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Realistic or Modern The Bronze Locket

Sub Genres
Adventure, Historical, Romance, Slice of Life


Junior Member
Hugh made a noise at the back of his throat at the sound of her words. "Repay me?" He seemed taken aback by the idea. "My dearest, it is I who should be asking that of you. You have done more for me than I thought possible." His hands gripped hers and drew them to his heart, he struggled for the words for a long moment and finally gave up. There was no possible way to describe the turmoil in his heart and mind. "May we just lay together? I need to hold you." Hugh said softly. The weariness from the days events clear in his eyes.

They lay together, and Hugh remained quiet, unable to find a way to verbalize anything in his mind. Instead, while he lay his head on her chest his eyes closed and a few tears left the corner of his eye as he drifted to sleep.


A few days had passed since the incident in the town. The Westwood manor was quite quiet. Hugh had been unable to shake the cloud of gloom that had settled in his heart. He did his best, laughed when he was supposed to and smiled. However his actions seemed to have placed him in a mood where it felt quite unfinished. He woke himself with a a start one morning in a cold sweat, his dream had Edward peering from outside the window at him. A silent laugh on his lips, as blood caked the side of his mouth and his teeth. His eyes were greyed out, no longer alive, but still filled with victory. Not wanting to bother Adelaide, Hugh slipped from the bed and grabbed his clothes. He quickly and silently changed and left the room. The morning brought with it a fresh frost, soon to be melted in the afternoon sun. The snow that had fallen was long since gone, but it was sure to return again as the world grew colder. He greeted the servants who were also up early with a nod and accepted a hot tea cup from a young servant named Mary. He took the piping hot tea out to the gardens and his eyes swept warily over the landscape. Part of him half expected to see Edward there.


The camping arrangements were well on the way. Duncan packed a few rucksacks full of warm clothes and hunting equipment. He was quite excited since today was the day his friends would be joining them at the home. They were to stay at Westwood for a night or two and then set off on their adventure. Duncan had thought of inviting his brother, but the dark mood in his brother had him avoiding Hugh. Unwilling to risk Fausta's good mood or his own Duncan decided for once, he would remain out of the situation. He longed for a weekend of good friends and good hunting. There was the ring of the bell that announced that they had guests and Duncan eagerly peeked his head out of the study and saw Joseph pull open the door and welcome in three rather large men. Duncan let out a shout of greeting and all three of his war friends broke into smiles, seeing their host.

Earnest was the first to be greeted by Duncan. They clasped their hands together for a firm pumping handshake. Earnest was bulky but in all the ways that made him seem quite strong. His black hair was short and neat, and within his smile one tooth flashed gold with his smile.

"Duncan. So pleased you could join our little venture, and that you will be bringing along a friend." Earnest's voice was warm and friendly. His thick bushy brows wiggled at the mention of Duncan's friend and had his war comrades laughing.

"Yes... Where is she?" Landon was the next to speak. Of the group of men, he was the shortest. He had a thick well groomed beard and thick fingers that encased Duncan's hand as they shook in greeting.

Connor was the last of the group. He remained quiet as was usual, and smiled warmly at Duncan as they shook their hands last. Connor was always a quiet soul, scars covered his hands and face, and some remained bright red even with their age. He walked with a bit of a limp but managed to keep up with the group just fine. He had bared the brunt of a blast from a canon, protecting his friends during the line of fire, for that the group would forever be indebted to him.

"Welcome friends." Duncan said happily. "Yes, she is most excited to join us. Seems she has it in her mind that she will be showing us how it's done, she's just upstairs now packing a bit, but Fausta will be joining us shortly." Duncan gestured that the men join him in the study and laughed at Earnest's grumble.

"Fancy name for a fancy boast." Earnest said as he helped himself to the brandy cart. He poured a healthy glass for everyone and they caught up with one another as they waited.


Junior Member
Adelaide did her best to ease Hugh's heart over the coming days, though it was difficult. He seemed to be retreating from her, as if her curse had shifted over to him. She woke that rainy morning to find the bed empty beside her, and cold. It seemed he had left early again. Adelaide rose and dressed--in the simple ivy patterned dress she had worn the day of their first venture to Mauve's cabin. She pinned up her long hair and placed her matching pendant on a long golden chain around her neck. She applied some light makeup and slipped on her shoes.

She came down from the room, her dogs in tow as they had recently moved in with them once Tatiana recovered. A servant pointed her to the garden patio and she came out, seeing Hugh's quiet form sitting at the table. The dogs rushed past her and out into the greenery, and Adelaide came up behind Hugh and slipped her arms around his shoulders.

