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No Charm Equal To Tenderness Of Heart

Chapter Text

Late October, 1815
Central London ~~

“Well, Lockwood. Any Queens?”

The Duke looked down at his cards, the white paper almost yellow in the strange light of the White’s card room. A chandelier hung low over the table, the crystal catching and reflecting the warm, orange glow around the room and onto the highly polished floor and panelled walls.

All around the room, other gentleman sat or stood, milling and smoking, playing cards and drinking. He drummed his long, calloused fingers on the dark wooden tabletop. “Go fish”

George, to his right, rolled his eyes, taking a sip of brandy. “That doesn’t surprise me”

Lockwood looked at him, frowning in confusion. The rotund mathematician placed down his glass, and briefly inspected his cards. “He hasn’t got a Queen beyond this game, either”

A rumble of amusement coursed around the table, but Lockwood’s frown deepened. Across from him, the Earl of Morningfield raised an unimpressed, red eyebrow. “A wife, Tony. You don’t have a wife”

The man in question stared at Quill for a moment, before clearing his throat, the tips of his ears pink. “Matthew, tens?”, he asked, eyes fixed on his cards.

“Two”, the man handed his cards to the ex-soldier, “and you lot, leave him alone. The man’s just come back from fighting for our country, give him a reprieve. So what if he’s as chaste as Diana?”

George snorted loudly. “I never said he was chaste, I just said he didn’t have a wife. There’s quite a difference there”

The men laughed, Quill taking a sip of his drink. “That man’s about as chaste as Jupiter”. Matthew raised a dark eyebrow, “Quill, you’re hardly one to be talking about chastity”

The redhead threw back his head and laughed. “Ah, perhaps...” The friendly banter continued, and Lockwood allowed his mind to wander.

He’d returned from the wars on the Peninsula only a fortnight prior, stepping off a ship at Portsmouth, battered, bruised, a bandage wrapped around his head at a somewhat piratical angle. Despite being the only son of a Duke, he’d felt it was only right to serve his King and country, and so he’d joined the army at eighteen, much to his mothers horror and his father’s fury.

He’d returned to his families townhouse in Grosvenor Square, sinking relievedly into his mother’s warm embrace, and his fathers kind smile, and when she returned from her teaching position in Switzerland, Jessica’s glittering eyes.

His friends had been quick to seek him out, dragging him kicking and screaming into the heart of the social scene; parties at Almacks, the card rooms at Whites, weekends hunting in Buckinghamshire, and everything in between.

And then, of course, the inevitable.

He was a Duke; a rich, un-married ex-soldier with a title. What wasn’t to like? Or, at least, that’s what Quill told him, when he’d been mobbed by young women at a ball.

And so the torrent of light-hearted ribbing and non-stop harassment began. From his parents, imploring him to give them grandchildren and an heir for the title, from his friends, teasing him about finding a lady who could keep up with his appetites, from his sister, who wanted a little niece or nephew to dote upon, and the high society women who wanted him to wed and bed their daughters.

“Lockwood. Lockwood. Hello?!”

He jerked up. “Wha- huh?”

“We’re looking for twos”. The men around him all smirked and chuckled. “Daydreaming?”

He handed over the necessary cards, clearing his throat. “Maybe I wouldn’t have to if you provided better company...”

Matthew raised an eyebrow. “Or... were you just thinking about that lovely Miss Burwood, from the ball on Saturday?”

George and Quill burst out laughing. Lockwood’s ears went pink. “That’s none of your business, but for your information, I was just thinking how much I’d like to leave, and escape your mindless drinking, gambling, and harassment”

“Oh ho ho, expecting company back at Grosvenor Square?”, Quill crowed, provoking even more laughter. Lockwood growled, tossing down his cards. “Or maybe he’s about to go an arrange some?”, George suggested with a smirk.

He marched away from the table to the sound of their laughter, collecting his hat and coat from the cloak room attendant before pressing out into the busy, darkened street.

Grosvenor Square was the most fashionable neighbourhood in the city of London. It's iconic, Greek - columned townhouses were owned or rented by only the highest of London's society, Anthony's parents being among them.

The Square was set around a large piece of parkland; fenced off with black iron railings, the lush grass dotted with ancient, crooked oak trees and vibrant shrubs. Candles glowed in nearly every window, bathing the entire Square in a warm, soft light. Carriages clattered along the road, pausing outside houses to collect and deposit late night socialites, coming and going from innumerable social gatherings.

His carriage rattled to a stop, and a moment later, a footman opened the door. He thanked him, hurrying up the marble steps to the front door, being admitted to his family’s abode. The elegant, white and blue panelled walls were tastefully hung with all manner of curious objects; Japanese stage masks, Chinese fans, helmets, swords, scrolls and all manner of other priceless artifacts his parents had bought back on their travels to the Orient.

Although Lockwood’s father was alive and well, he had passed the title of Duke to his only son, shirking the responsibility of a title and an estate to go ‘gallavanting around the lesser known world’, as his older sister liked to put it.

The sound of a pianoforte echoed into the hallway, bouncing off the pale blue tiles, and around the domed, glass ceiling. Upon closer inspection, the music was pouring out of the drawing room, and he removed his hat and coat, passing them to a waiting maid, before creeping closer.

“Jessicaaa-!”, he called in a sing-song voice.

There was a shriek of delight, and the music stopped abruptly. His older sister leapt up, rushing towards the door and her little brother. She threw herself at him, making him laugh.

“Jessica! I haven’t seen you in so long!”

The woman clutched him tightly. “Oh, my- Anthony, How I’ve missed you!”

He chuckled, hugging her back. “Jessica, we saw each other at Easter-“ “that was months ago! It’s October, you silly oaf!”

Jessica was twenty eight, a teacher at a prestigious finishing school in the Swiss Alps, finally off for a well-deserved holiday. She was tall for a woman, reaching her brothers chin, with elegant, shiny waves of dark hair, and a slender figure.

When he didn’t return her embrace with his usual vigour, she pulled back. “Is something troubling you?”

He sighed. “No... no, it’s... nothing to trouble yourself over, Jessica”

The woman frowned. “Anthony, what is it?”

Lockwood was silent for another moment, before sinking into an armchair by the fireplace. “... my friends are insistent on... harassing me, about my... lack of wife”

Jessica sat back down on the stool by the pianoforte and raised a dark eyebrow - “Well... It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man-“

“I know, Jessica, I know”, he leant his head on his arm, “I’m not getting any younger, and it’s about time I married-“

“Then why are you complaining to me? Go and find a wife!”

“It’s not that simple!”, he exclaimed, “it’s not-... I refuse to pick the first woman who throws herself at me... that wouldn’t be... that’s not what our family title needs. We need someone who can be a suitable Duchess and mistress of Blackwater”

Jessica leant against the instrument, looking pensive- before her elbow slipped onto the keys, making an awful sound. He winced. “Jess-“

But she was already rushing over to him, “Anthony!”

The Duke suddenly found himself forced back into his chair by his sister. “Anthony- I know who you can marry! I know exactly- Oh, this is perfect!”

“Wha-“

“Oh, I can hardly believe it! This is brilliant! I can help my students while finally seeing my brother happy-“

“Jessica!”

She turned. “Yes?”

“Who?!”

“Oh! Of course”, she replied, stepping back and perching on the end of the chaise lounge opposite, “Well, she is one of my students, the younger daughter of an Baron. Just graduated, so she’s eighteen. A lovely, charming, intelligent girl, passed all her etiquette classes with flying colours”

“Unfortunately, her family has come upon hard times. Her father passed away, leaving her mother and sisters destitute, so they are being married off. She’s perfectly suitable, and I daresay you two would get along perfectly!”

Lockwood nodded slowly. “... perhaps... she would be suitable-“

“Oh, marvellous! I’ll write her mother a letter immediately-“, she stood. “Wait! Jessica!”, he stood, blocking the door, “at least- tell me her name?”

“Why does that matter?”

“It- just does, alright?!”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Her name is Lucy, Lucy Carlyle. She’s the seventh daughter of the Baron of Radley”

He nodded slowly. “Lucy... Lucy Lockwood. I think that could work”

Chapter Text

Mid November, 1815
Norfolk ~~

Radley Manor was a dark, imposing building, set amongst several acres of rolling, neglected parkland. The house itself was situated at the end of a long gravel driveway, tall, crooked cedar trees hanging down over the track like mossy curtains.

The house itself was a peculiar shape; a long, Stone Tudor style building formed the basis of the manor, with a later, Gothic wing stretching back from the centre, crowned with a grand, formidable eight-sided tower.

The front of the building was set with small, decorative niches and tower-like structures protruding from the stone. On either side of the ornately porticoed front door were two tall, thin towers, and further down, wide, stained glass bay windows.

Inside, a large, Medieval hall, the walls lined with dusty metal shields, and rusted suits of armour. The whole house seemed to be frozen, the air thick with the stale smell of damp and dust. Everything was faded, just a little out of date.

Rugs were matted with thousands of footsteps. Chairs sighed great clouds of dust when you reclined. Tables bore innumerable scratches and scars.

“Your Grace?”

He looked up from his teacup, noticing how the fine china was faded only one side, as if it was tucked away in a cabinet and only brought out for guests. “Yes?”

“The Baron and Baroness will see you now”, the butler said in a haughty voice, his moustache dropping over his lips. Lockwood stood, and a few seconds later, two older people entered the room.

The Baron Of Radley was a tall, thin man, reaching the Dukes shoulder. His once-fashionable and well-tailored clawhammer coat was now faded and ill-fitting. His breeches were in a similar state, subtly repaired, seams adjusted and moved. His hair was salt and pepper grey, and swept back off his face to reveal stark, harsh grey eyes. A sharp, hawkish nose protruded from the centre of his pale countenance.

His wife was, in contrast, small and squat, not entirely dissimilar in build to a toad squatting on a log. She was much shorter, perhaps reaching somewhere around Lockwood’s ribs. Her ostentatious pink day gown was covered in lace and layers of gauzy chiffon. Her grey hair was yanked up into what was a fashionable hairstyle - ten years ago.

In a very peculiar way, it seemed as though the house and its inhabitants had been frozen in time, Lockwood thought. He smiled politely, and extended a hand to the Earl. “Baron Carlyle”

In return, the man extended a bony, strangely cool hand, grasping Lockwood’s. “A pleasure to finally meet you in the flesh, Your Grace”

The ex-soldier flashed them his most charming smile. “The pleasure is all mine”

“Our daughter is waiting for you in the library”

He nodded once. “Thankyou. If you would be so good, please-“

“Harveys, our butler, will see you there”

Lockwood paused momentarily, shocked by the interruption. He was so much higher in society than them, below only the royal family, how could they address him so-? “Ah- thankyou”

The elderly gentleman who had been waiting by the door stepped back into view, and Lockwood moved to his side, before exiting the room.

The moment he was gone, the Baroness of Radley fiercely struck her husbands arm. “You imbecile! How could you be so rude!”, she hissed.

The man turned. “Do not raise your hand to me, wife”, he said lowly, “nor shall you take that tone”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “I shall take whatever tone I please, husband”, she said the last word slowly, dripping with venom, “for this is my house, my title, my fortune. You are simply a placeholder”

He paused - before tossing his head back and laughing. “Fortune? What fortune? Your drunken husband died, and left you and your daughters as poor as church mice! I stopped you from starving!”

“And for that I shall be eternally grateful! But it was my mind that formed the plan to restore our family to its previous means. It will be the only thing she has ever done for this family...”

“I do not think-“

“I did not ask your opinion on the matter”, she swept over to a chair, before sitting, “in fact, if I recall correctly, it was entirely my own idea that my daughter should restore us to our previous state of wealth, by means of her monthly allowance”

“You still believe she will send it to us?”

“Undoubtedly”

Upstairs, a girl perched anxiously by the lead pained windows of the library, the glass thick with age, filled with tiny bubbles and inconsistencies.

The window seat was cold and hard, but she sat there, trying to look demure but also coolly disinterested, like Ms Lockwood had taught her.

“Your ladyship?”

She turned, immediately rising to her feet, hands folded in front of her. Harveys stepped aside, inclining his head respectfully...

And Lucys breath hitched in her throat.

Well.

He wasn’t at all what she’d been expecting.

She remembered quite clearly dear Eloise; a tall, slender girl, pale as a lily, and just as fragile. How she’d shrieked with excitement at the letter announcing her arranged marriage, all her classmates gathering around her bed, Lucy included. How they’d all fussed over the girls hair, and complexion, and figure.

And how her husband had been twice her age, with a soft, pallid face, and a meaty, cruel mouth.

But...

The man stood in the doorway...

... couldn’t have been more different.

He was tall, and broad around the shoulders. His torso was emphasised by the bright red jacket, and the gold brocade at the top of his sleeves. The collar folded out to reveal gold and green stripes, as did the cuffs.

