A/N: Masses of thanks for your reviews and comments so far - we're thrilled you're enjoying it! As it happened, we couldn't wait until Monday either after so cruelly ending the previous chapter, and so decided to push on with the rest of what we had from the original forum thread before it descended into AU territory.
With that said, here for your pleasure and entertainment is Chapter Three...
Previously on Consequences of the Castle:
"You – you say that I think your opinion changes as if it does not," he eventually said tentatively. His brows furrowed a little and he inched towards her, just a fraction, looking at her very seriously. He swallowed again. "Mary, I – must know... What precisely is your opinion of me?"
He held his breath unconsciously, every muscle rigid with tension and anticipation.
It could have started hailing, snowing, there could have been a tornado and Mary would not have noticed. Now that she had dared to meet his eyes, she could not look away. Her world had condensed into just the two of them suspended out of time and space.
She had many, so very many, reasons for walking away from this situation. She could not, should not say anything that suggested that she - that she felt any of the things she did feel. It was impossible. She had made anything like that between them impossible by her own actions last year. Yet she was quite unable to resist. Her feelings repressed for so long by her own will and self-denial struggled and overwhelmed her.
As Matthew endeavoured to speak further, her gaze followed him, her eyes drifting down to his lips as they opened and closed before looking back at him, her own lips parting breathlessly, the hand on her coat dropping back to her side.
She swallowed and replied, unconsciously mirroring his own phrasing, "I think - I think that if we are likely to think equally badly of each other, then we are probably likely to - to think the reverse equally as well."
Though it was not much, it was the best she could give him. She could not let herself say anything else. It would not be fair. Yet how could she resist what was happening when she wanted it so much?
As she spoke, the world seemed to stop around him. He started to tremble a little, his insides flipping over as an aching longing clutched at him and the intensity of his expression unnerved her. Her eyes had constantly flickered away across his face as she spoke but now they met his again, her brow creasing very slightly, and she moistened her lips briefly. Her hands fisted at her side, an external manifestation of the great tension she felt.
Matthew tracked her eyes, feeling as though her gaze was burning him, electrifying him. He was so aware of his shallow, steady breathing and how his fingers were twitching, unconsciously trying to reach out to her. He wanted to touch her, he wanted to... He could hardly contemplate the rest of the thought.
His mind ran over every possibility of what she could have meant as his eyes fixed upon her face, every one coming back to the same conclusion. But could that possibly be what she meant? Licking his lips nervously, his heart thumping steadily in his chest, he took a step towards her, as though he were being drawn in by a force quite beyond him.
"Mary..." his low voice trembled with the unformulated question.
Without really having intended it, he realised with a small thrill that his fingers were touching hers - he had unconsciously given in to the quiet desire in his heart. Mary gasped at the touch and opened her eyes wide. For a split second her heart seemed to stop beating and then it speeded up unbearably. His fingers seemed so hot in contrast with the coolness of the wind that they burned her hand right through her thin, lace glove.
Holding her gaze, his fingers closed more surely around her slender hand – so beautifully soft and warm even through her glove – and he very gently gave the slightest pull, encouraging her towards him if she desired it. She stepped forward, her reaction instinctive.
Even as she did so, however, she breathed, "Matthew, what-", her voice hardly sounding in warning and slightly shaking her head in a final effort to resist. But her lips remained parted as she trailed off and her eyes were longing.
He blinked in acknowledgement; of what, he wasn't quite sure. Blood was rushing in his ears, and she filled his vision, everything else was utterly drowned out. His lips parted but no words came out. Slowly, his eyes traced down over her face and lingered darkly for a second on her lips, as his grip on her hand tightened imperceptibly. She was entrancing, enthralling, and he couldn't - his gaze shifted back to her eyes, and he drew in a sharp breath as he realised the longing in them...
She knew what he was going to do just before he did it. In fact she had known for a while, really.
An impulse coursed through him, unrestrainable, and he took a determined step forwards and pulled her to him. As his arm snaked round her waist, she went quite willingly, her hands coming to rest against his chest where she could feel his heart beating under them. Unconsciously, his hat fell from his fingers as his hand slipped to the back of her neck and he pressed his lips to hers, freezing for a moment in shock.
