Note to readers: This contains spoilers for the Clandestine Magic trilogy. Suggested reading order is after Revolutionary.
If you prefer to skip over steamy scenes: When Peter says, “Distract me,” hit control-F on a PC (or command-F on a Mac), put in “He pushed to his feet” and jump there by hitting the enter/return key. Magic!
October 31, 2023
The man leaning against the stone wall at the edge of the women’s college drew curious glances from passing students. His coat, long and midnight blue, gave him the air of a wizard. His hair, short and brown, suggested he was a typic.
His smile as he saw Beatrix Blackwell left no doubt he was hers.
“I thought you wouldn’t be back until tomorrow,” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around her husband.
“Mm,” Peter said. “I wanted to see you today.”
She pressed closer with a sigh. “And the funder said no?”
The vibrations from his soft laugh went right through her own chest. “So much for my grand distraction.”
“You’re quite distracting, my good sir.” She stepped back and took his arm, leading him off campus. “Far too distracting to go on standing here, in fact.”
The way his eyes crinkled told her he was amused. But the turn of his lips showed his disappointment about the failed trip. He’d thought this time would be the charm, the proposal that would finally fund the lab they hoped to run.
“As I recall,” she said, “a wise man once told me I would need a graduate degree at the very least before attempting medical research. There’s still time.”
“As I recall, that man was a bit of an idiot.”
She stole a kiss in lieu of a response.
They walked a short distance in silence, the crisp breeze ruffling his coat and her long brown skirt. Hazelhurst College was not so avant-garde as to allow its students to wear pants—even bloomers. Not yet, she thought. So much she still wanted from the world that it refused to provide … yet.
She caught Peter looking at her and stole another kiss, heart accelerating as he trailed a hand down her back. His lips were cold. His mouth was warm.
At the sound of an approaching car, they pulled away with huffs of not-quite laughter. “Necking in public,” he said with mock scorn. “Those scandalous Blackwells.”
“A splendid word. Scandalous,” she said, drawing out the sibilants.
“A bit less splendid when you hear it from the man you’re trying to convince to fund your lab.”
“I think he neglected to fully read our proposal before inviting me to Boston,” he said, jaw tightening, “or else he wouldn’t have been so surprised about your area of research.”
“Do you think he would have funded just you?” she asked, aiming for mildly curious but sounding a bit wistful.
“It doesn’t matter. That’s not the lab I want.”
Still an idealist at heart—which, depending on the situation, either charmed or exasperated her. Sometimes both at once. “This is not the outfit I want,” she pointed out, gesturing at her skirt, “but needs must.”
“We’ll get the money,” he said, the cadence of the words communicating how stubborn he was prepared to be.
She was so tempted to kiss him again. Their bed had been cold and lonely without him in it. But another car came around the bend, so she set a brisk pace instead, eager to get him home.
“How was your exam?” he asked, snatching a brilliantly orange leaf blowing through the air with the hand that wasn’t twined with hers.
“Not quite as brutal as I expected.” She grinned. “Thank you for the supplementary lecture, Dr. Blackwell.”
“My inorganic chemistry professor would be astonished that I grasped any of it well enough to explain it to someone else. By far my worst class.”
“I thought the class where they locked you in a room with booby traps was the worst one.”
“That was interesting, though.”
She bumped her shoulder against his. “Makes me feel bad to ever complain about the final exams Hazelhurst gives.”
He chuckled. But his expression turned pensive as they walked on. “Do you wish you could have gone? To the wizardry academy, I mean.”
She’d given that some thought, of course. How could she not, after discovering that women were capable of magic and the government had kept it a highly classified secret for ninety years?
The answer she’d settled on was no.
“When you went to the academy, they decided what you would study, where you would work, what you would do.” She shook her head. “Not a chance.”
“When you put it that way,” he said, “I wouldn’t want to go, either.” He glanced down at the leaf in his hand, too far gone for casting with. “Not, of course, that I could anymore.”
For months after he’d woken from the coma and discovered he could no longer work magic, she’d thought his abilities might—might—return. She had a well-developed sense of pessimism, born of experience, but it didn’t seem unreasonable to hope. Perhaps what the weapon took from him was only temporary. A cut could heal and shorn hair could regrow. Why not the essence, whatever it was, that had once permitted him to spellcast?
