her hand slipped from under his chin to stroke his cheek. Davy's heart skipped a beat. Her gentle touch was a far cry from the clutching and clawing of the harpies at the train station. He could happily marry a woman with a touch like that.

Marry for money, not love!

Inwardly, he groaned. The image of his mother beseeching him even as the train pulled away from the station rushed back into his mind. He didn't want to talk to this woman about money! But he had too. Stuttering again, he summoned up all the important questions his mother had drilled into him.

"Caroline, I was wondering... uh, what do you, uh, do? I mean, what's your family's business?"

The last words came out in a rush, and he felt like an even bigger idiot than he had when he'd told her about his teeth. But Caroline simply nodded and replied.

"My family owns a distillery. We make alcohol for spirits and medicines. The business does well. Very well, actually. We've even added a brewery for beer and we're thinking of buying some vineyards in a few years."

"Really?" He tried to keep an excited squeak out of his voice. "That sounds... big."

"I suppose it is big. We ship our wares all over the region. By wagons and mule trains over land, and by boat down the river. We sell all up and down the James. Richmond's seen a boom in population the last few years, so we've been doing a lot of business in that area. Of course, we'd like to expand even further eastward, but-" 

She stopped abruptly, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Davy. I didn't mean to bore you with women's talk. Sometimes I just get carried away."

"What? No, please, I want to hear more. You were talking about doing business in the east? My sisters work at the docks in Susannahtown, for the warehouses there. They handle the incoming ships, unloading and sorting cargo. If you wanted to sell to the merchants there, you should talk to them. They know all the markets in the area, and they know who's buying what. And my mother knows everything about sailing on the river. She's a ship's captain. She's sailed up and down the James for years. She has charts too, old ones from before-times. They're the most accurate charts of the Chesapeake you can find!"

Caroline leaned forward and listened as he rattled on about his family. He needed to build them up until their years of experience and knowledge outweighed their misfortunes. If she understood how valuable they were, how hard they worked, she might marry him regardless of their debts. When he finally stumbled to a halt, the dark-haired woman let out a laugh.

"My god, you're very well educated," she said. "How did you learn all that, about ships and business? Did your mother and sisters teach you?"

He ducked his head. "Sort of. They talk a lot about business. I just listen. Sometimes I even sneak downstairs at night, to hear what they say when they think I'm asleep. I suppose I shouldn't eavesdrop on them like that. Not that I'll ever get the opportunity to do it again."

His last words hung in the air, a somber reminder of his fate. He would never go home again, never hear his sisters complain about their work or his mother worry about money. That was all in the past now. Marriage was his only course.

Strains of music drifted overhead, filling in the silence. Davy glanced up and saw Magalia hovering in the background behind Caroline. She smiled at him and jerked her head toward the street. A trio of matrons stood beneath the lamppost. The tallest played a soft melody on a teardrop violin. Her companions joined her on guitar and flute. Davy looked back at Magalia, who mimed a dancer with an invisible partner, then pointed at Caroline.

"Would you like to dance?" he said, breaking the stillness between them. "My sisters gave me a few lessons. I promise I won't step on your feet."

Caroline shook her head. "I'm not much of one for dancing, I'm afraid."

"Oh." Davy shrank back in his chair.

"Perhaps we could go for a walk instead?"

He jumped up, knocking over his chair again, but he didn't notice. Caroline took him by the hand and led him away from the cafe. Magalia waved them off, as teary-eyed as his mother had been on the day he left home. Davy's feet didn't seem to touch the ground. He floated by the musicians under the lamp, who smiled at the happy couple. He smiled back with a grin so wide he thought his face might split. He knew he must look like a fool beaming like that, but he didn't care so long as he was with Caroline.

She took him down the main avenue and then into one of the small parks that dotted the city. It wasn't much of a park—just a few benches, some potted trees, and a low stone wall surrounding a shallow pool of water. The pool had a roof over it with a crank and bucket, meant to look like a wishing well. Caroline sat on the side of the well and pulled Davy, still grinning, down next to her.

