|My Dark Duke
Author: TigerLily888 PM
AU. London in the 1770's. Hotch is a duke and Emily is a duke's daughter. Circumstances force them to wed. Will love persist despite everything? Please note M rating in some chapters.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance - A. Hotchner/Hotch & E. Prentiss - Chapters: 20 - Words: 78,244 - Reviews: 554 - Favs: 79 - Follows: 156 - Updated: 02-17-13 - Published: 01-15-12 - id: 7742595
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sorry for the delay, folks, my family and I were in a car accident last week and I'm rather badly bruised and shaken up. Here's a chapter I already wrote, so the next one will be more than likely delayed. But I will update as soon as I am able.
Thanks so very much for all your reviews, I'm glad you enjoyed the last chapter.
Hotch surfaced from sleep in degrees, which in itself was a rare event. His days were usually taken up with so much business, investment and estate matters that lazing abed was an indulgence that he could ill afford to take. The lack of his usual alertness upon waking doubtless had something to do with the soft, warm and very female body that was pressed deliciously against his side. Blinking at the bright shaft of sunlight that was streaming in through the window, he looked down and saw the face of the woman who had occupied not only his thoughts the previous evening, but had commandeered his dreams in slumber.
She was almost as lovely asleep as she was awake. He used the word almost, not because she was less beautiful, but because asleep he was unable to see the spark that made her who she was. It was the fire in her eyes and her spirited and oftimes impulsive remarks that he so looked forward to seeing each time they met. In sleep, though, she exhibited an innocence that he sometimes would forget, an innocence that he had not been far from taking last night.
Hotch reached out and gently pushed a lock of hair away from her cheek. The frown that appeared on her face made his mouth twitch with amusement.
"Not yet, Martha, another half-hour," she mumbled. "And then you may bring me my hot chocolate." The note of imperiousness even when she was half asleep made his mouth curve into a smile. Well, that was one less thing she had to learn when she became his duchess.
In fact, it had been clear to him almost from the beginning just how suitable she would be as his wife. As the daughter of a duke, she would have been brought up with the expectation that she would eventually be the wife of a peer and schooled in all the appropriate topics, from music and needlecraft to the running of a household, no matter how large. The only question that had remained was whether she was suited to him. Yes, Reid had informed him that she was exceptionally handsome, but Hotch had met many beautiful women and most of them had left him cold.
But then he had met Albury's daughter and he had felt as if his whole world had tipped on its axis. He had told himself that he was just imagining her effect on him. That the intrigue and curiosity she had aroused in him during that serendipitous first meeting was the result of the shock of a strange female falling upon him. An occurrence that was not something he was particularly used to. And then he had found himself standing before her front door without quite knowing how he had gotten there. Immediately after which he heard himself asking her mother if he could take her for a ride.
He had been wrong. The attraction he had felt was still present. Even worse, it had only increased tenfold during the ride the next day. After that had been the musicale, then another ride, and each time he had told himself to distance himself from her. But even the time he spent at his estate and the subsequent days he had managed to stay away did nothing to quench the need to see her. It was during the Drakeford ball when he realised that he was in deep strife. On the cusp of falling in love with her, he had tried to escape the trap by visiting his mistress, only to find himself laden with guilt that he should not be feeling.
The moment he had laid eyes on her the morning after, he had known what was to come. Lady Emily would have been schooled not to exhibit her emotions, she should have known out of a sense of self-preservation that she should not expose her inner feelings to him, and yet she had. The flash of joy that had appeared in her eyes at the sight of him had told him all that he needed to know. She had clearly formed an attachment to him. This was the reason why he knew that her answer to the question that he would ask would be yes.
A movement next to him drew him out of his musings. The lady squirmed against him, yawned sleepily then stretched, her arm reaching and sliding across his chest as she did so. Hotch had to bite the inside of his lip to stop himself from laughing at what happened next. Her hand that was now resting on his side suddenly stopped. Then, with her eyes still closed, her hand started to move slowly, patting his side, then up to the middle of his chest, then vertically over his unshaven throat, like a blind man trying to make sense of what was under his fingertips. Her fingertips touched his chin, and then stopped still on his pursed lips.
