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Realistic or Modern The Bronze Locket

Sub Genres
Adventure, Historical, Romance, Slice of Life


Junior Member
Hugh felt a rush of relief move through him as Adelaide shook her head and corrected him, he could see now her eyes were joyous, even through the tears. He felt the knot in his throat lesson a bit and he sank into her kiss. Reaching around her to hold her closely. She set aside his gift after a moment and sank down onto the floor with him. She held him tightly to her and he closed his eyes as her hands found his hair, their breaths mingled and she whispered sweet words to him.

Just love me

The words rushed through his mind and he stopped them short from leaving his lips.

"This..." He murmured against her lips. "Just this is enough." He kissed her softly again. "You are everything." He felt fevered for her, and wasn't sure if the words were just in his mind or if he had spoken them out loud. He fell silent then and the two lovers spent long moments just tasting and exploring. Neither was hurried and the two lay on the floor in the moonlight letting their actions speak all the unspoken words they wished to say.


Fausta explained that Bria was a woman who dabbled in the mystic arts and Duncan found it suited her quite nicely. He wrapped his arms around Fausta as she sank into his lap and shivered under her kisses and the scrape of her teeth. His fingers dug into her skin, keeping her against him, letting her feel how much she effected him. Her words filled his mind and Duncan stayed quiet as she recanted some childhood memories. He followed her motion and looked up at the multitude of frames that covered the wall. Each frame holding a woman, each looking powerful and sultry.

"Sounds like your mother is a powerful woman indeed." He murmured, noting that the eyes of the portraits seemed to glint in the moonlight. Looking away to his lover he saw the same fire in her eyes, she made him feel safe. "Seances have always given me pause. I do not know if I would be brave enough to speak to the dead." Duncan told her honestly. "But I'm certain they would have many things to teach us." He shifted in his seat and Fausta slid closer to him. He closed the distance between them and bit down lightly on her lower lip.

"Thank you for showing me your secret space. I would love to stay here longer with you, but I must admit I've been dreaming of taking that dress off of you all evening." He grinned and nibbled down the length of her neck.


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They fell into each other, and much of the night was spent on the luxurious rugs in the room, tangled into one. Eventually, they moved to the bed and hours after that, finally succumbed to sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, when dawn was not yet greying, Adelaide woke. With a stifled gasp, she opened her eyes, one hand going to the scars on her throat. After several heartbeats, she clambored out of her sleepy confusion. Looking over through the sea of silk blankets to Hugh, she let out a soft sigh.

As the nightmare faded, she sifted through the covers to his side again, pressing her bare chest to his back. Adelaide relished the warmth of his skin against hers, the thrum of his heartbeat echoing through his chest. Adelaide buried her face into his broad shoulders and breathed in his scent. His presence, even sleeping, calmed her greatly. She felt him shift under her, and draped an arm across his hip.

"Hush, Angel. It's only me." She murmured, pressing a chaste kiss to his shoulder "Go back to sleep."

Fausta hummed happily at his suggestive words, enjoying his attentions. She laughed softly and lifted his chin with a finger, grinning devilishly. "And I have been dreaming of you without that jacket, amore." She stood, helping him up with a hand. Fausta lead him to the now closed door, and bid him to wait there. She crossed the room again and gently took a large velvet pouch from a shelf, along with a small box. She placed both on the table beside the crystal ball. From the box, she drew a bundle of sage. Lighting it, she drew the fragrant smoke around the room in elegant signs, murmuring.

Once she'd finished, Fausta replaced the box, then unveiled a white human skull from the velvet bag. Handling the bone gently, she placed it to face the door and said "Good evening, grandmother. Bless this space with your watchful gaze until we use it again." She tapped it thrice with two fingers, then went and pushed open the wall, leading Duncan back out into the night air. They returned to her rooms, and sank into the bed together, fevered in desire. After making love, they lay in bed together, falling asleep.

"You are my everything, Duncan." She yawned as her eyes fell closed, her head resting on his chest.


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His dreams were filled with flowers and stars, Hugh floated along enjoying the serene moment, there was movement next to him and Hugh's brow furrowed as he did his best not to slip from the dream, but then her scent filled his nose and Hugh chased the better dream. Her. He could feel her against his back and he wanted to turn to her. He felt an all too real arm over his hip and slowly his mind connected that the woman of his dreams was truly real, and she was next to him in bed. Her soft lilting voice drew him further out of sleep despite her words and he let out a low noise as he shifted. His eyes remained closed, but he turned in the bed and faced her, his arms drawing her close to him.

"Mmm, it pleases me to no end that you are not just a dream." He murmured. His hands moved up the small of her back and up her spin to her shoulders. He felt the cold sweat on her back and hesitated for a moment, connecting the dots of what had been real from his dream. "Are you alright?" He whispered.


Duncan watched Fausta as she preformed her little ritual before leaving the room. He blinked a few times in surprise at the human skull of Fausta's grandmother. Feeling like he needed to knowledge her somehow, Duncan straightened and gave the wise skull a bow. He turned with Fausta then and the two went back to their room. Their time spent together was passionate and loving, Duncan felt so a part of Fausta. To know every dip and curve and to spend time treasuring every mark and bump. He lay sated a while later and cuddled close to Fausta. She whispered adoring words and he felt a warm glow move through him.

"And you are mine..." He murmured.

The next morning Duncan woke with his fingers tangled in Fausta's hair, he looked down at their mess of limbs and wondered how on earth this was comfy for either of them, and yet it was. They were so entwined and it caused him to laugh. Taking the opportunity that his fingers provided Duncan gently pulled Fausta's neck back and nibbled on the smooth skin there. Enjoying the taste of her.

"Good morning." He whispered when she stirred, and he proceeded to show her why it was in fact a good morning. An hour later Duncan finally let Fausta free of his grasp and the two of them began to get ready for the day. The day again was a free one, with their tailored clothes to arrive the following day for the opera. Deciding to take his time, Duncan walked over to a window in the bedroom and leaned against the frame, he stood naked and unashamed, as he surveyed the Ricci land.

"Perhaps we should take a tour of your parents fine wines today. I've never has the pleasure of viewing such a process."


Junior Member
Hugh half woke at her touch, rolling over and bundling her up into his arms. His eyes remained closed, and his hair was messed with sleep, still. He looked peaceful. Adelaide smiled to herself and blushed a bit at his affectionate words, though her smile dropped slightly at his question. Gently, she gave him butterfly kisses along his nose and eyelids before settling back down into his arms.

"I'm fine, Hugh." She responded softly. "Just a dream. It's too early, let's go back to sleep." Adelaide shifted until Hugh's head lay on her chest, their bodies twined around each other. She moved his hair away from his face as they settled down, and coaxed him back to sleep with a hummed lullaby. She followed soon after, happy to have her love curled close. Mauch later that morning, they awoke again and eventually managed to roll out of bed to prepare for the day. Adelaide propped the music book Hugh had gifted her up upon the mirror as she did her makeup, vocalizing softly as she read the notes and then the Madonna's own additions. Breakfast had been delivered to their room, and as Hugh moved about the room munching on toast, Adelaide called out.

"What would you like to do today, Angel?"

Fausta propped herself up on her elbows and watched as Duncan surveyed the Ricci lands in all his glory. She growled happily, enjoying the sight of her lover so regal and relaxed. She managed to drag her deliciously sore body out of bed and cross the room to meet him. Pressing herself against his back, she wound her hands around him, letting them wander of her bare chest.

