Author's Note: This is my contribution to Mary and Matthew Celebration Day 2015. Many thanks to patsan for continuing to organize these events and giving me an opportunity to explore these ideas. Thanks to Willa Dedalus and Lala Kate for inspiration and motivation, and continued thanks to all of my readers, past and present. I write because I enjoy it, but I publish because all of you give me the courage to do so.

For the readers who enjoy modern AU and for those readers who have been so kind to follow my Breaking Bread modern AU, this is a one-shot set after the events of Shifting Sands. Mary and Matthew are now married and dealing with the realities of being two successful young professionals living in London, with all the modern day temptations and obstacles that come with it.


Milquetoast

Terminal 5, London Heathrow Airport, West London, England, July 2016

"If either of you go back to the office, I'll have you sacked," Alex warned the two junior lawyers. "Go and have a night to yourselves for once and we'll see you in the morning."

"Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Goodbye, Mr. Crawley," they called.

"See you both tomorrow," Matthew waved as the two junior lawyers headed off towards the Tube station.

"Do you want me to write the reporting email, or will you do it?" Matthew asked as he and Alex walked briskly towards the terminal exit. The whir of their rolling suitcases droned steadily as they pulled their luggage with them.

"I'll do it. Tomorrow," Alex replied. "I haven't decided how much of a retainer I want from them yet."

"I'd ask for a larger one than usual," Matthew shrugged. "If they decide to go with us, it's going to be a lot of work in a very short time frame if they want to file before the media gets hold of it. We'll need at least five juniors on the file, to say nothing for coordinating with their lawyers in New York and Toronto, which will be a mess of its own. The bill could get rather out of hand quite quickly."

"The urgency and the resources required do not trouble me. I'm more concerned about getting money from them before the filing," Alex said as the sliding glass doors parted before them and they walked out into a sunny afternoon. "You know that someone will try and bring an injunction to freeze assets. Even with an administrative charge, I'd rather have the money in our trust account."

"Then you'll need to get at least a million, if it's to tide us over through the filing and a little ways beyond," Matthew said. "We can ask the Court to order it. Large multinational. Insolvency proceedings in three different countries running at the same time. It shouldn't be a problem."

"No, it shouldn't be, but I'd still rather make them pay us in advance. We shouldn't do anything until the funds are wired to us. They've screwed over most of their banks and creditors. I'd rather not be on that list," Alex shook his head, putting on his sunglasses.

They reached the Valet Pick-up Area and located their cars, parked side-by-side and freshly washed and detailed. Alex looked at Matthew's car appraisingly while Matthew put his travel case in the boot.

"Now what is the difference between this and the standard GT-R?" Alex asked, admiring the large and shiny black wheel rims.

"About 50,000 quid and 50 horsepower," Matthew smiled.

"It's very nice, but I didn't take you for a Japanese supercar type of person, Matthew," Alex smiled.

"I appreciate their meticulous attention to detail," Matthew nodded. "And it's damn fast."

"I'll have to try it for myself, sometime," Alex nodded.

"I told you I could have given you a lift," Matthew said as he opened his driver's side door.

"I like driving," Alex said easily, moving over to his own car. "I don't get to do it enough. Even if it was simply coming out to the airport, that's an hour more than I normally get. Plus, I think it important to keep an English car on the motorway to fight back against the Germans and the Japanese."

"You sound like my father-in-law. You do realize that your car is German, don't you?" Matthew smiled.

"Bentley may be owned by the Germans now, but the car is still manufactured in England," Alex said smugly. "Now go home. Tell Mary that I said hi."

"I will, though I won't be seeing her until tomorrow morning. She's got a girls' night out tonight," Matthew said.

"Ah," Alex nodded. He waved and got in his car.

Matthew sat down in the driver's seat, buckled his seat belt and pressed the ignition button. The car roared to life, the screen on the console lighting up and music from his mobile phone playing over the speakers. He put on his sunglasses and checked his mirrors. He waited for Alex to drive off first, before following him out towards the motorway.


"Hey," one of the valets said to another. "The Nismo and the Bentley are gone."

"Oh yeah?" the second replied. "Did you get a look at the owners?"

"Yeah," the first nodded. "Two regular looking blokes. Not footballers or celebrities from what I could tell."

"Then what are they doing driving those cars?" the second asked. "The Nismo was painted metallic black, and the Continental had a custom exhaust. Those cars were right done up."

"I don't know. Maybe they got family money? They looked like a couple of accountants," the first valet shrugged.

The second valet shook his head and sighed. "Waste of two sweet cars on a couple of boring accountants."

Office of Mary Crawley Interior Design Inc., Mayfair, London, England, July 2016

Anna came into the office and placed two garment bags on the table. Mary looked up from her work table and frowned.

"What's that?" she asked her assistant.

"Your clothes for tonight," Anna replied. "The dry cleaners just dropped them off."

"Tonight? Oh, shit. Catherine's girls' night out. Right," Mary muttered. "I'm glad that you arranged for the dry cleaners to deliver, at least. I probably would have gone straight home and forgotten to pick them up, which would have been highly annoying."

"It wasn't me," Anna said lightly. "Matthew called the cleaners and told them to bring your clothes over."

"Matthew did?" Mary blinked in surprise. She checked her watch. "He's back already?"

"Mmm-hmm," Anna nodded. "He's holding on 101."

Mary turned her chair around to her desk and reached for her phone headset. Anna picked up a stack of file folders and left, closing the door behind her.

"Darling," Mary smiled as she pressed the button to pick up his call. "Why did you ring Anna? Just use my direct line."

"I wanted to check with her to make sure the dry cleaners dropped off your clothes," Matthew replied. "I knew you would forget to pick them up."

"I wouldn't have," Mary said defensively. "We were going to call them eventually and have them send the clothes over. We're quite busy, you know. We can't jet off to New York like some people. Are you back at the office?"

"I'm in the car," Matthew answered. "Alex ordered all of us to take the rest of the day off. I'm going to take the bike out before dinner, I think. Oh, I spoke to Sybil and Edith. I pushed back brunch to one o'clock tomorrow afternoon. I suppose you'll want to have a sleep in?"

