A/N: I'M BACK! I hope you didn't think for a MINUTE that I'd left this story in the proverbial fanfiction graveyard. This story will not be in any graveyard whatsoever until it is finished! Which may not be for another two years... haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahaoh dear.

So I owe you an explanation. Why did this one take me so long? Well, I've just graduated from university, followed my dream of studying Japanese, living in Japan for a year and so on and so forth, and my final year at uni was a nightmare of work and hilarious romantic tragedies. Classic. So, I guess I was pretty busy. Being back in London and unemployed, I thought to myself, "Instead of looking for jobs, why not finish the Suitor chapter you started about 2 years ago?". I've got my priorities straight, what can I say.

The funny thing is that I have been thinking about writing THIS chapter since 2008, when I started this story. I was 17 then, I am 22 now and things are rather different. The stuff I've gone through over the past five years, romantically tragic, tragically romantic and otherwise, has massively influenced my writing. I wonder if you can tell where things started to get a bit more... real. But yes, just wanted to say that all of you are wonderful, amazing people for sticking with me all this time. The fact is that all your beautiful, supportive messages and reviews not only inspire me to continue the story, they support me in loads of other ways too. So please feel free to send me a message sometime, I'd like that.

Anyway, this chapter... was difficult. Like all the other ones, it's gone through several transformations over the past year. What happens here needed to happen, it needed to be done. I laboured over it like a beautiful cake with a billion layers that took 2 years to bake. I hope you like it (now I just want to eat a billion layered cake). I've just realised this chapter is longer than my graduate thesis. Hahahaaaa that really tickles me, honestly. Ok. RIGHT.

I present to you, the ninth chapter of "Suitor" - enjoy!


"It is better to be hated for what you are
Than to be loved for what you are not"
- Andre Gide

The weather was mocking him. Truly.

He longed for storm clouds and thunder to gather and burst, for lightning bolts to be hurled down to earth in haphazard chaos. Van Fanel longed, at that moment, for a tremendous gale to come and sweep down the pedestrians strolling by his front window.

In short, the Viscount was in a dark, dark mood. And yet the heavens were remarkably clear. The midday sun shone into the parlour unforgivingly, the bright flowers in his front garden swayed slightly in the perfectly mild breeze. A little bird twittered, softly, upon the windowsill.

It was awful. Just… awful.

This being the unsettling case, he had taken the liberty of finding the only shadowed corner of the room and had plonked (in an irate fashion) an armchair there. And it was there he sat at this moment, his hands clasped nervously, his thumbs twitching.

He felt like an ass. A complete and utter ass. Hitomi Kanzaki lay unconscious upstairs in the guest bedroom for the twentieth hour in a row, her life hanging in the balance as far as he knew, and all he could do was sit and curse at the lovely sodding weather. He had been banished hours ago by the doctor, who had returned to the governess' bed chamber that morning at 8 o'clock sharp to find Van half draped across the lower end of the bed, sound asleep, practically falling off the chair on which he was still somewhat perched. He was told to go about his business until she awoke, but for the next hour, continued to pace up and down the corridor outside her door. Just in case. It was only when Mrs Miggins (the housekeeper who had been scolding him since he'd been in swaddling) threatened to push him down the stairs, that he finally retreated down to the front parlour. And there, he had only his thoughts to occupy him.

The doctor had said the governess had suffered a very severe concussion following her mysterious meeting with the solicitor, but that she should, god-willing, recover well. He had prescribed her three days of bed rest. No movement, no visitors. It was a disaster; a complete disaster.

The Viscount closed his eyes and sighed. His previous meeting with Hitomi had been… intense.

"…if I'd had you, taken you over and over again in the firelight until you'd cried out my name, filled you, fucked you… Perhaps then you would not be refusing me."

His inner demons had escaped; he had become a beast. His words, callous and cruel, had shocked her, stunned her.

"How dare you."

But when she had told him she would leave he… well, he had panicked. Logical thought had fled his clouded mind. And after he had seen her with Chid, well…

He had told her to stay, but it had not been enough. So he had tried to persuade in the only way he knew. The way he had persuaded countless women in the past. And yet this time, he had propositioned her like a desperate man. Perhaps he was desperate. Who knew.

The slap he had received had been deserved, if not expected. Of course at the time he had been furious, utterly unforgiving and stubbornly self-assured that he had, infact, not said or done anything remotely wrong or offensive.

"…Three weeks ago you danced with me, you kissed me, you thanked me for saving your life, not to mention your dignity, and now—! Now you slap me and call me a cad for telling you I want you to stay?!"

But the fact remained. He had wanted her to stay. He still wanted her to stay. Wanted to spend time with her alone, talk with her, understand her. Dare he say it, having ruled out all other options, he wanted to be her friend.

Christ, this was utterly ridiculous. Van Fanel, once London's most notorious rogue, wanted to be friends with a woman. Unfortunately it was quite apparent he hadn't a clue how to go about it. He doubted she would even agree to look at him after their argument, let alone spend time with him. Discuss Shakespearean verse with him. Pah.

He cursed beneath his breath and drew himself up from the armchair, pacing round the room. The space was far too small to contain his erratic, nervous energy. He looked worriedly at the ceiling, as if the power of his gaze alone may wake the slumbering governess above. In fact, it frustrated him how worried he was. It frustrated him how much he seemed to care about a woman who relentlessly hated him, no matter his good intentions or heroic deeds. Bloody hell, how many times did he have to save her life before she realised he wasn't the devil. He stared out the window. After the masquerade, he thought things would be different. He thought…

Jesus, what did it matter. She would always hate him. Always. A man like him would never be good enough for woman like her. Somebody so pure. Somebody good.

And yet his heart called out to her. Begged for at least some kind of acceptance. And he did not know when, or if, it would ever stop.

A knock on the door startled him. Mrs. Miggins entered.

"My Lord." She curtseyed, briefly, "Miss Kanzaki is awake—"

He had all but sprinted past her before she'd even finished speaking, rushing out into the hall and up the stairs.

"My Lord she is quite confused, please do not cause her any more anxiety than is necessary!" Van vaguely heard Miggins shout hurriedly up to him. He wasn't listening. He was at the bedroom door in a matter of seconds.

He exhaled slowly, his hand hovering over the doorknob. Why was he so nervous?

Dammit, don't be a coward, Fanel. Just apologise.

He entered, holding his breath.

However, the sight that greeted him took that lungful of air clean away.

She was standing by the enormous window, staring out of it, her hair loose, falling to the base of her neck in waving tendrils. The borrowed silk nightgown she wore pooled luxuriously around her feet, and drooped lazily off her left shoulder, baring a patch of creamy white skin he could not ignore. Light burst in from the window behind her, bathing her in golden light, lending the nightgown a translucent sheen. She looked like a goddess, standing there. Aphrodite. He swallowed. She turned. Their eyes locked. Widened.

"Where the bloody hell am I?"

Aphrodite…?

The Viscount blinked, suddenly remembering he had to speak.

"I— Why are you out of bed?" He demanded, angrily, ignoring her question, abandoning an apology for now, and gesturing to the four poster bed she had so willingly deserted.

"Answer my question!" She barked, apparently unaware or perhaps just not bothered by her state of undress.

"Calm down, for God's sake." he instructed, not all that calmly. She made him furious with no effort at all. "You're in my house. You fell and hit your head in my parlour yesterday. You've got a concussion and the doctor says you have to stay in bed for three days—"

"In your parlour? Hold on a minute, three d—" The governess stopped herself mid-word, shaking her head incredulously, "Well that is the most absurd thing I have ever heard." She gathered up her gown and walked over to the armoire. Van could not help but glimpse her smooth calves beneath the fabric.

"I don't care what the doctor says, I'm leaving at once, Merle will be worried sick! Now where the hell are my clothes?"

"You are in no fit state to be going anywhere." He approached her swiftly, worried she might topple over at any moment. "Stop cursing and get back in bed."

She opened her mouth in objection.

