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For the Sake of Propriety

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Dearest Nephew,

I am penning this letter to write you on matters of estate.  With nine months having passed since the loss of your parents, your father and my dearest sister, I request the manor under your present care to come beneath my proprietorship once again. 

It is with my utmost hope that you understand, with two sons of my own, I must not let their inheritance be squandered.  You will have until the end of the year, three months hence, before my youngest is to arrive and the estate to be given to him.  I do wish the best upon you in finding a place for you and your sisters to stay.

Respectfully, your uncle,

Colin Ewan Poulston

 

Louis folded the crisp material, creases well-worn upon the thick parchment.  He tossed the note atop his desk, stalling his pacing-- a relief to his already thinning carpet, trailed innumerable times since the first reading of his Uncle’s letter.  He dropped into his leather-bound chair instead, if only momentarily, to allow a quiet breath to escape him.

The same inconsistent ponderings and wavering uncertainties clawed at his chest once more.  Without the estate, he and his sisters would have nowhere to stay. Unable to live with their estranged grandparents, nor impose upon any of his friends, Louis had little to do than to allow the unease to creep up his spine with every pause he took to think on his situation.  Louis knew he would not feel right asking his friends for a place to stay in any case.  He had a bit of dignity to keep.  An affluent man reduced to a state of depravity, all with a few hundred words upon a page, it was laughable.

There was one solution that had presented itself to him, on a frozen morning in early February, when the dew had yet to harden upon the withering grass.  It was a morbid thought, a wandering wisp of wind which rubbed his cheeks raw in the cold winter air.  If his grandparents were to pass he would be the one to inherit their property; the eldest son of their eldest son.  He found it wicked, upsetting to wish for such things.  He had not spoken the words of his thought aloud, ashamed he had been the one to contemplate it.

Even then, it was uncertain when his grandparents’ time would come, and he was once more at a loss for what to do.  The only hope he had, to ascertain his sister’s wellbeing, was to marry them off, and as quickly as he could.

He did not know how he was supposed to find worthy suitors for his sisters within such a small time.  His heart panged with the thought of his parents; they would have known what to do.  His mother would have already had his eldest sisters gone and married to the most suitable gentlemen, his father ensuring that the rest of them still had place to call home.

Louis had no idea of how to even begin mending his worries.

A harsh rap at the door startled him out of his repetitive, looming thoughts.  He stood after a moment, with a rasp, “Come in.”  He cleared his throat as their butler entered, bowing before he spoke. “Mr. Tomlinson, Mr. Horan has arrived and the carriage is readied for departure.”

Louis nodded, pushing his concerns to the back of his mind for later brooding, knowing he had more pressing matters to attend at the moment.  He put the creased letter back in his desk’s drawer, shifting to fix his shirt, pulling his heavy coat on over the material. The weather was still unremitting outside, chilling to the bone.

He nodded to the man still standing at the door, slipping his gloves on to fight the cold from biting at his fingertips.  “Thank you, Mr. Wrotham.  We will not need any more of your assistance this evening.”

He was met with a calming smile, although any vocal response Louis was to receive was sharply cut off by his sister running past the door, her skirts hiked up to help her move better, with a chippered, “Best hurry brother! The twins are soon to prove manic with how pleased they are to be going to Ullhame Park,” being called over her shoulder.

Louis looked towards Mr. Wrotham who seemed amused by the young mistress’ behavior, having grown accustom to it over the years.  “How entertaining a ride this shall be…”  He muttered before he was moving out into the hallway and quickly down the steps, calling after her, “Felicite!  Walk like a lady.  A lady, please.”

His words fell on deaf ears, all the girls chattering together outside of the carriage, ankle-deep in snow with Mr. Horan, as Mr. Wrotham had spoken true about the man’s arrival, telling them an impressive account of his day.  Or perhaps it was another one of his exaggerated tales; the Irishman was quite good at making them up whenever the twins begged him to.  Arguably it was too often an occurrence, though Louis found them far more comical than he would care to admit.

