Thanks to Tati for the beta.
Blair sat primly on the edge of a powder blue wingback chair in her mother's drawing room. With growing impatience, she watched as her mother whirled around the room adjusting pillows, moving knickknacks and even straightening the blooms in a floral arrangement. Eleanor had even moved her several times, this being the third place she had been told to sit in the past fifteen minutes. If her mother didn't take a seat soon, Blair thought she would likely scream. Her own nerves were on edge as it was, and her mother's fits were not helping.
With a huff, Eleanor picked up the current issue of Godey's Lady Book propped up on a corner chaise. "You girls and your fashion magazines. Must you leave them laying out everywhere?" Sliding open a drawer in one of the room's small end tables, she shoved the periodical inside, slamming it closed.
Pressing her lips together, Blair fought the urge to point out that it was her mother who had last been seen reading that issue. Eleanor, seemingly now satisfied with the room, turned her attention once more to Blair. Cocking her head to one side, she studied her daughter. "Maybe that chair isn't the best place for you to sit. With the drapes partially closed, you are half in the shadows. Prince Grimaldi will hardly be able to see you. " Walking over to a different floral patterned chair, she adjusted it slightly so the rays of sunshine that entered the room were centered over it. "Here, I think this will work best."
When Blair didn't answer, Eleanor gave her a sharp glance. "Blair, I need you to move. Now."
With an exasperated sigh, Blair stood up, her skirts falling heavily around her. Her mother had personally chosen her white lace gown for this special occasion. Together, they had rifled through her entire wardrobe of tea gowns, trying on a half dozen before settling on this dress. Her mother had finally decided this was the right one because the white lace made her appear as innocent as a blushing bride while the green ribbon that trimmed the flounces at the hem and the wrists of the sleeves kept it from being too virginal. To match the ribbon, she wore an emerald brooch at her throat and ear bobs of the same stone. Her mother, after observing her at length, declared herself quite pleased by the way the green brought out the color of Blair's eyes, a direct contrast to the demure white dress she wore. Blair had been satisfied enough with the gown that she hadn't protested.
Seating herself in the new chair, Blair sat very still as Eleanor fussed over her skirts and smoothed the wrinkles.
"Really, Blair. Must you wear those butterfly pins from Alverstoke?"
"I didn't realize I had," she lied. "Would you like me to have Dorota change them for regular ones?"
"Not now. There isn't time." A grimace passed over Eleanor's face. "Even I have to admit, the things do look lovely in your hair."
Blair smiled at her mother's words. She knew how much it annoyed Eleanor that the Duke had presented her with such a sweet and romantic gift. Thinking of Chuck, her smile faded a little as she recalled their tryst in the garden maze. Things had gone much too far between them and she could only be glad she had come to her senses when she had. She had promised to find him a wife, not provide wifely duties herself. Their partnership was supposed to be limited to her finding him a bride and teaching him respectability, but somehow those lines always seem to blur when they were together. It was a good thing her priorities had been set straight with Prince Louis's timely arrival.
Eleanor took several steps back, stopping to scrutinize her daughter. "That's perfect. With the sun glinting off your hair, you look positively radiant."
Serena chose that moment to sashay into the room, dressed in a dark blue carriage outfit trimmed with black braid. "What do you think?" She asked as her skirts twirled around her. "It's new from Paris."
"It's very nice, dear," Eleanor replied with a nod of approval. "What bonnet are you going to wear?"
"That's the thing… I was hoping to wear Blair's new blue ostrich one." At Blair's forbidding look, Serena playfully clasped her hand together in prayer. "Please? I promise to take good care of it."
"Just why are you getting so dressed up? New dress and my new bonnet?" Blair asked, narrowing her eyes with suspicion.
Color pinked Serena's face. "I have a carriage ride with Sir Baizen."
"Sir Baizen?" Blair repeated, wrinkling her nose with distaste.
"I hate when you say his name like that," Serena said with a pout. "You make him seem like the worst reprobate, and he has given me no reason to suspect his attentions are anything but honorable.
Eleanor shot Blair a look of disapproval. "I am sure that Baizen's intentions are nothing but honorable. Besides, it is a beautiful day for a carriage ride and you are sure to have a pleasant time with him. It is such a pity about his estrangement from his parents. His mother, poor dear, is beside herself." She turned her eagle eyed gaze to Serena. "Maybe a few words whispered in his ear from a lady he admired would help?"
Blair wanted to laugh at the idea. Carter had managed to burn every bridge his parents had extended to him, and she didn't think his current infatuation with Serena was going to change anything. Although, she supposed, if anyone could bring about a Baizen reconciliation, it would be her friend. Serena could charm bread from a starving man.
"I…I can try," Serena replied, but the doubt in her voice didn't offer much hope.
"I am sure he will listen to you," Eleanor said in a tone that brooked no argument. "He has shown marked attention to you these past few weeks."
