Actions

Work Header

From Paris to Downton Abbey – A Young Lord’s Journey to Happiness

Chapter Text

Timeline:
Robert Crawley, b. 1869
Cora Levinson, b. 1868
Married in 1888
Robert became Lord Grantham in 1898 when his father died
Mary, born 1892 (7 yrs old when he left for war)
Edith, Born 1894 (5 yrs old when he left for war)
Sybil, Born 1898 (1 yr old when he left for war)
Second Boer War: 11 October 1899 – 31 may 1902 (married 11 yrs when he left for war)

Cast List:
The Crawley Family & Guests/Friends

Robert Crawley, Lord Hartington of Downton, heir to the Earl of Grantham. (As the eldest son of an earl, Robert would be entitled to take his father’s second highest title. I created Lord Hartington of Downton for this purpose.)
Patrick Crawley, Earl of Grantham. Robert’s father.
Violet Crawley, Countess of Grantham
Lady Rosamund Crawley
James Crawley, Robert’s cousin and second heir to the Earl of Grantham
Patrick Crawley, James Crawley’s son and future heir to Downton.
Lady Mary Crawley
Lady Edith Crawley
Lady Sybil Crawley
Cora Levinson
Martha Levinson
Sir Anthony Strallan, neighbor
Lady Maude Strallan, neighbor 
Claudine Beaufort, first soprano at the Paris Opera. (original character)
Lord Lawrence Hamilton, neighbor (original character)
Lady Margaret Hamilton, neighbor (original character)
Lord Mulgrave, neighbor (original character)

Downton Staff Roster:
Mr. Marsden, butler. (original character)
Mrs. Bowen, housekeeper. (original character)
Charles Carson, first footman and acting as Robert’s valet when traveling. (In this story Carson started out as a footman at Downton.)
Daniel Jones, second footman (original character)
Elsie Hughes, head maid. (In this story Elsie Hughes was already at Downton Abbey prior to Cora’s arrival. In the show, Carson tells Mrs. Hughes a story about Lady Mary as a child, which indicates that Mrs. Hughes arrived at Downton much later. I gave her a lower title since she would most likely not have been a housekeeper at this point.)
Sarah O’Brien, Lady Rosamund’s lady’s maid. (In this story O’Brien was already at Downton Abbey prior to Cora’s arrival. In the show O’Brien comments at one point that she’s been there ten years which means that she was not there when Cora arrived. I just wanted to point this out in case anyone got confused.)

 


Part I – Paris, Spring of 1888

Robert Crawley leaned closer to the edge of the box, raising his binoculars as his interest was piqued. The young woman’s face instantly materialized itself in front of his eyes and he forced back a gasp. She was divine, a goddess, with the voice of an angel. He followed her as she moved across the stage sharing her heart’s despair in a beautiful aria.

***   ***

In the early spring of 1887, eighteen year old Robert Crawley and his first cousin James had embarked on their Grand Tour of Europe, a common Rite of Passage for young European noblemen. Their journey had taken them to many significant historical sites of Europe. They had walked in Da Vinci’s and Michelangelo’s footsteps while visiting Italy. Later they marveled at the intense blue sea of the Aegean, imagining hundreds of ships being launched in a war over one woman’s beauty. The cousins had greatly enjoyed Johan Strauss the younger’s newest creation, Der Zigeunerbaron, which they had attended while visiting Vienna. Never having considered himself a true music connoisseur, Robert had finally understood Mozart’s and Strauss’ beautiful creations as he walked the streets of Salzburg. Once darkness set, he would take the opportunity to duck into one of the less respectable establishments the city had to offer, to share a beer with James while admiring the voluptuous beauty of the young women serving them.

Their journey had started in Paris almost to the day a year earlier, and was now at an end. As Robert sat next to his cousin in the box, a courtesy of his excellence the Comte d'Avaray, a friend of James’ father, he thought of the City of Lights and of the joys he and James had experienced here. Another beautiful passage filled the Paris opera house and he returned his attention to the woman on stage, the alluring soprano Claudine Beaufort as she gave voice to Violetta.

***   ***

Robert nodded his thanks as he accepted a glass of champagne from the young waiter. As honored guests of the Comte d'Avaray, the two young English aristocrats had been invited back stage. Robert watched in amusement as the young woman, whose name had risen to become one spoken in every noble household in Paris, was swarmed by young men trying to gain her attention. He sipped his drink as he studied her, noticing how smoothly she brushed their compliments off, never crushing their hopes completely, yet still making it very clear that she was not interested in their pursuit. Something tickled his hand and he looked down. A large bouquet of roses sat on the table on his left. In fact the entire room was filled to the brim with flowers to celebrate the success of the opening night of La Traviata.

