A/N: We apologise so much for the delay! We're writing and editing each chapter as they come now and these last few weeks we've both been hit hard by deadlines, coursework, job applications and holidays. Hopefully we'll be able to be slightly more regular now but to be honest we can't guarantee it.
Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed the last chapter and who has remained interested in the story. We hope you continue to enjoy Part Two in the continuing saga of Matthew and Mary behaving really stupidly. :)
Part Two: The Castle Besieged
Mary did not go to church on Sunday.
She had every intention of doing so but when it came to leaving the house she could not bear to and, pleading a bad headache, retired to her room. Mary did not know if she believed in God or not but her doubts were not strong enough for her to be comfortable attending the church service so soon after she had sinned. It had been the same after Pamuk. Then, her punishment had been immediate and clear. Oh, she no longer thought his heart had stopped simply to punish her for fornication – that was both ludicrous and romantic... probably; but by all the codes of conduct and morality with which she had been brought up, she had done terribly wrong and she had not been able to bear the guilt of entering God's House bearing such a burden.
She no longer felt that way. Weeks had passed, then months, and Mary had not been shot down by a bolt from heaven. She had not been pregnant either, which had been a very real fear for several weeks following a very awkward conversation with her mother on the subject. No, Mary had found that it was necessary to readjust her understanding of marriage and of the sexual act and over the following year she changed her opinion to suit her own situation. The fact was that women should not take lovers for the simple reason that men did not like them to. There were no real repercussions to it. A baby was not the necessary consequence of such a union; if it was, she had thought wryly, then the world would be vastly more over-populated than it was. No moral consequences had taken place, nor social ones either. She had simply got on with her life and tried to put it behind her, something easier said than done at times.
But now she had done it again... and again... and then again. How far from virtue had she fallen this time? Years of being told such behaviour was wrong warred with and tried to overcome her modern conviction that none of that mattered. And how different it had been with Matthew; surely that had to mean something? How could she be punished for something so pure and so good that made her so happy? But it was wrong. It had to be wrong. By every law and custom that she knew, what they had done was wrong however right it had felt at the time. Guilt and defiance, shame and liberation conflicted constantly within in her. Among those feelings, moreover, was a pang that never seemed to quite go away of simply missing Matthew. Try as she might to ignore and dismiss it, a part of her felt as if it had been torn away from her and her thoughts were never far from him. It frightened her, and fear made her waspish .
Alone in the house while the others were at church, she shut herself away in the library, reading the first page of novel after novel, abandoning each in turn as not sufficiently interesting to keep her attention away from her own feelings and the fears she told herself were unnecessary.
The first thing she knew of the return of the rest of the family was when the library door opened and Edith entered, Pharoah on her heels. The dog went to its usual spot by the earl's writing desk but Edith approached her sister.
"I thought you had a headache," she accused her.
Mary sighed and laid aside The Lost World. "I was not aware that having a headache prevented me from reading."
"It does me."
She made no reply and Edith advanced still further into the room. "You missed an interesting sermon today, Mary. All about sin."
"I highly doubt Mr. Travis has anything original to say on such a traditional subject."
"Well, it seemed pertinent to me," insisted Edith, her tone giving nothing away.
Mary stood up and faced her across the room, knowing perfectly well where this was going and torn between wanting to get it over with and putting it off as long as possible. "I can't imagine why you'd think that."
"Can't you, Mary? I would think after your escapades in Scarborough it would be at the top of your mind."
She heaved a sigh and turned away towards the window. "Define 'escapades', Edith; you're inclined to melodrama sometimes and I really don't know what you-"
"I suppose whoring yourself out at every possible opportunity is rather melodramatic, even for you, though I don't know why I'm surprised."
Mary gasped, shocked despite herself. It was one thing to question her actions herself, quite another to hear them described in such bald terms by someone else.
"How dare you!" she stammered, almost lost for words. This was beyond hyperbole.
"At least two lovers, Mary," said Edith, "and no sign of wedding bells. What do you think that makes you? At least this one's still alive – I suppose."
"My God," she breathed, hit by another wave of horror. She leaned heavily on the table that separated them. "How did you-"
"As if anything in this house is a secret," retorted her sister. "Half the servants know as well but they won't tell."