For one second she could notice just how blue, how beautifully blue, his eyes were, before he kissed her and everything stopped. She froze too in the shock of feeling his lips on hers and at his own surprise. All she could hear was the pounding of both their hearts and a kind of roaring in her ears. Then she pulled away an inch or two, her lips tingling.
One of her hands came up and cupped his cheek, her thumb caressing it quite without intent, and she looked a question deep into his eyes. Her touch made him shiver, sent thrills rippling through his whole body. He couldn't breathe, unable to process or contemplate anything but the depth of her eyes questioning him, pleading with him. He swallowed thickly, with an almost imperceptible nod. Taking a shuddering, steadying breath he closed his eyes and, with far greater intent this time, dipped his head and kissed her once more, firmly, passionately, releasing everything into it with a soft sigh.
She did not know whether to be reassured or alarmed at his nod and the intention in his expression. It did not matter; she did not have time. As he closed his eyes, she closed hers too in anticipation and leaned forward to meet him. Her hesitations and worries and, heavens, their own characters would no doubt condemn them for it later, but at that moment she could not have acted otherwise. She did not want to. Her thumb continued to caress his cheek and her other hand remained crushed against his chest where she could feel his heart. If anything it was that sensation which undid her and she tilted her head, responding to his kiss with equal certainty and slowly building passion.
His mind blanked completely, aware of nothing at all but the sensation of her against him, heightened by his closed eyes. Unconsciously he clutched a little tighter around her waist and the back of her head, trapping her sweetly against him. The faint rush of cold wind around them only contrasted all the more wonderfully with her warmth, and he was lost in it. He was so aware of her every move, how she responded, how she continued to stroke his cheek, and it was sending repeated tremors shivering through him.
To kiss her like this, to feel this release, the relief and unbelievable pleasure of it after all the tension and bitterness simmering between them was making his head swim. Their argument seemed suddenly ridiculous, long ago and completely beside the point. His complaints seemed mere quibbles. Nothing seemed to matter at all any more, expect that she was kissing him, clutching him to her, and it was the most utter delight he had ever experienced. Their seeming inability to have a rational conversation suddenly appeared entirely insignificant. What words could compare to this?
By this point Mary had given up on any kind of thought; though had she been capable of thinking it she might have realised that while she had kissed men before, this was on quite a different level. Her hand on his cheek slipped round his head and tangled in his hair, taking advantage of his having earlier removed his hat. With a little noise of contentment in the back of her throat, she responded to him with equal joy and release. It was as if she was pouring every emotion she had felt over the last few weeks, every ounce of tension, every frustration, every ounce of forbidden longing into this kiss and it left her limp in his arms.
Matthew sighed softly in pleasure, and she felt it all the way through her right down to her toes. Pulling her hand out from where it was trapped between them, she clutched at his shoulders in order to support herself. Relishing the new sensation, Matthew wondered why he had possibly been trying to deny to himself how much he had wanted this for so long.
She was so very lightheaded it was almost frightening. As their kisses deepened they became ever longer and more languid until Mary could hardly bear the smouldering heat that was growing in her and, still holding him tightly, pulled away and drew a breath with a gasp.
A flash of almost panic flitted through Matthew's gut, the sudden rush of cold air against his face in place of her warmth shocking him back to reality.
His lips remained parted and moist from hers and he stared at her, his gaze roving wildly between her eyes and her lips. She took a couple of gasping breaths, pressing her eyes shut and inclining her head so it almost touched Matthew's. The heat still raged in her and it was an effort to remain standing, her legs were trembling so, and she clutched at Matthew as much for balance as because she craved his closeness, remaining pressed against him, her chest rising and falling with every desperate breath.
In a sudden rush of clarity, a barrage of thoughts hit Matthew, his mind no longer fogged by the enthralling sensation of her lips.
It was surreal. He was standing in the middle of a ruined castle wildly kissing Mary with passionate abandon. It was... quite ridiculous. And yet utterly enrapturing, and he wanted more. But that would be ridiculous. Wouldn't it?