"You suppose right," Mary nodded. "We'll probably be out late. Knowing Catherine, she'll want to have drinks at her place right after work before we head out."

"Then more drinks at some decadent club of debauchery afterwards?" Matthew teased. "And since it's a Friday and bars are allowed to serve all night, you'll be drinking and dancing until dawn."

"Hardly," Mary scoffed. "We aren't in university anymore, Matthew."

"It's your lot that the clubs adore, darling," Matthew laughed. "Young women with loads of money, free of husbands or boyfriends for the evening and a thirst for reliving the glory of past ladies' nights."

"Now you're being daft," Mary rolled her eyes. "I hope you'll clean up a bit when you get home. I'm afraid I left the kitchen in a bit of a mess this morning, and the cleaning lady isn't in until Monday."

"Sybil told me," Matthew chuckled. "You're usually so neat when we make pancakes."

"That's because you're there to keep everything organized and clean," Mary smiled. "Sybil and Edith aren't nearly as diligent."

"Neither are you, apparently," Matthew said. "Right. Have fun, love. I'll see you when you get home."

"Love you, darling. Don't wait up!" Mary said happily, hanging up the phone and putting her headset back on the desk. She turned her chair around and returned her attention to her design plan, a smile remaining on her lips as she thought ahead to the night's events.

Green Park, Westminster, London, England, July 2016

Matthew breathed out as he powered his bike along Constitution Hill. The traffic was light as he took the curve in front of Buckingham Palace and angled up The Mall. He glanced behind him and smiled as he saw no one following. Leaning forward and rising up out of the saddle, he increased his pace as he dove down the bike lane into St. James's Park. He covered the circuit around the park at a brisk pace before pulling to a stop near the lake. He leaned the bike over and took a long drink from his water bottle. Minutes later, three other cyclists caught up with him.

"For fuck's sake, Crawley. Didn't you say you were jet lagged?"

"I was," Matthew smiled. "Had to stretch the legs a bit."

"There's something different about your bike, though."

"I got Keo Blade 2's, the titanium ones," Matthew nodded. "Reduces weight and they're more aerodynamic than my last set."

"The man worries about the aerodynamics of his pedals, for God's sake."

"I also swapped out the group set," Matthew said proudly. "I'm running Dura-Ace 9000 front and rear now. They're well smooth, just mint."

He was met by confused stares and eye rolls.

"Anyway, you're lucky we caught up to you. When you left us behind, we thought of just going home."

"Well, I'm glad you finished the route at least," Matthew laughed. "Anyone want to go again?"

They all groaned and shook their heads.

"We need to get home, Matthew. Not all of us live in the City, you know. Probably best to head out now to get ahead of the traffic."

"All right. Ride safe," Matthew nodded, waving to his friends before setting off for another lap.

Home of Catherine Jones, Chelsea, London, England, July 2016

"Darling! Right on time, as always," Catherine smiled, kissing Mary's cheek and giving her a hug. "And looking fabulous! I love this dress! I wish I had your legs to pull it off."

"Thank you," Mary smiled, following her into the house. She smiled as she came into the kitchen and saw numerous bottles of alcohol on the island.

"Mary!" Ellen smiled from behind the counter. "Perfect timing. I just finished making your favourite drink."

Mary laughed as Ellen passed her a Bloody Mary.

"Thank you," she smiled, sipping the concoction. "Mmm, well done."

"I love your dress!" Ellen raved. "Is it backless?"

"No, it just goes down partway," Mary replied. She turned so Ellen could see the way the dress bared her shoulder blades.

"Gorgeous!" Ellen nodded in approval.

"We're just waiting for Rhiannon and Sarah. Sophie's upstairs changing," Catherine smiled, taking out a tray of oysters from the fridge.

"Sophie's here? I thought that Henry wouldn't let her come out?" Mary frowned, reaching for a strawberry from the fruit bowl.

"He went to the country for a fishing trip with his mates, thank God," Catherine rolled her eyes. "She's going to spend the night here, unless she gets a better offer, of course."

"Or if you do," Ellen teased.

"No, I'm coming back here regardless. I hate waking up in a strange bed," Catherine said airily.

"Waking up with a strange man, on the other hand…" Mary smirked.

"Don't be silly," Catherine shook her head. "I never let them stay until morning."

Ellen and Mary laughed.

"Now what shall we have with the oysters?" Catherine asked. "Wine or vodka? Perhaps both?"

Grantham House, St. James Square, London, England, July 2016

"You can just come over here, you know. Sybil's making pasta. There's plenty for all of us," Tom said.

"Thank you," Matthew smiled into the phone. "I appreciate Sybil thinking of me, but it isn't necessary."

"How do you know it wasn't me that thought about inviting you over?" Tom asked indignantly.

"Was it?" Matthew laughed.

"No," Tom admitted.

"I appreciate the thought, but I am capable of fending for myself, you know," Matthew continued, opening the fridge and grabbing a chocolate milkshake. "I'm just going to stay in."

"Sounds boring. What are you making for dinner?" Tom asked.

"A nice prime steak. I figured it would be easier to just heat up the grill than make something else," Matthew explained.

"Steak? I thought you would have had enough of that in New York," Tom said.

"I didn't even get the chance actually. We ate room service or Japanese most nights," Matthew said. "Tell Sybil I said thanks, but I'm all right, truly."

"Well, I tried. We'll see you at brunch tomorrow. One o'clock, yeah?" Tom said.

"See you then. Bye," Matthew replied and hung up.

He went over to the fridge and took out his steak, placing it on a board next to the sink. He opened a cupboard and removed several jars of different spices, sauces and other ingredients to prepare the marinade. After stacking the items neatly on the granite countertop in the order that he would be using them, he fiddled with his smartphone for a moment, then smiled as music began playing from the speakers in the ceiling. Setting the phone down, he retrieved a knife from the nearby block and began slicing a red onion. He hummed along to the music as he went about preparing his dinner.

Home of Catherine Jones, Chelsea, London, England, July 2016

"Mmm," Mary smiled, savouring the taste of the fresh oyster together with the sweetness of the white wine. "Delicious."