Mary blinked several times. Her breath seemed stuck in her throat. Matthew... Pamuk... Edith... half the servants! Then, with a supreme effort she pulled herself together. "And neither will you," she said firmly, "not if you know what's good for you."
"What's good for me? Don't you mean what's good for you? And why should I care about that, when you've proved yourself such a low, disgraced-"
Mary rolled her eyes and hissed at her across the table, "Because ruining me will ruin you and Sybil by association, you fool." She was pleased to see a flicker of unexpected panic in her sister's eyes. "Really, you shouldn't try to be devious if you can't be clever at it."
A look of hurt and worry flashed across Edith's face and Mary hastily pressed her advantage. "Anyway, you know what would happen if you told Papa about Matthew so it's not in your interest to-"
"So it was Matthew," breathed Edith, her eyes lighting up again and silencing her sister. "That's disgusting, Mary. Of all the people in the world."
"You mean you didn't-" Mary closed her eyes in pain and regret at what she had let slip, covering her mouth with her hand. Everything seemed to be crumbling around her and it was an effort to maintain even the appearance of composure.
"I suspected, of course. He really was being terribly obvious on the train, but I didn't know for sure. I suppose in some ways it's better than it being a complete stranger, if you have to find a good side to it."
"Edith, please," Mary said, looking back at her. "Matthew's innocent. He's innocent of everything and we're really trying to-"
"Oh, I'm quite sure he is innocent!" retorted her sister. "Which makes it so much worse that you're not, don't you think?"
Mary sighed, a weary movement of misery and resignation, but before she could reply the door opened again and Lord Grantham entered, looking cheerfully around the room.
"Ah, there's the dog. Good boy." He looked up and saw the two girls, frozen and silent at the other end of the room. "And how are you feeling, Mary? Are you any better?"
"Rather worse actually," replied Mary faintly. "Excuse me."
She fled the library with only a modicum of composure, stopping in the hallway to take a few deep breaths and force down the rising panic that accompanied the realisation that Edith knew everything and that the only thing that stood between her and certain ruin was a reliance on her sister's sense of self-interest preventing her from revealing it all. After all, she hadn't told anybody about Pamuk and it had been a year. Why should she reveal it now?
From the library came her father's voice, curious and worried. "Poor Mary. She really hasn't been herself this summer. I did think she was more cheerful at Scarborough but it seems not... I cannot understand it!"
Edith's reply came clearly. "I think if you asked her she would probably just blame it on Cousin Matthew as she usually does."
Her father chuckled. "Quite probably. Poor old Matthew!"
Mary took a deep breath and forced herself to cross the hall and walk upstairs, trying to consider what she had to do. It was difficult enough trying to know how she ought to behave towards Matthew when she next met him without having to add Edith's knowledge to the mix. If they were forced to marry – she could not bear it. The humiliation, the resentment: she could see it perfectly. It would taint everything that they had that was so... It seemed wrong to call it pure but in contrast to her experience with Kemal Pamuk and all of Edith's sordid innuendo, that really was how it appeared. And if Matthew should find out that he was not her first lover... It was not something she wanted to think about.
Cycling home through the village on Wednesday evening, Matthew kept his eyes fixed on the shifting point a metre or two in front of him and concentrated on the steady whirring of his bicycle wheels and chain. The sound was comforting, and a welcome distraction from the persistent clamour of his thoughts. Distraction, he had found, was nigh on impossible. At work, at dinner, in his bed... his thoughts were an endless spiral of Mary and what they had done. While it was... pleasant, to think of Mary - God, the memory alone made him shudder to think of - he found his thoughts increasingly tainted by concerns and doubts that only seemed to grow as time went on. It had only been, what, three days? Their bliss in Scarborough felt like a lifetime ago. And now... He tried not to believe that they'd been terribly, terribly foolish, but he couldn't shake the worry that they had. To have been so thoughtless... for consequences, propriety... What were they to do? He had to talk to her, though he had no idea how they could manage it here, with everything so different between them and yet so unchanged. As he sped around the corner, pedalling faster than perhaps he should in his agitation, he found the difficulty unexpectedly resolved when he nearly flew into Mary coming out of the post office, braking hard and skidding to a rather undignified stop.
