Setting aside the comb, she visibly squared her slender shoulders. Her voice was even and she glanced around the fire, looking each of them in the eye one by one. "Because it seems to me that we cannot exist together peaceably without coming to some sort of ... arrangement. I am naive I suppose, in many ways, but not quite as much so as before the shipwreck. Men's bodies seem to have a ... wayward need for copulation. I cannot help but notice--that is--sometimes--it is obvious--" she stammered, two spots of color visible high in her cheeks even in the firelight.
Realizing she meant that she had noticed the telltale bulge of an erection at some time or another, of which every single one of them was probably guilty, Charles flushed too and shifted uncomfortably. "We apologize most sincerely but it isn't something a man can help, my lady. I don't know which one of us offended you, but it wasn't on purpose. You are ... very beautiful," he finished lamely.
"Thank you," she said in a hushed voice, her gaze lowered demurely. "And I wasn't offended particularly. I was a little surprised, I suppose. It seems like such a basic response."
"Men," Jonathan admitted wryly, "are basic creatures. Enforced abstinence is difficult at any time, but a little more so when one spends time with a lovely half-dressed woman. It is simply a fact."
She nodded. "That is my concern. I do not want you fighting over me, which is what I feel might eventually happen. We are not in a London drawing room any longer. You are all gentlemen, but that is learned behavior, not innate." Jenna took a deep breath, her breasts swaying provocatively under her shift. "Your urges are not tempered here by the opportunity for a discreet affair. I might be innocent but I have been around soldiers before. Each one of you is attractive, so I have no doubt you are rarely ... abstinent. However, I would not ever give myself to any man if it would betray his marriage vows."
For a long heartbeat, no one spoke. Jonathan felt a frisson of pure anticipation run through his body. "What exactly do you propose, Jenna?" Even to his own ears, his voice sounded odd.
Her hand shook slightly as she lifted it to smooth back a shimmering strand of hair caught by the light breeze. In the distance, thunder rumbled again, growing closer, and the sea licked the shore nearby in a sibilant whisper. "You could share me. Back home, I suppose that would make me a whore--"
"You are the farthest thing possible from a whore," Jonathan interrupted shortly, not even certain how to feel about what she had just said. "Don't be ridiculous."
She continued with impressive dignity. "However, I cannot think of another way to prevent discord. My virtue means nothing if we never leave here. If we are rescued, I will have been here with the three of you all this time, so my reputation will already be tarnished even if you never touch me."
"You do not have to do this," Anthony Reeves said, but his gaze suddenly glittered and his wide shoulders were tense. "We can behave ourselves."
"I realize you would try." She shook her head, moving her luxuriant hair. "But already this afternoon I saw the fury in your eyes, Major, when you found me with Lord Charbeau. Besides, this is not exclusively your problem, either. I am a normal female and I cannot help but be curious over what it would be like to lie with a man. Who knows now, with this twist fate has given us, if I will ever marry. I enjoyed Jonathan's kiss this afternoon and could probably be convinced to allow him greater liberties." Her smile was faint and slightly ironic. "I have a feeling he is a most persuasive man and recall hearing rumors of his romantic exploits while in London last year. Do you honestly think he will not be able to seduce me eventually? And when he does, will you not be frustrated and angry?"
Reeves looked uncomfortable. He shoved his fingers into his thick hair, his mouth twisting. "Since you are being so forthright, I cannot deny you affect me. But I feel as if we are forcing this upon you."
She rose, graceful in the firelight, framed by the eerie flickering lights over the water, and daintily brushed a little of the obsequious sand that seemed to be everywhere from her arm. "We are comrades, so to speak, trapped in a most unusual situation. You all take care of me right down to providing food and shelter. I suppose this is my contribution, if you will. All I ask is that you work things out between you so there is no rancor."
Out of sheer habit, they had also gotten politely to their feet when she stood, old customs deeply ingrained and exercised even on a wild island in the middle of a foreign sea.
Jenna stood there, a vision in her lacy attire, all soft voluptuous curves and glorious beauty. "I am retiring now. I assume one of you will join me soon enough. Good night, gentlemen."