"They are so good, aren't they?" Rhiannon agreed, taking another oyster for herself.

The ladies were seated on bar stools around the kitchen island, listening to some playlist of Catherine's that was comprised of dance and house music. Platters of oysters and sushi fought for space amongst bottles of wine and spirits.

Mary took another sip of wine and smiled as she took in the scene. It was rare that she had time to just take off and go out with her girlfriends. Most of her spare time was spent with Matthew or her sisters, or both. Hanging out with her own circle of friends from time to time was a welcome change. She kept in touch with some of them more regularly than others; marriage, career and life inevitably pulling each of them in different directions. Still, she liked having a group of her own, distinct and apart from her family, from Matthew, and from all the obligations that those other parts of her life brought with them. She knew these women from years before, when life was far more carefree and they were all younger and more irresponsible.

"I'm surprised that you went ahead with tonight," Ellen smiled at Catherine. "We all expected you would be with Andrès again."

"We're not exclusive," Catherine smiled. "Besides, I saw him last night so I won't need him again until sometime next week probably."

Mary rolled her eyes. "So you had your fill of him for another week, did you?"

"I certainly did," Catherine grinned. "I tied him to the bed."

"With handcuffs?" Sophie asked, intrigued.

"Scarves. He was delicious," Catherine laughed heartily.

"You're sleeping with the office mail boy. It's so clichéd," Sarah shook her head.

"He's in HR, actually," Catherine retorted. "And why not? It's just some harmless fun, just like tonight. Don't act as though all of you haven't done anything equally scandalous."

"Even if we did, it was ages ago," Mary said airily.

"You're six months older than me, not six years," Catherine frowned. "We're all well under thirty. Any of you could be doing exactly what I am."

"Except that I'm happily married, thank you," Mary countered.

"That doesn't mean anything. Haven't you ever fucked a client?" Catherine asked breezily.

"No!" Mary cringed.

"What about just a snog?" Ellen asked.

"No, never!" Mary exclaimed. "My clients hire me for my professional skills, not for anything more."

"Of course they do, Mary, at first. What we're wondering is if anyone's ever made a move on you during a job? You've done celebrities' homes, for God's sake!" Catherine cackled.

"Married!" Mary repeated, waving her rings in front of her face.

"So what? A gorgeous man is still a gorgeous man," Catherine shrugged.

"She's married to a gorgeous man already," Sophie shook her head. "She obviously doesn't need another one."

"Why not? There's nothing wrong with having some fun on the side," Catherine laughed. "Doing something forbidden always makes the sex seem even more wild, doesn't it? Having an illicit romp with some rich, powerful mogul or even one of your big and buff hired labourers would be so daring! You should try it, Mary!"

"I told you," Rhiannon shook her head. "Mary would never do something like that."

"Thank you," Mary told her genuinely.

"Perhaps she just hasn't found the right man," Ellen shrugged.

"Take on a footballer's house next," Catherine nodded. "He'll have his hands all over you from the first consultation. And even if you don't actually do anything with him, you can always just check him out to your heart's content."

Mary shook her head as Ellen poured more wine.

Grantham House, St. James Square, London, England, July 2016

Matthew placed his plate and cutlery on the pile of dishes in the deep sink. He finished the last of his Merlot and set the wine glass aside. Turning around, he looked at the kitchen island, covered with the remnants of Mary's pancake breakfast with her sisters. He frowned, then glanced over at the breakfast table, where magazines, newspapers, and a pile of his mail were scattered haphazardly.

A low purr sounded from near his feet and he smiled as he looked down at their grey tabby cat nuzzling his head against Matthew's leg.

"What do you say, Perseus? Wash the dishes, or read the mail first?" Matthew asked the cat.

Perseus looked back up at him with wide eyes and meowed.

Matthew frowned, then glanced over at the empty bowl on the floor.

"Ah, feed the cat it is," he chuckled, moving over to the cupboard where they kept the cat food with Perseus trotting happily behind him.

Home of Catherine Jones, Chelsea, London, England, July 2016

"You've never tried being on top? Not even once?" Catherine exclaimed in shock.

Sophie blushed fiercely and looked down at her wine glass.

"Leave her alone, Catherine," Rhiannon scolded her lightly. "Not everyone brags about their sex life the way you do."

"I'm concerned for her, is all," Catherine said. "As her friend, I want her to experience all of life's pleasures, and a man who has no imagination in the bedroom is not worth her time."

The ladies laughed and Mary patted Sophie's hand. Sophie smiled demurely and took another sip of her drink.

"Well, it could be worse," Catherine said. "You could be Mary."

"What does that mean?" Sophie asked.

"It means that Mary's love life is surely worse than yours," Catherine laughed.

Mary rolled her eyes.

"How can you say that?" Sarah asked. "They're still newlyweds!"

"Fine, call me a liar, then," Catherine said smugly. "Mary, go ahead and prove me wrong. Tell us all about what a masterful lover your husband is."

"Mary doesn't kiss and tell," Ellen smiled.

Mary smiled at Ellen in acknowledgment.

"People who don't kiss and tell are usually the ones who have nothing to tell," Catherine said, arching her eyebrow.

Mary scoffed and sipped her wine.

"I'm sure that Mary has plenty to tell, she just chooses not to," Rhiannon stated.

Mary smiled at her in thanks.

"I'm not buying it," Catherine huffed. "Matthew's nice enough, but he's husband material; nothing more. He's reliable, and punctual, and I'm sure he's very organized and meticulous."

"But?" Ellen asked in confusion.

"But he's not very exciting, is he? He's not the type of man that one lusts over, that makes you want to drop your panties at the snap of his fingers. He's blooming boring, is all," Catherine said indifferently.

"Catherine, grow up," Sophie replied. "There's more to life than lust and the need for excitement."

Mary frowned.

"Don't you notice how Matthew's always the one organizing our outings and dinners and get-togethers? He's always on time. He's always read the latest book and knows all about the newest gadget coming out. He's boring. He even has a boring job – lawyer. If he was an artist, or a chef, or a stockbroker, or something like that, he'd be far more interesting. He's a lawyer. He'd have to be an accountant to get any more boring than that," Catherine shrugged.