"God, sorry -" he gasped, dismounting a little shakily. He licked his lips and stared at her. It was so familiar to meet here, like this, and yet... "Hello," he smiled faintly.
Mary gasped and jumped back just in time, her hand clutching at her chest as her heart leapt and began to beat overly fast. From shock of course. She had not seen him since they had parted at the station half a week ago. It seemed like years and yet no time at all. She reacted instinctively to him, managing to take in his entire appearance in one sweep of her eyes, somehow acknowledging her new intimate understanding of him in the same moment.
"Hello," she greeted him, her lips trembling, unable to go all the way and smile. "You're not in training for the Olympics, are you?" she added making a bit more of an effort, her eyes warming to him.
He laughed nervously at the ground, marvelling at the way she could so well ease his tension in the very same moment as setting him on edge. He glanced up, just quickly, as if unable to take everything about her in all at once in one look - it was too much, she was too dear, there was too much to think of...
"I'd hope to be going a little faster than that if I were!" he grinned uncertainly, finally mustering the courage to look at her properly, and unable to breathe for a moment... before the nagging worry, the sick twist in his gut, returned with a vengeance. His smile wavered. "Is everything alright?" he tentatively asked.
She managed a slight smile at his pleasantry - how could she not when it was Matthew and she had missed him in some deep, inner, profound way she did not understand and was terrified to examine. But the smile wavered again and her eyes opened wide in a direct stare. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"Well, I..." He pressed his lips together, suddenly terrified to voice his fears, as if to do so must confirm them. And to do so outside the village Post Office was even more impossible. He shook his head. "No reason, I suppose. But would you - walk with me?" His fingers flexed around the handlebars of his bicycle as he inclined his head in the direction of Crawley House. For all his worries... he had missed her, these last few days. He'd missed her terribly, and he felt a gentle glow of warmth in his chest just to be near her again, mingling with the chill of his concern.
Mary's lips parted and her eyes flickered anxiously over his face. She felt a sudden dread, though of what she was not sure. Perhaps he had remembered what she had almost confessed to him at the castle. Or he had been stricken by inevitable guilt at church. Or he simply blamed her for it all. He -
She shrugged her shoulders and forced herself to reply in a normal tone. "Yes. If you like."
She fell into step beside him. Her coat was open in the summer heat and as it flapped around her it brushed his side and she felt so conscious of it that she moved a little further away so that they could not touch accidentally, not that it helped to remove her awareness of him so close to her.
He smiled tightly, and for a few moments they walked in silence. Things felt, in some way, as they always had. It was so familiar. So ordinary. Matthew wondered how could it possibly be so; when he felt so fundamentally changed in every possible way? He was glad it was only a short walk.
"Are you glad to be home?" he asked conversationally; though every word they each said now seemed to suggest some deeper meaning, or understanding, between them.
What did he mean by that question? Mary did not know how to answer it, considering everything that had happened at the weekend.
"I suppose so," she replied eventually, cautiously. "Are you?" She certainly didn't want to know his answer but the polite question slipped out automatically.
"Yes, in some ways," he shrugged a little. He felt that he could hardly admit now how he longed to reclaim the fantasy of what they'd shared there - it didn't seem right, somehow. But... he hoped that she knew, and he turned and gave her a little smile, as if that might tell her.
There was no way that she could know that he was looking at her, since her eyes were on the ground, but she turned towards him instinctively, as if she knew he was smiling at her, and drew in a breath at the expression in his eyes. No, she thought, almost physically reeling from it, he did not blame her nor had he been stricken with guilt on Sunday. After one long moment, she looked away and swallowed, twisting her hands together in front of her with nerves.
"How nice!" she cried inanely, continuing immediately, "I was posting a letter to my aunt. She was sorry she could not join us this year and wanted to know how it all went. And that - was why - I was in - the post office," she finished desperately, regretting her explanation. It had been, after all, a rather difficult letter to write.
Matthew couldn't help smiling fondly, though it quickly trembled and fell. How difficult this was!
