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Grasping the Nettle | Chatham Residence, Early Evening, Thurs April 7th

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  • #19 Chatham Residence

A tidy house built of red brick, Number 19 sits some distance back from the street and is approached via a curving drive that bissects a neat, well-manicured lawn.

It is Jacobean in design with contrasting sandstone trim and several heavily paned bow windows overlooking both the front yard and the rustic garden to be found at the house's rear. Informal, this garden has been planted with several bushes of red and pink roses, some beds of spring bulbs, and, surprisingly, perhaps, a very well-kept physic garden close to the house. An ancient, gnarled oak tree boasts pride of place at the very center of the garden and an ornate, circular, ironwork bench has been constructed around the tree's trunk to make use of the copious amounts of shade offered by the canopy of leafy foliage. Surrounded by a brick wall, the garden is partitioned from the small stable and coach house though both can be accessed via a small door hidden behind a curtain of trailing ivy.

To enter the townhome, one must present oneself to the panelled black door and make use of the silver door-knocker in the shape of a shell.




Charles had found it amusing, at first, his stepmother's skittishness around him. It had been great fun to poke at her embarrassment after their opium-fuelled encounter. He had assumed that his ascendancy was temporary, and that Mary would return to their skirmishing with a renewed will soon enough. But she had not. Indeed, since Lords, the situation seemed to have gotten worse, to the point that she now seemed to be actively avoiding him. That, he felt, qualified as a 'Problem, Serious.' Even leaving aside the looming spectre of Easter, and its attendant necessity to present a unified front at various public events, an uncomfortable Mary was a Mary far more likely to do something drastic with Cadogan, which would in turn require him to do something drastic. (And frankly, at this stage of his life and career, Charles felt he was past fleeing for the nearest border under an assumed name, which sadly remained the most likely outcome of any drastic action on his part.)

Which brought him to this, the deeply unwelcome conclusion that the situation merited intervention. An unpleasant realisation in and of itself, it became worse when he considered that he had no real idea of what shape that intervention should take, and worse still when he started to consider the logistics of it. How could he intervene when the issue was that she was taking great care not to be in his company? In the end, he had concluded that he would have to ambush her, as it were, and improvise from there.

That conclusion was what found him here, seated in a corner of the parlour, ears straining for any slight hint of Mary so that he could intercept her. He sipped mechanically at a glass of a good, dry Rhenish that was utterly wasted on him in his current mood, and read a passage of the Anabasis for what he was fairly sure was the fifth time in the last fifteen minutes. 

My life would be so much simpler if I did not find her so damnably attractive.



Edited by Charles Audley
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"That's just too precious, here now let me read the card!"  Mary's voice filtered through from the foyer, fussing about the flower arrangement there (which Charles must have walked past but hardly noticed).   A moment later, and likely after reading aforementioned card, she tutted with pleasure... "Oooh now that terrible man" 

Mary, dressed in a gown of navy satin with purple accents, a gown that made a lovely rustling sound with it’s starch-y newness when she moved, leaned to pluck one of the flowers from the bouquet (an orchid) and with a smug little smile commanded her maid. “I have to sent them back to him of course!” 

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He had made two great mistakes in this, Charles reflected. The first, obviously, had been seducing her at all (a cold, cruel part of him noted that there had been precious little seduction involved, really, but that was besides the point). The second had been, once he had allowed things to go that far, not following through. He should have been warmer and more affectionate with her afterwards. Instead he had indulged himself, and gloried in her discomfiture.

He was shaken from his musings by Mary's voice from the foyer, announcing that his vigil had not been in vain. He listened for a moment, enough to get the gist, and drained his glass in a single swallow. (A hanging offence, frankly, to treat a good Rhenish thusly, but he found he had a powerful need for a drink.) He was not a jealous man by nature, but he found himself wondering if he should play at it now. Would it flatter or soothe her?

Best not, he decided, standing abruptly and moving to the foyer. Forthright, polite and amiable, that should be the approach. It was an effort not to slouch louchely against the door frame, but he managed to keep himself properly upright, back straight and shoulders back.