"You'd rather he be in HR?" Mary challenged.

"Oooh!" the girls squealed as Catherine stuck her tongue out at Mary.

"Boring has its uses," Catherine acknowledged. "But years from now, when you're having polite sex with your husband out of duty, you're going to be thinking about one of these gorgeous animals that we'll be seeing tonight, or some fit client or contractor that you've worked with, and that's what will get you off, not the perfunctory grunts and groans of Matthew Crawley."

Mary sipped her drink. Having known Catherine since high school, she was quite used to her friend's bold words and lack of tact by now, particularly when vodka and wine were involved. While their friends all gasped and groaned at Catherine's blathering, to Mary it was entirely predictable and expected.

"Catherine, don't be so cruel!" Sarah chastised her. "Matthew's a sweetheart. Why can't you just like him?"

"I do like him! I like him very much!" Catherine protested. "All that I'm saying is that Matthew is who he is, nothing more. Mary made a very wise decision for her future. She did exactly what was expected of her. She married the man that every woman would love to bring home to her parents. They probably think he's bloody perfect."

"He's not perfect," Mary shook her head.

"Fine. But he's better than most, as far as husbands go. But let's be honest. Matthew will never be the man you want to run away with for a naughty weekend, will he?" Catherine smiled.

"How can you say that?" Mary demanded. "You're basing your opinion on what, exactly? You've only ever seen him when we're out with a group of people. You have no idea what Matthew is like in private."

"I can well imagine," Catherine laughed. "Oh darling, please do not take offence. You know that I have nothing against Matthew. He's just not the 'take charge' type. He's not that kind of boy, is all. Look at how long it took him to get up the nerve to ask you out! And he wasn't even the one who made the first move! That's nothing to be ashamed of, but every so often, a woman wants a man, a real man, to take command, don't we? A real boss. A man who knows what he wants and goes after it, never mind what anyone else thinks, damn the consequences and all. And Matthew is far too polite and gallant for that. Why, he probably asks you if it's all right to change positions, doesn't he?"

Mary groaned.

"That's enough," Sophie said. "Mary doesn't have to answer any of these sordid questions of yours."

"No, she doesn't need to at all," Catherine laughed. "Who here believes that Matthew is a perfect gentleman in public but a wicked devil in private? Show of hands? Mary, put your hand down! Your vote doesn't count!"

"And why not?" Mary demanded.

"Because you're his wife," Sarah said. "Of course you're going to stand up for him."

Mary frowned indignantly as none of her friends raised their hands.

"Exactly what I thought," Catherine said triumphantly. "And that's why girls' night is so important! You can all go back to your boring husbands and boyfriends tomorrow. Tonight is for us!"

Catherine raised her glass and cheered, swaying to the music. Mary sighed and joined the others in clinking glasses and toasting to girls' night.

Grantham House, St. James Square, London, England, July 2016

"What? I thought you were coming in tomorrow for brunch," Matthew frowned.

"Yes, I know you did, dear," Isobel's calm voice rang out through the phone. "But when Violet said that she, Robert and Cora weren't able to go, I expected there was no need for me to attend. On top of that, there's far too much work to be done around the house this weekend. I told Mary last night. I thought she would have mentioned it?"

"No, she didn't get the chance. I only spoke with her briefly this afternoon. She's out with friends tonight," Matthew replied. "Well, are you still coming down for this month's family dinner?"

"Yes, of course," Isobel said cheerfully. "Which restaurant did you pick this time?"

"Gaucho in Piccadilly," Matthew replied. "They have that lamb shoulder that you like. That reminds me that I need to send out an email next week to confirm all the details with everyone and send around a copy of the menu. I should put a note in my mobile about that."

"Lovely," Isobel replied. "All right, the girls are here for bridge. I'll talk to you later then. I'm sorry about tomorrow. Good night, Matthew."

"That's all right, Mother. Good night," Matthew said, hanging up the phone.

He sighed and glanced around the living room. He reached for the television remote and his laptop computer.

Boujis Nightclub, Kensington, London, England, July 2016

"I'd forgotten how crowded it can get in here," Mary said as they were shown to their booth. The hostess asked them for their drink orders and began mixing martinis. Mary sat down and looked over the dark interior of the club. The place was quite busy and she could already make out a rather large crowd on the dance floor and a long line at the bar. Still, the music was good and Catherine's enthusiasm was contagious and Mary was looking forward to a night of drinks, dancing and having fun with her girls.

When their first round of drinks was done, Catherine pulled them all out of the booth to dance. Though they were cramped together, they didn't mind and Mary smiled and laughed as she moved to the music. She loved to dance and it was something she didn't get to do much of anymore. Nightclubs seemed to be the domain of students and younger twentysomethings and people coming in from outside the city to indulge in bottle service and electronic music. She was glad they had found a place that attracted an older and more sophisticated clientele, though she had no illusions of what most of the people here were after. Even the more expensive and exclusive clubs in London became glorified meat markets on the weekends.

The dance floor was a scattered mix of different groups dancing together, singles lost in their own worlds, and couples grinding or making out under the flashing lights. Mary didn't pay much attention to anyone else. She closed her eyes and moved to the beat of the music, surrounded on all sides by her friends.

Eventually they went back to their booth for a break and another round of drinks. Mary felt delightfully buzzed, relaxed and a bit giddy. The music was perfect for her mood. Not too heavy. Not too fast. Not too much pop. Just the right amount of fun and catchy. As she sat down in the booth and took up a fresh martini, she grinned, watching all of the activity around her.

"Oh, I forgot to mention that I ran into Tony last week," Rhiannon said, leaning closer to Mary to be heard over the music.

"Lucky you," Mary smirked. "Was he with Mabel?"

"No, he was having lunch with some mates," Rhiannon laughed. "He asked about you."

"Of course, he did," Mary shook her head and sipped her martini. "He hasn't spoken to me in years, but he still asks my friends about me whenever he runs into them. He hasn't changed a bit."

"Well, better that you don't talk to him anyway," Rhiannon replied. "Matthew would forbid it, surely?"

