Lady Mary Carlisle, ten minutes previously Lady Mary Crawley, was freezing.
"Please stop fidgeting," Cora said, smile firm on her face as they drew closer to the guests.
"I dressed for a summer wedding in June," Mary said. "How foolish of me."
"Perhaps Mother Nature was not informed of the importance of the day,” Edith said.
"Not for lack of Grandmother's effort," Mary said.
"Edith," Cora said. "Please go and find Anna, ask her if she can find a suitable wrap for your sister in any of our belongings. Mary, please be an adult."
Then, the guests were upon them. "Oh darling, you looked like such a splendid young bride. No one would ever guess you had been through so many seasons," a Duchess said, clasping Mary's gloved hands.
Not for the first time, Mary had the thought that Sybil really did have the right idea about eloping.
The most enjoyable part of her wedding was how she got to leave it first. Someone laid his hand on her shoulder, and she turned to see her father.
"Are you quite sure about all this, Mary my dear," he said, seriously.
"Papa," she said, taking his hand in hers. "It's far too late for second thoughts."
"No," he said. "Not until tonight." He offered his arm to her, and she took it. Together they crossed the lawn to where Sir Richard stood, being slapped on the back by his London friends.
"My dear," he said, smiling at her in that dry way of his. "My driver is waiting if you are ready."
"Yes," she said. "My sister is dying for me to leave so that she may try to win all my old suitors."
"On the contrary," Edith said, coming for a hug. "Carson has already sworn I am to be his new favorite."
Mary hugged her tightly. "I am glad," she said into Edith's hair, "that we managed to be friends after all." Edith squeezed her in answer, and Sybil wrapped her arms around both of them with such passion that Mary had to take a step back to steady herself. With a bit of wetness in her eye, she presented her cheek for her mother's kiss, her forehead for her father's and received a stern hand grasp accompanied by whispered ribald advice from her grandmother.
Amongst all the cheers and well-wishing, the driver helped Mary into the car, and Sir Richard followed, settling himself alongside her.
Then they were off. She raised her chin in what she hoped was a brave fashion, and left her childhood home.
It was some time into the journey when Mary realized they weren't headed towards Hacksby Park.
"Where are we going?" she asked, turning towards Sir Richard.
He closed his newspaper and laid it across his knee. "One of my business associates had mentioned he had a home nearby here he wasn't using, so I asked if we might use it while we finished making our arrangements."
"So I am to spend my wedding night in a stranger's house," Mary said, folding her hands in her lap.
"I had thought that you would prefer that over spending your wedding night in an untended house."
"It is not as if either of us is particularly warm-blooded," Mary tossed at him.
"We shall see," Richard said, and the smile he wore on his face almost looked anticipatory.
Mary had nothing to say to that, and they spent the rest of the journey in silence.
The house they were staying at was small, but charming. It was about the same size as Crawley House, with the same tall hedges as Crawley House, and for a moment, when the butler came outside, she thought for a moment that maybe it was Crawley House, and that Matthew was home.
"Mary," Richard said, prompting her and she realized that he was waiting for her.
"Oh yes," she said apologetically, and let him help her out of the car and into the house.
The butler, Peter Sutton, explained, as he showed them in, that the normal staff was split between two little used homes. A maid for Mary would arrive in the morning, and would milady like anything to eat?
Mary didn't, and excused herself to a bedroom, and Richard followed, taking the room next to hers.
The footman brought up her valise in short order, and Mary began the process of undressing herself. She rarely bothered to do so at Downton, and the dress she had been married in was fussy even for Anna, but she managed.
For a moment, she stood in the center of the room, in only her undergarments, and felt bewildered about how she had come to be here.
Then, pulling on nightwear as if pulling on armor, she remembered fiercely that she was Lady Mary Crawley Carlisle, the daughter of an Earl and the wife of one of the most influential men in London. And she would be happy, lest she break the promise she had made herself over Lavinia's grave.
It was among those somber thoughts a rap sounded on the door. "Come in," she said, and tried to seem relaxed, dressed in the French creation her mother had insisted would be appropriate.