"An admirer?" he asked, careful to keep any hint of teasing from his voice.

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  • 2 weeks later...

A creak of floorboard forewarned her, Mary turned just in time to see Charles appear.  "The seasons wait for no man." came her reply, "but I am sure I already told you of my further purpose here in London."

Her cheeks pinked slightly but she held his eyes with self conviction.  "But what are you doing skulking about indoors, I'd have thought you to be out with you merry friends by this hour?"  

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"You did," Charles allowed. "I am pleased to see you are meeting with success."

Internally he wondered at Mary's reply. 'The seasons wait for no man.' What had she meant by that? Perhaps nothing more than that — Charles knew he had a tendency to read too deeply into things — but still...

At least she is willing to engage. That is promising.

He shrugged fluidly at her question, moving into the foyer proper to examine the bouquet. (And if that prevented him from considering how pretty he found her faint blush, well, that was all to the good.)

"Whisper it," he began, returning his attention to her, "but perhaps I do not feel so merry of late."

He allowed himself a half-grimace, quickly mastered, and flicked his hand dismissively, as though irritated with himself for the admission.

"Besides, given the time of year, one must consider image more than one usually would."

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He moved nearer, and she with mixed feelings on that, attraction and dismay battled it out.

Remaining where she was Mary commented, "Are you in a rush then to see me off?"  turning back to the flowers she mused, "It seems a shame to send them back really, but I shall not be won by what is next weeks compost. No, something more enduring is required."

She'd not expected to see him here, he was very much a social creature with mad cap antics at any turn.  So his reply just now surprised, and sasified something too.  "Truly Charles, I hardly know you anymore?" she looked back at the dark haired roue, eyes flickering over him as if she might identify some cause of the condition.  A part of her imagined the cause was herself. But she was experianced enough to know that thought was a mere vanity.  "A mug of chicken soup might fix you, if not that then a good tot of rum."

He talked sagely of keeping apearances, it was a great oddness to hear him speaking like this.  "Yes I suppose." Smoothing her skirt, her eyes retained their inquiry towards him.

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"Of course not," Charles replied, all easy amiability. "But it is nonetheless good to see you do well in your endeavours."

He considered the flowers again, nodding along with Mary's words.

"It would not do to set your worth too low," he agreed, grateful for the chance to tread conversational water as he pondered how best to press on.

His respite was short-lived. He snorted with black amusement at his stepmother's wonderings. 

"Can we truly claim to have ever known one another?" he asked baldly. "I could count on my fingers the conversations we had before... my return, and our interactions since have been fraught, for lack of a better word. A great pity on both scores, now that I come to think of it."

He shook his head. That was rather more honesty than Charles was comfortable with on general principles, and in this specific context he felt the truth should be rationed even more carefully than was his wont. He was conscious of her appraisal and realised that he was strumming the fingers of his right hand on his thigh, a tic he had not indulged in years. He coughed and stilled the offending digits.

There was an escape at hand, fortunately, and he seized upon it gratefully.

"I've never been fond of soup," he admitted, "but I might try the rum, for the change if nothing else. Will you join me?"

Inside his head he cursed. He should have worked up to that, but it was done now.

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A fair eyebrow pitched at the term he then used (known) but thankfully he was not so guache as to play on it biblically. Or did he, and just in a subtle way that teased.  “Quite so, what I mean of course is the repute of you that has been filtered through to me from various sources.”

He must be in an odd sort of mood

"…Which is precisely why I am not celebrating at just one.  I require a half dozen admirers..  I am not blind Charles I can see that the Audley finances can hardly maintain me in the manner that I wish.” Which was the primary reason she sought male attention. She was otherwise rather content with the freedom of widowhood.

And then he showed that oddly pensive mood remained still; with repeated niceness also.  It was rather pleasant, she had to admit, though it also made her rather nervous.

“Stop it now Charles, before I start agreeing with you.  You are all together more pleasant company than I’d ever supposed.” …And so Mary found herself following him back into the reception room, a rum was noting like the bloody hookah, besides she’d have just one.