"<How you enchant me, my Adonis." She whispered to him, pressing kisses along his shoulder. Fausta sighed and thought a moment, a smile on her lips. "I'm sure my brothers would be loving to give you a tour, amore. Ezio has been taken to the travel and business, Gabriele has been immersed into the vineyards." Fausta pressed her lips to the dip of his shoulder that met his neck, and bit down playfully, enjoying the small noise that came from him. Feeling spritely despite her body's fatigue, she danced away from him as he turned to grab her once more. Laughing, Fausta slipped behind the changing screen.

As she rummaged for a dress, she called out "Should we invite Addy and Hugh, too? I am not knowing if Hugh would enjoy such things as you."


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Adelaide's soft voice filled the room and spilled out the open balcony doors down to the open courtyard where Bria and Rocco were enjoying their breakfast. They lounged on outdoor chairs and both lifted their heads as Adelaide's voice reached them. Bria lifted her brow to the familiar song and lifted her cup of tea daintily and took a sip. A low hum of appreciation for both the music and the tea moved through her.

Above in the tower Hugh enjoyed his piece of toast. He had chosen to do away with decorum and wanted nothing but to be comfy. He wore sensible pants with a dark grey shirt that was tucked in just so that he didn't look like a total slob. His hair was loose around his shoulders and after he finished his toast he decided he should tie it back with a leather string. As he was doing so Adelaide asked him what he had in mind for the day and he shrugged.

"I am not sure. I get the sense Fausta will likely steal us away somewhere for more adventure." He laughed at the thought. "I find I'm quite alright with going along with those two." He moved to stand behind Adelaide and their eyes caught in the mirror. His breath caught for a moment, the morning sun caught her skin and she glowed. He opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by a knocking at the door.


Duncan leaned back against Fausta and enjoyed the sweet touch of her fingers and lips over his skin. "Quite splendid." He said at the thought of spending more time with Gabriele, perhaps they would see his lovely wife as well. She bit down near his neck and Duncan growled low with pleasure. He made a move to turn and grab her but she was out of his grasp and behind the changing curtain within moments. Sighing in defeat Duncan went to get dressed as well. It was clear the day would be a humid one so he went with a simple outfit.

When Fausta was ready as well he got her to lead the way up to where Hugh and Adelaide were so that they may kidnap their friends for another day of adventure. He knocked on the tower door and when Hugh opened it Duncan swept inside without so much as a hello. Hugh's eyes rolled high and he stepped back and gestured for Fausta to come in as well.

"Good morning Fausta." Hugh said drily.

Duncan's eyes caught the breakfast platter in the middle of the room and he eagerly inspected it for any remaining food. He saw an apple and took a bite, enjoying the crisp sour taste of the green apple.

"It is fine day is it not?" Duncan said, he looked over to Adelaide grinned. "You look beautiful today dearest." He took another bite and chewed for a moment before continuing. "Would you care to join us to the vineyard today? It is imperative that we see how all this lovely wine is made. Fausta did tell us so much about it back in England. I find myself rather curious."


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Adelaide smiled at Hugh's words, giggling a little. Before she could respond, Fusta and Duncan were in the room. Hugh seemed quietly amused, as always, and Fausta gave him a grin as she swept over to Adelaide. She bundled the woman away behind the screen to get ready, a wicked gleam in her eye. At Duncan's praise and query, Adelaide called out.

"That sounds wonderful! I'm sure Gabriele and Sophia can give us a tasting and show us how everything wor--" Her response was cut off by a short yelp, as she was unceremoniously shoved out from behind the changing screen wearing only a black lace corset and her short underdress. She blushed wildly and in vain attempted to pull the silk skirt down lower. Her hair was half held up in a bun and the half that cascaded over her shoulders seemed to shine gold in the sunlight. One arm went up to shield her half exposed bousum, the other stayed at the hem of her skirt.

"Fausta!" She hissed.

Fausta stood on the stool behind the screen, her upper body protruding from it. She brought another corset round and hung it down before them--this was a light peach pink corset made of silk panels with white lace along the bottom and the top, where it would line along her breast.

"Signors," She said, with a delighted smile on her lips. "We are needing help with the fashion choices, yes? Which are you thinking suits our miss Addy better?" She looked to Duncan, her brown eyes alight with glee and mischief, before turning her gaze to Hugh. She eagerly awaited his reaction, though tried her best to keep a serious face. "This will be deciding her dress for the day, you see."


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Hugh watched as Adelaide was ushered behind her changing screen and his curious blue eyes remained there, wondering what on earth was happening. Adelaide was exclaiming her agreement in the days plans but was cut short, and she was pushed out in front of the men. Both of the brothers froze in place and Hugh caught in the corner of his eye as Duncan's mouth dropped open. Fausta appeared then from the top of the changing screen and held out the second option. Duncan made a show of looking between the two options. Not wanting his brother to see any more Hugh stepped forward and shoved his brother around forcing him to look away. Duncan made a noise and went to turn around again but Hugh caught him in a headlock and soon Duncan was powerless against him.

Panting heavily Hugh looked back towards Adelaide and his breath caught again. A soft pink filled his cheeks and he looked towards the pink as Duncan struggled against him.

"My opinion was asked for was well Hugh! I can't give it if I can't see!" Duncans voice came out muffled from the headlock.

"Hush." Hugh muttered. The choice was a rather overwhelming one. "The pink one then." Hugh mumbled.

"I want to see!" Duncan said again. With one final pull he fell out of Hugh's grasp and fell back on his rump. He quickly turned and from his position on the floor gave Adelaide two thumbs up. "I agree the pink one." He said after a moment. Duncan was unceremoniously pulled up but Hugh again and forced to look away. Duncan muttered to himself but this time did not put up a fight.

"Are you alright Adelaide?" Hugh asked. "I am sorry for my brother." Hugh said and Duncan turned his head to blow a raspberry at him.


Junior Member
Fausta laughed heartily at Hugh's reaction and entrapment of his brother. The flustered man gave his opinion, and then her lover after he'd wormed away from him. Hugh tackled Duncan again as Fausta came down and pulled Adelaide back behind the screen before she could. She ignored Adelaide spluttered scoldings as she unlaced the corset and called over in Italian.

"<Do you think I got my point across, love?>" She helped Adelaide get dressed in a pink summer dress with short sleeves, the lace peeking out over her bosom as a reminder to Hugh of what lay underneath. After making sure Adelaide was truly alright from her little stunt, Fausta came out and took Duncan's arm, leading the way to the vineyard.

Adelaide came out from changing, her face still red with embarrassment. She took Hugh's arm as they followed Fausta and Duncan, and replied to his earlier query. "Y-yes, Angel, I'll be alright." She squeezed his bicep gently as a show of reassurance. After about a fifteen minuet's walk, they had meandered from the house to the main building of the vineyard. It was a large wooden building, inside there were two levels. The first was packed with processing, people examining and separating grapes, the grapes being turned into wine and barrel making. The second was for storage, it seemed many barrels stacked up.

Gabriele then emerged from a large cellar door in the corner of the space, speaking in rapid Italian with a man beside him. When he looked up, he broke into a delighted smile and came towards them.


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Hugh blinked as Fausta called out to Duncan in her mother tongue and Duncan responded in turn. He had no idea what it all meant but knew that had been most brash of Fausta and Duncan. He found himself a little irked but the feeling passed quickly. When Adelaide was done changing she went right to him and Hugh took pleasure in holding tightly to her arm and giving her skin a comforting stroke. They followed the two towards the vineyard and Hugh let Adelaide and himself linger behind Fausta and Duncan.

