DALLIANCES

CHAPTER ONE

The Countess of Straithmore's usually merry face was grim amidst the ensuing chaos of her front courtyard. Her daughter Adelle was busy directing the green liveried footmen in carrying her luggage towards the waiting carriage.

Adelle glanced at her mother's direction and saw her face. She whispered something to her personal maid and walked towards the older woman, avoiding the general disarray of her things.

When she was face to face with her mother, she sighed.

"Mother, you know very well that this day had to come." Adelle said.

The Countess looked into the face of her daughter, trying her best to blink back tears. She threw her slender arms around Adelle and hugged her tightly.

Adelle hugged her back, unable to hold off her own tears. They stayed that way for what seemed like an eternity until her mother drew back first, knowing that the longer she held, the harder it would be to let go. Adelle dropped her arms and looked at her beautiful mother in silence.

"You know what to do my daughter. I have taught you everything I know and it is now time for you to learn new things. Be indispensable to the Queen of France. She will help you in shaping your future." The Countess said, now in control of her tumultuous emotions.

Adelle bowed her fair head in acknowledgement. She knew that what her mother said was all true and she planed on doing just that. She finally looked at her mother's sea-green eyes and answered back. "Yes Mother, I know. I will not disappoint you. You have taught me well."

Cassandra Straithmore gazed at her daughter's serene face and smiled. She hugged her again and said, "Now, go and finish your packing. I have to get back to the kitchens again. We have guests tonight to see you off." With that, she turned her back to the chaos and let her sixteen year old daughter handle it.

Adelle continued to smile at her mother's back, knowing that she would be all right. She turned away from their back door and walked again towards the chaos. They had three hours more before guests would start arriving at their posh English home, and if everything was to be prepared on time, then she had better hurry.

Back inside the elegant mansion, Cassandra went to the kitchens to talk to her head cook for an update on the food preparations. She wanted her daughter's going away party to be perfect. She found the cook and ran over the menu once more. When she was satisfied that nothing was missed and that everything was going according to plan, she left her kitchen staff to work, hoping to disappear to her rooms for a few moments of solitude.

She stood alone before a modest fire burning on the hearth and clutched at the tiny jewel around her neck. It was times like these that she missed her husband Edward the most. The Count of Straithmore had not been overly kind or warm, but what he lacked in emotions he more then made up for in action, and he would have been there to take over for her, managing the entire household without batting an eyelash. But the Count was long gone, and all that was left of his memory was a fading portrait in the great hall and an empty space in Cassandra's heart that festered only when she paid attention to it.

Cassandra took a deep breath and turned away from the fireplace, going to her closets in search of something to wear. The dark green dress that she had put on early that morning certainly wouldn't do if her brother the King and his wife were to be in attendance. She rolled her eyes at the thought of the social obligations that customs demanded of the sister of the King and sighed. The last thing she wanted to do was spend a perfectly good evening making small talk with the nobles of Aberton, least of all her brother's wife, who seemed at best extremely boorish.

She rifled through a section of the closet and chose her favorite, a dark yellow gown with dozens of skirts, and twice as many buttons, slipping out of her dress and underskirts to try on her bodice. In the end she had to call for help, obviously unable to tie the strings of the constricting garment tight enough to be effective. Gentle hands were behind her after a moment, and she sucked in a breath before the girl behind her pulled the cords tight.

"Do you need help with the buttons, m'lady?" the servant girl asked, meeting Cassandra with a smile as the woman turned around to see who had come to her aid.

"Oh, Leigh," Cassandra smiled warmly and the young girl, nodding as she reached for the dress she had taken from its place in her closet. Of all her servant girls Leigh was certainly the strangest, spending most of her time out of doors with the horses since her father, who had been in charge of the countesses best animals had passed. The girl had no mother, and relied wholly on the generosity of her mistress for a place to sleep and food to eat. Cassandra would never have denied her that. The girl's golden hair and deep blue eyes were mesmerizing, and as Leigh helped lower it over her mistress's head and then set to work buttoning it up the back carefully, Cassandra buttoned it down the sleeves and looked into Leigh's pretty face, finding herself caught up in the azure pools of Leigh's eyes.