“Tell me again why Mother never hired a governess for you lot.”  Louis muttered to his sisters as he moved into the circle where they were all speaking over one another, the twins hastily fixing one another’s hair.  Upon closer inspection, rather, Louis could see Daisy pulling quite harshly on one of Phoebe’s braids.  He tried not to grimace when she slapped her sister’s hand away.

“Who needs a governess?”  Felicite was quick to ask, as if she was not the worst behaved of them all.  She gave him an innocent smile before she was opening up the carriage door and slotting inside, the twins quickly following behind her.  His eldest of siblings, still younger than him by seven years, was the last to follow in.  Charlotte, ever the calming presence, hastening the girls to calm their excitement.

Louis shook his head, turning to the man beside him.  Niall Horan, his neighbor and a dear friend for several years, was dressed in the usual dark red tailcoat he so often wore.  Louis wondered whether he had dressed as such on purpose, knowing the twins always thought it funny when he looked like the Irish shoemaking faeries he repeatedly regaled stories of. 

He beamed, gesturing towards the cart.  “Ladies first, my fair Mr. Tomlinson.”

Louis spared him a withering glance before extending his own hand, “Are you to assist me into the carriage, Mr. Horan?  Only a real gentleman would.”  When Niall moved closer with a laugh crackling out of his parted lips, Louis reached out to smack him on the pink cheek, stepping into the cart himself, with no assistance required.  Niall yelped into another laugh at the sudden slap before following Louis in and sharing his opinions on the eldest man being the one in need of a governess.

Louis hummed in response to his misguided sentiments, a large grin present on his lips as he moved towards the middle of the cart and fell into the soft velvet seat.  Phoebe seated on one side of him and Felicite on the other.  Niall was situated across from him, looking at ease with the wild chattering of the girls as he delved into a quiet conversation with Charlotte, her body angled towards his and the ruffled hem of her olive skirts pressing quite near to his booted ankles as they shared in simple smiles and easy words.

Louis cleared his throat to garner their attention, not minding that the youngest girls continued to whisper at each other and swing their feet into one another’s shins from across the seats.  “Charlotte, Felicite, have you thought any harder on what I suggested?”

It was a moment of silence until Felicite was shooting him the ugliest look she could muster and stating quite purposefully.  “No, I do not wish to be married.”

He pursed his lips.  He had hoped she would have had a change of heart since the last they spoke.  Even still, he wanted to appease the flare of anger in her glare.  “Felicite, you know I only want what is best for you.”

She was hasty to reply, “Marriage is not it,” her tone terse and frown sharp.

“Charlotte…?”  Louis questioned next, looking to the other girl, unaware that his expression gave away the pleading his voice had so well hid.

Charlotte had always been the model child of the five.  The most reserved and proper, the best behaved.  Louis hoped she would ease his worry.

But instead, the blonde looked to her skirts with her lips pressed tight, “Umm, no… I cannot… think of anyone.”  He narrowed his eyes, confused by her stilted response. Charlotte was never one to have such uncertain pauses in her words.  She had always been the most eloquent of the Tomlinson children.

His youngest sisters took the opportunity of silence to speak, perking up in their seats.  “We will marry, Louis.”  Daisy spoke first, grinning like a wolf as she met the eyes of her twin from across the carriage.  Phoebe was fast to chirp in her own, “Yes, we are most thrilled for when the time comes.”

He breathed out a huff, though it could not keep the small smile from his lips.  “You girls are sweet.  And kind to your brother’s anxious heart…  What I would give to have you two be the eldest.”  He wished he could have it as easy.  If they were of marrying age, he would already have them out the door.

“You have a few years yet before Louis will even think of letting you two go.” Niall replied. 

They met him with a shrug, Phoebe hooking her arm in Louis’, “We will just have to stay with our favorite brother, then.”

“Do not fret, Lou.  We have time.”  Charlotte hastily replied in the lull, to try to soothe his worry. 

He shook his head, still uneased, “Two and a half months, Charlotte.  At most.”