Her eyes flew open, the look of horror that dawned on her face so comical that he was amazed he had managed to contain his laughter. "Good morning," he said, against her fingers.
Lady Emily stared at him in shock, frozen.
"Your fingertips are exceedingly soft for someone who rides as much as you tell me you do." It was extremely tempting to take her fingers into his mouth, which he knew he shouldn't do lest he frightened her into leaping out of the bed. He was enjoying himself too much to remove them, though.
At that remark, she snatched her hand away in a flash. Her eyes still rounded in surprise, she managed to reply, albeit automatically. "That's because I wear leather gloves when I ride and I use a cream made from sheep tallow to keep my hands soft. Mother wouldn't let me ride otherwise."
Hotch laughed out loud. He couldn't remember the last time he had been this entertained while he was in bed with a woman. And that included his intimate interludes. He turned fully onto his side and picked up her hand, then brought it to his mouth and kissed her palm softly and lingeringly. He watched as her eyes dilated in shock and, if he wasn't mistaken, which he never was in these matters, arousal.
She was impossibly beautiful with her black as midnight hair lying loose around her and hiding the surprisingly generous bounty that was her bosom. He felt his body stir at the memory of their kiss the night before and the softness of her breast under his palm. If it hadn't been for the gasp that had escaped her mouth, he had little doubt that he would have taken her virginity right there and then before the fireplace, her innocence be damned. The guilt he was feeling was yet another reason why he had to make his offer.
"Your Grace, about last eve, I wanted to tell you that – "
Hotch would never know what she was about to say because at that precise moment, the door to their room flew open with a great bang and a dark-haired man burst in.
"You blackguard!" shouted Westhaven as he charged towards the bed, face dark with anger.
In one fast, reflexive movement, Hotch threw back the bedcovers and leapt over the lady in his bed, landing on the floor between the furious marquess and the bed. Crouching slightly in a defensive position, he looked at the lady's brother. "What the devil do you think you are doing, Westhaven?" Hotch kept his voice deliberately low, although no one in the room could have mistaken the underlying warning in his voice.
At the question, an incredulous expression appeared on his opponent's face. "What the devil am I doing? What the devil are you doing, you bastard?" he spat out. "How dare you take advantage of my sister!"
"Calm yourself. I have done no such thing," answered Hotch calmly. At least, not to the extent you think I did.
"Do you think me blind? Or just a fool? You shared the same bed. I know you spent the night together."
Hotch heard the bedclothes rustle but didn't turn around, not wanting to take his eyes off the dangerously angry man before him. "Marcus! I know this looks bad, but nothing happened, I promise you." The duke saw Westhaven's gaze focus on the woman behind him, but instead of being pacified, fury appeared on the marquess' face. That was all the warning Hotch received before Albury's heir launched towards him.
"Marcus, no!" screamed Lady Emily, as the two men fell on the bed. Hotch fended off a blow to his jaw. As they scrabbled for purchase, he felt the younger man's fist connect with his solar plexus while he grabbed the lapels of his opponent's coat in his fists. Even as he felt pain radiate from his abdomen, he reared up and shoved Westhaven away from him, just managing to stop himself from butting the other man's jaw with his head. The marquess stumbled backwards and then regained his balance, bringing up his fists in readiness of his next move.
Hotch had braced himself for a further charge when Lady Emily swiftly moved between the two men, her back towards Hotch.
"Stop it," she commanded voice low and intense. "Stop this right now, Marcus."
"Emily, get out of the way. This is between Trent and I."
"No! This is between Trent and I, Marcus. Stay out of this."
Her brother ignored her, focusing his eyes on Hotch. "I demand satisfaction for besmirching my sister's honour. Meet me on the field behind Archer's Tavern in two days. I will wait to hear from your seconds – "
He was interrupted by his sister. "I said stop! I will not allow this farce to continue. This was my fault, Marcus. I was the one who chose not to have a chaperone accompany us. If I had, none of this would have happened, inclement weather or not. So please, do not blame Trent. He has been nothing but honourable."
