The Great New England (Part 1)

Cape Rosoi, Maine, 1802

Lydia Beaton waited impatiently on the deck of the little yacht, aware of the turning of the tide, the threat of weather, and a thousand other annoyances. Her husband was nowhere to be seen: what was it this time? A last minute exorcism? A child suddenly given to speaking in tongues? Archangel Gabriel himself dropping in unexpectedly for tea and a chat?

At 34 years, Lydia could already feel herself sliding into bitter middle age, and there seemed nothing she could do about it. When, at sixteen, she had wed the Rev Joshua Beaton, she had been a perfect New England rose, full of purity and vitality; determined to honour the calling of being a missionary wife. And now? Well, she supposed she could still lay claim to a sort of beauty, albeit severe, sharp-edged. A face sculpted by travels in the wild northeast, like the sea sculpts rocks: high-browed, high-cheeked, blade-chinned; the skin seeming pulled tight about the skull, an effect exaggerated by her dark brown hair being raked back and up. A pointed, precise nose only added to the chiselled impression, along with a taut, slightly downturned mouth that struggled to form a smile. Hard, penetrating brown eyes challenged the world beneath pencil-thin brows, somehow unrelieved by long, flaring lashes. Taut muscles in her long neck spoke of a permanent tension: Lydias form was tall, slender, almost regal, but its bearing was a little too upright, tending to intimidate rather than inspire.

Rev Beaton had successfully impregnated his young bride in a matter of hours, which traumatic event, and its even more traumatic comeuppance nine months removed, had been sufficient to deter Lydia from conjugal relations pretty much for life. The result of all that pain and mess stood beside her on the deck, just a small but pointed space away, steadfastly not meeting her eyes. Juliet was eighteen now, and her mother could not look upon her without a sharp pang of envy. God help her, but it seemed to Lydia that her daughter had stolen all the beauty that should rightfully have been her own: the face softer, gentler; high cheeks rounded and rosy; full mouth with curling corners more easily given to a grin; a delicately concave nose; brown eyes wide and welcoming. Topping it all, a mass of umber

curls that flirted with unruliness in even the lightest breeze.

At long last the reverend made an appearance, reluctantly making his way along the dock while a swirl of awestruck acolytes showered him with joyous hosannas.

Joshua, called out Lydia tersely, Do come along

Rev Beaton made an exaggerated, regretful gesture to his congregation.

Ah, my friends - heed the voice of reason. My wife, my sceptic: as ever, she bids me back to the world of the real, the mundane, away from your loving embrace

Lydia bristled at this, turning away towards the prow to make cast off. As she did so, she caught Juliets eye, and sensed mocking in her daughters look and smile. She was aware of the crowd murmuring their distress at the reverends departure, their sorrow sounding to her ears much like the mooing of cattle. Chore completed, she turned back towards the stern, straightened, and stopped dead. Her husband was finally on deck, however he was not alone.

Lydia, Juliet, he beamed, I would like you to meet Dalin Horne: she will be accompanying us back to Belfast.

No words were sufficient for the fury that filled Lydia then: nothing that made so much sense as to ball her fist and plant it right in the middle of the reverends beatifically self-satisfied face. The girl he seemed to be having great difficulty keeping his hands off looked ridiculously young. She was short and evidently voluptuous beneath her demure smock. She had a kind of heavy face: its cheeks high and broad, rather unsubtle; the chin rounded and solid; the nose somewhat flattened and undistinguished; the mouth a taut little bow with an impressively full lower lip. Slightly elliptical, hazel eyes shone beneath startlingly precise brows, though whether they glowed with character or innate

stupidity, Lydia could not judge. But there was no mistaking the shining waves of spun gold that shimmered around her face and spilled down about her shoulders. Jealousy and rage left Lydia bereft of voice, at least for the moment: she nodded curtly to the newcomer, then turned away.

The waves plucked them quickly away from the Cape, from the cheering throng. With precise, paternal inputs to the tiller, Rev Beaton soon had them skimming pleasantly calm waters, threading his easy way through the myriad islands and outcroppings of the rugged northeast shore. The weather, so often the wildcard in this region, looked like it was going to hold perfect. Almost in spite of herself, Lydia began to relax - among Joshuas myriad failings, an inability to sail could not be counted. And she and Juliet were a practised, if somewhat superfluous, crew - they would make it home safe, and in good time. Then she caught sight of the interloper, loitering on deck with a look of bemused joy, and her anger began to simmer again. Pointedly keeping the opposite side of the jib, she made her way to the stern, and her husbands side.