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"'Various sources,' hmm?" Charles mused sceptically, cocking his head slightly to one side. He laughed softly. "Are you familiar with the story of the blind men and the elephant by any chance?"

This talk of admirers was worrying, though. He knew Mary to be sharp, and not without cunning, but how much could she know, really, given the life she had led? Juggling half a dozen swains was a risky enterprise, likely to fail.

Which is to the good, a cold serpentine part of him whispered. The greater the scandal she creates around herself, the more secure I am.

Which was true, so far as it went, but also served to illustrate the essential short-sightedness of serpents. He would not emerge from any such scandal untouched, and there was precious little use in a secure position that lacked power and wealth and influence.

"You do not need the warning," he said at last, "but I shall offer it anyway. Do be careful. The male ego can be a dreadfully fragile thing, and our tempers uncertain."

He gave her one of his ready smiles, all sharp pointed teeth and sharp pointed amusement. 

"I should hate to have to kill a man simply because he read too deeply into one of your charming smiles."

It was a blessed relief to leave aside the topics of her admirers, his mood, and the depth (or lack thereof) of their acquaintanceship, even if that did mean that he now had to consider how best to approach the topic of mending the awkwardness between them.

"Your 'various sources' served you poorly then," he said lightly, holding the door for her. "I have never been accused of being unpleasant company." 

He was actually starting to enjoy himself, he realised as he waited for Mary to choose her seat before pouring himself into an armchair. Oh, it was awkward, and slightly confusing, and he had no real idea how or what he was doing... but that was why it was fun.

He watched her across the room for a moment, and leaned forward.

"I owe you an apology, I think," he said quietly.

Which was not at all what he had expected to say, but he could work with it.

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Mary rolled her eyes when he invented a story title (she’d never heard of ‘the blind men and the elephant’ before) a tale she supposed he’d make up on the spot, and to form some sort of parable, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’ve still got one good eye -  but if you ever compare me to an elephant Charles I shall beat with a stick.”

His advice then was tempered, thus easier to accept. “How kind of you to say, though it would surely be diverting to have you defend me thus.” It was slightly annoying that he was such a smooth talker.  He could not be serious that he’d face a fellow down for her if it ever came to that?  It was empty talk surely!  Oh but it would be rather lovely if it was true.  Mary inhaled a deep, almost wishful breath, and shifting her shoulders, she adjusted the lace fishu there.  How very different the son was from the father…

“There is that.  Yet warnings of other things were plain. Why do you think that was Charles?  At times I have wondered at the propaganda, for the reality of you is quite a contrast. And here today you surprise me once again with talk of keeping up appearances.”  Mary settled into her favourite chair, and with half a thought to call for a servant to rouse the fire coals back into flame. These big stone houses were a devil to keep warm, even on a fine spring day.

… but such practical thoughts vanished as Charles leaned forwards with some purpose, his expression seemingly pensive, while the utterance he made was the most alarming thing. A shiver crept up her spine.  “No, lets not talk about that.”  Oh my god,  lets pretend that nothing ever happened!i

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Charles laughed heartily, his mirth pealing out like a bell.

"I wouldn't dream of it, and even if I did I would not dare," he assured Mary. "No, I'm the elephant in this metaphor, and your various sources the blind men. You see, in the story a group of blind men decide to ascertain what an elephant is through their sense of touch. One grabs the trunk and says the elephant is like a great snake, one wraps his arms around one of the beast's legs and says it is like a tree, another touches its side and says it is like a wall, and so on, with each having a different answer. They have each only grasped a part of the whole, you see, and so they are all right and all wrong."

He shrugged one shoulder as she pondered the thought of him defending her, giving his gaze from her swelling bosom with an effort. (Her fichu helped, making this the first time he could ever recall being grateful that a woman had worn one.)

"I will not lie - it is invigorating," he admitted, "but I would hope it would not come to that. The king does not approve of duelling. That will count for little, though, should one of your admirers  prove... less than gentlemanly."