Hotch disagreed. He had been less than honourable but he said nothing. At any other time he would have baulked at allowing a female interfere with a matter of honour between him and another man. But as he observed the interaction between Lady Emily and Westhaven, he had known that this was something that she needed to deal with. It was obvious that even with the hostility and tension between them, the siblings were close. Much closer than Hotch and his own brother was or ever would be.
The anger slowly faded from the younger man's face. "Emily, even if nothing happened between the both of you, it matters not. You know as well as I do that it is the perception that matters. You spent the night together in the same room with no chaperone." He looked over at Hotch. "Trent knows what he has to do and so do you."
Hotch saw her cross her arms over herself, cupping her hands on her arms as if she were cold. He frowned when he notice her shoulders slump slightly. "Westhaven, step outside if you would. I need to have a word with your sister."
"I don't think that – "
"Please, Marcus." Her quiet voice silenced her brother where a demand would have failed to.
He looked at her for a long moment. He finally nodded. "Fine. I will be waiting just outside the door."
When the door closed behind Westhaven, an uncomfortable silence fell over the room. Hotch walked over and picked up his coat from where it had been drying on a bedpost at the end of the bed and returned to her side. "Here, put this on." She did, although she kept her eyes downcast even after he helped her into it. He waited for a while, but when she didn't look up he decided that he wouldn't wait any longer.
"Lady Emily, I believe you know what I am about to say." She remained silent so he continued, his throat dry. "As a result of the situation we find ourselves in, I wish to make you a formal offer of marriage.
He watched as she slowly exhaled. The silence that followed was strained, and as it continued, Hotch felt tension stretch his nerves, further and further. Why the delay in answering? He had expected her to have acquiesced almost immediately, given her less than hidden feelings towards him. Or had he completely misread her? Was that even possible?
"Lady Emily?" His voice was controlled, betraying not a hint of the turmoil and doubt he was currently feeling, emotions that he so rarely experienced that he did not know what to make of them. And so, like all the other times when he felt uncertain, he tamped them deep down within him.
When she finally lifted her head, her dark eyes were wounded and her already fair skin was pale and bloodless. Sorrow struck him when he saw that the spark, which was the essence of who she was, had disappeared. Her voice was but a wisp of sound when she spoke. "I am dreadfully sorry, Your Grace. But I am afraid I must decline your offer."
For a shocking moment he thought he had misheard her. "I beg your pardon?" he asked incredulously.
"I... I do not wish to marry you, so I must politely decline your offer," she repeated, a little louder this time.
He heard the tremor in her voice and saw her visibly swallow, but he didn't care. Anger and hurt rose within him and this time he didn't bother trying to shut those emotions away. "This is no laughing matter. Do you realise what you are doing? Your reputation will be ruined beyond salvation. You will never be able to lift your head in front of any members of the ton again."
She lifted her chin slightly, pursing her lips. Damn it. There is was. That stubbornness that he used to admire rearing its head again. A quality he had once found amusing, adorable even, now served to fan the flames of his anger. "I know what the consequences of my actions are," she replied quietly.
"Your father will be a laughingstock, and as for your sister, the likelihood of her making any match better than a cobbler's son would be incredible indeed." He felt no sense of satisfaction at the sudden brightness in her eyes and when she shook her head, the hurt within him swelled, threatening to cut off his breath. What was so objectionable about him that even the possible loss of her family's reputation, which had always been above reproach, had not persuaded her to accept his offer? He wanted to know the answer, but pride prevented him from giving voice to the question.
"I am so very sorry, Your Grace. I thank you for your offer, but my answer is no."
Hotch inhaled slowly, incrementally, trying to control his emotions. "I see. And this is your final word on the subject?"
He looked at her, lovely beyond all imagining despite the tears in her eyes and the distress on her face. "I see." He walked over to his boots which were standing next to the fireplace. "In that case, if you would allow me a few moments to collect my belongings, I will remove myself from your presence and leave you in peace."
"Your Grace, please, I – " Her soft voice was pleading.
He froze just for a moment in the act of viciously tugging his boot on, but she stopped short and failed to finish her sentence. So he continued on, uncaring that he was without any stockings, cravat, coat or hat. Gathering what items of clothing he could see, he walked to the door and gave her a curt bow, deliberately not meeting her eyes. He knew he should say something to her, but he feared that anything he said would somehow expose his feelings. That would be intolerable.