"Good morning, Angel." She murmured softly, gently wrapping her arms around him in a half hug. She kissed the shell of his ear and then came around, kneeling before him. Adelaide took his free hand and kissed his knuckles one by one, before looking up into his tired eyes. Her brow furrowed slightly, and wrapped both of her small hands around his larger one. "Hugh... what can I do to have you come back to me? You have been so far away this past week. With such a storm in you, I know why, but all the same I want to bring you peace. To bring you home." Her olive eyes met his again, shining with her unsaid words.

To bring you back to me again.

Fausta had finished packing, finally, but she was having trouble with the guns. All of the english rifles Duncan kept were several years old, now, and heavy. What she wouldn't give to have her personal guns from home. She tutted in annoyance and picked up the weapon and started towards the door, but stopped to observe herself in the mirror before she left. fausta had dressed in men's clothing again today--tailored to her of course. Brown leather breaches, thigh high riding boots and a loose white shirt over top, with a shoulder over corset to keep her chest in place.

Her hair was done up in a long braid--with a few curls pulled out to frame her face. She wore a little makeup, mostly to exaggerate her eyes and a dark lip to frame her smile. She grinned wickedly--Fausta was pulling out all the stops today for their company. Fausta left the room and galloped down the stairs, bursting through the office doors and planting one hand on her hip.

"Duncan," She chided "How am I supposed to be hunting with this de-creep-id old gun? Hm?" She noticed the other men in the room, then, and have a flourishing bow and a brilliant smile. "Hello! I am being Fausta, and I am very glad you all are with us." With a small thrill of satisfaction, Fausta found she was nearly the same size as the tallest man there. The three newcomers stared at her with wide eyes and open mouths as she smiled back.


Junior Member
She was the warmth that he needed. Hugh leaned into Adelaide's embrace and leaned his head back against her. She kissed him and sent shivers through his spine, then she came around and help onto his hand, her small warm hands ready to comfort at his request. He breathed out at her words, unsure of how he could come back from this dark place.

"I think perhaps it would be nice to get my mind off of things. Apologies for my mind drifting as far as it has." He sighed. "What sort of activity might we do together?" He asked her, his fingers curling to slip between the spaces of hers. He lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to the knuckles as she had done for him. The warmth of the pendant hummed against his chest and he wondered if Adelaide felt the same intensity from the item around her neck.

"I want to come back to you." He whispered.


Four pairs of eyes blinked at Fausta and her beauty. Duncan was the first to recover and wandered over to her to press a kiss to her cheek. He took the gun and lifted it up and down checking the weight of it.

"It served me well, but perhaps it could use a little loving attention." He said, the barrel flipped open and he checked down the tubes to see if there were any obstructions.

"I have a few extra guns you are more than welcome to see if they suit your tastes." Landon said standing. All of the men bowed to her as well and shared looks. It was clear Fausta was so much more than any of them expected.

"She doesn't want your crusty old guns." Earnest muttered, "Come now Ma'am, just added a nice collection to my arsenal this spring." Earnest was a no nonsense sort of gentleman and offered his arm to Fausta for him to lead her to the carriage being unloaded outside. Earnest gestured to a large trunk and servants brought it over for him to open. He stepped back once it was open and revealed the contents to Fausta.

"Take your pick. Certainly much better then what those heathens have." Earnest said.

"I heard that!" Duncan shouted, standing with the rest of the group a little ways back.


Junior Member
Adelaide gave him a smile as Hugh began to speak, and her heart clenched at his last desperate whisper. Thinking a moment, her thumbs absently tracing circles on his skin, she brightened and began to speak.

"Well, Angel, we can play chess, or read more of those wonderful stories you love. We could take a ride, or go shopping in town..." She thought again and then stood, letting go of his hand to clasp her own before her chest. "Oh! Joseph told me a wonderful little secret, darling. He said that in the woods, just near Mauve's cabin, there's a small hot spring! That might be wonderful to help relax you. We could bring along lunch, and the dogs, maybe I could even sing to you?" Adelaide looked to his anxiously then, not wanting to overwhelm the man, but desperate to please him. Adelaide held onto her pendant, drawing strength from it's warmth.

"Anything strike your fancy? If it does, I'll arrange it. Let me take care of you, now, Hugh. You have taken care of me for quite some time." Adelaide, wanting to be closer to him, came forward and moved his arms apart. She perched on his knee, then, letting him choose if he wished to draw her in further or not. Adelaide cupped his face with one hand, stroking his cheek with steady fingers.

Though the day was a little cold, the sun was weaving in and out through the cloudy sky, bringing with it spurts of warmth. The dogs were exploring the yard near them happily, sniffing at the frosted flowers as their paws crunched through the grass. There was even some subtle birdsong coming from the wood.