He looked up again and their eyes met for the first time. She smiled and tilted her head. He chuckled and raised his glass to her. She laughed and then looked away. Emboldened by her interest, no matter how fleeting, he pulled the largest and most perfect rose out of the vase on the table. Finishing his champagne and handing his glass to a passing server he set out across the floor.

“Mademoiselle Beaufort,” he said loudly enough to catch her attention.

“Monsieur.”

She smiled as she held out her hand to him. Gently taking her glove clad hand, he kissed it. Straightening up again, he smiled as he presented her with the rose that he had previously hidden behind his back.

Aucune fleur ne peut faire justice à votre beauté, Mademoiselle, mais je crois que celle-ci en est bien proche*,” he said in passable French.

Claudine giggled and took the flower from him, inhaling its heady scent. She looked up at him and their eyes met again.

“Monsieur, I am flattered. This rose is truly flawless.”

Robert bowed his head and smiled. “As is your voice, mademoiselle.” He brushed his thumb over the back of her hand and met her eyes again. For the first time Robert truly appreciated the hours spent struggling to learn the French language. During their trip, he had become close to fluent, which now allowed him to address Mademoiselle Beaufort appropriately in her language. “Please allow me to introduce myself, Robert Crawley, Lord Hartington of Downton.”

“An English nobleman,” she said and her eyes twinkled playfully. “What brings you to our fair city, Lord Hartington? Are you perhaps touring the grand sites, following in the footsteps of our great composers, painters and writers?”

Robert laughed and nodded. “You are of course correct, mademoiselle.”

“And how has your journey been so far milord? To your satisfaction?”

“I have truly gazed upon great beauty,” he said and smiled.

Claudine laughed and pulled her hand free of his. “You are full of charm, Lord Hartington. Do you flirt this shamelessly with all the women you meet?”

“Never,” he said firmly and then grinned at her. “But you are of course the exception.”

“Claudine, come. We’re leaving.” The young French nobleman laughed and slipped his arm around her waist pulling her close.

She smiled and kissed his cheek. “Of course, Vincent.” She turned to Robert again. “Lord Hartington, I am glad that you enjoyed the performance. Thank you for your gift.”

“What gift?” Vincent interrupted and shot Robert a dark look.

“This,” she said and held up the rose.

“Ah,” he said and made a face as he plucked it out of her hand and shoved it unceremoniously into a nearby vase. “Another flower.”

Robert’s eyes narrowed. Who was this rude peacock? “I do not believe that we’ve been introduced,” he said curtly to Vincent.

Vincent made a flowing bow that Robert found most distasteful. “Only an Englishman would not know who I am I suppose,” he said arrogantly. “I am Vincent Augereau, Duc de Castiglione. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”

“Robert Crawley, Lord Hartington of Downton, heir to the Earl of Grantham.”

“I am sure that is very grand, if I would know of it,” Vincent said and laughed. “I fear I do not. Still an Earl’s son yields some power I suppose. Not at all like your father I am sure, Lord Hartington, though one day you certainly will.”

“Downton Abbey is one of the finest estates in all of England,” Robert snapped. “My father is well respected and holds his seat in the House of Lords with honor. One day I will take his place, and I can only hope to continue the legacy.”

“Vincent, you are being rude,” Claudine said and glared at him.

“I beg your forgiveness, ma chère,” he said and smiled at her, placing a kiss on her rosy lips. “My blood runs hot, and I confess jealousy surface quite easily when you are surrounded by all these men who seek your attention, while audaciously admiring your charms.”

She laughed and took his arm. “You silly man. Now do apologize to Lord Hartington before we bid him goodnight.”

“My dear Lord Hartington, I did not mean to insult you,” Vincent said with a slight smirk. “Surely you can understand that when someone catches your woman’s attention you leap to defend what is yours.”

Robert bristled at Vincent’s words. “You speak of Mademoiselle Beaufort as if you own her.”

“But I do!” Vincent said and laughed.

Claudine blushed and looked away. Robert frowned at the two. Waiting for an explanation, he realized as the silence grew that he would get none. Before he could make a fool of himself he decided to bid the two goodnight and quickly left. He found James outside, leaning against a lamppost, smoking. Robert made a face at the sight. James would certainly have to give up his French cigarettes once returning to England. A gentleman could of course smoke, but not like this. It was just too common.

“There you are,” James said and rolled his eyes. He tossed the cigarette on the ground and put it out with his toe. “Come, I’ve heard of this marvelous little place in Montmartre, a boîte they call it.”

Robert was about to tell him that he was not in the mood for a night on the town. Before he could do so, James had hailed a carriage and held the door for him. Robert sighed and climbed inside.

***   ***

Laughter and a shriek on his right made Robert turn his head. He rolled his eyes at his cousin who was kissing the neck of the young woman sitting on his lap. She was laughing and squirming as James kissed and tickled her. Robert had a difficult time understanding James’s fascination with these women of the trade. As much as he enjoyed the sight of a woman’s bosom or the stocking clad legs of the cancan dancers, he had no desire to disappear into the darkness of the night with one of them.

