A/N: For Eli
Blair entered the breakfast room eagerly, her silken skirts rustling around her. Seeing the table set only for one, she bit back a cry of frustration. She needed to talk to Chuck. Seating herself as calmly as she could, she pasted a pleasant smile on her face as Mrs. Miller rushed to bring over a tray of fresh croissants.
"Has His Grace already breakfasted?" She asked as nonchalantly as possible, pouring herself a cup of steaming tea.
"Yes, Your Grace. He was up early this morning." Walking over to the sideboard, Mrs. Miller brought over a platter of fresh fruit for her mistress.
Frowning slightly, Blair added a croissant and several strawberries to her plate. She sat in silence for a moment, pulling her croissant into several flaky pieces, before asking the question foremost on her mind. "Did his Grace happen to tell you of his plans today?"
"He mentioned he would be at Victrola until this evening," the housekeeper offered helpfully. "But you could expect him in time for the ball."
Dropping her eyes to her breakfast, Blair tried to hide the hurt she felt. "One would think so, considering that he has several hundred people arriving at seven this evening," she replied, unable to keep the sarcasm from her voice.
At the sound of an abrupt knocking, Blair whirled her head towards the door of the breakfast room. Eyes wide with hope, her heat fluttering, she gazed expectantly at the entryway, expecting to see Chuck. As the door opened to reveal Lord Archibald, her heart fell to her knees as if it was weighted with lead.
Nate glanced to Chuck's empty place and then to Blair's, almost as if he was surprised to see her there and Chuck gone. "Your Grace," Lord Archibald greeted with a small bow.
Blair inclined her head politely, trying to swallow the lump of disappointment in her throat. "Lord Archibald."
"Obviously," she replied tartly, trying to keep from rolling her eyes. Looking into Mrs. Miller's frowning face, she waved her hand to dismiss the housekeeper.
Her rigid spine communicating her disapproval, Mrs. Miller left the room.
Wearily Blair took a sip of her tea. "Lord Archibald, I am not sure why you are here, but I have a million things to attend to and not a lot of time."
"What of your husband? Is he one of those things you have yet to attend too?"
"Please have a seat," she said as politely as she could muster, trying to ignore his rudeness.
Nate had the grace to blush as his lack of manners was brought home by her hospitality. Trying to regain his control of the situation, he frowned at her censoriously. "Your Grace, are you aware of the fact that your husband has spent the last two days drunk as a skunk?"
"So I have been told." With a sigh, she pushed her plate of food away. It was no use even trying to eat.
"Are you not in the least concerned?"
Suddenly a thought occurred to her, one that made her chest so tight she could hardly breathe. "Is he alone?"
"What?" Nate asked, looking at her like she was out of her mind.
"Is… he… alone." She drew out each syllable slowly as if he was speaking to a child.
"I…I don't know." He looked at Blair shrewdly. "Would it matter to you if he wasn't?"
"Why are you here again?"
Nate pointed an accusing finger at Blair. "Because my best friend is a mess and I believe it is all your fault."
Blair looked Lord Archibald directly in the eye, practically daring him to lie. "Who is Elle?"
Nate stared at her dumbfounded. "I…I don't know who you are talking about."
"If Chuck is a mess, it is all his own fault," she replied, with a small toss of her head.
"You know about Elle?" Nate suddenly wished he were anywhere other than the Bass residence.
"How could I not?" Blair buried her hands in her gown, digging her nails sharply into her palms. "She is my husband's mistress after all." Having spoken bluntly, she waited for him to deny it, spare her feelings.
Nate squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. "This is highly inappropriate, Your Grace,"
"So is barging into my home, blaming me for my husband's actions. Why don't you ask him what is bothering him?"
"Believe me I have, and all he would say yesterday was that you had left him," he answered, with a cold look at Blair.
"Well, as you can see, I am home now." Blair returned his cold look with an even icier one. "Even though my husband is cheating on me with a woman named after a common letter of the alphabet," she scoffed disdainfully, finishing her cup of tea and pouring another.
Nate rubbed wearily at his temples. "I am sure that his relationship with her is all in the past." When he had arrived and found Blair alone, it had seemed an easy enough endeavor to confront Blair on her behavior, but he had never expected she would know about Elle or that she would have no compunction throwing it in his face.
Blair smiled tightly as she clenched the handle of her teacup so hard she was afraid it would shatter in her hand. "But you don't know…"
Nate sighed, a long drawn out painful sigh that would have made Blair pity him if it weren't for the fact he had come barging into her home. "I don't know for sure, but I do know that Chuck cares for you…. something I never thought I would see."
She shrugged her shoulders. "Then perhaps he ought to come home."
"Do you want him to come home?"
Blair glared at Nate angrily. "How can you ask that? Of course I want him to come home."
"But do you care for him?" He watched her very carefully. He needed to know if there was still hope for his friend, that all was not lost. He knew after watching Chuck drink himself into a stupor that his friend cared very much about his wife and her whereabouts.
Blair looked down at the heavy linen tablecloth, the solid silver eating utensils, her steaming teacup, everywhere but at Nate.
Nate stared at her, his eyes widening as he realized what she had left unsaid. "You do care for him." He smiled at Blair brightly. "This is wonderful news. I'm sure he cares about you too, otherwise he wouldn't be acting like such an idiot."
