(Frustrations arise, Bold new talent, Affection returned, and Requited passions)
The following days were full of near misses. Embraces almost taken. Kisses almost given. Confessions almost said. And always, always some interruption or another.
Like the unexpected news that the Admiral had finally been cleared to hobble about on crutches. Or poor Penelope having a nervous episode in one of the stairwells. Or Mrs Cambridge falling down from a fever. Or another one of the highly predatory ladies confidently coming to attempt to stake their claim on Colonel Walter.
Oddly enough, it was the Admiral who became an unexpected ally in evicting them. He could spot a lustful lady with her mind only on how she could profit, all from thirty yards away. His combination of bluster and invasive interrogation usually sent them off in a huff.
But it was when the Cavalcadium published her papers, both on the topic of automaton language and her method for patching The Spine's internal leak, that the dam broke.
Iris had brought his lunch upstairs, another fine selection of all foods nutritious and delicious, when Colonel Walter shared the news.
Not only had they published both her works, but they had out her name on the front page. Bold New Talent! the typeface declared. And inside, a cartoon of a rather more decently-dressed maid taking notation from machines conversing in musical notes.
The artist had evidently confused some of the features of Colonel Walter's mechanical quartet. Or merged all four of them into a very unlikely duet.
Iris could not contain herself. She jumped and shrieked and laughed and finally launched herself into Colonel Walter's arms. Once there, she heartily kissed him. She met no resistance when her lips met his. Only an eager reply.
She quickly became lost in his embrace. Holding him as tightly against her as he held her in return. They existed without time, tangled together in his chair. And only breaking when they both needed to breathe. Even then, she did not let him go.
"Miss Iris," he gasped. "Do you mean to be so affectionate?"
"I've meant it for an age or more," she managed. "I can't help it. I love you."
Another timeless kiss. Another desperate tangle of limbs. Another gasping breach for air. And she heard in her ear, "I'm certain I mean so, too."
They tangled a third time, hands roving over each other's bodies. Hearts racing. Needing each other and happy to supply themselves. It was only when their mutual actions threatened to topple them to the floor that they realised his office was not the place for such shenanigans.
"Perhaps we should adjourn to a more comfortable platform," suggested Colonel Walter, his eyes alight with sparks she had never seen before.
Iris found the power of words, at last, and dull practicality burst out of her. "We should take your lunch with us."
"Yes. An excellent idea," his sparkling eyes marvelled at her. Even as he forced himself to set her on her shaking feet.
Iris didn't care if anyone saw them, tray carried between the two of them. Giggling like teenagers. Mussed and flushed with passion. It didn't matter. He loved her and she loved him back. And the power of their pent-up feelings could no longer be denied.
Only when he shut and locked the door behind him did he become Peter. Not a Colonel, not her master, just a man in love. And she became simply Iris. Not a maid, not of a lesser class, just a young woman who loved the man before her.
They mutually forgot about lunch, lying innocently under its cover on the small table by the window. They tumbled into the bed, barely thinking far enough to kick off their shoes, grasping and gasping and reaching to feel more.
She would never remember how they came to be undressed, that afternoon. She did remember learning how there were more places to kiss than the lips. Following Peter's lead and exploring the curious map laid out across his body by Blue matter. And she would never forget the magic he wrought in her body. Ladies of luxury would have paid fortunes for the hysterical paroxysms he gifted her, though the expensive doctors they visited used only their hands and ingenious devices. Her Peter was far more creative.
She did not, after all, ignite entirely under the full flame of his passion. Besides, he was right there to smother any emerging flame, should it happen. He never crushed her, never got lost in seeking only his satisfaction. And though he was a giant in all his aspects... He never hurt her.
Iris came partially to her senses after he had finally reached his own climax. She lay sprawled over his torso. As bare as Eve in the garden of Eden. He, also, did not wear a stitch. And moisture escaped her eyes without any hint of logic to them.
His gentle fingers found them. Coaxed them from her cheek. "Tears, dear Iris? Was I too rough with you?"
"There's no pain, I promise," she breathed. Her breath hitched. "I suppose that's what's wrong. In a way."
Now he was gently kissing her cheeks clean. "Hmm?"
"All my life, I was told it would hurt when... if I surrendered to the passions of a man. The wages of original sin, I was told."
His hands soothed her, warming her as they traversed her back from shoulder to buttock. "If a gentleman is properly passionate, and not seeking his own relief, he should therefore take elegant care to ensure that his lady is sufficiently relieved, also," he said, tickling her thighs. "I doubt I learned Doctor Moreau's papers that thoroughly... so might I suggest the theory that our actions are not, therefore, sinful?"
Once, she might have been jealous of his infatuation with Doctor Moreau. Now, she might remember that dear woman in her prayers. And later, she would look up her papers to be sure of her legacy. She found a laugh bubbling out of her and said, "Shame on you. A man of science using only one experiment to enforce a thesis. One would think a larger range of experiments would be vital for such conclusions."
"At your service, dear Iris," he breathed, and started the slow, luxurious kissing path down from her chin, all the way to her hips. And once more took the most elegant of care with her.