His breeches were spotless white, and a tasselled burgundy sash was tied snugly around his trim waist, a long, silver sabre hanging from his left hip. His black Hessian boots were so shiny Lucy was sure she’d be able to see her face in them if she looked. But... she didn’t really want to look away from his face.

Lucy was sure she’d seen his face somewhere... perhaps on one of the statues of Greek Gods and Muses scattered throughout her family’s estate, left to moulder and decay, their marble bodies caped in ivy and moss.

A crown of black curls framed his face. High cheekbones set beneath two coffee coloured eyes. A straight, aquiline nose. Clean shaven, defined jawline. Soft, well defined lips.

Her eyes slid from his face, down to his uniform, soaking in his chest, and his shoulders, so broad and strong, his arm bent at the elbow to hold his plumed helmet beneath his arm, the sleeve stretching-

“You’re an Lieutenant General”, she blurted, then hastened to correct herself, “Your Grace”

He blinked. “Yes. Yes, I am. Well, was. I’m retired now. How did you...?”

She cleared her throat a little. “Your uniform”

“Is that so, Lady Radley? I was under the impression that women couldn’t tell a British uniform from a French or Portuguese, but it appears I have been mistaken”

Despite herself, and all her many months of etiquette training, of being told the tips and tricks of finding and ‘netting’ a husband, she’d never thought she’d be the one being ‘caught’, and held, trapped in his gaze. Lucy blushed a little at the thinly veiled compliment. “The Duke of Wellingtons army holds a great deal of fascination to me, Your Grace”

He smiled. “I see”, as he spoke, he glanced around the dark, cold room, the walls covered in floor to ceiling books, “do you enjoy reading, Lady Radley?”

“Yes, Your Grace”

“And what sort of books do you enjoy reading?”

“We have a great variety of books, some first editions of Shakespeare-“, Lucy began, remembering what her Mother had told her to say to impress the Duke of Harpley, but he interrupted.

“I asked what you enjoy reading, Lady Radley”, he interrupted, although somehow not rudely.

“Oh...”, no one had every really taken a great deal of interest in what Lucy enjoyed doing, and she was a little taken aback by the question, “... comedy novels are my favourites, I suppose”

Lockwood smiled. “Mine as well. I could never stomach tragedies, and so many romance stories seem overdone and just a little crude. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Oh- Oh- Yes- Of course”

The smile stayed upon his lips. “You don’t”

“Well...”, Lucy began a little bashfully, “I... rather enjoy some romance stories”

“Then my apologies for offending you”, the Duke inclined his head slightly.

“Oh- no- you haven’t-“, God, could she have done a worse job of this?!

She flushed a most beguiling shade of pink, and Lockwood found another grin tugging at his lips. They’d only been speaking for a matter of moments, and already, Lady Radley had proven herself to be a most intriguing young lady.

And why did it make his heart race so to know he was the one making blush?

“What a lovely gown you’re wearing, Lady Radley”

She looked up, and then back down at her plain, white day dress, it’s hem lined with simplistic flowers, with short, puff sleeves. “Oh- thankyou. It’s a personal favourite of mine. My sister-...”, she stopped abruptly as she realised what she had been about to say.

He half raised an eyebrow, look at her expectantly, and Lucy sighed. “My... sisters owned it before me”

“A hand-me-down?”

Ashamedly, she nodded.

“And you repaired it yourself?”

Another nod.

The inquisitive look became a gleaming smile. “You’ve done a marvellous job, Lady Radley. I hardly noticed”

“Truly?” “Truly”

Another blush, this one creeping down her neck towards her chest, and he felt a bubble of pride swell up beneath his chestbone.

He glanced down at his boots, then back up. “I do hope you won’t think me rude, Lady Radley, but... I fear time is of the essence”

“Oh- Of course, please, take a seat”, she gestured to the two highbacked armchairs in front of the ornate, Gothic fireplace, and he smiled gratefully.

Lucy sat first, perching as demurely as she could. The Duke placed his helmet on the table beside him, before clearing his throat. “Seeing as we are to be...”

The word ‘married’ hung in the air between like gun smoke after a battle.

Lucy nodded hurriedly. “Yes. We are”

He also nodded, once again glancing down at his boots. “I think perhaps it would be best if... you addressed me by my Christian name”

The girl blinked. “Oh- Oh, yes, p-perhaps that may be- yes”

He gave her a reassuring smile, revealing straight, white teeth. “My name is Anthony”

“Lucy”

He extended a hand across the space between the two chairs, and delicately lifted her much smaller hand from the arm of the chair, and pressed a soft kiss to the back of it. Lucy felt a warm current course through her body, and knew she would be going red.

He smiled. “A pleasure to meet you, Lucy”

“The- the pleasure is all mine, Anthony”

Chapter Text

Mid December, 1815
Central London ~~

St. George’s Church, in Hanover Square, was a large, Grecian fronted building, built of carved white sandstone bricks, with six huge columns supporting the triangular portico above the doors.

Lucys stepfather had a vice-like grip on her arm as he pulled her from the carriage to the pavement, as if expecting her to bolt like a skittish mare. Lucy raised her head, if only to keep the massive tiara she’d been given from fallen.

The outfit itself seemed so unnecessary; a long, trained white dress, designed and created by one of the finest seamstresses in London, cut low and trimmed with Belgian lace. A long, partially transparent veil that obscured her face. And to top it off, one of the Lockwood family jewels - a tiara, heavily laden with diamonds, the highly polished silver polished to a shining hue. Ribbons of white gold curled into the shapes of plant fronds, coming to a point a couple of inches above her head. In her hand, she clutched a bouquet of pink heather.

Snow flurries were whirling through the air, and the chill bit into Lucys bones. Her mother alighted from the carriage after her, wrapping her long, fur-lined cloak tighter around her podgy form, as Lucy eyed her with envy.

The gaunt man led her up the stairs, towards the open doors. Dried lavender had been scattered on the steps and porch, and Lucy inhaled the sweet, clean smell, hoping it would calm her. Inside, England’s highest and grandest were huddled together against the chill on the dark wooden pews, their fine silks and furs keeping them warm.

As soon as she stepped through the door, a small band, hidden somewhere on the balconies overhead, struck up a Bridal March, and Lucy’s heart edged itself in her throat.

This was it.

She was getting married.

At the end of the aisle, in front of the priest, was the Duke. His uniform was, as before, immaculate and worn well by his broad frame. He stood sideways, looking off into the transept at the side of the church. He looked... calm. Collected. Casual.

Lucy fixed her eyes on the profile of her husband-to-be, matching her footsteps to her stepfathers, praying she wouldn’t trip or stumble or fall as her feet moved along the plush red carpet.

Slowly, people turned to look at her, whispering to each other behind gloved hands and wide bonnets. In any other scene, she would have died to know what they were saying, but now?

Now, all she could think about was the man stood at the end of the aisle, as he slowly turned to look at her.

Lockwood had never been a man of faith. It was hard to be, if you’d seen the things he’d seen. So many men abandoned their faith on the battlefield, seeing no God in the carnage and bloodshed of war. What God could possibly allow such horror, pain, and suffering?

But watching Lucy walking down the aisle towards him, beautiful face teasingly obscured behind a thin layer of delicate lace, her full figure barely hidden by the white muslin of her gown, the way she peeped up at him beguilingly from beneath her lashes?

He was ready to fall to his knees.

And worship.

Before he knew it, she was stood on the bottom step of the altar, the Baron stepping away. Before she could be left alone, Lockwood extended his hand to her, and after a moment, she shyly placed her much smaller hand into his large, calloused palm.

He smiled, and lead her up to the altar, where they stood, hands clasped, gazing at each other. The priest looked between them, smiling, before he looked out over the assembled congregation, and began the service.

Lucys mind heard the Fathers words, but didn’t recognise them, hearing them only as a background hum. Instead, her attention was focused solely on the feeling of the Dukes calloused hands around hers, rubbing her soft skin in small circles, a soothing, regular movement.

The gentle, soft, barely-there motions almost made her shudder. When she shyly looked up, she found him looking down at her, and the both of them immediately looked away, ashamed of being caught.

Rings were exhanged, vows were said, and when the time came for Lockwood to kiss the bride, he slowly lifted her veil, then pressed a chaste kiss to her mouth that made Lucys lips tingle. Her first kiss.

The congregation applauded, and Lockwood lifted the diadem and placed it on top of the veil to hold it back. Lucy turned, and tossed her little bouquet of heather over head and into the crowd.

There was an outraged cry, and she turned. A small, scowling, redheaded man was clutching the flowers, before he looked up and glared at her. Lucy offered him a sheepish smile.

“The Earl of Morningfield”, a soft voice said into her ear, an arm coming around her, “my neighbour. Don’t worry, he grows on you... rather like a wart, I suppose”. She choked back her laughter.

The Duke lead her out into the snow, her hand in the crook of his elbow. Instinctually, she leant into his side, savouring his warmth. He looked down at her.

A moment later, something warm and heavy was draped around her shoulders. A military jacket. Lucys eyes widened a little, and she looked up at him. He offered her a gentle smile... and Lucy returned it.

He helped her up into the carriage, before climbing in after her.

The Wedding Breakfast was a small, elegant affair, in the dining room of Lockwood’s town house, the new bride and groom sat in the seats of honour at the centre of the table.

Several dances were danced, Lucy being led around the floor by her new husband; a surprisingly elegant, well-coordinated man, despite his stature.

And then, her mother pulled her aside.

As the men of the party muddled their way through a jaunty Hornpipe, Lucy’s mother grasped her arm and dragged her away into the hallway.

The house was almost eerily silent except for the distant peels of laughter and the fiddle being played.

“Mother, what-“

Her mother turned to her, the two of them almost tucked into an statue alcove. “Now, listen”, her mother began, hand still on her arm, “I am going to impart some advice to you that will serve you well as a woman and a mother”

Lucy blinked, “ah- alright”

“Just lay back, close your eyes, and let him do his thing”

She blinked. “Pardon?”

“Your husband. Just don’t think about it. Don’t make a fuss, and it’ll be over quick enough”

“What- what are you-“

Her mother’s hand tightened considerably. “Your wedding night”

“You mean-“

“The consummation of your marriage, yes!”, the toady woman hissed.

Lucy swallowed, trying to tug her hand free of her grasp. Her mother’s lips parted to speak, when-

“Lucy!”

Her husband's voice carried through the silence of the hall. “Lucy, are you there?”

With a final stern, meaningful glare, the older woman released her arm, and strode - as intimidatingly as a woman of her stature could - down the hall.

The Duke rounded the corner, at the same time Lucy stepped out of the alcove- and she walked straight into his chest. “-Oh!”

His hands grasped her upper arms, steadying her. “Oh- I’m so sorry, Lucy!”, he released her, “we were all looking for you. It’s time for a toast”

“Oh- Yes- we should go”

He offered her his arm, and tentatively, she slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow.

He led her back to the dining room, where the partygoers were now sat around the dining table again. Lockwood led her to their seats in the middle of the table, and pulled out her seat, alike a gentleman.

Jessica stood, raising her glass of wine. “I’d like to make a toast”

The rest of the group picked up their glasses expectantly, looking at Jessica to continue. “Although it is customary for the brother or friend of the groom to make the toast, I like to think that I will do a better, less insulting job than Quill or George, so”, she lifted her glass, “to the happy couple! May the years bring them joy beyond measure! Cheers!”

“Cheers!”

She took a sip of her drink, as did the rest of the party. Beside her, her husband was also drinking, and for some reason she couldn’t discern, her eyes drifted to his Adam’s Apple, mostly obscured by his neat cravat, bobbing slightly as he drank.

One of the maids scurried to Lucy’s side, whispering in her new mistress’ ear. Jessica watched as the young woman stood, and followed the servant out, before her eyes moved to her brother, sat beside an empty chair, eyes on the plate in front of him.

Lucy was shown to a bedchamber, with a cream colour scheme; the walls were halfway panelled with pale wood, the upper half with pale paper. There was a small fireplace, and a wash basin by the window. Opposite, there was a large, luxurious four poster bed, where an expensive, elegant lace nightdress had been laid out for her. Her trunk, filled with the few meagre belongings she’d taken from home; a couple of dresses, some books, her sketchbook and charcoal, and a few paltry trinkets.

With the maids help, she undressed, and slipped the nightgown on over her head. Lucy thanked her, and with a curtsy, she disappeared out the door.

Unsure exactly what to do, she perched on the edge of the bed. And waited.

And waited.

An unknown period of time later, there was a tentative knock at the door.

“Yes?”

The door slowly swung open, and a tall, expansive paid figure slipped inside.

Her husband stood in the doorway, wearing only a shirt and breeches. He cleared his throat.

“I hope you find your room to your satisfaction?”

She nodded, swallowing dryly. “Yes, it’s lovely”

He also nodded. “I’m glad”

There was a silence.

The door shut behind him a barely audible ‘click’, and he stood there, with the bed between them.

