This is going to be my first attempt at writing a story that will hopefully reach the length of a novel at the end (about 75.000 to 100.000 words), with longer chapters than I usually write. It's also the first time I'm actually mapping out most of the story beforehand, doing actual research, and putting a lot more thought into how I want to tell it.
Let's see if I can achieve that goal. :-)
Disclaimer: The characters don't belong to me, just this story.
TRIGGER WARNING: In this story Neal has forced himself on Emma in the past (rape / non-con). It will be mentioned a few times throughout this story - detailed in the prologue (I put the scene between breaks (.::.) so you can skip it), and hinted at in future chapters.
Emma was looking back over her shoulder nervously, hoping no one had seen her walking up to his doorstep in the middle of the night. She would be ruined if it would get out. But she needed him to agree to her proposition for Henry's sake. She needed him to marry her, so that her son would not grow up in the shadows of the ton.
Neal would ruin everything if he would actually carry out his threat - saying that Henry wasn't the new Earl of Manton. That he wasn't the son of Richard Gold. Of course it was the truth. He was Neal's son. But nobody knew that. They'd been able to hide it even from the servants; Neal slipping into her boudoir every night after the whole mansion was asleep until she'd conceived. She'd prayed for it to be a boy, prayed she didn't have to go through the agony of giving her body over to Neal ever again.
But Richard was gone now, and Neal had threatened to expose her. To tell everyone that she had betrayed her husband, and had had a clandestine affair with someone else. He'd told her he would ruin their lives if she didn't spread her legs for him again. He'd come to her as soon as his father was underground, his eyes glittering manically as he slapped her, his breath reeking of tobacco and alcohol as he pushed her down on the mattress, and tore her nightshirt apart.
Emma hadn't screamed; she didn't want to wake up Henry, didn't want him to see what Neal was doing to her, even as the pain had almost ripped her apart. Neal hadn't used oil like he had before to help him ease his way into her body, he'd just forced her legs apart and thrust in without preparing her, her dry flesh resisting the intrusion, tears streaming down her face as he'd kept pounding into her until he'd spilled his release into her womb. He'd rolled off her afterwards, towering over her, his face scrunched into a disgusted expression when he'd leaned forward and spit her in the face.
"You're nothing more than a common whore, Emma. And you will obey me. I will be your master from now on, and I will fuck you every night until I've tired of you, or made your belly swell with my child again. And there is nothing you can do about it. Nothing. From now on you're mine. Mine."
He'd rushed out of her bedroom then, slamming the door shut behind him, the sound echoing loud through the silent room. She'd lain on the bed, staring at the canopy above her, feeling his seed leak out of her, praying to the Lord and all the saints who might listen to a desperate mother, that it wouldn't settle in her belly.
She'd forced herself to stand up a few minutes later, her whole body trembling as she'd stared down at the pool of blood mixed with his semen on the sheets. Her movements had been sharp and jerky as she'd pulled the sheet from the bed, not wanting to let the servants see what had happened in here, and as she'd scrubbed the blood and seed out of the sheet, she'd come to a decision.
Neal might have scarred her body and soul beyond repair, but she would not let him ruin Henry's life, too. Her life didn't matter. Her happiness wasn't important. She could only think of her son, and no one else. She would save him from this mad man. Once and for all. As far as she was concerned, Richard was Henry's father. Not Neal. And she'd make sure that he never found out who his real father was.
But they required protection. She needed to find a way to protect her son. So she'd gone to her friend Ruby, and asked for her help.
Ruby had been the one who suggested the Duke of Hillsborough. Emma didn't know him personally, had only seen him from afar. She knew he was a rake. A scoundrel. Being able to ruin reputations by only looking at a woman the wrong way. Everyone knew he didn't want to marry. Everyone knew he had a mistress who fulfilled all his wishes. A mistress who lived in considerable wealth because he paid for everything. But there had been rumors - the duke was the last of his line. His father dead, no living siblings, and an uncle who were more than willing to inherit the dukedom. He needed heirs, and he needed them as soon as possible.
Those rumors were the reason she was standing at his door right now, and before she could change her mind she lifted her hand and closed her fingers around the door knocker, pulling it away from the door, and letting it drop back. The sound seemed to echo through the silence surrounding her, and her eyes flickered back, up and down the street, hoping no on would spot her standing on the steps of the duke's home in the middle of the night.
Emma almost didn't hear the door open behind her, her heart was hammering so hard in her chest that the blood rushing in her ears almost drowned out any other sound, but a creak pierced through the buzzing, and she swirled around, her mouth almost dropping open as her eyes fell on the person standing in the doorway. She had expected a butler, or another servant. But not him.
Since when did a duke open the door himself? Even if it was the middle of the night?
"What the bloody hell do you want?"
She flinched slightly at his harsh tone, her eyes flicking up and down his body, her heart stuttering in her chest as she took in his rumpled state. His cravat was hanging loosely around his neck, his waistcoat was unbuttoned, his shirt only half tucked into his breeches.
He looked dazzlingly handsome, and extremely dangerous; his eyes a startling blue, his hair falling into his forehead, making her fingers itch to smooth it back, a day-old scruff darkening his cheeks. But there was also a coldness in his eyes, a hard edge to the line of his jaw, an almost palpable tension in his posture. He looked like one of these exotic creatures from India she'd once seen in a book. Beautiful and deadly at the same time.
The clearing of his throat startled her, and her eyes snapped back up to his. She should say something, should explain why she was here, but she couldn't get words past the lump in her throat, could just stare at him. Coming to his house was a desperate attempt, a last resort. She had nothing to offer him despite her body. But he was her only chance, and her beauty had to be enough. It just had to.
Taking in a deep breath, Emma balled her hands into fists beside her body, gathering all the courage she possessed. This was for Henry. She would do anything for him. Anything. Even sell her body and soul.
"I'm here to make you an offer, Your Grace."
One of his eyebrows shot up, his mouth curling up into a lascivious grin as he looked her up and down, the expression on his face indicating he liked what he was seeing. It would be so much easier if she could just offer her body to him, but it wouldn't be enough. She needed more than his money to stop Neal from carrying out his threats. To protect her son Emma also needed the protection his title would provide.
"I want you to marry me."