“Is your cousin not charmed by women?” she asked James with an annoying giggle. “Perhaps he prefers a young man?”

Robert glared at her. How dare she make comments like that about him? He was just about to tell her what he thought about it when James laughed and kissed her.

“My cousin is madly in love with a nightingale.”

“I beg your pardon milord?”

“A singer, with a beautiful voice and face.”

She laughed and blew Robert a kiss. “I hope that she will sing for you, milord.”

Robert sighed and sniffed his drink. He made a face as it was quite strong. During the many evenings he and James had spent discovering the less honorable establishments of Paris, James had taken a liking to "la fée verte"**. Robert swirled the green absinthe in his glass and added some water before taking a sip. His thoughts were yet again preoccupied with the alluring woman he had met that night at the opera. 

Glancing around the busy nightclub Robert was surprised to spot the woman who had just occupied his thoughts only a few tables over. After their brief meeting at the opera, he never expected to ever see her again. He let his eyes wander over the small group of people and recognized a few faces. Claudine was with Vincent and some other friends, laughing and drinking. Now and then her face took on a look of something close to despair, though every time Vincent turned to her, she smiled at him. Robert frowned. What was this relationship about? His interest peaked when she excused herself and got up. A moment later he followed her.

***    ***

“Mademoiselle, are you all right?”

She twirled around and stared at him. When she recognized him she sighed and grabbed the wall for support. He stepped closer and offered her his hand. She smiled her thanks.

“I am fine, thank you. I just needed a little fresh air. I was lost in thought and I fear that you startled me.”

“Will you sit for a moment?” he asked and gestured to the small bench behind her.

She stepped over to it and sat down. He took a seat next to her, but left plenty of room between them to make their closeness respectable.

Robert glanced down at her gloved hands, resting in her lap. He wanted to take them in his, but hesitated as it seemed to be too forward a gesture.

“You sing like an angel, mademoiselle.”

“Thank you.”

“Is the Duc your fiancé?”

Robert really did not want to know, but at the same time he could not stop himself from asking her. She laughed and shook her head.

“Honestly, Lord Hartington,” she drawled.

“Robert, please,” he said quickly, not entirely sure why he wanted to be on first name basis with this lovely creature.

She said his name with a French accent and it had never sounded lovelier in his ears. “Ro-Bare.” He blushed as he felt himself react to the sound of her voice. She chuckled and he glanced at her.

“Robert, you are young, but I am certain that you are aware that men like you and Vincent don’t marry women like me.”

His face felt even warmer and he turned away from her. “Then why are you with him? He does not seem to treat you with respect.”

“I have but one gift, milord,” she said in a faint whisper. “That, and my female charms. Once my voice loses its appeal, and my face starts to look old, I will once again be forgotten, just one of many women left behind to fend for herself, as my protector moves on to his next conquest.” She looked up at him, her soft brown eyes serious and sad. “Vincent offers me a lifestyle that I fear that I’ve grown accustomed to. I know that it will not last, but his generous gifts will support me once I grow old and no longer can count on the grace of a rich man.”

Robert pressed his lips together. He understood her perfectly. He knew many men who kept a mistress on the side. If they had money enough, it was not difficult at all to keep the affair hidden from the family.

“I think I love you,” he blurted out.

She laughed and touched his arm. “Dear Robert, perhaps you do, perhaps you don’t, but you are too young to really know.”

“I know,” he said heatedly.

She raised an eyebrow. “After one night? One meeting, and you’re sure of this?”

“I am sure,” he said stubbornly.

She tilted her head and gently touched his cheek. He blushed and she smiled, letting out an amused chuckle.

“Mon chèr Robert, how old are you?”

“Eighteen, almost nineteen.”

“Barely more than a child,” she sighed.

“I am no child!” He was angry at her for making fun of him, dismissing his feelings so easily.

“Perhaps,” she said and her hand fell to her lap again. “Have you been in love before?”

“No,” he said and looked away.

“Have you experienced lust?”

His ears burned and he coughed nervously. She chuckled and touched his thigh, stroking gently with soft fingertips. He jumped at the touch and his head snapped around to stare at her. She nodded.

“Robert, mon chèr, you’ve never been with a woman; have you?”

“No,” he muttered and looked away again. “But it doesn’t mean that I do not love you.”

“How long will you be staying in Paris?” she asked, changing the direction of their conversation.

“I haven’t decided yet. Our journey has come to an end, but I have a feeling that James is not quite ready to return home, and neither am I.”

“Then why don’t you allow me to show you a little of Paris tonight?”

He looked at her and was again overcome by desire for her. “By God you are lovely,” he whispered in English.