Fausta gave a barking laugh as Duncan's friends stood, stunned at her sudden appearance. They seemed to recover quickly, and she was soon lead out to the front. The man, Ernest, had a wonderful collection of firearms with him, and she bent to appraise the guns. He made a little jest and Duncan objected, which made her laugh again. Sweeping her braid over her shoulder and she called back in Italian.

"<Oh, dearest Duncan, the way you make love to me is certainly not gentlemanly. You know I love a little wild.>" Fausta knew Duncan would get her back for that later, but teasing him in front of his friends was just too much fun. "You are correct, sir Ernest," She continued, in English "These are being much preferable to those, how you say, relics inside." She spoke with the man about the weapons for a while, before choosing a light, new model rifle tipped in silver filigree. It was a beautiful gun, made with plenty of care and not yet used. She choose it, and lifted it up out of the case.

Turning on her heel, she slung the gun over one shoulder and gave the men a wink and a bright smile. "Any of you being brave enough to place a wager on our trip? Whoever brings in the biggest kill gets one favour from me, yes? Anything you'd be wanting. If I win, well--" She gave them a wicked, troublemaking smile. "I get one from each loser." She could see Duncan's face light up with glee as he laughed aloud, clapping his hands delightedly.


Junior Member
Hugh saw the light shine bright in Adelaide's eyes as she mentioned the hot spring. His brow lifted and he found himself nodding. That seemed like a splendid idea, it felt as if his tense body and spirit might do well with some soothing waters. He smiled then, this time it reached his eyes as well.

"That sounds lovely." He agreed. She came closer to him then and he pulled her down the rest of the way onto his lap. Letting her warm embrace anchor him. He breathed in the sweet smell of her and closed his eyes. Her hand was on his face and he leaned into her touch, the stubble of his jaw coarse against the smooth tips of her fingers. "Thank you Adelaide, this feels exactly like what I need." He squeezed his arms tight around her and she tipped forward a little in his lap. He saw an opportunity for a kiss and took it. The pendant on his chest warm as their lips met. It was only a brief kiss, as Hugh still found the energy within him was lacking and dull. He rested his forehead against hers and closed his eyes.

"I look forward to our adventure."


Duncan felt the tips of his ears grow warm at his lovers words and was shoved in the back by Landon. "Does she have any sisters?" He asked. Duncan didn't answer, as he was too busy plotting on how wild they could be. He was brought back by Fausta's mention of a wager. He laughed and clapped his hands together, at the idea.

"Seems like a fair deal to me." Duncan said prodding his friends. "It is the four of us against her." Connor, who had remained quiet walked over to to Fausta and held his hand out for her to shake.

"We have a deal." He said, his voice as soft as a breeze. His grip was firm and there was a spark of humour in his eyes.

"You sure of this Missy?" Earnest said as he polished off an already gleaming rifle. "These war torn men can certainly think of a favour or two." He chuckled, his while his words may have been a inappropriate his tone suggested he was also in on the fun. He took his turn to shake Fausta's hand as well. Landon was next and he laughed as they shook on the deal.

"I have the feeling we may not be able to top a hunt such as this again." Landon jested. Duncan chose to seal the accord with a kiss and ignored the groans of his friends.

"Come then. Let us make our final preparations and be off in the morning." Duncan said, helping to lift one of the remaining trunks to bring inside. There was much to be done before the following morn, the air was alive around them with anticipation.


Junior Member
Hugh was still listless against her, but it seemed he really did wish to go. Adelaide kissed his forehead tenderly before gently extracting herself from his arms to make preparations.

Within the hour she had made everything ready, and before one o'clock they had set off. The horses plodded through the forest peacefully at a slow pace, and Adelaide spoke idly to her quiet lover as they went. Finally, they reached the hot springs. Adelaide ushered Hugh into the warm waters immediately, refusing to let him aide in the set up of their afternoon. The glade around them seemed almost springlike opposed to the early winter chill by the estate. Adelaide supposed that it was due to the springs of course.

She spread out a large blanket on the ground by the pool, then brought out a stack of fluffy towels for drying off. She set up the large picnic basket on one end, but left the food inside for later. Adelaide also brought out several books, some poetry, some myth and left them by the basket as well. She folded Hugh's clothing neatly, and finally took off her own and folded it beside his. Adelaide squeaked lightly at the chill nipping at her skin, and she quickly darted over to the pool, slipping in beside her lover with a contented sigh. The hot water felt lovely, and her long hair fanned out behind her as she swam about, exploring.

"What do you think, angel?" She asked eagerly. "Is there anything I can do for you?" Before he could respond, Adelaide gasped, raising one arm out of the water to point as she laughed. "Look! We've got a visitor!"