"Now!" He bit out over her refusal.

She stared at him incredulously. It was less than effective. She looked beautiful. Tousled and dewy from sleep. He briefly indulged in mental images of waking up next to her this way. Except the nightgown was nowhere to be seen. His lips would trace her sleepy eyelids, his fingers would trace the most intimate parts of her—"

"I am absolutely fine. In perfect health, in fact. Never felt better! Now if you'll just tell me where—"

"If you do not get back in that bed right now I will put you there myself."

Her eyes narrowed.

"You wouldn't dare…"

Van began to roll up his shirt-sleeves in preparation. He had abandoned his jacket long ago in the parlour, forgotten to do up his waistcoat. All in all he looked a complete shambles, unpresentable in any other circumstance. In this case, it simply meant he could dart for her without any hindrance, lest she tried to escape. Perfect, really.

"Oh, I would." He raised a brow, trying to ignore the baser part of his mind; the part that was tempted to put her in bed for a wholly unwholesome reason.

They glared at each other for a moment, unmoving. Van simply shrugged.

"Right then, so be it."

Before she could object to what was happening, he had swept her into his arms as if she weighed nothing at all. She struggled fruitlessly, shrieking.

"Wh— put me down at once! Put me down, I— PUT ME DOWN!"

"I'm trying to you ungrateful wench!"

She wriggled and struggled in his arms, "I cannot believe this! I am being abused! I will contact the police—!"

"Will you desist—"

"I shall notify Scotland Yard—!"

"Scotland Yard won't give a damn!" They finally reached the bed, "Now for Christ's sake when I put you down will you please just lie still?!"

To his surprise, the governess ceased her rebellious squirming. She glared at him, determinedly stubborn, and said nothing.

Van rolled his eyes and placed her, distrustfully but gently, on the cushioned mattress. He drew back, eyeing her with blatant suspicion. A few moments passed, both sets of eyes narrowed upon the other.

And then she darted so fast for the other end of the bed that he almost didn't catch her. Almost. He grabbed her shoulders just in time, pinning her back on the mattress using most of his bodyweight as he leant over the bed. She fought back, limbs flailing for freedom.

"You won't win." He muttered as he held her easily, his face hovering just above hers.

"Damn you!" She hurled abuse at him freely, "Damn you!"

A few more moments of struggle, and then stillness. Only her erratic breaths caused the rapid rise and fall of her chest. Van pretended not to notice the meagre barrier between them, nor the feeling of her breasts brushing against him repeatedly.

"Alright," She winced slightly. He imagined the pain in her head must have only just returned after the brief (if admirable) surge of adrenaline. He was so close to her now… he caught her scent again, just as he had done in the parlour earlier. Roses. His grip tightened upon her shoulders.

Do not kiss her.

"Alright." She repeated in barely more than a whisper, her eyes trained on his. They were both silent for a moment.

"You will stay in this bed until I say otherwise." He ordered, quietly but with an undertone of steel. "Understood?"

The governess swallowed.

"Understood."

Several still, soundless seconds passed before she added a quiet:

"You can let go of me now."

Van's gaze darted from her anxious eyes, to her parted lips, to where his hands clutched, perhaps too tightly, at her shoulders. He exhaled slowly, nodded, and relinquished her.

"Damned obstinate woman..." He murmured under his breath, brushing down his shirt, trying to ignore the intense arousal coursing through him. It was then that he briefly remembered something about coming to apologise. He glanced up to find the governess looking almightily confused, her brow creased, her nose wrinkled.

"What's the matter?" He asked, a little concerned.

Hitomi blinked.

"Do you know, I … I haven't the slightest clue how I got here." She said, simply, pulling the blanket across her.

"You what?"

She turned to him, disquiet etched in her features.

"I don't quite understand, I— what exactly happened? Why was I at your house in the first place?"

Van's mouth popped open slightly in disbelief.

"Are you telling me you don't remember anything from yesterday?"

Frowning, the governess shook her head. "Not a moment after breakfast."

Good lord, she'd forgotten everything. She'd forgotten their argument. Forgotten how he had insulted her, propositioned her… infuriated her. His expression must have been one of absolute incredulity, for a moment later she uttered a quiet:

"You're worrying me."

Her lack of memory explained why she was being so polite to him. Or rather, why she hadn't slapped him in the face yet. Should he tell her? Would honesty really help the situation? Had it ever?

The Viscount forced a smile.

"There's nothing to worry about." He paused, "Nothing happened. I only invited Merle over for tea, that's all."

Hitomi's hands had found their way to the left side of her head. They skimmed over a barely-visible bump there.

"And how… how did I…" She frowned, then winced in pain as she poked the swollen area blindly.

"Good God don't poke it; how old are you? Five?"

The governess smiled sadly at his jibe, replacing her hands down at her side and her head on the downy pillow.

"Seven and Twenty." She said, as if she could scarcely believe it. "Yesterday was my birthday." She was silent a moment before she frowned again. "I think."

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He was staring at her as if he had just seen a ghost, his expression blank and yet confused

"So you really don't remember anything?"

"Must you keep asking me that? I feel mortified enough as it is."

The Viscount blinked. Flashed a brief smile.

"Sorry." He walked slowly to the window and looked out of it, leaning on the frame. Hitomi watched as, after a moment, seriousness fell across his defined features.

"I really am sorry." He said again, turning his face to her.

As she wondered what on earth he was apologising for so earnestly (this time), she tried to disguise how her eyes lingered here and there upon him. With his cravat undone, sleeves rolled up and waistcoat unbuttoned, he appeared a perfect rake. A cropped wave of ebony hair had fallen slightly over his forehead as he'd turned to her. Hitomi swallowed, and ignored the fluttering in her gut, the twitching of her fingers, and the urge to stare at his firm, faintly parted lips. She imagined many women had seen him like this. Had felt this way. Oh God.

"…For what?" Her voice came out a little more unsteady than she would have liked.

Van simply continued to stare at her, his gaze as unnerving as it always was.

"Why didn't you tell me it was your birthday?" He asked eventually, turning back to the window as he openly ignored her question.

"I didn't suppose you would care to know."

"And why did you suppose that?"

Hitomi sighed.

"Because this is the first time we have held a conversation for weeks. I didn't think it was appropr—"

"Ah, yes." The Viscount chimed in. "Propriety. Your favourite." He raised a brow as if he could not help himself.

Though tempted to challenge him on that little comment, she found herself simply crossing her arms and taking the seldom-trod high road.

"Indeed." She said, quietly, ignoring his soft chuckle from the other side of the room. Silence fell between them for a few moments.

"As for your little bump," He continued after a time, "I believe you received some news from a solicitor that shocked you somewhat. You were in my parlour in fact, and as you fell you hit your head on my mother's antique mahogany table."

"I… see." Was all Hitomi could manage, simply unable to remember a solicitor, an antique mahogany table or anything to do with the event. The whole thing was rather infuriating. She closed her eyes, squinted into the darkness of her mind, reaching out for any clues that placed her here, in the guest bedroom of Van Fanel's London home. Anything at all that might have happened with a solicitor… but what on earth did a solicitor want with her?

Caught up in her thoughts as she was, she barely noticed the Viscount approach the bed. It was only when she caught the scent of green grass, summer wind and elemental male that she realised he had sat down next to her. She bit her lip and tried to avoid his gaze.

"You should rest now." He pulled the covers over her fully, "I think I've probably troubled you enough for one day."

She could not stop herself. She turned to him.

It felt like an eternity since she had stared into his eyes in such a way, and yet at the same time, it felt all too familiar. Their darkness, their depth… their unwavering heat. She felt breathless, weak. When she tried to summon a degree of her aversion to him, in its place rose up a longing she could not deny. His lips parted, as if to say something, do something. In an instant, something ignited between them. She heard his intake of breath, saw his eyes dart down to her mouth and back again. Close as they were, she could feel the heat of his body. She suddenly remembered what it felt like to have his hands on her, drifting over her skin, setting her flesh afire with need. His kisses, so soft and tender and yet demanding, devastating. She wanted… oh God, how she wanted…

Abruptly, he stood up and walked, without another word, to the door. Hitomi blinked wildly, turning to him, remembering a question she had awoken with, clasped in her memory. She had to ask.