It took them nearly a quarter of an hour to finish. It was an extravagant gown, but fitting the sister of the King, especially on such an important occasion as the night would bring. "Thank you," Cassandra sighed when the work was done. She sat down on the edge of the bed, unable to bend far enough to rest her head in her hands although that was what she felt like doing.

"M'lady are you not happy with the dress?" the servant girl asked, her eyebrows furrowed in concern as she watched Cassandra sitting in silence on the edge of the bed. She moved from her place in the middle of the room to behind the older woman, taking a hairbrush from a set of drawers near the bed and going to work on Cassandra's full head of fiery red curls.

The Countess studied Leigh for a long moment before she turned and allowed the girl to comb and tame her curls out of their braid and into a style fitting for a noblewoman. Cassandra wished more than ever that she could trade places with the girl behind her, Leigh's bright blue eyes and eager face unburdened by the cares and worries of running a household alone. As the girl tugged at her hair she began to realize that it was not a trade she wished for, but a companion, and for a few long moments after her hair was finished, she sat still, nearly turning to the girl and asking, ridiculously, if the two of them could ever be friends.

But she stopped herself before she spoke, knowing that Leigh would only look at her and wonder what she meant, and the Countess would not make a fool out of herself, at least not when she could help it. Leigh handed her a mirror to inspect herself and Cassandra decided she looked well enough, thanking Leigh for her work.

"Will you help me out of these garments when all the guests have gone?" the Countess asked, although she didn't have to, and the girl nodded, pleased that her mistress liked her work. Cassandra knew it was as close to a friendship as she would ever have, especially now that Adelle would be well on her way to France come first light.

Cassandra left her rooms followed by Leigh, resolved to make the most of the evening to come, hearing the commotion of the dining hall long before she reached it. She took a deep breath, clutched her hands in front of her, and stepped into the revelry, her face the essence of serenity.


Seniora Savannah Kaeling waited patiently in the warm bed for the sound of her husband's snores. He was a heavy sleeper, especially after the tankards of ale she had learned to give him on nights she was going out. Tonight she found herself especially antsy, and hoped he would fall asleep faster than usual.

Savannah hadn't been to the tavern in weeks. With Festivals in full swing Jason had been up many nights later then she had been able to stay awake, selling goods to the lively incoming travelers from all across Aberton and even from other lands. But finally tonight she'd found the time and now that she could hear Jason's heavy slumber she knew she would be on her way. She slipped out of bed and slid into her cloth shoes, tiptoeing out of the room quietly.

Savanna wasn't particularly immoral, and sometimes in the throes of passion she even felt remorse. Jason Kaeling was a good man, a man who had always provided for and protected her regardless of the things she did to repay him. She never intended to hurt him or disrespect him, but after a long days work followed by lonely nights it was all too easy for her to sneak away from underneath his strong arms and find someone who could give her what she sorely missed.

The night was crisp cold, and her warm breath hung in the air as she sped through the shadows to the Lady Luck, a tavern where she often met her lover. Hans DeMichell was a stout man, who knew little by way of conversation and even less about her, but pleased her greatly on nights when she needed it the most. She could hardly even call him a lover, for she harbored no love for him, and really it was an arrangement rather then a liaison. In any case, the feeling of him inside her was satisfying enough and right now the only thing on her mind. No matter how much she begged, or paraded around in front of him, or did her best to excite him, Jason had no interest in consummating their marriage, and would never give her what she knew all women should get from their husbands. But Hans was all too willing to oblige, and even though her left her as cold inside as Jason's lacking love did, he satisfied the ache between her thighs on nights when she could no longer stand to caress herself to sleep.

Savannah disappeared around to the back of the tavern, hoping not to be seen by anyone who knew Jason well enough to tell him of her adultery. She tried not to think about it that way, like she was committing a crime or a sin. Was it a sin to need to be satisfied? Was it a sin to have waited patiently for five years to be treated like a wife should and given nothing? Was it a sin to satisfy her longings?

What Savannah truly longed for was love. But for now, fucking would have to suffice.