Lucy looked away, towards the window, the dusk light casting soft shadows across her face. After a moment, Lockwood reached down, grasped the hem of his shirt, and pulled it quickly over his head.

Her mouth went dry.

She’d seen topless men before, of course she had; her dead father after he’d gotten senselessly drunk, some of the servants in the summer when they tended the gardens, even one of her brothers-in-law.

But…

This… was a work of art.

Muscles, from years of soldiering, coiled tightly beneath the pale flesh, moving and shifting as he pulled the shirt over his head.

Somehow, his shoulders seemed even broader when they were uncovered, the wide expanse of his back crisscrossed by dozens of scars, new and old, both white and faded and pink and raised.

His chest was much the same - his abdomen and chest were covered in old wounds. His stomach muscles were well defined, but he had a small, soft layer of flesh over the top, making him seem impossibly broad.

She tore her eyes away, heart lurching into her throat.

Lockwood held the shirt in two huge hands, watching as his bride turned away from him, staring at the dull painting above the mantelpiece.

Was she… disgusted by him?

The thought made his heart clench in his chest. It wasn’t a hundred miles from possibility, was it?

He was eight years older than her, and riddled with scars, the skin of his arms bearing a bronze tan from so many years of campaign on the continent. He was nothing like that tall, willowy, elegant men that women swooned over. No. He was far too bulky, too scarred, too… damaged.

He was damaged.

Some men would have seen it as a god-given right to consummate their marriage. They were married, joined as one in the eyes of God, so why couldn’t they take what was rightfully theirs?

But Lockwood refused to damage anything else.

He wouldn’t force himself on her. He wasn’t a brute. A large, haunted man he may be, but a brute he was not.

He slipped the shirt back over his head.

Without a word, he walked to the wash basin in the corner, and picked up the razor blade. Lucy turned, and froze, “What are you-?”

He drew back the covers of the bed, and then pulled up his sleeve, and placed the sharp, silver blade against the pale flesh of his forearm.

Silently, with only a grimace, he sliced open his flesh, and allowed several drops of blood to dribble onto the stark white sheets.

Then he placed the razor back on the wash basin, and wrapped the clean face-cloth tightly around the cut.

The he turned to her, and swallowed, Adam’s Apple bobbing in his throat.

“... we leave at eight tomorrow. Get some rest”

And without another word, he disappeared out into the hallway, the door closing behind him with a ‘click’.

Chapter Text

Mid December, 1815
Oxfordshire ~~

The seat of the Dukes of Harpley was Blackwater.

Far too ominous a name for the beautiful, sandstone manor house that sat in the centre of the Blackwater Estate. Built in an elegant, Italian style, it was situated in the heart of rural Oxfordshire. At the end of a long, gravelled driveway, lined with snowy beech trees, the house itself was an impressive creation.

The front of it was lined with a set of four columns, supporting a triangular portico, carved with the Lockwood family crest. Large windows were set at regular intervals down the face of the house, and the front door could be reached by a Chateau-style set of steps, one curving to the left, the other to the right. The roof was flat, the top of the building lined with ornate vases and statues of mythical figures and creatures.

Surrounded by rolling hills, verdant parkland, and lush green woods, lying dormant beneath their white blankets, Lucy couldn’t help feel more at ease than she could ever remember being.

The carriage clattered down the driveway, and her husband glanced up from the book he was reading, looking at Lucy, catching her somewhat awed expression, and smiling. “Welcome home”

She returned the smile shyly. “It’s very beautiful”

“Thankyou. The house and park have been in our family for generations. I hope you will be comfortable here”

His voice was warm, and sincere, and Lucy felt a peculiar warmth flame in her chest that had nothing to do with the layers of furs and blankets she was huddled under. “Thankyou. I’m sure I will be”

They rode the rest of the way in silence, Lockwood’s eyes on his book, and his wife gazing out the window at the changing landscape.

True to their words, her mother and stepfather hadn’t hesitated in explaining to her in no uncertain terms that she was to send her allowance to them, in order to help rebuild the family’s once great fortune - but Lucy had refused.

She was a Duchess now, her husband had said as he read the letter over her shoulder, and she didn’t have to obey the likes of Barons and Baronesses. The letter had been tossed on the fire, and nothing more said about it.

“May I please ask a question?”

“Of course, Lucy”

“Why is it called Blackwater? It’s far too pretty for such a dreary name”

He smiled. “Ah, the river that runs on the edge of the estate goes through a patch of black marble, which makes the water look… well, black”

Eventually, they came to a stop. The Duke hopped out of the carriage, placing his top hat on. Lucy stood, too, preparing to have to jump from the carriage- when a pair of huge hands grasped her waist.

She squeaked as she was lifted with ease, turned, and set carefully down on her feet on the gravel. “Ah- Uh- thankyou!”, she squeaked. He smiled at her, eyes filled with an emotion she couldn’t quite recognise.

Then, he turned to the assembled staff; a collection of maids, stable lads, gardeners, all variety of careers; “everyone, this is your new mistress. My wife. You will treat her with the same respect as you would treat me, regardless of her sex. If I hear of any unscrupulous, unsavoury behaviour, it will be dealt with personally”, he inclined his head, “thankyou for listening. You may return to your work”

The women curtsied, and the men bowed, before they all scurried off in various directions, rushing to return to the warmth of the house.

Lucy couldn’t help but envy them. Even beneath her thick, fur-lined travelling cape, and her many layers of skirts, petticoats, mittens, and her fur muff, she was shivering.

He opened his mouth to speak- but was interrupted by a thunderous bark.

She turned, and caught sight of a huge, dark creature bounding towards them across the driveway, it’s gigantic paws flicking up the snow as it galloped ever nearer.

Lockwood’s mouth split into a grin. “Naps!”

The creature - a dog, upon closer inspection. A massive, hairy creature with peculiar orange patterns on its bulky head - skidded to a halt, crashing into the Dukes legs, knocking him over in the snow. It then proceeded to slobber all over him, shoving its wet nose against his throat, in his ear, and all over his face.

“Naps! Naps! No! Bad dog!”

With a pathetic whine, the hound backed off, and sat on its haunches a short distance away, chocolate eyes on his master- before he spotted Lucy, and his fluffy tail began to wag.

“Who’s this?”, she asked with a big smile.

The Duke got to his feet with a groan. “This is Naps, my long-haired Rottweiler. He’s terribly behaved, but no one has the heart to properly scold him. We found him as a puppy on the continent, adopted him, and I had him sent back here so he’d be safe. Naps! Search!”

The moment his master had given the order, the dog crashed across the stones towards Lucy, rubbing against her skirts, sniffing her hands, nosing at her boots and petticoats, slobbering and huffing.

“Away!”, he called again, before Lucy had a chance to give the creature the affection she thought it deserved, and the dog bounded back to him.

“He seems perfectly well trained to me”

The Duke laughed. “He’s trying to impress you. Just you wait - this time next week you won’t be quite so impressed”. Lucy smiled at her husband, and he returned the gesture, making her go red. She felt a change it topic was necessary; “Naps… an odd name”

Lockwood laughed again. “I suppose so. His real name is Napoleon. I thought it was suitable, seeing as he loves to show off to everyone”

“Your Graces”

They both looked up, towards the source of the calm, somewhat rough voice.

An older man, in dark, sensible attire, with a head of neatly combed, graying hair stood a few metres away on the snowy gravel, and a woman of about the same age, with pretty grey curls pulled back into a sensible, tidy bun, wearing a long, dark dress. He bowed deeply, and the woman curtsied.

Lockwood smiled in acknowledgement. “Mr and Mrs Moore”

“Welcome home”

“Thankyou”, he offered Lucy his arm, “if you’d be so good, Moore, see to it that the White Bedroom is prepared”

He bowed, and disappeared inside. Her husband watched him go, as did Lucy. “Was that… your butler?”

“My valet”, he replied, offering her an arm, “and your Ladies Maid. Mr and Mrs Moore are my heads of staff. They’ve taken care of this place since before I was waddling about in short trousers”

She couldn’t help snicker at that image.

“Do you think you could tolerate the cold for a little longer?”

The girl looked up at him. “Why?”

“Well… I… know that the people in Blackwater are very eager to meet you”, he explained, clearly trying to make it seem like he really didn’t care, “but- it’s not urgent, they can wait- we have the church service on Sunday, so we can meet then then-...”. He stopped, realising he was rambling.

Lucy couldn’t help the affectionate smile that played across her lips. “If it’s all the same, I’d quite like to wait until Sunday”

The man took a deep breath, and offered her a smile. “Then we will wait until Sunday”

Sunday came soon enough; the Duke was advert absent, claiming he had business to attend to in the city of Oxford - arriving late on Saturday night. Lucy hadn’t deliberately stayed up to wait for him- of course not! She- she just… hadn’t been able to sleep, and had… walked to the library, and… sat on the windowsill over the driveway, and…

It was traditional to walk to church, so that was what they did. This time, Lucy was just as bundled up as when she arrived at the manor. The rolling, wooded hills were cloaked with a new layer of crisp white snow. The lane leading up to the church was fairly steep, lined on one side by tall, crooked yew trees, and on the other by a short, stacked stone wall, curving as they marched up the hill, overlooking the beautiful valley below.

In the few days between that moment and her arrival, Lucy had explored the Blackwater estate from North to South. Not a single log, stream, ruin, folly, or track had been left unexplored. She’d found the remains of long-gone cottages, even what she suspected to be a chapel. There was an ice house, and strange towers, mock Grecian temples, and bridges. The estate itself was ringed with a river, feeding into the impressive lake behind the house.

But there was an item that still held mystery to her.

In one of the parlours, above the marble fireplace, was a sword. A long, curved officers sabre, with a gold tassel hanging from the pommel, used but well cared for. It hadn’t been there for long.

Beside her, her husband walked silently. The household staffed trailed behind them, chattering amiably. They received many curious stares - Lockwood hadn’t been to his family’s estate since he left to serve his country at the age of eighteen, eight years ago. Lucy, of course, was a new face entirely.

The service was as Lucy was expecting. They sat towards the front, as was proper, and Lucy curled in on herself to preserve warmth in the freezing chapel.

Soon enough, it was over. Lockwood led Lucy outside- where they were politely mobbed.

A gaggle of older people were immediately on her husband, interrogating him about his time fighting both on the Iberian Peninsula and the Low Countries. Lucy was, entirely unintentionally she hoped, edged away from her husband, to stand a few metres away beneath a crooked yew tree, bonnet obscuring her face.

Then something grabbed her hand.

She jumped, and looked down.

A very small boy, with thick, curly ginger hair, wearing his Sunday best, holding a small toy soldier in one podgy hand.

“Er…”, she looked down at the child grasping her hand, and blinked, “... hello”

They turned, and looked up at her, huge blue eyes blinking. He dropped her hand, and stumbled back. “You’re not my mama”, he said accusingly.

Lucy crouched down, smiling in what she hoped was a comforting way. “No, I’m not. What’s your name?”

He hugged the soldier to his chest. “... James”

She smiled again. “It’s very nice to meet you, James. My name is Lucy”

But he shook his head. “No it’s not”

“Oh?”

“Your name is Duchess”

She laughed. “I am the Duchess, but you can call me Lucy. Or… Mrs Lockwood”

“You should always call adults Mr this or Mrs that”, he said factually, and she laughed again. “Where is your mother?”

As soon as she’d finished speaking, an outraged shriek echoed across the churchyard. “James!”

They both looked around. A young woman with fiery red hair beneath her bonnet was rushing towards them, and she scooped the child up from the floor, and proceeded to began to scold him. “James Arthur George May! How many times have I told you not to wander off! Don’t bother the Duch-“

“Oh- really- Er, Mrs May, it's- quite alright”, Lucy placed a calming hand on the woman’s arm, “he hasn’t been any bother at all, truly”

“Well, if you’re sure, Your Grace…”

She offered her her a smile. “Of course”, then she looked at James, “a pleasure to meet you, young man”

He held out a hand for her hand, and somewhat confused, she placed her hand into his. With a wonderful amount of ceremony and dignity, he kissed the back of her hand. Lucy and his mother burst out laughing, and the Duchess’ eyes drifted back to her husband.

He was watching them as an elderly gentleman was speaking. His eyes were darker than usual, filled with an emotion she couldn’t quite recognise. She bid her goodbyes to the Mays, and walked back to her husband, who offered her an arm.

“Shall we leave?”

“Of course”, she slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow, and they walked, in silence, towards the gate, servants scurrying after them.

Chapter Text

January, 1816
Buckinghamshire ~~

 

Marcus Connolly was a tall, slender man, with collar-length blond hair, an elegant jaw, a strong nose, and cruel lips. His suit, a gift from the Baroness of Southport, was made of wondrously soft silk, the jacket pastel green, lapels embroidered with wild flowers. The cream breeches ended at the knee, and his stockings were stark white. The kid leather dancing shoes were soft and comfortable.