Joshua, may we talk? she kept her voice low.

He glanced at her with an expression that she had come to regard as contemptuous indulgence.

I know exactly what youre going to say, Mrs Beaton, he grinned. You are going to wonder how we can possibly accommodate another soul in our humble abode, an extra mouth to feed, and such. Am I correct?

To a degree. Actually I was wondering what this one does: does she talk to spirits, perhaps? Or is she a spirit herself? Will she transform into a glowing ball of rocks upon our return to Belfast?

The reverend did his very best not to wince at these barbs.

My wife, your virulent dismissal of the miracles I personally have witnessed is disappointing, but I bear it in the manner of Christ - after all, he too had his doubters. I pray that one day you will see the fundamental reality of the supernatural, of Gods hand at work in our lives. However, you may rest assured that in young Dalins case there are no ethereal agents at work - her parents impressed upon me their determination to turn her over into my care. She is to spend three months with us, working as an indentured servant: cleaner, cook, maid - whatever duties we require. It is all a penance.

Penance? For what?

I am not at liberty to divulge, said Joshua airily. A venial sin, nothing more.

Lydia watched the girls golden hair sift in the slight breeze, smock clinging to her full bust and hips.

Just be sure to avoid venial sins yourself, my husband.

She got up, stepped over to where the girl stood. Still her expression was unclear: it could have been timid, or just as easily defiant.

So, Lydia snapped, You can clean?

Yes, maam, Dalin gave a slight curtsey.

Cook?

Not done so much cookin, but I helped my momma out in the kitchen some: reckon I picked up a thing or two

Lydia rolled her eyes, shot one last venomous look towards her husband, then went down three steps into the yachts tiny cabin. Juliet, who until now had been sat up in the prow, drifted back to stand at Dalins side.

Reckon the mistress dont much care for me, Dalin muttered.

I shouldnt worry about it, Juliet smiled. Mother doesnt really like anybody. And dont go thinking you can charm her - she wont be charmed. Best you can hope for is to be tolerated.

Well, dunno if this counts as bein charmin, Miss Juliet; but I haveta say you got about the prettiest hair I ever seen.

Why thank you, Juliet blushed a little. I must say, yours is rather splendid as well. Tell you what, forget about Mother - come up front and sit with me: its a beautiful day for watching the ocean.

So they sat, dreamily observing the sunlight sparkle upon the water; the breeze like a soft caress from the Almighty. The sea was as flat as Juliet could ever recall; like a barely ruffled lake. And then, just as they passed by Long Island, quite abruptly it wasnt calm any more. Something quite massive was rolling towards them, almost like a breaker: fish like little darts of silver could be seen scattering before it, some leaping clear of the water in their efforts to avoid its approach. Juliet sat up.

Papa! she called out. Theres something up ahead - I think it might be a whale

Rev Beaton leaned awkwardly out from the tiller, so he could see forward. His eyes narrowed.

Thats no whale, he said, matter-of-factly.

Indeed, it was not. Out of the frothing spume rose a narrow, streamlined head: the Rev might have taken it for a seals, were it not for the great size, which became all the more apparent as the creature

came closer. The head was easily bigger than a horses, and behind it, winding in slow, vertical undulations, was a great, serpentine body.

Attracted by the shouts, Lydia came up on deck at precisely the moment the creature passed along their starboard flank - its length, difficult to determine as the bluish-grey form all but merged with the waves roiling in its wake, was easily twice that of the yacht; perhaps sixty feet.

Dear God, Lydia breathed, watching this black-eyed apparition swim nonchalantly past, seeming to accelerate its sinuous motion as it cleared into open water. At the bow, Dalin and Juliet stared transfixed, mute with awe and not a little fear: only Rev Beaton seemed utterly at ease with this occurrence.

Ho, ho! he ejaculated. At last, my wife, the Almighty favours you with a glimpse of His wonders. What a blessing upon our mission to the Cape, and upon fair Dalins entry to our household. Praise be to the Lord, and His divine providence!

Lydia watched the creature receding rapidly to the horizon. Then she turned a withering stare towards her husband.

Joshua, you cant seriously be suggesting that thing was one your miracles? I could not put a name to it, but it is clearly some sort of animal - a naturally pelagic beast.

