Derek opened his eyes against the morning light and wondered if it would be possible to roll over and pretend that it was still night. Pressed heavily against his side and with one knee pushed under his thigh, Stiles slept so heavily that Derek was sure not even a full orchestra could have woken him.
He cracked open an eye and ventured a look about the room. Peter was already walking about the room preparing clothing, probably what woke him, and managing to look stupidly alert for a man who had been able to drink most of the staff under the table the night before. Well, they'd had reason enough to celebrate, after all.
Charity had informed him a year and half into their pregnancy that she had missed her monthly cycle and it would not be necessary for him to return to her bedchamber. Poor thing, she'd been utterly mortified when he'd (completely accidently!) walked into her rooms one night to find her in the arms of her ladies companion.
"My Lord!" She'd exclaimed, the first sound he'd ever heard her make that wasn't some whispered half mumble, diving from the bed and hauling her clothes over her body. The other girl (Olivia, he learned later) was simply frozen with shock and fear.
"Have you seen my cravat pin?" He asked, trying to keep his voice as neutral as possible. "I wasn't sure if I was wearing it last night."
"Ah, no, my Lord." She'd stumbled over her words. "I don't know." She finished. He'd shrugged.
"Well, if you see it, can you inform Peter? He'll likely obsess over it until he knows where it is." He'd nodded to them both before leaving the room. "Ladies."
It seemed since then, they had worked around what would surely have been the most scandalous set of affairs that London ever knew. Charity had spent more time with Erica, and less time with her head buried in her needlework – and had subsequently developed into a slightly more vocal companion who was at least able to hold her own in a conversation over dinner. He doubted that they would ever have that firm friendship that was the very heart of Stiles and Erica's marriage. He'd learned very quickly that although they were not having sex, Erica still enjoyed sleeping with Stiles, and expected Derek to either leave or stop complaining when she would climb in beside them some nights.
Erica, who probably would have risen (as was her habit) at dawn, would more than likely already be finished her breakfast – she'd taken up the habit of going for a morning canter through the country lanes if the weather was mild enough.
Charity would still be in her bed chamber, he didn't think she'd be all that keep to get out of bed herself – she wasn't as robust as Erica, who had snapped back to her pre-birth good health almost instantly.
He had a son. The thought hit him hard and he pushed himself up on the pillows, managing to free his arm from under Stiles without waking him. He had a son.
"Good morning, My Lord." Peter said, voice betraying no hint of the hangover that he surely had.
"I have a son."
"Yes, my Lord." Peter nodded. "I remember."
Isaac was sitting in the middle of his bed, legs crossed and arms full of chubby little giggles. His nephew and niece were the most important things he had ever had in his life, and he probably spoilt them rotten – but he didn't care.
Hales Ducal estate was not too much smaller than his – and Isaac had his own set of rooms now. He split his time between here, his own large estate, and the (comparatively) tiny country home of Stiles.
He actually preferred the smaller home of his brother-in-law, because there was no chance for isolation from ones nature. Derek and Stiles had to share a room, Erica and Colin had the adjoining room separated by only a door – Isaac had the room across the hallway and Charity and her companion had the rooms next to him. Certain times of the night were a mess of desperate noises and urgent hushing.
Here though, in the huge stately home of Hale, Isaac had four rooms for his private use as well as his bedchamber, and it could lead to some loneliness on his part. He made up for that with filling his mornings with the children. No one got up early aside from Erica, and although she loved her children, she loved her independence as well – once she'd returned from her morning ride she'd swoop in and his time with the babies would be over.
Matthew was at the dresser, drinking some vile looking hangover cure and trying to work out Isaacs clothing for the day – wincing with every manic giggle that Melissa made. "I warned you against drinking so much." Isaac smirked. He'd not touched a drop – almost three years without a drink had made him slightly smug on mornings like this, he could freely admit – and laughed as Matthew sent him a look that would have wounded a lesser man.
Their relationship was… odd. Isaac liked Matthew a great deal – more than he had liked anyone in a long time – but was unsure about the man. He had no women (nor men) in his life and seemed more than happy to keep it that way. He'd learned his lesson with Scott about sleeping with men whom were not inclined that way, and he was worried it would ruin the rather odd friendship they had. So when Matthew got drunk (as he sometimes did) and got a little too familiar, Isaac laughed it off and didn't take advantage. He'd learned his lesson.
"My father drank twice as much as I did." Matthew grumbled, taking another deep drink of the caustic green liquid and pulling a disgusted face. Isaac was sure he could see a whole egg yolk in there.
"Your father has proven more than once that he can drink a brewery and still stand upright." Isaac commented, before blowing a noisy bubble on Melissa's chubby belly – causing her to scream with laughter. "Learn from your mistakes."
"You are aware that with McCall announcing last week – and the new arrival yesterday – you are the only one without issue, right?" Matthew pointed out. Isaac frowned, his Valet must really be feeling his headache this morning if he was pulling out such a low blow. Isaac loved children. He just didn't know how much he desperately wanted one of his own until they had let him hold Erica's children.