It was true and it made Blair nervous. She had been lax in her duty to her friend. Which made it even more apparent that she was going to have to get involved in this whole Carter and Serena situation. She wouldn't be as careless as she had been with Harry Stone. If there was to be any courtship between the couple, she was going to have to be involved to make sure that Serena did not get hurt.
Clearly uncomfortable with the subject, Serena turned her attention to Blair. "So can I wear the bonnet, dearest sister of mine?"
"Do I really have a choice?"
"No," Serena answered with a giggle. "Thank you." Whirling around, she made her way towards the door, calling over her shoulder. "Have fun with your prince today."
"I will." Blair returned sweetly.
With a frown, Eleanor once more crossed the room to move again the same pillow she had straightened just minutes ago. "I hope you realize how important this meeting is today, not only for you, but for England."
"I do." How could she for one minute forget?
Eleanor whirled around at the sound of Vanya clearing his throat behind her. "Madam, I do believe His Highness's carriage is here."
"Well, don't lag about here! Go stand at attention at the door. And don't forget to order the tea things."
"Mother, don't bark at Vanya. I would think after all this time he knows the protocol for greeting a guest."
Looking slightly ashamed, Eleanor seated herself on one of the gold striped settee's that adorned the room. "You're right. I am just nervous."
Blair was starting to feel nervous herself. She had waited and thought of this moment for so long, pinning her future dreams on its outcome. What if all the planning and time her mother had put into this match was for naught? Could she bear it if Prince Grimaldi, after one look at her, decided that she was not acceptable?
She heard a soft greeting in the entryway and footsteps coming towards the drawing room and mentally she prepared herself for the worst.
"His Highness, Prince Grimaldi," Vanya announced with a bow. As he stepped aside to let the gentleman enter the room, Blair rose to her feet.
Just before dropping into a deep curtsey, she caught a quick glimpse of the Prince and what she saw eased her nervousness a little. She had often worried that upon seeing him she would find him horribly unattractive, but the man she saw was quite pleasant to look at. He had dark hair and eyes and, while he didn't possess the exotic sensuality of Chuck, he could be considered handsome. Realizing she was thinking once again about Chuck Bass, she mentally kicked herself. She really shouldn't compare the two. Once was a Royal Prince and the other a thoroughly disreputable Duke.
She felt the Prince move towards her and, peering up through her eyelashes, she saw him offer his hand to her. Placing her hand in his gloved one, she rose. As she did so she was struck by the look of happiness on his face. Perhaps he was pleased she wasn't unpleasant to look at as well?
Eleanor hurried towards them. "Your Highness, I would like you to meet my daughter, Lady Blair."
Lifting her hand to his mouth he respectfully kissed her fingertips. "I am honored."
Bestowing a pleased look at him, Eleanor waved her hand towards the chair next to Blair. "Won't you have a seat?"
"Thank you," Louis replied and Blair noticed he held her hand for a minute longer than decorum deemed necessary before at last releasing her fingers.
Spreading her skirts, Blair sat back down, noticing that Louis's eyes never left hers as he took the seat by her.
"How was your journey, Your Highness?" Eleanor asked.
Reluctantly, the Prince's gaze left Blair. "Please do call me Louis. It seems silly after all this time that we stand on formality."
Blair noticed that her mother appeared a bit flustered at this new development, but she took it in stride, inclining her head in acceptance. "Louis… How was the journey?"
"Normally it is a chore, but the excitement of knowing I was finally going to meet Lady Blair made it practically tolerable."
Color bloomed on Blair's cheek. His words surprised her. While Lord Cary had spoken of the Prince's eagerness to meet her, she had assumed it had been lip service.
Eleanor beamed. "We have been excited about this meeting, as well. Haven't we, Blair?"
"Yes. " Blair tried to think of something else to say, but for some reason her polite conversation skills seemed to have vanished. "Where are you lodging?" she asked finally, even though she already knew the answer.
"Lord Cary is kindly letting me stay with him in his London townhome. He would have come with me today, but he felt that our first meeting should be with as little pomp and circumstance as necessary and I agree. There is no need for such formality between friends," Louis said with a smile.
"We are pleased that you would honor us so," Eleanor replied, preening a bit at his words.
As Vanya arrived with the silver tea tray, Eleanor rose to her feet and Louis followed suit. "Vanya, please place the tea things next to Lady Blair."
"Aren't you going to pour, Mother?" Blair asked as the china tea service was placed on the side table before her.
Eleanor waited for Vanya to leave before replying, "It seems I have developed quite a headache this afternoon. I think I will retire to my rooms for a bit of a rest."
Louis's face fell. "Perhaps I should leave. I would not wish to compromise Lady Blair's reputation by being alone in her company."
Alarm flashed briefly in Eleanor's eyes. "There is no fear of that. If Vanya leaves the door to the drawing room open, there is no reason why you can't stay."