The Reverend rolled his eyes towards Heaven.

And still she doubts, O Lord! Why in all your mercy did you saddle me with such a disbelieving companion? Dalin, Juliet! he shouted towards the bow, Tell me, my dears, have either of you ever seen such an apparition as that?

No, Sir, replied Dalin demurely. I aint never seen anything like that

Never, Father, answered Juliet, proudly. I have neither heard nor read of any such creature in Maine waters. The look she flashed her mother was triumphant, slightly mocking.

Lydia, sensing she was outnumbered, merely scowled and went back down below. Chuckling softly, the Rev returned his attentions to the tiller. About them the water was calm again, as if nothing had ever been there. And though the girls strained their eyes upon the spangled water, nothing else remarkable was seen, all the way to Belfast.

*

They were home. Or, at least, as home as could be for a peripatetic, missionary pastor with half the wide northeast as his parish. Soon enough, another string of wild, isolated Christian communities would find themselves in need of spiritual succour, of Rev Beatons blessings. But not just yet.

Life in the cosily cramped chalet that was Chateau Beaton settled down surprisingly quickly: under Lydias baleful supervision, Dalin managed to assemble a not inedible meal, which was deemed delicious by her treacherous spouse and offspring. Another followed, and even Lydia had to admit it was a boon to be relieved of the burden of preparing and cooking food. Then the blonde interloper followed through on her promise of being able to clean, and for all of two days it was like a normal, respectable household. But on the third evening, things began to go awry.

The four of them were assembled in the tiny parlour: Rev Beaton at his writing-desk, scribbling purposefully; Lydia sewing; Juliet pretending to read; Dalin in the corner, polishing silverware, ludicrously trying to be inconspicuous.

That seems a mighty screed youre composing, my husband, said Lydia, deftly pulling thread.

Merely a letter, the Rev replied, a little too matter-of-factly.

Oh? And who might you be writing to with such urgency?

There was a slight, but noticeable pause before the Rev replied.

Bishop MacLean, he sighed. I am furnishing him with details of our monster.

All Lydia did was cease sewing, but the effect was like a thunderclap: the room fell utterly silent and still. Dalin and Juliet exchanged glances.

I see. Evidently you have not heaped enough humiliation upon us with Old Wives Tales.

He looked at her, horrified.

My dear, how can you possibly say that? You saw it: we all did. You yourself said it was a creature of flesh and blood. How can you possibly deny?

I deny anything that may further sully our reputation; make us any more of a laughing-stock.

A great sadness came into Rev Beatons eyes.

You really will not believe, will you? My wife, of all people - sometimes, I could swear the Almighty is toying with me

She glowered at him.

Oh, very well: write your damn letter, if it pleases you. But I want no part of it - Ill not refute your story, but neither will I corroborate.

She bent once more to her sewing, and he turned back to his essay. By now the atmosphere had turned frosty, almost poisonous: within very few minutes Juliet had announced her intention to retire, and did so. Dalin, still trying to be unnoticed, lingered in hope of further fireworks, until curtly dismissed by Lydia.

She retreated to her room, a tiny box built into the roof, adjacent to Juliets only slightly larger boudoir. Raised voices percolated up from below - evidently the issue was not settled. Lying in the dark, Dalin strained to make sense of the conversation, but could extract only isolated words. Eventually the hubbub died down: there were sounds of the household being shut down for the night; eventually, silence. Dalin dozed, until at length there came a gentle knocking upon her door. Cradling a fitful candle, Juliet slipped into the room.

I hope you dont mind, she whispered. Its just, I couldnt sleep - I hate it when they argue like that. Would you keep me company, just for a while?

Dalin sat up, shuffling sideways so that Juliet could sit beside her on the narrow bed, for there was nowhere else.

So why do they argue like that? asked Dalin. Juliet shrugged.

Mother loathes my Father: thats all there is to it. She loves to provoke him, pick fights.

But the Revs so respected, everywhere he goes - there must be a reason.

Juliet shrugged again. All I know is, something happened, a long time ago: before I was even born. Something happened , and shes never forgiven him for it - I doubt she ever will.

You mean to say, in all this time you never even tried to find out?

Juliet hung her head. No, I - Ive never really had the courage. I suppose you think Im pathetic

Aint my place to think anything, Miss Beaton. Im just a serving girl around here.