"Van—" She was still breathless.

His hand stilled on the doorknob. After a long moment, he turned. His expression was intense, concentrated yet unsettled. He said nothing, waiting for her to continue.

"Did you… did you speak to me when I was asleep? Only, I heard a voice saying the most beautiful things and I thought… I thought it sounded like…" She swallowed. Breathed. "It was you… wasn't it?"

The Viscount stared at her. Then he nodded, wordlessly.

Hitomi could only stare back. Who was this man, she thought. Who was this man, who invaded her life, her dreams and her plans so unapologetically, who complicated everything and thought nothing of it. The same man who had comforted her in a storm, saved her from ruin, told her she was beautiful and… and had spoken poetry so softly to her that she was moved in ways she did not want to admit.

"Thank you."

Who was he.

Van held her eyes a moment more, then left the room.

And though Hitomi could not be sure, she was almost certain she had heard a softly muttered:

"You're welcome."

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"Is there something on your mind today, m'Lord? You seem somewhat distracted… M'Lord?"

The Viscount physically jolted out of his thoughts, blinking wildly as if he'd just been shaken out of unconsciousness. He cleared his throat.

"I'm fine, Smith. Nothing to worry about."

Edward Smith had been his Valet for almost four years now. He was the man who dressed him most mornings, ran most of his errands in the afternoons, and was indeed the man who carried him safely to bed on his most inebriated of evenings. In truth, Smith was more than a loyal servant. He was a valuable friend.

"I see. Well then, which waistcoat will you choose today, m'Lord?"

"M'Lord?"

"Hm? What?"

Smith frowned slightly.

"Which waistcoat." He repeated, gently.

Unfortunately, Van did not care which waistcoat. In fact, he did not care to such an extent that he was willing to forgo waistcoats and overcoats and any bloody other coat that there was, and would readily march down the streets of London in his shirt tails, utterly unembarrassed, albeit quite cold.

"You choose."

"Very good, my Lord."

The chocolate-haired valet went over to the dresser and pulled out a particularly fine waistcoat of red silk. He brought it over to the mirror, before which the Viscount stood, and held it out. Van nodded, and linked his arms through it in silence.

"There's nothing on your mind then?" Smith asked again. "Nothing at all?"

Van put the first button through its designated hole.

"Nothing at all." He flashed a tight smile. His valet raised a brow.

"Not even thoughts of a certain woman sleeping soundly in the guest room at the end of the corridor?"

The Viscount's fingers faltered momentarily on the final button. He exhaled softly.

"She is of no concern to me."

He caught Smith's sceptical expression in the mirrored glass, but chose to ignore it. He was, at that particular moment, choosing to ignore several things which were obstinately weighing on his mind. Namely, the moment he had shared with Hitomi the day before, and the truth he had withheld from her. After swearing to himself that he would stay away from her, apologise to her, treat her as nothing but a companion… he had felt a surge of lust for her so acute he could barely stand it. No… it was not simply lust, need, desire; there was no word that could encompass all he felt. As he stared into her eyes, the feeling that came over him was so peculiar that he saw no other option but to flee. He had fled the room, the house, in fact he had run away to the other side of the bloody city. He'd spent the remainder of the day drinking brandy alone in his gentleman's club, trying to rationalise his reaction. Needless to say there was much more rationalising he had left to do.

"If that's all, M'Lord, I'll take my leave."

Van gave Smith a brusque nod, staring back at his own reflection.

What are you doing? He demanded from his image, silently. What the bloody hell are you doing?

Fortunately, the rest of the morning passed easily. Calling on Merle Rogers every day had taken its toll on his business; he had much work to be getting on with, contracts to sign, accounts to settle. He shut himself inside his library and plowed through it all apace. By mid-afternoon he had finished a weeks' worth of exertion. Trying to avoid somebody seemed to suit his efficiency very well indeed. At length, he stood up from the enormous desk, strewn with papers, books and ink pots, and stretched languidly. He glanced up at the ceiling briefly, before banishing any thoughts of her that may arise. It was then that he recalled he had a fencing session booked in for the next hour. It was a welcome distraction. He needed to move, to sweat, to exert himself physically. The minute he picked up a sabre, he knew that thoughts of her would not disturb him.

Or at least, he hoped that they would not.

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Hitomi was, for lack of a better word, starving.

For breakfast, she'd been given some kind of herb-filled broth that smelled so strongly of grass she could barely swallow it. If the house staff hadn't been so wonderfully kind, she might have pointed out that she had hit her head on a table – she did not have Spanish influenza, measles, cholera, or a beastly form of gastroenteritis (thank heavens). In other words, her stomach was absolutely fine… and absolutely empty. Daydreaming of bacon, haddock, eggs and potatoes, she looked about the room and sighed. It must have been past lunchtime, but the doctor had given the house staff strict orders not to disturb her until the evening. Inevitably, at that point she would receive another course of grass-soup. Lucky her.

No. She would not stand for it. Man, and woman for that matter, cannot live by grass alone. Something had to be done. She no longer felt any pain or dizziness; in fact she was practically energetic. She simply hated lying in bed all day. Besides, she had poked and prodded (sometimes with her finger) at her mind all morning, and she still could not remember a thing about a solicitor, nor what news he may have told her. Without any visitors to see her she was quite, quite disconnected from the outside world. Moreover, if she wallowed in her thoughts any longer she was sure to become more and more agitated. She could not push the Viscount out of her head; the look they shared yesterday only served to remind her of her feelings for him. Of the passionate moments they had shared together over the past few months. But… he seemed quite different these days. More mature. Perhaps he was a fine match for Merle after all. Perhaps the young girl could learn something from him. Perhaps… perhaps they could really fall in love. Oh God.

Hitomi did not even realise she'd put her head in her hands.

Damn it all, she had to get out of this bed. She just had to. And she had to do it without anybody else noticing, or else it was grass-soup for the rest of her days. Well, for the next two days anyway. This was the matter at hand, dark-haired Viscounts be damned.

In the two minutes that followed, silent as a mouse, Hitomi crept across the room, donned a dressing robe to tie over her nightgown, and opened the door. She peered into the corridor. Left, right, left again. Empty. Which way were the stairs? Oh dear, this was a bad ide—

She heard a noise from the floor below. A sort of… shout. What on earth…

She followed the direction of the sound without much thought, darting further down the hall. Aha! The stairs lay before her, devoid of any maids, footmen, or Fanels for that matter. She descended them slowly, but with hasty steps, and by the time she'd reached the bottom her heart had swelled with victory. She was now in the front hall. The enormous gilded front door stood several feet away on her right, a marble table to the left of it, on top of which lay a single silver card tray glimmering in the sunlight. Without much time to spare, Hitomi wrenched her eyes away from the other high-quality furnishings in search of the kitchens. She turned left. The corridor was very long indeed, a parlour here, a ballroom there; the servant's kitchens, she knew, would be at the back of the house. As she tiptoed across the shining floors, she heard some movement in the rooms she passed. In one, maids were gossiping about the footmen, in another the footmen were gossiping about the maids, and in the last room she crept past, she heard… well, the same shouts she'd heard from upstairs. And movement, lots of—

"Et la!"

Fencing? She paused by the closed wooden door, rather curious. She'd never seen anybody fence, she'd only read about it. She edged closer. The sound of steel on steel made her flinch. Then she heard a deep rumble of male laughter, one she recognised.

"You're out of practice, Balgus!"

Van's voice. Antagonising a teacher, perhaps? Hitomi could not help but roll her eyes. She supposed as a student he must be rather a handful, to say the least.

Focus!