His hands, manicured and pale, had never seen a days hard work, and it was clear to see.

He hovered at the fringes of the ballroom, wine glass in hand, watching the dancing couples, the gossiping matrons, and the bored looking husbands.

As far as he knew, there wasn’t a word for people like him. For what he did; he helped women.

Women whose husbands were too old, too ugly, too ‘otherwise inclined’, to satisfy them. And what did he get in return for his services? Money. Gifts. Influence. He bore no title, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy the benefits of one.

He straightened the lapels of his jacket. Usually, women came to him willingly. They wanted him. But he wasn’t adverse to charming, conniving, blackmailing his way into their beds.

“Have you heard”, his friend, Thomas Hayre, leant close, “the Duke Of Blackwater has a pretty little bird on his arm this evening. Came back from fighting the Little Corporal in Flanders and netted a lovely little debutante. They’ll be here tonight”

Marcus’ placid expression became a smirk.

Outside, in the hallway, Lockwood led his wife towards the ballroom, her small hand tucked into the crook of his arm.

She looked radiant in a long white ball gown, the hem stitched with pale pink roses, and one nestled in her décolletage that he stubbornly refused to look at.

From beside him, Lucy clutched his arm, satin gloves against the rough material of Lockwood’s jacket.

Although there had been no outward change in the room, Lucy had sensed it. Women guarded their faces behind their fans. Men spoke behind the rims of their drink glasses.

“Shall we dance?”, her husband asked in a soft, slightly husky voice, close to her ear. She felt a blush creep up her neck, and nodded. “Uh- Yes, lets”

Lockwood smiled, and took her hand. A few minutes later, the orchestra struck up a Scotch Reel, and it made Lucy smile, hearing the upbeat fiddle begin. They lined up, and the dance began. She had a turn on the arm of several different partners, all giving her the most charming smiles, but there was no denying the fact that she liked dancing with her husband best.

All of a sudden, Lockwood tensed, muscles taught beneath his sleeve, and she looked up at him curiously. All the colour had drained from his face, and his jaw was clenched.

“Anthony?”, she whispered.

There was no reply; Lucy looked into the crowd where he staring vacantly, and saw no cause of concern. So, she ushered him towards the veranda doors at the other end of the room, through the thinnest edges of the crowds.

As gently as she could, she shoved him out into the night air, ignoring the strange stares they collected.

He stumbled against the snowy stone railing, and Lucy grasped his arms. “Anthony?”

He squeezed his eyes tight shut, and sucked in several breaths.

“Fine, fine…”, he managed, then stood up straight, “just… fine”

She gazed at him, unconvinced.

He swallowed. “... well… it’s…”

“You don’t have to tell me”, she hastened to say, but he sighed, and brushed some snow off the balustrade, and patted the spot he’d cleared beside her. She sat.

He sighed softly. “Erm… where to start…”

She sat silently beside him, waiting patiently.

“Er… well… you… know that… I was at Waterloo?”

She nodded.

“... and that… I was an officer”

Another nod.

“Well… about three days before the battle, there was… a ball. By-... the Duchess of Richmond. All the officers were invited, and… I attended. And- Er”, he cleared his throat, “whilst we were there, the Duke of Wellington received word that… Napoleon was advancing towards Brussels”

“Of course, there… was a panic. Many officers fled the the ball to prepare for battle, some stayed… I left with the Dukes entourage. But… ever since then… Balls have always been”, he sighed, and hesitated, “... difficult… for me, I suppose. I can deal with dinner parties, and card assemblies, and… that kind of event, but… balls have always…”

Lucy listened silently until he had finished speaking, before tentatively placing a gentle hand on his arm. “We can leave, if you would prefer-“

“No, no”, he sighed again, “we have an obligation to-... to be here”

“Okay… then… maybe we could… make up a code?”

He frowned. “A code?”

“Yes, I-...”, she reached into her reticule and drew out a pretty, painted paper fan, “women have to learn this silly… fan code. Do you know it?”

“I- I think so”

“Okay, well, when I do… this”, she placed the fan, over her heart, “that means ‘are you okay?’. Just… give me a nod, okay?”

“Right”

“And… this”, she slowly folded the fan shut, “means ‘follow me’”

“Okay”

She offered him a smile. “Everything will be fine. You’ll see”

He returned the smile sheepishly.

Marcus watched couple sat on the balustrade outside, and quickly evaluated that that marriage… was nothing more than a sham.

They sat slightly apart, neither leaning close to cover the distance between them. The Duke sat awkwardly, with his large hands in his lap. The Duchess sat primly and properly, knees together. It was not the image of a happy, devoted couple.

He smiled at her, always, but shyly, as if he was nervous of what she thought. And her blush… it was always there. She was still an innocent, clearly. All the better for him.

He smirked. He knew what he had to do.

It wasn’t personal; it was never personal. It was just a way of life. Everyone has to survive.

The man waited as they walked back inside, separating with a secretive smile shared between them.

The Duke wandered over to a group of men. One of them, with fiery red hair, turned and spoke to him privately. The Duchess, on the other hand… hovered awkwardly at the fringes of the room. She didn’t know anyone. Perfect. Casually, as if he was walking in that direction anyway, he moved past her, brushing her back. She jumped, and turned, and he offered her his most charming smile.

“Oh, my apologies, Your Grace. I wasn’t looking where I was going”

“Oh, that’s- that’s quite alright- I-“

“My name is Marcus Connolly. It’s a pleasure to meet the woman everyone has been talking about”, he took her hand, and pressed a lingering kiss to the back of it.

Nervously, she drew her hand back. “Yes, well… it’s nice to meet you too, er-“

“So, Duchess”, somehow, he had manoeuvred her hand into the crook of his elbow, flashing her a bright white smile, “I’ve heard a lot about you. Tell me, how is married life treating you?”

“Er- well- I- it’s okay-“

“I’m glad. I shall have to come and visit you soon for tea”, he smiled, “I should love to get to know you, and your husband, better”

“I-“

“Ah, apologies, Duchess”, he consulted his pocket watch, “it’s time I departed, I’m afraid. I shall call on you soon”

He stepped back, and bowed deeply.

From across the room, her husband glanced at her, speaking- before he stopped. Quill frowned, and looked where the taller man was looking- and also paused.

His young wife, standing awkwardly, her hand being held by a tall, elegant man in a pastel silk suit. He bowed, and kissed her small hand.

Lockwood and Quill watched in a sour silence.

The man departed, and Lucy stood there, flustered and rather red. Then, she turned, and Lucy caught his eye; she placed the fan over her heart.

He gave her a sharp nod, and turned away, back to the Earl of Morningfield. “Bastard”, the redhead hissed, and he nodded.

“That was Connolly, wasn’t it?”

“It was”

“With my wife”

“Yes”

There was a terse silence.

“... so she’s getting a lover”, Quill took a sip of his drink.

“So it would seem”

“And…”, he looked over at the Duke, “you’re okay with that?”

“Quill, I would be a shocking hypocrite if I wasn’t. As would you”

“Well, yes, but I need Noah because… well, you know why. I have Noah, Holly has Lisette”, he replied smoothly, “and stop changing the subject, this is about you, not me. You clearly care for her. Put your foot down and tell her ‘no’”

“I’m not going to force her to love me, Quill”

He shrugged. “Well, at least find someone to keep you occupied. You’re not an innocent, and even an illegitimate heir is better than no heir”

He sighed, and shifted his shoulders awkwardly.

“I’ll… consider it”

Chapter Text

February, 1816
Oxfordshire ~~

 

A Duchess had many responsibilities; producing an heir for the title, holding social events, running the household, caring for her husband and their presumed passel of children, keeping up with all the latest fashions and trends.

But with responsibilities, come burdens. Things you aren’t necessarily required to do, but society’s all-seeing eye would glare at you if you did or didn’t.

For instance, entertaining guests.

Entertaining a guest was like some sort of elaborate dance; A guest could only be taken into one of four parlours and reception rooms. Depending on the time of day, the weather, and the esteem of the guest, they could either be offered tea, coffee, or alcohol, but never all three. You never used the finest china, only the second or third best set.

It made Lucys’ head hurt, all of these ridiculous little cues she was supposed to know.

But not as much as Mr Connolly made her head hurt.

With his absurd notions of his own importance, lack of social graces, abundance of airs, generally inflated sense of pompousness and grandeur, ridiculous clothing, Lucy couldn’t stand him.

But she couldn’t turn him away.

There was nothing more damaging to a family’s reputation than rudeness and common indecency, except perhaps adultery.

Something Lucy knew about all too well.

“Your Grace, if I might be so bold”, Marcus had begun, and already Lucy wanted to roll her eyes.

“Were the rumours of your father true? I, myself, have always thought they must have been blown monstrously out of proportion, but one can never know, as they say”

Lucy swallowed. “Many… Of the rumours were true”. He raised a blond eyebrow. “But not all?”. “No, not all”

“May I enquire as to which?”

Lucy’s earliest memory of her father wasn’t a pleasant one; a tall, hubristic man with a podgy frame, and flaming red hair, drunkenly shouted and hurling abuse at their servants, all observed by a four year old Lucy cowering amongst her eldest sisters skirts.

Reluctantly, she answered.

“He was a drunk, yes, and kept more mistresses than any man ought-“

“What is your opinion of mistresses and lovers, Your Grace?”

“And- Oh… well, I… believe people should have the right to love who they wish and express it as they seem fit, but… the marriage vows do say to be faithful”

He nodded sagely, then lifted his teacup to hide a smirk.

It was his fourth visit of the new year, and it seemed the Duchess was beginning to let down her guard. Her husband rarely seemed to be around, either out hunting or taking care of business, and it was only a matter of time before she started to get lonely.

And then he would strike.

He opened his mouth to ask a follow up point, when the door of the room opened. “Lucy, have you-“

Marcus stood, seeing the Dukes broad figure appear in the doorway.

The man faltered ever so slightly, meeting Marcus’ eye. “Lucy, have you seen my Hessian boots anywhere?”, he said, after a moment.

Lucy wasn’t sure she’d ever been quite so pleased to see- well, anyone. Her husband would save her.

“Yes, I believe Moore was polishing them”, she paused, thinking of how to word her escape request so it wouldn’t sound insulting, but her husband nodded and spoke before she could. “Thankyou”, reluctantly, he acknowledged Marcus, “Mr Connolly”. “Your Grace”, he bowed low.

He eyed him, jaw twitching somewhat, but he said nothing, simply nodded once, and left.

Lucy watched him go with an air of desolate need.

Moore did have his boots, as it turned out, along with his hunting jacket and breeches, which he helped his master into.

Lockwood stood beside Quill at the edge of the woods. The gamekeeper crashed about through the thick undergrowth with his cane, beating the shrubs and trees to spook out prey. Naps was invaluable in his endeavour, leaping and bounding about through the trees, barking, surely scaring off any birds within a mile radius.

Quill inspected his rifle. “So…”

“So?”, Lockwood replied, eyes on the overcast sky and the tops of the trees, watching for movement.

“How are… things?”

“Don’t try and act all casual, Quill. It doesn’t work”

“Fine, suit yourself”, he loaded a musket ball into his rifle, “is Marcus shagging your wife or not?”

The Duke turned to him. “Steady on!”, he exclaimed, affronted.

The Earl slowly raised a knowing ginger eyebrow, and Lockwood sighed. “... probably”

“Hare!”, the groundskeeper called. A smallish, brown shape went hurtling across the grass several metres away, and both men raised their rifles into their shoulders. Quill was faster, and with a loud ‘bang’, he fired, but missed the creature.

He cursed, watching it bound away to safety in the long grass across the meadow. Lockwood watched it go, slowly lowering his weapon.

“Damned things are too fast”, the redhead muttered. “What, do you want it to lie down for you? Maybe it could shoot itself for you, too, while it’s at it?”, Lockwood retorted, and received an eye roll in response.

“I’ll be the bigger man and let those comments slide. We all know how tense you get when you haven’t-“

“Oh, sod off!”

“Look, speaking as your childhood friend and companion, I think you just need to speak to her about it. For all you know, she might be pining after you too-“

“Ha! Fat chance”, Lockwood muttered darkly, “Why would she have me if she could have Marcus Connolly?”

“Because Marcus Connolly is a greedy, womanising cad. You’re only two of those things, and you’re not greedy”

“Marcus Connolly is-“

“Partridge!”, the groundskeeper yelled.

Lockwood was faster; in an instant, he had his rifle up in his shoulder, trained on the bird- BANG!

There was a thud, and the creature landed in the grass several metres away. The two men looked at it.

“... Marcus Connolly, indeed”, Quill muttered.

Back at the Manor, Lucy was sitting in her armchair, trying to recover from the just-departed guests endless chatter, when a footman informed her she had a letter, producing from the depths of his jacket a crisp, cream-coloured envelope. She sat up, and accepted it.

Opening it, she immediately recognised Jessica’s elegant writing, and smiled softly to herself.