"Here." She fished into her skirt pocket and pulled out a coin. "Make a wish."

Closing his eyes, Davy clutched the coin in his fist before tossing it in.

"What did you wish for?" she asked.

"Toys. For the baby. One of my sisters had a little girl before I left. I want her to have nice things."

"That's very generous of you, to use your wish for someone else. You must love the baby very much."

He stared at the coin still visible in the well's shallow depths. The smile on his face diminished. "Grace named her Daphne, because it sounds like Davy."

"Then Grace must love you very much."

"She does. They all do. They've loved me all my life."

"And you love them."

"Yes."

"How much trouble are they in?" Caroline asked gently.

Davy looked up, fearful.

"It's all right." She squeezed his hand. "I just want to know."

He let out a shuddering sigh. "You'd find out eventually anyway. There's almost no money left. My mother lost her ship in a hurricane a long while back. She hasn't sailed in three years. No one will hire her, not even for crew. They say she's too old. My sisters work but all their money goes to paying old debts, while new ones keep stacking up." He looked at Caroline's hand entwined with his. "My mother meant to keep me home for at least another year, but with the baby in the house now, they need the money. So here I am. You're a rich woman, exactly what they hoped I'd find. You can support them for the rest of their lives. But they've got nothing to offer you except a mountain of bills."

"And you," Caroline added. "Isn't that something?"

He gave a bitter laugh. "What good is a husband? He serves one purpose, and that's it. A man from a rich family can do it just as well as a man from a poor one. And the rich man is a better deal. You won't have to support his family for the rest of their lives."

Caroline stood up. "You know Davy, I think you spent one too many nights staying up late, listening to your womenfolk talk. You learned their business, but you also learned their despair and cynicism too."

"All I learned was the truth," he shot back.

"Did you?" She pulled him to his feet. "Then let me teach you a different truth."

"Where are we going?"

"To the chapel. We're getting married."

She dragged him along, ignoring his protests. How could she even think of marrying him after what he'd just told her? Yet her hand stayed clamped around his wrist in a gentle but firm grip and she pulled him, slowly, deliberately toward the center of the city.

The chapel was the heart of Matrimony, a sprawling tent of white canvas with a pair of interlocked red rings painted above the main opening. A matron waiting out front lifted the flap door and ushered them inside. Within, they found long rows of rickety tables, each stocked with papers, bottles of ink, and quill pens. In the midst of the tables, a series of heavy, scuffed cabinets squatted. A trio of matrons, dressed in the black robes of the Matriarchy, clustered before one of the cabinets, muttering amongst themselves as they sorted through one of the drawers. One of them looked up as Davy and Caroline approached.

"Ah, another happy couple. Come in, come in."

The oldest matron Davy had ever seen broke away from the trio and waved them over to a desk. A broad smile split her seamed face, but her eyes looked tired and sad.

"I'm Mother Janet, one of the officiators. This is Sister Rebecca and Sister Terry," the old woman said, gesturing to her companions. "They're acting as our witnesses tonight. So, you two all ready to get married?" Mother Janet didn't wait for an answer as she briskly sorted through a pile of folders on the desk. "Wedding contract... wedding contract... you'd think we'd have these out and ready to go, wouldn't you? But it's been so slow tonight... Ah! Here we go." With a flourish, she pulled out a sheet of paper from a folder and set it on the desk. "Bride's name and home town?"

"Caroline Gunston from Bethany in old Virginia."

"Good, good," the matron muttered as she inked a quill pen and scribbled across the page. "And the groom?"

Davy shot Caroline an anxious look. She squeezed his hand. "Go on," she said. "Unless there's someone else?"

He shook his head. "Davy. Davy Amherst from Susannahtown, also in Virginia."

"Oh, sweethearts from the same region. That's always nice." The matron added his name to the sheet. "Terry, do we have their registration letters?" Behind her, Sister Terry searched through the file cabinets until she found two papers and pulled them. She handed them to Mother Janet who laid them beside the wedding contract. 