"You know." He murmured softly for only Adelaide to hear. "If I were anything like my brother, I would be plotting some way to get back at those two. A snake in their bed or something of the like." He mused. He quieted when they reached the main building where most of the work after the growing was done took place. The place smelled of class and rich berries. Hugh took in a deep sniff and felt his nose tickle at how intense it all smelled. When Gabriele spotted them Hugh grinned at the friendly man and took his hand first.

"Thank you so much for allowing us to tour here. It certainly seems like quite the progress." Hugh said.

"Oh it certainly is." Gabriele agreed. Duncan shook his hand next and both the Montgomery brothers looked around in awe. It had always been so interesting to see the inner workings of business. Something both the brothers took great pride in doing well.


"I fear if I were to get into the business I may sample more than I would work. Unless sampling is a job and then I must ask where we sign up." Duncan jested. He clapped Gabriele on the shoulder and both men laughed. Gabriele took the time then to introduce them to each of the cogs that made the Ricci wine business boom. He showed the group which grapes were not fit for wine and they spent a few moments taking part in the process. After they came upon some barrels being prepared for storage and being hauled up with pulleys to sit on the second level until the red liquid inside was deemed perfect.

After Gabriele looked towards his sister and then back suggestively to the celler from which he had come. "Do you think your friends would like to see the private stores?" He asked.

"Yes." Said Duncan immediately. "I have no idea what that means but yes."


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Adelaide thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the vineyard's inner workings; all the new lessons and information made her appreciate wine all the more. It was an intricate and lengthy process, and she could tell just how much Gabriele enjoyed his work. He spoke of a private store and she perked up, excited at the prospect of a new adventure.

"Yes!" She agreed with Duncan almost simultaneously. "That sounds like fun." She wrapped her arms around Hugh's bicep and squeezed, bouncing on her feet a little. Gabriele laughed at their reactions, and Fausta smiled happily, her deep eyes shining.

"Well alright, then! We shall be going." Two workers accompanied them, and hefted open the heavy ironwood cellar panels they'd observed him emerging from before. The group descended the steps into the cellar, they were met with another worker mid way down with a lamp. He bowed to them and took charge of leading them further inward. It was dark, but cool and dry as opposed to the weather above, so Adelaide didn't mind the small chill. The cellar was built of heavy bricks with tapered out into cobblestone, which gave way to cave walls. Eventually, they arrived at the bottom of the long staircase.

Gabriele unlocked the wrought iron gate before them, and lit a second lantern that lay behind it. Down the tunnel-like hall, they passed several round wooden doors, before finally reaching another. It seemed no different than the ones they had just seen, but Gabriele and the servant needed to unlock the door together--each with their own key. They entered the pitch black room, and slowly, as the men used their own flames to wake the sleeping candles within.

Fausta exclaimed in delight as the room was bathed in the warm orange glow of the small flames. The private stores never ceased to amaze her. It seemed an almost endless treasure trove of Ricci wine. The bottles glistened on their racks like oil--the dark glass almost inviting them in. She released Duncan's arm and scurried to the back, returning with two bottles. She held one out to him with a bright smile.

"The year my father was born, see? One of our finest. Would you like to try it, amore?"


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The way to the private stores was long and intricate, but behind every new door and with each step down underground Hugh felt his anticipation rising. He held tightly to Adelaide and the two of them used their free hands to steady themselves along the wall as the stone steps were clearly quite old. They followed Gabriele and then finally as the store was came to life under the candle light and Hugh let out a long whistle of surprise. Shelves upon shelves filled with bottles that gleamed with the candles glow. The room was so large the candle light could not reach to the end, leaving Hugh feeling like the room could go on forever.

"I need to install one of these in my home." Hugh said as Fausta dashed forward into the darkness for a moment and returned with a bottle in each hand. She explained the date and how aged the wine was and Hugh nodded enthusiastically. "I have never tasted a wine as old as this. What a treasure you hold under your vineyards."


Duncan took one of the bottles from Fausta to examine the label. It was grey and faded but Duncan could make out the soft script of the date and the name. "Thyrus..." He sounded out the name and looked up to the Ricci siblings for clarification.

"It is the name of a dragon." Grabriele supplied. He was rummaging through an old chest that rested against the wall. He returned holding the wine glasses needed for the wine expertly between his fingers and worked with Fausta to begin pouring. "Thyrus was an old dragon that laid waste to one of the kingdoms in the age of knights and glorious battles. The first wine was named for him because when our ancestor drank his first bottle he got so addled with the wine that he burned down the stables and half of the village."

Duncan snorted as he accepted his glass and once everyone held the deep red liquid in their hands he sniffed at it. Duncan could not be sure, but the soft smell of smokey wine filled his lungs and grinned. They all drank together and Duncan swore he had not tasted a more pure wine in his life. The liquid rushed over his tongue and down his throat and he let out a low sigh of content. "Well I must have many of your bottles shipped to England. I fear no other wine will please me again." He laughed.


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After spending the day--and well into the evening--exploring the spacious caverns beneath the vineyard, the group returned to the villa and enjoyed a restful evening full of song and good food. The next morning brought with it their long awaited trip to the opera. Adelaide rose with the dawn, despite the pounding in her head, and paces the room incessantly, nearly vibrating with excitement. She did her best not to awaken her lover, who had drank more than she. Eventually, Adelaide wrapped herself up in a robe and sat on the couch on the far end of the room, mouthing the words from the Madonna's lyric book to herself.

As the hour came fully into morning, a soft melody had begun to fall from her lips unconsciously. The reprise of the main theme in the opera they were to see that day, La Vestale.

After an eventful night, Fausta felt she would sleep quite soundly--especially after the day's adventure. She'd never had so much fun inside those dusty old cellars, but Duncan lit up the room. Seeing it through his eyes brought back a sense of wonder she had long forgotten for the place. That night however, she slept fitfully. She was tormented by fragments of images--a dark forest, cracking thunder, pounding rain. She slept very little, and woke in the grey dawn to lay beside her sleeping lover. The gentle rise and fall of his chest and the flick of his eyes beneath the lids calmed her.

Fausta brushed the hair from his face, gently, and drew the blankets up over his bare chest again. Duncan slept rather all over the place, often throwing the blanket off himself. The slight blowing in from the open window sent a shiver down her spine, and she curled closer, feeling his warmth.


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The evenings events has certainly taken its toll on Hugh's liver. Duncan had encouraged Adelaide to sing with him as the group stumbled back to the villa, Gabriele had slung his arm over Duncan and the two men held each other companionably as they sang an old sea shanty together. Duncan in English and Gabriele in Italian. The two men had made encouraging motions to Adelaide and after a moment he soft voice joined them. Hugh had been so taken with the scene that even he himself had opened his mouth to softly join them in the final bars of the song.

He had fallen into bed with Adelaide, their arms and limbs entwined and without another moments thought sleep had taken him. He slept most soundly and comfortably under the sheets with her near him. He did not rouse when Adelaide left the bed so early in the morning, but instead lay peacefully. He came too much later when Adelaide's sweet voice flowed softly towards him. The operatic was soothing and lilting, and with Adelaide's touch to it, the song seemed full of life. Blinking his eyes open, Hugh immediately shut them again at the sun, a pang of pain moved through his skull and he let out a long breath. However with the song in the room Hugh felt soothed again and worked up the courage to see light again.