She managed to tear herself away and further into the corridor. And that's when she caught the scent of something that made her mouth water. Bread. Freshly baked bread. Ah yes, she was very close now, just a few more steps, through another doorway and…

Her plan could not have gone any better. Firstly, she had found the kitchens. Secondly, they were empty. And thirdly, there was a fresh loaf placed in the middle of the wooden table, and around it were the leftovers of the house staff's luncheon. Pots of jam and trays of butter, not to mention plates and plates of cold slices of beef, chicken and ham. It was just what she wanted. She grinned, approaching the table, absolutely ravenous.

Oh, it was wonderful. She found an unused plate and piled it high with buttered bread, forked up several slices of beef and set to work gorging herself. Everything tasted delicious after days of eating liquefied grass, doubly so in fact. It was just right. And yet… a bit of mustard would make it perfect. She scanned the table. There was none. Hm. Perhaps on the counter? She couldn't spot any there either. She stood up, flinching as the wooden bench scraped on the tiled floor. She hoped nobody was near enough to hear it. The mustard, she concluded after a few moments, must be in the larder.

And where on earth was the larder? She peered around the large room. There was a small door in the corner that must have led to it. She brushed the crumbs off herself, walked over, and opened it. Inside, the air was cool and dry. Cured meats hung above her head from sharp hooks, and before her lay an expanse of shelves containing every ingredient a cook could ever need. Hitomi searched eagerly for the elusive mustard. Of course, it was on the top shelf. She was rather tall herself, but even she could not reach so high with ease. She attempted to grab it, on point like some kind of voracious ballerina, but it was to no avail. She harrumphed.

"Oh, damn it all." She muttered, angrily. She reached again. "Damn—", and again. "It—", and again, "All!" And again—

"Would you like a hand?"

She froze.

Anyone but him, please God.

And turned.

Van was leaning casually against the doorframe, a lop-sided grin on his lips. Hitomi swallowed. He clearly had been fencing, she had been correct in that assertion. She could tell he had been doing something vigorously, at any rate. His white shirt, of which the top buttons were undone, clung slightly to his skin, and the sleeves were once again rolled up to his elbows. He wore no cravat, and a fine sheen of sweat held to the toned portion of his chest that she could see, though she urged her eyes not to linger. The waves of his black hair were in more disarray than usual, and his cheeks held a hint of redness which belied his exertion.

He spoke again before she could formulate an answer.

"I will give you to the count of three to convince me as to why you are out of bed." He said, and walked slowly across to the table. Holding her gaze, he picked up a slice of buttered bread from her discarded plate, and took a bite.

"One."

"Well you see I—"

"Two."

"Oh this isn't fair! I only—"

"Three."

"I'm bloody starving!" She cried out, overdramatically.

The Viscount paused. Swallowed.

And laughed.

Hitomi was annoyed that he had intruded on her little picnic, and yet the sound of his laughter, low and gentle – free – made her see the humour in the ridiculous situation. So much so, that she began to laugh, too. And once she joined in with him, they chuckled even harder. They carried on that way for rather a long time.

"Well I am!" She tried again, placing her hands on her hips, trying to be serious. However, she was unable to keep a straight face.

"You snuck all the way down here?" Van managed, finally. Hitomi shrugged, biting her lip.

"How in hell did you get past Mrs Miggins? Either you're spectacularly quiet, or she's losing her touch." He laughed again, taking another bite of bread.

"Oh, I was desperate!"

"Was it the grass-soup?"

Hitomi blinked. "Well… yes actually."

Van smiled.

"I, too, have had that… unfortunate honour."

A few moments later, they both sobered. The Viscount sighed.

"So what, may I ask, were you pilfering from the larder?" He approached her.

She frowned a little.

"I was not pilfering anything, I was looking for the mustard."

Van halted beside her, rather close.

"Top shelf." He reached up, effortlessly. Hitomi tried not to stare at the way the muscles rippled slightly in his toned forearm, nor notice the apparent bulge of muscle underneath his shirt sleeve. For a moment, a rather unhelpful moment, she recalled seeing him without a shirt on at all. The firelight had carved out the hills and valleys of him, dousing his smooth skin in an amber sheen. And his scar. She remembered—

"Well? Do you want it or not?"

Hitomi snapped back to reality. He was holding the mustard out to her, gesturing for her to take it.

"Thank you." She didn't dare glance at his face, so close to her own. Taking the little pot from his hand, she returned to the table hastily and sat down on the bench. The Viscount followed. He sat down opposite her.

"You really should be in bed." He said, rather seriously.

Regardless of his presence, Hitomi was not deterred from her original plan. She shrugged.

"I know."

She set to work, speckled a little mustard on her bread, placed a large slice of cold beef upon it, took a very large bite and… oh Lord, it was simply heaven.

"Mmmm…"

She took another bite.

"Mmmm!"

And another.

"Mmmm—"

The Viscount cleared his throat. She glanced up at him. He looked… slightly uncomfortable. The governess swallowed her mouthful.

"Whatever is the matter?" She asked, concerned.

Van raised his eyebrows slightly, clearing his throat again.

"I have never heard anybody enjoy their food quite so… audibly."

Hitomi blinked, taken aback.

"Was I making noise?"

The half-smile he gave her seemed to say, "Yes. Yes you were."

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-8-8-8-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o -o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Good God he had never heard a more erotic sound in all his life.

The governess, the same governess who always insisted on propriety above all things, was now sitting in front of him, mewling in subtle ecstasy. All thanks to a bit of mustard. If she could hear herself… would she even know how she could stir a man's desires? His imagination suddenly conjured images of laying her down on the table, touching her everywhere, his palms grazing gently over her nipples, his tongue tracing the pulse at her neck, drawing desperate, fevered, frenzied sounds from her lips. Christ. His breeches suddenly felt very tight.

"Oh…" He heard her say, rather surprised. "Sorry. I had no idea. It just tastes so delicious, I—"

"Don't apologise." He said, a little tightly, staring hard at a nearby spoon. He exhaled slowly, trying to release the tension coiled in his abdomen. Suffusing his blood. He closed his eyes for a moment.

Stop thinking about it.

But his imagination had moved on. It would not cease. Now, in that moment, plates clattered to the floor, he drew her legs up, baring her to the warm air. His hands moved swiftly up her smooth, pale thighs. She whimpered, her hips weaving toward him. He teased her, touched her, made her ache for it. Then, when she could no longer stand it, he entered her with one long finger, slowly, slowly. He watched her face as she cried out with the impossible pleasure of it, gasped and clutched at his arm as he moved, gently at first, then faster. His other hand reached for her breast, rolled the pearl of her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. She breathed his name, reached for him, so close to her peak now. Soon she would splinter into a thousand shards. Only then would he enter her, only then would fill her over and over again until they both shattered into ecstasy.

"V-Van?"

She was his.

"Van?"

He opened his eyes. The governess was still sat across from him, slice of bread in hand. She was not sprawled across the table, bared to him, heady with wanting. No.

Unthinking, his gaze rose to hers before he could banish those sinful images from his mind. He watched as she saw the undisguised look in his eyes. Watched as her lips, impossibly full, parted as she drew breath. She blushed, and he doubted she even knew why. How could she possibly know?

It took all the control he possessed not to go to her then. Not to take her; touch her just as he'd imagined.

He wanted her more than anything he'd ever wanted in his entire life.

But he remembered, suddenly, the confrontation she had so easily forgotten two days before. She'd been disgusted at his proposition, just as she had every right to be. His mistress…

She was too good for somebody like him. He'd had many women – too many – he'd even grown rather fond of a few. But he had never met a woman like her. She was beautiful, intelligent, witty, brave – and as stubborn as they came of course. But she was light. She was. And he… he was the deepest, darkest dark. He always would be.

But he wanted her. He still wanted her.

Their gazes held.

Hitomi stood up, gathering her dressing robe. Her expression was somewhat unreadable, somewhat distressed.

"I think I'll go upstairs now, I'm feeling rather dizzy." She said quietly.