She had thought, when she imagined such things, that sex with Richard would be a duty to see through. She had thought of it as she did her afternoons sewing with her sisters, or tea with her grandmother. Something she would do because it was necessary, but that she would be glad to see done.
She was wrong. Richard made love like he did everything else, focused and with great success. Kemal Pamuk was to her husband as an overeager puppy is to a seasoned hunting dog.
"How was your second time, my dear?" Richard said afterward, smugness radiating from him like heat from a roaring fire.
"Proper gentlemen retire to their own bedrooms to sleep," Mary said severely, though she feared the effect was spoiled by the fact that she hadn't moved from the position into which she had collapsed.
Richard chuckled and sauntered off to his own room, and Mary made a face at his back. "Insufferable," she said to the closed door. She had to admit, however, that the task no longer really seemed all bad.
In the morning, she was woken by a soft knock on her door, and a timid maid entered with a breakfast tray.
"Good morning, milady. I'm Katherine, the house maid." She lilted the end of her sentence as if it was a question Mary was supposed to answer.
"Good morning," Mary said and sat up to receive the tray.
Katherine busied herself around the room, moving Mary's things to the armoire a bit too clumsily to be much practiced. She told the armoire, "Milord had some business in town but he said for you to expect him back this afternoon to interview for a new Carson." Again, it sounded like a question, and Mary decided immediately to spend the morning interviewing for a proper lady's maid.
The first woman Mary interviewed was unable to give any references. The second's reference was from a despised peer who had snubbed Mary terribly last season. The third and fourth were both far too old, and made Mary wish desperately that Anna had agreed to come with them.
The fifth woman was perfect. "I have been a lady's maid since I was thirteen," she told Mary, despite not being much older than Mary herself.
"However did you manage that?" Mary was impressed in spite herself.
Amelia Rogers tilted her glasses down her nose and winked. "I lied," she said. "No one questioned my work, and I never giggled after the footmen so I got on just fine."
"You don't seem like much of a giggler," Mary said, liking her very much already.
"Well," Amelia said pensively. "I have yet to meet a footman worth giggling at."
Mary sent her to gather her belongings.
Sir Richard was as good as his word, and returned for lunch, after which they sat companionably reading, Richard his newspapers, and Mary a half-hysterical circular about dress lengths.
"Do you have much opinion on women's suffrage?" Richard asked idly.
"Sybil was always the political one," Mary said. "I have years before it affects me."
"And doesn't that bother you?" Richard said, folding his newspaper down to look at her.
Mary cocked her head at him. "What, that after years of struggle and persuasion, women were granted the boon of the vote at age thirty, under the condition of being married to a wealthy man, despite the fact that they may marry and being responsible for children long before that?"
"Yes," Richard said. "I wondered if you had an opinion on all that."
"I'm married now," Mary said sardonically. "I believe you are to guide me in my opinion on all that."
"Quite right," Richard said, and he looked much amused. Before they could say anything else, Sutton interrupted to announce the arrival of their first candidate for Hacksby Park’s butler.
Once he had left the room, Mary finished her breakfast, and left the room to find a pen and stationary. "Dearest Matthew," she started, and didn't stop until she had filled the page. Folding it, and tucking it into an envelope, she crossed the room and went into the hallway.
Richard was by the front door, shaking hands with a tall, sweaty-looking man. "I will contact you as soon as I reach a decision," he said, and the man, bowing cloyingly, left.
The dressing bell rang out, and Richard fell into step with her as they headed towards the stairs. "That one has real possibility," he said.
"I hate the look of him."
"He has a good reference from the Earl of Coventry."
"He reminds me of Moseley."
"And what is wrong with Moseley?"
"Moseley," Mary said, "Is one disappointment from becoming another Jack the Ripper."
Sir Richard let out a surprised bellow of laughter. "Maybe I should have you sit in on the next interview."
"Maybe you should." Mary said, feeling pleased with herself.
"What do you have there?" Richard said, gesturing at the envelope tucked under her arm.
"Goodness, I nearly forgot where I was headed. I wrote a letter. I wanted to ask Sutton to post it for me."
