Lord Bass was bored. It had been a long and tedious evening at Buckingham Palace. As Queen Victoria rose and gave her hand to the Prince Consort, Chuck barely managed to stifle a yawn. His mind briefly wandered to the evening he had planned with his current mistress and he couldn't help the devilish smirk that crossed his lips. After having purchased the little minx her desired sapphire necklace he fully expected to be repaid in the most lascivious ways. Perhaps another night or two in her arms and then he would give her a nice dismissal gift of a matching pair of sapphire earrings or perhaps a bracelet to ensure there would be no distressing scene. He never kept a mistress longer then a month or two at the most. There were too many delectable ladies to be sampled and explored for him to ever remain faithful to one. Already his eye was starting to wander to the many married and unmarried ladies present as he searched out another to take his current mistress's place. It wouldn't be hard tofind a replacement. Chuck Bass, Duke of Devon, was one of the wealthiest and most gossiped about gentlemen in all of England. Known throughout all of London as a rake, he was the type of man anxious mothers kept far from their virgin daughters and married women eagerly sought to bed.
Restless for the evening to end, Chuck almost sighed with relief when the Queen began her slow, dignified exit of the throne room. He wondered how anyone could possibly enjoy these stiff and drawn out ceremonials. If it weren't for his title and his need to be in the good graces of the court he would have forgone the evening for the more pleasurable delights to be found in the bedchamber.
As the Queen got closer there was the flutter of silk, satin and tulle as the ladies swept to the ground in low curtseys. Chuck waited his turn to bow as the Queen stopped to talk to the prime minister. It would soon be over now, Chuck thought and he felt a sudden craving for a glass of scotch and a breath of fresh air. It had been a long and tedious night dancing attendance to her Majesty. Only the Queen could have found the evening's staid socialization and stiff formality entertaining.
At last the royal procession was on the move again and there was the sparkle of orders and decorations as masculine heads bowed. Chuck got ready to bow and then realized to his own surprise the Queen was about to speak to him.
Chuck looked down at her. It was amazing how such a tiny woman could manage to exude such an aura of dignity. It was impossible not to be in awe of her. Tonight she seemed happy, her eyes were dancing gaily and her mouth was spread in a wide grin. Regarding the Queen warily, Chuck knew better then to assume anything where she was concerned. He had often seen those same bright eyes darken in affronted obstinacy and her mouth set into a steely line within seconds. When that happened it was best to be as far away from the royal person as possible.
"It is nice to see you here, Lord Bass," her Majesty said in her clear, overly-modulated voice.
"I thank you, Your Majesty," Chuck murmured.
"We have not seem much of you lately," the Queen said disapprovingly, a small frown furrowing her brow. "When you come again, we shall be glad to welcome at your side, a wife."
Chuck had no reply ready and for the first time his always-clever tongue was silent. He was so astonished that for a moment he thought he could not have heard right. Holding out her hand for the Earl to kiss, the Queen smiled at him primly then before he could respond, her Majesty passed on. The rippling wave of curtseying women and bowing men continued on down the room.
Sir Bass stood very still as if paralyzed. His brain halted, all thought ceasing, as he tried to take in the full import of what the Queen had said. The sound of the doors being flung open by the red liveried servants for her Majesty and the sounds of the royal procession passing by finally restored his scattered senses.
White as a sheet he turned to leave only to find himself face to face with the Prime Minister, Sir Grenville.
"As you might have guessed, your Lordship, her Majesty wishes you to marry with all possible haste," the man said stiffly.
"I gathered that," Chuck said mockingly. "The question is,why?"
The Prime Minister cleared his throat uncomfortably andpulling out his silk handkerchief he wiped his now sweating brow. "Talk of your romantic entanglements has reached the ears of her Majesty and she does not approve. The kind of behavior and licentiousness that occurred under her uncle's rule will not pass under hers. The Queen feels that with her marriage the empire should embrace a new age of respectability and matrimony."
"So I am to play guinea pig to the Queen and her principles of morality?" Chuck asked dangerously under his breath.