"How cruel." He smirked, trying to hide the hurt that Matthews comment caused. He knew he'd need to find a wife eventually. He just didn't want to be stuck in some damn pointless relationship, forced to live with a woman he had no love for. Who probably wouldn't understand that Isaac needed more than a pair of breasts to keep his interest – or worse, be disgusted with his fluid lifestyle.
He turned away and tickled his nephew, laying on the bed and kicking his legs as though he were swimming, giggling and squealing like a little piglet. God, Isaac loved these children.
Erica watched as her brother flirted with the whole room. He was back to his usual London Finest, popular and in demand from all – the perfect Duke. His abstinence from alcohol had caused some good natured joking amongst his friends, but they were quite used to it now. The fact that Isaac was able to remain upright and sensible at any hour meant that he was able to keep three mistresses at once. She'd overheard a scandalised conversation from some matronly woman about that. She felt a surge of pride that her brother was probably the only man in London who could not only afford, but keep up with the demands, of three separate mistresses.
She was standing to the side of the large room, watching her husband and Derek chat to Duke Hastings. London was more than accepting of their friendship – simply because to look at them, it seemed impossible think that either were not what they first appeared. Stiles was the father of two rather perfect children (she wasn't bias, they were perfect) and Derek a son in the nursery, wife enjoying the quieter life at home. Erica's continuation of remaining in her husband's company was actually rather unusual, although London had put it down to her being madly in love with him (she was) and not bedding his Valet (that too).
She was pregnant again – that month where they'd gone to Edinburgh for Stiles lectures at the university and Derek had been required to remain in London for business had resulted in that – but she hadn't told anyone yet. Stiles could count, he'd work it out soon.
"Shush!" A frantic whisper hit her ears, coming from the potted plant to her left. "Someone could hear you!" Erica smiled. Was she over hearing some delightful little seduction in an alcove? How splendid!
"No one can hear me." Another female voice responded, sounding more frustrated than anything. So not a tryst. She tried not to be disappointed. "All I'm saying is I don't understand why you think it's disgusting!"
"You saw two men kissing!" The other woman – older, Erica thought, as her eyes darted over to her husband, who was not looking at all kissed. "You should inform me whom it was!"
"Why, so you can tell all your gossipy friends and ruin them both forever?" Erica liked whomever this girl was. Her interest was engaged too – Isaac was in the middle of the room – not kissed – so who the hell had this child walked in on? Her mind ran through the men whom she knew to have inclinations in that way. Her mind drew a blank.
"So is gossip!" The younger woman snapped back, before walking out of the alcove. Pretty, blond and tiny – wearing a rather drab shade of pale pink. Miss… oh God, Erica knew that they'd been introduced at some point. Her father was Lord Kelling, Erica was sure of it. Miss Kelling… oh damn, Rose? Beth? Isaac would know.
Earl Kelling is pleased to announce the engagement of his youngest daughter, Miss Elizabeth Kelling and Duke Isaac Lahey.
Beth Kelling was a gift from God. Isaac knew from the moment that he kissed her proffered hand and asked her to Waltz. Her eyes sparkled and shone and her tiny little frame made him feel like a giant. The top of her head didn't even touch his chin, and damn, he'd been thinking about doing some highly immoral things to that perfect English rose.
Then she'd talked, and it was like someone punched him in the throat. Hard. Twice. Her mouth had no filter – and Erica egged her on with more and more ribald comments. His sister had introduced them, and the bloody witch must have known that the tiny little angelic smiles hid a nature to rival his own. She'd managed to seal the deal on their engagement within a week of him meeting her – he'd fallen head over heels in love with the chit.
Her father was delighted, her older sisters (she had three – all dull beyond description despite their beauty) had gnashed their teeth and pretended to be thrilled.
Isaac pushed for the special licence – married her within two weeks of their waltz. London had been horrified, Erica had thought it the most romantic thing she'd ever seen in her whole life. Matthew wasn't talking to him at all.
He'd never slept with a virgin. His wife sat on the end of her bed and watched him as he walked towards her. If he'd been expecting some shy miss, he'd married the wrong woman – she leapt into his arms and kissed him breathlessly.
"God, can we please hurry this up?" She asked, pulling him back onto the large bed. "I want to know."
"Know what?" He asked, unsure if hurrying it up would be the best thing for a virgin. Surely she'd want a slower, paced seduction?
"Everything." She gasped. "Just everything."
Isaac hurt. Everything hurt, his wife was curled in the middle of the bed sleeping like a kitten. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had so much sex at once. Not since he was a lad, that was for sure. After the first time (there had been some resistance of her maidenhead) and a little uncomfort on her part – she'd been like a woman on a mission. He'd made sure that her pleasure came first - he wasn't a damn beast, after all – but in the end he simply had to ask her to stop. His refractory period was good, but he was still human.
When the door opened and Matthew walked in, Isaac gave him an exhausted wave. "You have the day off."
"I know." Matthew commented, looking everywhere but the bed – which was a mess of sheets and strewn pillows. "I just wanted to inform you that I've been offered a position with Marquis Jessop and plan to accept."