"This would be acceptable to you… Appropriate?"
"Of course, Your Highness," Eleanor hastily assured him. "Besides, we are friends, aren't we?
He seemed to weigh her words before answering with a small nod. "Yes, of course. And I promise you, Madam, that I shall not act in any way towards Lady Blair that would cause you to question my intentions or my honor."
"Put your mind to rest. I have no fears on that account. Now if you will excuse me, Your Highness." Eleanor swept the Prince a curtsey.
"Louis, please," Louis said with a polite bow. "I do hope you feel better, Lady Waldorf. Have you tried hartshorn mixed with water? My mother suffers from headaches as well, and she swears by it."
Eleanor flinched slightly. "I believe I am out of hartshorn."
Blair covered up her laughter with a cough. Her mother didn't have a headache in the least and even if she did, hartshorn made her deathly ill.
"I shall have some delivered for you as soon as I take my leave. You will feel better in a matter of hours," Louis replied, his eyes seeming to gleam with pleasure at having been able to offer his services.
"How kind," Eleanor said faintly. "I'm afraid I really must take my leave of you now."
"Of course. It was so nice to meet you, Lady Waldorf."
As Louis took his seat once more, Eleanor left the room, but not without giving Blair a meaningful glance. Blair couldn't believe her mother had maneuvered this entire scene to her advantage. What was supposed to be a chaperoned tea had now become quite intimate. All of a sudden, she was tired of being manipulated; not only by her mother and Lord Cary, but also by Lord Tremaine and his much needed alliance for England. She didn't want to make idle chit chat while Louis, no matter how nice he seemed, sized up her suitability. Sitting up as straight as she could, she boldly caught Louis's gaze.
"Are you aware of the purpose of this meeting today? The plans that are wished for us?"
The hesitant note in his voice only made Blair more certain she needed to be as upfront with him as possible. "I won't be forced into a marriage with you just to make my mother happy or create some kind of diplomacy between our two countries."
Blinking several times, Louis seemed shocked at her honesty. Taking a deep breath, he paused before speaking, "I wouldn't dream of forcing a marriage between us if it wasn't what you wanted. While an English marriage is very important to Monaco, I would never wish to marry someone who was unwilling or who had so little regard for me."
Feeling mollified and embarrassed, Blair swept her gaze away from Louis and towards the steaming teapot that sat in front of her. "Maybe you would care for some tea?" She asked, anxious to change the subject.
"No, thank you," He answered with a soft tone. "Do you honestly see me as some ogre who would force you into marriage?"
The truth was she was no longer sure how she saw him. Months ago she had seen him as her future bridegroom and marrying him her duty. Who he was or how he made her feel didn't matter so much. She would be marrying a prince, after all. Now, after speaking with Chuck, so much had changed. She wanted and deserved more than that from a prospective bridegroom. Maybe it was too much to ask for love, but she wanted at the very least to be cherished and desired. Like Chuck seemed to desire her. At this traitorous thought, Blair lifted her eyes from the teapot only to find Louis's intent gaze on her. As she forced herself back to his question, she decided that no, he did not seem an ogre in the least. He had been nothing but kind and friendly since he entered her home. A man like that would not wish nor deserve an unwilling bride.
"No, Your Highness. I don't think of you as an ogre."
"Louis," she corrected herself.
A smile lit his face. "A man of my station does not often get to do without such formalities, so it pleases me greatly to have someone I hold in such high regard use my Christian name. Perhaps you will consider letting me call you by your given name?"
"Yes." Blair smiled back at him. "I think that would be permissible. But only if you tell me what it is I have done that you hold me in such high regard? We are strangers, after all, having only met today."
Louis shifted in his chair, his fingers nervously playing at the red rose pinned to the buttonhole of his dark grey day coat. "Would it be too forward to tell you that I feel as if I already know you?"
Blair gave him a look of bemusement. "I don't see how that could be possible."
"Well, there are the letters. Your mother's and Lord Clary's. They both spoke so eloquently of you."
"Yes, she wrote with such pride about you and your accomplishments. She shared with me your courage and loyalty to her in the months that followed your father, Lord Waldorf's, death."
At a loss for words, tears pricking at her eyelids, Blair focused on smoothing the green ribbon on the cuff of her sleeve. She and her mother had never talked much about that dark time after her father's death. It had been a difficult period for both of them, but her mother had taken it so very hard. At first she had spent weeks in bed and Blair had spent every hour she could trying to cajole her to get up, even eat. Then a few months later she had emerged from her bed chamber a different person. She had become cooler, more calculated and entirely focused on Blair and her future. It seemed that she had poured all of her loss into one goal, ensuring the most advantageous match she could for her daughter.