I was hoping youd be more than that, said Juliet, brown eyes limpid in the candlelight. You see, with all this moving around, Ive never really had a chance to make friends. I hoped youd be my friend, Dalin.

Friends tell each other secrets, replied Dalin flatly. Juliet winced a fraction.

You know Id tell you if I could; but I swear I dont know. Oh please, Dalin, dont despise me

Dalin smiled then, a glowing, lustrous thing.

Im only teasin' you, Miss Beaton. You were kind to me, on the boat - youve been kind as the Rev himself. Ill be your friend, if you want.

The relief that flooded Juliet was near ecstatic in its intensity; directly opposing the unacknowledged depths of her loneliness. It was so strong she was afraid of embarrassing herself again: she fumbled for words in the silence that descended.

Did you mean what you said? she finally stammered.

Bout what?

About friends, telling each other secrets

Dalin shrugged. I guess so.

Would you tell me your secret?

Dalin gave a sly grin. Which one? I got plenty.

You know, Juliet laughed. The one that got you sent here - what did you do that was so terrible?

Oh, that, Dalin sighed. Well, if you must know, I got caught kissin a boy.

Juliet suppressed a gust of laughter. Youre joking, surely? They wouldnt exile you, just for that.

Yeah, well, it wasnt so much the fact I was kissin him, it was how I was kissin him.

Juliet frowned in puzzlement. I dont understand.

Look, he was only fourteen, okay? An I was showin him how to kiss like a grown-up - a bit of ooh la la kissin, you get me?

Juliets expression was of blank incomprehension. Dalin raised her arms in frustration.

Ah heck, youre a vicars daughter - youre never gonna understand, unless I show you.

And with a swift, catlike movement, she put her arms around Juliets shoulders, pulling her close and clamping her lips upon the girls. Juliets mouth had fallen open in shock, making it easy for Dalin to slide her tongue inside: the audacity, the wet immensity of it, made Juliets head reel; she all but

swooned. As the girl hung limp in her embrace, Dalin probed in moist, sticky swirls - when she withdrew, Juliet was left flushed and breathless, which was not unexpected. What was unexpected was that Dalin likewise felt colour rising in her cheeks and throat; her full bosom heaving just a little.

There, she said, a touch unsteadily, Thats how to kiss like you mean it.

Goodness, Juliet breathed. She took a moment to compose herself.

Sorry if I upset you, Dalin muttered. It sure upset my folks when they caught us at it.

Well, that was certainly a novel experience. Juliet took a deep breath. However, I wasnt quite able to take it in - I wonder if you might do that again..?

Dalin looked at her sidelong. You sure?

Juliet nodded, already licking her lips, letting them part, leaning in. This time it was all so much slower: Dalins arms curling about Juliet; the soft press of lips ripe as cherries. This time, when Dalins tongue slid into Juliets mouth, Juliets own was there to meet it, curling and coaxing. Dalin was shocked at the girls response - was it innate, or had she learned so quickly? The swirl of tongues seemed to go on inordinately, and when finally they parted, both were giddy.

Is that what it was like? Juliet breathed. With the boy, I mean?

Dalin shook her head, a golden shimmer. Her cheeks and throat were by now fully flushed.

Why not?

Cause my boy didnt have no boobs pushin into mine, Dalin replied. Your boobs feel real nice, Miss Beaton.

Juliet would not have believed she could blush any deeper. Her heart was palpitating; she was gushing with girlish excitement.

Theyre not as nice as yours, she murmured, unavoidably glancing down at the girls oscillating bosom. Dalin caught her guilty glance, gave an indulgent, knowing smile. She reached up, and with the same practised precision as Juliets mother had sewn, she slipped the bow of her nightdress. Creamy muslin curled from Dalins shoulders, revealing the pale immensity of her pendulous breasts, tipped with broad cerise ovals. Juliet, transfixed, let out a gasp.

Why did you do that?

Well, I was just thinkin' how much nicer it might be if there werent nothin' between our boobs when we kissed..."

Her look was direct, challenging: in her eyes, shifting shades of green and brown, an intensity Juliet had never seen. She bit her lip, pretending to consider, but her fingers betrayed her, already fiddling with the fastenings of her nightshirt. Her own teardrop breasts were full yet buoyantly pert; the slightly upturned nipples a pale umber shade. When they came together again the press of soft flesh momentarily overwhelmed all other sensation: a maternal, thrilling merger. Then Dalin's wet lips were on Juliet's mouth, her tongue swirling and invading, and for an instant it seemed that Juliet's heart had all but liquefied. She moaned helplessly, melting sure as the candles that illuminated this surreal tableau.