He’d hoped, too. He didn’t talk about it, but she could tell by the press of his lips and the angle of his shoulders when his spell attempts—first daily, then weekly, then monthly—came to naught.
At some point after the two-year mark, he all but stopped trying. His magic was not coming back.
“What about the witches’ academy?” he asked, clearly wanting to drag the conversation back on track before she said something stupidly well-meaning like you know your magic is the least important thing about you. (“I rather liked it, though,” he’d retorted. Then he’d apologized for snapping, which just made her feel worse.)
She shook her head, focusing on his question. “The witches’ academy that does not exist and, quote, never will, so help me God?”
“The Senate majority leader can say whatever he likes. It’s up to the president. Eventually, Joan’s going to prevail.”
She hoped so. The founder and president of the fast-growing National Organization for Witches had made an academy her top priority, and Joan Hamilton was very good at getting under President Abbott’s skin. Every day from sunrise to sunset, women recruited by Joan stood outside the White House with a pointed banner: Mr. President, how long must witches wait for equality? Every weekend, speakers drafted by Joan attracted a crowd and annoyed Abbott further. (Beatrix, who’d held the banner on multiple occasions and spoken here and there, once got a flash of his grim expression as he rode in his presidential car through the gates.)
There was no good reason for the magiocracy to deny women a magical education.
Of course, bad reasons often won out.
“So,” he persisted, “if I’m right, will you go?”
She looked at Peter, surprised. She’d thought he was merely asking her opinion about whether a witches’ academy would dictate the lives of its students as much as the wizards’ academies did.
“You know I won’t go,” she said. “We talked about it, remember?”
“Beatrix,” he murmured, “please tell me you’re not letting thoughts of how I might take it influence your decision.”
She stopped, mouth open. Into the silence, he added, “My lack of magic should have no bearing on what you do with yours. If I’ve given you even a hint of worry that I couldn’t be completely happy for you, then shame on me.”
“Husband mine,” she said, stepping closer and taking both his hands in hers, “that didn’t once cross my mind.”
His smile was there and gone. “You’ve been careful with me. You can’t deny it.”
“You can’t honestly deny it, I mean.”
She bit her lip. She lifted his left hand, the one that held the striking orange leaf like a talisman. “I don’t want to make you feel worse. But,” she said more loudly over his attempt to cut in, “that has absolutely nothing to do with my admittedly premature decision to not go to an academy the magiocracy doesn’t want to open.”
He tickled her chin with the leaf. She hadn’t realized she’d jutted it at him. (“I can always tell how you’re feeling by the angle of your chin,” he said one evening, lying in her arms after a simmering argument abruptly turned into a much more pleasurable activity.)
“All right,” he said now, the soft challenge in his voice sending shivers down her spine. That was exactly how he sounded when he whispered things like I have a depraved idea you might like in her ear. “Go on.”
“I …” she said a bit breathlessly. She had to get this man to a bed. “I’ll tell you as we walk.”
She dragged him across Frederick Road to the avenue that cut past her old house, heading for the forest and the quickest route back home.
“Is it the lack of agency?” he asked. “I think witches might get more freedom than wizards after graduation, actually. The magiocracy can’t very well dictate what work women will do and for how long if leaders are also insisting that your real place is in the home.”
“That’s … quite an interesting thought,” she said, “but no. Hazelhurst is just far more likely to give me the tools I need to develop an effective contraceptive.”
“But the options with magical innovation—” He stopped, though only verbally, because she was still pressing them forward at a rapid clip. “No, you’re right. The academies’ idea of sex education is telling boys to ‘get to work producing more wizards for your country.’ Your chance of finding an academy professor willing to act as an adviser for your research is probably nil.”
“That was exactly my—wait, they told you to go off and get as many women pregnant as possible?”
“It was more ‘get married early and have lots of sons.’ Some of my classmates clearly took it the other way, though.”
An unpleasant thought struck her. “Do you think your father—could he have possibly been—”
“One of those types of wizards?” His grin was short-lived. “No. Just a thoroughly rotten typic. I did meet him once, you know,” he said, correctly interpreting her expression of shock. She’d come to a dead halt. “After I graduated, he looked me up. So delighted to have a son who turned out to be a wizard. I got him to admit he’d known my mother was pregnant when he left her, then told him he’d see some wizardry he wouldn’t like if he ever contacted me again.”