"Now I have a few questions for you two." She straightened up and took a deep breath. "Caroline Gunston of Bethany, this young man's mother offers her son to you as a husband. In return, do you offer support to her and her kin, to repay the loss of her child with sufficient dowry?"

"I do."

Mother Janet glanced at the registration letters on her desk. "Let's see. His mother asks for... oh my." Her eyes, suddenly worried, flickered to Davy and back to Caroline.

"I'll pay it," Caroline said.

"Child, do you realize how much she's asking?"

"I'll pay it," Caroline repeated. "And you can add to it jobs for Davy's mother and his sisters, plus a trunk of toys for his sister's baby, Daphne."

Mother Janet's eyes widened with surprise.

"My goodness, that's a generous gift!"

Caroline smiled at Davy. "He's worth it."

Mother Janet beamed, the sadness in her face lifting for a moment. Then she turned to Davy.

"And you, young man. Do you understand the duty you are expected to fulfill? That the purpose of this marriage is to produce children?"

"I do."

"And your mother explained to you what would happen on your wedding night?"

"Yes, she did."

Mother Janet sighed. "Very well, then. Make your marks here."

She turned the contract to them, showing them where to sign. Caroline's flowing script seemed to overwhelm Davy's small block letters. The two Sisters added their signatures below then Mother Janet stamped a heavy seal on the contract and handed it along with their registration letters to Sister Terry to file.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife. May your union be fruitful and blessed with children. Sister Rebecca will show you to your tent."

Sister Rebecca led them through the chapel and out the back entrance. Outside were dozens of shelters, smaller versions of the chapel tent. Davy gripped Caroline's hand as they walked to the nearest one.

"You have until dawn to consummate the marriage," Sister Rebecca said, lighting a lantern posted in front of the tent. "Someone is always nearby, so if there's a problem, just call for us. Otherwise we'll leave you alone until morning."

She walked off, looking like a grim shadow as she strode back to the chapel in her long black robes. Davy and Caroline stood outside the tent until she disappeared.

"Are you ready?" Caroline asked him.

"Yeah, I think so."

She grabbed the lantern and led him inside, ducking beneath the canvas flap. Davy followed on unsteady feet and nearly tripped over the piles of pillows and blankets spread out across the tent floor. He couldn't believe he was married. Caroline hadn't even flinched at the dowry his mother had asked for. And the toys for Daphne?

"Why are you doing this?" he asked suddenly. "You're rich. You were supposed to marry a man fresh off the train. Why did you wait to marry a pauper like me?"

Caroline set the lantern down. Its light cast long shadows across her face. "I've been here three times before, Davy. Three wedding festivals in the past eight years. And every time I did exactly what my mother demanded. Marry a man from a well-off family. I've pulled husbands off the train depot, and married them within an hour of their arrival. I hated it every time. My mother died last winter, so I'm head of the family now. I decide who marries and when. And one thing I've decided is that at least once in my life, I will marry for love, not money."

"You love me?"

"Yes Davy. I love you."

She placed her hands on either side of his face and kissed him. His mouth went slack, giving his face the same idiot look he'd worn when he spotted her at Magalia's cafe. She kissed him again, slipping her tongue between his open lips.

"I love you," she whispered, "because you have nice teeth and a handsome face. And because you feel so warm."

Davy felt his jacket slide off his shoulders and land on the tent floor. His shirt followed. Caroline ran her hands over chest. The faint calluses of her fingertips brushed over his tingling nipples. His groin tightened in response.

"Caroline!" he gasped.

"It's all right." She snuggled against him. "Don't worry. I promise you, I will make this the best night of your life."

She kissed his neck and shoulders before kneeling on the blankets before him. When she nuzzled at his crotch, Davy groaned. His privates felt impossibly huge. Caroline tugged at the buttons of his fly one by one until his penis bounced free from its confines. With soft fingertips she stroked it, sending electric tremors up its length and along Davy's spine. When she slipped her mouth over the tip, his legs turned to jelly.