Rising stiffly from her chair, she shot Nate a commanding look. "This conversation is over, Lord Archibald. I have a million things to do today and you are wasting my time."
Scraping back his chair, Nate rose, offering Blair a small bow. "Of course, Your Grace," he said respectfully, even as his lips twitched with good humor. He finally had confirmation that the Duchess cared as much as the Duke about their marriage.
Blair stood coolly at the entrance of her home, awaiting the arrival of Chuck and her guests. Tapping her satin clad foot, she fumed at her husband, cursing him for not having made an appearance yet. As she heard the sounds of a carriage pulling up to the front of the house, she hoped that the occupant was Chuck. She couldn't bear the disgrace of being forced to greet all of society on her own without him. Just as she was about to give up, he strode through the door nonchalantly as if he hadn't a care in the world. Blair cursed him even as her breath caught in her throat at the handsome picture he made in his black dress suit.
Catching sight of Blair dressed in a simple white silk gown, her neckline dangerously low, Chuck fought the temptation to catch her up in his arms and kiss her senseless. His gaze raked over her figure boldly. The chaste color of her dress was at odds with its very seductive cut. His eyes were drawn to the V between her breasts, and it took all of his willpower not to shove her dress up and bury himself in her then and there. Instead he smiled at her coldly and took his place at her side.
Her face like stone, Blair ignored the crushing pain in her heart, the way her pulse sped up at her husband's presence. "Thank you so much for managing to show up at your own ball," Blair said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"After your actions, you are lucky I showed up at all," Chuck looked at Blair with a contemptuous expression that sent her temper soaring. "And that dress is scandalous. You look like a high-class whore. If it weren't for the fact that our guests are arriving at any minute, I would haul you upstairs myself and change your gown."
Blair smoothed her skirts, pleased that she could get under his skin. "But I had it made especially for tonight. I was hoping you would like it."
Chuck gave her an icy glare. "I loathe the damned thing, and I look forward to tearing it off you as soon as the evening is over."
"You won't touch this dress, and you are no longer welcome in my bedchamber after your little performance last night."
Smiling at her cruelly, Chuck locked his eyes with hers. "That is where you are wrong. I have every intention of pressing my marital rights now that I know my wife has no compunction for lies and trickery."
"You will find yourself staring down the barrel of my pistol if you even dare to touch me," Blair said with nearly seething rage.
"That toy gun," he scoffed. "You couldn't hurt a small dog with that thing."
Her eyes clawing at him like talons, she struck at the one thing she knew to be every man's weakness. "What I will be aiming at is so small…" Blair looked pointedly down between Chuck's legs," My toy gun shall prove most effective."
"You clever little witch," he chuckled nastily. Never before had he wanted his wife more. Her spirit inflamed his desire, and his body responded.
Counting to ten, Blair forced herself to calm down. "Please Chuck, can we at least be civil tonight? I don't want our estranged marriage to cause any more gossip then it already has."
Chuck stared at her with cold calculating eyes. "So there is something you want from me?
"Yes," she bit back. "I want a perfect evening, one that allows me to proudly hold my head up in the morning. If I can't have the marriage I want, at least I can take my place as society's leading hostess."
"What kind of marriage would that be then? One where I am forever locked out of your bed?"
Blair was saved from answering as the guests began to arrive. To her surprise Chuck stayed at her side, making polite conversation with their visitors. Wrapping his arm around her waist, his thumb every so often gently stroking her side he played the part of adoring husband better then could have ever dreamed possible.
As the last of the visitors arrived, just as Blair was finally starting to relax, she found herself facing a lovely creature with soft eyes and a bewitching smile.
"…And this is his lovely wife, Lady Elle Dewhurst," Chuck said with a smirk.
Blair froze as she was overpowered by bitter cold despair. The woman was more beautiful than she had expected. A suffocating feeling choked her throat and she found she could barely speak.
Elle swept Blair a graceful curtsey. "Pleased to meet, Your Grace."
"Likewise," Blair barely managed to murmur. Never before had she felt such seething hatred for another person.
"Congratulations on your very happy marriage," Elle said slyly, with a smile that cut at Blair's heart. "I really must commend you for being so patient while His Grace keeps himself so busy with Victrola. It must be hard to have him so frequently away." While her tone was soft, her meaning was insolent and challenging.
Reaching out, Blair took a hold of Chuck's hand, squeezing tightly. "Well, the Duke has always had his passing fancies, especially of the seedy kind, but they never last. Ultimately he always comes home," Blair replied sweetly.
Elle flashed Blair a barely controlled smile. She had expected a simpering wife, someone who would quickly bore Chuck. Instead she suddenly realized with humiliating clarity exactly why she had been unwelcome in Chuck's bed ever since his marriage.
Clearing his throat, Chuck looked at Blair in surprise. There was no way she could know about his past liaisons. A gently bred girl like her would not have heard such gossip, would she? Since Elle was married, he had made every effort to keep their affair a secret, but it must have gotten out. Somehow Blair had found out and he wondered just exactly who had told her, whose reputation he was going to have to destroy. He wondered briefly if he should tell Blair that it had all ended with his marriage and that she had forever ruined him for everyone else. As quickly as the thought occurred, he crushed it. She had stomped on his pride enough already. He would not allow her to have any more hold over him than she already had.
