This chapter is provided for those who would like to read about Florbela and Armand’s lovemaking. It does not affect the story, save to elaborate on their characters.
I screamed in horror, and moved closer to the bridge, my feet stepping of their own accord. Lightning flickered and ignited a nightmarish view, far below me. I saw in a single glimpse, as if frozen in a photograph, the mighty branch still tumbling down through the void, and silhouetted above it the black shape of a falling man. If Onça do Papa screamed as he plummeted to his awful fate, the sound didn’t reach my ears.
Completely overwhelmed with emotion, I took two more steps, searching desperately for Armand. Tears were streaming down my face and I could hardly see where to place my feet. It was still pouring with rain and the wind howled around me. I nervously peered over the edge and suddenly Armand came into view. He had fallen against the retaining wall of the bridge’s abutment, and was clinging to the stonework with both hands and one leg, with his other leg dangling over the abyss. I raced around to the other side of the tree, trying to find a path to reach him, but by the time I had found a way over the treacherously inclined stonework, Armand was out of danger and already climbing up to meet me.
I helped him to his feet, and we fell into each other’s arms, clinging together like storm-wracked sailors holding to a mast, while the gale howled around us. His arms were wrapped around me tightly and he whispered into my ear, “Leaozinha.”
I was nearly senseless, so stunned was I at our sudden reprieve from certain death. As I came to myself, I found that I was weeping and kissing Armand all over his face. I threw my arms around his neck and those beautiful, sensuous lips answered my kisses—tender at first, then hungry for more. He held me in his arms and he felt strong and warm, even as the rain continued unabated and the wind screamed around us.
We got ourselves away from that horrible place and made a camp among a copse of trees, which afforded us some shelter from the wind. I bandaged Armand’s slashed arm tightly, to stop the bleeding, and he managed to find enough dry wood to start a fire. We sat before it, leaning against each other until I stopped shivering, and then I lay down and was immediately asleep.
I awakened late the next morning, if only briefly, to find that it was a beautiful, clear day. Armand was bustling about, stacking food and firewood close to where I lay.
“What are you doing? And where did you find this?” I asked, noticing that I had a thick woolen blanket over me.
“I have bought some simple rations from a farm nearby. They will suffice for a couple of days. You should stay here and rest,” he told me. “You will be safe here, but there is also a barn at the farm if you prefer to sleep there tonight.”
I sat up, trying to clear my head. “What? Are you going somewhere?”
Armand knelt beside me and kissed my forehead. “I purchased a horse for our journey, but first I’m going to ride back and bury Paulo,” he told me.
“Oh. Then, I want to come, too.”
“No. You must rest.”
I put up no more than a token argument, since I knew I was physically and emotionally spent. He was right: I desperately needed rest. He warmed some fresh milk over the fire and I drank it eagerly. Then he handed me some bread, but I couldn’t eat it. I lay back down, exhausted. He arranged an oilcloth shelter over me, stoked up the fire and then knelt beside me. I could see the pain on his face when he put pressure on his leg. But he smiled and kissed me tenderly, “I shall be back very soon. Just rest now Leaozinha.”
As soon as he rode away, I fell asleep without even eating a bite. When I next awakened, night was falling. I found the energy to build up the fire and eat a meal. A couple of hours later, I was asleep again.
Armand returned the next day, having buried his fallen comrade. He had also retrieved Paulo’s horse that we abandoned at the site of the ambush, so once again we had two horses. He was sad and exhausted, and didn’t want to talk. We rested for another day, and I cared for him: keeping him warm and fed, and changing the bandages on his leg and wrist several times. He slept on and off for twenty-four hours. By the following night he had recovered well enough to buy some more rations from the farmer and we made ourselves a hearty feast at our campfire. The night was clear and the stars shone brightly overhead though we could not make out the comet now.
It was a very cold evening and we sat around the campfire chatting and planning the rest of our journey. I was exhausted and pulled a blanket around myself and lay down staring at the stars, while Armand set the camp for the night. I was almost asleep when he came to lie beside me on his side, his handsome face gazing down at me. I smiled at him and he leaned down to kiss me—a long, lingering kiss. It was just as delightful to kiss those lips as I imagined it would be.
”You know I would give my life to protect you,” he said. ”And my heart, it is yours too.”
His fingers caressed my cheek and began exploring my neck, his mouth following afterwards. I was breathless at the tenderness and sensuality of his touch.
“And, Florbela, I want you—I have desired you from the first day I laid eyes on you.” He drew me to himself and I could feel it was true. I gasped. “You see, it’s no longer a secret,” he said leaning down to kiss me again. This time his kisses were deep and searching. My heart was racing. His hand, which was behind my neck, moved down past my shoulder.