At Blair's silence, Louis continued, "Then there were the newspaper clippings I received of your charitable efforts with Girls Incorporated. Such dedication to those less fortunate than yourself is to be commended. "
Looking up she saw the admiration brimming in his eyes, and she didn't have the heart to tell him that her reasons for joining Girls Incorporated might not be as altruistic as he thought. How could she tell him that she had originally joined only for the prestige that came with membership?
"So you see, everything I have learned about you has only given me more reason to desire this meeting between us."
"I knew my mother had written, but I didn't realize…" Blair slowly shook her head. "I feel at such a loss. I know so little about you?"
Louis shyly ducked his head. "We can easily remedy that. That is what today is about, isn't it?"
Blair modestly lowered her eyelashes. "Yes."
"I will tell you about myself, then. I am twenty-five and graduated from Oxford. My whole life I have been groomed for my role as the future leader of my country—"
"Those are just the bare facts, Louis," Blair interrupted with a chuckle. She noticed right away that while his name on her tongue was foreign, it wasn't unpleasant. "There has to be more to you than that."
"I do have a passion very dear to my heart." His hand moved nervously towards the inside breast pocket of his gray suit coat. "I have something I would like to show you. I hope you won't think this is too forward."
Blair's curiosity was completely piqued. She wasn't sure what to expect. What did gentleman carry around in their breast pockets?
As he pulled a small Moroccan leather case out of his pocket, she leaned forward eagerly in her chair. It appeared to be a small book or folio of some kind, and it had a gold engraved clasp. He flicked the catch with his nail and Blair held her breath as he slowly opened it to reveal a painting.
"That's me," she whispered. To her shock, it really was her. A Blair Waldorf she had never seen before. Well, she had in a way. She remembered posing for the photograph. She had stood very still by a vase of roses for what seemed like hours as the image had been imprinted. Somehow Louis had gotten the photograph and he had had someone paint a copy of it. Only this was like no portrait she had ever seen. It almost appeared out of focus with very visible brushstrokes. The artist had played with light in the painting, causing the warm golden tones to caress her ivory flesh and bring out the honey highlights in her hair. The woman in the portrait stood with her head slightly bowed, a demure smile on her face, and she was so lovely, Blair couldn't believe it was she.
"Yes," Louis murmured. "Your mother sent the photograph and I had my favorite artist paint me a copy. I hope that it was not too forward of me."
"This painting, it's magnificent. I have never seen anything like it before."
"It is painted by Edouard Manet. He is part of a new artistic movement in France. I had the pleasure of attending one of his salons when I was visiting a few months ago. When I presented him with your photograph, he was amazed by your beauty and most interested in my commission to reproduce you into his medium."
Blair was sure he had been, but it had little to do with her beauty. A commission from a wealthy Prince was something no starting artist could afford to turn their nose up to. "You have seen Edouard Manet's other work? Is it all like this? So striking?"
"Yes. It is like nothing I have ever seen before." Louis began to close the leather folio and Blair took one last look lingering look at the painting, wishing to remember it always. "If you are interested, he has two paintings being displayed at the National Gallery this season. Maybe you would let me take you to see them?"
At the offer, he tensed, and she could tell he was preparing for her to refuse. But how could she when he was so kind and nice? "I would love to go with you."
He smiled, his eyes lighting up with joy. "I had hoped you would allow me to escort you, with your mother in attendance, of course. Yet there is still one more thing that I would ask of you."
Louis placed the picture back in his pocket and busied himself with straightening his suit coat for a minute before speaking. "I have been most open and honest with you, and I believe you have too, so I want to lay my cards down on the table so to speak. I did come here from Monaco in search of an English alliance and while you were initially chosen for me for this purpose, it is important that you know that it is of my own free will I am now choosing to pursue you. You are my choice. Because of that, I want to know that I have a chance and that you will receive my offer of courtship in good faith.
She began to speak, but he held up his hand to silence her.
"I ask that you let me finish. If I don't have a chance with you, I want to know that now before I invest too much of myself. I think it is not unreasonable for me to ask?"
"No, it is not unreasonable," Blair conceded.
"So Blair, do I have a chance? There is no one else that engages your heart?"
She thought then of Chuck. How he made her laugh and smile, how his kisses set her heart afire, making her yearn for something she knew could never be. Men like Chuck Bass, however, did not offer their hearts to women like her. He had created an entire lifestyle built around experiencing every sin of the flesh there was, and she would not be so foolish as to think the few kisses they had shared in any way meant anything to him. She knew that for now her innocence and respectability amused him, but in time it would grow old and he would look for amusement elsewhere. She needed to find him a bride and remove him from her life as quickly as she could before her heart really was engaged. As Louis shifted anxiously in his seat, she realized she had yet to give him an answer. Did she really need to think about it? Louis was everything she could have wished for and more in a prospective suitor.
Blair looked up at him, to find his eyes already on her. "There is no one else, Louis," she replied, completely ignoring the sinking sensation in her chest, the feeling that she had just committed a horrible betrayal.