The small eye hole in the back door slid open when she knocked and the tavern owners wife squinted at her and then let her in. "Hurry up, lass, or you'll catch a death of cold out there," the woman invited her in warmly. The woman was a stark contrast to what one would have expected someone who ran a secret brothel would be like. She was old, her long gray hair always flowing down about her shoulders, and she was kind, not like the headmistress of the Black Swan, a whorehouse across the street, who shouted curses at anyone who passed with upturned nose. Savannah was thankful for this old woman's kindness. "Go on, your laddie's in the same room s'always."

Savannah nodded, smiling grimly and climbed the back stairs, resolved to not feel guilty for her actions. The last door on the right was open slightly, but no light came from within. She thanked the gods that he was not in a talking mood, and quickly passed the other doors, trying to ignore the moans and grunts coming from within each. It was hard to do, though, and she even though for a moment she heard two female voices together, panting and moaning.

She paused for a long moment outside the door, her curiosity almost urging her to push on the door and look inside the room, to find out who was inside, and what the moans meant. She never made a sound when Hans was inside her; she never felt the need to. What could two women do that Hans could not? Savannah shook the though aside and passed the door, going to her own in a hurry. Quickly she entered the dark room, pulling off her dress as she shut the door and turned the key. "Are you ready?" she asked into the darkness, and heard him shifting on the bed.

A warm hand pulled her by the naked waist into the bed, and soft lips landed on her collarbone gently. Her lover was either very in tune to her needs tonight or hoped to get more out of her then usual. Savannah hoped for the former, and a sigh escaped her lips as she felt his lips move to her naked breasts, flicking her taut nipples with a skilled tongue. This was strange, too. Hans usually just laid there staring at them, and almost never touched, certainly never with his tongue. Savannah decided to take advantage of his willingness to please her tonight. He seemed like a totally different man.

She reached out in the darkness and her hands fell on his chest. But something was terribly wrong, for two soft lumps of flesh were beneath her hands where his pectorals should have been. She recoiled, pulling away and nearly jumping up out of the bed and away from this stranger. Before she could lift herself completely off of the stranger, those same gentle hands shot between her legs, paralyzing her. She wanted to vault up, scream, leave the room in a naked fit, but what this stranger was doing to her kept her frozen there, scared but unable to leave the amazing touches behind.

"Don't be afraid," a voice completely the opposite of her lover's whispered to her. It was hot and breathy in her ear, and to her shock, undeniably female. The hands between her legs, however, female or not, were pleasuring her beyond belief, tickling her in just the right place, a place her lover had never touched before, or probably even thought about. A moan escaped Savannah's lips as the feelings traveled through her body. These female fingers were deep inside her, and they felt so much better than any mans ever had. She cried out when the woman beneath her rolled them over, spreading Savannah's legs and darting inside her with a wet tongue. Savannah had never felt anything like it before, and on an impulse she began to buck her hips towards the woman's face, nearly begging to be pleasured.

The mysterious girl obliged, sinking three slender fingers deep inside Savannah while continuing to flick with her tongue. Savannah's hands found the woman's hair and she sunk her fingers into the soft luscious curls, the pleasuring driving her nearly insane. The woman was working Savannah nearly to climax, a place she had only ever come to on her own, and Savannah could do nothing but moan as her body grew rigid and her back arched, the woman beneath her moving her hands to cradle Savannah in the last moments before her release.

Savannah jittered as she came, her dark eyes which had been staring wildly into the darkness now closing slowly, involuntarily. Whoever she'd just allowed inside her was a master of the body, the female body, that much was evident.

"Who-who are you?" she breathed, her curiosity not strong enough to sit her spent body up and light a candle. There was no response but gentle kisses on her neck, trailing down her chest, her stomach, her pulsing womanhood, her inner thighs, her shins, even her feet and then with a whoosh and the sweet woody smell of sandalwood and lilies, the woman was gone. Savannah wanted to call out, but found herself falling into a deep sleep, so relaxed that even the troubling incident could not disturb her into action. Something, maybe fear, told her not to follow, not to discover for certain that tonight's lover had been a woman. Certainly it could not be the case, maybe she was just mistaken. But as her legs sent yet another trembling aftershock through her, deep inside she knew the truth.