He meant all of that, as it happened. Even leaving aside any less than pragmatic motivation (and he was not sure that any such actually existed), the fact remained that it was a bad idea to allow one's family name to be besmirched, and that a reputation for being willing to kill for the family honour was a nice thing to have.

He laughed again as they returned to the reception room, more softly this time.

"Because I am an elephant and they are blind men," he answered glibly, and shrugged. "They saw fragments of me, bereft of context, and assumed that they thus knew my nature. I am curious, though. What other things were warned of?"

He was surprised, really, at her reaction to his impromptu apology, and were he a lesser man he might have said he was almost hurt. He hesitated a  moment before pressing on. He was committed now, and withdrawal would be disastrous.

"We need never speak of it again after this, if that is what you want, but I must speak my piece first." He spoke softly, holding her gaze.

"Unless you can tell me that you honestly feel that I took advantage, I cannot and will not regret the act, and nor will I apologise for it. My behaviour afterwards, though..."

He drew in a deep breath.

"My behaviour afterwards was unkind, unbecoming and frankly unworthy. I indulged the worst, pettiest parts of my nature, and there is no excuse for it. I can but offer my sincere apologies, and hope that I might make amends."

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The Countess restrained a smile at his laughter; the sound of it was good and did them both good.

“It is a good story,” she admitted, “one interpretation would be that the elephant is different things to different perspectives. Why even the elephants view of himself might be something others would debate.”

His nonchalant shrug was a curiously dismissive gesture, she wondered if he was as surprised by his stance there as she was. “Then I too will admit the thought to be rather romantic of you Charles.”  She blinked, not quite meaning to have said that.  “In a knights-of-old sort of way I mean.”

She did not mean to suggest there was any sort of romance between them!

Settling in the reception room, Charles curiosity revealed itself in asking what she’d been warned about.  “Well I might firstly advise that of blind men I was advised by, there was in fact only one.“  With that ones identity being rather obvious, and in hind sight it even made some sense that the Father had poisoned his new wife against his closer-to-her-in age Son.  

And so as much as she did not want to talk about what had happened, here it was, and now they were.  Credit to Charles to brave it on though past the awkwardness, for as he did her mind on it was remade…

“Then thank you.” Said she, “I dare say you, as I, was later surprised of it and then uncertain. What seemed at the time quite perfectly pleasing and even natural - when measured by ration in the morning after was...  well difficult to categorise.” She'd broken his gaze, but returned to it now.  “yet as to ‘behaviour after’, what options did you, do we, have?”  

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Charles sighed with relief at Mary's words. He could feel something loosen inside himself, the fear, too deep and dark to consciously acknowledge, that he truly had taken advantage eased by her acceptance. It did not solve the issue, but it did mean that the issue could still be solved. (Provided, of course, that he could decide that there was an issue, and what exactly that issue was.)

He smiled at her, a proper genuine smile. He had no plan for this, no script, no idea even where he wanted this conversation to end up. But the words came rushing up anyway, like blood from a wound.

"I do not know," he admitted. "I will be frank and honest - I find myself powerfully attracted to you, but there lies much between us that divides us."

He sighed again and looked down at his hands for a moment.

"I am not certain that we can return to how things were before, or even if we should seek to, but if you wish to try I promise to at least make an earnest attempt. And should you wish otherwise..."

He trailed off, studying her intently. This was rather more honesty than he had expected to show, and he felt raw somehow, as though his nerves were exposed.

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Charles practically gushed, and his smile was different to before, almost boyish in it’s honesty.  She was unprepared for it, but then she’d been unprepared for most about any of this.

“Well there is the truth of it.” She agreed, mind swimming at how easily he admitted what he’d just admitted. For her own part she was more guarded. Perhaps society’s expectations and rules controlled her far more than they controlled he?

“No we cant go back.” She agreed, “though I don’t see there is many options going forwards either.  Perhaps if we had met under different circumstances… but you are my step son, and I your step mother, it just is not done that we are anything more. However we feel.” However alive she felt when he brushed near.

“It cant be about what I wish.” She pulled her eyes away, fully understanding what he was suggesting. And it appealed. Oh my god how it appealed! 

