They had made small talk for almost half an hour once the tea had arrived. Vaughn had talked of his mother coming to town in the next week. Marielle had blushed and giggled, and uttered the appropriate sentiments.
Something inside him had coiled tightly when she had laughed, the sound soft and lovely, at something the blond-haired lord had said quietly.
“Do you want to kiss me?”
The words haunted him then, just as they had haunted him for the past three weeks. It was unbearable.
In his dreams she would whisper such words against his lips, touch his skin with an innocence so charged with unknown wanting that he would wake up sweating, aroused and furious that he had dreamt again of her.
Always of her.
Those were the days.
He had never felt this way about any woman. His body begged for her touch, for release and pleasure, and so much more than that…
It was… wrong.
He had to do something.
Charles was watching him, a look of concern crossing over his features. Don’t do anything stupid, it seemed to say.
“I was just suggesting that I take Miss Murphy for a stroll in the garden…”
Something was definitely not right there.
Vaughn replied, crisply, before he could even think about what he was doing.
“I would like to speak to Miss Murphy myself, if I may.”
“Well maybe we could all go for a stroll in the garden togeth—”
Vaughn interrupted calmly.
“There are things that we must discuss.”
Charles Landgraab’s did not.
It was the first time in weeks Vaughn had addressed her directly. He was strangely displeased when she did not seem flustered at all.
She said, looking resolutely back into his eyes. He had expected –wanted– her to blush.
He utterly forgot what it was he’d even asked her.
The debutante bounced up out of her chair. She grinned with untempered glee.
But leave, they did.
He could see nothing.
Just say something.
“You look well,” he said casually. “How have you b—”
The governess broke in plainly.
“I give my permission for you to propose to Marielle and consequently consent to anything you may wish to propose thereupon.”
“Well…” He began, fairly taken aback. “That is—”
“I have something else to say.”
A voice in his head commanded.
Don’t go near her. Don’t comfort her. Don’t touch her.
He hadn’t… he hadn’t expected this.
She faltered, but was seemingly desperate to finish.
“I… hope you understand why I could not do such a thing.”
He hadn’t expected her to leave.
The words were filled with a silent plea:
So don’t make me say it.
They may not have talked in three weeks, but the attraction between them was still burning; unbearably hot and impossible to ignore.
As he looked at her now, he could only remember the times he had held her body close, felt the warmth of her skin. His hands physically twitched at the thought of exploring her body again, of feeling every inch of her.
Not being able to speak to her for so long had only made him ache more deeply for her.
“I will start making arrangements from tomorrow. After everything that’s happened I hope you’ll agree that this is the best way to say goodbye.”
He found himself repeating. He could barely speak. He didn’t understand.
“Estelle, I never intended for you to leave, I—”
“It’s no longer appropriate.”
She stood to evade him.
“Just… stop. There’s no point in doing this again. I don’t know why you asked to see me alone but it was absolutely inappropriate and—”
“Because I thought you’d appreciate the privacy. Christ, I’m only trying to be a bloody gentleman.”
“And of course I didn’t want to interrupt your little conversation with, what did you call him? Charles.” He drawled the name cruelly, attempting to make the governess feel humiliated. “From the way you were blushing at his every other word, I thought it best to leave you to it.”
“Then why in God’s name are you calling him Charles when we both know you despise first name terms?”
She began with confidence, though faltered somewhat.
“Because I… he is a gentleman and has shown me great kindness of late.”
“Great kindness. How exceedingly generous of him. Well, I’d be wary of Charles’ ‘kindness’, if I were you.”
But she appeared utterly lost for words.
“I don’t know why we’re discussing this; I’m ringing the bell pull. You shouldn’t have called me here. I can only hope that we can forget this and—”
She made a noise of surprise, but didn’t struggle as he set her in front of him effortlessly, so they were face to face. It was only then he fully comprehended what he had done. She stood, barely a nose-length away from him, her body practically running along his.
It’s just like the night of the masquerade, he realised.
“Please let go of me.”
He began anyway, hesitantly, nervous for the first time in… well, years. He was definitely regretting pulling her so close.
His mind was filled with only one instruction: kiss her. For god’s sake kiss her.
His hands twitched at his sides, desperate to run the length of her arms.
“But if you haven’t, then I can only apologise once more for everything that’s happened between us, for every time I have wronged you, and for every time I have wronged Marielle. She is lucky to have such a loyal and caring companion.”
Perhaps she hoped it wasn’t.
Her eyes came up to meet his at that moment, full of sadness, full of… pain.
“I have no choice.”
“There is always a choice, Estelle.”
She whispered anxiously.
“Please don’t make me scream for the servants, I really can’t do this—”
She choked, covering her face.
“Please don’t look at me.”
He had been thinking about what he was about to say for weeks now. Weeks. Despite the fact he had denied her the day after the masquerade, he had been… reconsidering. Wondering…
They could be together, he thought. They could have something, if it were only in secret. But secret was enough, it had to be. If she stayed on in the house, he could make her his mistress. He could see her every day. And every night.
They could have something.
“I am looking at you. I’ve been looking at you every single day for the past three weeks. For months now. I can’t help myself.”
“And I know you watched me, too, Estelle. I know you did.”
“I didn’t, I—!”
“After the night of the masquerade I thought we could put everything behind us. But I can’t. I can’t… forget the way you taste. Or the way your skin feels. I can’t ignore the fact that I want you more than anything I have ever wanted in my life.”
The governess let out an almost imperceptible gasp.
Her body swayed slightly into his. Jesus, he was fast losing what little self-restraint he had. What was he doing?
Her eyes remained closed.
“I thought we put this behind us…”
“Christ, I want you.” He said without even meaning to. He felt her body shake once more. His mouth hovered millimetres from hers.
“Vaughn… after everything you said—”
“Forget what I said. I was wrong. We… We’ll have a place in the house just for us. A secret, away from the rest of the world. Marielle will never know…”
Unfortunately, he did not realise, as he closed his eyes to finally kiss her, that hers would open, her mind would awaken from its sensual slumber, and her hand would rise from her side, draw back in the air and—
“What the bloody hell was that for?”
“You just can’t help yourself, can you?! You are finally five minutes away from proposing to my charge, with my permission no less, and then you ask me to be your mistress? How many times do I have to tell you that I am not your toy! This is exactly why I’m leaving!”
“You are treating me like a whore!”
“A whore? Oh really?”
Estelle only stared back, silent, stunned.
“How dare you!”
“How dare I? How dare you! Three weeks ago you danced with me, you kissed me, you thanked me for saving your life, not to mention your dignity, and now—!”
“Now you slap me and call me a cad for telling you I want you to stay?”
She said, her teeth gritted.
“Of course you don’t!” He agreed angrily. “You don’t owe me anything. Not a damned thing! But I’m putting myself on the line here, and you owe it to yourself to take a bloody chance. You owe it to yourself to give into your desires, for once in your life!””
The governess only blinked in reaction.
Estelle gaped. “You think you’re the only one who’s tired? How do you think I feel?”
“I don’t know. Satisfied?”
His stare was unflinching, intense and furious.
“Make. Your. Choice.”
It would be the end. She could end it all right now.
Or she could take a chance…
A/N: So, England is going through some CRAZY heatwave and I have become an actual puddle whilst writing this chapter x_x