Niall looked between the two of them, brow drawn in concern.  “Louis, you know you are all welcome to stay at my estate.”

He nodded.  It was not the first time he had been offered such an arrangement.  “Thank you.  Niall, you are a true friend, but not all of us can stay with you.”  He looked to each of his sister’s in turn, expressions varying in degree of worry.  Until Felicite asked, voice unusually hesitant, “Have you spoken to Grandmother Adeline yet?”

He could feel his shoulders tensing with the shake of his head.  “I have not spoken to her in years.  Far longer since our mother and father had.”

She persisted, sounding far more resolved in her thought, “But have you tried speaking to them?  They may change their minds-”

“Felicite, please.”  Charlotte’s voice was the first to cut her off, “You know how they feel about us…  How they felt about our mother.”

There was a long moment of silence, each of their thoughts scattered in different places.  Louis worried over each of their expressions again, leaning further into the velvet seat.  The clipping of the horses outside, pulling them across the countryside, kept him steadied.  He cleared his throat, shame creeping over him.  “I regret speaking at such a time...  I just, worry… a trait of which you are all aware.” He met gazes with Charlotte and Felicite, who nodded their heads in understanding.  Niall gave him a smile to ease him of his worry.  “Let us not think on it again tonight, and have an enjoyable visit at the Payne Estate.”  He looked to Felicite, who still seemed uneasy.  “I know Zayn will be there, Felicite.”

“He is back from Scotland already?”  A smile immediately bloomed with her excitement.  “I should have brought my books to discuss with him.”

Louis exhaled a breath of relief, continuing his murmurings, “I am sure he will have copies for you to see.  Maybe even his newest published, to give to you.”

“You really are his biggest enthusiast.”  Niall chuckled.

That seemed to spark her anticipation further, “His writing is incredible.  He has managed to cast his words as both emotive and daring with a hidden wit often hard to find in books of the type.  My friends still cannot believe you have been in his acquaintance for so long.”  She grinned at Louis.  It seemed all offences were forgotten, for the time.

He smiled back, as Charlotte hummed, “I heard the notorious Mr. Styles will be there as well.”  The others seemed to perk up in interest at that.

“Mr. Styles?” Louis asked, the name rolling from his tongue with an air of question. He had not heard of the man before.  “Notorious for what?”

“His charming smile and wit.”  Charlotte supplied first, before she could be interrupted from the other girls calls.  Daisy’s, “His hair,” and Phoebe’s, “His eyes,” and Felicite’s intent, “His fortune.” 

Louis had little chance to balk in surprise at their immediate responses before he was turning to the blond across from him, “His ability to entrance every man and woman that he has the pleasure to encounter.”  Niall grinned, tacking on an appropriate, “At least, that is what I have heard. The neighbors love to chatter on.”

“As if you are not chattering on just as much with them.”  Louis replied causing the blond’s grin to grow.  He paused his thoughts, mulling over the information he had just been supplied about the clearly well-established Mr. Styles.  “Good looks and an incredible fortune to match...  If he is so renowned, how come I have never heard of him?”  His voice took on the sound of petulance at the thought that he was the last to know of the man.  There was no response to his query as Phoebe tightened her hold on his arm and Charlotte flashed him a grin.  He hummed, “Well he better be as illustrious as you all have spoken or I will think you daft.”

More grins met him, Felicite shaking her head affectionately and leaning into his side.

The carriage bumped with a start after another moment, slowing as the horses out front stomped their feet in place.  “We’re here!”  Daisy cheered, jumping from her seat to rush out onto the ice.  A cool draft of air hurried in upon her exit, a few specks of white frost swirling by Louis’ boots when he stepped out himself. 

Standing tall, in all its regality and polished white stone, Ullhame Park remained.  Its windows gave out a light that danced upon the drifting snow mounds outside their panes, warmth rising in billows from a multitude of chimney stacks.  It was welcoming to those who shared in its opulence.  A large estate that was home to two, but no stranger to the friends who came to enjoy its rooms or the staff who everyday scurried its halls.