Her words brought him back to consciousness. He cleared his throat again, trying to appear calm when inside his pulse was racing. Oh Christ, what was he doing. He had to put a stop to this. Now. Fate had provided him with another chance to earn her trust; this time he would do it right. He stood.

"Would you like me to read to you?" He blurted out.

The governess blinked several times, rather taken aback at the change in his countenance.

"N-Now?" She stuttered.

"Perhaps this evening."

Hitomi seemed to weigh up the offer in her mind momentarily, as if examining the comment for some sort of hidden trap within.

"I… that would be… lovely." She said, somewhat warily.

Holy hell, she actually accepted.

After a few seconds, Van nodded to her, gently.

"Good."

She nodded back.

"Alright then."

Their gazes held for a moment before she turned to leave.

"And Hitomi…" He spoke after her gently. She looked back to him. "If I see you out of bed again, I will tell Miggins to put you in a straightjacket."

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-8-8-8-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o -o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"The marriage was not born out of love. It was a deal. A debt. A price to pay. Fate led them both to the altar with a heavy hand, and eclipsed the once heady glow of choice."

Hitomi sighed deeply, shaking her head. At the sound, the Viscount looked up from the tattered book resting in his hand, his features etched with concern.

"What's the matter? Shall I stop?"

"Oh, no… no, please don't." She implored, meeting his gaze briefly before staring back down at her fidgeting fingers. He had been talking and reading with her for the past two hours, and it had been wonderful, just wonderful. As he read, his voice flowed over each word with the practiced poise of a skilled actor, each syllable carried through an array of tones and timbres, the sounds of which filled her head with a glowing warmth. She had never heard his voice like this before; it was beautiful. But the book he had chosen was so very sad, and she had begun to grow rather upset at the fate befalling the characters in their little, distant world.

"It's just… it's just that it's so tragic." She said, quietly. "With the young girl separated from her world and her family, and the King torn so cruelly from his kingdom, his brother, his father—" She shook her head again, "and now a young princess must marry another man for money… it… it—"

"It's life." His voice, low and soft, reached her.

She glanced up at him, catching his eyes again. The candlelight, somehow, made his gaze impossibly darker. She could not bear to look at him for more than a few seconds. Ever since that afternoon in the kitchen, she had not stopped thinking of them, remembering the images that he had evoked within her just with that one look. She'd had to leave the room because of it. To run away from the sin that those eyes had promised. Of course, she had tasted that sin before. Now those images rose up again in her mind, more potent than ever, and she could not have stopped them even if she'd wanted to.

His lips would come to hers, not gently, not harshly, but with an urgency she could feel as keenly as fire licking at her veins. His mouth would trace the line of her jaw, her neck, down to her breast, licking, sucking, shaping the tip with his skilful tongue until it was a tight, hard bud. She would gasp, and then moan, her breath catching here and there as his hands explored every inch of her body.

"Fate demands what it will, and sometimes we have no choice but to obey."

She blinked wildly, coming out of her reverie. For a minute she thought he was reading from the book again, yet he wasn't. His gaze was still intense upon her.

"But there is always a choice." She replied without thinking. A second later her eyes widened.

"There is always a choice, Hitomi."

There was a flash; a slap; a memory; a face.

His face.

She had pointed a finger at him before she knew what she was doing, her eyes narrowing as she tried to remember, "… when did you say that to me?"

The Viscount's expression did not change.

"Say what to y—"

"Did I hit you?"

"Hitomi—"

"Did I hit you?"

"What are you—"

"Tell me!"

Van made no reaction, his face assuming the same unreadable mask she had seen many times. A moment later he raised a rakish brow. She recognised that look. He was about to say something calculated and appropriately devastating. That look reminded her of when they had first met. She didn't like it.

"However much you may have wanted to hit me in the past, you are yet to manage such a feat. And indeed if you had, I'm sure it would sit most proudly and steadfast within your memory."

Hitomi watched in silence as he closed the book he held, standing with unpractised elegance from the gilded antique chair next to where she lay.

"You should sleep. Your head is seemingly not healed. I'll bid you goodnight." He walked to the door without another word.

Dear lord, had she actually managed to offend the man? She hadn't done that in quite a while.

"Wait."

"You need to rest." He didn't stop.

"Please!"

He halted before the door but did not turn round. Hitomi sat up higher against the headboard, running her fingers through her hair in exasperation before dropping her hands once again into her lap.

"I-I'm sorry, I just thought I'd remembered, that's all. I didn't mean to insult you. I simply…" She swallowed, staring at his back, her fingertips fiddling with the embroidered coverlet. "You would… you would tell me if you knew anything about that day… wouldn't you?"

She watched him nod.

"Then… I'm sorry." She repeated, "It must have been my head playing tricks on me." She smiled, gently. "Please. Won't you… won't you read to me a little longer?"

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-8-8-8-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o -o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

It was killing him that she was apologising for being right. She'd called him a coward once; well now he was certainly acting like one. But he simply could not tell her. If she remembered everything he'd said to her on that morning, that he'd propositioned her in such a way... well, needless to say he would probably get another slap at the very least. And the rickety bridges he had rebuilt between them would surely collapse into dust. She wouldn't let Merle anywhere near him. She did not need to know.

He closed his eyes for a moment, schooled his features into blankness, and turned to face her. The candlelight was casting a golden sheen upon her porcelain skin, her green eyes glowing with concern.

"Please." She implored once more.

Van swallowed, glancing down at the book in his hands and then back to her.

"I really should leave you alone. Tomorrow we will continue—"

"But supposing we do not see each other tomorrow—" She interrupted, a little earnestly. The Viscount could not help it; he smiled faintly.

"I'm almost certain you will live to see another dawn. Once more, I bid you goodnight." His hand reached for the door again.

"Yes, but I leave in the morning!" The governess continued relentlessly, growing more and more restless, "If I don't hear the end of the story by then, I will never hear it and… and that would be…" She paused for a moment, "I…" , tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear and looked back down at her hands. "That would be just awful." She murmured, finally, composing herself.

He stared hard at the top of her head, knowing full well that he should definitely exit the room for both his sake and hers, but knowing also that he would take great pleasure in reading her the rest of his brother's novel. After all, she was the only person he had ever shared it with. But that was beside the point.

"We will finish it next time." He said, softly.

"Next time?" The governess released a mirthless laugh and looked back up at him. Their eyes caught in the candlelight. "Surely you know as well as I that we will not see each other again."

His reaction was, he feared, visible. The flash of surprise that lit his eyes, the way his entire body went taut for a moment, the way his lips parted slightly. He knew she had seen it. She had talked of this two days ago in his parlour downstairs. Indeed, it had been the very reason they had argued, the very spark that had set the fire ablaze between them. He had asked her to remain here, had implored her to stay on as his mistress. She had refused. What followed, he did not wish to re-live again. His lips moved as if to say something, and yet he found he could not utter a word.

If she were to remember…

It was time to leave.

Hitomi smiled weakly. "Oh, don't look so shocked. You've always known I couldn't stay on in your household."

He continued to hold her gaze in silence. She was looking at him almost… expectantly. Perhaps in her subconscious memory she was awaiting his plea for her to stay.

"Is that all you have to say?" She asked, still not meeting his gaze.

"Don't go."

Her eyes came up to meet his at that moment, full of sadness, full of… pain.

"I have no choice."

He watched her, silently.

"There is always a choice, Hitomi."

The memory induced his stomach to drop; he realised he could no longer ask such a thing of her. Indeed, he should never have asked such a thing of her in the first instance.

Let her go.

"Of course." He said, barely hearing the words.

Then, without thought, he approached the bed where she lay, his brother's book resting gently in his outstretched hand.

"Then I suppose this is goodbye." He motioned for her to take the tome from his fingertips. "This belongs to you now. Consider it a token to… remember me by." The last words he spoke were filled with a self-loathing he could not disguise. Hitomi only blinked, her expression bewildered.

"No… wait, I didn't mean for you to—"

"Take it."