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"Not done?" Charles murmured, the words tasting like iron and ash and old blood on his tongue. "You know, I think, my response to that."

He sighed.

"But I understand," he conceded. "It is a hard thing, to leave the strictures and bindings of society behind, and I cannot say with certainty that it is the right thing, or that it would make you happy."

He stopped and drew in a steadying breath. That raw feeling had redoubled, and he longed to slip back on the mask, to step into the warm embrace of easy humour and louche glibness. To step back and laugh and make a victory of sorts out of whatever hurt he could wring out of Mary. The temptation was an almost physical pain, and he nearly gave in. Would have given in, had Mary not said what he thought was one of the saddest things he had ever heard.

It can't be about what I wish.

"Why not?" he asked, the words out before he was aware of thinking them.

Well, I am committed now.

"When was the last time you did something simply because it would bring you joy, simply because you wanted to?" He shook his head. "Life has to be about more than just duty and societal expectations." 

He sighed again, bending to rest his head in his hands.

"But I am being cruel again, I think."

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Mary liked to think herself in control of the situation, but with Charles, that was difficult. 

"Then perhaps I enjoy your style of cruelty." her eyes flared, she tried repress a smile. 

"Charles, tell me, have you also wondered if it it those very 'strictures and bindings of society' as you say, that exacerbates the appeal?  Good grief and look at us, the eve before Easter services begin. I am near tempted to fetch a fresh bottle of rum so I might blame misdeed upon it. But it's too late for that I think."  Fair haired Mary sat there a picture of dignity, her shoulders poised and hands positioned just so.  But for her words spoken you'd hardly guess that she had a collection of rather more saucy thoughts in her mind. You’d never have guessed it, except that Charles had witnessed the darker side. 

"You know exactly when the last time that I did that was." she replied, almost challenged, and meeting his gaze she was so very tempted. Tempted to slip out of the wall she held around herself, perhaps to feel the soft and warmth that Charles lured her with.  Why then did her chin slightly tilt upwards?  

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Charles cocked his head to one side, idly admiring Mary's poise as he considered his reply.

"While we're alive, it's never too late," he said at last, smiling faintly. "And as to your other point, I do not consider your appeal in need of any enhancement, whatever you might think of mine."

His smile widened at her challenge and he raised a finger in a fencer's salute to concede the point.

"I suppose I do," he murmured, holding her gaze. "But we converse in circles, I think."

He rose and crossed the room to her chair, and dropped to one knee beside her, studying her intently. There was a familiar rush of mad, reckless energy filling him, a sudden flash of inspiration or fey madness that skipped right past his mind and hurtled him into action.

"Did you enjoy it? Would you regret it if it never happened again? Simply tell me that your answer is no and I shall never raise the question again, but if it is otherwise..."

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Were they talking in circles? "More of a whirlpool I think - both here within the vortex, the turbulent rush." 

She could not deny that the sensation was good, even more so as Charles launched himself forward with petition. A question he already knew the answer to - even while she still managed an outward cool. The flare of her eyes, dilation of pupils, said much. 

"But to what outcome?" she extended her hand, brushing knuckles softly to his cheek, her gaze slipping to his lips briefly before looking again into his eye. "Your letter this past month brought me to stand a shield between you and the children. Granted that was before... 'this'.  But I would not put their futures at risk. Yet here you might undo me. I need your promise Charles, that you will..." 

Will what?  For a start renounce his earlier threats.  She did not specify, leaving it to him to choose (or not) the words. 

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He should, Charles knew, have made some protest at that, asked if Mary truly thought him such a monster. That was how this scene should play out, his finely-tuned sense of social theatre told him. But that would be pointless melodrama. He was entirely that much of a monster, and they both knew or suspected that, even if they enjoyed playing at ignoring it.

"I bear no ill will towards the children," he told her, quiet but firm. "I am quite fond of the girls in truth, and might well grow fond of Francis too once he is old enough to be interesting."

He studied her for a long moment, wondering what exactly she wanted to hear. Wondering what exactly he wanted to say. Wondering why, exactly, he cared that those two match.