Thankfully, to her relief, the Dewhurst's moved on to the ballroom, leaving Blair to stare after them in hatred. "Really Chuck, if you have such little regard for yourself, at least think of me. She is barely a step up from the gutter. One would think you could do better."
Chuck stared after her in shock as she turned on her heel and headed towards the ballroom. Did she seriously think that he was still seeing Elle? "What about the rest of our guests?" he asked.
Blair glanced at the antique grandfather clock in the hall and then back at her husband scornfully. "Anyone arriving this late is of little consequence. I think you can manage the rest on your own."
"Blair—," Chuck started, only to realize she had already left the room. Cursing himself and her, he knew without a doubt there was unfinished business between them.
Stealing a flute of champagne from one of the footman's silver trays, Blair drained the glass in one gulp and reached for another. Swallowing that one also, she affixed a smile on her face as she walked through the many drawing and reception rooms, stopping frequently to chat with numerous ladies and gentlemen. Complimented multiple times on her exquisite taste and style in decoration it was almost possible to forget the aching hole in her heart.
Dressed in a Frederick Worth gown, Lady Grenville approached Blair. "Your Grace, thank you so much for your introduction to Worth. As you can see, he managed to fit me into his schedule, all thanks to you."
"I am so pleased, and I must say the gown looks lovely." The dress truly was a creation. Dark mauve, it wrapped around Lady Grenville in a way that camouflaged her dumpy figure, making her appear quite elegant.
"I can't thank you enough," she answered gratefully. "And I never thought to see the day when this house was opened once more. You have truly created a heaven of beauty and tranquility here. You have done the Bass name great honor."
Blair inclined her head proudly, accepting the compliment. "Thank you."
Leaning in, Lady Grenville spoke softly, her words for Blair's ears only. "I want you to know I don't believe a word of the gossip. The Duke is obviously very much in love with you. That kiss you shared at my ball was positively magical."
Blair was speechless as she stared at Lady Grenville. She suddenly realized just how public her relationship with Chuck was. That he had spent several weeks at Victrola soon after their marriage had not been missed by the ton. Racking her brain, she searched for a way to dispel the gossip about their marriage. "His Grace, with my blessing, has been very involved in getting Victrola up and running. It is a business venture I whole-heartedly support."
"Of course," Lady Grenville demurred. "I really do hope that you and your husband will be able to attend our next soirée. The prime minister will be in attendance, and I have been told that he is very much looking forward to meeting you."
Her goal of social and political dominance almost within her grasp, Blair couldn't help the triumphant smile that briefly flashed across her face. "Of course, His Grace and I would be honored to attend your next gathering."
Lady Grenville clapped her hands together in excitement. "That is superb."
"Now, if you will excuse me, I really have neglected my hostess duties long enough," Blair said with a small laugh.
"I understand completely, a hostess never rests." Lady Grenville gave Blair an understanding smile as she moved to let her pass.
As Blair walked by the card room she had set up in one of the salons, the players hailed her loudly.
"Your Grace must join us for a hand," Lord Hobart pleaded, his face already flushed with drink.
"Gentlemen, I would if I could," she offered with a sweet smile. "However, my responsibilities as a hostess and a Duchess interfere."
To her delight, there were several groans of dismay.
Lord Gray exaggeratedly put his hands to his heart. "You wound us with your refusal."
"I am quite sure you will manage to lose your fortunes quite nicely without me," she replied with a tinkling laugh. Leaving the men to their cards, Blair was surprised to hear Lord Ravenwood, one of society's crustiest elderly bachelors declare, "Damned fine woman, the Duchess. His Grace is a fool."
Upon entering the ballroom, she smiled in pleasure as her sight was filled with the view she had imagined weeks ago. Everything looked perfect. Crystal chandeliers, filled with hundreds of glittering candles, lit up the room. The wall of mirrors caught the flickering light, reflecting and refracting it, until the room sparkled like a necklace of diamonds. Watching the dancers swirl around the room in a waltz, she recalled with a heavy heart her own dance with Chuck just weeks ago at Lord and Lady Grenville's. She was so caught up in the dancing she almost neglected to notice her mother standing right at her elbow.
"Blair, if I might have a word in private," Lady Waldorf said with a disapproving frown that was completely at odds with her perfectly coiffed appearance.
"Now, Mother?" She had greeted her parents in the receiving line and had expected that would be enough for her mother.
"Well, maybe if you took the time to visit once in a while or respond to my letters, I wouldn't have to resort to accosting you in your own home," Eleanor replied with her special brand of sarcasm she seemed to save just for Blair.
It was true she hadn't written or called on her parents. The one thing about her marriage she had enjoyed was the freedom she had gotten from her parents. Blair sighed as her mother linked her arm through hers and started to lead her back towards the quieter reception rooms. Not wishing her conversation with her mother to be public, Blair racked her brain for a place where they could speak privately.
"Would you like to see the portrait gallery?" Blair asked pointedly, hoping her mother would get the hint.
"Why, I would love to."
Making polite small talk, they made their way to the gallery. Out of the corner of her eye, Blair searched for signs of her husband. To her dismay she didn't see him anywhere. She tried not to think about what he might be doing and to whom. Surely he wouldn't think to dally with his mistress here in his own home? With a sinking feeling in her stomach and a tight smile on her face, she forced herself to stay calm despite the dread she felt at her mother needing to speak with her.