Louis began to usher his siblings towards the manor, the six of them having not made it fully up the steps before the front door was being opened, a greying man on the other side allowing them entrance.

Making sure there was no lingering snow upon him, Louis looked over his sisters one last time, aware that the blue fabrics of the twins’ gowns were soaked near the ends, their height having not helped them against the melting ice.  Felicite was dispassionately messing with her hair and Charlotte was smiling towards Niall, the touch of cold outside giving her cheeks a rosy color and him a rosy nose.

Louis would have taken the chance to tease the Irishman for his reddened features matching his coat were they not being lead towards a waiting area.  The greying man, undoubtedly Liam’s butler, spoke politely as he directed them further through the halls, “Mr. Payne and his guests are in the salon.  Please allow me to show you the way.”

It was not a far walk before they were stopped outside the room, Louis pulling at the lapels of his jacket once more to straighten them.  The greying man opened the door for them and Louis was quickly stepping inside the chamber, gaze instantly finding their host and the gargantuan grin he wore.

“Niall, Louis, you have arrived!”  Liam hailed in merriment, eyes sparkling with happiness as he quickly bowed to Louis’ sisters before approaching him with a few quick strides.

Louis grinned, responding to the greeting with his own amused tone, “Quite a warm welcome from the, oh so illustrious, Mr. Payne.”

“Must I listen to your taunting every time you come around, Louis?”  Liam asked, though the smile on his face far outshined any annoyance he could have at his friend.  He already had his hand extended to shake, his eyes crinkling at the corners when Louis happily did so.

“Yes, every time, Liam.  It is what makes our encounters so special.”

“Special indeed…” agreed the man stepping up beside Liam.  The newcomer’s raven black hair was swept back and out of his face, a serene expression only refined further with the sharp gleam in his oftentimes impassive gaze.

“Zayn Malik.  It has been too long...”  Louis mused with a large smile, shaking his hand next.  It truly had been a time since he had last seen his oldest friend and it was comforting to see the man face to face once again.

“Much.”  Zayn grinned, “I must enquire upon a visit.”

“You are most welcome to do so.”  Louis replied, letting their hands drop, the familiarity of Zayn’s presence warming his smile further.  It had been long, though not the longest they had ever gone apart.  Zayn had his travels, and Louis his estate to attend; it was often hard to see the other man when he was half-way across the world.

Louis turned his attention to where Liam was greeting Niall with a similar shake of hands, bowing quite contentedly, again, at the girls before he spoke to them.  He turned to Louis after, stepping back a few paces to present the room at whole, “I must introduce you to the rest of my party.  Louis, Niall, you know of Mr. Aurand and his wife.”

Louis nodded his head in the direction of the man and woman he had spoken with on occasion. The two both shared in nodding back as Louis’ eyes tracked to the next person Liam was to introduce.

Liam’s giddiness peaked when he gestured to his wife, layered in the finest of muslin fabric, hair pinned together in intricate braids and curls, and softly falling over her shoulder to the complex embroidery sat upon her breast.  “My beautiful wife, of course.”

Louis gave Sophia a quick smile, accepting one in turn as Liam stepped back from her to present the last member of their party.  Disappointingly for him, Niall and the girls could see the man as Liam did his best to block Louis’ view.  “And this is Mr. Styles…”  He paused a moment before continuing, gesturing to them in turn.  “Mr. Styles, allow me to introduce, Mr. Horan, Mr. Tomlinson and his sisters, Miss Tomlinson, Miss Felicite, Miss Phoebe, and Miss Daisy.”

Louis tried to be discreet when he leaned to one side, to look past Liam’s shoulder and see the man so heavily lauded by his sisters and friend.  “It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance.” A low murmur came, and the man’s voice was smooth and sweet, sharpening the direness at which Louis wished to look upon his person. 