Inside, was a brief account of how her family was in her absence, several jokes about Lockwood’s friends lamenting the death of his bachelorhood, and general friendly chatter. It said nothing about the sham that their wedding night had been, so… no one knew.

‘Perhaps you should throw a dinner party? Loyally yours, Jessica R. Lockwood’

A dinner party?

Lucy thought for a moment, pondering the letter. Yes… perhaps she should. After all, besides that intolerable Mr Connolly, she had rather been neglecting her social duties as a Duchess. Very well. They would have a dinner party.

“Langdon!”, she called.

The young butler appeared a moment later in the door. “Yes, Your Grace?”

“What’s the traditional day to host a dinner party?”

“Fridays, Your Grace, although I believe any day of the week is equally acceptable nowadays”

She nodded slowly. “Very well. Thankyou. I believe we will host a dinner party… next Friday. With my husbands permission, of course”

“Very good, Your Grace”, he bowed, and departed.

Chapter Text

Early March, 1816
Oxfordshire ~~

 

The dinner party was in full swing; the food had been a marvellous success, all of the guests cooing over how lovely the food was, and how wonderfully the band played, and how beautifully the house was decorated. Lucy, playing the part of the modest hostess, beamed at the compliments from one end of the table. Her husband sat at the other end of the table, speaking in hushed tones to the men on either side of him, occasionally looking up to receive compliments.

Lucy couldn’t help admiring her husband from the relative safety of the end of the table. He looked so very handsome, like the hero in the illustrations of those romance novels she liked to pretend she didn’t adore reading. With his dark blue jacket and cream waistcoat and breeches, he looked every inch the Duke he was. Every so often, he would lift his brandy glass and take a sip, the muscles in his arm moving. His hair had been brushed off his face into a tousled style, and up close he smelt incredible.

When, rather breathlessly, she’d asked what it was, he’d replied it was a new perfume from Cologne, and asked if she liked it. Unable to do anything else, she nodded.

Mr Connolly was absent; Lockwood had politely requested that only titled gentry or well-respected socialites were to be invited.

Another glance at her husband, and she finally noticed the young man sat beside him, opposite the Earl of Morningfield. He was probably about the same age as the Duke, but seemed far younger, his face still holding a certain amount of puppy fat. His cinnamon brown hair was longer than was considered fashionable, pulled out of his face in a low ponytail that waved and curled at the end.

His outfit was dark and simple, pleasant but not extravagant. He often looked up when the Earl spoke, and smiled at him, affection and perhaps something more sparking in his dark eyes.

The Earl's wife, Lady Morningfield, was a beautiful, dark skinned woman, about the same age as her husband. Her face was delicate and clear, with Cupid’s bow lips, and dark, curly hair pulled back into a fashionable style. She spoke in soft tones with the woman beside her, the redheaded daughter of a Marquess or some such title, the two grinning and gazing at each other.

Lucy couldn’t help but feel somewhat lonely, even with Naps snoring away beside her feet.

Soon enough, it was time to dance, and Lucy stood from the table, her long, white dress was trimmed with small, embroidered gold flowers on the collar and hem.

Lockwood also stood, and looked down the table to his wife. She offered him a shy smile- when a hand appeared on her elbow. “Duchess, May I have the honour?”, a young man was suddenly beside her. “Oh, I-“, she began, when another gentleman appeared, and also asked for a dance. “Your Grace, may I?”

“Gentlemen”, a voice rumbled.

They all, including Lucy, turned.

Her husband was stood a short distance away. “I believe it is traditional that a woman spends the first dance with her husband, is it not?”

“Oh- Oh! Of course, Your Grace! Of course! Please- excuse us!”, they skittered away.

Lucy gazed up at her husband, who offered her a hand.

Tentatively, she took it.

He led her into the centre of the floor, surrounded by other couples. The orchestra started to play a waltz, and Lucy felt herself start to turn red. How scandalous! Of course she’d organised the order of the dances, but she’d completely forgotten! To ‘embrace’ your partner on the dance floor…

Her husband seemed entirely unphased, bowing, before placing a huge hand on her waist, and grasping her hand with the other. Lucy curtsied, then placed her hand up on his shoulder.

The music started fully, and wordlessly he led her across the floor, and through a series of elegant, complex movements that often had them holding each other perilously close.

It was a scandalous position, a scandalous dance, but Lucy couldn’t help but wonder at the warmth and safety she felt right there, in his arms.

Them, before she knew it, the violins slowed to a stop, and the dance was over. He released her, stepped back, and bowed low. “My dear”, he said lowly, and stepped away, disappearing into the crowd. She watched him leave, heart aching a little.

The next few hours Lucy spent impassively dancing, taking part in Scotch Reels and French Cotillions, allowing herself to be twirled around the ballroom of Blackwater House by a number of partners.

She sometimes saw her husband on the fringes of the room, surrounded by George and Quill, drinking and talking.

By the end of the evening, as the guests were escorted out of the house and into their carriages, Lucy's feet were aching like she’d just walked the Cheviot Hills.

Lockwood had excused himself a short while earlier, blaming a headache, and disappeared into his chambers - alone. Lucy noticed with a certain amount of venom the wandering eyes that roved over her husbands form, but she could not intervene.

He was her husband. By law, she was his. She had to obey him. If he wanted to take a mistress, there was very little, if anything, she could do to stop him.

Her father had had mistresses; most of her brothers in law kept at least one; it was the norm, at least as far as Lucy's family and immediate society was concerned.

Why would her husband be any different?

Mrs Moore, who’s name was actually Abigail, helped Lucy undress, removing the pins from her hair and her jewellery too, before assisting her into a nightgown. She thanked the older woman, and then dismissed her for the evening. Naps, who had apparently been waiting patiently outside the door, bolted inside, and leapt up onto the bed, snuffling at her bedsheets before finally laying still at the foot of the bed with a loud ‘huff’.

A few hours passed, Lucy laying in the darkness, sleeping only fitfully- until a terrified cry pierced the silence of the house.

The Duchess bolted upright immediately, eyes instinctually searching the darkness for the source of the noise. She saw nothing.

Another shout tore through the silence, and she hurriedly climbed out of bed, grasping the candle from her bedside table, lighting it, and hurrying out into the corridor. Naps rushed after her, barking fiercely, as if to ward off any threats to his mistress.

A chill rattled down the hall, and Lucy regretted not bringing her robe for just a moment, before another sound, this one hoarser than the last. It was definitely a man.

But the only man in the house who slept upstairs was-

Another shout. Before she quite had time to recognise what she was doing, Lucy's feet were carrying her towards the master bedroom, slapping across the hardwood floor, the hounds claws skittering after her.

She skidded to a halt outside the door, listening carefully. There was the sound of rustling, and… crying.

Tentatively, she pushed open the door.

It was a much larger room than she’d anticipated; the walls were beautifully painted with murals of Italian style gardens, filled with peacocks and fountains and statues. Painted climbing roses shot up the corners of the room to invade the ceiling, too.

There was a large, four poster bed against the wall, and on it, something thrashing around, wrapped in bedsheets, making noises of distress and fear.

She rushed over, placing the candle on the bedside table. “Anthony! Anthony, wake up!”, she shook her husband by the shoulders, as he fought against an imaginary terror- his eyes snapped open, hands grasping her wrists.

“Lucy?”, he asked, voice heavy with emotion.

She nodded.

He was sweaty and teary, dark hair sticking to his forehead, gasping for breath, hands clutching her wrists tightly, as though she would fade like a shadow. Naps bounded up and snuffled at his hands, earning him a few ear scratches.

“What- what are you doing here?”

“You were crying out”, she replied, “you sounded terrified, so I-... I came to see if you were alright”

He swallowed, mouth dry. “I-... I’m fine. Thankyou”

She nodded slowly. “Yes, I… I can see that. I… I’ll leave you, then-“

“Wait!”

His hands were still grasping her wrists, and she stopped pulling away. “What?”

Lockwood hesitated, and it was only them, once the adrenaline had started to wear off, and her heart rate slowed, that Lucy noticed he wasn’t dressed for bed.

No, instead, he was wearing nothing but his drawers. His chest - as she’d discovered on their wedding night - was toned, and covered in a multitude of scars. He took a deep breath.

“Will you… walk with me, please?”

“Walk with you?”, she asked curiously. He nodded slowly. “Yes, I… I often have nightmares, and… walking around the house and gardens… seems to help”

“Oh… Yes, of- of course I will”

He managed to untangle himself from the bedsheets and reach for his shirt, discarded on the floor by the bed. It appeared that he’d stumbled into his room, pulled off his shirt and dropped onto the bed in a partially-drunken haze. That made her shudder. She couldn’t abide drunk men, not after her father.

The parlour was cold but not uncomfortably so, the two of them perching in the armchairs by the empty fireplace. The room was dark and silent, the scant moonlight that filtered through the windows landing on the sabre above the fireplace, making it wink and glimmer in the light. The gigantic black and ginger hound dozed before the empty grate.

“So…”, Lucy said, looking down at her bare feet.

Her husband had his hands grasping the arms of the armchair, looking mildly uncomfortable. He cleared his throat. “I… suppose you want to know why I cried out”

“If- if you want to tell me, I won’t object, but…”

He cleared his throat. “Nightmares”

“Oh?”

“About… my time in the Army”

She nodded attentively, and he sighed, looking over at the sabre above the mantelpiece. “I bought wholeheartedly into the idea that every man should serve his country. My mother and father were furious, of course. I was their only heir, and I was signing up to have myself slaughtered”

“But I was okay. I got my commission as an Officer and advanced through the ranks. I made it through Salamanca, Vitoria, Nive, lots of others I don’t particularly care to think about, and of course… Waterloo”

“... do you ever regret it?”, Lucy asked softly.

He shook his head, curls bobbing a little. “No. I may have taken lives, but I helped to save them too. I fought for king and country, against one of the worst tyrants since the Genghis Khanate. I couldn’t regret it”

“You saved lives?”

He nodded. “Everyone did. That was… just what you did. They say it was a ‘Gentleman’s War’, but… it was brutal. If you saw a man go down, of course you would retrieve him. Dying in a hospital is a better fate than dying on a battlefield”

“... what are all your scars from?”

“Oh? These?”, he glanced down at his chest, now covered by a shirt, “lots of things. Swords. Musket balls. The one on my left shoulder is from a dagger. To be perfectly honest, I’ve forgotten most of them”

“What about the ones on your back? They don’t… look like musket wounds”

Lockwood laughed. “They’re not. I was whipped”

“By the French?”, she asked in shock, eyes wide.

Another peel of laughter. “No. My commanding officer, when I was still training. I told him to stop bullying one of the drummers boys, and he had me done for insolence. Ten lashes in front of the entire camp”

“Did… you ever hit your recruits?”

“Not if I could avoid it. But that’s the way of the British Army. If your soldiers are more scared of their commanding officers than the enemy, they’ll run towards the enemy, and away from you”

There was a comfortable silence. Lucy leant back in her chair, and Lockwood sat still, gazing at the sword above the fireplace.

Lucy wished she could say something. Anything to bridge the ever-growing chasm between them, but… she couldn’t.

What could she possibly say?

Their marriage was already a sham, wasn’t it? Their marriage had never been consummated, and was now invalid. Her husband was probably searching for a mistress as they spoke.

The thought made her chest ache a little, and she brushed some hair behind her ear.

He wouldn’t want her. She was so immature compared to him. She wasn’t desirable. She wasn’t tall and elegant, slender and fair. ‘Prettiness isn’t your profession’, her mother would always croon.

“Perhaps I should go”, she said softly, hesitantly.

Her husband looked at her. “... yes, you should get your rest”

Stupid man. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He shouldn’t have told her all that. He shouldn’t. Lucy didn’t care. Women shouldn’t know about war. She’d go back to her bedroom and laugh about him. She wouldn’t want him.

She offered him a smile, and he returned it, two lonely souls reaching out across the icy expanse between them.

Chapter Text

Early March, 1816
Oxfordshire ~~

Lucy hadn’t really been able to sleep again that night. The house had seemed far too silent. Too large. Too dark.

Abigail had slipped silently into her room at about half past eight, whilst Lucy dozed, quietly setting her dress and underclothes out.

The Duchess woken shortly after, blinking groggily, a veil of exhaustion hanging over her as she stepped gratefully into the large copper tub that served as a bathtub.

With a smile, Abigail helped her out of her nightgown, and chucked the first bucket of water over her head. Lucy suppressed a shriek as she was drenched in tepid water, making the maid chuckle.

For a moment, Lucy's eyes settled on the ornate, painted wood folding screen on the other side of the room, and wondered privately if she should have put it out in front of the bath, to prevent anyone just walking in- then Abigail dropped another bucket of water on her head, making her scream with laughter, and all was forgotten.

