Three Lessons in Seduction Epilogue

Nug: An endearing word: as, My dear nug; my dear love.
– A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
Francis Grose

Little Spruisty Folly
Next Morning

The breakfast room was silent and replete with an air of deep contentment, its only sounds the assorted rustlings of newspaper, delicate sippings of piping hot coffee, and muted crunchings of toast as the hazy landscape visible through exterior French doors became bright and crisp in the nascent glow of dewy morning light.

In all, it was a scene both bucolic and domestic. The sort of daybreak scene neither of the room’s occupants had experienced together in the last decade of their marriage.

“The day will be a beauty,” she spoke into the quiet.

He took her hand and interlaced his fingers with hers. “It didn’t have a choice, I’m afraid.”

A smile curved her lips. It was the smile of a woman delighting in a secret. “I’ve never slept beneath the stars.”

He leaned to the side and pressed his lips against the sensitive cup of her ear. Her eyes fluttered shut when his lips began moving. “I’m not sure how much quantifiable sleep we had.”

Aunt Dot, trailed by a bevy of industrious servants carrying all manner of scrumptious foods for breaking one’s fast, bustled into the room, effectively dispelling its peace. “Now, I shall demonstrate for you precisely how to arrange the dishes since it seems impossible—” The flow of her words halted at the sight greeting her eyes, the sentence to remain forever unfinished. “Mariana?”

“Good morning, Aunt.”

Her wide gaze shifted left. “Nick?”

“Aunt,” he said on a nod, “I trust you enjoyed a restorative night’s slumber.”

“How,” she began, her eyes now darting back and forth between the pair before landing square on their entwined fingers, “unexpected.”

Uncle Bertie strolled in, rescuing the room from further awkwardness, and greeted the trio in the usual way of morning pleasantries. A blithe whistle on his lips, he served himself from the recently set buffet. Although Aunt Dot had begun regarding them as if they had sprouted additional appendages overnight, Nick and Mariana remained untroubled by her scrutiny, insulated from the world’s cares by the unique bubble particular to those newly in love.

At last, a seemingly oblivious Uncle Bertie seated himself and slurped a bracing sip of strong, black tea. He had just snapped open his Morning Chronicle when he asked, “Mariana, are you wearing the same dress from last night?”

Aunt Dot’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “Oh, dear.”

Mariana glanced down at herself and emitted a small, surprised laugh. “Yes, Uncle, I do believe I am.”

“Oh, dearest dear,” emerged weakly from a scandalized Aunt Dot.

A discreet smile curved Uncle Bertie’s lips as he immersed himself in the serious business of the morning paper.

The room had just settled into a semblance of normality when Lucy and Lavinia burst in on a wave of girlish chatter. They had barely sat at table for ten seconds when Lucy exclaimed, “Auntie Mari, is that a … twig? … I spy in your hair?”

“Oh, dear,” Aunt Dot said, her voice weakening by the oh dear.

Five sets of eyes alighted upon Mariana, who for her part began feeling around her upswept hair before casually removing first a leaf, then a twig from the messy coif. “Yes, Lulu, I do believe it is.”

A visibly thrilled Lucy exclaimed, “Auntie Mari!” before slapping a hand over her open mouth. Aunt Dot emitted yet another weak, “Oh, dearest dear.”

Just as the titillating revelations of the room began to settle, a watchful Lavinia spoke, her eyes neither titillated nor scandalized, but observant and curious. This scandalous duo were her parents, after all. “I’ve never seen you break your fast together,” she began. “In fact, I’ve never seen you come within five feet of one another, much less hold hands.”

A silent anticipation infused the room as eyes widened and the collective breath held.

In unison, Nick and Mariana reached across the table, each taking one of Lavinia’s hands. “I hope,” Mariana began, “it is a sight to which you can become accustomed on a daily basis.”

The air hung heavy with suspense as each of the room’s occupants awaited Lavinia’s response. At only ten years of age, Lavinia had never yet held a room in thrall to her. She rather liked it. “Yes, Mamma,” she spoke sincerely, “I believe I can.”

The collective breath was, at last, granted release.

Nick reached up to simultaneously caress Mariana’s cheek and turn her toward him. One couldn’t ignore the potency of the love passing between them. In unspoken agreement their faces began moving toward one another. Their intention clear, the collective breath again held.

Just as their lips touched, Uncle Bertie discreetly averted his gaze, Lavinia blushed with the shame of a ten-year-old witnessing a public parental display of affection, Lucy squealed and clapped with delight, and Aunt Dot emitted another, albeit resigned, “Oh, dear.”

At this point, Nick and Mariana might have forgotten their surroundings, and the kiss might have deepened.

A visibly entranced Aunt Dot swayed on her feet and spoke the weakest, “Oh, dearest dear,” of her life, this one a touch breathless.