With great effort and self will Hugh finally arose from bed and sat on the edge of it bleary eyed looking at Adelaide. A warm feeling settled over him as he watched her, Hugh knew then, if every morning could be spent like this with her; he would die a happy man. Was this possible? Was he in L- His thoughts were cut off at the sound of a knock at the door. Adelaide's voice stopped in reaction to it and Hugh stood, his hand brushed over her shoulders as he walked past her to get the door. When it was opened a number of servants stood in the hall, one seemed to be holding a large breakfast tray while the others held piles of boxes. Stepping back Hugh ushered them inside, and quickly the set out a tray of food, tea and water and placed the boxes on a dresser. With a bow they left and Hugh moved greedily towards the water glass.

After finishing it in one go Hugh felt better in his head and regarded the boxes. He walked over to them and lifted a lid and saw the fabrics from the store they had been to previously, all now sown together in what Hugh assumed would be a fine gown for Adelaide. He lifted another lid and saw a rather smart looking top-hat for himself.

"Good morning sweetheart, it seems our clothes for tonight have arrived." He said, his voice still gruff from sleep and drinking.


The soft curl of Fausta into his side had Duncan reacting, his arm came up and settled on the gentle rise of her hip. He head turned and his mouth found her forehead and kissed it softly. "Morning dearest." He snuggled into her and kept his eyes closed. "Lord, my head..." He sighed, "At least a slept well." He chuckled and winced when the laughter made his head hurt. A stretch took over him and Duncan let out a low groan. Once he was done he gave Fausta one more quick squeeze before the need to get up overtook him and he followed it. Deciding he wasn't done being close to Fausta however he bent over the bed and lifted her into his arms.

He moved them around the room with ease, holding her tight to him, kissing her when the mood struck. "How are you this morning, my love?"


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The rest of the day for the quartet passed in a haze of wine, laughter and expensive clothing that took many servants to get into. Excitement hung in the air as they all boarded the carriages ready to see the Madonna preform. It was an evening filled with soulful sounds, tears from even the most reserved gentleman and Rocco proclaiming his love for his wife on stage for the audience to see, he had been so taken with her performance.

Inspired the four returned to the manor, and slept peacefully, the thought of returning home was close at hand and the next day the group spent their time repacking all their treasures and trinkets. With the trunks full and loaded everyone spent a great deal of time with their farewells. Tears were shed again and promises to write often were made. Hugh and Duncan would send along their best workers to begin scouting for the base for the Montgomery shipping company. Rocco promised to have his men ready as well and with a quick shake of hands the group was once again off towards the ocean. Elated to be returning home the group found the journey to be quite pleasant, their ship named the Moonsong was captained by a rather quiet man and the group was alone but for the crew on their journey home. They spent a peaceful few days reading quietly under the sun and playing cards as the winds moved them closer to home.

When finally they returned to England, Hugh found the air sharper now, the cool of fall quickly coming upon them now as summer melted away. His breath fogged the morning air as he held the door open for his companions. He gazed sweetly down at Adelaide, feeling closer to her as the days had passed. His mind dared not to drift towards his thoughts from Italy, but he remained a happy fool. The carriage ride felt longer as all were most anxious to return to their homes. The women were dropped off first, their trunks placed on the dirt ground in front of Adelaide's late fathers house. Hugh shared a quick moment with her, pressing his lips softly to hers.

"I'll see you tomorrow perhaps? It always takes a bit of time to settle back but I fear I do not wish to be parted from you a moment longer." He chuckled lightly and lifted his head when Duncan called his name. Hugh nodded and brushed a quick hand down her cheek before leaving and climbing back into the carriage.


The ride to Westwood was a quiet one, both men were weary from their travels and wished to spend some time alone resting. Duncan lifted a brow when he saw an extra carriage parked away along the side of the house and his mind went back to the note he had received just before their journey.

"Oh dear." He said suddenly.

"What is it?" Hugh asked leaning forward to catch sight of the carriage. "Who ever could that be?"

"Aunt Lydia." Duncan stated without hesitation.

"How do you know that?" Hugh asked his head turning to look at his brother.

"She sent me a letter just before we left. It completely slipped my mind!" Duncan laughed as the carriage halted in front of the home. He was the first to get out and rushed quickly to the door to find his Aunt. Hugh was hot on his heels and they entered the house without waiting for the door to be opened for them. They heard women's laughter coming from the library and both man moved to the door to catch sight of Lydia and another woman. Both women rose to their feet, shocked suddenly at the sight of the men.

"I do declare boys! You gave us quite the start, why not have yourselves announced? You-" Aunt Lydia was about to call them a name but Duncan rushed forward and curled her into a hug and pressed a noisy kiss to her cheek. "Where have you been?" The older woman muttered, patting Duncan on the back awkwardly before removing herself.

"Italy, we took a vacation." Duncan said. He turned then to look at the woman, she was someone he didn't know. "Forgive me, I'm Duncan and this is my brother Hugh. You are?" He reached for her hand and pressed a kiss to the gloved knuckles.

"This is Lenora Green." Aunt Lydia said speaking for the woman.

"Tis a pleasure." Thick Irish brogue left her mouth, the sound a pleasant one, something one might hear in a pub as the evening wound down. Her hair was the red of the sun, soft pointed features and and an upturned mouth in a polite smile. Hugh moved forward to greet her the same and her eyes lingered on his as he kissed her gloved hand. "Your Aunt Lydia was most kind and offered to bring me along as she visited, my father is away you see and I've been placed in her care. Your estate is quite the lovely home Mr. Montgomery."

"Ah thank you Miss. Green." Hugh said straightening, smiling back at the pleasant woman. Behind them servants began to bring in their treasures from overseas. "Perhaps I will leave you to it then and we shall get settled."

"Perhaps you might join us for supper tonight?" Miss Green asked hopefully.

"That sounds lovely." Hugh said agreeing.


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After an hour to allow the boys to rest and settle in, the dining room began preparations for dinner. Hugh had hung his new painting in the study, just above the fireplace. The group congregated there now, Lydia smoking from her long pipe and the younger folk enjoying some brandy. Letting out a puff of tobacco, Lydia sighed and eyed her nephews with interest.

"What spurred this trip, then?" She asked. Waving her free hand she continued. "I expect such things from Duncan, he's always been wild. But a sudden vanishing from you, Hugh, for a month? It's terribly irresponsible." She gave a wry smile as she puffed again. "Now, you know I've always told you that you need a bit of a spark, young man, but this seems a little drastic for your first foray into spontaneity." Lydia turned her piercing gaze onto Duncan.

"And you--still the family rake, dear boy? How many women did you seduce in Italy, hmm? You two--far too apart on the spectrum of a good man. I always hoped you'd rub off on each other, but have you finally broken your brother's will?" She sighed and pressed two boney fingers to her right temple. Damn. The tobacco wasn't esing her headache as much as she'd like. There was a knock on the study door, and Joseph peered in.

"Pardon the intrusion, but it seems the masters have visitors." Without awaiting a response, the door swung open and two gorgeous dogs trod in. One ink black and the other snow white. The white dog found Duncan and circled him excitedly, her tail wagging hard enough to knock a bauble off the coffee table. The black one came to Hugh, and sat down before him pleasantly, looking up with his large brown eyes full of happiness. Each seemed to have a letter holder attached to its collar.

Adelaide and Fausta were all smiles as they returned home and the servants began to unpack from the trip. They ate dinner and talked merrily, but each felt restless. So long spent by the side of their lovers made them strangely anxious. They sat in the parlor, unwinding and Fausta suddenly perked up.

"I know! Charles!" The butler came, and she ordered him to fetch writing materials and the dogs' letter holders. He hurried away and Adelaide sat up, peering over at her friend.

"What are you scheming?" She asked, curiosity peaked. Fausta brushed her hair over her shoulder and grinned that lovely, wicked grin of hers. Charles returned, and Tatiana and Oberon looked up at the gentle tinkling of the bells attached to the letter holders.