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, cupping his face. She’d never asked before—she’d thought he truly didn’t know who the man was.
“It’s all right,” he said, forehead to hers. They stood there for a moment before he shifted, pressing his lips to her neck, restarting the fire his story had temporarily quenched. The satisfied sound he made as her breath caught seemed to reverberate through her. “Would you like to go home to bed, wife mine?”
“Bee! Peter!” a voice called out—and she turned in mingled frustration and consternation to find her sister darting toward them. “Joan—Joan—”
For one heart-stopping, vertiginous second, Beatrix’s mind was thrown back to that moment in Washington when Lydia crumpled, dress stained with her own blood. No, no—not Joan, please not Joan—
Then Lydia drew close enough for Beatrix to see, with incalculable relief, that what she’d taken for alarm was a wild grin. “She just called! Abbott’s doing it! We won!”
Beatrix swayed, catching Peter’s arm to steady herself, hardly able to believe what her sister was saying.
Peter managed words first. “You mean—the academy?”
Lydia was completely out of breath. Slowly, they walked back with her to the house that was now hers and Rosemarie’s, Lydia explaining that she hadn’t stayed for the whole story. Rosemarie was getting it from Joan, but Lydia had wanted to try to catch Beatrix on the way back from class.
“I thought you were coming home tomorrow,” she added to Peter.
“We had a difference of opinion, the funder and I.”
Lydia gave them both a sympathetic look. For the better part of a year, she’d been raising funds for scholarships to women’s colleges. Differences of opinion with wealthy would-be patrons was a regular occurrence for her.
“Better luck next time,” she said, stepping onto the porch and opening the door.
Rosemarie, indomitable, stood in the kitchen with one hand on the wall and the other on her cane, her wheelchair nowhere in sight. The telephone handset was back in its cradle. She turned toward them—lips pinched, eyes furious.
At some point after Lydia rushed out, Joan must have delivered a serious however.
“What?” Beatrix asked, striding toward her. “What’s wrong with this academy?”
“They’re only going to teach women omnimancing,” Rosemarie said with perfectly calm wrath. “A very limited number of women, and just a year’s worth of instruction.”
No one in their suddenly grim gathering said anything for a moment. Boys at Arlington and Los Angeles received at least four years of wizardry training, often more, with advanced instruction for those in specialized fields. The new academy wasn’t a victory—it was an insult.
“Joan didn’t get to negotiate this, I take it,” Peter said.
Rosemarie shook her head. “The Abbott administration sent her a letter. They’re announcing it publicly tomorrow. ‘The Omnimancing Academy for Ladies,’ ” she added in disgust. “Not witches. Ladies.”
Lydia sighed. Beatrix seethed—all that effort and risk, for this. Was the letter straightforward in its delivery of the news? Did it come with a bit of patronizing praise?
“How is Joan?” she asked.
“Utterly unbowed,” Rosemarie said.
Beatrix wiped at her eyes. Then she slipped an arm around Rosemarie, urging her away from the wall. “Come sit down. I worry about you falling.”
“I’m too damn mad to sit,” Rosemarie muttered, startling her into laughter. Rosemarie never used language like that—and the impish twist of her lips made Beatrix suspect she’d done it just to lighten the mood.
This moment should have been a celebration, and the magiocracy had spoiled it.
But it wasn’t the end. It was simply another not yet.
“I made plenty of dinner,” Lydia said, squeezing her hand. “Stay and have some with us.”
So they did, Beatrix’s earlier urgency to get home nearly forgotten—until it roared back to fiery life thirty minutes later, as Peter used the pads of his pointer and middle fingers to draw lazy circles under the table on her palm, the inside of her wrist and finally her inner thigh.
“Thank you so much for dinner,” she said, a hoarse edge to her voice.
“We’ll wash up,” Peter said like a polite guest and cruel torturer.
She had never dried dishes so fast in her life. They could get home in twenty minutes if they walked briskly. Perhaps they could run part of the way and make it in less than fifteen?
As Peter handed her the final plate, the doorbell rang.
“I’ve got it!” Lydia called out from the sitting room and arrived at the door carrying a bowl.