Staring Chuck directly in the eye the Prime Minister did not flinch. "You understand the situation perfectly."
"Damnation!" Chuck cursed, running his fingers wildly through his hair. "Why can't the Queen choose another Lord to be made an example of?"
"Certainly you realize that a man with your rakish reputation choosing the respectability to be found in matrimony can only be seen as a feather in the Queen's cap." Sir Grenville gave Chuck a baleful look. "You have only yourself to blame. This is entirely due to your own indiscretions."
"I have been nothing but circumspect and discreet in my affairs," Chuck replied angrily.
"The gossip begs to differ. The numerous numbers of mistresses you have taken among both the highborn members of the court and those of the lower social classes has caused enough comment to reach the Queen's ears. Society holds its collected breath to see whom you shall pick next. Then there is the talk of the gifts, the jewelry that would fund a small country and the way your paramours flaunt it like badges of honor in public," the prime minister explained as kindly as he could.
Chuck grimaced with annoyance. This was so unexpected, something he had never anticipated would happen. Yet now that it had occurred he knew that it had been absurd and arrogant on his part to think that people did not talk and spy on his private life. He lived in the public eye, his money and his companies kept him constantly in the news. Why would it be any different with his romantic entanglements? They were in his eyes, business transactions anyway.
It was not surprising the Queen would know his private life. There was little she did not know. She had her own method of learning the most hidden secrets about people whom she was concerned. And yet he had imagined himself tooclever and unimportant for her to care about only to be publicly called out on his behavior. More than that, he knew that he had received a direct instruction, which he dared not disobey
"Does the Queen have a candidate already in mind? Someone perhaps she has already found morally circumspect?" Chuck asked sarcastically.
For the first time the Prime Minister appeared nervous. Once more clearing his throat he leaned in close so not to be over heard. "Her Majesty feels that one of her distant cousins, Lady Waldorf, would make a most excellent match."
Lord Bass frowned, the angles of his face darkening in anger. "I see. Perhaps Her Majesty would like to lead me to the marriage bed as well?
"Your Lordship, I hardly think that is appropriate," Sir Grenville hissed.
"Perhaps not, but you haven't just been commanded to marry one of the Queen's numerous relations. No doubt the poor girl is so hideous she can't find a husband so she is being fobbed off on me."
Sir Grenville bristled, his anger evident in the stiff lines of his body. "Lady Waldorf is a lovely young women."
"Loyal to the Queen still? You can be honest. Does she have a hunchback? A pug nose? Or perhaps she is not all there mentally?" Chuck asked scornfully.
The prime minister shook his head firmly. "No, none of that, my Lord." He hesitated for a moment, clearly considering his thoughts before continuing. "If she has any faults at all it would be perhaps an impetuous tongue."
Chuck nodded slowly, comprehension dawning across his face. "A harridan of a female then? Probably outspoken as well. Then why doesn't she find her own damn husband?"
"Her parents have entrusted her the Queen with finding her a suitable husband."
"And it appears I am it. The sacrificial lamb." Chuck said dryly, dissatisfaction inherent in his tone.
Sir Grenville looked at the floor, avoiding Chuck's eyes. "Yes, My Lord. Would you like to meet the young lady?" he asked politely.
"Why?" Chuck sneered. "It doesn't matter if we are to be wed anyway. Meeting on our wedding night is more then soon enough. I don't suppose the Queen will need to be present when we consummate our marriage? To ensure the deed is done and we are properly married?"
"My Lord! Hold your tongue! This is the Queen you are speaking about," he exclaimed, his mouth falling open with shock.
Chuck regarded the Prime Minister through bored and jaded eyes. "Inform me when it has been decided where and when this blessed event is to take place and I will be there, but do not expect me to change my lifestyle in the slightest before then." With those final words, Lord Chuck Bass, Duke of Devon, turned his back on the Prime Minister and strode towards the doors of the throne room.