"I can do that for you; I'm headed into town again tomorrow," Richard said, plucking it from her. He read the name on the front, and all good humor seemed to evaporate from the air. He looked up, eyes darkened, and he stared as if trying to read her.
"He didn't come to the wedding, Richard," Mary said defensively. "I wanted him to know we are still friends."
"Friends," Richard echoed, snide. His arm shot out, and he grabbed her hand, rubbing the knuckle of her ring finger, meaning unmistakable.
"Yes, friends," Mary shot back. "I am allowed that, am I not?" Her voice was laden with sarcasm, and she was determined not to back down from this, not after all she and Matthew had been through.
"All right," Richard said. He dropped her hand, spun the envelope end over end twice, and then wheeled around and walked down the hall towards his room.
Mary stood there, feeling silly and very alone.
The next morning, Richard seemed to have gotten over whatever fit of pique he had suffered. "I have another man coming today, if you'd like to sit with me."
"Oh yes,” Mary said. "The lady's maid I've taken on has phoned to say she is at the estates, along with the cook and the housekeeper."
"Well then," Richard said, looking pleased. "Once we wrap this up, I see no reason we can't move home tonight."
Home still felt like Downton, but Mary smiled and agreed.
Butlers to her were always measured against Carson, needing to be dignified and authoritative, but also kind. John Perry was young, possibly around the same age as Richard and her father, but he possessed all of those qualities, his references were excellent, and his demeanor was pleasant.
"Where were you in the war?" Mary asked, leaning forward a bit.
"I volunteered for Kitchner's Army, milady, but they didn't want me. Too old," he said, his lips quirking in a rueful smile. "My employer went to assist in the hospitals in France and I did my best to see that he was supported."
"Why did you leave him?" Sir Richard asked.
"He was killed by stray gunfire," Perry said. "I saw him buried, saw his wife to her family, and saw his estate settled." He held his hands out, palms open. "Here I am."
Mary exchanged a glance with Richard. This was a man you could trust with your skin, she thought at him.
"I wonder how fast you could get your things together," Richard said, as if he received the message loud and clear.
Perry shook both their hands. "I shall arrive before you do," he promised.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur. Mary directed the repacking of her valise and saw them into the car, as Richard's valet worked to fit his things alongside. Richard himself went around thanking the staff who had assisted them during their stay, and telephoned the friend who owned the house to thank him for his kindness.
"I hope you thanked him for me as well," Mary said. "I am surprised at your thoughtfulness. I wouldn't have thought to telephone him. "
"The difference between born riches and earned," Richard murmured, and Mary thought very hard about making a horrible face at him. She decided she was far too ladylike.
"Are you sure you won't stay for dinner, my lord?" Sutton fussed. "It would be no trouble."
"No, I don't think so." Richard drew Mary closer and put his arm around her waist. "It's high time my wife was queen of her castle."
When they arrived at Hacksby Park, home, Mary corrected herself, Perry was indeed waiting for them. He had donned crisp butler's livery and stood at attention. There was something wrong, however, as he looked as if he dreaded their arrival.
"Perry," she called as Sir Richard helped her down from the car. "Is everything all right?"
"My lady," he said, dipping his head respectfully. "May I ask where you found your cook?"
"Mrs. Patmore of Downton's recommendation," Richard said from behind her. "Why do you ask?"
"It seems that your interview with Mrs. Dewitt may have been a rare moment of clarity for her," Perry said, carefully.
It took a moment for both of them to process his words, and then Richard exclaimed, "Do you mean our cook is a drunk?"
"We have asked someone at Downton to bring over some dinner for my lord and lady, but it may be a while. I'm so sorry." He wrung his hands unhappily.
Mary smiled helplessly into the palm of her hand, and Richard gaped at her. "Are you laughing?" he demanded, and she lost her composure. She laughed so hard she shook, trying desperately to hide her face in her hands.
"Mary!" Richard chided, but he grinned himself as the humor of the situation began to overtake him as well. "If you're done amusing yourself, I'm going to prepare dinner."