"Down," he gasped. "I have to lie down!"

He almost collapsed on top of her. He rolled onto his back, letting Caroline place a pillow beneath his head. She stripped off the rest of his clothes until he lay naked on the makeshift bed of the tent. The night air leaked through the seams of the tent, caressing his bare skin.

"What happens after tonight?" he asked, trembling. "Where will I go?"

She leaned over him, letting her dark hair tumble over his face. "You'll go home, with me. It's very beautiful. We live high up in the mountains, surrounded by woods. My sisters and I have a big house on a large tract of land. The place is full of children and laughter. There's a barn for the horses and cows, and we have a garden for vegetables. There are cherry trees too. They're in bloom right now. We've got pink and white blossoms everywhere." She paused. "There's a special house for the husbands. We built it on a hill overlooking the homestead. All the husbands are there, mine and my sisters'. It faces east, so it always catches the first light of day."

"Will we have a child?"

"Yes," she replied. "I'm certain of it."

They didn't say anything else after that. Caroline unbuttoned the top of her dress and put his hands on her full breasts, letting him feel their fleshy warmth. Her nipples tightened beneath his fingers. He kissed them both, hesitant at first, then with more confidence as his wife moaned. His wife! Seized by a sudden possessiveness, he pulled away the rest of her dress, touching her everywhere. He wanted to kiss every inch of her body, squeeze her round buttocks in his hands. His fingers glided over her rounded body, exploring every curve, every nook and cranny until they slipped through the tufted hair between her legs and found a secret wetness there. His penis stiffened at the discovery.

They went on like this forever, touching and kissing each other through the dark hours of the night. Davy never wanted it to end. But outside, the darkness began to fade.

"Dawn's coming," Caroline whispered. "Are you ready?"

His heart stopped. He felt her hand clutch his. He wanted to tell her no, the night had been too short. He needed more time. But then he looked in Caroline's eyes and saw the tears there. One night was all they'd been given.

"Show me how," he said.

She pulled him on top of her, fitting his hips between her legs. With one hand, she guided his erection inside her. The other she kept pressed to his face.

"Like this. Push in..."

He did, feeling her body close around his. The sensation struck up a fire in his groin. He'd never been so close to anyone else before. He pulled back and pushed in again, and then again. Each thrust was harder than the one before. Caroline lay beneath him, chanting his name. Her hand stayed on his face.

Another thrust and he felt something happen inside him. Something vital erupted from deep within and passed from husband to wife. Davy cried out and collapsed on top of Caroline.

The cold set in quickly, an icy tingle that started at his groin and spread to the rest of his body. "Caroline?" he whispered. He shivered.

"Davy, it's all right. I'm here, I'm right here."

Tears streamed down her face. She rolled him on to his back and stroked his cheek.

"I'm so cold..."

"Don't worry, it will be over soon... Oh Davy!"

He reached for her hand with numb fingers. "Do you love me?"

"Yes. I love you! I will always love you! And I will take you home with me and lay you to rest in the husbands' house on the hill. And our child will grow up happy and healthy, and I will take care of your family for as long as they live. I promise. I love you Davy!"

"I love you too," he gasped. Then he closed his eyes and was gone.

Caroline sat for a while, holding her husband's cold hand. When the matrons came, they helped her dress and then wrapped Davy in a winding sheet. Mother Janet performed the final rites.

"This is the fate of all men," she intoned, her seamed face grave with sorrow. "To be born of woman, live out their days, and return to a woman's embrace at death. Let us hope Davy's sacrifice bears fruit. He will live on in his children."

Caroline kissed Davy's cold lips one last time and prayed. Please God let their child be a daughter.

A son would break her heart.

_______
© 2007 Helen E. H. Madden. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Bio: Who is Helen E. H. Madden? Read her bio on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association website.


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