Claudine giggled and took his hand. “Come milord, let’s discover Paris by night.”

He laughed, feeling her giddiness. She hailed a carriage and he held the door for her before following her inside. He sat down across from her as propriety directed. She smiled at his behavior and he looked away in embarrassment, cursing his own fear of rejection preventing him from being more forward.

***   ***

Claudine had brought him to Les Halles. He had never been in a working-class environment such as this and he found it fascinating. It became clear that many of the people knew her and as the two strolled through the busy place, vendors offered her this and that. She thanked them profusely each time, throwing kisses and bestowing smiles. Robert was amazed at how different this was from watching her with the preening peacocks in her dressing room earlier in the week. These people respected her and they might even love her. The bread and wine, fresh grapes and ripe cheese were all gifts handed to her with love and thanks.

“Come,” she said and giggled at the look on his face as he took in the busy marketplace. “It is almost morning. I want coffee.”

He followed her into a small café and they took a seat in a corner. She ordered them café au lait and croissants which arrived within minutes. Robert first just stared at the bowl in front of him wondering how on earth he was going to drink from it. She chuckled next to him and picked up the hot coffee with both hands, hooking her finger inside the edge, sipping it carefully. He smiled and did the same.

“This is quite good,” he said, his voice full of surprise.

“It’s the best coffee in all of Paris,” she said and laughed.

He watched her break off a piece of her croissant and add some jam to it. To his surprise she held it up to his face. He opened his mouth and she fed it to him. She shook her head in amusement when he blushed at the feel of her soft fingertips on his lip.

“Delicious,” he whispered.

“Isn’t it?”

They spoke in hushed voices as they finished their coffees and croissants. She had ordered them another round of pastries since she had fed him almost all of hers. Robert felt as if he was in heaven and he did not ever want to leave this café and Claudine’s side.

“I really do think that I love you,” he said softly.

“Oh Robert,” she said and tilted her head. “You are sweet.”

“Please forgive me,” he said and sighed. “I know you love another.” He looked up at her, meeting her soft brown eyes. “Just know that I care for you.”

She smiled and then turned away calling the waiter over. He paid for their breakfast and she linked her arm with his as they left the café. He glanced back at it wondering if he would ever find it again, only to realize that he did not want to return there without her.

Back on the street she hailed a carriage and Robert helped her inside. She smiled and patted the seat next to her. He sat down and laughed as he was tossed against her when the carriage moved.

“I’m sorry, mademoiselle. Did I hurt you?”

“Of course not,” she said and smiled. She looked out the window for a moment watching how the dingy buildings took on a warmer, softer hue as the sun rose over the city. “Vincent is leaving for his family’s country estate today. He will be gone about a month.”

“I see,” Robert said carefully.

She turned and looked at him. “You’re an honorable man, Robert. Why would you seek my companionship?”

“Because you are the loveliest woman I have ever met.”

She smiled warmly and touched his cheek. “Then Robert, I am pleased to invite you to my home,” she whispered in his ear.

Robert laughed and their eyes met, and there in the privacy of the dark carriage she kissed him for the first time.

***   ***

Robert was almost shaking, he was so nervous. Silently he followed Claudine up the stairs to her apartment. He nodded to the maid who took their coats and hats. Only listening with half an ear to Claudine speaking to the maid as she handed her the basket with treats from the market, he instead looked around taking in the decors.

“Robert?”

He jumped and looked at her. She held out her hands to him and he stepped forward to take them. She looked up at him and he smiled at her. Gently stroking her soft cheek he leaned down and pressed his lips against hers. He felt his body respond like never before to her nearness. Robert closed his eyes as he allowed himself to bask in the experience of holding her, feeling her soft body as it pressed so deliciously against his, how the scent of her perfume almost made him lightheaded with desire, and how the silky softness of her hair felt against his fingers as he caressed the nape of her neck. He moaned into her mouth and she giggled.

“Come,” she whispered.

He followed her silently through the apartment, while searching his memory for all his meager knowledge of what happens between a man and a woman behind closed bedroom doors. His thoughts went to Vincent Augereau for a moment and he cursed the man for he knew that his performance in the bedroom would be measured against the arrogant Frenchman’s.

Claudine’s bedroom was light and airy. A large four-poster bed resided against the wall on the left, her vanity across from it. A writing desk that looked like it might have been pilfered from Versailles faced the window and in the corner on the left a screen sectioned off an area for the lady to dress behind. Next to it was a small table with a wash basin and a pitcher. The room was warm; he could feel the heat against his legs from the fire burning in the elaborate fireplace behind him. An amused chuckle brought him back to the reason why he was in this place. He blushed and faced Claudine.

“You are the first to pay more attention to the decor than to me, Robert,” she teased and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“I beg your forgiveness, but the room intrigued me. It is your intimate sanctuary and it reflects the essence of you. I find it very lovely and warm.”