"Let us write them letters, yes? Just to say goodnight. Do not tell me you are not wanting to, Addy." Adelaide blushed wildly and hit Fausta lightly on the arm as the other woman laughed.

Dearest Duncan,

<I miss you now more than the flowers miss the sunlight in winter. I feel as though the hours have become days, and without you beside me I am lost. The absence of your warmth in bed tonight will keep me awake. A day alone is too long to be parted from my heart, for you have selfishly taken it back with you. I can forgive you for this--but only if you hasten back to my side with the dawn.>

<Anxiously awaiting,>


My Angel,

Forgive me, for pestering you while you return home. I fear I couldn't help myself in writing you, it feels so strange to be without you here. After so long by your side, I feel as though a great part of me is gone, now, too. Do you feel it, as well, I wonder? Am I being foolish, writing to you now? You have bewitched me from the moment we met, Hugh. My heart and soul pine for your presence when it is far from me. But, I will keep you to your promise of a visit tomorrow. remembering that last kiss will have to hold me over until then.

Yours, forever,

"Don't tease me, Fausta! You want to see him as much as I." Fausta stuck her tongue out and they began to write. After about a half hour, the letters were completed. Adelaide gently sprayed hers with her perfume, and Fausta encased red rose petals in her own. They slipped the letters into the leather compartments and attached them to the dogs' collars--Adelaide to Oberon and Fausta to Tatiana. They sent the animals on their way, and restlessly waited for the outcome. The women decided to sit and play chess in the interim.
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Hugh adjusted the picture of the mantel one last time, his fingers brushing against the cool frame. He smiled up the the portrait of the two lovers in the garden and turned back as Aunt Lydia spoke. His cheeks reddened at the word irresponsible and he could not tell if Aunt Lydia spoke kindly or not. Deciding to keep quiet he went over to pour himself a healthy few fingers of the brandy. Duncan laughed at his Aunts teasing and leaned back in his chaise.

"My dear Lydia. I fear I am spoken for now. I've met a woman like no other." Duncan preened at the thought of gushing about Fausta to Lydia but took pause when Lenora stood from her spot near a writing desk and moved to join Hugh as he remained near the bar cart and sipped his drink. She was about to speak when the door opened and visitors were announced, Tatiana and Oberon padded in, her tongues lolling happily. The beasts found their respective men and panted as both of them bent to remove the letters from the casings attached to their collars.

"What on earth is this?" Lenora asked, her voice alight with curiosity. Hugh could not stop the grin and he looked up to his visitor.

"Our travel companions seem to already miss us." He chuckled. He smelt Adelaide's familiar smell and was about to unfurl the note when Lenora began to sneeze terribly. Taken aback by the sudden noise Hugh stepped away from her and looked apologetically at her. "Ah forgive me. I shall take this outside then." Not wanting to waste another moment Hugh stepped out of the library and took up a spot next to a lit candle in the hall. His fingers slowly unfurled the message and he read over it multiple times, unable to stop himself from smiling. He moved to enter his study and found a blank piece of parchment and forged his own note in return.

Perhaps we are both fools, I cannot seem to stop this grin of mine should your face cross my mind. So naturally I have not stopped smiling since my return to Westwood. My arms are indeed empty without your presence, I doubt I will sleep as well as I had these past few weeks. Perhaps tomorrow would like like to come and visit us? My Aunt Lydia has come to visit and shes brought Miss Green from London with her. It seems they are to be staying with us for the foreseeable future, or until Aunt Lydia grows bored of the country again. We could have some games on the lawn, and hide away in the garden for a few moments. I would very much like to hold you... and kiss you.

Sincerely, your fool.

Hugh rolled up the parchment and returned to the library to find the dogs resting outside with Duncan, at Hugh's raised eyebrow Duncan shrugged.

"It seems Miss. Green is rather afraid of dogs." Duncan supplied. He watched as Hugh put his letter back into Oberon's carrying tube and straightened.


"I have yet to read my letter, be a sport and entertain the two in there while I take a moment here." Duncan asked. Hugh nodded and the two went on their ways. Sitting on the stairs leading to the bedrooms Duncan pulled out the note and let a few of the rose petals flutter out onto his lap. He grinned at the romantic gesture and read through the note. Once he was ready to respond he hastilly wrote back on the back of her letter.

Keep your window unlatched this eve.

Grinning he went over to the dogs and he returned his letter to Tatiana and went to the front door. He gave both of the beasts a fond pet and a hug, speaking softly to them, asking they return the letters safely. Then he opened the door and watched as the animals darted off into the evening, their agile bodies moving through the brush and trees following a path they knew well.

Closing the door Duncan returned to the library as it was announced dinner was ready. The group made their way into the room and let footman pour their drinks and lay out bowls of soup for them. Conversation was pleasant enough, with Lydia lecturing and Lenora speaking softly to Hugh. Duncan paid no mind to the visitor, for now his thoughts remained elsewhere.


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Lydia gave a bark of laughter at the dogs burst in and went about excitedly. She remembered the beasts, though they had grown much since she'd seen them as pups. They were owned by the reclusive woman in the next estate over, Adelaide Lovelocke. Such a bright, kind girl. Too kind. Too timid for her own good. The boys took the animals out of the room to read their letters, at Miss Green's behest. So they had taken the neighbor along? Well, that was very nice of them. She didn't dwell on it too much, as soon they were all together again at the dinner table.

Duncan seemed to have his head quite in the clouds, picking at his food with a faraway look in his eye. Lydia rolled her eyes as she pushed away her plate at the end of the meal. It was no use talking to him when he was like this--Duncan's mind had a way of running away with him when he was occupied by a particularly interesting lover. She only half believed him when he claimed to be out of the market for good. The group exited the dining hall, and Lydia stopped her elder nephew before he excused himself.

"I must hear more about this woman in the morning, Duncan. Over breakfast." He gave her a swift kiss on the cheek before vanishing into the house to do whatever he was planning. Lydia bid Miss Green a find goodnight, and took Hugh's arm as she marched him briskly back to the study. After closing the door, she turned to him with her hands on her hips. "Sit down, my boy. We have something to discuss." When he did as ordered, Lydia sat across from him. Folding her hands in her lap, she began to speak. "Now, I've not just come for a visit, you see. I intend for you to court--and marry--Miss Green." She held up her hand when he went to speak, and continued when he settled. "She is a fine woman in all aspects--beautiful, independently wealthy, healthy, and interesting. Duncan may be the heir to our estate, but I cannot depend on him to continue the Montgomery line. That will fall to you, now." She sighed heavily, and pressed a finger to her throbbing temple again. For just a moment, she actually looked her age. "I am old, now, Hugh. And I would like to see at least one of you married before I die. Once I'm gone you two will only have each other." Lydia came over and sat beside him, grasping his hands tightly.

"I know your father was wrong about many things. But haven't I always been good to you? Family, Hugh, It's the most important thing there is. I want to be secure in the knowledge that at least one of my dear boys will have someone to return home to. That you will have children to nurture and a wife to care for you. I understand that I cannot--nor would I--force you to love Miss Green. But I hope that when you marry her, you can grow to love each other. As your uncle and I did. I could not stand the thought of you being alone, Hugh. Do you understand?"

The girls receive their letters (after Fausta beat Addy in chess) And each went exactly to their bedroom. While Addy reread her letter over and over, Fausta lit a candle and left it by the windowsill for Duncan to see. She left the sill unlatched and excitedly prepared for bed, unable to keep still for the thought of finally seeing him once more. Of having him in her arms.