Perry gasped, horrified. Mary, who had begun to slow down, now stopped laughing altogether. "Richard, be serious."
"You think I can't make an omelette?" he challenged, striding down the hall. Mary exchanged one look with Perry, and they both went rushing after him.
To Mary's surprise, Richard did indeed seem comfortable in the kitchens. He strapped on an apron, and started rummaging through the icebox. Mary sat down at the table to watch him, entranced by this other side of her husband.
"This is so very improper," Perry protested from the doorway. "If you just give me time--"
"Perry," Mary said reprovingly. "If you don't settle down, Sir Richard won't put any ham in yours."
Perry sagged against the door frame in despair.
After that initial disaster, the next few days passed quite pleasantly. Mrs. Patmore sent a flurry of apologies over with Thomas, as well as a large platter of foods.
"She was half beside herself, milady," Thomas said. "Red as a tomato."
"Thank you, Thomas," Mary said sincerely. "Won't you rest a bit before going back?"
"About that," Thomas said, and tried to look charming. "Have you found a first footman yet, milady?"
"Goodness, you had better stay until Sir Richard comes back."
When Thomas returned with his belongings, he was accompanied by a new cook. Mrs. Wilson was far more responsible, and as Richard confided, more tyrannical of her space.
"Perry says the arguments between Mrs. Stanley the housekeeper and Mrs. Wilson are legendary." He was sprawled on his back with Mary pillowed on his chest, stroking her hair in a very pleasant fashion.
"Should we interfere?" Mary said, languidly.
"Not yet, according to Perry. I think the plan is to wait to see how it all shakes out."
Mary hummed, and turned to rest her chin in the hollow of his breastbone. "Do you think the servants talk about us even nearly as much as we talk about them?"
"By God, I hope not."
Cora, Edith and Violet came to inspect the new house, and Mary could not help but to show off. "This is a radio," Mary said, displaying the black box she secretly did not grasp the point of. "Someone can speak from long distances and anyone with one of these can hear it."
"Have you heard anyone speak?" Edith said interestedly.
"No," Mary admitted. "I don't know if it works."
"Enough of this," her grandmother said. "I want to see the paintings Prince George sent you for your wedding. Lady Barton told me he sent her daughter something he bought from a estate sale and I thought of you right away, and had to come right over to check."
"And we missed you, sweetheart," Cora said, kissing her.
"Oh Mama." Mary rolled her eyes, and secretly appreciated every second of their visit.
Spurred by talk at dinner, Mary sat down after everyone left and penned another letter to Matthew. She tried to pepper each story of her happiness with reminders of how much better it could be if he would only visit. When she was finally satisfied with her handiwork, she stepped out in search of Perry, but encountered Thomas first.
"Thomas, are you going into town tomorrow?"
"I can, milady," Thomas said, ingratiatingly. "What did you need?"
"Can you see that this is posted?" She handed him the letter. "If you can't, can you see that Perry gets it?"
"Yes ma'am," Thomas said, and bowed once, taking the letter with an interested look on his face. "In fact, consider me your personal mailman, milady." She did not know how much she liked this eager-to-please Thomas. She almost preferred the bored, verging on rude version. War changes all, she reflected, and headed upstairs.
When Mary got back to her own room, Amelia was waiting to brush out her hair. "I spoke with Mrs. Hughes at the market yesterday, and she said that your father's man Bates is coming home soon. You knew him, didn't you, milady?"
"Not well,” Mary said, looking out the window in the direction of Downton. "Only through Anna."
"Well, I am sure she'll be glad to have him home at least."
"Amelia," Mary said, as a though occurred to her. "Sir Richard hasn't asked you for any...particular favours, has he?"
The brush stilled. "Favours, milady?"
"No requests? About me?"
Mary felt hands curl around her shoulder and squeeze gently once. Then Amelia returned to her brushing. "You know, I didn't know either Anna or Mr. Bates, but I do so admire Anna's devotion to his cause. I don't think he would have been cleared without her."
"Anna's quite loyal," Mary said, relaxing into Amelia's care.
"Yes, I would say so,” Amelia said. "I like that in a girl."