"I see," he acknowledged her quietly. "Well, there's always - next year," he added; and immediately shivered at the thought of... repeating... their visit. God, where would they be in a year? He hardly dared think - he couldn't, it was too far off, too distant. There was far too much to think of now, let alone in a year's time!
Next year? Mary's emotions spilled over into a sudden desire to laugh. It was all utterly ridiculous. She glanced over at him with a look of incredulous mirth, managed a "Quite!" and fell silent again, forcing down the inappropriate laughter that threatened to spill out into hysteria.
Her amusement was strangely encouraging. At least, Matthew found it so until it occurred to him that it she might simply be masking unknowing confirmation of everything he feared. Thankfully his thoughts didn't have to dwell there, lingering, worrying, for too much longer as they crossed the green and drew slowly to a halt outside Crawley House. He smiled.
"Have you time to come in for a moment? I think - Mother's at the hospital -" He trailed off, paling as he realised the implication of his invitation and what it must sound like. "I mean - so we can speak a little more freely -" he quickly tried to mask it, already aware of his failure and gave up, settling instead to wet his desperately dry lips.
Mary's laughter died as they paused at the gate, her eyes dropping automatically to his lips as he licked them before she raised them again, angry at herself even as she felt a now-familiar stab of prickling desire at his unintentional insinuation.
"The last time you invited me in it did not end very well," she said quietly. "Is this a good idea, Matthew?" There was something special about saying his name and as her lips formed the word, her heart turned over. She clenched her fist in frustration.
He didn't know. It probably wasn't. He didn't care. He wanted (not her, he couldn't think like that only... he could hardly deny it either)… to talk to her, that was all. They had to talk.
"I think things have changed a little since then," he answered her softly. "I don't - know if it is, but - would you? Please, Mary."
It was the "please" that undid her. That and - and all those references that forced her to remember and to relive - as if she didn't do that enough as it was! She pursed her lips and nodded curtly.
"Very well." She brushed past him on the path saying over her shoulder, "I can't stay long, you understand. I have to get back before dinner... You're coming tonight, aren't you? I think Papa mentioned something about getting us all back together for the first time after the holiday."
"Did he now?" Matthew chuckled to ease the fluttering nervousness he felt at the intimation. "Anyway, yes I think we are."
He knew they were; he'd been thinking of it and anticipating it all day. He was beyond thankful now that he'd chanced upon Mary before having to meet her there and exposed to all their family; it would have been... too much, with things as they were between them. He allowed Mary to enter first, thanked Molesley graciously as he handed over his outer garments and briefcase, and went through to the sitting room where he moved instinctively to hover by the window.
Mary followed Matthew into the sitting room, after letting Molesley take her coat. As she entered, she looked around her and could not help seeing the place differently. Matthew wanted to marry her. Or at least he had said he did but in such a situation that - well, she did wonder now. It all seemed like a dream, the proposal too. But if she married him this would be her home. It was a nice room, she thought. Not as large as the ones she was used to but... nice. She could sit in that armchair by the fire and - but these were foolish, unproductive thoughts. Oh, she ought to think seriously about it but this was not thinking, it was fantasising. She came further into the room.
"Well," she said, spreading her arms a little, "are you going to ask me to sit down?"
"Oh, please do," Matthew gestured towards the settee, and smiled faintly.
He did not sit down himself, but paced back and forth a little by the window before leaning against it. Now that he had the opportunity, and... Mary, and they were alone... he hardly knew what to say. He hadn't thought quite how to put all of it into words, or how to begin... Oh, the only thing he could do was say it!
"I wondered -" he finally began, "when we were on the train: Edith... Mary, do you think she knows?" he blinked rapidly, his hand tightening on the window frame in fear.
She had barely sat down when his question made her want to jump up again. She controlled herself however, only her eyes darting quickly to the open door. She should have anticipated this conversation really. With a little sigh of resignation, she nodded.
"Yes. She knows."
It did not seem prudent to tell Matthew that until she had stupidly let it slip, his identity had been unknown, only suspected. There were some things that were unnecessary to share. A wave of crippling fear such as he'd never felt smothered Matthew, and he had to remind himself to breathe.