"Why?" Mary frowned. "Matthew is completely secure. He doesn't forbid me from doing anything."

"Is that so? So you would talk to Tony then? Your ex-boyfriend?" Rhiannon smiled.

"No," Mary shook her head. "But I don't want to talk to him because I have nothing to say to him, not because my husband has forbid me from speaking to him."

"Ah, I see," Rhiannon laughed. "And what about if Matthew wanted to go grab a bite with one of those perky young girls who work at his office? Would you be all right with that?"

"Absolutely not," Mary smirked, sipping her drink. The two of them laughed.

A server came over and placed a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket on their table. Mary looked at it in confusion.

"Did you order that?" she asked Catherine.

Catherine shook her head.

"Champagne compliments of the group at the table over there," the server informed them, pointing to another corner of the VIP area.

A group of men raised their glasses to them as the ladies looked over. Catherine raised her glass in reply.

"Well, well," Catherine smiled looking at the other group appreciatively. "Let battle commence."

"Which one of us is on Catherine duty tonight?" Ellen asked.

"Sophie's the one staying over at her house," Mary noted.

Sophie just shook her head and laughed with the others as Catherine continued to eye the men who had sent them the champagne.

Grantham House, St. James Square, London, England, July 2016

"Yes!" Matthew shouted, pumping his fist as the electronic version of himself celebrated his latest goal on the television screen. He pressed pause on the video game and put the controller down for a moment. Taking a sip of Coke, he turned to his laptop and scanned the list on the screen.

"Visa, American Express, hydro, internet…done, done, done and done!" he smiled, confirming all the bill payments and logging out of the online banking website.

He picked up the controller again and pressed a button to resume his video game.

"Have a bit of this, you Scousers," Matthew smiled at the television screen, hitting the controller buttons repeatedly.

Boujis Nightclub, Kensington, London, England, July 2016

"Well?" Mary asked, smiling as Catherine and Ellen came back to the booth.

"They're here for a birthday party," Catherine smiled. "They're all investment bankers at Citibank."

"My, that's a bit of a step up from your usual fare," Mary teased.

"Ha ha," Catherine said sarcastically. "The black guy asked about you."

"And he's quite fit," Ellen smiled, sitting back down.

"You did inform him that I was married, didn't you?" Mary frowned.

"Can't recall," Catherine smiled. "I may have mentioned that you dated a black man in the past, though."

"Kemal was Turkish," Mary rolled her eyes.

"Whatever!" Catherine shrugged. "The point is he's interested. They all are. There's six of them and six of us."

"As difficult as it is to believe, we're not all looking for a ride tonight, Catherine," Rhiannon said.

"Do what you want!" Catherine answered easily. "Some dancing. Drinks. Conversation. Six handsome men want to spend time with us. What's wrong with that?"

"Apparently we need to explain it to her more clearly," Sophie laughed.

"It's just some harmless flirting, all in good fun. No one says you need to go home with them," Catherine said. "You're all far too afraid of what your husbands and boyfriends would think. Don't ever let him get the upper hand. Once that happens, it's over."

"What's over?" Rhiannon asked.

"It's all over," Catherine said, motioning with her hand dramatically. "You've lost."

"Lost what?" Sarah frowned in confusion.

"Any sort of leverage, advantage, superiority," Catherine explained. "Husband, boyfriend, lover, it's all the same. We must be the ones in control. Now, those men want us, and there's nothing wrong with playing with them a little bit. Then we leave at the end of the night without them and we've had our fun and you can all go home guilt-free."

Mary arched her eyebrow at her sceptically.

"Or leave with them, if you like," Catherine shrugged with a grin. "The night is young, ladies. Anything is possible!"

Catherine finished her drink and placed the empty glass down on the table.

"I'm going to go dance with Todd. He drives a Mercedes," Catherine declared, standing up and adjusting her dress. "Anyone coming?"

"I suppose I should go to keep an eye on her," Sophie sighed.

"Oh good! Brian is the one that likes you," Catherine smiled.

"Let's go," Mary shook her head, glancing at the other women. "We shouldn't let Catherine and Sophie go over there by themselves."

They all got up from the booth and moved to the dance floor, where the men were already waiting for them.

Grantham House, St. James Square, London, England, July 2016

Matthew grunted as he finished his last set of crunches. He groaned as he turned over on to his front and began doing push-ups, counting the repetitions out loud. When he was finally done his exercises, he got up off the floor and dragged himself to the bathroom, his arms and legs aching.

"Must be getting old," he muttered as he stretched his neck from side to side.

He checked his phone to see if Mary had texted him. She didn't always check in when she was out late, and he never bothered to text her, as he didn't want to interrupt or make it seem like he was keeping watch over her. Seeing an empty screen, he placed his phone on the counter by the double sinks and went to go turn on the shower.

Boujis Nightclub, Kensington, London, England, July 2016

Mary waited patiently for one of the bartenders to notice her. When Mary returned to their booth from the dance floor, she discovered that their hostess was on a break, so she decided to brave the crowd at the bar instead. It was a convenient excuse to get away as the bankers had become quite bold, each of them pairing up with Mary and her friends as they danced. Sadly, the sight of her wedding and engagement rings on her finger did not dissuade the banker that was apparently interested in her – Steve – from trying to chat her up. He wasn't entirely objectionable. He was tall, a smooth talker and thankfully not overly pushy or grabby, but Mary didn't see the point in talking to him. She was perfectly happy dancing on her own, and she hadn't come out tonight to befriend a stranger, or even dance with one. On top of all that, he thought he could flash his expensive watch and tell her about some big money deal he'd done that morning as if that would be enough to impress her while he stared at her body. She couldn't necessarily hold it against him. The same superficial strategy had probably worked for him numerous times before.

"What can I get you, lovely?" the bartender smiled, ignoring several other people waiting nearby and leaning over the bar towards her.

"Vodka and tonic, with lime," Mary said loudly into his ear, forced to lean towards him so he could hear her.

The bartender stole a glance at her cleavage before he nodded and walked down the bar to grab the Grey Goose.