Lucy stood there, shivering, washing herself with a soapy cloth, and lathering up her hair. It might have been her imagination, it might not, but it seemed as though Abigails eyes lingered on her stomach, apparently inspecting it without touch for any swelling or change.

And then someone did just walk in.

Her husband.

The door opened, and he stepped inside, “Lucy, I-“

He froze.

Lucy froze, too.

Abigail was the only one who didn’t seem to notice, simply curtsying, “Your Grace”, before going back to combing out Lucy's wet hair.

Lucy’s first instinct was to scream. Scream at this interloper to leave at once, but she couldn’t. He was her husband. They were supposed to have done a whole lot worse than see each other naked.

She swallowed, standing in the bathtub, completely naked.

Lockwood simply stared.

“Uh…”

Oh, pull yourself together, he snarled at himself. He stood up straight, eyes fixed determinedly on her face. “Lucy, I- I wanted to apologise for waking you last night. I hope you slept well enough. My parents have written and are hoping to visit when they return from Persia in a few weeks. Erm- I’ll see you at breakfast”, he said statically, and then fled the room.

Lucy stared after him.

Abigail seemed entirely unperturbed, hefting another bucket of water and throwing it over Lucy.

She stepped out of the bath and dried herself, allowing the maid to help her dress, the two of them standing in silence.

The Duchess dismissed her, and Abigail left, leaving Lucy to comb out her hair, avoiding looking at herself in the mirror of her dressing table.

She finished combing and tying her hair, and looked at herself in the mirror- and slumped onto the vanity table, trying not to cry.

Deep breaths.

Deep breaths.

It was fine.

He was her husband. He wouldn’t judge her- hell, he shouldn’t have walked in without knocking!

After a few more moments of silent mopping, Lucy sat up, brushed a few stray tendrils of hair out of her face, and stood, walking with dignity towards the door.

She would explore the house, she thought with a new sense of resolve. That is what she would do.

The grounds she may have explored from top to bottom, but the house… she hadn’t really bothered with it. How many rooms could one house possibly have?

The answer was a lot.

Blackwater Manor was a very old house, the style of architecture and the interior constantly updated to keep up with the latest fashion by its wealthy owners, leading to a peculiar mishmash of period characteristics.

Staircases hidden behind doors. Floors that warped and curved and bent subtly out of true. Windows visible from the outside but not from the inside.

The attic was arguably the most interesting; reached only by a narrow, winding staircase in the servants quarters, and a trapdoor, the attic itself stretched the length and breadth of the house. It was filled with all sorts of peculiar objects - suits of armour, tapestries, massive stone urns, nursery furniture, old dresses on headless mannequins.

There was a small, dusty wooden cot in the very corner of the room. A plain yet elegant thing, with the Blackwater crest - an oak tree, flanked on one side by a rearing stag and a standing bear on the other. Above where the child’s head would lay was a simple six winged angel, grasping a sword, presumably to ward off evil and disease.

Had this been her husband’s?

That thought bought a hot flush to her face, and Lucy hastily pushed that particular line of thought, involving the Duke and bearing children, away.

She touched the edge of the crib, making it rock ever so slightly.

A sudden, sharp breeze rattled through the room, and Lucy tensed, an unpleasant prickling sensation running up her spine, and she quickly left the room, candle in hand.

Every inch of the house explored, thoughts of her husband firmly suppressed, the Duchess returned to her bedchamber, and sat down upon the pale green, canopied bed.

That was it. The house had been explored.

There was nowhere left to hide.

She placed the candlestick on the table beside her bed, and looked around the room. It was a lovely room, extravagant compared to the small, draughty little chamber she had had back at Radley.

There was a fireplace on the right wall, beside the door, and wardrobe in the corner. The large window looked out over the lake, and there was a small, ornate wash basin on a stand beneath it.

It was comfortable.

She was happy here.

Wasn’t she?

Her eyes trailed down the opposite wall, over the chinoiserie green wallpaper, down to the pale wood panelling. Then, her eyes settled on a crack in the wood panel. A hairline fracture, splitting the wood… perfectly vertical.

She frowned, and stood.

Lucy walked to the wall, and inspected the crack, following it upwards… to a corner.

It was a door.

A secret door.

She traced the fissure in a rectangle, slightly taller than her. There was no handle, or lever, or any other form of opening mechanism she could identify.

Wedging her fingers under the top of the panelling, she pulled with all her might- and it shuddered open.

Beyond the door was a dark abyss.

Immediately, she was hit with a blast of arctic air, making the cobwebs in the corners of the door dance.

A grin started to creep over the Duchess’ lips. How exciting!

She hurried back to the bedside table, and relit her candle, before slipping into the darkness.

It was considerably narrower than she’d first thought; she could just about walk straight, shoulders brushing the stone brick walls on either side of her.

There were occasionally small sets of stairs, moving up or down, making her duck beneath swathes of heavy cobwebs.

After what seemed like hours, but could have been a matter of minutes, she reached the end of the passage.

It was another door, a sheet of wood, the hinges positioned so it would swing towards her. There was a bar of wood across it, and she tentatively took it, and slowly pulled the door open.

It was a bedroom, that much was immediately clear; the thick curtains hanging over the windows, the ornate painted walls, the panelled folding screen that blocked her view from the rest of the room.

But the noises…

At first, she thought perhaps it was someone in pain. Sharp gasps and little growls, as if someone was trying to suppress their sounds.

But sounds of what?

Indecisiveness froze her to the spot, and she held the candle in one hand by her side, staring at the screen, before slowly and silently creeping to the edge of the panel, and peeking around.

Immediately, she recognised her husband's bedroom, with its scenic walls and canopied bed.
But… she didn’t recognise…

There was one figure on the bed, a large, board figure from what could see from across the room; on their back, naked except for a pair of cream coloured breeches.

He - the figure was almost definitely that of a man - was twitching almost violently, shuddering, one hand fisted in the bedcover, the other… grasping something, moving rapidly up and down.

They made a choked noise, possibly a word, and Lucy recognised them at once.

The Duke.

Her husband.

She wasn’t sure she’d ever moved so urgently in her entire life; as soundlessly as she could stumbling backwards, she crashed back into the passage, hauling the door shut after her.

It was a miracle the candle didn’t sputter out as she tore down the passageway, tripping and almost crashing to the floor several times, before she nearly ran straight into the door to her bedroom.

She collapsed onto her bed, leaving the candle on her bedside table.

She was a voyeur.

She hadn’t been supposed to see that.

Her face started to go red, all the blood flowing up from her extremities to her face and neck, making her hot. Her husband… pleasuring himself.

Oh God, what had she done?

Chapter Text

April, 1816
Oxfordshire ~~

Harpley was a large, linear village, stretching the distance between the edge of the Blackwater Estate and the fork where the river split into two smaller tributaries.

It was a quaint, pleasant place, the road it ran along forming a triangular village green in the centre of the settlement, usually used for markets or as a place of gathering, filled with spring flowers and trees along one side.

Perhaps the Duchess had taken to spending rather more time in the village than she ought; visiting the farmers and their families, particularly young James, who seemed to find her large paper fans the most fascinating things in the entire world.

She visited the Earl of Morningfield and his wife, too, a charming woman named Holly who seemed lovely if a little oversweet sometimes. The Earl himself seemed as implacid as ever, giving short answers to Lucy's questions and viewing her with what could only be described as a distrusting air.

But why was she doing all this?

It certainly wasn’t because she couldn’t look her husband in the eye. Certainly not. Because she could.

She could look her husband in the eye. She could. Honestly.

She swallowed dryly, walking down the edge of the road back to Blackwater, Langdon trailing a few meters behind her in his dark green butlers livery.

Her husband…

Still, the image of what she had walked in on was lodged firmly in her mind.

He had been pleasuring himself. And she had seen it.

The thought made her flush, and Lucy was thankful that her quick pace had the young butler lagging behind, so he wouldn’t see her red face.

They reached the gates of the estate, walking down the long, gravel driveway towards the magnificent house. The lawns were covered in spring flowers, yellow daffodils bobbing their heads in the breeze, crocuses erupting from the mossy carpets beneath the trees, tulips in nest beds dotted around the gardens. Spring was truly here.

Langdon hurried ahead to open the door of the Manor for her, and she smiled gratefully. She removed her spencer and bonnet, placing them into the hands of a waiting maid, before making her way into the dining room, where her husband would probably be waiting for lunch.

But he wasn’t.

With a frown, she took in the dinner table, neatly set for lunch, and then her husbands empty chair at the head of the table. “Moore!”

“Yes, Your Grace?”, the older man appeared in the doorway almost instantly. “Where is my husband?”

“Oh, he asked me to beg pardon for him, but the farmers in the East fields have been having some issues with a waterwheel. He went to assist them with the repairs”

“And Naps?”

“He went with his Master”

“Oh”, Lucy ignored the tendril of disappointment that curled in her stomach, “I see. Thankyou”

He bowed, and left.

Lucy sat down at her end of the table, Langdon serving the lunch - wonderful, as it always was.

She ate in silence, sipping at her soup with a fine silver spoon, dipping chunks of fresh bread in and nibbling at them. She found she didn’t really have much of an appetite anymore.

After lunch, she retired to Anthony’s study, curling up into her husbands armchair, smirking to herself as she kicked off her shoes and placed her stockinged feet on the chair.

She opened her book, and started to read.

After a while, there was a polite knock at the door. She looked up. “Yes?”

Mr Moore stood there. “Mr Connolly is here to see you, Your Grace. I’ve instructed him to wait in the parlour”

Lucy pushed away the horror that surely arose on her face. “Ah- wonderful- thankyou, Moore”

He bowed, and slowly, like a prisoner being led to the gallows, she walked down the hallway, leaving the sanctuary of her husbands study, to the relative danger of the parlour.

Mr Connolly stood beside the fireplace, and bowed when she entered. Lucy suppressed an eye roll. “Mr Connolly”. “Your Grace. A pleasure as always”

She gave him a smile, and sat in her husband’s armchair beside the empty fireplace, hands in her lap.

Marcus sat in the guests armchair, grinning at her. “Well, how are you, Your Grace?”

“I am well enough. Yourself?”

“Oh, wonderful! Wonderful”, he smiled, leaning forwards, “and His Grace?”

Lucy felt a blush start on her neck at the mention of her husband. “Oh- He’s well. He’s dealing with some business”

Marcus noticed the redness creeping down her chest towards her breasts and smirked, eyes lingering. “I see. So he has left you all by your lonesome?”

“Yes”

He smirked. “What a shame. Wouldn’t you agree, Your Grace, that a man's duty is to be beside his wife?”

“Well-“

“Or are you of the opinion that a man and woman should lead separate lives?”

“... well, I… I suppose a certain amount of separation is… healthy”

“I agree completely! Although, of course, it is a man’s duty to… see to his wife’s needs, as well”

Needs.

Lucy blushed.

“Does your husband see to your needs?”, he asked brazenly.

Her eyes widened. “Mr Connolly!”

He stood. “I am only concerned for your happiness, Your Grace”, he explained, “I am concerned that you husband may be… neglecting you-“

Lucy stood, also. “My husband is a good man, Mr Connolly! He would never mistreat me-“

“I’m not speaking of abuse, Your Grace, I mean… neglecting your needs. In your bedchamber”

She looked at him in outrage. “Mr Connolly, leave this house immediately!”

But he advanced on her. Lucy found herself being backed towards the fireplace. He glared at her.

“I am doing this for your own good, Lucy”, he growled, “you’ll thank me for this”

“What- what are you-“

The man was right in front of her now, pinning her against the mantelpiece. “I have been more than patient with you. I have waited, and waited for you, and I’m afraid I’ve run out of patience”

Lucy tried to shove him away, but he grasped her wrists tightly, and forced them against the wall on either side of her head. “Get away from me!”, she yelled.

He leant close. “And if you will not give yourself to me... then I will take you against your will”

Chapter Text

April, 1816
Oxfordshire ~~

Lucy felt his hand on her thigh before she saw it.

His clammy fingers grasped at the slippery material of her silk day dress, and he forced her roughly back against the carved leg of the marble mantle piece.

“Get away from me!”, she cried.

He didn’t respond, and Lucy tried to shove him away. “Help! Help me! Someone hel-“

He clamped a cold hand over her mouth, and she screamed into his sweaty palm. She felt herself start to panic, heart slamming against her chest as she searched the room for something- anything- to use as a-

Weapon.

Her eyes slid sideways, and landed on the sabre above the fireplace.

She reached for it.

Marcus’ eyes jerked up from her chest, and onto her arm, grasping for the blade.

He reached for it as well.

Somehow, she managed to curl her fingers around the hilt, and yank it free of its holdings. He gripped her wrist tight enough to bruise, and wrenched her arm sharply towards him.

Lucy cried out in pain, and smacked him over the head with the covered blade. He grunted, and briefly released her, giving her just long enough to pull the sword free of its sheath, and swing it at him.

Immediately, the man stumbled back, keeping clear of the viciously sharp silver blade as it sung through the air.

