Two sets of footsteps echo around the quiet grounds of Hale Park, one more desperate than the other. Derek Hale, the Duke of Ashbourne, cursed softly under his breath, quickly casting a glance at the eerily darkening sky; a storm was coming. Now would not be a good time to get caught out in a downpour.
Speeding up his pace, he was all but running after the one person who had managed to do what Derek had deemed impossible - steal his heart.
At first it had been a splendid plan, something cooked up over a game of cards and brandy one fine evening at White’s. He’d been among his friends and fellow peers. Slightly into his cups, Derek had shared that his family wished for nothing more than to see him marry, something he had no designs on yet for himself; probably not for another ten years or so. He had lamented his wish to be relieved from the constant pressure to be wed, as temporarily as that relief may be.
Vernon Boyd, Viscount Trent had suggested a fake courtship and Scott McCall, Baron Kinear had readily suggested that a friend of his from his schoolboy days at Eton found himself in a similar pickle with his father. McCall said he’d introduce the pair of them, confident that his friend would agree to the scheme and Derek had eagerly, but stupidly, accepted. They would court for a while and then eventually part ways claiming irrevocable differences; Derek would then get to pretend he suffered from a broken heart for a few years. Perfect.
What Derek hadn’t counted on was his instant attraction to Stiles Stilinski, second son to the Earl of Hartington. Stiles was unlike anyone he’d ever met, his lanky frame all long limbs and exuberant movements. His expressive face was adorned with moles and he had an upturned nose that would wiggle adorably with indignation. But what Derek had found most alluring about the younger man were his large, whisky-coloured eyes that shone brightly with constant enjoyment for life.
Stiles had unabashedly let Derek see into his life, letting Derek learn the other man’s little quirks and habits. Stiles had an honesty about him, and once his initial reserved demeanor had all but disappeared, he had even openly confessed to the pain he still felt every day over losing his beloved mother and the constant fear he now felt at the realisation that one day in the near future he would lose his father as well. In return, Derek had equally opened up about the death of his father - finding Stiles easy to talk to - relaying the struggles he faced living up to the late Samuel Hale’s high standards and expectations that Derek would take good care of the estate and his mother and sisters.
Their shared confidences of loss and worry had made them more at ease with each other and Derek often felt that no one knew him better than Stiles, not even his older sister Laura knew of some of his deepest thoughts and doubts. In retrospect, Derek should’ve realised sooner how much Stiles would come to mean to him. But every time his conscience had wanted to dwell over his feelings for the younger man, he had quickly pushed them away, passing it all off as nothing but a ridiculous infatuation that would pass in due time.
Over the course of the entire London season, he had lost count of all the times he and Stiles had called upon each other. They went horseback riding together through Hyde Park, attended soirees and musicales and had even danced at balls together, all under the watchful eyes and scrutiny of their respectful families; they’d even gone to get ices at Gunter’s one warm and sunny afternoon. In the eye’s of the Ton, he and Stiles were rapidly headed for a swift engagement.
And now he’d gone and botched things up. Stiles and his father were invited by Derek’s mother to attend a small House Party at the Hale estate. It was obvious the Dowager Duchess had been hopeful that Derek would make a formal offer for Stiles’ hand some time during the weekend. However she had invited up some other peers as well, including the charming and easygoing Lord Ainsbury, who embodied everything that Derek was not.
He’d been overset with jealousy at seeing Stiles sitting closely to Lord Ainsbury, the pair of them engaged it what seemed to be deep conversation for most of dinner. Every time Stiles had openly laughed at something amusing that Ainsbury had said, Derek had gritted his teeth, barely reacting to the conversation going around him. Eyes only for Stiles and the Earl. His sister had noticed his demeanor and had pulled Derek aside after breakfast the following morning, confronting him in regards to his behaviour.
Backed into a corner Derek had told Laura the truth behind their courtship, but he vehemently denied any affection for the other man, going as far as to say that Stiles was just a means to an end, that he couldn’t wait for everything to be over.
At that moment a crash was heard somewhere in the hallway. Having rushed out of the drawing room, Derek saw Stiles disappear around the corner. “Stiles!” The other man probably had overheard everything. Derek cursed loudly.
As Derek left in pursuit of Stiles, Laura's parting words had been, “You’re an oaf Der, fake courtship or not we can all see that you’re in love with him, now go after him and make things right.”
He had been an utter cad. How had he not realised that his attraction for Stiles had grown into something so deep and all-consuming? It was as if the shutters had fallen from his eyes; he loved Stiles, most ardently. And now he was getting away.
“Stiles, please, wait!” Catching up to the other man in the vast gardens behind the house, Derek reached out to make Stiles stop in his tracks.
Shrugging off Derek’s hand from his shoulder, Stiles only half turned towards him, everything in his posture screaming of dejection and hurt. “I don’t possibly see why I should have to listen to a word you have to say, you have already said quite enough.”
“I’m sorry-” Stiles cut him off with a shake of his head.