At breakfast the next morning, Richard sorted through the mail. "Here is something from Countess of Avon's house." He opened it, and scanned it, a satisfied look coming to his face.
"What has she to say?" Mary said, slicing a fruit open.
"There is to be a ball," Richard said. "We are both invited."
"Finally," Mary said tartly. "The benefits of your side of the contract. You must be relieved I was able to pay up."
"Mary, don't be stupid." Richard said. "My ventures always pay off from the first."
It was possible that was a compliment, Mary thought. She decided to ignore the man all together.
As soon as breakfast was over, she made her arrangements to have a new dress made up for the occasion. War was over, her husband was wealthy and she was damned if she wasn't going to shine at that ball.
Over the next week, the preparations grew in intensity. Edith, Cora and her father were attending as well, and there was a flurry of travel between Downton and Hacksby as they approved each other’s choices.
"I hope the final product is worth all the fuss," Richard grumbled one night in bed.
"If it is disturbing you," Mary said sweetly, "I can move back to my parents' home so that I only travel down the hall."
"Not on your life," Richard said, and she shrieked as he dragged her bodily over him.
The final product was, Mary thought, quite worth it.
"Are you sure my hair is right?" Mary fussed at it, tucking a wave behind her ear.
"It is perfect, milady," Amelia said mildly, wrapping Mary's stole about her.
"It would behoove you to answer more assuredly," Mary chastised her, a trifle brattily.
"My apologies, milady," Amelia said. "By the sixth time, I wasn't sure what the correct tone was."
"Someone is getting quite saucy in her old age," Mary said, and looked in the mirror again.
Amelia grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her to face the door. "You will be late. Go now, milady."
"I shall fire you in the morning," Mary called over her shoulder, and Amelia had the nerve to laugh.
Richard stood at the bottom of the grand staircase, and Mary could tell he was growing impatient. "I'm sorry for the wait, my lord," she called, and began to descend.
He looked up, and his eyes widened. "My word," he said approvingly.
She turned about, letting her skirt fall gracefully around her. "Do I meet your standards then?"
"Above and beyond, Mary Crawley Carlisle," he said and offered her his arm.
When Mary was a debutante, balls were frightful. When she was young, she was nervous and desperate to impress in a way that made her toes curl with embarrassment to remember. When she was older, she was exhausted by the meat market quality of the whole thing, and wishing that someone, anyone would pique her interest even a little.
Now that she's married, she enjoys the thing unabashedly. "If you give me one more piece of advice," Edith said crossly. "I will elbow you in the ribcage."
"I'm just trying to help," Mary said, biting her lip to keep from laughing.
"The hemlines are getting so short," Cora said eying the crowd. "And I know it's the fashion, but I really can't see how these waists are supposed to be flattering."
The music changed, and a slower song came floating down to their ears. Mary watched as her father broke from the crowd of old friends he had been speaking with, and headed for them. "Shall we," he said, holding his hand out to Cora, who pinked with pleasure.
"Edith, stand straight," Mary hissed. "Lord Vestley is headed towards you."
Before Edith could make good on her threat of physical harm, Mary's hand was suddenly pulled up to someone's lips. She looked to find Sir Richard. "Dance?" he asked softly, and Mary found herself just as pleased as Cora was.
"Newlyweds," she heard someone say as Sir Richard led her out into the crowd and she thought yes, truly.
"Do you miss Sybil?" Richard asked as he rested his hand on the small of her back and drew her close.
"Frightfully," Mary sighed, and curled her hand around her shoulder. "She was always great fun to mock the new entrants with, but I suppose she is happy working." She tried not to place any emphasis on the final word, but Sir Richard laughed anyways, as if he knew the concept was unimaginable for Mary.
"You nursed, did you not? When we were at war?" he teased, twirling her about.
"I was frightfully bad," Mary admitted. "I am very terrible at empathy, I think."
"I think you are better than you admit," Richard said and brushed his lips across the top of her head. It felt like such an echo of her dance with Matthew, just before Lavinia saw them, that when she saw Matthew standing in the entrance, she thought for sure it was a vision that her mind had created. But when her father exclaimed loudly, she knew it wasn't.