Lucy advanced, swinging it wildly but with conviction, catching him once across the forearm, making him hiss. It was enough of a distraction to dart past him and to the door.

She turned, catching sight of him rushing towards the door- before she slammed it, and turned the key in the lock, and thrusting it into her pocket.

Marcus slammed against the door, hammering on it, bellowing like an injured boar. “You little whore! Let me out! Let me out this instant! You bitch!”

She turned, dropping the sabre, tearing down the hallway.

She needed protection.

She needed her husband.

The only watermill she had seen whilst exploring the estate was near a small collection of stonewalled and thatched cottages, beyond the bottom of the formal gardens.

She rushed down the terrace, forgetting a bonnet or shawl, taking the steps two or more at a time, onto the lawn and down the gentle slope towards the lake.

There was a small, shallow set of red brick stairs, leading into the water of the lake. Further down, the lake narrowed and became a river, crossed by a stone bridge.

She crossed it, and kept running. She was close now, she knew she was. If she followed the river, she’d reach a fence, and when she climbed over that-

She’d see a watermill.

The mill was a smallish, stone building, perched beside the river, high on the bank, its wheel protruding on an axle into the deep water below.

Usually, it would have obviously been spinning, but at present, it had been disconnected. Several men stood in the water beside it, hammers and nails in hand, being passed pieces of wood by the people on the bank.

She spotted the Duke almost immediately.

“Anthony!”, Lucy yelled, rushing down the path towards the mill, “Anthony!”

He looked up, and his eyes settled on her small figure. He frowned. “Lucy?”

She skidded to a halt on the bank above him. “I- I need your h-“

There was a loud, sudden splash.

The next thing Lucy was aware of was the perishing cold, the wet, and the knowledge that she couldn’t breathe.

Instinct alone forced her to kick her legs and flail her arms, propelling her upwards to break the murky surface of the water, and cough and splutter, gasping for breath.

Her ears popped, and she was bombarded with sounds; laughter, splashing, bird song.

She’d been pushed in the water.

Lucy felt a lump rise up in her throat, and she desperately tried to swallow it - but it just wouldn’t go.

All the emotions she’d been repressing for minutes, hours, days, weeks, even months, suddenly rose up. She felt dizzy. Fury, gut wrenching sadness, loss, need, longing, pain, all began to crawl over her skin like a biblical plague of insects.

She burst into tears.

Her husband, who had been laughing with the others, suddenly stopped. He frowned. “Lucy?”

She knew she was going red, tears of frustration and anger and misery welling up in her eyes and racing down her already wet cheeks.

“Lucy, I-“, he reached for her.

But she turned away, grasping the grass of the bank and trying to haul herself out, saying nothing. She heard him slosh through the water, getting closer.

“Go away!”, she yelled.

“Lucy-“

“Leave me!”

She didn’t need him. She was perfectly capable of looking after herself. She was a Duchess, now, and a Duchess was a strong, capable, fearless-

A large, warm arm was wrapped tightly about her waist.

Before she had time to protest, Lucy found herself being easily lifted, and planted delicately in the dry bank. She whirled on her husband, preparing to truly tear into him-

To find him gazing down at her with such remorse, she could hardly find words to describe it.

“I am sorry, Lucy. It was cruel of me to laugh at you. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry”

She was struck suddenly wordless.

A man… apologising to her…?

“That’s-... a-apology accepted”, she managed, wiping away her tears with dignity.

He bowed his head. “What was it you needed from me?”

She shook her head resolutely. She wouldn’t. She could handle this.

Then, gently, giving her more than enough time to pull away if she so wished, he grasped her hands in his.

“If you don’t wish to tell me, I shan’t push the matter, but… I’m your husband. It’s my job to keep you safe and happy”

That made something stick in her throat.

“C-... come here”, she grasped his hand, pulling him away from the river and the people, towards an old, gnarled oak tree a few dozen metres away.

She leant against the slanting trunk, and wrung her hands nervously. Lockwood stood before her, shirtless and soaking wet, looking at her with far more concern than she could ever remember being viewed with.

“What is it, Lucy?”, the Duke asked softly, tentatively reaching out to touch her arm.

“M-Marcus Connolly came to visit”, she managed, “and- and I- I hate him so much, but I can’t tell him to leave. He tries to flatter me but I want nothing to- to do with him. And today, he- tried to f-force himself on me”

The change in her husbands demeanour was instant and palpable; he tensed, drawing himself up to his full, intimidating height.

“I see”

She opened her mouth to insist that it was alright, that he had no need to worry himself, but he was already pulling his shirt off the branch of the tree where it had been discarded and putting it on, then stepping into his boots. He moved away from her, but then hesitated.

Then, with the utmost tenderness, he gripped her shoulders, and pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead. “I’m so sorry”, he whispered heavily, “I’ve failed as your husband”

“Anthony, no-“

He silenced her by kneeling at her feet. “I will make sure he pays for what he’s done”

Before she could speak, the Duke was standing once more, and marching away, towards the house in the distance.

“W-Wait!”

She rushed after him, struggling somewhat to keep up with his longer legs and longer strides.

Halfway across the lawn, she caught up with him, grasping his arm. “Stop!”

He paused, looking down at her.

“You- What are you doing?”

“Something I should have done a long time ago”, he said, and kept walking, leaving Lucy to rush after him.

He burst into the hallway, startling the staff, storming towards the receiving room where he knew Marcus would be.

Lucy ran after him, muttering a hasty apology to the staff as she passed them.

He stood before the door to the parlour, not moving. No sounds could be heard from within. Carefully, she removed the key from her pocket, and slid it into the lock.

Lockwood shoved the door open. Immediately, Marcus, who had been stood by the window, turned, and rushed towards him- then stopped abruptly. “Your Grace! I-“

The Duke strode towards him, and before he could even shift his gaze upwards, Lockwood’s huge hands were gripping his collar, and he was being slammed against the wall.

“If you ever”, Lockwood snarled, lifting the cowering man several inches off the floor, “come anywhere near my wife again, God help me, I will kill you”

He hesitated, a glimmer of fear, of regret, doubt, evident in his eyes, before he sneered. “You wouldn’t dare. Your wife would be furious if you killed her lov-“

“You are no such thing!”, Lucy interjected angrily, stood safely in the doorframe, “I can’t stand the sight of you! I wouldn’t let you into my bed if you were the last man on Earth!”

He narrowed his eyes. “You little whore-“

Lockwood slammed him back against the wall, and he cried out.

“Don’t you dare speak to her like that!”

“Or what?”, he sneered.

Lockwood stared at him, before suddenly becoming eerily calm. He set the man down, and stepped back. “Or we will duel”

Marcus was no stranger to threats from cuckolded husbands; financial, physical, emotional, social. He’d had all number of threats hurled at him over his adult life, but never once, had he been challenged to a duel.

His eyes narrowed. “That’s illegal-“

“And? What are you, a coward?”

He stiffened. “Very well. I agree”

Her husband nodded once. “Pistols at dawn. On the East field”

“Agreed”

A butler was summoned, and Mr Connolly quickly removed from the house. It was only after he was gone that Lucy whirled on the Duke in a fury. “Have you taken leave of your senses?!”, she cried.

“I have done no-“

“Are you completely mad?! You could be killed! You could go to jail!”

“I-“

“What the hell were you thinking?! I can’t believe-“

“Silence!”, he barked, and Lucy's mouth snapped shut. He took a deep breath, and managed to make himself meet her eyes, as if what he was about to say or do pained him.

“You are my wife. You are my property. You will do as I say. Silence”

And without another word, he took his leave, footsteps receding down the hallway until they dissipated into nothing.

Chapter Text

April, 1816
Oxfordshire ~~

There was a thick mist lingering in the air above the East field.

It was a cold, grey morning, a thin rain petering down against the dark grass. Six men walked across the grass, distant enough that she couldn't clearly make out their faces, but she knew immediately who they were.

Her husband. And Marcus Connolly.

Doctor Black, the man who had been sitting with Earl at the dinner party - an event which now seemed like months ago - was there as both witness and surgeon.

Moore, the valet, stood nearby with a polished, wooden case in his arms.

Lockwood, wearing only dark breeches, his black Hessian boots, and a thin white shirt, stood a short distance away. Quill, his Second, stood beside the Doctor, along with Marcus’ Second, a heavily set man with blond hair.

Connolly was wearing a similar outfit to the Duke, but with a heavily embroidered waistcoat over the top. “Gentlemen”, Doctor Black said, rolling up his sleeves, “last chance to call this all off…”

The two men stared at each other. The Duke shook his head. “No. I refuse to revoke my challenge”

“Very well. Moore, if you will”

The Valet stepped forwards, and unclipped the box, revealing to the men two pistols nestled in its velvet interior.

As tradition dictated, Marcus chose his pistol first, selecting the one on top.

Lockwood took the other.

They walked to the edge of the field, parallel with a row of nodding oak trees, silent spectators to the match about to take place.

They readied the weapons, and stood back to back.

“Ten paces”, the Doctor instructed.

Lockwood, holding his pistol at shoulder height against himself, began to walk steadily.

His legs didn’t shake, or his knees buckle. He was ready. He knew what he was doing was right.

Either he would die for, or he would kill for his wife.

Ten paces.

He thought of her smile. Of her face. Of her eyes, and how they glowed when she spoke of the things she was passionate about.

Eight paces.

Of her tiny hands, how delicate they seemed when he grasped them in his - but how strong and powerful and wonderful she was.

Six paces.

Of her body under his hands; how she’d felt to hold, to grasp, to grip, the few times he had touched her hips and her waist, how easy and pleasing it had been to him to lift her, to see the shock on her features.

Four paces.

How she blushed, and murmured shyly when embarrassed, and the almost perverse pleasure it bought him to see her flustered.

Two paces.

How soft her lips had been under his the first and only time he’d kissed her.

He turned, pistol raised-

And how he wished he’d kissed her more.

-and was met with a plume of black smoke.

Something tore through the flesh of his shoulder, and he roared with pain, muscles clenching, finger involuntarily clenching around the trigger.

Marcus cried out.

Lockwood dropped to his knees, clutching his shoulder, something hot and wet slithering through his fingers.

In a window of the house in the distance, Lucys mouth opened in a silent scream.

In an instant, Doctor Black was beside him, helping the Duke up.

“Cheat! Cheat!”, Quill was shouting, advancing threateningly towards the wounded Marcus, until he was apprehended by his Second, and suddenly punches were being thrown.

The young man helped Lockwood into a sitting position, pulling off his waistcoat and holding it tightly over the Dukes wound. His entire side burned. It was like battle all over again.

“You’ll be fine, Your Grace”, he was saying, “you’ll be alright”

He managed what could have been a nod, and tried his best to calm his breathing, knowing that soon enough shock would start to set in, and then he’d be done for.

Doctor Black left him propped up by Moore, and rushed to attend to Marcus, but only after tearing the Earl and the other man off each other. Quills lip was split, and a rivulet of blood was dribbling down his chin. The other man had a shining bruise starting to form on his fat cheek.

Lockwood stared at it, mind going light and ethereal.

The redhead spat out some blood, glaring at the man, before turning and striding towards Lockwood.

“Quill-...”, he managed, then his mind slipped into darkness.

Chapter Text

April, 1816
Oxfordshire ~~

Lucy wished to take a hammer to every clock in the house.

Their infernal ticking was driving her insane. Every room in the house seemed to filled with nothing but the infuriating sound of mechanical gears within the polished wooden bodies.

The thought of bringing a weighted tool down on their fragile sides, making them explode in a shower of splinters and cogs and gears brought her an almost perverse pleasure.

But as it was, she contented herself with glaring disgustedly at the grandfather clock in the library.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

Her nails dug into the soft material of the arm of her chair.

Outside, she heard muted footsteps, quiet voices, the opening and closing of a distant door. Then nothing again, but the sound of the clock.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

Her eyes stung, ached, dry from the tears that she’d pretended not to cry.

There was a tentative knock at the door, and it slowly opened. “Your Grace?”, Langdon asked quietly. She looked at him.

“You may see him now”

Silently, she stood, walking to the door.

The butler led her out into the hallway, and up the grand marble stairs, then down the hallway to her husband’s chamber. Slowly, he depressed the handle, and held open the door for her. She stepped inside.

The room was dark, but a warm fire crackled in the grate opposite the bed, bathing the chamber in a warm, orange glow.

There was a body on the bed.

Langdon closed the door quietly behind her.

Slowly, she approached the bed.

Her husband was perfectly still, on his back, one hand resting on his ribs, the other by his side.

His breaths were extremely shallow.

Naps, who was snoring at the end of the bed, looked up. “Anthony”, Lucy whispered breathlessly. Gradually, he opened his eyes, fixed on the canopy above his head, before they turned to look at her. “Lucy”

His voice was husky, gravelly. There were bandages wrapped neatly around his left shoulder as he lay, pale and wan, in the bed.