“Armand,” I said, “not here, not today.”
His mouth was kissing my neck and he whispered, a deep husky whisper, full of emotion, “Yes, okay. Then just let me hold you for now.”
He lay beside me on his side and turned me gently so that my back was to him. His mouth nestled into my neck, kissing me, while his hands pulled me close to his body, then followed the contour of my hips, up past my waist. His breathing was heavy against my neck.
I lay in a rapture for some minutes, relishing his closeness and delight in my body. Almost as if he sensed me responding, his hand slipped down to my knees and began lifting the skirt of my dress.
I held his wrist, but not at all convinced that I wanted him to stop.
“Ma chérie, I remember my promise,” he whispered hoarsely. I let go of his wrist and felt his hand following the contour of my inside leg. It was exquisite to feel his gentle touch.
“Oh, Florbela—my love,” he said, in a delicious, purring whisper. The sound of his voice gave me goose bumps.
“But, not today,” he said, and then he rolled onto his back, staring at the stars. I lay on my back too, trying to recover my breath and reveling in the feelings he had awakened in me.
* * *
The next day we rode to the closest village and found the doctor, who promptly placed half a dozen stitches in Armand’s leg and hand. That evening we took rooms at the inn and I soaked in a long and luxurious bath, before joining Armand for a wonderful fireside meal in a private eating room. We didn’t talk much and he stared at me a lot, occasionally reaching over to kiss me—oh, those beautiful, sensuous lips! After coffee, we sipped at some cognac and stared into the fire. As we were preparing to leave the eating room, he took me in his arms. It felt so delightful to be close to him.
He whispered in my ear, “Tonight, leave your bedchamber door unlocked and I shall come to you.” He hesitated and then added, “Florbela, my feelings for you are too strong for me to pretend this means nothing to me. If you don’t love me, then lock your door and I shall never speak of this again.”
My heart was pounding and my head spinning as I climbed the stairs to my room. Unlocking my chamber door, I found the room had been lit with candles by the inn staff. The large canopy bed was prepared for sleep. I walked into the room and closed the door. My hand paused on the lock.
All I knew for certain was that I loved him as I’d never loved anyone before. I did want Armand to make love to me—to feel the thrill of his passion. I withdrew my hand from the lock and walked over to the changing screen. I removed my boots and unbuttoned my dress. Then I changed into a nightdress and wrapped myself in a gown that had been laid on the bed.
Fifteen minutes had passed and I was beginning to wonder if Armand had changed his mind. I walked over to the washstand and poured some water into a bowl and splashed my face. I was toweling dry when I heard a single knock and turned to see the latch on my door turn slowly. I held my breath as the door opened and Armand walked in.
He was dressed much as he had been at dinner, but he carried a bottle of Champagne and two glasses, as well as a small pouch over his shoulder. After he closed and locked the door he removed his shoes. His face was impassive as his eyes looked over me, still standing on the other side of the room in my nightdress and gown. I placed the towel on the washstand and turned toward him.
“Unclasp your hair,” he murmured from where he stood. I reached up and removed the pins from my hair, allowing it to fall about my shoulders.
He sighed heavily. “My God, you are an angel from heaven,” he whispered, “and I don’t even believe in heaven. Perhaps now I shall.”
Walking over to the table, he set down the bottle and the two glasses. Then he took the pouch from his shoulder and laid that on the table too. He began uncorking the Champagne, still watching me, neither smiling nor frowning. I could hardly breathe—a combination of nervous anticipation and surprise at his distance.
The cork popped from the bottle gently, and very controlled. He poured one of the glasses, then looked up at me.
He spread his arms and looked around the room. “This is how I have seen you and loved you all these months—from afar. Please, take off your gown, ma chérie,” he said. He watched as I untied the bow on my gown and let it fall to the floor. I only had my nightdress on now. He smiled and made that delicious purring sound again.
I blushed and felt my heart pound with excitement.
Turning back to the Champagne, he poured the second glass and set down the bottle.
Without looking up at me, he opened the leather pouch and withdrew what looked like a small white handkerchief and a knife.
I watched with a mixture of horror and fascination as he drew the blade across the palm of his right hand, wincing in pain as it cut his flesh. My hands flew up to my mouth, aghast at what he was doing. He squeezed his hand into a fist and blood dripped onto the white handkerchief still laying on the table. Then he placed the knife back inside the pouch and sealed it.
“Come here to me, Florbela,” he said turning to me and smiling as he extended his left hand.
I returned his smile hesitantly and walked over to him. He lifted the white handkerchief, now splashed with his blood. I noticed in one corner the embroidered initials: “AJMF.”