Mary rolled her eyes and waited patiently. It was remarkable how obvious men could be.

"You're being a very bad girl," a voice said to Mary's right.

She turned and looked at a tall man with a smug expression on his face.

"Excuse me?" she frowned.

"Going out without your husband," the stranger said, nodding towards the rings on her left hand.

"How do you know he isn't waiting for me back at our table?" Mary asked with a fake smile.

"Any man who sends his wife to get drinks by herself wearing a dress like that is asking for trouble," he answered quickly.

"Is that so?" Mary nodded.

"Definitely," the stranger said, deliberately staring down her body before returning to her eyes. "All sorts of trouble."

"Because he should be afraid of something happening without him being here; that I might do something reckless without having my protector to hide behind?" Mary asked, raising her chin defiantly.

"Vodka and tonic, with lime," the bartender announced, placing the drink in front of Mary.

"I'll get that, babe," the stranger said, fishing into his pocket for cash.

Mary paid for the drink before he could and turned away from the bar.

"As I was saying, it speaks volumes about a man who would allow his wife to go to a club all by herself, don't you think?" the stranger asked.

"Yes," Mary nodded, smirking at him over her shoulder. "It says he trusts me not to fall for lame pick-up lines."

She left him behind and disappeared into the mass of bodies.

Grantham House, St. James Square, London, England, July 2016

"All right, Perseus. You've got fresh water and fresh food. Will there be anything else, your Majesty?" Matthew asked, looking over at the cat.

Perseus stretched out on his cushioned bed before winking at Matthew and settling down to sleep. Matthew smiled and shook his head at the sight.

"Not a care in the world, eh? Must be nice," he smiled at the sleeping cat.

He touched the electronic control panel on the wall and dimmed the overhead pot lights, leaving the kitchen lit so that Mary could find her way through when she got home. Sighing to himself, he turned off all the other lights in the house and made his way upstairs.

"Wouldn't want her to trip over the cat in the dark," he muttered.

Boujis Nightclub, Kensington, London, England, July 2016

"So, what do you think?" Rhiannon asked, nodding towards the dance floor where the banker she had danced with was still hanging out with his mates.

"He's cute," Mary said. "What do you think?"

"He's cute," Rhiannon laughed. "And he's a decent snog."

Mary laughed and slapped her friend's arm playfully.

"You whore," she teased. "And here you were acting all holier than thou to Catherine."

"Now wait a minute, I haven't done anything close to what she has tonight," Rhiannon defended herself.

"Not yet," Mary joked.

Rhiannon rolled her eyes, then laughed again.

"What about yours? He seemed to be dancing rather close," Rhiannon smiled.

"He grabbed my arse a few times," Mary shrugged. "I said maybe five words to him the entire night. I think he got the message."

"I wish I had your restraint," Rhiannon sighed. "It just feels nice to dance with someone and not care for what it means or where it might lead. Just some mindless fun, come what may, you know?"

"That's the vodka talking," Mary smiled.

"Maybe," Rhiannon laughed. "I just don't want to be so serious and cautious all the time. I want to be the foolish one for once, do whatever I feel like doing, and never have to talk to him again if I don't want to."

"No strings. I get it," Mary nodded.

"Do you? Then why are you sitting here when that fine man would obviously let you do whatever you wanted to him?" Rhiannon joked.

"I'm married, Rhiannon," Mary rolled her eyes.

"You're not dead," Rhiannon shot back. "Come on, Mary. Half the men in this club have been eyeing you all night. There must be someone here that's worth a grope or two in the dark. It's thrilling to get away with something, isn't it?"

"I've had more than my share of drunken mistakes in the past, thank you," Mary said pointedly.

"God, Catherine's right. Matthew's changed you. Now you're becoming as boring as he is," Rhiannon giggled.

"I'd much rather be me than her, actually," Mary smiled.

They both turned and laughed as they watched Catherine grinding with her banker on the dance floor.

"Oh, I don't know," Rhiannon smiled, looking over at the banker she had danced with and kissed earlier in the evening. "There's something to be said for lowering one's inhibitions."

Mary shook her head and sipped her drink.

"Though I have to admit, his nose is a bit big, and slightly crooked, now that I look at him from a distance," Rhiannon frowned.

Mary laughed.

"I'm not going to get a shag tonight, am I?" Rhiannon sighed.

"Your words, not mine," Mary teased.

"Come dance with me, then," Rhiannon smiled, holding out her hand. "Forget those bloody bankers! Let's just have some fun!"

"Why not?" Mary laughed, taking her hand and getting up from the booth.

Home of Catherine Jones, Chelsea, London, England, July 2016

"Focus, Catherine! Focus!" Sophie said as she helped her towards the door.

"I'm fine! I'm fine!" Catherine retorted, pushing Sophie and Mary away and taking a moment to steady herself. She hunted in her purse for her keys and handed them to Sophie. "Here, go on ahead and get the door open," Catherine instructed.

"Night, Mary," Sophie waved as she headed over to the door.

"Night, Sophie," Mary smiled.

"I hate all of you," Catherine frowned at Mary. "It's Friday night, I look gorgeous and the only person I bring home is Sophie."

"It's Saturday morning, darling," Mary smiled. "And I am proud of you."

"Fuck off," Catherine smirked. "I can't believe you talked me into leaving without Todd. I bet you he was huge."

"I'm sure you'll have no problem finding out, if you want to," Mary laughed. "You did give him your number, didn't you?"

"Yes, but who knows if I'll still be interested when he calls?" Catherine pouted. "In the light of day, he might not be so handsome anymore. Bankers are terribly full of themselves too, you know. Besides, he couldn't stop staring at you and Rhiannon when you two were dancing together, so he's probably a sick pervert."

Mary laughed and hugged her friend.

Catherine kissed Mary's cheek before stepping back and waving her hand dismissively. "Go on. Get home to your boring husband. I bet the dear boy is waiting up for you,"

"Good night, darling," Mary said as Catherine made her way to the front door and went inside her house.

Mary shook her head and got back inside the limo.

"St. James Square, please," she instructed the driver, settling back into the leather seat.