"If you cannot trust my better nature, then trust my pragmatism," he settled on at last. "Their future is my future, to put it bluntly, and the better they are and do, the better for me, to put it with uncomfortable bluntness."

His voice softened, and he reached out to hold her hand, smiling at her.

"I doubt we will always agree on what is best for them, and it would be a lie to promise that I will give way and not argue when we differ. But I will promise always to consult you, and take into account your opinion, and not to disagree for the sake of it, and that regardless of what might or might not happen between us."

His smile became a grin, and his eye sparkled roguishly.

"But if something should happen between us, the arguing —or at least the making up— would be far more fun, no?"


Edited by Charles Audley
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”Can I have that in writing,” she smiled, almost laughed.  Outwardly jesting, though an intensity of gaze hinted that literal interpretation would do much to ease - ease her concern - concerns that she still felt he held above her - ready to tug at those strings, and make her dance like a marionette.

 But perhaps that was her old uninformed views of him still fretting.

For right now, hearing him speak, he really did sound like he might even enjoy his family. 

It was a hard thing to break from a preconception, Mary frowned down at her hands, willing it, wanting to believe that he said.  “You know that Francis would like that too, he oft tells people he’s got an older brother… it would be nice for him to actually know you.”

Then he reached a hand, and she reached also to hold, and the strangest sense of ‘rightness’ seemed before them.   “I accept your promise Charles,” her voice was soft, gratefuI, “and will offer my own – than when your onion differs I will consider your views. Lord knows you have a more, diverse experience to draw upon.”  It even seemed to the greater benefit of her children, this pact they were forming.

Perhaps the honesty touched him as deeply as it did her, for he then reverted with that cheeky rascal cloak he wore so well, grinning and making fun, acting school boyish even.   

“Yes Charles.” Mary however remained intent as she reached to cup his face, moving to kiss him with intensity, wanting the man he’d revealed himself to truly be.

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Charles shrugged fluidly, his lips curving upward in a mirror of Mary's own. She was not entirely joking, he could see.

Well, the point of the exercise is to make her comfortable, is it not?

"If you wish," he said slowly. "For my part I have always believed that a man who would break his word will break it whether it is given in air or in ink, but if it would make things easier for you, I have no objections. How exactly would you like this... guarantee phrased?"

A stray thought struck him, and he laughed softly.

"And now that we talk of putting things in writing, I finally remember that I have not adjusted my will since my return. I must see to that." He shook himself. "Forgive the digression."

He found himself wishing he had committed to it, though, as Mary lingered on the topic of Francis. He frowned and looked away.

"He is not yet nine. What have I to say to a boy that young?" He snorted. "What of me is fit for a boy that young to know?"

The awkwardness was past quickly, though. It was a simple thing, the touch of hand on hand, but intimate, and it grounded him there, in the room. With Mary.

He stroked a thumb along the inside of her wrist, and grinned.

"Honesty compels me to remind you that precious little of that experience has any relevance to the rearing of children," he murmured.

He caught her intent expression, cursed himself for misreading the situation, opened his mouth to apologise... and was thus caught quite off guard when Mary kissed him with no small enthusiasm.

Well, that was unexpected.

Off guard or not, though, some things were entirely reflex by now, and needed no prompting from his surprised brain. He curled one arm around her and answered her eagerness with his own. It was liberating, almost intoxicatingly so, to put aside the complex tangle that lay between them and simply do what they both wanted.

"I must confess," he whispered as they broke apart, "that this conversation is proceeding vastly more pleasantly than I had envisioned."

He looked at her, a proper earnest gaze of admiration, drinking her in.

"I've wanted you since the moment I first saw you," he said at last, an admission that probably revealed more than he should have been comfortable with, and then gave up on words and kissed her again.

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OOC: sorry to leave you waiting!


“Never mind..” Mary replied.  It was a curious thing that you might think you need something until it’s actually offered, Charles consent to put it in writing had her realise it unnecessary.  She smiled & reservations continued to slowly ease. 