"Oh God." His hand shifted to run restlessly through his hair, as all the ramifications of this knowledge spiralled helplessly in his mind. "Do you think she'd - God, Mary... What if she tells someone? What if she - tells your father?" He felt sick.
"Why would she do that?" cried Mary. "Edith's not interested in seeing me become the next countess of Grantham!"
It was an instinctive response and, she felt, a true one. No, Edith would not tell her father. But there were plenty of other people she could tell instead and plenty of other things that she could tell. Matthew didn't know - oh, so much he did not know! She pressed her eyes closed a moment.
"Don't - please don't be alarmed," she continued more quietly. "We may not be the best of friends all the time but she's still my sister, you know!"
She stared at him appealingly. Whatever Edith might or might not do, it was something she had to deal with herself. Matthew panicking could not possibly help.
"But how - how am I supposed to sit with her at dinner!" he cried, louder than he meant to considering Molesley was of course in the house and he quickly hushed his tone. "How can I possibly sit with you, and - her, and - pretend that things are normal!"
Panic was rising to desperation and he looked at her pleadingly. If it had been impossible before... He couldn't do it. Not possibly.
"I really don't know, Matthew!" she snapped, suddenly standing up, as if that would help. He was being ridiculous - or maybe he wasn't. Maybe she was irritated by him saying out loud what she did not let herself feel. "Only I've managed it for the past week so I see no reason why you can't."
She broke off, biting her lip, as Molesley entered the room again and Matthew glared uncharitably at his butler's bright, polite smile.
"I was just wondering if you'd like some tea bringing in, Sir," Molesley offered calmly.
Matthew opened his mouth to refuse, irritated at the interruption but... well, to turn down the offer would be so unlike his manner as to prompt questioning of it and in any case, it might help calm things down a little.
He nodded quickly. "Yes, Molesley, thank you."
Molesley smiled, bowed his head a little, and as the door clicked shut again after him Matthew turned back to Mary with a bright, piercing gaze.
"Obviously I'll just have to, won't I," he muttered ungraciously as if it was somehow all her fault.
Why, why hadn't they thought, why had they shown so little restraint, why had they indulged themselves so... He swallowed as memory made him flush again with colour and his other worry resurfaced afresh.
"But what if - I mean - Mary, even if Edith didn't know, there's still the chance it would be rather obvious if you were -" He had to stop, and steady himself, before daring to voice the prospect aloud. "If you were with child," he finally whispered.
The colour drained from Mary's face as her eyes widened. Oh, she wished he would stop saying things out loud! Didn't he have any delicacy at all?
"No," she whispered, almost to herself. "No, I'm not." She shook her head as if in effort to break free and expelled a breath of mirthless laughter, managing to meet his eyes again. "Don't you think I'd know if I was?"
"I don't know!" Matthew spluttered, wishing desperately that he could believe her. "We were hardly - considerate of the possibility!" His ears burned at putting voice to what they had done, so rashly and without thought and so... passionately.
"No, you don't know!" she cried defensively, taking a step towards him in her nervous vehemence. "They say," she continued in a rush, "that it's a necessary consequence - but it isn't. I tell you that it isn't." She spread her arms and turned on the spot before glaring at him. "Do I look pregnant to you, Matthew?" she challenged him directly.
"Well - no!" he shrugged helplessly. She was right - he had no idea. None at all. Of course he had some idea of... how all that happened, but... He had no brother or sister, no close relatives he knew who'd given birth, only colleagues who spoke of their wives and that was hardly in any sort of way that mattered as men didn't really have much to do with that sort of thing. He supposed considering his parents' profession he should know something of it, but, well – he didn't! And he suddenly felt terribly ignorant and stupid, but still, it was so soon and how could she be sure? "But Mary, surely -"
Before he could press her further the door opened as Molesley appeared with the tea and Matthew muttered in frustration under his breath. Mary pursed her lips tightly and retreated back to the sofa, sitting down and neatly folding her hands only to unfold them a moment later to take a cup of tea from Molesley and bestow a bright and charming smile on him. She hoped Matthew would drop the conversation. It was putting her on edge. Why did he have to worry so? Oh, of course she was in a permanent state of anxiety these days but it only made it worse if she saw him and was reminded of it! The least he could do was to be nice to her.