She laughed and took his hands, pulling him into the room and closing the door behind them. She wrapped her arms around him from behind and stroked up over his chest.

“Robert, mon chèr, I know that you are afraid of failing me. All men are, when intimate with a woman for the first time.” She walked around to face him. “Please know that you cannot. There’s no need to impress me. Will you let me show you the delights?”

He could only nod. As her nimble fingers relieved him of his clothing, one item at the time, Robert stroked over her sides and back, still not sure how much she would allow him to.

“Remove your shoes, mon chèr,” she whispered and stepped back.

Robert was now only wearing his trousers and shoes, his chest bare. It pleased him that she seemed to enjoy touching him, having had the pleasure of feeling her soft little hands stroke over his chest, playing with his pale chest hair. He bent down and made quick work with his shoes and socks. When he looked up again his breath caught. She had removed her dress and was standing in the middle of the room in only her corset, stockings and boots.

“Dear God!” he gasped.

Claudine laughed and stepped up to him, kissing him as she wrapped her arms around his waist. He felt his arousal grow and pressed her closer to him.

“Oh Robert,” she teased. “It seems that you approve of me.”

He blushed when it occurred to him what she was referring to. She turned around and pointed to the ties on her corset.

“Will you please help me loosen it a bit so that I can unclasp it?”

He swallowed nervously and with only slightly shaking hands did as she asked. Only seconds later the corset fell into his hands leaving her in her chemise. She sat down on the bed and smiled teasingly at him as she stretched out her leg.

“Will you also be a darling and help me with my boots?”

Robert did not have to be asked twice. He crossed the floor and knelt by her feet, placing her foot on his thigh as he unlaced the boot. He slipped them off her feet and stroked her legs and up over her thighs, under the chemise. She laughed and kissed him.

“Merci mon chèr.”

He laughed and got up, stretching out on top of her as he kissed her. She curled her leg around his waist, her foot pressed against his buttocks. She was moving under him and it was driving him mad. He wanted her, oh how he wanted her. He ran his hands over her back down to her buttocks. She whimpered and it was the loveliest sound he had ever heard.

Robert rolled onto his back when he felt her hands on the closure of his trousers. She knelt on the bed opening the buttons and then pulled them off him. His face turned an interesting shade of red as his underwear tented in a very noticeable way. She chuckled and stroked his thigh. He held his breath as she pulled the chemise over her head and tossed it aside.

“Stunning,” he whispered.

Claudine stretched out on top of him and he groaned with pleasure. Her soft breasts felt incredible pressed against his bare chest. His arousal was now almost painful and he rolled her over so he could look at her. He moved his hand from her stomach to her breast. Unable to resist any longer he pressed his lips against the soft flesh, planting kisses all over her breasts, now and then sucking on the nipples. She laughed and gasped, stroking his shoulders to encourage him.

His head shot up when she touched him through his underwear. She smiled and held his gaze as she stroked him. He gasped and shook at the delicious feeling of her hand on him. Before he could recover, her hand dipped inside and she took him in her hand. He clenched his teeth and groaned. She moved on the bed. He could feel her warm breath before her lips stroked against his neck while her hand was still moving over his manhood.

“Dear God!” he gasped.

She slipped the last piece of clothing off him and smiled. “You are a handsome man my Robert, and quite impressive.”

He could only nod and stared at her as she removed her bloomers and stockings, lastly unclasping her garter belt, flinging it on the floor. He sat up and touched her as he took her in.

“You are a goddess,” he said in awe. “Such beauty.”

She lowered herself on the bed and pulled him down. He stroked her body as they kissed. Eager to return to his worshipping of her breasts he kissed her on the neck and then took a rosy nipple in his mouth. She hummed her approval and he sucked a little harder.

When she placed his hand against her womanhood and he felt her soft, slick folds he looked up at her. She smiled and used his fingers to stroke over her pleasure spot.  Eventually she let go of his hand, and he kept stroking her, awarding her a smile of relief when she nodded her approval.

“Oui, just like that. Do you feel the spot right there, mon chèr? That is a woman’s secret charm. Touch it right and she will come undone for you.”

He laughed and kissed her. She moved and shivered under him as he kept stroking her and he knew that she had spoken the truth.

“You feel wonderful,” he whispered against her lips. “May I look at you?”

“Of course,” she gasped.

He moved and knelt between her feet. She pulled her legs up and he gently pressed against her knees until her womanhood opened up in front of him. Dark hair framed pink folds that were shiny from her essence. He wanted to kiss her there, but thought that she might take offence so he pushed the thought away.

“Touch me,” she whispered.

He opened her folds wider and watched in awe as her secrets were revealed. Touching the spot with his finger he felt intense pride when she whimpered. Alternating between his fingers and thumb he felt increased wetness against his fingers. He moved his hands and stroked around her opening. She mewled and he slowly pushed his finger inside, gasping at the feeling of intense heat that surrounded his digit.