"But I couldn't possibly—!"

"Take it."

Their gazes locked. She moved, but her hand faltered as it reached for the book.

"A-Are you quite sure—?"

"I will not offer again." He said, his tone cool in the warm air.

She took it gingerly; stared at it and held it as if it were a most precious treasure. At that moment, Van could not honestly say why he had decided to give Folken's book to her. It was the object in which he had taken no small amount of solace since his brother's death, the words having been scrawled in Folken's own meticulous hand, drawn from his own meticulous mind. And yet it seemed only right to give it to her as they parted, since she had expressed such fondness for it. But why it had seemed so right, he simply could not say. He only knew that the sight of her with his brother's little book made his chest contract painfully with something he did not recognise. He shook it off, whatever it was.

"I will cherish it."

The words, said with a sweetness such as he had never heard, made him want to take her face in his hands and kiss her until she was breathless. It took every inch of his self-control not to go to her. His fingers twitched.

Let. Her. Go.

"Thank you." She uttered to him.

Van held her gaze a moment longer, nodded, and turned to leave once more. There were, without question, many things he could have said in farewell. Perhaps "you're welcome", or "please do not thank me", maybe even "it's been a pleasure". But only one thing seemed right when he had reached the door, opened it and had taken one step into the hallway.

"Au Revoir."

The door closed with a soft click.

Until we meet again.

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Hitomi could not sleep.

She had tossed and turned and cursed for hours. And yes, she knew it had been hours because of the damned chimes from the grandfather clock out in the hall. Those high-pitched hourly bells seemed to be mocking her, and were definitely not helping her gain any peace of mind. She was growing more alert by the minute, the blankets growing more tangled, and her patience wearing ever more thin. If she did not fall asleep in 10 minutes, she declared silently, she would simply give up altogether and jump out the window.

Well… perhaps not.

But no matter how she tried, she could not stop her brain from constantly battling to reclaim the patches of darkness in its memory. To still not recall the events of that day… well, she felt more helpless than ever before. There had certainly been a brief flash of… something when the Viscount had been reading to her earlier. In the depths of her subconscious she had seen his face barely inches away from her own, felt his hot breath in her ear. But, more suddenly than she could possibly comprehend, her hand had risen and she'd struck him hard. That was all. She had seen nothing else. She hadn't known where or how or why these feelings had come upon her. But what was the point in wondering when they were nothing more than illusion? Van had told her he had no recollection of such an event and, frankly, she had believed him. But why on earth was she trusting him now?

The answer lay within the fact that over the past two days, and indeed the past three weeks, he had shown himself to be kind, understanding and – dare she say it – sweet. Of course, two days in particular could not erase the tempestuous history they shared, nor could it change the fact he had utterly disrespected her for much of their relationship. She would never forget that. But, perhaps, she could forgive. Moreover, his recent behaviour proved something that she had suspected for a while now: beneath the stubborn façade of arrogance, cunning and conceit that he had built up for much of his life, there was a gentleman. It was simply very, very… very deep down. Nevertheless, there it was. And besides, what on earth could he have said to her in the parlour that would have warranted such a violent act on her part? Hadn't he mentioned that she and Merle had simply been invited over for tea that day? It didn't make sense that she would have struck him. He was telling the truth, she was sure of it.

Rain began to tap, softly at first, then hard and heavy on the window pane.

Oh please, not a storm. That's all I bloody need.

Hitomi pulled the blankets up to her face.

And the solicitor? She continued to ponder in an effort to take her mind off the ominous weather outside. Why on earth would a solicitor want to see her? Oh, she did hope it wasn't because something awful had happened to Merle's parents on the continent. Or perhaps it was Liddy? If she had forgotten something so tragic then she would never forgive herself. She simply had to remember. She had to—

And that was when the thunder started.

CRASH

"Oh!" She gasped, hiding under the covers. No. She would not let this happen now. Not again. She would not cry out in fear. She would not think of that time in her life. She would not break down. She would be strong.

She knew the only way to get through it was to focus hard on other things. The smell of the duvet. The goosebumps on her skin. The sound of her breathing. The tick of the grandfather clock. The… the memory of his face.

Yes. That was it.

There wasn't time to consider why she shouldn't. She could not stop, even if she'd wanted to. His eyes…. and…

With soft, languid fingertips, she held his face in her mind, tracing over every feature.

Eyes. Dark fire. How well she knew them. How many times they had looked at her; into her. The wicked things they had promised so silently. And the quiet, aching pain behind them. How well she knew those eyes. With thick black lashes that Liddy would say are wasted on a man. And yet no feature seemed wasted on Van's face. Not even that stern, solemn brow. Hard yet soft. Her fingers skimmed over either side. His—

A white flash.

CRASH

"No!"

A dark, cold night. Her mother was dead. She was alone. Her f—

No! No more!

His… his nose! Yes! His nose! She had never really thought about it before… wasn't now the time?

Flash.

CRASH

Dark. Rain. Dead. Alone. Always alone.

Please…

She whimpered. It wasn't enough. It was never going to be enough.

I can do this.

In one final attempt to pull through the darkness, her fingertips touched his lips. His lips. Yes… yes. She knew those lips. She remembered the way they felt. How could she possibly forget? The way his wicked mouth had found hers so many times, had shared her breath. Had made her head spin and her body flare and heat so desperately. With those lips, he had made her feel beautiful and feminine and… and free and…

The fingertips disappeared. She kissed him softly, tentatively, desperately. He was holding her, embracing her in the storm.

CRASH

But he began to fade.

CRASH

"Please!"

CRASH

White hot light filled the room just as her eyes burst open. And there was nothing more she could do. She had lost.

She was seven years old again, alone and afraid. Her heart ached, broke, tears falling onto the pristine pillow case. Her mother was dead, her father didn't even know her and—

"Your father's fortune cannot be secured indefinitely."

She stopped breathing, deaf to the thunderous crash which shook the house.

What was…

Her father's… her father's fortune? Who's voice was this? Her father… her father—

"I am afraid Lord Farquar passed away last night."

"Oh my god." She sat up, her heart beating hard and fast. The tears were still falling. Was this—?

And then it all flooded back, a tidal wave leaving no stone unturned in her memory.

"You will now live in his London home…"

She remembered the solicitor.

"…have access to all his land and estates in the country…"

Her father had died.

"…and under my supervision, be given an extremely generous allowance each month"

But she was legitimate.

She had to move into twenty-seven Grosvenor Gardens… immediately. Her father's house.

Now it belonged to her.

"Do you understand me?"

Her chest rose and fell erratically, panic gripping the edges of her consciousness and shaking her over and over and over, forcing her to comprehend that... she was…

Lady Farquar.

"Lady Farquar."

"No!" She choked out, "No… no, I can't… I won't!"

She scrambled from the bed, throwing back the covers, needing to get out, breathe, escape her past, escape her future, but—

Thunder boomed and crashed and white light slashed through the room.

"If you are not married within these six months, Lord Farquar's estates and his money will be passed over to the nearestmalerelative. You will no longer be supported."

Hitomi cried out as she almost collapsed, clutching desperately onto the far bedpost to support herself.

This could not be. Could never be. She couldn't possibly, she… she would not marry, would not sign her life away to a man just to live a lie; a life that was never meant for her. She wanted to leave London, to leave the country, to—

CRASH

"Don't go."

Now another voice sang out in her memory. But this time it was far more familiar.

"I can't stop thinking, dreaming about having you beneath me, pleasuring you until you beg me to—"

"Oh please, please, no more!" She pleaded to the darkness. Oh god, she could not comprehend—

"We'll have a place in the house just for us. A secret, away from the rest of the world… Merle will never know."

Her fingernails were digging into the bedpost, scarring the lacquered wood. She heard her own voice.

"You're treating me like awhore!"

Then his voice.

"Or are you just bitter I denied you that night? Because sweetheart, if I'd really treated you like a whore, if I'd had you, taken you over and over again in the firelight until you'd cried out my name, filled you, fucked you…"

She heard herself strike him.