"You're the last one, are you, milady?" the driver asked as he drove the limo away from the kerb.

"Yes, I am," Mary nodded.

"And did you all have a good evening, then?" the driver asked.

"Yes," Mary smiled and nodded as she looked out the window at the dark night. "It was great fun."

Grantham House, St. James Square, London, England, July 2016

Mary groaned as she leaned against the wall and removed her heels. She left them on the marble floor of the foyer and wandered through the dark hallway to the lights of the kitchen. Of course he left the lights on for her.

She lazily pulled a glass down from the cupboard and took a bottle of Evian from the fridge. She took a long sip of cold water, leaning back against the counter and glancing around. The kitchen island, which was covered in mixing bowls, spatulas, plates, forks and splotches of pancake batter and syrup just that morning, was now bare. She moved over to it and ran her hand along the granite surface. Spotless and virtually dust free.

She smiled.

She glanced down at the floor and noticed the sheen and lemon scent of a recent polishing. The mess of magazines and newspapers that she and her sisters had left on the breakfast table were now organized in neat piles. Finished with her water, she turned and placed the used glass in the sink. She did a double take as she noticed the sink was empty, all the dishes she had left there over the past day were gone.

Smiling to herself, she opened the cupboard below the sink where they stored their recycling and garbage bins. They were both clear.

She walked over to where Perseus was sleeping on his cat bed. She rubbed his chin and smiled as the cat purred and yawned before going back to sleep.

Mary turned off the kitchen lights and walked slowly back down the hall, running her fingers along the wall as she went. A number of enlarged photographs of landmarks from different cities and countries that she and Matthew had travelled to together were mounted in a neat row. She smiled, recalling the memory of Matthew spending hours with a tape measure and laser level to ensure the photographs were all hung at the perfect viewing height, completely straight and a precise and equal distance apart. It had involved a lot of failed attempts and a fair amount of cursing. She eventually had come over to watch him and had taken a hilarious video of the process with her phone.

She reached the grand staircase in the foyer and moved upstairs, holding on to the curved banister as she went. She would have been perfectly happy to live in his house in Highgate, or even have him move into hers, but he surprised her when they came back from their honeymoon by telling her he'd bought her family home for them to live in. Mama had later divulged that there was a rather vociferous argument between Papa and Matthew over the purchase. Papa wanted to let them live in the house rent-free as a wedding present, most likely because he wanted to retain ownership of the place. Matthew had insisted on buying the house outright, most likely because he didn't want her family just dropping in as though the home was still theirs, and because the idea of carrying her up to bed in her parents' home was rather unsettling to him. Ultimately, Matthew bought the house, Papa received the prestige among their friends and family of generously selling to them for less than market value, and Mary redesigned and redecorated most of the rooms so that the place felt modern and like it truly belonged to her and Matthew.

She walked into the bathroom and smiled as a glass of water and two painkillers were set out next to her sink. She was still drunk, though she'd sobered up a bit since her last drink was hours ago. She expected she would be able to sleep off any adverse effects and be fine by brunch. She set the painkillers aside and drank the water.

Sometimes when she came home late she would take a bath until the buzz of the evening wore off. Tonight, they had stayed out so late that she was quite ready for bed. She brushed her teeth, removed her makeup, splashed her face several times with water and went through her other nightly rituals with a bit less coordination than usual. Finally finished, now all that was left was to go to her dressing room and change.

She came into the darkened bedroom with a smile on her face. She loved coming home to Matthew, particularly when he was already asleep. Sometimes she would just watch him sleep for a few moments. Other times, she would snuggle against the warmth of his body and fall asleep in his arms. When she was feeling particularly adventurous, she would even wake him up in a specific way that he loved. After the shenanigans of her girls' night out, she was ready for a proper cuddle with her husband, she thought.

Mary glanced over at the bed and frowned. The duvet was pulled back, but the bed was empty.

She gasped aloud as strong hands circled her waist and soft lips pressed against her neck.

"You're finally home," Matthew whispered, swiping his tongue across her skin and pressing his body against her back.

"Darling," she smiled, reaching up to wind her arm around his neck. "Did I wake you?"

"The thought of you coming home wearing this dress kept me awake," Matthew replied, kissing her neck as his hands wound their way up to the zipper at the back of her dress.

"Do you like this dress, then?" she breathed, closing her eyes as she felt the firm press of his body against her. He unzipped her dress and she knew he was naked, the heat of his skin crawled across hers. She leaned back against him, anticipation flaring in her chest.

"The dress is divine, or should I say devilish? You look amazing," Matthew said, kissing her neck. "But I'm still cross with you."

"Whatever for?" Mary smiled, dropping her arms so he could slide her dress off her shoulders.

"For making me miss you the entire time I was in New York, then abandoning me on my first night back," he whispered, turning her head and kissing her lips.

"Perhaps that will teach you not to leave me alone for days with only the cat to keep me company?" Mary teased, licking the inside of his mouth playfully. She reached back between their bodies and took hold of him. "Mmm, you did miss me, didn't you?"

"Desperately," Matthew swallowed.

"So you say I was wrong to abandon you tonight, and I say you abandoned me first by leaving me at home to go to New York. However will we decide who's right?" Mary asked lightly, sighing as his hands moved along her bare stomach.

"I suppose we could say we both deserve part of the blame for neglecting each other and call it even?" Matthew suggested, groaning as Mary worked her hand over him.

"Settle an argument with a compromise?" Mary questioned. "Where's the fun in that?"

"Very well," Matthew growled. "Let's put this argument on hold and fight about it tomorrow."

Mary gasped as he spun her around. She stepped out of her dress and pulled him closer, her mouth opening against his and her tongue slipping past his lips.

"I'm surprised you weren't waiting for me downstairs," she said between kisses. She hummed sultrily as he deftly removed her bra with one hand and cast it aside.

"You were expecting a repeat performance of what we did on the kitchen counter before I left, were you?" Matthew smiled against her lips as he lifted her off the floor.

"Wasn't that why you cleaned it?" Mary asked, wrapping her legs around his waist as he carried her to bed.