“As pleasant as your finger is, I think that you would prefer something else,” she said and her eyes twinkled.

Robert laughed and nodded. Moving forward he lowered himself over her. With gentle fingers she held his manhood in place, guiding him. The touch almost pushed him over. He almost told her to remove her hand, but feeling her slippery folds against the tip he understood the purpose of her touch. He groaned as he eased inside her. She whimpered and gasped as he filled her. When he was all the way inside he held still, unsure if she wanted him to move or not. Their eyes met and she smiled at him. She curled her legs around his waist and pushed her feet against his buttocks. He laughed and eased out of her and then slipped back inside, guided by the pressure of her feet.

“Oh God!” he gasped.

She met his thrusts and they became faster and more frantic as they moved towards their release. He felt her start to squeeze him and it felt incredible. He was teetering on the edge of release and pushed forward with new determination. She reached it first, crying out as she closed around him sending him into his first blissful orgasm with a woman.

She held him against her and he could feel her pulse around him. He looked up at her and laughed. She stroked his face and he leaned down to kiss her before rolling onto his back with her on top.

“Thank you,” he said softly.

“Oh Robert,” she whispered and rested her head on his shoulder. “You were wonderful. I can tell that you will become an exceptional lover. You are already more talented than any of my past lovers, and this was your first time.”

He burst with joy at her praise. She had spent happily, he knew that. He had heard it and felt it. Reliving it he felt arousal stir again and he took her hand placing it on him. She laughed and stroked him until he was fully erect again.

“Sit up against the headboard,” she said.

Robert did and his jaw fell when she lowered her head to take him in her mouth. “Good lord in heaven!”

She laughed and released him so she could straddle his lap. She smirked at him as she eased down, taking him inside. He grabbed her by the hips holding her against him. She stroked his chest and kissed him as she started to move over him. He moaned and kissed her, sucking her lower lip into his mouth. She moved faster and he helped her by pulling her down on top of him. Knowing that he was selfish in his passion he cupped her breasts and stroked his thumbs over her nipples. She sighed against his lips and he pulled and twirled her nipples. He could tell that she enjoyed the feeling as she started to pulse around him again. She was moving fast now, in short strokes and he felt his release approach again.

“I’m almost there,” he gasped.

She slowed down a little and pushed away from him as she rose up on her knees, almost pulling off him.

“Watch us.”

He lowered his gaze from her face to where they were connected. His eyes widened as he watched her slide over him. He moved his hand and stroked between her legs.

“Oui!”

Pleased, he grinned and rubbed his fingers over her while guiding her movements with his other hand. She was pulsing and squeezing now and he was so very close. He yelled as he exploded inside her, frantically slamming into her as his hips rose off the bed. She cried out and closed tightly around him as she followed him. He pulled her down on his chest and held her against him as she gasped and shivered in the aftermath of her release.

“I like the feeling of you inside me,” she whispered.

“As do I,” he said amused.

“Like this, I mean,” she clarified. “I know it won’t last, but to prolong the connection is so delicious.”

He could not agree more. She was warm, and soft, and the little aftershocks felt very good, even though he suspected that he would not be able to perform for a while now. Eventually she became still in his arms and he realized that she had fallen asleep. First now realizing just how tired he was after being awake through the night he closed his eyes as he eased down on the bed with Claudine in his arms. She sighed and shifted until he was spooned behind her. He smiled at the feeling of her warm soft body in his arms. Robert fell asleep sated and completely happy.

***   ***

When Robert returned to their suite at the Grand Hotel du Louvre later that afternoon, James was in a foul mood.

“Where the blazes have you been?”

Robert just grinned at him as he flopped down on the sofa in the living room of their suite.

“I spent the night discovering the charms of Paris with a beautiful woman by my side.”

“Good God, Robert,” James groaned. “Not that pretty little singing bird.”

“Her name is Claudine and she’s lovely.”

James rolled his eyes. “She’s pretty, I give you that. Though you might find yourself on the wrong side of Duc de Castiglione’s dueling pistol should you carry on with her. He made quite a scene when he discovered that she had left without him last night.”

Robert huffed and kicked off his shoes. “Where’s Carson?”

“I sent him to get our new suits for tonight.”

Robert nodded. “I almost forgot. Never mind, I’m not going.”

“What?” James just stared at him. “You can’t be serious! You must.”

“I won’t.”

“What’s got into you?”

“I’m in love, James,” Robert said and smiled.

“Dear God in heaven,” James muttered and walked over to the bar, pouring himself a drink.

“I’m not going back, you know. I’ve decided. I’m staying on here in Paris for a while.”

“All because of a one night dalliance with some actress?”