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Hugh spoke kindly with Lenora for the duration of the supper. She was a curious woman and seemed to have all sorts of wonders over his lands and holding and how often he went off to work. Hugh did his best to answer them all and found he was quite weary when the dinner was finished. He was ready to head off to bed when Aunt Lydia grasped his arm tightly, her old fingers filled with life at her intent. With a small noise of surprise he let himself be let into the study and sat obediently when he was told. He took up residence in a small chair and felt his stomach drop to his feet as Aunt Lydia spoke.

"Aunt Lydia, Duncan is assure you..." He was cut off by her stare and continued on. Bringing up his father and the sole reason Hugh knew he would never make for a good husband. "I..." He began and trailed off right away when Lydia was finished. She asked him if he understood and Hugh found he could not fathom the idea. "Miss. Green surely has other prospects." Hugh sighed when he was given another look and he found himself to be quite sweaty and almost sick at the thought. "I do not wish to marry Miss. Green, Aunt Lydia. I... She... I fear that is not possible at this time."

Looking down at his hands Hugh felt shame creep through his veins, what on earth would Adelaide think? He knew must tell her, perhaps once he was free from Lydia's gaze he might make the trek over, he could not bear to keep this a secret from her.

"I must think this over Aunt Lydia, this is not something to be taken lightly I'm sure you agree. But at this present time I cannot marry." Firm in his choice Hugh stood, his hand curled into a tight fist. "If you will excuse me." He said tersely. He left the room and spotted Miss. Green at the end of the hallway, her fan out as she admired an old portrait hanging above a console. Her eyes caught his and she smiled a sweet smile.

"Aunt Lydia must have told you the news then, based on how you appear." She laughed quietly, stepping towards Hugh, closing the distance.

"She has." Hugh said, manners had him staying to his spot and bowing she she drew nearer.

"I expect it is rather a shock. Was one for me as well." She said softly, her voice staying low in an attempt to calm.

"It is not possible, forgive me. I must depart to my chamber, it has been a rather long day." Hugh smiled grimly and took the stairs two at a time to find his bed chambers. He opened the door and closed it, leaning against the wood frame, breathing heavily. From his window, he could see the moon lighting up the trees that separated the two estates, one the other end, a woman who might very well have her heart broken at the news he held. With a firm set of his jaw Hugh went to the window and opened the latch.


Duncan was quite surprised to see Hugh in the same predicament as himself. The two men stood on the edge of the second floor wall and contemplated how they might get down the the grass below. They regarded one another from their windows a moment before silently turning their heads and spotting a column that held up a second story balcony. They shuffled their ways towards it, holding onto small juttings out of the architecture for support until finally they were both able to shimmy down the stone pole to the ground below. They remained quiet the entire trip until they were both well on their way into the woods, following the path the dogs had taken earlier.

"You couldn't stay away either?" Duncan asked cheerfully. When he received no response peered at his brother, it was difficult to make out his face as night was drawing close, but he could tell from Hugh's expression it was likely better he stay silent. They walked through the woods a while until they came upon Adelaide's house. Duncan separated from Hugh and had just ducked around a corner as Hugh lifted his hand to knock on the front door. Duncan lifted his eyes to the estate then looking at the windows when he caught the candle in the window.

He grinned and quickened his pace, thankfully Fausta's room was by a large tree that had so graciously extended its branches to be within arms reach of her window. With a few grunts and groans he was able to make his way up the tree and to the window in question. The latch was opened as per his request and he quietly pushed it open to enter. She was there in her bed, her dark hair curled around her face, soft lips parted from sleep. Eager to join her, he tugged off his clothes and nestled next to her in the bed drawing her close.

"Darling." He murmured, "It has been too long." He chuckled softly and kissed her. "I fear our travel companions may have some troubles ahead." He waited for Fausta to respond eager to tell her what he had seen.


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Adelaide had fallen asleep clutching the letter in one hand and the gifted portrait of her mother in the other. Her dogs lay about her in the bed, supplying warmth in lieu of her lover. Charles woke her at almost ten, and announced that Hugh had come to visit. Bursting with excitement, Adelaide threw a robe on over her long nightdress, not even stopping to comb her wild hair or cover the scars on her neck. Tatiana and Oberon stayed in her bed, both too sleepy to care much for the nighttime visitor.

Adelaide met Hugh in the parlor, the oil lamps and candles lit so they could see each other. The woman laughed in delight as she stumbled into the room, slipping on the hardwood a little in her sleepy haste. Finally, after hours that seemed too long, she stood before him. He was still dressed for dinner, his hair tied back and his suit jacket on. All merriment ceased within her, however, when she saw the shaken look upon his face. Adelaide turned on her heel and asked Charles to bring them cold water, then returned to her lover, olive eyes wide and shone with worry.

"Hugh?" She asked softly, searching his drawn features. "What's happened? Are you alright?" Adelaide wished to settle him, put him at ease. So before he could answer she busied herself by helping him out of his coat and freeing his neck of the neatly tied cravat with gentle fingers. After hanging his things, she lead him to the chaise and they sat together. She took hold of one of his hands, tightly, and the other cupped his face.

"Don't tell me--is Lydia ill? I'll help you search for a doctor, if you need." She racked her brain for what else could have him so upset, for he truly adored his aunt.

Fausta woke with an intake of breath at his kiss, like a princess from a dream. When she found her lover there beside her, skin pressed to her own, Fausta laughed breathlessly. Before she responded to Duncan's concern, she turned in his arms and cupped his face in both her hands, relishing to soft feel of his sideburns beneath her fingers.

"<My love, oh, my sweet Duncan...>" She murmured in Italian, looking over every inch of his face adoringly. Fausta's lips came crashing down onto his own, and for many minutes all that was exchanged between them were fevered, impassioned kisses. Finally, when she lay atop him in a bundle of sheets and comforter, did they pull away. Their faces hidden together by the curtain of her hair. She laughed again, her arched nose pressing into his. "<Forgive me, I could not help myself.>" She said, grinning. Finally, his earlier words registered through the haze of her own desire and she moved off him. Throwing her hair over her shoulder as she sat up, Fausta asked, in English.

"What did you say? Trouble? Come, tell me."


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Lenora watched as the brothers snuck away into the night and chewed at her bottom lip, gnawing away at the rouge she has so carefully placed there. That was certainly no good, she thought, reflecting upon her game plan. Perhaps she would have to be a little more aggressive with her tactics. Aunt Lydia had explained her nephew was a rather gentle soul, and Lenora had taken that to mean he was weak willed, but the nights events had shown a man who had tucked away his feelings tightly. She sensed breaking him open would be rather fun, snapping her fan onto her hand she turned on her heel and retreated to the guest chamber to plan some more.

She settled down at the desk, where a candle flickered low, and began to write on some letter paper. the quill moving gracefully over the page as she wrote. Tomorrow she would have Joseph send her letter off.


Hugh let Adelaide fuss over him, unable to put into words what had all occurred. His jacket and cravat were removed and he took a small sip of the cool water. She held him then and her settled into her touch feeling eased. Turning his head he pressed a kiss to her palm and closed his eyes.

"Well Aunt Lydia is just a spry as ever, the overbearing woman has taken it upon herself to find me a wife." He grumbled. "The Miss. Green has been brought specifically for me to marry. Duncan apparently is a lost cause and therefore the future of carrying of the Montgomery line has fallen to me." The news hit him over again and his head dropped from her hands to his own, he gripped his hair tightly, sending it loose over his shoulders, it had grown quite long over their journey. "This is not what I wanted." He muttered, turning his head slightly he peeked up at her. "What on earth do I do?"