"I also cleaned the floor," Matthew growled. "And the bathroom. And my desk. And the stairs and banister….just in case you wanted repeat performances there as well."

"We're running out of new places to try," Mary smiled. She moaned as he lowered her to the mattress and kissed and licked a trail from her lips down her neck, across her shoulder and to her breasts.

She cried out as he turned her over on to her stomach. Her pulse quickened as he pulled her hips up and removed her thong. She arched her back and lifted her head as she felt the warm caress of his mouth between her legs.

"Matthew!" she called, dropping her head and chest down to the cool duvet. She tried to calm herself or seize back some vestige of control but he was having none of it. His tongue and fingers worked quickly and devastatingly and whether it took seconds or minutes, she couldn't be sure, but she cried out again as she fell apart, his firm hands holding her up as her fingers clawed the duvet.

She was boneless in his arms as he eased her over on to her back. He kissed her thighs and stomach as he moved up her body, making her shudder with need. She smoothed her hair away from her face, watching with hazy fascination as he kissed her breasts and eased her legs apart, positioning her however he wanted her. His blue eyes stared at her wantonly, telling her without words that there would be no mercy given tonight.

And she didn't want any.

"I've been waiting all week for this," he growled into her ear. The confident timbre of his voice made her shiver.

He made a show of slowly taking her arms and pinning them above her head, one large hand holding her wrists together. Her mind was so frazzled that she had no will to deny him anything at this point, not that she even wanted to. Their eyes locked on each other as he trailed his fingers across her cheek and past her lips. She darted her tongue out and licked at him, tasting him before he continued down her body. His now wet fingers brushed over her neck, across the sensitive curve of her breast and along her ribs. He tucked his hand behind her knee and raised her leg, moving himself between her thighs, his eyes still boring into hers.

"Yes," she groaned as he entered her, the push of his hips insistent and demanding. Realizing how aroused she was, he smiled wickedly down at her and moved faster, drawing gasps and moans from her throat with every thrust. He was playing her body with expert precision, and she helped him, pushing back, crying out, kissing him over and over as she writhed beneath him.

"My hands. Please, Matthew. My hands," she begged, licking his cheek as he moved faster still.

He released her hands and his free arm flew down her body, using both of his hands now to spread her open and shift her hips into the angle he desired. Her arms circled his back, her hands taking hold of his shoulder blades and pulling his chest against hers. They kissed again and he swallowed her cries as she flew over the edge once more.

He shifted her again, moving her legs together and holding them across his shoulder. His hands seemed to be everywhere, across her breasts, between her legs, pulling her towards him and opening her up once more. She heard his snarl and felt him inside her and everything around them seemed to fade away, leaving only the two of them and a mounting wave of pleasure as she urged him on to find his release.


Mary blinked as sunlight hit her eyes. She groaned and turned away, burying her face in the pillow as she heard a familiar laugh behind her.

"I'm sorry, darling, but you do need to get up at some point," Matthew chuckled, kissing her shoulder.

"When's brunch?" Mary groaned sleepily, moving back a small bit and smiling as she felt his arm wrap around her.

"I moved it to tomorrow," Matthew smiled, kissing her neck. "I texted Edith this morning and told her that I was working on a file I picked up in New York and that we couldn't make it today."

"Mmm, how clever you are," Mary mumbled, covering his hand with hers.

"Well, it seems to me that my wife needs the afternoon to recover from her girls' night out," he smiled.

"The only thing I need to recover from is what you did to me when I got home," Mary smiled, bringing his hand to her lips and kissing his palm. "I feel rather clear headed, actually. It's the rest of me that's sore."

"Good," Matthew said. "You're rather grumpy when you're nursing a hangover."

"Shut your face," Mary said, turning over and nudging him onto his back. She rested her head on his chest and stretched a long leg across his thighs.

"You know, the girls think that we're boring," she said lightly, running her hand across his chest.

"We? Or just me?" Matthew asked.

"Matthew," Mary began, opening her eyes.

"So what was it this time? I've always got my nose in a book instead of paying you proper attention, or you could have a much more exciting life with another man?" Matthew asked lightly, running his hand through her hair.

"I…" Mary struggled.

"Probably both," Matthew reasoned. "Catherine likely thinks I'm not a real man since I don't grope you in public or walk around with my shirt undone."

Mary laughed.

"Some people seem to have a peculiar fascination with who they think I am, or who they expect me to be, rather," Matthew smiled.

"You're not boring; not at all," Mary said firmly.

"Well I'm pleased to hear that you don't think that I am," Matthew said, caressing her back.

"Of course I don't," Mary scoffed. "Would I marry a boring man?"

"I should hope not," Matthew laughed. "Do you feel the need to correct your friends' misconceptions?"

"Not particularly. I rather like that I'm the only one who knows the real you," Mary smiled.

"Good. Now, what would you like for breakfast, or actually, it's lunch now; late lunch, in fact," Matthew asked.

"Oh, nothing yet," Mary said. "I think I'll have a soak in the tub first."

"As you wish, darling. I'll go and run your bath," Matthew said, kissing the top of her head, then easing out of bed.

Mary lay in the sunbeam as she listened to Matthew running the water for her bath. She knew he would test the temperature of the water first, then add the bubble bath, then test the water again before coming to fetch her. Smiling to herself, she rolled over and got out of bed, creeping quietly into the bathroom.

She paused for a moment and admired his bare arse and legs as he turned the taps off and squeezed the bubble bath into the water. She smirked as she reached him without detection.

"Mary?" Matthew exclaimed in surprise as she turned him around and kissed him firmly. He dropped the bottle of bubble bath and groaned from her touch.

"Mmm, is my bath ready?" she asked.

"Yes," Matthew swallowed. "I hope you like it."

"I'll like it more if you join me," Mary smiled against his lips, her hand moving between them and squeezing him playfully.

"You're rather frisky this afternoon," Matthew smiled, taking her hands and helping her into the tub.

"It seems that I am," she smiled as he sat down in the bubble covered water. She lowered herself on to him and straddled his lap, kissing him again. "There's just something in you that brings this side out of me, darling."

Matthew growled in delight and kissed her back.

fin