They separated, and now Dalin's hands were upon Juliet's breasts, her fingertips gently kneading and stroking. Juliet trembled; her stomach fluttered in syncopation with her heart; she was awash with sensations electric and unfamiliar.

"D'you want it?" Dalin's whisper was an urgent, sibilant stab. Juliet moaned again, unsure what was being asked of her, aware only that it was somehow deeply sinful; aware that her body yearned with an understanding her mind could not yet accept.

Dalin leaned in close, gently kissing Juliet's shoulder, nuzzling under her chin; trailing a warm, wet tongue in the soft hollow of her throat.

"Say it," Dalin insisted. "Say you want me..."

Only then did Juliet divine the depth of Dalin's need: a sonorous, unsettling echo of her own. Her limp fingers tangled aimlessly in the gilded gossamer of Dalin's hair. It would so easy, she thought, to just let go - surrender to this sweetest sin. Unbidden, the image of her mother's stern, perpetually disapproving face flitted across her mind's eye. She stiffened; her hands suddenly clutched upon Dalin's shoulders, pushing her gently but firmly away.

"I'm sorry," she quavered. "But I can't. I just can't..."

She scrambled up off the bed, a little too hurriedly; buttoned herself up a little too primly. She exited the room with a clumsy care, her departure decisive as the candle blowing out. Alone in the dark, Dalin smiled ruefully to herself.

"I'm thinkin' maybe you can, Miss," she whispered. "An' maybe, just maybe you will..."

*

Dalin scrubbed at a recalcitrant stain upon the kitchen floor. Her concentration was intense blazing hazel as she pounded the mark into oblivion. Only when it was finally conquered did she become aware that she was being watched: she looked up, to find Mrs Beaton's eyes upon her. Lydia had traded her traditional sneer for something, if not actually friendly, then at least more neutral.

"You sold yourself short, Dalin," she said evenly. "Not only can you cook, but you clean like a positive demon."

Dalin smiled at this most unexpected compliment. She was about to get up when the Reverend blustered into the room.

"Lydia, my dear, I wondered if you might consent to accompany me into town?"

She raked him with a viperous gaze. "I take you intend to post your blasted letter?"

"Well, yes," he replied sheepishly.

"Why don't you take Juliet?"

"She complains of being unwell, and is keeping to her room today."

Lydia rolled her eyes. "Oh, very well - go hitch the wagon, I'll be out in a few minutes."

She glanced back at Dalin as the girl got to her feet. "I take it you can tend to our invalid while we're away?"

Dalin curtseyed a little. "Reckon I can, Ma'am."

Lydia grunted, and moved to follow her husband. For some reason, Dalin decided it was now or never.

"Beggin' your pardon, Ma'am..."

Lydia stopped, looked over her shoulder, eyebrow raised like a cobra ready to strike.

"Well, I know it's not my place to ask," Dalin ploughed on, "But it seems t'me like you an' the Reverend got some sorta feud goin' on, an' I just wondered what might be behind it all..."

She had her mistress's full attention now. Lydia's expression was a schoolmarm's icy fury.

"You're absolutely right," she said flatly. "It's not your place to ask."

Dalin faced her down, eyes of burning hazel challenging cold, aloof brown. And then, a miracle happened: Lydia actually relaxed a little; a smile playing about her taut mouth.

"You're not the first, you know," she sighed. "He loves his little girls, his little projects. He likes to think he's saving your souls, but there's fleeting godly about his interest..."

She sat down at the kitchen table, while Dalin looked on. When Lydia spoke again, the edge had gone from her voice: she spoke very softly, as if addressing some invisible confessor.

"I could put up with it, let him have his fun, if it wasn't for Machiasport. He humiliated me there - humiliated himself, though he doesn't realise it. We'd only been married six months - I was pregnant with Juliet, which didn't help. We received word that the people in Machiasport were being haunted: the spirit of a girl, calling herself 'Nelly', was appearing to groups of up to 20 people. She was preaching a sort of deviant gospel - things that paralleled Christian truth, but could not be found in the Good Book. Joshua went to investigate - he didn't believe it any more than I did; he may have been a preacher but he was rational back then. We both suspected a local rogue, an old sea salt with a dubious reputation, of orchestrating some massive hoax.