“Just leave me be, Your Grace.” Derek flinched at Stiles addressing him so formally again. “Only a short while ago you were implying to your sister that I was nothing but a nuisance to you, that you could not wait for our charade to be over so that you could be done with me.”
Dark, amber pools filled with pain gazed back into his own eyes. Derek felt his throat tighten at the sight of the tears in Stiles’ eyes. “You played me for a fool. I command you on your acting skill, Your Grace,” Stiles spat.
Shaking his head, Derek raised his hands in an appeasing manner. “I apologise, I regret you overheard that.” Closing his eyes for a moment, he released a breath he didn’t realise he had been holding.
“I never acted with you Stiles, only with my sister just now. I - I saw you interact with Ainsbury all night and it surprised me how much I didn’t like it. Laura had noticed and made me face some harsh truths I tried to deny in vain.”
“Ainsbury? He’s a close friend,” Stiles interjected, his eyes squinting as he studied Derek closely. Derek felt himself flush under the other man’s scrutinising gaze. “What-” At that exact moment, the heavens decided to open, rain beginning to pour down, soaking the both of them within seconds, interrupting whatever it was that Stiles had meant to say. Stiles swore loudly.
Without hesitation Derek grabbed Stiles by the wrist and led him to the gazebo up ahead. As soon as they found shelter under the roof of the little wooden construction, Stiles wrenched his wrist out of Derek’s grip. For a moment the two of them could only stare at each other, their chests heaving, the silence between them more deafening than the heavy fall of rain.
Turning slightly away from Derek, Stiles protectively folded his arms around himself, shivering as he watched the rain continue to fall down, his voice almost timid and Derek had to strain to hear him over the sound of the falling rain. “What is is that you want, Derek?”
Mesmerised, Derek watched a drop of water run down the side of Stiles’ face over one of his many moles before it disappeared underneath his damp neckcloth. “You,” he croaked.
At Stiles’ startled sharp intake of breath, Derek lifted his eyes up to meet his. “You have bewitched me, Stiles. You are in my every waking thought, you are the vision that appears to me in my sleep. I am constantly tormented by how much I want you. How much I need you.”
“Derek…” Moving closer, Stiles swallowed as he lifted a trembling hand to cup Derek’s face. Emboldened by the caressing gesture, Derek continued before he lost his nerve.
“I would be honoured if you would accept the offer of my hand, spend your life with me. Be my Duke-consort. Make me the happiest man in all of England. I cannot imagine my life without you in it. Please, Stiles, say something.”
Lifting his other hand to Derek’s face, Stiles leaned forward to touch his forehead to Derek’s. “I always suspected you were a hopeless romantic underneath all of those brooding glares and disdainful sneers,” he murmured softly. “You utterly daft, beautiful man. I love you.”
His heart leaping wildly in his chest Derek reached up to grasp Stiles’ hands between his own, placing two loving kisses on his knuckles. “Does this mean you consent to be mine?”
Stiles chuckled, removing his hands from Derek’s only to clasp them together behind Derek’s neck. “Yes you dolt, but only if you consent to be mine in return.”
Peering deeply into Stiles’ eyes, Derek replied, “I would wish for nothing more.”
“Good, glad to have that settled then.” Grinning mischievously, Stiles continued, “Now shut up and finally kiss me, Hale.”
“Such insolence,” Derek teased, commenting on Stiles’ inappropriate use of his surname. Returning Stiles’ grin with one of his own however, he couldn’t help but comply with the younger man’s demand, finally giving into the temptation he no longer had to resist.
The moment Derek’s lips touched Stiles’, he definitely knew for certain that there would be no turning back. It was as if he’d been waiting for this one moment all of his life.
Quickly deepening the kiss, Derek licked into Stiles’ mouth, the younger man’s lips yielding easily, Stiles’ grip on Derek’s neck only tightening in retaliation. Moaning, Derek grabbed Stiles by the waist and pulled him flush against his own body.
No other kiss had felt like this before; it wasn’t simply carnal desire that was running through his veins. Derek felt on fire from head to toe; and with every taste Stiles offered to him, the all-consuming fire inside only grew larger, brighter. All that existed right now, right here in this very moment was the feel of Stiles in his arms and nothing else.
Gasping for breath, Stiles eventually broke the kiss, only to nuzzle into the side of Derek’s face, placing a few quick pecks over his jawline. Derek felt elated at the obvious display of affection directed at his person. “If this is what I have to look forward to for every day of my life soon, I cannot wait for us to be wed,” Stiles mused.
“Nor I.” Shivering, he became aware of their surroundings and the current sodden state of their clothing. Looking up he noticed that the rain had let down considerably. “Do you reckon we could make a dash for the house?”
Stiles nodded in assent. “I suppose we can, we can hardly get any more soaked than we already are and I would hate for either of us to catch a chill.”
Holding out his hand, he looked at Stiles. “I know of a shortcut, follow me.”
Slipping his hand into Derek’s, Stiles lovingly looked back at him. “I gladly would follow you anywhere, Derek.”