Lady Waldorf swept the room in one glance, taking in the numerous richly painted portraits that hung from the walls and the comfortable chaises that lay scattered about. "What a lovely room, Blair. Are all these Bass ancestors?"
"Yes," Blair answered shortly, wanting more then anything for this conversation to be over.
Peering closer at one of the portraits, Eleanor cleared her throat delicately. "There has been talk."
Her mother turned to look at Blair, her steely-eyed glance missing nothing. "Don't be coy. It doesn't suit you."
"What sort of talk?" Blair asked, her mouth tightening.
"Your husband has been spending most of his nights since your marriage at his new nightclub, Victor…something or other," Eleanor said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Blair's fingertips rose to rub wearily at her temples. "Victrola, Mother," she sighed. "It's called Victrola."
"It really is quite inappropriate considering it's close proximity to the Queen's name," Eleanor sniffed rudely.
Blair lifted her chin at her mother. "You can take that up with the Duke. I hardly have any control over his business endeavors."
"It seems to me you have little control over your husband at all." Eleanor tilted her head to get a better look at a portrait of a young lady dressed in regency costume.
"What would you have me do, Mother?" Blair balled her fists and shoved them into the folds of her gown.
"Obviously something different than you are doing now." Eleanor reached out to straighten the gilt frame of the picture she had just been staring at. "How are your relations with your husband?"
Eleanor pursed her lips, giving Blair a stern look. "Are you welcoming your husband into your bed?"
Blair laughed, the sound hard and bitter. "Is that what this is about? Frankly, Mother, I think this conversation is at an end."
"What have you done, Blair?" Eleanor looked at Blair accusingly.
"Nothing," she answered with a small tight shrug of her shoulders.
"Then why is your husband spending his nights elsewhere?"
Blair flushed and with a flick of her hand she whisked her fan open, hiding her reddened cheeks. "Why don't you ask him?"
"Believe me I would, if I could find a way to properly do so. Instead I am forced to come to my daughter to find out why her husband is neglecting his duties at home. What has happened since the Grenville's ball? What have you done to drive him away?"
"Why do you always seek to blame me?" Blair tossed her head angrily in her mother's direction. "Perhaps it is him that is at fault."
"Whatever you have done, fix it and get him back into your bed," Eleanor commanded.
Blair thought of his last visit to her bed and she fanned her cheeks frantically. "What if I don't want him in my bed?"
Eleanor drew herself up to her full height until she was practically looming over Blair. "You selfish girl. Think of your family. Have you thought about what will happen to your father's estate without your heirs? The Waldorf name will be lost, the estate reverting back to the crown.
Glaring at her mother, she snapped her fan shut. "That is enough. I will not be treated like a brood mare."
"What other choice is there for a woman in our position," Eleanor asked in a thin voice. "It is our duty."
"I won't be nothing more then a vessel for my husband to plant his seed," Blair replied bluntly, ignoring her mother's blushes and slight cries of dismay. "I want more from my marriage than what you have with father. I want my husband to love and respect me."
Eleanor reached out to gently touch Blair's arm in an attempt to offer comfort. "Such is not the lot in life for women of our class. It is the way of the world."
"Then my bed will remain empty until I get it." Turning on her heel, Blair stalked out of the room, leaving Eleanor to stare after her in wonderment. So intent was Blair on escaping the gallery she missed seeing her husband lurking outside, a look of surprise on his face.
Blinking back tears of frustration, Blair fled towards the entrance hall her heels, clicking rapidly on the marble floors. Taking a moment, she held her hand to her breast, taking several deep breaths to calm the rapid beating of her heart. Heading towards the ballroom, Blair searched for Chuck. With each room she passed that he was not in, she felt panic rise in her like a flood.
Blair whirled turned around to face Lord Archibald. "Yes?" She schooled her face into one of calm.
Nate gave her a short bow, unable to keep his eyes from gazing down the front of her gown appreciatively. "Your Grace, you look beautiful."
Blair forced herself to smile at him softly and ignore the aching pain that stabbed at her heart. "Dance with me, Lord Archibald?" Blair gave him a flirtatious look from under her thick eyelashes. She knew it was wrong to give him her first dance of the evening. That should have been reserved for her husband, but her heart was broken and Nate's admiration served as a soothing balm to her aching soul.
"Of—of course," he stammered.
Holding out his arm, Nate escorted Blair to the ballroom. As they took their places for the waltz, the music started up.
Embracing Blair closely in his arms, Nate searched for signs of Chuck. He had only seen his friend for a few minutes when he arrived. He knew that Chuck wouldn't appreciate him dancing with his wife, but if he wasn't going to make an appearance and dance with her, Nate would. Blair deserved to dance at her own ball.
"Does it matter?" she murmured softly in his ear.
Nate swallowed hard as the heavenly scent of her perfume wafted up to his nose. "Don't think to use me to make your husband jealous," he said weakly, his voice wavering at her closeness.
"I wouldn't dream of it." Blair gave Nate a calculated look. "Especially not when he is most certainly sniffing around Lady Dewhurst looking for a handout. "
Nate shifted uncomfortably, almost losing a step at her blunt choice of words. "While there was once something between Lady Elle Dewhurst and Chuck, I am quite sure he ended it long ago, Your Grace."