Everything seemed to be in slow motion - the rise and fall of his chest, the thump of his heart - as he remained lost in her eyes, mind racing. They couldn't. It wouldn't be right, it wouldn't be fair - he felt a surge of responsibility, a weight on his shoulders, a protectiveness towards her. It wasn't right of him to put her into such compromise, no matter how right it felt, no matter how much he might want it...
He gulped as he suddenly remembered the expectations upon them. What signal was a kiss to marriage? His breathing quickened and shallowed as it struck him whether Mary may now consider him to have intentions towards her - for what else could such a kiss signify? But it would be wrong, so wrong, they couldn't possibly - not now - not when they had been bickering so bitterly for so long, it was quite impossible, and so to kiss her again would give entirely the wrong impression...
Oh, but he wanted to. The wind was whipping against his face and her hand was still clutched upon his shoulder and he could feel her fingers in his hair and he wanted to kiss her again -
He blinked, shaking his head to cease his thoughts. It was his duty to her to be strong, to do the right thing. They needed to talk about this.
"Mary..." his voice trembled breathlessly with the effort of his restraint, and the passion reeling within him. "I... I think perhaps we might - need to reconsider - where we stand with one another."
As he began talking, Mary opened her eyes and exhaled yet another breath as the deep timbre of his voice sent a new shockwave of desire through her. He swallowed and licked his lips, trying desperately to lift his eyes from where they lingered involuntarily on hers.
"Things can't possibly remain as they are between us, this - this changes things, Mary." He realised his hands were still around her waist and he clutched a little more tightly, nervously. "I think it would be best to -"
If Matthew's mind had crystallized when they had parted, Mary's had done the reverse. She was lost in a fog of sensation. She did not want to think. Thinking would mean dealing with what they had done, what they were still doing, thinking would mean analysing what had happened and making a choice - either to never do it again or to legalize doing it. Neither seemed possible to Mary at that moment.
And if thinking was bad enough, then talking was far, far worse.
Out of equal longing to touch him more and to shut him up, she raised a finger to his lips, unable to let him continue down a train of thought that made her heart beat faster with panic at what he could be about to say (whatever it was she did not want him to say it). At her soft touch his breath caught in his throat, fresh pangs of desire sweeping through him. Every rational thought flew out of his head, and he found he couldn't remember what he'd been saying as he gazed darkly into her eyes.
His lips were so soft and her heart turned over at the friction of her finger tip against them. "Don't..." she breathed and opened her eyes wide at the sound of her own voice, so low and tremulous. She swallowed and shook her head a little. "Don't say anything!"
She was so intoxicatingly close to him, pulled against him as she was by his own arms, and her finger on his lips was a burning point of heat in contrast to the cold air around them. He breathed in deeply, knowing that he should step away, he should stop, but he couldn't will his muscles to move. He made a soft sound in the back of his throat as his eyelids drifted closed and he pressed his lips to her finger, kissing it softly.
Mary sucked in a sharp breath. It was only a light touch, hardly even a kiss at all, but she felt it all the way down to her toes, and her eyes fluttered closed for a moment. When she opened them he was looking at her with such a depth of passion she could only stare, only breathe more quickly and her own lips parted.
She was entirely too tempting... Matthew sought (and found) acceptance in her gaze. Slowly, he raised his hand and took hers, kissing the back of it before lacing their fingers together. It caused something other than pure lust to stir in Mary and her eyebrows contracted a mere millimetre in slight confusion. Something gentler, something warmer. His hands... She might be wearing gloves, but they were only thin ones and something about being able to feel every single one of his fingers entwined with hers affected her more, even, than his arm round her waist. It made her feel... She could not identify what, but the small part of her brain that was still properly conscious of her reactions stored it up for future analysis.
Moistening his lips, Matthew tilted his head forwards till their noses gently brushed, hesitating in electric anticipation for a moment… Her breathing quickened as his intention became clear and her eyes closed again. To be kissed by him was infinitely preferable to listening to him witter on and wasn't this what she had wanted in the first place? Her breath hitched and for a second as he hesitated she hardly breathed at all, though she could feel the heat of his own breath on her lips.
Her heart was so tight it was almost painful. At last his eyes closed and he relented, kissing her again. Heat coursed through him and the hand remaining around her waist tightened its grip as he pulled her ever closer to him.