The murmurs and gossip which had until then been held to a quiet drone now burst into a violent buzz. Chuck looked neither to the left or the right as he made his escape. He ignored the friends that hailed him and the ladies that attempted to catch his eye with their bold glances. He did not want to stop for even a second, knowing he would be bombarded with questions. What had the Queen meant? Was he already betrothed? Who was the fortunate lady? All of society would know soon enough and he was not about to waste a minute on explanations when he had a mistress waiting. There was something forbidden in the expression on his face which made those that were already approaching him shrink back in fear.
Striding quickly from the throne room he passed the green drawing room where the refreshments were laid out and down the wide scarlet crimson-carpeted stairs where the guards were. He head his name called once or twice, but he ignored it. He was indifferent to everything but the desire to escape. Oblivious to the crowds that surrounded the courtyard, he waited for his carriage to be brought around. Dressed immaculately in a black tuxedo with a hint of purple in his corner pocket he was obviously a person of interest to those who had waited outside all night for a glimpse of her Majesty and the nobility. It wasn't his clothes that made the people stare at Chuck. It was the way he carried himself, the smirk that was ever present in the corner of his mouth and the devil in his eyes. He was handsome enough, but it wasn't his looks that stood out among those who met him. Suddenly made aware of who he was by someone that recognized his profile from the numerous newspapers that had featured his photo, the crowd broke into excited gossip. The young women preened and smoothed their hair and the men cast envious eyes at the Lord who could have whoever and whatever he wanted.
As he waited for his carriage, Chuck ignored the crowd. He knew that as he left the throne room his name was on everyone's lips and his impending marriage was all the bored ton would be able to talk about. There would be rumors of a hidden engagement, perhaps even a secret marriage. Rumors of every kind would be rampant by morning, but only he and the prime minister would understand exactly what the Queen had meant by her words. He couldn't believe after all this time of doing his best to avoid matrimony and its stifling bonds he was now being forced into an arranged marriage with one of the Queen's cousins.
If he wasn't so angry he might have admired the Queen and her insidious manipulation. He had often laughed in the past when her interfering had been aimed at his friends and acquaintances, but now that her attention was turned to him all he could do was curse her. Climbing into his carriage with an oath on his lips he swore he would make his new wife's life as miserable as she was making his.
As soon as Blair entered the drawing room to see her parents she sensed something was unusual. The very atmosphere had changed and she felt shivers of apprehension break out across her spine. Her mother was seated on a plush velvet settee with her embroidery and her father stood by the fireplace, his hands thrust in his pockets. Smoothing the folds of her cherry red striped silk gown,she curtsied first to her mother and then her father.
"Good afternoon, Blair," her father greeted her, his tone solemn.
Blair peeped up at him through her eyelashes nervously. Her fun loving father who loved to tease her had seemingly disappeared, replaced by a stranger she did not know.
"Did you enjoy your lunch with Lady Serena?" Eleanor Waldorf asked as she pursed her lips over her intricate embroidery.
"Yes, Mother," Blair replied, looking from her father to her mother with confusion.
"Such a lovely young lady," her Mother stated approvingly.
Blair tried very hard not to roll her eyes. Her mother's preference and favoritism towards her friend,Serena, was something she had learned to deal with. Blonde haired,blue eyed and extremely accomplished at everything she did, Lady Serena was everything her mother admired. Blair had long ago accepted that while she could embroider, paint, play piano and sing like all the other ladies of her acquaintance, Serena would always do it better.
Harold Waldorf cleared his throat, looking down at Blair with an almost wistful look. "The Queen sent for me this morning," he said gruffly as if to hide his emotions.
Blair drew in her breath. Suddenly things were starting to make sense. It was true then what she had felt; something was different, something had happened.
"Sit down, Blair. Your father has something to tell you," her mother said primly.
Seating herself in one of the straight hard-backed chairs, Blair bit the inside of her lip to try and stay calm.
"What is it, Father?" she asked.
Harold walked over to her and laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. "As you can imagine the Queen was quite busy this morning, but she managed to spare me a few minutes.
"Heavens, Harold. Just tell her," Eleanor said with irritation.
"I am getting there, Eleanor," her father replied shortly, casting a look of annoyance at his wife.