"You forget. Please call me Blair." Her dazzling smile almost took Lord Archibald's breath away. "As for my husband's affair with the lady, I am afraid that they were still corresponding as of several days ago. She apparently was gifted with a sapphire bracelet recently from my husband."
Nate swore sharply. How could Chuck be such a fool? He already possessed the loveliest gem in all of London and yet he was continuing his dalliance with Lady Dewhurst? "I truly thought his relationship with Elle was at an end. I am very sorry, Blair."
Tears twinkled like diamonds on Blair's lashes. "So am I. At one time I really thought he loved me, but now it seems it was all a joke, part of his wager to get me into bed."
"So you finally did consummate your marriage?" Nate asked delicately.
Overcome with emotion, Blair could only nod.
"For once in my life I am truly envious of him." Nate lifted her hand to his lips. "He doesn't deserve you. You are the most beautiful woman in this room tonight, and yet he can't be bothered to even dance with you.
"Thank you, Nate."
Lord Archibald, noticing her eyes had lost a bit of their sparkle, decided on a course of action he normally would never have dreamed off. Leaning in, he whispered into her ear," Lets play Chuck at his own game. It won't take much to make him jealous. Pretend I am the most fascinating person you have ever met and I can guarantee within seconds Chuck will be here."
Blair looked at him incredulously out of the corner of her eyes, but in the next instant she gave in. Laughing gaily as if Nate had said something outrageously funny, she let him spin her around the room, her dress flaring up to show a scandalous set of perfectly formed dainty ankles.
Her laughter came to an abrupt halt as she felt a set of eyes piercing her like daggers from across the room. Turning her head, she felt a small shiver of fear as she saw Chuck, leaning almost lazily against the mirrored wall of the ballroom. She wondered how long he had been standing there watching. His eyes locked on hers, and the ferocity of the passion she saw reflected in them caused her to misstep and stumble against her partner. Thankfully, Nate held her so tightly she did not lose her footing and fall. Chuck did not wait for the dance to even finish before tapping Lord Archibald on the shoulder to interrupt.
"My wife, my dance." Chuck's voice while velvety smooth held a threat that sent chills up Blair's spine.
"Perhaps if you hadn't neglected your wife that would be the case," Lord Archibald answered smoothly.
While the music never stopped, nor did the dancers, the room held its breath as it waited to see what would come of this confrontation. Lord Archibald and the Duke's friendship could be traced back to their childhood. That they would ever become rivals seemed almost ludicrous. They had been best friends for far too long. That they should be fighting over Chuck's wife took society by storm. Immediately the room was filled with the hum and drone of hundreds of gossiping mouths.
Blair looked from Nathaniel to Chuck and for the first time felt that perhaps they had made a grave error in trying to make Chuck jealous. As Lord Archibald pulled her tighter into his arms, she realized that she needed to defuse the situation. She couldn't have a brawl take place at her very first party. The gossip and attention would kill her chances of respectability.
"I am so sorry Nate, but I am afraid I promised this dance to my husband." She hid her fury behind a sweet smile.
"My apologies." Nate bowed, winking at her as he slowly backed away.
Chuck swept her up into the dance, fitting their bodies close together, her breasts pressed firmly against his chest, his hips against hers. Blair could smell his cologne; feel the strength of his shoulders beneath her fingers. Her heart sped up, beating a frantic tattoo. She remembered his kisses and his touches, and she almost swooned against him.
"My Love, you're playing a dangerous game." Chuck's voice while soft held a challenge she couldn't ignore.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I think you do."
Blair raised her eyes to find him watching her. "Where is Lady Dewhurst?" she asked contemptuously.
Chuck studied her with a curious intensity. "Why do you care?"
Chuck tightened his hold on her waist, pulling their hips closer together. "Lord Archibald came to see you today. What did he want?"
Blair threw his words back at him. "Why do you care?"
Chuck clenched his jaw, grinding his teeth together at her insolence. "I don't," he growled out.
"Enough of this, Chuck." Blair said, suddenly aware of all the attention their dance was gathering. Once more their relationship was fodder for the gossip mill. "People are talking."
"Of course, that is all that matters to you."
"It should matter to you too. It is bad enough that all of society already knows that you left me to stay at Victrola for weeks. Do you really want our marital relations to continue to drag the Bass name through the dirt?"
Chuck gazed at his wife possesively. "You will manage to do that all by yourself if you continue to dance with Lord Archibald like that.
"Are you jealous, Chuck?" Blair said, with a spiteful little laugh.
Chuck wanted to shake his wife until her pretty little teeth rattled. Instead, he did the next best thing. Crushing her small body to his, he lowered his mouth, and captured her lips with his in a possessive kiss. It was hungry and needy and communicated everything he couldn't. Plunging his tongue deep into her mouth, he waited for a slap that never came. Instead, she eagerly met him, kissing him back with a passion that left him breathless.
They stood in the middle of the dance floor oblivious to the fact that the music had ceased and people were furiously whispering and pointing. Finally, realizing that the dance had ended, Blair pulled away in embarrassment.
Chuck startled, almost as if he had forgotten where they were. Smiling wickedly, he winked at the crowd. "First lover's quarrel."
Everyone immediately started smiling and laughing. One of the gentlemen called out boisterously, "No more Victrola for you, Your Grace?"
Chuck turned to Blair, his dark eyes searching out hers as if asking her to play along. "Not if the Duchess will have me back."