"Thank you, Molesley."
Matthew forced himself to sit down as well and, seeing as there was a cup in his hands now anyway he took a sip. Molesley was hovering. No matter how appreciative Matthew was of him, now, that tendency still irritated him when he felt as restless as this.
"I think we'll be quite alright," he said to dismiss him, mustering a smile of thanks as Molesley left. If only he could be quite sure they'd be alright, he thought ruefully. Another sip, and he stood up again, the teacup rattling delicately in the saucer as he paced and gripped it tightly in his state of nervous agitation.
"I only wish I shared your confidence," he said as he turned back to Mary, his very tone signalling his disbelief.
"So do I!" she replied waspishly, her eyes following him backwards and forwards across the room.
She took a sip of tea, not that she really wanted it. The last time they had drunk tea together...Back and forwards, back and-
"Oh, I do wish you'd stop pacing, Matthew!" she exclaimed eventually. "I don't know what good it will do. Share my confidence or don't, but you admitted yourself you don't know anything about it." She placed her tea rather more heavily on the side table than she would have liked. "Anyway, must we talk of that? How was your day at work? Is your mother well? Must you be so fretful?"
"For God's sake, Mary, don't belittle it!" he snapped at her, walking quickly towards her to set his own cup down, the force causing the barely touched tea to slop out into the saucer. He pursed his lips angrily. "I might not know much about it but it's hardly something of little consequence to simply be brushed aside!"
She stood up abruptly to face him before he could loom over her too much, finding herself suddenly far too close to him. Her heart began to hammer; it was impossible. Wherever she looked, her eyes seemed to return to his lips, to the haze of stubble on his chin she shouldn't have been able to perceive, the pulse beating more quickly in his throat, and the firm line of his shoulders.
"No - but, honestly, dear, you're trying to brush aside what doesn't exist." She swallowed and moistened her lips as she tried to move backwards, only to find herself blocked by the sofa, suddenly panicking.
Matthew's heart pounded, then seemed to stop for a moment at her affection before racing quicker than before in his chest. He took an instinctive step towards her as she backed away, wishing he could believe her, wishing... Her lips shone, her eyes shone, her cheeks were porcelain and - his fingers twitched reflexively to reach for her, though they remained by his sides.
"If - you're sure," he whispered after a deep breath to calm the pulsing ache rushing through his veins, making his head spin. His eyes fluttered closed. "Alright." He must believe her. He must.
He filled all her senses. Even the very air between them seemed charged with heat and longing. Before she could make any conscious decision, she was already acting to close the gap between them. One hand slid round his neck to pull his head down towards her and she kissed him deeply and confidently, letting out a sigh of fulfilment as she did so, as her other hand went round his waist to embrace him fully.
The sensation was so immediate and so intense that Matthew groaned helplessly into her mouth, shocked by the strength of his own arousal that instantly flamed at her dominance. There was nothing he could do but to respond, as his hand rose to cup her cheek as he indulged in the taste of her lips and her tongue, that God he'd missed... Nothing else mattered, not in this moment.
His immediate and passionate response only inflamed her further. With a muffled sound of pleasure she tilted her head, drank him deeper and pulled him closer, relishing the feeling of his body pressed with such delicious, welcoming familiarity against hers. No hesitation, no insecurity, nothing that there should have been at such inappropriate intimacy - only a regret at all the layers that necessarily separated them.
Yearning for a greater closeness, impossible as it was, Matthew pressed against her warm body, trapping her between his own and the sofa. He flamed with overwhelming desire as every part of him remembered the touch of every part of her, the feel of her, the taste of her, and he shuddered in her arms. As his thumbs brushed tenderly over her cheeks he wondered again at their perfect softness, and he couldn't get enough of her, and then... even through his fogged awareness he heard the distant sound of the front door.