Blair hastened to think of something to add to the conversation as she knew how easily her parents could become sidetracked into turning every conversation into an argument about themselves. The Waldorf's marriage was not an easy one. Arranged by their parents they had spent most of their married life trying to make the best of a bad situation.
"What did the Queen want to see you about?" Blair asked quickly before her parents could start arguing.
"That is just what I was about to tell you," her father said avoiding his daughter's eyes. "The Queen informed me that she has decided, now that you are nineteen, to arrange your marriage."
Whatever Blair had expected to hear it was certainly not that. Her eyes widened and for a moment she was very still.
"Why should the Queen arrange my marriage? There is no reason for her to do so. I am to have a season in London this fall," Blair said with fear in her voice.
"You forget the Queen is very fond of your mother. Not only are they distant cousins, they went to school together. It is only natural she would take an interest in you" her father said apologetically.
Blair turned angry eyes to her mother. "You promised me a season. A chance to meet eligible gentlemen and make my own choice of husband. "
"It is an honor her Majesty should think of you," Eleanor said looking down her nose in disapproval at her willful daughter.
"You can tell the Queen I have no intention of being made her puppet in some dynastic plans for the empire. I have not even had a chance for a proper season and already she wants to marry me off to some no doubt disgusting old man."
"It isn't that easy," her father said with a pleading look at her mother.
"You know how we always laughed at the Queen's machinations and manipulations as she married off her sons and daughters in peace making bids with other countries? I won't be another cog in her marriage machine. I am not going to play her game and give it to the highest bidder for my hand," Blair said passionately, her cheeks flushed with anger.
"Why do you waste time arguing with her," Eleanor asked sharply. "You know as well as I do she has to do as she is told. We are her parents and she is not of age. Tell her the truth you have already accepted the Duke on her behalf."
"Accepted? Accepted what Duke?" Blair asked shrilly.
"Lord Bass, Duke of Devon," Eleanor said before Blair's father could speak. "You are an extremely lucky girl, so go down on your knees and thank the Queen for giving you as your husband the wealthiest man in all of England.
"It is not true! It cannot be true!" Blair exclaimed. Kneeling before her father, she held out her hands in appeal. "Father, promise me that you won't make me marry Duke Bass."
"It is what the Queen wishes," her father said gently.
"And I know why," Blair said her voice ringing out. "The man is a disgrace to his title.
"What do you know of the Duke," her mother rebuked her.
"I know that he moves from one woman to the next not caring in the least about his reputation. He has mistresses, and to keep them from complaining about him he pays them off with gifts of jewelry. Plus he gives orgies, dozens of them, at his castle." Blair said, her voice trailing off in horror.
"Blair!" her mother shouted. "That is enough!
Harold looked at his daughter in shock. He had no idea she had ever heard of Duke Bass let alone knew what orgies were. "Do you….ahem…know what an orgy is, my dear?" he asked, embarrassedly.
Blair lifted her chin at her father defiantly. "No, but it can't be good the way I hear people talk about it."
"That's the thing, Blair. All it is, is talk," Harold said with relief. "Would you condemn the man before you have met him?" He didn't wait for her answer, as he unfortunately already knew it. "Besides if you marry the Duke the Queen has promised that our title and estates will pass to one of your sons instead of reverting back to the crown. Do you understand the significance of such a gift?"
Blair did and she realized she had lost before the fight even began. Her parent's greatest wish had always been son to carry on the title. To their regret they had only ever had a daughter. Without a son or distant male heir the estate and title would go back to the crown upon her father's death. If she married the Duke her parent's greatest wish would come true. There would be another Earl of Suffolk and it would be of their blood, her son with the Duke. The very thought of it made her ill.
"When I marry it will be for love and no Queen can persuade me otherwise," Blair stated resolutely, rising and storming from the room and with extreme effort refrained from slamming the door.