Blair drew in a shaky breath as he smirked at her. With his words he had effectively turned the tables on the ton. He was attempting to control the gossip, by creating more of it. The crowd responded, eating it up.
Someone shouted, "Take him back."
Then a female voice answered drunkenly, "If you won't, I will."
Her cheeks on fire, Blair did the only thing she could. Chuck had given her a way to fix her reputation, stop the current gossip about him leaving her. "Only if he promises to behave," she answered cheekily.
Hooting and hollering followed as Chuck drew her closer to his side, his arm wrapping firmly around her waist. While she let him hold her, she knew that things between them were far from fixed and this was nothing but a show they were putting on.
They spent the rest of the evening together, Chuck never more than inches from her side. Blair watched Chuck warily for any signs that he wished to be elsewhere, like perhaps near Elle, but he happily acted the role of a husband suddenly found in his wife's good graces. As the evening wore on, they were kept busy with departing guests.
"Wonderful evening," declared Lord Waldorf as he pressed a gentle kiss on his daughter's cheek. "I am so glad the two of you have made up."
Lady Waldorf smiled proudly at her daughter. "The evening was a social success, even with your little scene." Leaning in to give Blair a kiss, she paused to whisper in her ear. "Well done. I expect we shall have that heir soon."
Blair bit back an angry retort, choosing instead to give her mother a thin-lipped smile. Chuck, as if sensing her turmoil, distracted her by reaching for her hand and placing a kiss on her fingertips to her parent's happiness.
As the early morning light streaked the sky the last of the guests left, and Chuck and Blair were left alone.
Chuck gazed at Blair with heavy contemplative eyes. "Thank you for this."
"I didn't do it for you," Blair said tightly, turning away from his gaze and heading up the stairs.
"Perhaps not, but I appreciate it anyway."
Blair couldn't help the small yawn that escaped her lips as Rose unbuttoned her gown and brushed her hair out
"A lovely party it was, Your Grace. And His Grace begging you to take him back? I never saw anything so romantic," Rose chattered, flashing her mistress a toothy grin.
Blair was too tired to argue as her maid lifted a fine blue silk nightgown over her head. As soon as she was dressed, she dismissed Rose for the morning and stood waiting by the settee. She knew Chuck would come to her, and she wanted to be ready for him.
It didn't take him long, within minutes he was in her room, dressed in a plush purple dressing gown. He walked towards her, two cut crystal glasses of scotch in his hand, and she couldn't help but wonder if he was naked underneath
"I thought you would enjoy this after tonight," he offered.
Blair gratefully took the glass, curious as to the taste. Ladies did not drink anything stronger that champagne or a glass of wine. Sipping at the smoky caramel flavored liquor, she almost choked. It was much stronger than she had ever expected.
Chuck watched her with an amused expression on his face as she slowly polished off the drink and set it on the small side table. Finishing his scotch in one gulp, he came towards her, and lifting her hand to his lips, he kissed each finger one at a time, then the palm, and finally her sensitive inner wrist. Blair shook her hand away from his angrily even though it hurt her heart to do so. "Even with your peace offering you are no longer welcome in my bedchamber," Blair said coldly.
"Perhaps you would prefer Archibald in your bed?"
"And what if I do?" Blair lifted her eyes to Chuck's in challenge.
With two steps he was behind her, his hot breath skimming the tender skin of her earlobe. "Then I will make sure you forget he even exists."
Blair's eyelids fluttered close as his lips brushed the sensitive curve of her neck. Barely able to breathe, she fought the heat that even now was turning her blood into liquid fire.
Tempted and weak with desire she whirled to face Chuck. "You waste your time, Chuck. Your kisses mean nothing to me. Not anymore."
Chuck arched an eyebrow at her. "So at one time they did mean something?"
She met his eyes coldly. "Go to your mistress, Chuck, and leave me in peace." The words, instead of being empowering, left her cold and empty.
"But what if all I want is my wife." He captured one of her hands and lifted her fingertips to his lips."
"Don't toy with me. I know all about Elle and your little gift to her."
Chuck's face went still, his mind attempting to process this new information. "And how would you know about that?"
"I saw her letter," Blair spat at him.
She shrugged her shoulders at him angrily. "What does it matter now?
"It matters to me. What letter?" His voice while civil held an edge that made Blair's breath hitch in her throat."
Suddenly unable to face him, she turned away and walked to the widows to peer outside. "The morning after we…" she paused as the words stuck in her throat, "consummated our marriage, a letter came for you."
Blair nodded; unable to speak for a moment as she remembered with knife-like precision how she had felt when she read the letter. "She thanked you for your gift and asked that you meet her that evening."
"So that is why you left?" For the first time things finally made sense to him. He had wondered ever since he had overheard the conversation between Blair and her mother, but now he had proof. He knew that she had left not because she didn't love him, but because she did. Chuck took several steps towards Blair, until he was standing directly behind her. "Turn around, Blair." His voice was so gentle and so loving that she couldn't help the tears that came to her eyes.
"No, I won't," she choked out. "I don't want to hear you tell me how she meant nothing to you when you clearly cared enough to buy her a bracelet."
"Is that what you think? That I bought a bracelet for my mistress because I cared for her?"
Hearing the amusement in his voice, Blair stiffened her spine and wiped furiously at her stinging eyes. "Why else would you?"