"Matthew," she breathed, and Richard's grasp went from fond to almost bruising. She pulled away, freeing herself, but he was too close to her, and grabbed for her hand immediately.
"Mary, I..." he started, and then he stopped, started over and warned, "Remember who we are."
For the first time in their months of marriage, she remembered the man who had pushed her back against the pillar and scared her.
"We are in public. Take your hands off me," she hissed back, and pulling free again, she made for the knot of family and friends around Matthew.
"Hello there," Matthew said to her warmly, and she noted the healthier color of his skin, the lack of a haunted look in his eyes.
"I am so glad to see you," Mary told him, and meant it thoroughly.
Later that night, after dinner at Downton, she saw Matthew slip out and followed him. "Are you back to stay?" she asked, sinking down on the bench next to him.
"For a bit," he said. "Mother is coming soon too, and my practice can spare me." He looked at her directly. "I am sorry I missed your wedding, Mary. I was not in the best frame of mind."
"I know," she said. "How on earth could I take offense?"
He covered her hand warmly, and she felt a rush of affection for him. "I have missed you, truly," she said. "I hope that we can be friends now, after all we have seen."
"I do hope so," Matthew said. "I wanted to write to you, so many times, but I didn't know whether you would welcome it after I left so coldly."
"Well surely you would have known I would after I wrote to you so many times," she said, laughing a little.
Matthew turned to her, surprised. "I never received any letter," he said.
Mary looked at him in shock. "But I did," she said. "I sent them to your London address."
He shook his head. "I never got anything,"
The door to the sitting room opened, and Sir Richard strode out, looking unsurprised to see them sitting there.
Mary decided instantaneously she did not want to do this here. "I want to leave," she said coldly.
"I was just about to suggest the same thing."
At home, she did not waited for Perry's hand to hop down from the car and whipped inside. "How dare you," she bit out, when they had reached the library. "Of all the presumptuous--"
"I will not be made a fool of!" Richard matched her anger. "I won't sit back and let that happen in front of my eyes."
"So you had Thomas secure all my letters?" she demanded. "You thought, what, I would never find out? Or did you think I wouldn't mind?"
"Don't be dramatic, Mary." Richard said. He advanced on her. "I am your husband, and I have the right-"
She slapped him, hard enough for her palm to sting. "You don’t,” she said into the shocked silence. "You asked me once for my opinion on the matter. Well, here it is: you don't have the right."
She made it to her room before she started to cry. Amelia got her undressed and into bed, and as if she was a child, stroked her brow until Mary fell into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.
The next few days were awful. Breakfast was a tortured parody of its former pleasantness. She had nothing to say to her husband, and he had nothing to say to her. She spent her afternoons riding, or reading alone. Richard spent much of his time at his office, or at least, far away from her. He didn't come to her at night, didn't dare, she thought with contempt.
It took a different woman than she to admit any loneliness.
One morning, after Richard had left for the day, she made up her mind and called for a car to Downton.
"My lady, I hope--" Thomas started when he came in to fetch her.
"Don't," she advised with some heat. "I know you think you are better than me, smarter than me, that you were just making the best strategic move on your quest to leave service, but I have always known who led Mr. Pamuk to my bedroom that night, and I knew about you and the Duke of Crowborough. I believed you never meant me ill-intent, only to advance yourself, but now I have to ask. Do you hate me, Thomas? Do you?"
Thomas looked, for once in the time she had known him, actually ashamed. She swept by him, and went to Downton.
"Will you forgive him?" Cora asked.
"I don't know, Mama. I can't even face him."
"Men are all jealous fools," her grandmother said, pragmatically. "Don't be tragic about it, Mary dear, it makes your face look lined."
"What does Matthew say about it?" Cora said.
"He didn't say much of anything," Mary said. "I was too busy not committing an act of brutal violence."
"Well don't spill blood in the house," her grandmother said. "So messy."
Mary was sitting out on the lawn, on her favorite bench to think on, when she was surprised by Richard's approach.