He was at a bow when Louis’ eyes found him, a head of lush brown curls hiding his face, though his body was enough to look at in its place.  A long, lean frame, seamlessly fitting clothes, and the dark colors he wore easily offset the soft paleness of his hands.  The man stood a moment later to his full height, which was far above Louis’ own, and his lips curved up into the most alluring smile Louis had ever seen before, dimples pooling at the corners of his mouth as he met his gaze. 

Louis felt his heart thrum with an uneasy giddiness he could only associate with the flittering of wings as he remained staring back, until it seemed Mr. Styles would not be the one to avert his eyes.  He felt a faint blush creep onto his features at being caught almost gawking at the man when he turned his attention elsewhere.

Though he could no longer look, his mind still processed the beauty of the gentleman in front of them—the perfect cut of his jaw, the tilt of his nose, the amused line of his brow.  He must have realized his own competencies in attraction, if the way he held himself was any indication; the way his lips formed a tempting smile that momentarily left Louis absent of breath.

Louis was cautious suddenly, wondering if Niall and his sisters had not exaggerated in speaking of the man’s charm as well.  He turned aside when Liam collected their attention, guiding them through the decorated halls and into his dining room, dishes already adorning the long table.

Their hosts for the evening instantly went to their given seats, at the heads of the table, and the girls easily followed Sophia to the side opposite of himself.  They immediately began squabbling over who would sit next to whom and had they not been in the presence of Louis’ good friends, other than Mr. Styles and Mr. Aurand, Louis would have worried about how they were being perceived; Niall, Zayn, Liam and Sophia, accustomed to it as they were, seemed endeared by their behavior.

Out of amusement more than disappointment or curiosity, Louis puffed at the spectacle.  “And why is the same treatment not imparted to your favorite brother?  Why are you not bickering over who can sit across from me?”

“If we did not see you every day, Louis, then maybe we would.”  Phoebe replied, ever so snippy.

Louis immediately balked, though he exhaled a laugh all the same.  “You see Niall every day!”  To which Daisy was quick to respond with a flick of her bangs, “Yes, but we like Niall better.”

If he was not so amused he may have been offended.  He put a hand to his chest, “I am insulted!”  They still hadn’t chosen their seats, but Niall made it simpler by seating himself across from Daisy, who made sure to irritate her sister with a pleased giggle.

Zayn and Louis exchanged glances as Phoebe and Felicite quickly argued over who would sit across from them.  Louis did not have a significant preference either way, mostly enjoying ruffling his sister’s feathers whenever he could.  But his attention was immediately taken when Mr. Styles acknowledged the chattering group, his voice drawing Louis’ gaze to those wine rose lips, words rumbling through the still air to touch at his skin and force him to meet the other man’s self-assured gaze. “To settle this dispute…  Since I have already had the satisfaction of speaking to Mr. Malik, Mr. Tomlinson, would you care to sit beside me?”

Louis furrowed his brows for a hesitant moment, the wings fluttering again in his stomach this time, as he slowly nodded his head. “It would be my pleasure.”

The man gave another smile then, mouth quirking up at the corner, eyes gently trailing over Louis’ profile as he turned to seat himself with all the air and regality of the wealthy, beautiful man that he had been proclaimed to be.  The rest of the table seated themselves quickly after, having waited for the children to stop their squabbling, and quickly fell into conversation.  Across from him Felicite sat with Charlotte on her right and the twins to her left, Mrs. Aurand taking the seat beside Liam and across from her husband.

They were served almost immediately and Louis kept his eyes to his meal, though they often drifted to his sisters across the table.  His ear clearly tuned into the conversation happening to his side, where Mr. Styles and Sophia could be heard chattering about his new town home.

Louis decided to participate after he had had enough of his thinking, turning to them with rigid determination.  He was just as swiftly distracted by the gentleman’s smile, once again.  Something about the man’s lips keeping draw of Louis’ attention. 

He cleared his throat to attract their eyes.  “Mr. Styles, I do wonder how you are acquainted with Liam.”