“It’s a beautiful city, and so much to do here. You can hardly argue that this is much more fun than Downton.”

“True, true,” James acknowledged.

“I’m thinking of getting a place here actually.”

James just shook his head. “You’re insane, cousin.”

Robert laughed. “Perhaps, but I’m happy.”

James sighed and nodded. Robert was not as lucky as he was. Robert would most likely marry some spoiled daughter of an earl or perhaps a duke, preferably one with money, and if he was lucky, she would be good looking, but that was not an important feature. As the spare heir, James was acutely aware of what he had been spared by not being born the son of the Earl of Grantham. His parents had enough money to allow him to marry for love, as long as his future wife came from a suitable background of course.

***   ***

The following day Robert sent a telegram to his father explaining that he wanted to stay in Paris for a while to learn the language and study art at the many museums and galleries. He requested some money for obtaining an apartment and lastly informed his father that he would have Carson return to Downton since the valet struggled to get along in Paris, mostly due to the language barrier. He would hire a French valet for the time. A request for an amount to cover the expense was added to the statement.

It appeared that Lord Grantham did not object to his son extending his trip. Money was wired and soon Robert found himself set up in a charming apartment overlooking the Seine. He had hired a young French valet who wished to learn English. Laurent had proven to be excellent and Robert was very pleased with himself for hiring him.

Claudine had broken it off with Vincent who had been furious for all but two days before he moved on to his next mistress. She had moved in with Robert and the two were becoming the toast of Paris. Together they were a striking couple; the star of the Paris Opera and her noble English suitor. They attended parties and events together, and he came to many of her performances.

The bliss extended to their private life as well. Under Claudine’s excellent guidance, Robert became a considerate and tender lover. He in turn delighted in the freedom of indulging in the pleasures of the flesh. Somewhere in the farthest corner of his mind he knew that the passion he shared with Claudine would never be repeated, and that any future wife of his would most likely not allow him to touch her quite like this. Nor did he expect his future wife to be comfortable sharing a bed, naked with him. It made him sad to dwell on it because it meant embracing a time when Claudine would no longer be part of his life.

***   ***

Claudine shrieked with laughter and batted at Roberts shoulders.

“Arête! Robert, stop it,” she gasped.

Robert’s head emerged from under the sheet as he momentarily ceased his previous engagement of nibbling and licking croissant crumbs from between her breasts. He grinned cheekily at her and she cupped his face and kissed him soundly.

“Mmm, you taste like raspberry jam,” he mused.

“As do you, mon chèr.”

“I think there are still a few crumbs that I missed.”

She rolled her eyes at him and he dove under the sheet again, this time kissing her breasts and chest loudly as he licked and sucked the crisp pastry crumbs off her skin. She laughed and pulled the sheet over his head. A moment later the door was flung open and a man stormed in.

“Monsieur, you cannot…” the maid said in panic behind him.

“What is this? Where is my son?”

Robert’s head emerged at the sound of his father’s voice. “Papa?” he exclaimed and covered Claudine’s nakedness from his father’s view. “This is highly inappropriate.”

“As is your behavior. Get out of there now. I will be waiting in the sitting room.”

Lord Grantham twirled around and stomped out of the room as fast as he had entered. Robert groaned and sat up. Claudine gently touched his arm and he smiled apologetically at her.

“I am so sorry. I had no idea that he was coming. He’s supposed to be in England, for God’s sake.”

“It is all right, Robert,” she said and smiled weakly at him. “Don’t worry. Now please get up, and go, and greet your father properly.”

He kissed her and rested his forehead against hers. “Thank you.”

***   ***

Robert tied his robe around him and entered the living room. Ignoring his father’s stern look and frowned disapproval of his state of undress he stuck his hands in his pockets and faced him.

“What brings you to Paris all of a sudden, Papa?”

“Robert, what are you doing?”

Lord Grantham sat down with a heavy sigh and waved for Robert to take a seat.

“I am enjoying Paris,” Robert muttered.

“Perhaps a bit too much from the looks of it. Who is this woman? A courtesan?”

“Of course not!” Robert exclaimed, outraged that his father could even think something like that.

“Her name is Claudine Beaufort and she is the lead soprano at the Paris Opera.”

Lord Grantham made a face. “Hardly the type of woman you should consider marrying.”

Robert glared at his father. “I love her.”

“What in the world does that have to do with anything? Love will come with time. If you are lucky.”

“Why are we discussing this? I am not planning on marrying anyone for quite some time.”

“Robert,” Lord Grantham said with a heavy sigh. “We need to talk about Downton.”

Perhaps it was the tone of his voice, or perhaps the way his father’s shoulders slumped a little that made Robert taste fear. Something was definitely wrong, he could tell.

“What is it? Please tell me.”