"You will give me a chance, then? Allow me to court you?"
Louis sat very still in his chair as if he was holding his breath, and Blair realized she stood at a precipice. Everything hinged on her answer. Could Louis be the one to give her a fairytale ending? She deserved the chance to find out.
"Yes?" He clapped his hands together, a huge grin on his face. "You will not regret this. Tomorrow, I have an assembly I must attend at the French embassy. Will you be my guest?"
Blair had never been to an event at any of the embassies. The guest lists for such events were usually reserved only for diplomats, politicians and royalty. To be asked to go as Louis's guest could only serve as a feather in her cap.
At her silence, Louis drew his eyebrows together in worry. "I realize such a thing might not be to your taste, but such events are a necessary duty for a Prince. I must represent my country and, believe it or not, many a diplomatic decision are made over a glass of cognac. I would expect my wife, as the future queen of Monaco, to attend all such events as this. If this is something you feel you could not do, then it is best you tell me now."
"I think you misunderstand me," Blair rushed to reassure him. "I would love to go as your guest and I completely understand the importance of having your country represented and, of course, attending is something your wife should be honored to do. Out of curiosity, what other duties are expected of a princess of Monaco?"
"Well, attending such events as this are a priority, as is being a role model of respectability for my country. But most important of all would be her duty to me, her husband."
"What would those duties be? Looking pretty and delivering compliments on how wonderful you are?" Blair teased.
She expected Louis to laugh, but instead he regarded her quite seriously. "I would most certainly expect my wife to be beautiful. She is, after all, an extension of myself and a beautiful ornament that represents me at all times. As for delivering compliments, isn't it a wife's goal to make sure her husband feels good about himself?"
"True, I suppose." The thought rather depressed her; although she realized that was the role most women had been raised for. In fact, she had no doubt the ladies in her social circle would agree with Louis completely. "But what about politics? Would your wife be of help there? Could she help develop positive relationships with other countries?"
Louis's jaw dropped. "Of course not. Such work is best left for gentleman. Gently reared ladies such as yourself should not dirty themselves with the ugliness of politics. The stories of betrayal, blackmail and bribery would ruin your delicate sensibilities. "
Blair rather sadly thought that all sounded quite interesting.
"No," Louis shook his head. "The Princess of Monaco's main job is to keep her husband happy, while at the same serving as a symbol of grace for all of Monaco to worship. "
"I see," Blair said with a slight frown. While the idea of being a princess appealed to her vanity, fulfilling her girlhood dreams, the reality seemed to be that the role would be entirely limited to pleasing the Prince. She would truly be a pretty ornament for him, something lovely to look, without any true purpose.
"If you are worried about fulfilling the role of Princess should we chose to wed, I can have tutors brought in to help you further understand your role and teach you the necessary protocol," Louis offered.
Blair bristled at the suggestion. "That wouldn't be necessary. I understand completely what is expected."
At the change in her composure, Louis anxiously played with the rose in his buttonhole again. "Does this change your mind about my courtship?"
Looking into his face, she was touched by how much the idea seemed to bother him. She had never before known anyone to care so much about courting her. He had come all the way from Monaco, had her picture painted and was practically begging her to give him a chance. It was like something out of a fairytale. Maybe his ideas for the role of his wife and for a Princess didn't exactly suit her, but that was no reason to give up yet. She was Blair Waldorf and could charm anyone into changing their views.
"No," she replied resolutely, "I would love for a chance for us to get to know each other better."
Louis grinned with delight. "I promise you won't regret it."
Blair wondered uncomfortably then why she felt like she already did.
At the sound of the front door slamming, Louis and Blair rose to their feet
"B!" Serena called out. "I had the most wonderful time. How was the Prince? Was he everything you dreamed?"
"Forgive me, Louis," Blair said, her cheeks hot. At the sound of Vanya's muffled voice coming from the other room, she realized thankfully that he must have warned Serena that the Prince was still here.
"You dreamed of me?" Louis asked, his eyes wide.
Blair ignored him. "That is my good friend Lady Serena van der Woodsen you heard outside." Serena popped her head in the drawing room, her skirts swishing around her waist, and Blair shot her a dirty look. "She has the most uncouth manners."
"Sorry, Blair. I thought since the door was open your company had left."
Blair motioned for Serena to enter the room. Now that she was here, it would be considered very bad manners not to introduce her.
"Serena, this His Highness Prince Grimaldi." As Serena dipped into a graceful curtsy, Blair watched Louis. She wondered if, like most gentlemen, he would be awestruck by her golden beauty and vivacious manner.
When Louis bowed to Serena, Blair noticed with a tingle of pleasure that he immediately turned his attention back to her. Even though it was petty, this little gesture did much to raise Louis in her esteem. The three of them stood awkwardly for a moment, before Louis cleared his throat.
"As much as I have enjoyed this afternoon, I have probably overstayed my welcome."