Beatrix suddenly remembered what day it was.
“Trick or treat!” chorused the girls on the porch, siblings from up the street dressed as circus animals.
“Peter,” she murmured, fighting back a scream, “the Halloween party.”
He groaned. “Oh, right.”
For the past two years, the Martinellis had lived with them. Or, more accurately, they had lived with the Martinellis—Peter’s former deputy was now the town omnimancer, which made the house his. Tim and Mae Martinelli loved Halloween. Everyone in Ellicott Mills got an invitation to come over.
Once she and Peter stepped foot in the house, there would be no going to bed until after midnight. At best.
“Should we ask to stay here for the night?” Peter whispered.
She arched an eyebrow at him. “In my parents’ old bedroom?”
“Or the spare room with the bed that screeches if you so much as look at it?”
He held up his hands in defeat—hands that she really wanted him to put somewhere else.
The thunk-thunk of Rosemarie’s cane announced her. Beatrix, turning, held her arms out.
“Heading home?” Rosemarie said, stepping into her embrace.
“The party awaits.” Beatrix kissed her cheek, the faint floral scent of Rosemarie’s soap smelling like love and perseverance. “Have you and Lydia changed your minds? We can come back with the car for you.”
Rosemarie gave a shudder. “Too many people.”
“You speak the unvarnished truth,” Peter said dryly.
“Varnished truth is a bit slippery for my tastes.”
Beatrix tried not to snort in Rosemarie’s ear and didn’t entirely succeed. “Goodbye, hilarious mother of my heart.”
Rosemarie stepped back, surveying them both with one of her fond half-smiles. “Well, go on with you.”
Beatrix grinned, called out a goodbye to her sister, now handing out candy to a dragon, and took Peter out the back door.
“What are the chances we can slip in and sneak up to our room?” he asked as they left her old yard and crossed into the forest.
“Roughly the same as my chances of convincing an academy wizard to be my adviser.”
His under-the-breath laugh had a hint of desperation to it. She knew just how he felt.
“Distract me,” he said. “Tell me something that will take my mind off the things I’ve been wanting to do to you all afternoon.”
Her heart skipped, she stumbled and he steadied her, slipping an arm around her waist. “Well,” she said, skin tingling where he touched her despite the layers of clothing between them, “I could relate the contents of my very unsensual inorganic chemistry test.”
“No, that will remind me of what we did after our chem discussion.”
Now she was thinking about it. Her skin flushed, the memory too powerful for the chill air to overcome. How she was still putting one foot in front of the other, she could not say.
“Um—I got my history paper back. A-plus, hooray.”
“Mm,” he said, leaning in. “Excellent work, but wrong conversational topic. You know how I feel about your mind.”
More thoughts popped into her head, all the wrong conversational topics. Very, very wrong.
The consideration, for instance, that no one else was likely to come into the forest and definitely not to this part of it.
Or the memory of being in these woods with him, dreamside.
Or the certain knowledge that she could not get through the rest of the night if she did not have him now.
“Well, wife mine”—that tone of voice, oh God—“what shall we talk about?”
“I have a depraved idea.” Her own voice wavered. “Would you like to hear it?”
He let out a ragged breath. “It depends on when you were intending to put it into practice.”
He stopped, eyes glittering in the moonlight as he pivoted to face her. “It sounds as if your depraved idea has some overlap with my depraved idea.”
“Oh?” she murmured, pressing her lips to a sensitive spot just under his jaw. “Does it involve me pushing you against that oak tree, unbuttoning your pants and having my way with you?”
The sound he made sent a jolt through her. “I was thinking more along the lines of convincing you to sit on that stump, lifting your skirt and—”
She kissed him, hard, the image of him kneeling before her on ground carpeted by multicolored leaves so erotic that she didn’t know what to do with herself.
It was with what she considered real force of will that she pulled away from his lips, his hands and the rest of his body. “My idea first,” she rasped, maneuvering him backward to the tree she thought would be good for her purposes.
There was a multitude of fallen leaves in this spot, too. She knelt, arranging her skirt so it pooled around her.
“God, Beatrix,” Peter said, catching her hand before it reached its destination. “I submit that it is physically impossible for anybody to want someone more than I want you.”
“I can barely think for wanting you, and you’re managing poetic declarations. I submit I win.”