It was all too much.
As his lips finally touched hers again, she exhaled in relief into his mouth and gave herself up to it, wrapping her arm more securely round his neck for support and somehow pulling their joined hands up to be closer to their bodies, holding them tightly against his chest.
The feel of her clasping his hand in response, and the sweet pressure of her lips against his, was driving Matthew to distraction. Dimly at the back of his mind somewhere, he was aware that this was not sensible, it was not proper... But the delight of it, the heady intoxication was overbearing and he was powerless against it. Far more was being expressed, in an incomprehensibly deeper way, than could possibly be expressed through any words. An aching need was building in him and he drew his arm from around her waist to skim his fingertips across her cheek, the feel of her cool skin making him burn. He slipped his hand to the back of her head to hold her closer, kissing her more fervently as he released himself to it.
She responded to him with desperate abandon, her knees almost buckling when his arm released her waist. She could not keep a track of the sensations. His hand on her hair under the rim of her hat, his finger on her cheek as she leant in to him, the demand of the kiss... She gripped his hand ever more tightly, rubbing her thumb unconsciously over his. With her other hand, she stroked his neck, her fingers dancing over the back of his collar. Matthew was painfully aware of her fingers playing there, dipping beneath to his skin… The sensation sent sharp pangs of desire all the way through him, so forceful it was like an exquisite pain.
As they kissed, a gust of wind blew round the round chamber from the promontory where the temperature was sinking and the storm was coming closer. Goose pimples jumped up on Mary's skin and she shivered, even as the cold of the atmosphere contrasted pleasantly with her inner heat.
Feeling her shiver against him, he shifted slightly to protect her from the wind with his body, never ceasing his increasingly heated exploration of her lips and mouth. A soft sigh escaped him as he moved his head the other way, the movement dragging their lips apart for a second and allowing their eyes to meet in reflected intensity before he fell once more into her kiss. It was not enough, he wanted to be closer, to feel her more, and he found himself pressing unconsciously forwards against her until he was halted by the unrelenting face of the castle wall. He tugged his hand free from her to clasp her face with passionate intent, grazing his thumbs across her cheeks as he pressed his body against her, so closely that he could feel her heart beating against his chest.
She gasped in mingled shock and pleasure as she stumbled backwards until her back hit the wall; she hardly noticed its uneven hardness in contrast to the novel feel of Matthew's body pressed so completely against her own. She tilted her head back, crushing her hat against the wall without any care for it, but even as she squirmed against him and wrapped both arms round his neck to bring him closer she felt a rising alarm. She wanted him so much then, she could not deny it, and he wanted her too, but fear of precisely what they were doing (and what this was leading to was becoming more and more evident) was becoming increasingly apparent. Her heart fluttered nervously in her breast, beating a counter rhythm to his and as her gasps and little moans became more frequent, she eventually pulled her lips away, her hands coming up to cover his on her face. She stared at him in passionate anxiety, hardly seeing him through the haze of her desire, her breathing shallow.
He felt it at the same moment she did, felt a sudden churning realisation of what his desirous feelings could lead to, the impropriety and impossibility of it all, and so he did not resist when she pulled away. Immediately a sense of loss gripped him. He was entirely overcome, weak against her. Left reeling from the intensity of what they had done, his mind fogged with passion far beyond rational thought. All he could do was simply rest his forehead against hers, sucking in shuddering breaths as he calmed himself to a more controlled state. With his eyes closed he could still feel her breath hot upon his face. He licked his lips and shivered again as he realised he could still taste her upon him. Her hands were still covering his and gently, he teased his fingers between hers until they were clasped again. He brought their entwined hands down between them, filled still with a desperate need to be in contact with her.
Unconsciously he breathed, "Mary, darling I -" and then he realised what he had said. Sharply he raised his head and stared at her with wide eyes and parted lips, unable to formulate any defence.
A/N: Here endeth the forum thread; in which Mary's reaction to "darling" was, frankly, one of horror. As the plot turns AU, how will her response differ? Will it at all? Tune in on Monday to find out... Thank you so much for reading, we'd love to know what you thought so do let us know! :)