But the moment he stepped out of the room, Westhaven pounced on him like a feline laying in wait for a hapless mouse.
"Tell me you are on your way back to London to ask my father for Emily's hand in marriage."
Hotch looked at the man who would have been his brother by marriage if things had gone as he had expected. He gave a mocking laugh. "I would be, except there's not much point when your sister has refused my offer, don't you think?"
The younger man's mouth opened, but nothing emerged.
"I wouldn't have thought you'd be surprised. After all, this is what, the eighth offer of marriage she has declined?" In the periphery of his mind, Hotch knew his cutting tone was unfair. After all, it was hardly her brother's fault. But damn it, it smarted. Even with the shadow hanging over his past, he was still one of the most eligible peers in realm. And who was she? A female who should be thankful that he had offered for her when she should have had no hope for marriage. He was aware of the bitterness of his thoughts, but really, could anyone blame him? Even knowing that her reputation would be ruined beyond repair had not persuaded her to accept him. Were the rumours of his past really that abhorrent?
Westhaven's voice brought him back into the present. "Emily will be accepting your offer. Return to London, Trent. I will inform my father to expect you in two days time."
Hotch was silent, the urge to stop the marquess from changing her mind warring with his desire to make her his. He finally inclined his head slightly. "Very well." And with that, he left.
Emily heard the door open behind her and tensed, keeping her eyes on the blurry image of the countryside outside the thick glass window.
"You refused Trent?" As accepted, Marcus spared no time beating around the bush.
"It's none of your concern. I don't wish to marry him, that's all."
She heard his footsteps approach, and then he was next to her. "You have no say in the matter. You will be marrying him." His tone was implacable.
That statement made her turn around. "What? No, I am not marrying Trent, Marcus, and that is the end of the matter."
Her brother's eyes flashed with anger. "Oh no, this is just the beginning of it, Emily. You were right earlier, I was blinded to whom was at fault; it was you. If you had not been so headstrong and so damned independent, none of this would have happened. Trent would have courted you and, when the time arrived, made an offer which you would have graciously accepted. But you had to ignore social conventions. Well, now you have to accept the consequences of your ill-advised actions."
"I don't care that my reputation will be ruined. I am not going to be forced into a loveless marriage, Marcus. Is that what you really want for me?" she asked pleadingly. Somehow, deep down, she already knew what the outcome of this conversation would be from the hard expression on his face.
A muscle ticked in his jaw. "I'm afraid it does not matter what you or I want, sister. The marriage will come to pass whether you consent or not."
She crossed her arms, feeling cold despite the fact that she was standing in a bright stream of sunlight. "I don't think that you or Papa will be dragging me down the aisle of St. George's, especially if you are trying to avoid a scandal," she retorted bravely, although she felt nothing of the sort.
Marcus' eyes narrowed. "You know as well as I do what Father is going to say. And Emily, believe me when I tell you that he will not be so indulgent this time. Our family's name is at stake. What you have done will be a grave disappointment to him. Even he cannot shield you from this."
Emily felt pain blossom in her chest. The image of the disappointment she could picture in her father's eyes, coupled with her beloved brother's anger made tears well again in her own. She had not thought about the pain she would cause her parent. Marcus was right. It was all her fault. She could not let her family pay for her mistake. "You are right. And I was wrong. I will..." she took a shuddering breath. "I will accept Trent's offer."
"That is a wise decision." His expression softened and he reached out and took her cold hand in his warm one. "Do not despair. I am certain that given time, Trent will come to care for you as you do for him. How could he not?"
Emily tried to smile back at her brother's attempt to tease, but she was unable to return the slight squeeze her brother gave her hand. How could he not? Too easily, she feared. Especially after her rejection of him. It wouldn't matter that she had eventually accepted him; he would not quickly forget her reaction to his offer. Even worse, Trent's offer wasn't because he wanted to marry her, because he needed her to be his wife. No, by her own folly, he had been forced to make a proposal.
It was not a promising start to a happy marriage.
Please do send a review my way, it would really cheer me up!