She loved his laugh. She looked up at him with a smile, then followed through on the rest of her depraved idea, the heat and taste and sound of him taking her to a point where the only feeling in her own body seemed to be the throbbing between her legs.
He shuddered above her, catching his breath, one hand caressing her cheek. Then he scooped her up, carrying her to the other side of the towpath.
“My turn,” he said, settling her on the stump. “Is this comfortable?”
Her “yes” was more of a moan than a word. He was running a hand up and down her left leg, little shocks spiraling from the point of contact whenever he reached the top of her stockings and hit bare skin.
“Do you want to hear the rest of what I pictured?” he inquired.
Part of her wanted to beg him to just do it, and quickly. But oh, his voice. Her eyes fluttered closed. “Yes.”
“First,” he said, still lightly touching her, up and down, up and down, “I thought I would unhook your garters. Would you like that?”
“Yes,” she said, anticipation like a weight on her.
He undid one, then the other.
“Next I wanted to slip your underwear off you. Would you like that?”
“Yes,” she whispered, lifting herself up to help him do it, the sudden feeling of cool air on overheated skin ripping a moan from her throat.
“And then,” he said, shifting, putting his lips to her ear, “I thought I would ask what you most desperately want me to do to you.”
“Everything,” she gasped. “All at once.”
He kissed her, one hand on her back and the other slipping down, down. She groaned in complete abandon as he touched her, yes, yes, there.
It was decadent.
And then he stopped.
“No,” she cried, but he kissed her again, a promise, as he moved his hand in those distracting circles on her upper thigh. And suddenly, not yet took on a different tenor.
All afternoon, she had been frustrated in one way or another. All her life, to be candid.
What he was doing, though, had the feeling of a complex spell, and she burned with the power of it.
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,” he murmured as he pulled back, still touching her, close but not there. She bit her lip, goosebumps rippling down her arms. “Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows”—he nipped her ear, oh, oh—“Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine.” Down he shifted, down, whispering, “With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine: There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight.”
Her labored breathing was loud in the hush of the forest as he paused. Words, fingers, everything.
Not … yet.
Then he put his tongue to her.
The electric shock of it, the relief of it, the incredible now-now-now of what he was doing to her, coiled and spread and pulled a scream from her throat.
“Don’t stop,” she pleaded. “Peter, don’t stop.”
He didn’t. He wrang every bit of her frustrated wanting and needing and not-having until, for one long moment, there was nothing at all in the world she desired but what he was giving her.
Then she came back to herself—sitting on a hard stump, the late October air making her shiver.
He pushed to his feet and sat behind her, letting her slump boneless against him, wrapping his arms and the edges of his coat around her.
“Was that Shakespeare?” she asked.
Warm air huffed against her as he laughed.
“I was not wondering that at the time, to be clear,” she said. “There was this thoroughly distracting man, thoroughly distracting me.”
“Are you sure that we are awake?” he said. “It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”
“Ohhh,” she said, drawing the word out, leaning her head back to look up at the canopy of trees and the full moon above them. “Midsummer Night’s Dream. Apropos for this moment of madness.”
She pressed a kiss to his neck.
“It feels a bit like dreamside,” he admitted, running a hand through the fallen leaves piled against the stump.
It gave her a pang to see it. For most of his life, a leaf in his dexterous fingers meant something very different. He sighed, and she tried to think of a quick change of subject, something to get his mind off—
No. He’d told her to stop being careful with him, hadn’t he?
“How do you feel?” she asked softly, dipping her hand into the leaves to catch his. “About your magic.”
He made a movement behind her that was probably a shrug. “Depends on the day. Kind of a dull yearning, most of the time. It’s not bad, mind you, I’m just …”
“Frustrated,” she suggested.
She felt the echo of that down to her bones.
“But honest to God, Beatrix, do not let that keep you from pursuing magic yourself. Really, I’m more frustrated about the lab funding.”
She snorted, then lifted their entwined hands from the leaves and kissed his knuckles. “I’d rather have the lab, too.”
“But what about knitting?” he said, resting his chin on her shoulder.
She hesitated. She no longer thought the powerful, unpredictable form of magic-working she and Ella had managed to do could drive a person mad, but they still didn’t understand its long-term effects on the user. No one seemed to know why it was that women and some men could cast, but what had happened to Peter proved it could be catastrophically tapped out.