"While I am very much enjoying this very lovely view of your backside," Chuck drawled. "I would much prefer to see your beautiful face. Turn around, My Love."
It was almost a command, and before Blair had a chance to think, she was turning around to face him. Tilting her head proudly, she met his gaze head on. Whatever excuses he had, she was prepared to listen to them, but she wouldn't give in. No matter how much she loved and needed him. She could not allow herself to be second best, a substitute for his mistress."
"I don't know what Elle wrote in the letter, but I can tell you that I did give her a gift. A parting gift of a sapphire bracelet." Chuck smiled down at Blair, his face soft and tender. "Having met your parents I am assured that your sheltered upbringing has left you unfamiliar with the rules of conduct between a gentlemen and his Cher Ami, but it is customary to end the relationship with a farewell gift. The bracelet was just that. A gift to end what had become an unsatisfactory arrangement."
"I see." Blair's voice was icy.
Chuck reached out to cup her face gently in his hand. At his touch Blair had to fight hard not to lean into the strength of his hand. "I don't think you do. I was tiring of Elle before our marriage was ever arranged, and once I met you I knew my relationship with her was forever over. When you met me at the bedroom door brandishing a pistol, I knew that I had been given a woman of passion and spirit. From then on you were in my heart, and before I knew what was happening I was madly and passionately in love with you, Blair."
"Things are over between you and Elle?" Blair was proud her voice didn't quaver when she said the other woman's name.
Chuck's thumb gently stroked the side of her face. "Before I ever met you, My Love. Ever since the vows I took on our wedding day, there has only been you. I love you, Blair." He sweetly pressed a fleeting kiss to her lips, almost as if he was afraid that she would turn her head away and refuse him.
As he pulled away, her fingertips traveled to her lips in wonder. She couldn't believe it was possible, that he could really love her. Time stood still around her as Blair searched Chuck's face, as if she could read the truth there. The walls she had built around her heart slowly cracked as she saw the love shining in his eyes. With a small sob she threw herself into his arms. Never before had she known such happiness, such lightness in her being.
"I love you, too," she whispered against his mouth.
As her lips found his, eager and searching, he kissed her back, soft and slow. She was consuming him, melting him from the inside out, melding his heart and his soul. God help him, he hadn't known such bliss and such peace could exist for him. His tongue ventured into her mouth in a light feathery touch. Breathing deeply, he twisted his mouth over hers in long, searching kisses, losing himself in her warmth.
Overcome with emotion he was the first to pull away, his forehead lightly touching hers. "I need you to know I overheard you and your mother and I owe you an apology for last night. I don't want our marriage bed to be some kind of obligation for you, a battlefield. I want you to come to our bed because it is what you desire, that you trust and love me."
Laughter bubbled from Blair's lips as she searched for the words to tell Chuck that sex with him was never a duty, only a pleasure. That she yearned for him and his touch with every breath she drew.
"Wait here," she commanded. Chuck watched in puzzlement as she rushed to her wardrobe, throwing open the doors. Reaching in, she pulled out a small wooden case.
"These were supposed to be a wedding present for you." Opening the box, she showed him the dueling pistols. "I bought them to keep you from my bed, but I no longer need them."
Chuck removed one from the box, feeling the weight of the pistol in his hand. Laying it carefully on one of the end tables, he made no move to take the box from her. "Thank you, but I want you to keep one. This way if ever I should stray, you have my permission to use it, ensure I remain faithful forever," he said, his lips twisting into a smirk.
"Don't worry, I won't hesitate to use it," she replied, her eyes sparkling with a promise that would have made Chuck nervous if he wasn't so madly and completely in love with his wife.
Chuck drew her into his arms and she clung to his shoulder. Being so close to him, she felt almost dizzy with desire. She wanted him, needed him so desperately.
"I think we can do without this," he said, his voice deep and husky. Before she knew it, her nightgown was puddled at her feet in a silken heap. His gaze wandered over her milky skin, rosy pert nipples, and the delectable dark curls at the juncture of her thighs. "Exquisite…there is no other word to describe your beauty."
"Chuck…" she replied unevenly.
"Can't you see how lovely you are? What you do to me?" He let out a shaky breath, his fingers tangling in her hair. "When I lay with you tonight, it will be because I love you. Because I want you. Because I desire you with every fiber of my being. Is that understood?"
Blair's eyes clung to his. "Yes." It was barely a sound, merely a breath of air.
His lips brushed over hers slowly in sinfully tantalizing touches. His mouth hovered over hers, teasing her with his restraint, and she slid her arms around his neck, bringing him closer. He fed on her lips; endless kisses that made her body soft and liquid. She couldn't repress a moan when he finally gave her the open-mouthed kiss she wanted, his tongue exploring hers with slow languorous strokes. He cupped her breast delicately in his firm hand, squeezing lightly until her nipple budded and hardened. His lips moved from her mouth, and he slid his tongue down the curve of her neck. Tasting the sweet and salty of her skin, he moaned into hollow of her throat.
Trembling with excitement, Blair reached between the folds of his robe and found to her pleasure that he was naked underneath. Her hands slid over his chest, twining in the thick hair. Each caress of her fingertips resonated with him, penetrating to the muscle and bone as if she was reaching into his heart. Her hands moved lower, grazing the sharp edge of his hipbone.