Serena's forehead wrinkled with worry. "Oh dear, I hope I haven't ruined anything?"
"Not at all, Lady Serena," Louis replied politely. "It has been a true pleasure, Blair." "I will have an invitation for tomorrow's assembly sent over with the hartshorn."
At Louis's use of her Christian name, Serena's eyebrows rose to the ceiling.
With another bow and a last lingering look at Blair, Louis strode from the room.
"Blair? The Prince of Monaco calls you Blair already? And the way he looked at you when he left." Serena shook with laughter. "I can't believe you have him wrapped around your finger already. That must be a record."
"It isn't like that."
"Really? Because it certainly seems like that to me." Serena wagged a finger at Blair. "I am guessing you must not have told His Highness about your other suitor, the Duke. Just wait until the two of them find out who their competition is. A royal prince versus a reformed Lord. I wonder which one will win?"
"There is no competition," Blair argued, shooting Serena an icy glare.
Serena giggled. "This is going to be fun. "
As Blair grabbed one of the embroidered throw pillows of the settee to throw at Serena, her friend shrieked and ran out of the room.
Blair stood in front of the mirror at Madame Tillsbury's Milliners in Bond Street, trying on a light pink bonnet trimmed with several red roses. The effect was rather striking next to her dark hair, but she was unsure if maybe it was a bit garish. She would have asked Serena, but her friend had headed straight to the dressmakers for a final fitting of one of her ball gowns as soon as the carriage dropped them off. Not wishing to be bored to death, Blair had left Dorota and Serena to run and look at hats. As usual, she was a little overwhelmed by the choices. The store was filled, floor to ceiling, with silk lined shelves of hats in all shapes and colors. As several shop girls hovered, eager for her to make a purchase, Blair turned her head to admire the hat from a different angle.
"It doesn't do your beauty justice," purred a voice near her.
Startled, Blair whirled around to find Chuck standing behind her. "How did you know I was here?"
"I saw you enter from my carriage."
"I see." Blair turned around once more to face the mirror. "What did you want?"
Chuck ran his gloved finger nonchalantly along one of the shelves. "Why do you think I want something?"
"A gentleman does not enter a ladies hat shop unless he wants something."
"Well, as you keep reminding me, I am no gentleman," Chuck teased.
"That's for sure," Blair retorted. "However, since we are attempting to at least give the impression you are, it is probably best that you leave."
"You should get this one." Chuck offered Blair a hunter green velvet bonnet trimmed with a darker ribbon. "It brings out the green in your eyes."
The hat was gorgeous and unique in its simplicity, and Blair couldn't believe she hadn't noticed it before.
"I think you must be blind where my looks are concerned. My eye aren't in the least bit green," Blair replied dryly.
"I beg to differ." Chuck lowered his voice to a throaty growl. "And I notice everything about you."
Blair's mouth went dry.
"Try the hat on."
Blair slowly removed the pink hat, resting it back on the silk lined shelf. Taking the green bonnet from Chuck, she placed it on her head and tied the emerald satin ribbon into a jaunty bow under her chin.
Chuck stepped up behind her, his legs brushing the back of her bell-like skirts and she didn't dare move, barely managing to breathe at finding him so close to her. As his hands spanned her waist, she felt she might faint at the scorching touch that managed to burn her skin even though a corset and taffeta gown separated them.
"See, Blair. This hat was made for you. It makes your eyes look almost green, highlights your creamy ivory skin and when you blush, the contrast in color makes me want to do wicked things to you," he added as her cheeks flushed hotly.
"There will be no wicked doings," Blair said sternly, trying to move away only to finder herself practically trapped against the carved mahogany table that stood under the gilt mirror.
"Later then?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Never!" She exclaimed, spinning around only to find her mouth mere inches from his. "You are going to cause a scene, Chuck."
He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't see the problem."
"If you ever want to find a wife, you can't behave this way and certainly not with me. Now, if you don't move away this instant, I will refuse to help you any longer." She hated how shrill her voice had become; makingit even more obvious how much he affected her.
Letting go of her waist, he raised his hands in mock surrender and moved away.
Catching her breath, Blair reluctantly returned the green hat to the shelf. She could never purchase it now. It reminded her too much of him and that was the last thing she needed.
"You aren't going to buy it?" Chuck sounded like a little boy that had just had his favorite treat snatched away.
"No," she answered shortly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to join Serena at the dressmakers."
"Let me walk you there?"
Blair considered the offer. She probably should refuse him as she had no chaperone present, but she was eager to speak to him. Besides if anyone mentioned the impropriety of being alone with him, she would point out the fact that they were under the observation of everyone shopping and milling about Bond Street. It was going to be impossible to walk the short distance from the milliners to the dressmakers without passing and being scrutinized by dozens of members of society.
"I suppose that would be acceptable," she granted cordially.