“This is my pledge to you: everything I have is yours too Florbela.” His voice was husky and deep as he stepped toward me and said, “All that I ask in return is that you let me love you forever.” Then he ran his fingers across my cheek to my lips and leaned down to kiss me. His left hand he placed in the small of my back and drew my body to his. I closed my eyes, answering his kisses, and I could feel him hard against my nightdress.
He was breathing heavily and stepped back to unbutton his shirt, then he removed it. He was beautiful: olive skinned, robust and muscular. Taking my hand, he walked over to the dressing screen and folded it away, revealing the full-length mirror against the wall. In the reflection I could see myself, while Armand walked behind me. He smiled at me over my shoulder and his eyes sparkled mischievously. “Is it any wonder that I desire you so completely,” he said as he pulled my hair out of the way to kiss my shoulder. I closed my eyes, concentrating on every place that he touched me, but I could hardly breathe and my body trembled in anticipation.
His arms reached around and began unbuttoning the front of my nightdress. He carefully undid the first two then, frustrated at how fiddly it was, he grabbed the two edges and pulled them apart. Half a dozen buttons popped and scattered on the floor. My nightdress was hanging from my shoulders, barely, leaving me exposed to the navel. I shut my eyes, and felt his hands close over my breasts and at the same time he leaned into me so I could feel his excitement.
My heart pounded in my chest and I ached to have him make love to me. Again, as if sensing my body’s desire, he slipped my nightdress off my shoulders and it fell to the floor. He stood behind me, staring at my reflection in the mirror for a few seconds, then whispered hoarsely into my neck, “J’adore.” His left hand slipped around my waist and followed my belly up and across to my right breast, as his right hand slipped around my waist making its way down and he purred with pleasure when he felt how much I wanted him.
“Oh, yes,” I begged him as I felt the rising heat in my loins. His right hand deftly undid his belt and his trousers dropped away to the floor, revealing him completely. I gasped at the sight of him—he was magnificent.
He turned me around and guided my hand so that I could touch him and feel his craving too. I looked up into his eyes, which regarded me with a mixture of tenderness that I recognized and something else that I had not seen before. I caught my breath and a wave of excitement washed over me. Armand smiled and reached for me, our bodies pressed together and I could feel everything about him was hard and strong against my warm, soft flesh. I drank in the scent of his body, which smelled of aromatic wood and musk—deliciously masculine. “I love you Armand,” I said as I reached up to those sensuous lips, eager for his kisses.
Then he led me over to the foot of the bed, which had an elaborately decorated edge that reached to my waist. He gently placed my hands on the carved wood, kissed me and said into my ear, his voice deep and dripping with emotion, “Oh Florbela, I feel I have loved you for a lifetime.” His hands held my waist and coaxed me towards him. I was still trembling with excitement and unsure quite what to expect.
As he thrust his hardness into me, I felt a mix of pain and pleasure that I never imagined possible: an ecstatic rush that forced the breath from my lungs and I moaned with delight. He felt exquisite inside me. Light danced in my vision like fireworks and tears welled in my eyes.
I gasped as pleasure enveloped me again and again. Armand was saying something but I couldn’t hear him—I was overwhelmed by the passion and hunger that I felt for him. For just a moment my eye caught our reflection in the mirror and we looked like gods copulating: our bodies strong and lithe, bathed in perspiration, and an aura of candle light. I breathed heavily as he moved rhythmically inside me, then something deep within us connected and his movements once again sent waves shuddering through me.
He held my hips and my breath caught in surprise as we reached the final heights of ecstasy together.
Then Armand swept me up and carried me to the bed. I lay in his arms, feeling blissfully happy. “Good night Florbela,” he said, kissing me tenderly.
My mind and body awash in pleasure, I fell immediately to sleep.
* * *
I awoke in that wonderfully soft bed with Armand beside me, leaning back on a pile of pillows and gazing affectionately down at me. When he saw my eyes open, he smiled that beautiful boyish smile—but it was different now.
“Good morning my love,” he said, leaning down and kissing me gently.
I smiled at him, “Good morning.”
“Are you ready for more?” he asked playfully.
There was a deliciously mischievous sparkle in his eye that made me laugh and blush.
“I could give you a few hours perhaps?” he said pulling down the covers and exposing my naked body. “No, on second thoughts, I cannot wait that long,” he said and drew me to himself.
* * *
The doctor checked Armand’s wounds and said they were healing well. So we collected our horses and rode south again.
Several days later, we passed into Portugal along a rural cart track in the dead of night. We spent the next day moving west until we came to a small village on the train line, where we gave up the horses and bought tickets to a village just north of Lisbon. Thus, we covered nearly two hundred miles of our journey in a single day.