Blair ran up to her bedroom seething with anger. How dare Queen Victoria think she could order her about like her sons and daughters? The Prince of Wales might shake in his boots because he was afraid of her and the rest might obey her without a single protest, but, Blair told herself, she was different. All the things she had ever heard about Duke Bass came to mind. She was sure the only reason the Queen was forcing this marriage was because no one else would marry the lecherous man. As far as she was concerned the Queen had a surprise coming if she thought Blair would just meekly submit to an arranged marriage with such a monster. As she had told her parents she had long ago decided to marry only for love. She had seen first hand the unhappiness that came from a marriage where the two parties were not in love. Besides her parents she had witnessed enough of her older friends friend's miserable marriages to know the tragedy that came of pushing two people together who hated each other. Sure, they put on a good face in public, smiling as if they had no cares, but she knew in private they cried into their pillows at night.
That shall never happen to me Blair had always thought. While her mother was a close friend with the Queen and they were distantly related, it had never crossed her mind that the Queen would take an interest in who she married. When she thought about it she shouldn't be surprised that the Queen had taken an interest. With the Earldom without an heir Blair had much to offer a suitor, especially if the title would be transferred to her heirs. The Queen had had her hand in most of the royal and titled marriages in the empire so why wouldn't she be involved in hers? Blair hated that she was about to be used like a prized fly in Victoria's web of dynastic marriages.
"I won't be caught," she said aloud to herself.
As she spoke the door opened and her mother entered the room.
"I have come to speak to you," Eleanor said stiffly, smoothing the wrinkles from her dusky blue silk gown.
"There is nothing more to be said," Blair replied haughtily.
That remains to be seen," she answered. "Your behavior has upset your father and me and it won't be tolerated."
"I am sorry I upset Father, but I won't be handed over like a prize pig to that man."
Eleanor smiled unpleasantly. "Have you really given this any thought, Blair?"
"As I have already said I have no intention of being married to someone I do not love. I know your marriage wasn't a love match, but my grandparent's was. Father's mother and father loved each other from the moment they met at sixteen at a ball." Blair's voice deepened as she continued, "They had to wait two years before they were allowed to marry, but neither of them ever looked at anyone else and finally when they were married they were blissfully happy. They died having loved each other with their dying breath."
"That is an exceptional case and you know it. Most girls have an arranged marriage in one way or another and it is usually left to the mother or father to find an eligible suitor. In your case you are lucky the Queen has graciously chosen for us."
"I am aware of that, but I had thought you wished me a different future than yours," Blair said plaintively, looking at her mother with wide, pleading eyes.
Eleanor sighed, "This match is a good one. Charles Bass may be known for sowing some wild oats, but I knew his parents and they were good people. It is inconceivable to me that the qualities I admired in his parents wouldn't be passed down to their son."
"So you are marrying me to a man based on the fact thatyou liked his parents," Blair replied sarcastically.
"No," her mother said coldly, her face hardening. "I am marrying you to him because the Queen sees fit to honor you with this match. I really don't know how you can complain. The Duke is the richest man in the kingdom and you will be a Duchess."
Blair stared at her mother in horror. "Is that all you care about? Money and position?"
"What else is there for a woman?" Eleanor asked grimly. "You are very lucky. With your marriage you will get both.
When Blair did not answer Eleanor softened her voice, putting her hand to rest on Blair's arm. "Don't you see that I want what is best for you?"
"At the cost of my happiness," Blair replied with a small sob.
"We make our own happiness," her mother said with determination.
Blair crossed the room to seat herself at her dressing table. Reaching into the drawer she pulled out one of her linen monogrammed handkerchiefs. Wiping away her tears, she turned to look back at her mother.
"When does this blessed event take place?" Blair asked,her voice laced with steel.
Lady Eleanor slowly smiled. She had known Blair would give in. Because what other options did she have? Like all young girls she was at the mercy of her parents will until she was married and became her husband's responsibility. Blair could either submit or she would be cast out and for a young lady with no money and no work experience there was only one option available. One that would damn her in the eyes of society forever.
"One months time."
Reaching for her hairbrush, Blair's hands shook. "So quickly," she murmured. "Is the Duke really that eager for a virgin? Are they truly as hard to find in London as they say?"
"Blair!" Eleanor exclaimed. Striding to her daughters side she took the brush from her limp hand. Running it through Blair's hair with the long even strokes she knew her daughter loved, she attempted to calm her down. "You will need to learn to watch your tongue when you are a Duchess. People will look to you to set an example."