He gazed at her. She gazed back.

Rather suddenly, she felt rage bubble up inside her stomach.

“You-... prick”, she hissed, and he blinked. “Excuse me?”

“You- stupid, petulant, arrogant, man! How could you?!”, she rushed towards the bed, climbing onto it so she loomed over him even as she kneeled, “I can’t believe you! You’re the most selfish man I’ve ever met!”

“If we weren’t already married- I’d never say yes! You’re so callous, and- and- you never tell me how you feel- and I feel like a terrible wife- and I’m not angry that you don’t want me, but just- tell me! It’s humiliating!”

By the end of her little outburst, her voice had risen to a shout, and she stared at him. Naps watched her closely, shuffling closer to his master. Lockwood was silent, before raising a dark, fatigued eyebrow.

She felt guilt rise up in her stomach; “I- I’m sorry, I- I didn’t mean that. You- you just- worried me, and- I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that you’re horrible-“

“Are you quite finished with your fit of hysterics?”

She went red, and momentarily it appeared as though she would object, but then took a deep breath, and nodded.

“Wonderful. Please, sit”

Slowly, she got off her knees, and sat back on the bed, looking at him.The hound, clearly unimpressed by the lack of attention he was receiving from his master and mistress, huffed, and padded over to lay before the fire. He sighed. “Lucy, I have been very unfair to you, I fear”

“I have judged you, made assumptions, treated you… horribly, quite honestly. And I… I can’t say I disagree. Were I you, I shouldn’t marry myself, either”, he said firmly.

Lucy listened silently.

“I’ve been a pathetic excuse of a husband, frankly, and I don’t blame you for wanting nothing to do with me”, he looked into the flames across the room, “I… I wouldn’t blame you for taking a lover. God above knows, you could do a damn sight better than me”

She looked at him. He said no more, staring into the fire.

“I won’t take a lover”, her voice was croaky, and she cleared her throat, “ever. I… don’t want a lover. But… I won’t stop you if- if you were to-“

“Never”

There was a silence.

“Well, then… Erm…”, Lucy started, trying to find something to say, “I suppose-...”

“Lucy, look at me, please”

She slowly turned to do so.

Her husband’s dark eyes were fixed on her. “Lucy”, he said softly, “I’ve been a fool. And… I won’t ask for a new start, I know that that would be… silly. But… one day, if… you could see your way to… forgiving me, then I would be… the happiest man alive”

Lucy watched him; he was truly repentant, that much was obvious; his head bowed, voice soft, skin pale beneath the scars.

Lucy felt an invisible hand squeeze her heart.

“You are forgiven”, she whispered, and his head snapped up. His eyes were wide and shining, like a child’s. “W-What?”

“You are forgiven, Anthony”, she smiled wryly, “we are both to blame for this marriage being the shambles it is. I’ve been awfully ungrateful - you took me away from the prison that was my family’s estate, you have provided me with more clothes than I could ever possibly wear, books, hobbies… companionship. You… have given me more in these few months than anyone else in my 18 years upon this Earth”

“You are not a terrible man, despite what you may tell yourself, nor are you a terrible husband. Quite to the contrary, I find you to be one of the most selfless, gentle, kind, loving people I have had the fortune to meet, and I hope that you never change”

“You… you- forgive me?”, he asked breathlessly. The Duchess nodded. “Of course I do”

He was silent, apparently shocked to a point beyond words. “I-... I don’t know what to say…”

Lucy smiled softly, blushing a little. “You make me so very happy. It would be criminal of me to remain angry with you”

The Duke stared at her as if she had suddenly sprouted wings. His wife was an angel; that was the only explanation.

All of his previous lovers had only been satisfied with the finest dresses and jewellery, constant attention, lavish parties; but Lucy… Lucy was happy with…

Him.

He made her happy.

The thought made Lockwood’s heart skip a beat, and he felt a ridiculous grin creep over his face.

“I make you happy?”

“Very much so”

In an instant, he had somehow sat himself up, was grasping her upper arm firmly but gently, and gazing into her eyes. Lucy was shocked, but didn’t pull back.

“Did it hurt?”, he asked softly.

She frowned. “Did what hurt?”

“When you fell from Heaven. Because you simply must be an angel”

That made her blush even more, and laugh. “You have a way with words, Your Grace, but I think you may have been reading too much poetry”

“Oh, all of Byron’s poems and all of Shelley's musings couldn’t do you justice, Lucy!”, he exclaimed, cupping her face, and she went redder. “Stop that! I shall go red!”, she insisted, but without conviction.

Lockwood laughed, and there was a moment of silence between the two as he cupped his wife’s beautiful face, and his eyes slid to her lips. He knew what it was like to kiss them - he still remembered their wedding day like it was yesterday- and then all his thoughts melted, because she was kissing him.

He grunted softly, and then one huge hand came up to cup her face, the calluses on his hand against her soft skin.

Several moments passed, and they pulled apart, but they didn’t release each other. Lucy was flushed, panting softly, lips feeling bruised, but blushing all over.

Lockwood smiled, and rested his nose against hers, their foreheads almost touching. “I love you”, he murmured. Lucy felt her cheeks flush. “I love you too”

“My God, you make me so happy”, his strong, uninjured arm snaked around her waist and pulled her close. She smiled, and leant close obligingly.

“I hope you will let me make you happy, Lucy”

“Of course”, she whispered.

He smiled, and then, rather suddenly, he look bashful. “Lucy, I… was wondering… would… well, seeing as our marriage was…”, he took a deep breath, “never consummated, then perhaps you-“

“But it can be consummated, can’t it?”

He looked at her, pulling back slightly so he could see her properly. “What?”

“I mean… it can still be consummated, can’t it?”

“Well… I don’t see why not-“

“Well then”

“Well then what?”

“We should consummate it”

He felt his cheeks take on a reddish colour. “Lucy, I- that wasn’t what I was going to say- I- I was wondering if you wanted an annulment-“

“Absolutely not”

“-So we could start again”

The Duchess pondered that for a moment. “... no. I like this marriage as it is, and no one knows, do they? That it wasn’t consummated”

“Just Quill”, Lockwood replied, “but he won’t tell anyone”

“Well then”, she leant against him, chest to chest, “once your shoulder is better, I dare say our marriage can be… made valid”

“You little minx!”, he exclaimed, laughing; she laughed too, embarrassed, hiding her face in his neck as he cradled her close. Naps wandered back over, sniffling at the bedcovers, finding his master's hand and earning an ear scratch.

Neither could remember ever being so happy.

Chapter Text

The first time he puts his head between her legs, Lucy is sure her yelp can be heard in the village, several miles away.

He had never done it to her before; not that they’d done much before but- nothing like-

That.

Nothing like that. Him on his knees on the mattress, her legs over his shoulders, thighs spread as wide as he could possibly get them without dropping her legs. And his mouth…

Also between her thighs.

He made the most obscene noises; sucking, licking, moaning vulgarly, lapping at her, making her squirm and gasp and shudder.

He seemed to extract a strange, perverse enjoyment from the whole thing - making her twitch and jerk, or perhaps it’s the taste that made him smirk, or her voice, how high and needy it was.

“Anthony!”, she wailed, hands searching desperately for something to use to anchor herself, but the bed was too big, and she couldn’t find- anything, so she has to settle for digging her fingers into the already crumpled and stained bedsheets, and hoping that she doesn’t die.

Because it really did feel like she was going die. Even the smallest movement he made with his tongue made her feel like she was going to burst, adding to the building pressure in her stomach, the feeling of lightheadedness.

She managed to lift her head high enough to see her husband. He was still smirking, but he was mesmerised as well, fingers digging into her thighs and easily keeping them apart. He was purposeful, hungry, but… gentle, too.

Beforehand, he had propped her shoulders up on a couple of pillows so it wasn’t as hard on her back, had brushed the sweaty hair back out of her face, asked repeatedly if she was alright, made her drink some water. Even then, he was kneading her thighs, massaging them so they wouldn’t burn.

Her heart expanded in her chest because ‘dear God, she loved this man more than she could ever hope to explain or say’ - and it made her cry.

Unbidden, tears welled up in her eyes, and her mewling becomes gentle sobs.

He stops immediately, thinking the worst, assuming he’s somehow hurt her. He lifts his head, removing her legs from his shoulders. “Lucy, my angel, are-“

She almost kicks him in the face. Almost. “Don’t stop!”, she wailed, needing something, but not knowing what it was, only that she would get it if he kept doing… that.

“But you’re cry-“

Twitching, she kicked him in the chest, knocking him onto his back only because he wasn’t expecting the blow. She was crying out of desperation now, anger, frustration.

She reached between her legs, desperate to finish what he’s started- when he grasped her wrist tightly, and pushed it away. “Lucy, stop. I’ll carry on when you tell me why you’re crying”, he leant close, pinning her to the mattress so she wouldn’t storm off in a temper.

“Because I love you!”

“You’re crying because… you love me?”, he sounded perfectly perplexed.

“Yes!”, she squirmed, even though there was no chance of escape, “I just-...”

He pushed some hair out of her face, leaning his forehead against hers. “I just… really, really… really love you… and it kind of… scared me, and I… started crying”, she whispered.

He gazed at her for a moment, before smiling softly. She was still twitchy and uncomfortable, needing completion, but she can admit that the way he’s looking at her - lovingly, like she’s the best thing in entire world - makes her feel warm and safe and… good.

He makes her lay there for a little while longer, nuzzling her neck until he felt her pulse return to its usual beat, before he kissed the spot where he could feel its rhythm, and drew back.

Her ruined release made her snappy, but it’s hard to be grumpy when he’s already lifting her legs back up to his shoulders, adjusting her so she is most comfortable.

The feel of his nose against the small bundle of nerves at the apex of her thighs made her back arch, and her thighs clench.

He chuckled, the vibrations turning her mind to mush.

It takes a while to get her back to the point she had been at before, but the Duke seemed to enjoy the challenge, groaning and growling so indecently it makes her clench.

It’s that little group of nerves that made her finish this time. He paused for a moment, as if deliberating where to finish his meal- before wrapping his lips around that sensitive spot, and sucking. Hard.

That time, she didn’t wail or yelp or whimper.

She screams his name.

Her back arched into a curve that a mathematician could plot on a graph, every muscle clenching and shuddering as it feels like she’s falling. Her eyes shut, and all she could see was white.

Lockwood didn’t stop until she went completely limp in his arms, and then he chuckled, removed her legs, and set her carefully down on the bed.

When Lucy finally opened her eyes, she seemed shocked to see that she was still in their bedroom, watching her husband as he washed his face quickly at the washbasin, then took a shirt from the nearby dresser and walked back to her.

She lay there, boneless, blinking several times. “I… didn’t die?”

He laughed. “I certainly hope not. That’ll be why the French call it ‘La Petit Mort’, or ‘The Little Death’. Did you enjoy that?”, he asked, sitting beside her on the bed. “... I think... I saw God”

Another laugh; warm, rich, and comforting. “No, just me, my angel”, he helped her up, slipping the shirt over her head so she wouldn’t get cold, then letting her flop back onto the mattress.

A moment later, she was aware of the bed moving, and a pair of strong arms wrapping around her waist, pulling her against a warm, broad chest. Lockwood nosed at her hair, before tucking her under his chin.

“... do you think you could be with child?”, he asked after a moment. She opened her eyes. “Why?”

“... I was just curious”

“No, you weren’t”, she smiled, “Are you implying I’ve gained weight? Tell Cook to stop making such good cakes and I won’t gain anymore”

The Duke laughed. “That wasn’t what I was implying at all. I was… just thinking that… well… we’ve been… man and wife for some time now, and… there’s always a possibility…”

“Oh, so I’m just a broodmare now, am I?”, Lucy asked teasingly, and he laughed, clapping a hand over her mouth. “Hush, you. I was only curious”

She giggled, and pushed his hand away. “Well, if I am, I hope you feel damn guilty. We all know that the best way to ensure a healthy child is keeping your wife happy and, of course, satisfied”

He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t keep you satisfied, wife?”, Lockwood sighed, and pushed her onto her front, making her shriek as he started pulling up her nightgown to reveal her bottom, straddling her thighs, “then I suppose I shall have to up my game somewhat”

She whacked him with a pillow, and he laughed, disarming her and sitting back so she could get up. “Awful man…”, Lucy muttered, but she couldn’t stop smiling, and the words lacked venom.

He chuckled, and wrapped his arms around her again, rearranging them into their previous position.

“I like the idea of you being pregnant”, Lockwood admitted softly, making her smile even more.

“Of course you would. You just want an heir and a spare for the Lockwood title”, Lucy said in a teasing manner.

“Oh, if only it were that simple, my angel”, he squeezed her tight, and moved a thigh between hers, “you see, I rather like the idea of you carrying my child”

“Pervert!”

They both laughed, and she turned her head, kissing his cheek. “I love you”

“I love you more, my angel”