"Blair," he inhaled sharply. His hips pushed urgently at her as she touched his jutting manhood. Her sweet caress made the blood roar like thunder in his ears. He swelled and leapt in her hand, and as he watched her slowly smirk, he grew even more erect. He knew if she touched him much longer, he would surely burst. Unable to wait one minute longer, he gathered her up in his arms, chuckling at her small sound of surprise as he tossed her on the bed. Throwing his dressing gown to the floor, his mouth returning to hers, his skin rubbing deliciously against hers.
Their tongues met, heated and greedy. Blair shifted, bringing one of her legs around him, her mound rocking and cradling his hardness in a taunting rhythm. He could feel her; hot, sleek, and damp against him and it was beyond anything he had ever felt. His fingers slid between their bodies, fluffing her curls. Slowly he traced and mapped her slick folds as her body shook with excitement. The tip of his finger teased her with light strokes, until she became swollen and heavy with need. He circled her over and over again until she twisted and moaned beneath him.
Desire burned in Blair, brightly like a thousand suns. It was beyond bearing, and she was out of control. With a gasp she surrendered to the bliss that was already climbing up her toes and spreading through her belly. She clawed at him as the world shifted in its axis, spinning wildly out of control. When at last she lay still, he caught her with strong hands, lifting her, and settling her slim thighs over his.
"Ride me," he directed, his voice strained. His hands on her hips, he guided himself into her hot center. His hands slid around to cup her rounded buttocks. As he filled her thick and hard, she looked down at his swollen hardness as it impaled her silken sheath. Her hair long hair fell around them like a shining mantle of darkness.
With one hand she braced herself against his chest, her neck arching as a cry of desire was wrenched from her throat. She panted and writhed, driving them both mad. Rocking against him, she made love to him, moving up and down on his shaft, growing wetter and slicker around him with each stroke.
Propping himself up, his mouth captured a nipple, the soft pink bud contracting as he wet it with his tongue. He touched her then, where she cradled his shaft. Soft flutters over wet, pink velvet that had her jerking around him, greedily clenching, pressing, and seeking. He fell back against the mattress, watching her in the firelight. She was so beautiful, so perfect. Then he was surging up to meet her, unable to get enough, never enough. Their eyes locked and Chuck recalled the first time he met Blair, the way she had turned her head when he tried to kiss her, her steady hand when she had pointed a pistol at him on their wedding night. He had told himself what he felt then was passion, lust. That the only reason he had wanted her was because she denied him. Nothing had prepared him for the love that with each day grew and grew until all he could see was her. He needed her, needed her as he had never needed anyone or anything before, and instead of feeling fear he knew only that he was home.
"Chuck," she whispered." "I want…"
"I know, My Love." His thrusts quickened to meet hers, thighs and hips kissing passionately. Filling her, feeling her flutter around him, he lost himself inside her.
Blair gasped, blistering flames licking at her insides, burning her in sweet abandon. Hurtling towards the edge of cataclysmic bliss, she cried out Chuck's name over and over until she was breathless.
He remained inside her until she pulled away, falling against him in a limp heap. Nestled in the crook of his arm, satiated and exhausted, she felt him kiss her temple and then the tip of her ear.
"I love you," she said, smiling to herself when she heard him say it at exactly the same time. Shutting her eyes, she let sleep drape her as she was cradled in the protective circle of his arms.
Later that morning they lay together in bed, limbs entwined, and their breathing in unison.
"I didn't know love could be like this," Blair murmured as she painted kisses along Chuck's jaw line.
He smiled lazily down at her. "Neither did I."
"When I met you, I hated you. I swore to only ever see you as the enemy."
"Who would have thought my enemy would become My Love?" Blair chuckled, the sound filling Chuck with a happiness he had never dreamed possible.
Rolling her under him, he proceeded to show her just how enemies became lovers.
I want to thank everyone for all their kind comments and PM's the last few weeks. I am sorry I didn't get this up as soon as I planned. I ended up cutting and combining the last two chapters into one. This story has been an amazing journey for me and I have learned so much. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. As per the poll I am working on finishing High Society, but I plan on posting my new story as well.
Thanks to all my reviewer's: callmebluetoo, louloula, HeroesBonesSNPB, Lalai, Lovegood16, Charmander, Penelope, jsta, TriGemini, poochbello, IcingTheCake, batgirl2992, myosh, xxsapphirexskyesx, tvrox12, KB22, blair4eva, cakebakery, Joy, dk-fatale, itsolgatime, Kimalya, sweetshorti868, Edwardslover09, odyjha, dreamgurl, Blood Red Kiss of Death, Butterflies In My Stomach, Krism, Syrianora, .beauty, littlemissme343, ronan03, smartin555, wrighthangal, Carrie Black, xoxochuckandblairxoxo, Myria, Guardian Izz,, npigal, HnM skinnys, READER120, yueyuuko, PacificRomance, Penelope, , myosh, BassKingdom, LisaLevine, WriterInDisguise, flipped, lulubelle2010, ggff-fan., :D, xoxogg4lifexoxo, The Very Last Valkyrie, .Slater, NoFearOfChic, kousi, annablake, Bye11, niinjjakiitten, Stella296, popcorn, tonzia86, uncorazonquebrado, Krazy4Spike and Myra 'Trory' Dork.
Thanks to Eli for the beta and encouragement.