"I wish you and Merle happiness with all my heart."

Then only silence. And thunder.

After a long, heavy moment, she forced a breath out amongst her tears, her shock, her confusion. Then another breath, and another, waiting until she remembered how to do it without conscious effort.

She lacked the energy, lacked the spirit to grow more upset at the fact he had lied to her again. Had treated her in such a way. Of course he had lied about it. Of course he had.

The moments they had shared in the last two days seemed to drift slowly away, apart, falling into meaninglessness. She had been such a fool to think he had changed.

And Merle. What would Merle do now?

Another crash of thunder, another bolt of lightning.

Hitomi cried out again, pressing her forehead tightly against the bedpost.

Let me disappear. Just let me disappear.

A second later, the latch on the door clicked. She gasped and looked up at the intruder.

"Hitomi?"

She froze.

The Viscount's eyes widened as he caught sight of her.

"Jesus Christ, what the hell happened?!" He rushed toward her without warning, the door closing behind him.

"Don't!"

Van faltered. Stopped two paces away from her.

"What—"

"I said don't! Don't come any closer!" She shut her eyes for she could not bear to look at his face.

Hitomi heard him take several unsteady breaths. Heard him swallow. Heard him realise.

"You remember."

The words barely settled over the pelting of the rain upon the window. But she knew he had said them. She nodded, feeling her energy diminish with every passing second. Van took another step toward her.

"Let me explain—"

"I have no wish to hear anything you have to say to me ever again." She interrupted him, her eyes still closed, her voice sharp.

"Please, I—" He took another step.

CRASH

"Stay away!" She shouted over the thunder, in terror, in anger. Her eyes finally flashed open, skimming over him, filling anew with tears.

She was barely taken aback by the fact he wore nothing but dark trousers, clearly pulled on in haste for they were not properly fastened and rested loosely on his hip. She watched as his chest, bared fully to her, rose and fell with every breath he took.

"You lied to me." The words fell slowly. She stared at where his heart should have been. "You acted as if nothing was wrong, as if you were my friend—"

"I am your friend—"

"Oh please!" She shouted over him, furiously. "Do not insult my intelligence by pretending you considered me anything more than a means to an end! That's what I've been all along isn't it?! Something you could use!"

He stared hard at her.

"That is not true."

"It is!" As her anger increased, so too did her strength, if only for a few moments. She released her grip on the bedpost, closing the distance between them, glaring resolutely into his frustratingly handsome face, carved in moonlight. "How many times have we been over this?! From the moment we met, you haven't thought once about the consequences of your actions, about who I am, what I think or how I feel!" She watched his face darken, but did not let him speak.

"Forget the fact that I could have died, you must have been so relieved when I couldn't remember a thing about that day, about the fact you had propositioned me like some common strumpet off the street!" She gestured wildly, almost losing her balance.

"Have the past two days really meant nothing to you at all?!" He snapped, edging closer, clearly losing a grip on his control. "Have I not shown you that I am not a monster!?"

"They meant everything!" She shouted before she could stop herself, tears streaming down her face. "They meant everything!" A flash of lightning lit the room for a split second. He was glaring at her, breathing heavily. "I thought you had changed. I thought I was—!" She hesitated. "…B-But now I know it was all a lie, and you will never, ever be anything but a conceited, arrogant—"

"I lied because I didn't want to upset you, because I've reconsidered—"

"Do not fool yourself—"

"I have replayed that day over and over in my head, and I cannot stop thinking of—"

"If you try to apologise to me, so help me god I—"

"Will you let me speak—?!"

"I cannot comprehend why you continue to treat me in this manner!"

Without warning, the Viscount slammed his hand against the bedpost above her head, grabbing it and trapping her beneath his arm, his self-restraint in tatters. His eyes were black. Lethal. She froze.

"And what manner is that exactly?! Letting you stay in my house? Paying for the finest physician in London to attend you? Sitting by your bedside for days, reading to you for hours, telling you things I have never told anybody, giving you the book I treasure most in the world?" She tried to move away but he leaned in closer, his free arm holding her shoulder, pinning her in place. The governess stared resolutely into his eyes.

"That proves nothing."

"Nothing?" He was no longer shouting, but the heat in his voice was potent. His face was mere inches from hers now. "I woke up to the sound of you screaming, and I ran here because I wanted to offer you some semblance of comfort in the storm. I wanted you to know that I was here for you, that you were not alone, that I cared about your well-being."

"My well-being is none of your concern." She bit out, her gaze set upon his, unwavering. She tried not to be distracted by the way he was looking at her. Like he could consume her at any moment.

He flashed a mirthless smile.

"If only, sweetheart. If only."

Hitomi blinked. After a few seconds, she shook her head in disbelief.

"Are you honestly trying to tell me that you care for me?" She said, her voice low but incredulous. "Is that what you're saying? After everything you've done? When I know for a fact that you have never once thought about me, never once considered—"

"I think of you constantly. Every day. Every minute. I feel things for you that I cannot even try to explain - and believe me, if I could stop any of it, I would." He said, clearly frustrated by the fact. "But I can't."

"I—"

Her voice faltered at his words. She tried to repel them immediately. She tried not to believe him, not to listen. They were not real. This was not real.

Enough is enough. Get away from him. Now.

She took several steady breaths.

"Get out."

The Viscount did not react, nor did he move. The rain continued to worsen outside, its voice akin to a thousand heartbeats, dropping on the windows, the streets, the earth. A roll of thunder boomed through the air again.

Hitomi barely flinched. She was too busy glaring at him.

"Get. out." She repeated, slower, sharper. Still, Van did not move.

"You feel it too." He remarked, quietly.

Hitomi ignored his semi-question, choosing instead to physically push him away.

"Get out!" Her hands came into contact with the heat of his skin, the resistance of his taut, muscled chest. She pushed, hard, but he was not at all unbalanced. He was, in all honesty, much stronger than she.

"Is that the real reason you're so angry?"

Hitomi balled her hands into fists, began hitting him and shoving him as violently as she could.

"Get out!" She shouted, furious, confused, ashamed. "Just get out!"

"What are you so afraid of?!" He shouted back, grabbing her wrists so she could no longer strike him.

"No!"

"Tell me!"

She broke down.

"I'm afraid of everything!" She sobbed, struggling in his grip, "I can't, I— I'm afraid of you, I'm afraid of the way you look at me and what you say to me, I'm afraid of everything you feel for me, everything you want from me because... because I—!"

She stopped herself, looked away from his dark, desperate eyes, breathing raggedly, shaking, trying to escape his hold on her, over her.

"Because you what?" Van pleaded, his voice rough, thick with emotion. Hitomi only shook her head.

"No…"

"Because you what!?"

"No!"

"Hitomi—!"

"Because I want it too!" She cried, hating herself, hating him for making her admit to any of this, yet unable to stop. "I want everything that you want, and it terrifies me!"

The Viscount continued to hold her hands in place, his brow earnest, his eyes disbelieving, his breathing deep but unsteady. Then, slowly, he released his grip on her, letting her arms fall. She did not move. Nor did he. A flash of lightning lit the room.

Hitomi winced, then swallowed, looking down at the carpet.

"But what does it matter when we could never… we can never…"

She felt his fingers brush beneath her chin, tilting it up gently. They watched each other silently, utterly still save for their ragged breathing. Every silent second that passed by, the tension grew between them, as did an unbearable heat and an indescribable, incomparable need.

"Never." Van echoed.

When he drew his thumb lightly across her bottom lip, she could not help but release a barely audible gasp. Her heart began to beat uncomfortably hard, and something sinful fluttered deep within her.

"Never…" Her breath caught as her eyes darted down to his lips, so close now. Sensation speared through her at the thought of kissing him.