The man seemed pleased to be addressed by Louis and quickly angled himself his way, placing his fork down as if to be fully immersed in their conversation.  Louis was flattered if nothing else.  The gentleman’s words were slow as he sat back in his chair, like he had not a care in the world, speaking on such matters.  “Mr. Payne and I met through want of economic and political reform.”

Louis’ own lips quirked into a small smile as he mused, looking towards the chandelier above, “Ah Parliament then.  Has it worked well for you?”

“As any a pursuit would.”  The man replied, watching him carefully, before speaking again, “And in what affairs do you partake, Mr. Tomlinson?”

“Nothing too extraordinary.  Caring for my sisters, watching over our estate… gambling and hunting if I have a spare moment.”

“A man of sport...”  Mr. Styles considered.

“A man of propriety.”  Louis corrected in jest.  The gentleman seemed amused by the idea.

“Propriety…”  He ruminated, mouth gliding over the word like a heron would the cold winter’s breeze, effortless and taunting to those who wished to fly.   He continued with the eloquence and reverence of a man pretending he was not affected by his fates, “A trait of which I sorely lack.” 

Louis eyed him in question; a response forming at the tip of his tongue when Sophia spoke in his place, breaking him from his reverie.  He met with her gaze, momentarily confused at her wonderings before surprise ticked at his mind.  He had not given the rest of the table an ounce of attention since turning to the man beside him.

Louis sat back in his seat when the intensity of Mr. Styles’ eyes shifted from him.  He did not engage the gentleman in conversation again, only overhearing murmurings from his and Sophia’s conversation of a ball being held at Ullhame Park in a months’ time. 

He did not let the oddity of his own conversation with Mr. Styles, and the captivity of his thoughts during so, wander long as he averted his considerations to Zayn instead, on the undertakings of his recent excursion.  How he had spent his holiday and how he wished it had not ended quite so suddenly.

To his unfocused mind Zayn’s words were of little regard when the presence of the man beside him, warmed at his side.  Heated him and made him wonder, numerous times, if he was being noticed just as much.

Only did that feeling leave when they finished with their meal and moved, men to the parlor, and women, equal parts their own, to the drawing room.

Louis watched his sister’s walk with cheerful steps as they spoke with Mrs. Aurand and Sophia.  He had a moment of wishing to go with them.  Not to be watchful or overbearing of any sort; he was no stranger to Liam’s parlor meetings, however, and the type of conversations they so often were to provide.

He walked in time with Niall, who patted him kindly on the back as they moved.  For, seemingly, no reason at all, except comfort.  He gave the man a smile, but returned his attentions to his front not long after, hesitantly letting himself look over Mr. Styles’ daunting figure who gracefully strode a few feet ahead of him.

He was struck by the gentleman’s hair again-- so long and unruly and curled over the collar of his jacket.  It was odd for a man’s hair to be so long and not held back by a ribbon, to be so pretty and to look so soft in the light.  He folded his hands at his sides to keep from reaching out to touch it, averting his gaze to the interior of the parlor when they entered, not new to its elegant interiors.  Satin curtains dressed the wide clear windows in emerald and golden frames outlined the edges of the wall in intricate patterns meant only to catch the wandering eye of its visitors; those unaccustomed to the penchant of the rich to show off in every way they could, most prominently.

The upholstered chairs and their gilded wood sat warming themselves by the fireplace in composed disarray, as Liam opened a box of cigars he had lying on the mantle above it, amiably offering them to all who were present.

Louis joined the rest, mingling about in the way they tended to do. He often found himself taken with Zayn and Niall and their frequents abroad, even if he had heard them countless times before, instead of listening to Liam engage whomever else he had around in his discussions of Parliamentary business.  Louis had no care, really, for being in such a debate at so late an hour, knowing that the subject would surely cause him to fall asleep in Liam’s velvet crushed bergère in the most unbecoming fashion.

When it seemed Niall and Zayn did not hold the same opinion, he stood, discreetly walking from the group to work his legs, so his brain could begin to work as well.  To assist the tiredness in drifting from his system.  He watched the snow trickle down the window pane, warmed by the heat inside, how it dripped atop the soft heaps already present on the ground.