Standing in the hallway with a sheet wrapped around his waist having an argument with his Valet wasn't the way Isaac had planned his morning would go. If he'd thought about it at all, he'd have assumed perhaps breakfast and a little morning sex – not this.
"What the hell do you mean, you plan to accept?" He half yelled, temper flaring. "I'm a damn Duke! I pay you a fortune!"
"Marquis Jessop believes that he is about to make a great splash in London fashion and has asked me to attend to him." Matthew continued, voice even and calm, a great contrast to Isaac, who was aware he was too loud.
"Jessop is a fucking idiot!" He roared, before remembering the time – and the sleeping woman in his bed. "If this is about money, I can increase your pay."
"Its not about money."
"Why the hell would you leave me?" Isaac said, voice too loud and harsh in the silence of the hallway. "I thought we were friends!" Which couldn't have sounded more pathetic if he'd tried, really, he thought.
"We were – we are." Matthew said. "But things are different and I… I don't think it is a good idea for me to remain here."
"Nothing has changed!"
"You got married!" Matthew snapped, then coloured – looking over Isaac's shoulder with a strangled sound.
"Could you please stop screaming at each other in the hallways?" Beth's voice said from behind him. Isaac turned, heart sinking in his chest. "If this is a lovers quarrel or some such thing, please do it in the bedroom where the servants can't hear." She pushed the door further open and motioned them both in with a wave of her hand. "I couldn't help but overhear your screaming match." She said, closing the door behind Matthew who seemed very reluctant to look at either of them. "So I'm going to assume that this is your Valet, and you are lovers – and he believes that now you are married you will no longer carry on your sexual relationship."
Isaac wasn't sure who choked the loudest, Matthew – who was spluttering and stammering a hurried rebuttal – or himself, who feared any moment she was about to dissolve into a fit of tearful hysterics at the idea of her new husband sleeping with his Valet. Which he actually wasn't doing.
"We aren't sleeping together." Matthew spluttered.
"I imagine it would be rather detrimental to the sex if either of you were sleeping." She countered.
"We're not having sex." Isaac clarified.
"Oh." Beth said, eyes lingering over Matthew for longer than was really necessary. "Pity, he's quite nice, and I really wouldn't mind."
Stiles rolled over and found the space beside him, which should have been filled with the warm (hopefully hard) body of Derek Hale, cold and empty. It was enough to wake him from his half asleep bliss to wide awake and sitting up in moments.
His clothes were lain out on the chair where Peter (or Colin) had obviously left them, but those little things that Derek used – his cravat pin, fob watch and the small locket that housed a curl of his sons hair – were all gone.
Dressing casually, forgoing the cravat and pulling on his well-worn boots rather than the high tops that Peter had managed to blacken to perfection. There was no one here but family and he wasn't expecting guests.
Breakfast was in full swing when he arrived, and unlike a lot of other families, it was an insistence that the children joined them.
"Pappa!" Jonathan called, thudding along the carpeted floor and wrapping his arms around Stiles legs. Scooping him up into a tight embrace, Stiles looked about the room, trying to ignore that soon his soon would be far too large to pick up with ease. It surely hadn't been that long since he was crawling?
Charity, Olivia and Erica were in deep conversation about something, Melissa sitting on her mother's knee and carefully chewing on a slice of toasted bread. Charity had long discovered that her relationship with her companion and long-time friend was one of the things that actually drew her closer into this oddly dysfunctional family and had become a lot more talkative and outspoken. Her hand was resting on the table, gently lacing through Olivia's fingers. Stiles actually got on better with Olivia than Charity, but that was simply because of her love of drawing his butterflies.
Isaac and Beth were sitting at the head of the table – although it was doubtful that they would be staying much longer, because her hand was already snaking its way down under the table and Isaac was never a man to deny himself. His daughter Elizabeth was being fed by Nurse, and there was a running bet in the house to whom the father actually would be once she was born – her blue eyes and blond curls attested to Isaac, rather than Matthew – and Stiles lost a rather hearty bet to Erica on that.
Derek though, was sitting at the other side of the table, reading the morning paper as was his habit. Beside him, looking equally as serious, a miniature replica of his father, Gabriel. His time was split between watching his father and the full plate of food in front of him.
It wasn't perfect, not by far, Stiles thought as he sat down between his wife and his lover, setting his son back on the floor with a quick kiss to his head. They all argued (with the exception of Isaac and Beth, who probably didn't do enough talking to fight) and stepped on each other's toes more than they should, but really – their little hive of sin and love was the best any of them could have hoped for.
The Duke and Duchess Hale are delighted to announce the engagement of their Heir Lord Gabriel Hale to Lady Elizabeth Lahey. The match will solidify many years of family friendship between Duke Hale and Duke Lahey.
Their announcement, only a week after the wedding of Lord Jonathan Stiles to Miss Olivia Hale, was highly anticipated by London society.
The Times would like to congratulate all three families on their joyous news, and wish them all the best in the future.
And it is done!
I'd like to thank everyone who stuck with me on this – I had such hard time writing it and as you all know, nearly threw in the towel.
I'll wait a couple of days before starting a new story - I've been writing now almost non-stop since I started 'Out of Milk' and I need a little break!
Love you all! ;)