Picking up the hat she had worn in from the small table in front of her, she placed it on her head, tying the bow under her chin. The straw bonnet was decorated with a spray of red cherries and matched her scarlet striped gown perfectly. Studying herself in the mirror before turning around she was struck by the high color in her cheeks and the almost starry look in her eyes. Forcing her lips into a frown, she sought to erase the evidence of how much she was enjoying this impromptu meeting between them. Catching sight of Chuck from behind her, she watched him pick up the green hat she had just discarded and gesture to one of the shop girls.
"Are you purchasing that hat?" Even though she didn't dare buy it, the thought that he might be buying it for one of his harlots made her seethe. As the shop girl took the hat to the back of the store to be wrapped and boxed, she felt cheated. That hat should have been hers.
Spinning around, she gave him her most disgusted look. "I can't believe you have the audacity to buy that for one of your hussies right in front of me. You are revolting."
A slow grin spread across Chuck's face. "Does it really bother you that much?"
Blair opened and closed her mouth. To admit the truth, would show to him that she actually cared who he bought gifts for. "Absolutely not. It just goes to prove how impossible the task of making you presentable is. One doesn't ever buy gifts for their mistress in the presence of a lady, " she replied through gritted teeth.
Chuck regarded her, and the mocking look in his eyes annoyed her to such an extent she wanted to hurl a hat at him.
The pretty, blonde shop girl chose that moment to return with the shops trademark gold and black patterned hatbox in her hand. With a flourish she presented it to Chuck. "Shall I add that to your account, Your Grace?"
"I suppose you have accounts with every store that caters to females in town," Blair said bitterly. She could just imagine with all the women constantly coming and leaving his bedchambers, he would need incentives and inducements to keep them happy. "I suppose it is necessary to keep your harem well rewarded."
"In this case, it will benefit both of us." A smirk tugged at the corners of his lips as he handed her the hatbox. "For you, Blair."
"I can't possibly accept this," she snapped, barely able to control her desire to grab the hatbox from him.
"No? That is a pity. Well, I guess I will have to find some less fortunate to accept it then. I have no doubt one of the city's beggars will eagerly wear it."
Blair curled her fingers into fists. "You would give my hat away to some strange poor person?"
"I am afraid I am forced with no choice since the lady it was bought for refuses to accept it," he teased.
"Fine," Blair rudely thrust her hand out, grabbing for the hatbox. "I accept."
"Somehow I knew you would," Chuck replied sweetly.
Making a disgusted sound, Blair allowed Chuck to take her arm and lead her towards the door. Once out on the street, Blair took a deep breath before addressing the thought that had been on her mind ever since Serena had brought up Carter the other night. "I have a favor to ask of you,"
Chuck looked down at her with surprise. "Of course. Anything."
"I need a meeting with Sir Baizen."
Something that looked very akin to anger flashed in his eyes and Blair noticed that his whole body had tightened like a coiled spring. "May I ask why you have this sudden urge to speak with the gentleman?"
"Not that it is any of your business, but I am afraid he has designs on Lady Serena."
He seemed to relax at her revelation and the look of relief on his face made Blair suspicious. Did he really think she was interested in Carter? The whole idea was ludicrous; she was insulted he would even contemplate such a thing.
"How diabolical," Chuck teased. "Shall we lock her up in a tower to keep him away?"
Blair gave him a cross look. "Even you must admit that he has a terrible reputation. For some reason, Lady Serena is able to overlook this, but I can't."
Chuck became grave. "Must you always hold a gentleman's reputation against him? Doesn't Sir Baizen deserve a chance to reform and show himself worthy of your friend?"
"If that is his intention, then he needs to prove it to me. I will not allow him to hurt someone who is closer to me than a sister."
"I suppose a meeting can be arranged," Chuck conceded. "On one condition."
Slowing her step, Blair looked up at him suspiciously. "What condition?"
"I am present."
"No. This is between Sir Bazien and I, and no affair of yours," Blair said firmly.
"That is where you are wrong. If I am going to arrange this meeting, I need to be present. It is the only gentlemanly thing to do considering that the man you are meeting with has such a terrible reputation," Chuck replied silkily.
Blair exhaled with annoyance at the way he threw her words back at her. "Fine, but the meeting needs to be at a public gathering, in a way that is not overly noticeable."
"I think I can arrange that. What function is next on your social calendar? It would be helpful to know so I can procure an invitation this time." His lips quirked with amusement.
"That may prove impossible." Blair looked down at her hatbox swinging on her arm. "Prince Grimaldi has invited me to a gathering tomorrow at the French Embassy."
Chuck stopped in his tracks. "I see," he replied grimly. "And when did you meet Prince Grimaldi?"
"We had tea today."
"Did he mention that his country is desperate for an alliance with England? That you are merely a means to an end?"
"It isn't like that," Blair said defensively. "Well… It may have started like that, but Prince Grimaldi is choosing to court me of his own free will."