She was wild for him, as much as he was for her. Their feverish kisses sent all thoughts of Hugh and potential troubles away from Duncan's mind and he took great joy in being with Fausta. How perfect she was, to put all notion of danger on the backburner. She sat up over him, moving her hair back, and he let his hands move over the dip of her hip and down, an easy motion, just wishing to touch her. It took him a moment to understand what she had asked him.

"Oh yes. Hugh joined me on the walk over, however he did not appear as overjoyed as I was." Duncan's brow furrowed in thought. "Lydia did take him aside after dinner, I wonder what was said?" A slow smile moved over him then and he jerked his head to the door. "Do you feel like spying?" He asked.


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Adelaide's free hand came up to her neck at his confession. She rubbed the scars there as anxiety filled her, and worried her bottom lip as she thought. Suddenly self conscious, Adelaide took a ribbon from her nightgown and pulled her hair up into a messy bun. She took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, trying to think through her initial burst of panic. She placed her hands on his shoulders and gently sat him up, then stood and came around the other side. Sitting behind him, Adelaide retrieved the ribbon that had held his long hair back from the floor. She began to comb through his hair with her fingers, gently untangling knots she found and lightly running her fingers over his scalp.

Adelaide began to speak, trying to keep her voice calm in an effort to calm him as well. "Well, we need to take a moment to think clearly. I understand that this news so suddenly can be very upsetting, but let's try to be calm. Duncan is devoted to Fausta now, correct? Perhaps when we visit tomorrow you aunt will see how they love each other and be more at ease." As she talked, Adelaide had affixed his hair back into a ponytail, securing the dark green ribbon once more. She returned to his other side, one hand coming back up to rub at her throat, betraying her calm demeanor's true face.

"And, Hugh.... aren't we courting?" She asked softly, peering up into his eyes. "Forgive me if I am wrong. I thought that aboard the Starchaser on that first day we agreed to see each other--no expectations." She took another breath to steady herself. "If that is the case, shouldn't it be a simple matter to tell your Aunt that you have otherwise become occupied? You needn't mention my name if you so desire." Adelaide squeezed his hand gently, and looked away. "If that is not the case, then.. we can figure something out. Unless you do wish to court Miss Green, and it's simply the suddenness of the proposal that has caught you off guard?"

Even suggesting it made her eyes burn for want of tears, but Adelaide forced them back. If that was what he wanted, she would let him go, of course. Hugh being happy meant more to her than anything. If Miss Green could give him what she could not... Adelaide was unable to look at him, her hand gently putting pressure on her throat in an attempt to ease the phantom aching of the old wound.

Fausta quirked a brow at Duncan's words, and grinned devilishly as he suggested spying. She leaned forward and kissed him again, muttering "<Gods, how I love your evil mind!>"

Soon they were up and had both donned robes, the couple snuck down the stairs. It took ten minutes to carefully peek through the first floor's many rooms to finally find the one that held their prize. Putting a finger to her lips, she grinned as they snuck closer to the parlor, the doors already left slightly ajar. They knelt down just in time to hear Adelaide's presentation of options. Fausta blinked a few times, and sent Duncan a clear look.

If Hugh chooses this Miss Green over Addy I WILL kill him.


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Her hands moved softly through his locks and Hugh relaxed under her touch and let her fix his hair back into place. He sat up as Adelaide spoke and felt a warm sheen fill his face. How simple Adelaide had made it seem. Of course her words were the truest course of action, she gripped at her throat, the scars bright as anxiety coursed through her. Hugh reached up and gently covered the hand there. His fingers seeking to soothe.

"Forgive me Adelaide, I was just so taken aback by the notion all rational thoughts seemed to have left me." He snuck a little closer to her on the chaise. "I wish you could have been there with me, to calmly state our courtship as my mind imploded." He chuckled a little and pressed a kiss to the corner of her mouth. "I am sorry to have brought about these doubts in your head, that was not at all my intention. I am not ashamed of you, and I do not wish to hide you." He sat back, a long breath leaving his chest. "Can you forgive me dearest?" He asked.


Duncan blinked in surprise at the information they had gathered. Of course Aunt Lydia had brought a woman for Hugh, it had been her mission as of late to acquire more little ones to the family, before the brothers had moved to Westwood Aunt Lydia had brought about eligible ladies most weekends for Duncan's approval. She of course had been quite unsuccessful and Duncan had taken great joy in being the family rake much to her dismay. It was only natural now she would turn her attentions to Hugh, feeling that Duncan was a lost cause. Duncan blinked back to the present, he had grabbed onto Fausta's hand and squeezed at her look.

I shall help you bury the body of course. But give the man a chance.

At Hugh's words he relaxed a little but found himself frowning, did Hugh have the gumption to stand up for himself and his worth? Could Adelaide do the same for her desires? He gave Fausta's hand a tug and the two retreated back into the house. They found themselves in the kitchens and Duncan dug around in the pantry before returning with some rather strong gin. He popped off the cork and took a swig before handing it over to his lover.

"Well this is quite the development, thank the stars those two have our meddlesome selves." He sighed and blew a bit of hair out of his face. "I shall keep a close eye on Hugh, hopefully he can set Aunt Lydia straight."


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Adelaide breathed a deep, shaking sigh of relief at his words. Thank God. She didn't know if her heart could take him choosing another. He touched her tenderly then, gently prying her hand off her throat and pressing a feather light kiss to her. Her heart began to slow, finally, and her panic dissipate. Hugh spoke of his intentions to announce their courtship and Adelaide gave a small smile. She squeezed his hand, moving closer to him and pressing her forehead to his own. Even these small affections had her completely undone. She lifted her free hand to cup his face, and moved her thumb in small circles on his cheek.

"Of course, angel." Adelaide replied softly. "For you, I could forgive anything." The couple spent another half hour simply resting there, in each other's arms. It was almost one when Hugh reluctantly left to return to his own estate. Adelaide had to remind him that they were no longer in Italy, and it certainly wouldn't do to begin their public courtship with such a scandal. After a long, lingering kiss she sent him back into the darkness with a candle, as the moon had clouded over. Adelaide went to sleep much at ease, with her dogs beside her and her mother's portrait watching over her.

Fausta followed him back as they retreated, and they leaned against the kitchen counter, passing the bottle back and forth. She thought about the situation, her brow creased. Something was worrying about this. Besides the fact that their dear friends were somewhat idiots when it came to matters of the heart, something in the pit of her stomach gnawed at her. Fausta sighed, placing the bottle down and grabbing her lover's hand. She began to lead him back to her room, speaking softly so as not to wake the staff.

"I will be watching Addy, then, so she doesn't be losing her nerve, yes?" Finally, they climbed back into her warm bed, cocooning themselves in the covers. Fausta wrapped her arms around his bare chest and tangled her legs with his own. "But tonight, now, we sleep, yes? I hope you are knowing that you are not leaving now, amore." She teased. Fausta kissed him again, deeply and sweetly as she tried to push away the troubles in her mind. Tomorrow they would plan. Right now, she wanted to focus on him alone.

"<Dearest Duncan...I am thankful for you.>" She murmured softly as they embraced, taking their time to love one another and become one.

Bubbling laughter woke Hugh. When his eyes adjusted to the moonlight, he was in a small glade. Through the trees he could see the ruins of Mauve's cabin, covered in a light dusting of snow. Snow came from the sky, as well, but evaporated before it could touch him. A hot spring sat before him, with two beautiful people swimming in it's steaming waters. Glittering clothes lay discarded at his feet--a dress made of gossamer, and the fine silks of a king. Within the pool, the people laughed brightly, splashing one another without a care in the world.