“Your circumstances have certainly changed.” Would he use Cadogan, as things currently lay the heir to Chatham was young Francis Audley. “There is so much in those things that goes without saying until you are wed with your own children.” A pause.  “You have no surprises for me on that score, have you?”

She did not believe so, and asked more as a jest than in serious.

Yet of Francis, Charles protested.  “I am sure he’d love to go riding with you, or learn to fire a long arm, or to simply hear how you talk of politics, even if your views are cynical. I don’t want my boy to grow up without exposure to the male domain prior to being thrust into it at sixteen or seventeen. I’ve seen those satin lined fuzz faced lads around court that lack in life experience, or any semblance of a spine, and I dont want Francis to become one of them.  I am not suggesting that you should keep him permanently under wing, but some exposure would surely be beneficial.”

With Charles initial protest easing, and her counter argument made, they came to settle somewhere in the no-mansground.  His thumb brushed her pulse, and with it Mary quietened. Her own admission being, “I do not see you are so rough be any detriment.”

Then she kissed him, and he was apparently surprised.  “Shut up Charles.  You knew, you have known.” Her eyes flared, and seeing his expression she loosed a laugh. “Do not tell me that I’m the only one who has not imagined the ending of our tale a hundred times over.” And he admitted it, that he’d felt that attraction from the very start.   Lips found each other again, and Mary moved forwards – there was the sound of things falling over around them…

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(OOC: no worries!)


"No surprises, no," Charles confirmed for her, grinning. "Mostly just small bequests that shall have to be adjusted." 

The grin slipped a little as they spoke of Francis. Mary had a list of entirely sensible things he might do with his brother, and Charles found he could raise no reasonable objections. He hesitated.

Well, honesty has served surprisingly well thus far.

Charles winced and looked away. Effective it might well prove to be, but honesty in this case was uncomfortable for him.

"The long and short of it is..." He paused again, hoping for a flash of divine inspiration. No such luck. He sighed.

"The long and short of it is that I have not the first idea of how to go about interacting with a child."

The admission felt like weakness, not for itself, but because it revealed that he cared. Charles knew it was irrational to think like that, but he knew as well that he could do nothing about it. He looked back at Mary and loosed another sigh.

"I'll try," he promised.

It was an easy thing, after that, to set the terms of their agreement. Charles laughed at Mary's admission, glad of any excuse for levity.

"But we have established, have we not, that you do not know me so well as you thought. Perhaps I am so backward as to prescribe flogging and half rations, as I would for a recalcitrant soldier, hmm?" he teased, eye glinting merrily. 

And then he forgot about his siblings entirely. Mary was fully as passionate as he had imagined on occasion. (On many occasions, if the truth was known.) He heard something fall to the floor but couldn't bring himself to care, too caught up in the feel and taste of her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and leaned back to lie on the floor, drawing her after him.

"You seem to have me at quite a disadvantage," he murmured at last, once his lips were not occupied with better things.


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The humble uncertainty was something unexpected in Charles, also it was utterly endearing.  Her compulsion was to reassure, but other primal forces were also at work and took precedence, besides he was then mocking himself and laughing again. “You speak like a man who has not been on the receiving end.” Mary kissed him heavily, hands working with a urgency over his form.

That spoken thought originated in the deeper down and still thinking part of her mind, which she mused might underpin his uncertainty with children too. His own father had largely neglected him following the mothers death, how was Charles to give what he’d barely received himself?  Though he’d admittedly been a number of years older than Francis before he’d lost close paternal oversight.

But those were deeper thoughts, no where near enunciation, and perhaps they never would be.

With a grin she replied, “That position rather suits me don’t you think?” she was chuckling as she said it, while vaguely aware that they were creating some disturbance in the room.    

Beyond the room the clatter of footsteps.



OOC: ack, remembered that the house is not empty!

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"Oh, I was disciplined not infrequently, when I was still small enough to be disciplined," Charles answered between kisses, his own hands spurred to work by the urgent movements of Mary's own. "But without any great effect, which doubtless explains a great deal." He laughed and moved his lips to the slender column of her throat, pressing a trail of kisses up and down the elegant lines of her neck.