He sat down heavily beside her, and she held her tongue, waiting for him. "I did not like coming home to an empty house," he said, and he sounded just as tired as Mary felt.
"Surely Perry was there to dote on you," she said, but without malice.
"You know I despise it when you play dense," he said.
"I thought quite the contrary," she said. "I thought you enjoyed my ignorance, of some things at least."
He sighed. "I didn't come here to fight. I have had quite enough of that with you for a lifetime. I would be happy to never do it again, if I could."
Touched by the ring of sincerity in his voice, she answered in kind. "I second that."
"I wanted this to work out, Mary. Not just because of the reasons I've given you, the connections, and your blood. I wanted you from the moment I saw you and it made me crazy that you barely gave me your attention. When you told me about your situation, I was pleased beyond belief that I could hold you to me, make you stay. And now..." and he trailed off, frowning.
"And now," she prompted him.
"Now I have you, legally and physically in my life, and I find that it is not enough, Mary. I still want your attention. I want you to sit with me and be present, and not gazing in the distance wishing for someone else. I want to leave in the morning and come back at the evening and tell you about my day and hear about yours and enjoy you unreservedly. I want all of you, Mary, and I realize now I can never be satisfied by half." He blew out a breath of air. "So I will let you out of our agreement."
"You what?" Mary said, startled.
Richard leaned back against the bench. "If you want Matthew, Mary, I won't stop you. I can run my paper from anywhere in England, and I will go. Divorce is becoming more and more accepted, and I'll tell them whatever they want to hear. I'll end this as cleanly as I can."
"And is this what you want?" Mary asked, sounding calmer than she felt.
"Not in the slightest."
So it was Mary's turn. "Matthew asked me to marry him, before the war. I turned him down, because I couldn't tell him about Mr. Pamuk. I couldn't trust him to react without telling my father, and I wouldn't marry him without him knowing."
"But you trusted me, a man who could have done that and more."
"I was backed into a corner." Mary said sharply. Then she amended herself. "Yes. I trusted you to do what you said, and what made the most sense. I still trust you. What infuriates me to no end is how you won't trust me."
"You haven't seen how you look at him."
"Matthew and I were over from the moment Lavinia took a turn for the worst," Mary snapped. "Possibly from the moment she walked into his life. I will always love him," she said, overriding Richard’s retort. "He has been my dearest friend for a long time, and I am invested in his happiness. I won't agree not to speak to him, and I will never be a dutiful wife who accepts your decisions without question. But I will tell you something that I mean very sincerely."
She looked at Richard. "I walked into this marriage gritting my teeth, prepared to endure the rest of my life. Much to my surprise, I find myself now looking forward to every second of it. But if you believe I am out to leave you at every family function, you will destroy that."
She got up, and set off down the path to the house, intending to give him time to process her words. She was taken off-guard then, when he took her hand, spun her to face him, and kissed her with more passion than she thought he was capable of. "I'm sorry," he said, when they broke for breath. "I'm so sorry, Mary. Come home. Please."
She knew how much it cost him to speak those words, and wrapped her arms around her neck, tucking her face in his suit jacket. "Yes," she said, gazing at Downton's lush lawn and the trees she knew like the back of her hand. "Let's go home."
He didn't let go of her waist as they made their way back to the car, and she found she didn't want him to. He was rubbing small circles into her hip, which she found both soothing and laden with the promise of more when they got home.
They were almost to the front of the house when Matthew, setting his cap more firmly on his head, exited through the front door. "Oh hello," he said, looking back and forth between them.
"We were just leaving," she told him, not wishing to strain the fragile peace already.
"Well, let me change that to goodbye then," he said.
His eyes flickered up to Richard, who after a brief hesitation, held out his hand. "We'll be seeing you soon."
"I hope so," Matthew said sincerely, and he tipped his hat as he threw his leg over his bicycle.
"Goodbye, Matthew," Mary called, and she took Richard's hand and stepped into their car, and went home.
And so it was that the coldhearted princess didn't end up with the sea monster, and she didn't end up with Perseus, but she did, after all, end up pretty happily ever after.