Just a little bit of S1 fluff/tension that I think must be a missing scene we didn't get. After all, how did things recover from the flower show to that evening over sandwiches and strawberries? Dedicated to the lovely Orangeshipper as a bit of cheerleading effort to make sure planning gets done at half-twelve at night, as well as fic writing…..
He looked up, clearly startled by her greeting. "What are you doing here?"
She noted his confused glance at her riding habit, and played absentmindedly with the pleats of her skirt, unable to help smiling warmly at him. She was trying hard not to focus too hard on the sparkle of his eyes under the brim of his flat-cap, but her attempts to look away were failing miserably.
"I heard Papa mention that the two of you were going to look at some of the repairs on the cottages. I thought I'd see for myself what all the fuss is about." She peered around him to steal a look inside the dim doorway behind him. "Where is Papa?"
"He had to head back to the house early, but I wanted to stay and make some more notes. I'm surprised you didn't run in to him on your way here."
She shrugged, hoping it would toss off the dizzying sensation his gaze on her was causing. "I came by way of the stables. Diamond has come up lame, so I couldn't ride." She finally braved a steady, direct look at him. "Am I allowed to see inside, or is it unsafe?"
His brow raised in surprise. "Of course you can." Stepping aside and pointing the way with a flourish, "After you."
It was impossible to miss the dark glint to his eyes, the quirk at the corner of his lips as he spoke to her. Also impossible to ignore the rapid increase in her pulse just in talking to him. Foolishness, that's what this was.
Taking a deep breath, she gave what she hoped was a tart thank you and stepped down into the cottage's low entrance. The tang of the fresh lime-wash on the walls was unmistakable, and she was surprised with how clean and almost cheerful the small, bare room could be. Wandering the edges of the room, noting the large open fireplace, the neat row of counter, sink, and hob under the large window, the exposed rafters now waxed to a rich shine, she decided that this is what was meant by the word cozy. It didn't feel confining or barbaric; it felt … well, warm, inviting. It was as if the room were holding its breath waiting to come alive with the noise and bustle of a family.
Matthew clearing his throat behind her startled her out of her observations.
"Not exactly the saloon at the Abbey, but trust me, some family will be quite delighted with this."
"Of course they will, how could they not be?" She reached out to touch a reglazed window, smiling slightly at the way the waved glass seemed to make the sunlight streaming in shimmer all the more. "And there are rooms above as well?"
"Yes, three, and we sacrificed the fourth for a rather nice little bath." He nodded to the corner she was approaching where a step and closed door marked the narrow stair that wound its path to up above.
"May I?" she asked, hand on the door handle, eyes on him.
He looked a giant against the low beams, hair golden as it caught the sunbeams pouring in. She forced herself to swallow past a suddenly dry throat, and found she was biting her lip as nervous flutters again filled her. He simply nodded, watching her intently as she did him. She gripped the knob of the door, reminding herself of her own question to him, of why she was here. Best not to become too distracted.
Tugging at the door, she turned and frowned at it, wondering if she had missed a latch. She pulled again, harder, but still it wouldn't budge.
"Here, it must be the paint. Let me." His footsteps echoed behind her and his arm reached round her, gently brushing hers aside (wait, did his thumb just caress the back of her hand?) to take hold of the handle. He was right against her back, and she froze, eyes focused on his hand, senses lost in the feel of him so close, her heartbeat now pounding in her ears.
He pulled at the door, once, twice, and finally on the third time the door swung open and something came flying out of it with a screech and flurry of movement and air. They both stumbled back, Mary tripping over Matthew as he caught her around her waist with his arm. She ducked as the dark blur of noise and motion swooped at her again, and she sought the only shelter near at the moment: Matthew's shoulder. She was falling now and she let out a cry of her own before she realized Matthew was sliding down against the wall and taking her with him, a protective hand against her head.
Landing rather ungracefully on his lap, she tried to catch her breath, listening, and not hearing anything. She peeked out a cautious glance into the room. Empty again.
"Crow," he managed to gasp out. "Sorry. Did it scratch you?"
She shook her head, trying to find her voice, managing to rasp out, "No, I don't think so."
He was turning her face towards him, his hand carefully pushing back the tendrils of hair that had come loose around her face as he searched for any sign of injury. She was lost in the rapid pounding of her heart, unable to take a steady breath as she watched his eyes, studying the planes of his face now at so close a distance, her own gaze dropping to the curve of his mouth, lips slightly parted as he, too, tried to catch his breath. She swallowed nervously, clutching tighter at the fabric under her fingers before she suddenly realized it was his coat she had a hold of, and was pulling closer.
"Oh," her startled gasp slipped between them as she looked to where her hands were on his chest, and quickly pulled them away, fingers curling into fists as she tried to ignore how heavy the air between them suddenly felt. She felt as though she were somewhere between trembling and wanting to just melt in against him, to give into that curiosity (or was it need?) to feel him pressed against her, to begin a study of him with every one of her senses.
Heat was now climbing up through her, and she took in every bit of contact between them: his legs under hers, his arm still around her waist, hand now pressed firmly against her, his other hand barely skimming the surface of her cheeks as he checked for cuts or scratches. She forced herself to freeze, to not turn her head to press into his hand. But the heat from the connection of where he held her low on her back was sending tingles up and down her spine that begging for some kind of answer.
"I… I think that —," his voice trailed off, causing her to glance up quickly. It was a mistake as she was lost in his eyes again, realizing how close their faces suddenly were. She shifted her gaze for a moment as he licked his lips and she found her own suddenly parting as she looked up at him again. She pressed her hands tighter against her belly, fighting every urge she had to reach up and touch his face as his gaze was suddenly caressing hers. The soft tickle of his breath against her lips was weaving a pattern over her nerves, setting a tempo for her on breath, luring her in closer to him.
A clatter outside the door made him look up suddenly, his lips and chin grazing across her cheek and temple as he did, and she shivered at the contact as she, too, jumped at the sound. Heat rose in her cheeks as she realized how close — too close — they were, and she quickly twisted to move off his lap and stumble to her feet.
"Mary —," he reached towards her as he scrambled up, but she took a couple steps back, somehow forcing hat she hoped was a bright smile on to her face, trying to ignore what she was sure the deepest blush she had managed in years.
"Well, what an adventure!" She glanced at the staircase door. "I…, I hope there isn't too much of a mess up there from, um, the…" She lost her train of thought again as she saw the raw expression on his face before he cleared his throat.
"The crow," he said softly, daring to take a step closer to her.
Fingers twisting more desperately around each other, she battled against desire to close the gap between them. She somehow found her voice again. "Yes, that's right, the crow. Anyway. I should be off, I'm sure it is later than I realize and they will be looking for me."
"Mary." His plea stopped her for a moment, and she half turned, not able to dare a straight look at him again.
"I'm sorry, I promise —," she paused a moment, caught her breath, not quite realizing what it was she was saying as it tumbled out, but as she let the thought continue, she knew she wanted him to hear it. "I promise, I'll be back to see everything properly." She tossed him the briefest sideways glance and smile, catching the image of him standing there, cap in hand, bathed in sunlight as she hurried up the steps and into the cool breeze.