Matthew continued to push her back and Mary tripped, falling backwards onto the softness of the sofa and pulling him down on top of her, gasping as the kiss was broken. Her hands knotted quickly into his hair and she wriggled beneath him as her lips touched his cheek and neck before frantically reclaiming his lips. Panic swelled instinctively in Matthew's chest, first as they fell and he feared he might crush her (but she was only... pulling him down harder) and then as he dimly heard his mother's voice greeting Molesley in the hallway. But... potent arousal was stirring more strongly in him than fear, and Mary... He could feel her, so deliciously and familiarly beneath him, as he quickly kissed her again, and more, and then footsteps... and with a quiet groan of frustration he tried to push himself off, though as his hands sought purchase for leverage he found himself instead grasping her breast, and he bit his lip in agonising desire as he finally struggled upright at the very last moment, his body pulsing. Good Lord, he dreaded to think of what he looked like, and hastily ran a hand through his hair.
"Ah!" breathed Mary, her eyes falling shut in pleasure, before opening again a second later. "What?"she murmured in confusion, pushing herself up into a semi-sitting position, her mind still completely clouded by desire. Then the door opened and Cousin Isobel entered. Mary's jaw dropped. The cold chill of shock warred with the unfulfilled desire swirling within her and she struggled to recover herself, looking automatically to Matthew for guidance. He looked back at her with wide eyes, pleading his apology, then to his mother, praying that his cheeks would cool in a moment or two. He should have warned her but he couldn't... couldn't think...
"Mary?" said Isobel, looking surprised to see her. "How good to see you again."
"Mother!" Matthew exclaimed at the same time, a pitiful excuse already spilling from his lips over his mother's greeting to Mary. "We were - just having some tea -"
"Yes," said Mary, standing up and swaying slightly. Her legs trembled and she gritted her teeth even as her lips curved into a smile. Oh, at least her education had been good for something! "I only stopped by to say how much we were all looking forward to seeing you at dinner tonight."
Isobel smiled obliviously. "Oh, how kind of you! It almost seems strange, after having holidayed all together for a full week to be back to normal. Matthew and I are certainly looking forward to coming, aren't we dear?"
"Certainly we are," he breathed, glancing apologetically at Mary. His body was thrumming with tension and he could barely muster coherent words to his lips, shifting restlessly under his mother's gaze.
"Yes, that was what Papa thought when he issued the invitation," replied Mary, going through the motions of polite conversation automatically. "Well. Good. I shall see you both at dinner. You must excuse me now, though." She dared to look at Matthew and meet his eyes. "Thank you for the tea, Matthew," she said, and was proud of the steadiness of her voice.
Her eyes pleaded with him however. All she wanted was to close the distance between them again and take him in her arms to finish what they had begun and satisfy the craving she knew they both felt. It was impossible of course, and not just because Isobel was there. It wasn't - it wasn't right or proper but - oh, she wanted him!
"You're most welcome," he said quietly, and even managed a small, tight smile that did not tremble so very much, he hoped. He forced his eyes to remain level with hers, for if they dipped lower he would only remember... want... what he could not possibly now have. "Goodbye then, Mary," he finished softly while Isobel stepped away from the door.
"Of course, don't let us keep you - you do know, though, that you're welcome to drop in any time you like? Well, goodbye for now!"
"You're too kind, Cousin Isobel," replied Mary, rather more coldly than she probably should have done. "Goodbye."
She allowed Molesley to help her back into her coat, even though she tingled all over where the material touched her. Once outside, she stopped on the door step and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. The air temperature was too warm, however, to have much effect. She would simply have to pull herself together before dinner.
Matthew watched her leave the room, heard her step through the outside door and onto the path, and then the door close behind her. To save his trembling legs any further discomfort, he sank onto the settee on which he noticed a faint warmth lingered, still, from - them... He licked his lips and shook his head back towards his mother, trying to distract his thoughts from what might have... could have... happened had she not returned. Would they really have been so unrestrained as to - oh, he couldn't even think of it! But his body still ached with unsatisfied, warm arousal at the memory of her. He shifted, settled more comfortably, and smiled at his mother, who innocuously went to sit at the writing desk. They would simply have to be more careful. They had to be!
A/N: Hope you enjoyed! As usual, we'd love to know what you thought.
Next chapter: Dinner at Downton; even more of an endurance test than usual.