"My love," called the man, gently "Let me wash your wings. You must speak with him, for I will not." The woman sighed and returned to the man, then climbed up out of the water and shook herself, huge blue-purple dragonfly wings fluttering as they shed water, the droplets sparkling like falling stars. The man began to hum as he gently began his work, his eyes as bright and vibrantly blue as a cloudless summer day. The woman looked at Hugh now, bare before him and unashamed. Her eyes were pools of blackest night, glittering with millions of stars and pupuless, like her lover's.

"Winter is coming." She told him. "And they are not prepared. Tell me, do you think you can survive the first frost with such broken hearts? Nay. The cold will creep in and break you whole. Alas. Such a pretty beginning given to such fools." Behind her the man spoke.

"All humans are foolish, my love. But it is this foolishness that makes them so dear to us, is it not?" The steam from the water mixed with the ice in the air and hit sharp in Hugh's lungs. The cold was closing in when he woke.

The next morning, Lydia and Lenora rose early. They met at the breakfast table and chatted idy until Hugh saw fit to join them. he had dressed properly this time, she noted. He greeted them pleasantly, as if he had not run out on her the night before. Lydia sighed and folded the paper as Joseph refilled her teacup. She pushed her half moon spectacles up her nose and peered over at him.

"I hope you slept well, Hugh." She said dryly. "I hope we can continue our conversation from last night like adults now." She arched a brow at him, leaning her elbows on the table as she folded her hands to affix him with a piercing stare. "Look, I understand that this proposal is sudden--for both parties, mind you--but it's past time that you had a wife. You'll become unmarketable if you get much older and are unwed. And I don't want gold diggers to come climbing out of the woodwork when you're old and lonely. I'm sure that we can all draw up an agreement that suits everyone."

Duncan joined them, then, fresh from a bath with a purpling love bite showing just over his cravat. Lydia sighed through her nose and rolled her eyes, sitting back in her chair. "And good morning to you as well, Duncan. I didn't think you would be joining us again so soon--this mystery woman of yours seems to have you properly wrapped around her little finger."


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(That dream scene, absolutely divine! Girl your writing is out of this world.)

Hugh's dream left him rather dazed in the morning. It took awhile for him to rub the sleep from his eyes and eyelashes. When he left the bed he failed to notice the soft floral scent that wafted up from the sheets and the small bluebells that lay crushed under his pillow. Instead he got dressed with the help of his valet, and said nothing to anyone until he entered the breakfast room. Aunt Lydia and Lenora were both seated and he bowed slightly to the both of them. He sat and accepted a cup of coffee and let Lydia sass him. He took in a breath and let her words sit in the air as he took his time with his thoughts.

Duncan entered and he moved to kiss Aunt Lydia's cheek before sitting down himself. "I hope you may meet her today Lydia, perhaps you might find you share my adoration." He chuckled. He lifted his head as Hugh cleared his throat and sat back with attentive eyes.

"I am indeed ready to continue this conversation." Hugh said softly, he was determined to stay level-headed and not let his mind go blank from fear and anger. More and more Hugh found it difficult to keep things so neatly tucked away, he drew on his composure and looked down at the dark liquid in his cup, missing as Lenora fidgeted in her seat. "I do appreciate your plight to continue the Montgomery line, however I find myself already courting a woman. So I do not think it appropriate to continue on this path you wish to take. Her name is Adelaide, perhaps you might remember her, the woman living in the estate to the east of us?"


Duncan smiled proudly at his brother and took a bite of toast. He reached over to Lydia and patted her hand companionably. "See dearest, we are doing just fine!" He looked then to Lenora and gave her a sympathetic smile. "Sorry Miss. Green, it seems your journey was rather in vain."

Lenora gave him a sweet smile, "That is quite alright, I must admit I'm a little disappointed, my heart was quite taken with the idea of Hugh as soon as Aunt Lydia spoke of him and my interactions seem to have made the fondness doubly so." She glanced over to Hugh and saw the tips of his ears go pink at her flattery. "If it's quite alright, I would still enjoy spending time here, the country life seems to have done wonders for my lungs." She looked to Aunt Lydia for permission.


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Lydia arched her brows at Hugh as he made his announcement. Courting Adelaide? How odd. She was sure that the woman and Edward Redstone were a fine match--they had seemed inseparable since she'd introduced them several years ago. Duncan patted her and Lenora took the let down easily, as a lady should. Lydia sighed and brought out her pipe. A servant hurried to light it for her and she took a few puffs as she gathered her thoughts.

"Be careful, Hugh." She warned "Adelaide is a wonderful girl, but had a strict upbringing. She could prove too delicate for you. Don't you go causing her any trouble, you hear me?" Her blue eyes were sharp as they observed him. Hugh was thick-headed to say the least. He could end up hurting the gentile woman deeply. Harold Lovelocke had not seen to prepare his daughter for such unpleasant things. Lydia smiled at Lenora, nodding amilably. "Of course, Miss Green. You may stay here as long as you like. You're a welcome guest, I assure you."

After breakfast, Miss Lovelocke and her companion, a Miss Ricci arrived to play games on the lawn. Lydia seated herself in the shade on the patio, servants busy setting up croquet and a luncheon. Tatiana, one of Miss Lovelocke's dogs, had accompanied them and was now sleeping under the table. The introductions had been fine, Adelaide was as timid as ever, and this Italian woman was loud and energetic. A good match for Duncan, surprisingly enough. Who knew that man was actually capable of finding himself a proper woman. Though she was just as odd as he, it seemed. Lydia settled in to watch the afternoon's affairs, wondering if Hugh and Adelaide really were a good match.

Adelaide had picked her best summer outfit for the sunny afternoon, hoping to impress Lydia and make a good impression on this Miss Green. She was nervous about how everything had gone that morning for Hugh, but tried to put the unease out of her mind as she and Fausta climbed into the carriage to Westwood. The pink stone on her choker glittered gently in the sun and soothed her, along with Tatiana's head on her lap. They arrived before noon and were met at the door by their lovers. Adelaide curtsied slightly and gave Hugh a happy smile.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Montgomery. We are delighted to be in your company today." Hugh took her hand and a little thrill ran through her as he placed a kiss on her knuckles. It mattered not how many times he did the simple action, it always set her heart racing. Taiana greeted Hugh and Duncan before letting herself into the house. Adelaide gave Hugh's guest a smile, curtsying and greeting her with a kind clasp of hands.

"Hello Miss Green. It's a pleasure to meet you! Might I say that you are quite beautiful." With Hugh's comforting presence behind her, Adelaide felt emboldened.

Fausta had to give Adelaide a pep talk that morning over breakfast, but otherwise her friend seemed at ease. They arrived at Westwood, and while Addy gave a proper greeting, Fausta swept into Duncan's arms with a bright laugh. He twirled her around a bit and they kissed once, gently, once she was spun back into his arms.

"<Even just these few hours apart is too much for me, love.>" She murmured in Italian as he released her. She watched the greetings between Addy and the other woman with a measured look, the pit in her stomach beginning to open again. "<How did this morning go?>" She inquired of him, as the group began to make their way to the gardens. She had greeted the other woman with a cold politeness, moving away from her as soon as was appropriate. "<I hope that Hugh kept his nerve?>"

They emerged onto the back lawn and greeted Lydia warmly, the old woman had sharp eyes, she noted, and was still quite beautiful despite her age. She smoked a long pipe and spoke unabashedly. Fausta could see why she was so adored by the brothers.

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