He continued his movements, wandering to a pine painted desk pushed off in the corner, scoping the books and papers atop its surface.

It was distracting; his mind flitting about over what he had to do, wondering what it was, that Liam had last read.  He had not been aware of the eyes following him across the room, taking in his every movement, every step and sway of his hips.

An unfamiliar voice broke him of his concentration.  “Pray tell, Mr. Tomlinson, why are you over here in the corner, instead of participating in the company of your host?”

Louis turned at the rough, drawling tone; catching the dark, green eyes of Mr. Styles’ with his own.  He paused, tying his lips in a knot as he collected his composure.  The moment, in which he turned back once again, to study the scribbled notes and volumes atop the desk by his side was short and riddled with afflictions, “…I find Liam’s rants can be throbbing to a mind so deprived of sleep.”

The gentleman let out an entertained snort before a more concerned, lowered tone passed between the two of them. “You have not slept well, Mr. Tomlinson?”

He was slow in his response, thumbing over the title of the text beneath his hand.  “I have not.  But it is of no consequence to you, I can assure…”  His mind only momentarily reminded him the reason for his restless nights; the coming of his cousin and the repossession of a home he had always thought of as his to keep.  He knew it was not in good etiquette to keep silent in the presence of the other man, so he opened his mouth, once again, to speak, “Why is it, then, that you are over here?”

When Louis turned to look back up at him, it seemed the gentleman had not set his gaze upon anything, or anyone else.  As if he had to only fulfill the one occupation of studying Louis.  The thought had his skin shivering with unprecedented anticipation; for what, he had never been more unsure.

The other was unhurried in his speech, the melody of his voice enticing Louis to listen intently and watch fixedly as he tilted his head, thoughtfully, towards his smaller stature.  “To admire the most exquisite piece in the room.”

His smile provoked the thrill, once again, to travel over Louis’ body, like a feather tickling over his skin and leaving goose’s bumps in their wake.  The response, though, caused him to stall, confusion evident in his expression as he quickly glanced around where they stood. “Mr. Styles, there are no paintings over here...”

The smug upturn of his mouth only grew, “A painting is not what I’m referring to, Mr. Tomlinson.”  Only one slip of silence passed between them before he was continuing, finally breaking his eyes from Louis’ gaze.  “A breathing portrait, of which no painter could capture the beauty of, is what I find to be the most magnificent in this room.”

Louis squinted, his heartbeats pace quickening, “Do you speak so candidly with every man that crosses your path, Mr. Styles? Or is that privilege only reserved for those whom you find respond to your enthusiasm, most amusing?”

The gentleman stepped imperceptibly closer as a smile ignited his once indifferent features.  “Though your quick tongue does inspire a certain, enjoyment, at which I am most ready to admit…” He reached forward, fingertips whispering over Louis’ cheekbones, “It is the blush of your cheeks that compels me to continue our exchange.”

Louis’ lips parted the smallest breadth, no words coming to them as he took a hasty step back, letting the cool of the room touch at his heated skin.  He averted his gaze, seeing the group of men still conversing with an air of giddy sentiment, unaware of which was not in their sights.

His eyes found the gentleman’s once again.  “Mr. Styles, I believe you’ll find what the others are discussing is of a much more fascinating nature to you…”  He swallowed down the dryness in his throat, gesturing towards the group with his arm stiff by his side.  He tried to contain the flustered stumble in his speech, “S-shall we?” and before he could welcome a response, he was moving with intent, away from the situation he’d been presented with.  Away from the gentleman and the silent shake of his heart those quiet words had elicited.  Louis understood at that moment, what Mr. Styles had spoken at dinner; why he had said propriety was not a trait that he had.

It seemed the decorum of which he lacked was not in acquaintance with him, and Louis, confused as he was, knew his mind wished for their quick meeting.  His chest pounded in hopes that that time would never come.