Never… but…

She had not felt so desperate for another person's touch in all her life. She hated him. Hated what he had done… but… but it was as if she could not go on breathing if he did not kiss her. As if she would die if he didn't hold her; she felt too weak to fight it now. She brought her hands up to his chest once more, though she was no longer pushing him away. There was only one thing she could tell herself.

Tomorrow I will run. I will run and I will never come back.

Hitomi fought the urge to cry out as his lips took hers. All she felt in that moment, all she had battled tirelessly against for the last month, was a longing for him so acute that when he finally touched her, she wanted to burst, to blaze, to run away and yet hold him impossibly closer. She knew it was wrong, that it went against everything she swore she'd never do; she knew that tomorrow she would despise him, despise herself more than ever. But his kisses, all liquid fire and sinful promise, drew every shred of doubt and fear from her blood. She had to know. She had to live just once

Her body was no longer her own. She did not know exactly what would happen next.

She only knew that she would relish every second of it.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-8-8-8-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o -o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Van did not kiss her gently. Tonight was not a time for gentleness or hesitation.

Tonight, he understood, was the only chance they'd ever have. She had admitted everything to him, and thusly he knew that she would run. He knew that he would never see her again.

This chance was one he must take – now – or else face regret every damned day of his life.

He took her mouth relentlessly, urgently, wordlessly pushing her back against the bedpost as she responded in ardent desperation. God, she tasted sweet. He wanted to taste her everywhere, to explore every inch of her skin with his lips.

It happened fast; her fingers sliding into his hair, his hand at her breast, her unrestrained gasp of pleasure as he teased her over the meagre barrier of her nightdress. He made a low sound of appreciation as she shivered and moaned softly in his arms, drinking in her sighs as he began to gather the white fabric up and up over her thighs. He wanted, needed to see her in the shadowed moonlight, just as he had imagined her in his dreams so many times. But she suddenly froze in his embrace, her mouth leaving his bereft, her breaths coming light and quick. It was then he remembered that she was untouched. Untutored, untainted by anybody… anybody but him.

He drew his hands away from her soft body, placing them on either side of her face, letting the hem of her nightgown fall to the floor once more. She looked up at him, her eyes wide and cautious. He was losing her.

"Don't be afraid." He breathed unsteadily.

Even in the dark, even though her response until that moment had shown otherwise, he could tell she was struggling to break free from a lifetime of holding back. He watched the conflict burn in her eyes, watched as she waged battle within herself, watched as she took his hands from her face and slowly lowered them to his side, never breaking eye-contact. He immediately ached to touch her again; his fingers twitched at the thought. He waited for her to flee. He had no choice but to let her.

But instead she did something he did not expect.

The prim, proper governess who had berated him and slapped him for his desires, had reached for the strings that held together her nightdress, her fingertips shaking as she loosened them, one by torturous one, beneath her collarbone. Van swallowed as the garment began to gape open.

Wait…

Wait.

She took the fabric on either shoulder. Lifted it. Pulled it back. Dropped it to the carpet. The silk slithered over her skin in the most hypnotic dance he had ever witnessed.

And there she stood. Silent. Bared to him. A vision in moonlight.

Aphrodite.

She could only look at him, imploring, unknowing, unaware of how unbearably beautiful she looked in that moment. Nothing, no woman he had ever seen before, could even begin to compare. He had dreamt of this for months, and he drank in the sight of her – all of her – for one second, another, another, and another.

And then he could wait no longer. He went to her, his lips claiming hers hungrily, deeply, his hands at her hip, her waist, her soft skin so yielding to his touch, so warm and smooth that he felt he might go mad if he had to let her go. He pulled her to him none too gently, kissing across her jaw, down her neck, relishing every gasp, every moan and delicately sinful sound he could draw from her. When his mouth closed around her nipple, licked and sucked and bit the tip, she arched into him, into the evidence of his desire, and breathed his name.

It was his undoing.

Without another thought, he picked her up in his arms and carried her to the bed, just as he had done two days before. This time, he did not intend to leave her side. He placed her on the mattress, kissing her soundly as he rose above her, his hand trailing swiftly down her stomach, down, down to a place of pure sensation. When he touched her there, teasing her open gently with his finger, he felt her nails dig into the muscles of his shoulder, felt her gasp into his mouth, felt her tremor in nameless expectation. He broke the kiss as he entered her, slowly, with one long finger, watching as pleasure saturated her senses. The noise she made, shocked, aroused, breathlessly carnal, would haunt him for years, he was certain.

He made it last. He drew every touch, every cry, every sensation as far as it could go, and stayed with her, kissing every inch of her skin he could reach as she moved on instinct beneath him, all the while desperate to take her, to make her his. She shattered into ecstasy with a quiet, ardent suddenness, her hips weaving towards his body in a question she didn't understand. Finally, the tenuous hold he had over his self-restraint fractured, and he removed the last cloth barrier between them. Her eyes widened when she caught sight of him, full, hard and ready. He tipped her face up, caught her gaze.

Stay with me. He urged her, silently.

They watched each other for a long moment. And then, with a tenderness he hadn't known he could harness, he lowered his lips to hers and kissed her; soft, sensual, craving. Her response in kind was sweet permission. He moved above her.

One swift stroke, and they were joined.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-8-8-8-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o -o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Hitomi cried out at his invasion, at the swiftness of it, at the sting that permeated her entire body, the feeling of uncomfortable pressure and fullness that stunned, shocked and overtook every sense she had ever known. Van made a low sound in his throat, his breaths coming hard and fast above her, his eyes more animal than she had ever seen them. And then he was still. He did not move, though there was a faint, faint tremor in his arms. She shifted beneath him, unknowing, unsure.

A thousand sensations speared through every nerve ending in her body. She gasped for air.

"—Don't—… Don't move." His voice was rough, deep. The sound of it, thick with desire, made her belly tighten, even through the pain. She reached up, hand shaking, to smooth back a waved ebony lock that had fallen across his face.

Again, they watched each other silently for several long seconds, their breaths frayed and hot between them. He lowered his face to hers, took her mouth once more.

And then there was friction. Glorious friction as he stirred to life above her, inside her. The tender sting remained…

Oh God.

Remained…

Oh…

And melted away.

She clutched his shoulders as undeniable pleasure bloomed, the same peculiar, unbridled pleasure she'd felt not minutes ago at his sinful touch. The pressure inside and around her did not ease; it grew warmer, heavier, deeper, feverish, more desperate, more incomprehensible. She could not keep her eyes open for the intensity of it. He held her hard as he took her over and over and over, until she began to learn the dance, began to rise and fall to it, to shape her body to his. Between every consuming, carnal kiss they shared, each breathy gasp, guttural moan, each cry that escaped them only served to swell the heat and the overwhelming need between them. His hands were everywhere, flagrantly worshipping every part of her body. He was saying her name but she barely heard him, struggling for air, struggling for sanity. When he reached down to where they were joined, touched an unbearably sensitive part of her, the flame in her blood rose, and roared, and became an unstoppable, unbearable blaze. She cried out like a wanton as he continued relentlessly, torturously, faster, deeper, his taut glistening body sculpted in moonlight. Then, with an earthly, desperate sound, he grabbed her hips, tilted them up so she could take him all.

They crashed through the burning, blinding zenith together, bodies entwined, every nerve-ending aflame, mouths searching, seeking, struggling for breath. When it gradually, steadily subsided, they could only hold each other, exhausted, elated, terrified, knowing that nothing would ever be as right, as sweet, as simple as this; two souls meeting in a storm.

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...

Soooo... er..

What did you think?

I just want to explain something a little here. I didn't want the love scene to be overly schmaltzy. It was, essentially, a split-second "bad" decision for both of them, it needed to be quick and practically thoughtless. I didn't want there to be any dialogue during it, I didn't want to weigh it down with hilarious metaphors for male genitalia. I wanted it to be... enough, but I wanted it to be swift and real and kind of... desperate. I hope that was somewhat noticeable in the text.

If you read it, please review it. I'm pretty anxious to know what you think!

You are amazing, thank you so much for reading.

Toodles!