"A couple of days into our visit, we were walking along the shore when Joshua stopped dead, and cried out - I feared he was having a seizure. He later claimed that the rocks ahead of us had started to glow with an unearthly light; then they had begun to levitate into the air. They merged together into a glowing sphere, which slowly resolved itself into the form of a beautiful young woman. He claims he spoke to the apparition, and it to him.

"I saw nothing," Lydia spat with sudden venom. "Absolutely nothing.

"You may guess who was believed," she continued, with a weary sigh. "A town filled with the credulous, and now a credulous preacher - it was undoubtedly a miracle, direct from God, and I, the only sceptic, was dismissed. After all, as a woman, and with child at that, my testimony could not be relied upon."

She gave a short, bitter laugh. "Well, ever since then he has been seeking out a new 'Nelly', all across the northeast: a dark-eyed waif could be an angel incarnated; an unwed mother the next Mary. Who knows what marvels a buxom blonde with a doubtful reputation might portend?"

Dalin bristled at the insult, but then she noticed that Lydia's eyes were moist, and not even trained upon her - was it possible she had forgotten whom she was addressing?

"And now we have this sea monster," Lydia snorted. "No doubt he thinks it is the key to validate his belief - to make me believe."

"But you saw it," Dalin interjected. "We all saw it. If it is divine, then all four of us have been touched by it."

"Well, I feel no different," Lydia sniffed. "Do you?"

Dalin considered. She thought of Juliet's mouth upon her own; the press of bare breasts - it made her feel warm and tingly.

"Y'know," she said slowly, "I rather think I do..."

She fully expected a waft of withering contempt, but when she caught Lydia's eye she found the mistress regarding her with an expression she would have thought possible: one of maternal kindness.

"I wish I did," said Lydia simply.

And at that moment the Reverend interrupted them, his gusto tinged with annoyance.

"I say, Lydia, are you coming or aren't you? I've been waiting ages..."

"Coming," said Lydia offhandedly. She glanced once more at Dalin. "Take care of Juliet, won't you?"

*

Juliet. As she climbed the narrow stairs Dalin's heart began to scud with excitement. Though located in the roof, Juliet's room was spacious and airy, its large window offering dramatic views of the churning sea. Juliet was stood before it, wrapped loosely in a blanket, gazing out. She did not turn as Dalin entered.

"Are they gone?" she murmured.

"Yes, Miss," Dalin responded automatically. She lingered at the door a moment, suddenly self conscious; then with decisive briskness she began to undress.

"I keep staring out to sea," Juliet continued dully, studiously ignoring the obvious activity behind her. "I keep hoping to see it again - our monster, I mean - so I can convince myself it was real."

"It was real, all right," Dalin answered, carefully piling her clothes upon the floor. Naked, she felt a little chilled, a little ridiculous; all flesh and vulnerability. "As real as that letter your father is sending off; as real as you or me."

Juliet turned then, and in the widening of her brown eyes Dalin knew she was not wrong. The blanket fell, revealing the pale, lithe voluptuousness of Juliet's body.

"I've been thinking about you all night," she said, almost apologetically. Dalin took a step forward, and Juliet all but fell into her arms, her lips ravenous upon Dalin's own, her tongue probing and yearning. Dalin slipped a brusque hand between Juliet's slender thighs: under bristling curls lay the heavy, wet heat of the girl's need. Juliet shuddered, gasping with shock and anticipation.

"Why d'you want to do this?" Dalin whispered sharply.

"Because I love you."

"Don't lie to me, Juliet," Dalin chided, though without malice. "You may want me, but you don't love me. Is it to get back at your mother?"

"Yes," Juliet sobbed into Dalin's shoulder. "I hate her, Dalin: I long to hurt her; do something she would find unconscionable, even if in secret." She nuzzled into Dalin's neck. "Do you despise me for it?"

"No," Dalin stroked Juliet's thick brown curls. "But your mother's not so bad, you know - meet her on her own terms, she's almost friendly: she told me the secret today; the cause of the feud. Do you want to know what it is?"

"No," Juliet's voice was suddenly hard, resolute, like Lydia's. "I want you to take me."