“We are very close to bankruptcy my son,” Patrick Crawley said and met his son’s clear blue eyes. “I wish I did not have to place this heavy burden on you at such a young age, but Robert I fear that only a generous dowry can save Downton at this point. A very generous dowry that is.”

“This must be a dream,” Robert gasped and shook his head. “A wicked nightmare. How could this have happened?”

“It has crept up on us slowly over the years, the constant upkeep and refurbishing, increased taxes. Very little money seems to be coming in these days. The estate is just not producing enough, not compared to more modernized ones. There’s also a new threat from America. It seems they are ahead of us here in Europe in more ways than one. They have streamlined their agriculture and made vast improvements in just a few years.”

“So I need to find an heiress, and fast,” Robert said and rested his head in his hands.

“It would be what is best for Downton. We are caretakers you and I, my son. We have a responsibility to the estate, our family and our staff. That responsibility includes making personal sacrifices in order to ensure their happiness.”

“You ask me to sacrifice my entire future. Marriage is a long business, to quote Mama.”

“And she’s right. Your mother and I found happiness. There’s no reason why you should not.”

Robert nodded. He felt numb inside. Marriage. The risk of losing Downton. People he had known his entire life left to fend for themselves, banished from their home and jobs. He felt sick at the thought. With a heavy sigh he looked up at his father.

“If it is what is best for Downton, I will do it.”

“Thank you.” Lord Grantham squeezed his son’s shoulder. “I think two weeks should be enough for you to settle things here in Paris. I have arranged to open Grantham House in London for the season. Your mother and I will spend it with you and Rosamund.”

Rosamund. He had not even thought of her. His sister was only a year younger than he and had yet to find a husband. Should she be unsuccessful he needed to think of her future as well. Robert finally accepted his fate and promised his father to return to London before the end of the month.

***   ***

Claudine sat up in bed when Robert returned. Without a word she held out her hand to him. He shed his robe and joined her, putting his head in her lap. She stroked his hair affectionately.

“I have responsibilities that I cannot ignore, Claudine,” he said tiredly, sounding much older than his eighteen years.

“I know, mon chèr,” she said and played with a lock of his hair.

Robert turned onto his back and looked up at her. “I love you.”

She smiled and touched his lips. “I know,” she whispered. “But it is not enough, is it?”

He sighed and looked away. “I suppose not.”

“I cannot leave Paris, Robert,” she said gently.

“Why not? Come to London. I’m sure that you would be welcomed with open arms.”

She chuckled and shook her head. “It is impossible and you know it. Please, Robert, let’s not dwell on things that cannot happen. Let’s instead allow us as much happiness as we can until the end.”

He sighed and smiled at her. “You are right of course.”

“When do you need to leave?”

“By the end of the month.”

“So soon,” she whispered.

He turned his head and gazed out the window at the beautiful sunny day, unable to meet her eyes, for he knew he would cry should he do so. Somehow her easy acceptance of his departure hurt even more than the realization of it. Robert closed his eyes and cursed his fate.

***   ***

Robert had not had much time to sulk and bask in his misfortune at having to leave the woman he loved. Only a few days after his return to Downton the family had started preparing for the London Season. Tailor fittings and event discussions seemed to be his unlucky lot these days. Thank God for Rosamund, he thought to himself and flashed his sister a fond smile.

Rosamund’s cheerful and oftentimes cheeky comments on his mother’s fretting eased his mind tremendously. No matter how many governesses, and nannies that had tried to tame and shape Lady Rosamund into a proper little lady, she had retained her individuality and bubbly personality that Robert was so fond of.

“So Rosamund, this Marmaduke fellow, is he someone I need to have a stern talk with?” he teased her.

Rosamund blushed and flashed him a sharp look. “He is a perfect gentleman, unlike my ruffian brother.”

Robert laughed and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. At seventeen, Rosamund was almost as tall as he, and slender like a willow. Her strawberry blond curls, a family trait from their mother’s side, spilled charmingly over her shoulders and her blue eyes sparkled with mirth.

“He is a lucky chap,” Robert said fondly to her. “To have my sister’s attention. I hope that he realizes that.”

“Oh, he does,” she said quickly.

Violet shot her daughter a sharp look. “I hope he has not been inappropriate towards you.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Rosamund said and laughed. “Unless you count the kiss or two that he has stolen.”

“Rosamund!” Violet said shocked. “That is highly inappropriate. I hope that you told him so.”

“Certainly not! His kisses were most pleasant, I can assure you Mama.”

“Rosamund,” Robert said in a warning tone.

“Well, the Season should allow more young men to come forward,” Violet muttered and eyed her daughter.

“Robert, you just must tell me about Paris,” Rosamund said cheerfully and took her brother’s hands, ignoring her mother. “Let’s go for a ride. Who knows when we will next be able to?”

He nodded and the two bid their mother a quick farewell before hurrying upstairs to change.