He left off to grin up at her.

"You are very pleasant to look up at, I will concede, and the position does have certain other benefits," he agreed, laughter bubbling in his voice. He pressed up against her to illustrate the point.

He was idly contemplating what she might do next, content to let Mary have the lead for the moment, when the sound of footsteps penetrated the warm, pleasant walls of intimacy he had mentally erected around the room. He froze for half a moment.

"Bugger," he hissed, and tried to get himself and Mary to their feet.


 (OOC: eh, complications are good fun! :) )

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Her heartbeat was pounding, her eyes dark and cheeks pink... 

"My Lady, My Lord is everything alright?" it was the downstairs maid who rushed into the room, silver-polishing cloth still clutched in concerned hand.

... as Mary got to her feet, then to look around at the tumbled side table that away, and footstool the other.   "I, ah, had a little turn." 

The maid was also looking at the scene, though less distracted by the furnishings than the people.

"Yes I, think I might need a ... lay down." Mary looked back at Charles, even as the maid moved forwards thinking to help.  

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The single most important thing about situations like this, Charles knew from long experience, was that only one of the discovered parties should speak at a time. Otherwise you inevitably ended up with contradictory explanations, which gave the game away without fail. So, when Mary claimed she 'had a little turn,' he promptly abandoned his own plan to feign drunkenness and launched himself into supporting her deception.

"Are you sure you're alright?" he asked Mary, all solicitous care, holding the back of his hand to her forehead as though to check her temperature, leaning down to examine her eyes. "You are still flushed..."

It was inconvenient, not to be able to see how the maid was taking this, but if Mary had taken a turn he would not have paid overmuch attention to the maid until he had ascertained her condition, and so he had to follow the script and assume (or hope) that it was hitting the mark.

"A lie down would probably be best. Some peace and quiet," he agreed, stepping back and at last turning to face the maid, smiling politely. "Could you help her upstairs and see her settled? And then bring her up a bell, in case she should further assistance, and perhaps a tot of brandy."

Assuming the maid was not overly suspicious and did as she was bid, Charles could wait down here, pretending to read, and then make his way upstairs in comparative stealth. Patience was far from his favourite virtue, but he could exercise it at need.

Edited by Charles Audley
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Servants were not stupid, and this one suspected something, even if she did not know what, or even consciously know that she suspected.

Well, my own fault. I told Wodehouse that I would not tolerate idiots in my employ.

That was immaterial for the moment, though. Charles weighed the options for a bare half second and pressed on.

"I do not care for physicians," he said, voice reluctant and nose wrinkled with distaste, "but..." 

He looked back at Mary.

"It might well be for the best, if only for peace of mind. What do you think?"

If worst did come to worst, and they did have to summon a doctor, then all that really meant was that he would have to pay the man, and wait a while longer before stealing upstairs. It was not so great a cost, in the grand scheme of things, and certainly lesser than allowing the maid the slightest inkling of what had actually happened.

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Mary looked from the maid to Charles, then back again. "I hadly wish to cause a fuss.  Be a dear, as Lord Chatham suggests, and give me a hand upstairs.  If I am not restored by the morning you can send for a physician then."  

As she left the room the Countess turned and delivered a flared-eyes-look punctuated by a whisper of a smile.  And all those nights at St Marks were they had had connecting doors, how much simpler the deceit if they could have adjoining rooms now.  

"Good night Charles."




Mary continued on with feigned weakness, as her personal maid was summoned and the evening routine commenced. Night gown put on, and hair brushed out with the usual one hundred strokes. "Enough I am weary." she resisted, thus those golden tresses only had a 30 or so passes of the brush before she was to bed.  Once the door had closed with a clink, hers were bare feet across the floorboards to complete a more erotic toilette. A freshening here and there, little rouge, a puff of perfume.  In the dim light she took a pause to admire herself in the mirror, she was still a fine woman even if the glow of youth was past. 

Returning to her bed she tried out a couple of faux-negligently beautiful poses, before settling upon that of 'caught napping with hair spread out on the pillow'.  Do not make me wait too long!  she hoped.

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