Her mouth crushed to Dalin's, hot and urgent; she pulled the maid towards the bed and they fell, clumsy yet controlled, amidst the covers. Juliet pressed herself down, trying to smother Dalin with the warmth and weight of her body. Dalin pushed up against her, their breasts flattening as they rubbed and bounced. They wrestled, mouths glued together and bodies twisted, until at length Dalin was on top; Juliet pinned eagerly helpless beneath her. There was a calm moment, as in a storm: both of them were flushed, perspiring; hair dishevelled, eyes wild. Dalin leaned down, kissed Juliet with slow, wet tenderness. Juliet shivered and relaxed.

Dalin kissed her way down the smooth valley between Juliet's breasts, soft wet dabs that sparkled like motes of distilled pleasure. Inclining her head slightly, she let her lips and tongue sweep out across the buoyant surface of the breast itself, grazing the nipple, making it swell and stiffen. Dalin raked her head across to the other breast, letting her hair trail, tickling. This time she suckled hard with her lips; Juliet gasped and her body rose, her legs parting with unconscious eagerness. Dalin continued to slide slowly down the girl's body, kissing, licking, occasionally nipping lightly with her teeth; her fingertips followed a separate but parallel path, stroking arms and hips and outer thighs - Juliet rode the twin threads of sensation, at once indulging and suppressing her swelling excitement. There was novelty in all this, and eroticism, even a hint of sin, but it was within her control. Not until she felt Dalin's hands gently but decisively forcing her knees further apart; not until the gossamer brush of Dalin's head passed below the threshold of her stomach, did she know true anticipation, and fear.

"Dalin," she asked tremulously, "What are you doing?"

Dalin held Juliet's thighs wide, wedging herself between them so there could be no going back. She positioned her mouth carefully, letting her tongue swirl out and up between dilated, glistening labia, flicking off the pink tip of the unveiled clitoris. Juliet cried out, her body jolting with electric sensation. As Dalin licked again, Juliet's hands flew to her shoulders, as if to push her away; somehow this manoeuvre came to nothing.

"Dalin," she sobbed, "That's so.... Good God, how can you do such a thing?"

Quite easily, thought Dalin, though she said nothing - Juliet's sex was sweet and soft, ripe and juicy as a peach. Dalin used her fingertips at close quarters now, teasing the labia apart, licking the inner folds of raw wet flesh. Juliet's eyes were full of tears, yet her sobbing had transformed into near laughter; her body quivered uncontrollably, she could no longer form coherent words.

Dalin decided the moment was right: Juliet had asked to be taken, and take her she would. She paused briefly in her ministrations, posing one hand like a gun and carefully wetting the two yoked

fingers. While her tongue lapped at the taut nub of Juliet's clitoris, her fingers slid below, driving gently yet implacably between the yielding lips, deep into the folds of her wet inner silk. Juliet's whole body seemed to contract in response; she gave a long, guttural moan that was at once anguished and ecstatic. Having probed deep as she dared, Dalin withdrew, pausing but a moment before she thrust again; all the while pursuing the elusive clitoris with her tongue. Juliet lifted and surged against her, at once resistant like a dam yet accepting as water: she shrieked and shivered, hands flailing helplessly at the blunt agony of being stretched; an agony she could not endure, yet might tolerate forever.

"Dalin," she pleaded, "Have mercy..."

But Dalin knew no mercy, her fingers flashing in and out, meeting no resistance now as Juliet's body oscillated in perfect syncopation. Juliet felt her excitement spill over: something like a riptide flowed within and throughout her body; it swept away her virginity, her very sense of self. Lost in its relentless, pulsing pull she wept and shouted and had no idea what words she said, if any. In the final climactic instant she was utterly blank, as if Dalin had somehow annihilated her; tearing out the essence of all she was. And then, abruptly, she was there again: Juliet, gasping and aching, feeling pummelled, weak as a kitten. Her legs trembled; her stomach hurt; rivulets flowed from her eyes and nose. But she had never felt so totally, incontrovertibly alive.

Dalin shuffled up, peppered Juliet's face with light, tender kisses. Juliet laughed through her utter

helplessness, still struggling for breath.

"Did you like that?" Dalin's enquiry was matter-of-fact, yet she seemed genuinely concerned.

"I - I don't know," Juliet replied honestly. "It was so overwhelming - I must have made an awful noise."

Dalin grinned. "D'you remember what you said?"

"I think I might have called out to Almighty God," Juliet muttered, with a slight shiver of shame.

"No," Dalin countered, and her face turned serious. "You called out for your mother."