Could sustained knitting cut your life short?
She simply didn’t know. And that was just the beginning of her worries about it.
Once, she’d longed for magic. Now, with Peter and college and National Organization for Witches efforts, she hardly missed it. She would enjoy casting again, if they could get the law changed, but knitting …
“It’s not something I want to do,” she said. “Not anymore.”
“Because of me.” He sounded regretful. “I don’t want you to look back and wish I hadn’t kept you from exploring this undiscovered territory.”
“No, it’s because of me.” She slipped off the stump, plucked her underwear from his hand and put it back on. “Look, I’m afraid of it. I don’t want that much power—I don’t want to find out what I would do with it, given world enough and time.”
His “ah” was soft. “That, I absolutely, completely understand.”
She knew he would, after creating a weapon too powerful to wield.
“I would only knit again if someone was in immediate danger, or …” She trailed off, then realized she was being careful of him again. And he didn’t need that.
“Or if Ella asked you to transform her back.” He nodded, no sign on his face that he was thinking of Ella in this very forest, nearly killing him. “But she hasn’t?”
Her shake of the head was brief. Beatrix had offered, of course. In person, before Ella imposed a sentence of house arrest on herself. In letters, afterward. Beatrix had made sure not to let on how daunting a prospect that was—the abilities Ella had (and lost) when she’d transformed herself seemed far beyond Beatrix’s, and she feared she might make Ella’s situation worse. But whatever Ella needed, she would try very hard to do.
Even if it was to do nothing at all.
Beatrix, my dear friend, you must stop urging me to cut my sentence short. To throw your wise words back at you: You don’t get to tell me how I should feel.
Her stomach had dropped at that postscript in Ella’s last letter. Because as much as she thought Ella should come out of her apartment, should in fact never have punished herself, Ella was right.
She redid her garters, straightened her skirt and resumed her walk home with Peter, hand in his, head elsewhere.
As they neared the forest’s edge, he cleared his throat. “You feel responsible, don’t you.”
“I asked her to take that Vow.”
“I asked you to ask her.”
“I should have realized what was happening,” she said, eyes welling. “I was so fixated on what my Vow to you was doing to me that I didn’t pay any attention to my Vow about protecting Lydia.”
“I should never, ever have brought Vows to the table in the first place.”
She bit her lip, a watery laugh escaping. “I had almost this exact conversation with Ella, except swap out your part with her saying how this is all her fault.”
He pulled her into his arms. “Rosemarie would say we’re obsessively focused on allocating blame for an eighth of a mud pie while forgetting that the magiocracy is at fault for all the rest.”
“Rosemarie is usually right.”
“Is there anything I can do for her?”
She knew he didn’t mean Rosemarie. She pondered the question. “I don’t know. I’ll tell you if I think of something.”
They walked up the hill to the house in silence. Then he said softly, “Is she very unhappy?”
“No,” Beatrix said, with as much certainty as one person could have about another after sustained and careful observation. Telephone calls once a week and letters every other day had assured her of that. Ella was lonely, no doubt, but she was also devouring books, writing witty notes, drafting the occasional speech for NOW protests, talking about the future and behaving as if she fully intended to rejoin the world. Just not yet.
He nodded. “Good.”
They crested the hill and paused there to watch the costumed children of Ellicott Mills darting up and down Main Street, many dressed like witches or wizards. He looked down, a wry twist to his lips, and it struck her how unsettled his life was still. He’d been a wizard, a weapons developer, an omnimancer, and all that was gone. His work on weapons defense—mopping up my mess, as he put it—was finished now, too. The lab they dreamed of might never happen.
Her life was nearly as unsettled, by that measure. Not yet done with college. Not yet ready for serious research. Not yet, not yet, not yet.
Yet there could be so much joy in the right-now.
“What?” he said, glancing at her with a smile. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Because I love you, Dr. Blackwell.”
He dipped in for a lingering kiss. “Well, beloved future Dr. Blackwell, shall we go see how many people Martinelli has managed to stuff in the house this time?”
A home of their own: another not-yet.
But eventually. All of it, eventually.
“Don’t forget to wash your hands,” she said, sotto voce.
How she loved, loved, loved his laugh.