With the elder Duchess gone, peace returned to the house. The Duke spent most of his waking hours nurturing Jennifer, feeding her, bathing her, reading to her, helping her to stand and walk. Each night, he held her in his arms, ears tuned to her soft breaths, his hands gently rubbing her back, his heart willing her to recuperate, to live.
Each day brought more color to her skin, her wakefulness still cloudy but her body regaining strength. She thought the man who cared for her was a love for being so nice but still, she wondered who she was. She had yet to say more than a few words, afraid to voice her thoughts, only nodding when he spoke to her.
She wore the locket he had given her, admiring the unusual piece and made his heart thump wildly when she bestowed a beautiful smile at the gift.
They walked in the gardens, her first day outdoors. Jennifer's face lifted to the warmth of the sun, her cheeks glowing with health, her figure filled out from eating regularly. The Duke fell in love with her all over again.
... And then ...
Their walks became longer, the paths between the main house and the outer buildings and the woods beyond drawing them. They passed the stables and the Duke took her inside so she could visit her favorite mare. The horse nickered, recognizing her mistress, stomping its hooves against the stall to attract her attention.
Jennifer automatically went to her pet, stroked the silky neck and searched for a treat in her pockets. The Duke handed her a carrot. She offered it and suddenly ... everything came back. The ride ... the thrashing ... the harsh words spoken between them ... another thrashing ... her confinement ... hunger ... the thought that her husband had abandoned her ... the thought that she would die.
"You!" she sputtered and with newfound energy, slapped his face, turned and ran from him.
"Jenny!" he called, giving chase.
Still not as strong as she used to be, Jennifer's energy was quickly consumed by her dash into the woods. The Duke easily caught her and when he did, the feel of her soft sweet body in his arms aroused his passion. Without further thought, he held her close, kissed her with all the longing for her he had kept at bay while she was recuperating.
Surprising herself and her husband as well, she kissed him back.
Then she mentally chastised herself for succumbing to the lust.
"I don't love you," she said, drawing back from his embrace.
"I love you, Jenny. No matter ... I love you."
"It's Jennifer, not Jenny," the old Jennifer said.
"Jennifer," he smiled, happy to see her personality blossom after being dormant for so long.
"It's Jennifer Rebecca," she reminded him. "Jenny is a child's name."
"Jennifer Rebecca," he dutifully repeated. "My Jenny, my Jennifer Rebecca."
"I'm my own person," she insisted.
"You're my wife," he told her, turning her in his arms so that her back was to his chest. "I am going to love you and cherish you for the rest of our lives."
"You'll thrash me again?"
"Probably not," he told her though he wasn't sure about that statement.
"I cannot do that, Jenny. There may come a time when ..."
"I will never love you if you do," she interjected.
"A firm reminder when necessary," he said, his mouth at her neck, his warm breath awakening a different need in her. "If you put yourself at risk, a firm reminder. A brief one," he added, but a firm one."
"Not sure I can accept that," Jennifer stated, then wondered if she had opened Pandora's Box yet again.
"Cannot live without you by my side," he told her. "We were meant to be together."
Jennifer was silent, digesting his thoughts. He had fulfilled all the promises he made when she was ill. His mother was exiled to his other estate; she would never see her again. Jennifer ran the house, changed things to suit her needs and was showered with as much attention from her husband as she would allow.
"It's possible I'll grow to love you," she admitted, offering a shy smile.
"I should thrash you for making my heart hurt," he teased. "Holding back your affection when you know you really want to lay with me. Naked, Jenny," he whispered. "Touching each other ... giving each other pleasure ... our union giving us joy, much joy."
His words brought color to her cheeks but she nodded, leaning into him. She knew he was not to blame for what happened when he went hurrying off to Wales. He had apologized for being impatient with her - the thrashings as well - and he had been sincere. She believed him and knew she would probably love him more each passing day.
That evening, when they lay entwined in each other's arms, she asked him about children.
"I'd like to have sons," Jennifer told her virile husband. "I think they are less worrisome than daughters."
"I would like sons," the Duke laughed. "But I would also like daughters - daughters that look like you, my love."
"I'll teach them to ride, you know," she said, boldly looking at him, a challenge in her eyes. "Swiftly, too - up hills and ..."
"Jenny ..." he began.
"It's Jennifer, my love," she murmured as she pulled him to her body once again. Jennifer Rebecca."