Letting go of her arm, Chuck reached into the breast pocket of his coat. "Just because he is a prince doesn't mean he will give you what you need," he said coldly.
Blair was reminded then of Louis's views on matrimony and what he wished in a wife. To have her goal in life be solely to please a husband made her feel as if she was slowly suffocating. What had happened to her? Before Chuck that was all she had thought she wanted.
"When you marry do you see your wife as a possession? A pretty bauble existing only to please and compliment your life?" she asked bluntly.
Chuck stilled as he pulled a small silver case out of his breast pocket. "No. While I enjoy being surround by beautiful things and would like an attractive wife, I would not wish a relationship like that. A woman with no substance, no spirit, would be unbearably dull and I think I would grow bored enough that I would hurl this pretty bauble against the wall to see if it would break."
Laughter escaped Blair's lips at the thought.
"At my parties, I see men and women all the time wishing to escape the confines of the marriages they are trapped in. Condemned by a marriage made to further familial connections or wealth, they have been doomed to a lifetime of misery and boredom. For a marriage to be successful, there must be more substance between them than just superficial beauty and duty."
"So would you then wish your bride to be your equal?" Blair asked with disbelief.
"Yes, I think so. I want more from her than just to, as you said, ornament my life. I want to be able to share all of myself and have her do the same. For example, my business ventures give me great pleasure and, as unladylike as it is, that is something I would like her to take an interest in. I don't wish a meek, mild bride without a thought of her own in her head."
Holding the cord of her hatbox tightly in one hand, Blair realized jealously that the wife of Charles Bass would be a lucky woman. The problem was going to be finding a woman of such substance without absolutely hating her. "You have given me quite the challenge," she said as lightly as she could.
He smiled slightly and opened the silver case he had removed from his pocket. With a sidelong glance at her he withdrew a slim cheroot. Sliding it into his mouth, he removed a matchbox from his pocket and proceeded to light his cigar.
"Chuck!" Blair ripped the cigar from his mouth, stomping on it with her leather boot. "One never smokes in gentle company. What were you thinking?
"It seems what I need most is a wife who can teach me these things and make me fit for polite society," Chuck said playfully.
"You don't need a wife, you need a full time tutor." Blair couldn't believe Chuck's audacity. It seemed with every day her task to reform him grew even larger. He really shouldn't be allowed to leave her company at all and she realized, with dismay, how much satisfaction that thought gave her. As Chuck placed his silver cigar case back in his breast pocket, she was reminded of Louis and the portrait of her he kept. It only served to highlight the differences between the two men and she became further resolved to find Chuck a wife as soon as possible.
"I think the perfect place to find you a bride is the Girls Incorporated Charity Dinner. It takes place the night after next, and I will personally see that you receive an invitation," Blair said airily.
"Charity is not generally to my taste," Chuck replied, offering her his arm.
She accepted and they continued their walk towards the dressmakers. "I know, but think of the impression you will make on all of society when you attend. It will show that you are serious about turning over a new leaf and, if you can make a large donation to Girls Incorporated, they will have no choice but to show their gratitude."
"And how will you show your gratitude?"
Blair ignored the way his voice deepened, the way it curled seductively around her toes. She knew exactly what he meant by gratitude and she wasn't going to give in and let him play with her. "By finding you a bride. The whole reason I am spending time with you," she answered tartly.
To her surprise, he had no comeback for her. As they came to a halt in front of the dress shop, Chuck let go of her arm.
"You will come to the dinner then?" When he didn't answer, she continued, "I have been planning it for months and I can guarantee that the food and wine will be top notch."
"I can get the finest in delicacies and drink at home."
Suddenly it was very important to her that he be there. The event was a culmination of all her hard work and she wanted a chance to show of her talents to him. Show him that she was so much more than just a pretty ornament, "Please…Chuck." The way she said his name, how it rolled deliciously of her tongue, gave her pause and she couldn't but compare it to the strangeness she had felt when she said Louis's name. Surely, she figured that had to be because of the length of time she had known the two men.
"In that case, I have no choice. " Chuck smiled down at her, his whole face alight at her plea. "Yes, I will be there, banknotes in hand."
"Thank you." Blair reached for the shop door's handle. "I will have an invitation sent over today."
Chuck bowed and she noticed he waited until she was safely inside the shop before finally walking away.
This was written a long time ago, when a Louis/Blair engagement was only a speculation. This means my version of him and their relationship is going to vary a bit from the show. At this moment I am not sure what the status is of this story. I have several scenes written and the outline is completed, but I don't want to promise anything other then I will try to work on it. I now write mostly for the Vampire Diaries fandom so it is a bit hard to switch between the two. Although, if Katie has her way I will be spending a lot more time working on this story in the future. :P
For those of you wondering about the last chapter of Violets At Her Feet you can find the link in my profile.