"Then they should find someone else to play the role of Duchess," Blair replied tartly
"The Queen has chosen you," Eleanor said firmly. "I realize the wedding may seem rushed a bit, but the Queen wishes to be present and she leaves for a tour of India in one months time. She wants to see you safely wed before then."
"So I am to be conveniently fit in between the opening of Parliament and her trip abroad. How nice for her."
Eleanor began twisting her daughters hair up into a chignon, pinning each strand in place one by one as Blair stared morosely at her reflection in the mirror. "Her Majesty has been all that is gracious and you will be wise to remember that when you see her on your wedding day."
"Does he even wish to see me, meet with me before then?" Blair asked wistfully.
Eleanor avoided Blair's eyes. "I have been told the Duke is currently getting his estates in order before the marriage. Apparently they have been allowed to fall a bit into ruin with his father's death.
"I see," Blair replied sharply.
"It is probably for the best," Lady Eleanor offered as pleasantly as possible. "You will have a lifetime of getting to know each other. Take this time to enjoy your last days as Lady Blair Waldorf before the time comes when you are Her Grace, Duchess Blair Bass.
"I fully intend too," Blair said sweetly.
In the weeks that followed her engagement Blair did not find the opportunities she wished for to enjoy her time as Lady Blair Waldorf. There was in fact very little time to get all the things considered necessary for a bride let alone a Duchess. Fortunately the season had not begun yet so the shops in Bonds street and the dressmakers were all too willing to be of service. Especially since Blair's trousseau was being written up in all the city newspapers and it was just good business to be seen as having provided anything for the new Duchess whether it be a fan, a parasol or even a dress. To Blair's chagrin her marriage seemed to have captured the public's fancy and there was not a shop she could go to without it making the evening news.
Blair told herself she was not in the least interested in the clothes she was buying for the man she detested. She had a sudden desire to wear nothing but burlap for her new husband in the hopes that he would never take the slightest interest in her. But because she was a woman she could not help being entranced by the lovely gowns she was offered. It was very hard to play the browbeaten victim card when each gown she tried on was more beautiful on her thanthe last. There were dresses of every color of the rainbow in silk, satin, velvet, tulle and brocade; morning gowns, tea gowns, evening dresses and ball gowns. Then there were the undergarments, lacy and silky things that made Blair blush, many of them embroidered with the tiniest of details like butterflies in flight or nosegays of roses. Blair was kept so busy with the purchase of matching silk stockings, gloves, hats, parasols, fans and handkerchiefs that she barely had time to think about her unhappiness.
Of all the things she purchased and the one most likely to raise suspicion she managed to keep free from the papers. Insisting that it was to be a present for her husband the Duke, she managed to buy a set of handsome dueling pistols. Sneaking them in among the piles of silk stocking she had bought, she managed to keep her purchase unknown from everyone in the household.
The mere thought of her marriage gave her a hollow,tense felling, inside. At night she would lay awake in the darkness,clenching and un-clenching her fists as she imagined the Duke and his wet slobbery lips all over her body. She might have to marry him, but she would ensure with her pistol pointed straight at him that the man would never want to visit her bed.
As soon as the announcement of their marriage had been made, presents began arriving almost hourly. While there were gifts from friends and relations, most of them were from people Blair had never met. Eager to make friends with the new Duchess, society was attempting to outdo itself, every gift more lavish then the last.
"More silver," Blair groaned, as another present was unwrapped. "I can imagine the Duke already has more silver than he could possibly use. Why do people waste their money?"
"You know the answer to that," Lady Eleanor replied. "It is simply because you are going to be a Duchess and a very wealthy one at that. If you were marrying a soldier or some obscure penniless lord they would not bother to send you as much as a letter of congratulations."
Blair recognized the truth of it and couldn't help the small shiver of pleasure that rippled down her spine as she realized the power she would soon wield.
Thanks to my beta's Shanyde, GossipGirlFanForever and F for their help and encouragement.
Shall I continue?