A small turtle was perched on a rock on the far side of the sprig, relaxing. It seemed to watch them curiously with it's small, dark eyes.

Fausta laughed as she shook hands with each man, and gave Ernest a wink as they headed back inside. "I look forward to seeing what you will be asking for, yes?" Duncan worked to finish the preparations, and left Fausta to entertain their guests before dinner. She lead them into the lounge and had a serving cart brought in--full of small snacks and liquor. Fausta made sure each man was settled, and chatted happily with them as she poured drinks.

"Is there anything I can be getting you, signors?" She asked after she finished, settling down on the chaise herself. Tatiana and Oberon padded in, excitedly greeting the new guests before settling down in a sunny spot under one of the windows. Fausta smiled at the animals fondly. Maybe Adelaide would let her borrow them for the hunt tomorrow.

"Please, do not be hesitating to ask, yes? Our home is your home, too." She continued, turning her attention back to the men.


Junior Member
Hugh let Adelaide direct and lead, a sort of tired had settled over him, he grew weary of the weight of his actions and needs. They traveled through the woods, spotting deer and other animals as they got ready for the winter. They found the hot springs with relative ease, the smell of the pools filled Hugh's nostrils and he took in a deep cleansing breath. They tied the horses to a nearby pine and Adelaide rushed Hugh towards the springs and he worked to pull of his clothes which she then took and folded nicely. Hugh settled into the deepest pool, slipping off the rock edge to have his feet touch the rocky bottom. The water was deeper and came up to his mid chest. The steam rose up from the waters edge into the cool are and he sank lower. He walked around the edge of the pool and found an outcropping of a rock that made a lovely seat. He settled down and closed his eyes as Adelaide busied setting up the area.

Unable to resist the urge anymore, Hugh sank lower into the water until he submerged himself fully for a few moments. His eyes were closed but he felt the unmistakable move of water as Adelaide also entered. He reemerged and saw her point off to the side of him and he followed her gesture. He spotted the turtle and lifted a brow at the creature. It blinked slowly at him, it neck lifting as if it were sniffing the air.

"Hello." Hugh said to the creature. The turtle settled then, its belly resting against the warm rock, its head drawing into its shell as its legs folded in. Hugh felt the need to draw Adelaide into his arms them and turned to find her. She was not too far off and a single step towards her hand him lifting up her waist and letting her body settle against his. "Seems our visitor thinks us rather boring." He chuckled, feeling lighter already.

As they turned away the turtle slipped into the water without their noticing. Hugh could not say what came over him in that moment, but suddenly the words and feelings returned. His eyes brimmed and then overflowed.

"Ah... forgive me." He muttered taking a hand to brush away at the salty tears.


Connor took note of the dogs padding into the room and he knelt to greet each of them. They gave him a few licks on the cheek and he pat their heads fondly. Landon thanked Fausta as she offered him a drink and a snack. He sipped the amber liquid and sighed happily.

"Certainly our Duncan has been living the life of luxury. I must say I find myself rather envious." Landon said.

"Too much fuss." Earnest disagreed, however he winked at Fausta when she offered him a plate. "Our boy is going soft."

"How rude." Duncan said as he entered the room the servants set on finishing the rest of the packing. He settled down next to Fausta and gave her knee a friendly pat.

"Shush, you know it's true." Earnest waved away any protest Duncan might have had and changed the topic. "Where is Hugh then? I'm surprised he won't be joining us on this trip." The man settled back and drank deeply from his snifter.

Duncan cleared his throat, unsure of how to answer and looked to Fausta for help.


Junior Member
Hugh drew Adelaide into his arms, much to her pleasant surprise. A sudden emotion seemed to come over him, she could feel him stiffen slightly behind her and heard a drop hit the water. Gently, she turned around so they were pressed chest to chest. Tears were falling from his eyes, and Adelaide shushed him gently at his apology. With one hand, she combed the wet hair away from his face, and then she cupped his face. She wiped away his tears as they fell with the pads of her thumbs.

"Angel...it's alright.." She murmured soothingly, kissing his brow as they floated together. Adelaide desperately wished to soothe the ache he felt so plainly now. She knew no way to surely ease his pain, but she would do what she could. Adelaide sat up a little, and guided Hugh's head to her chest, cradling him there. Adelaide began to hum as she ran her fingers through his hair again, and softly started to sing.

And the crown, it weighs heavy
'Til it's banging on my eyelids
Retreating in covers and closing the curtains
One thing's for certain, oh
A year like this passes so strangely
Somewhere between sorrow and bliss....

She had written the song for Hugh, and for his brother John. While originally it was to be more victorious, she sang it now gently, like a lullaby.

Fausta and Duncan exchanged a look, and at her lover's silently plea, Fausta took over. Taking a sip from her brandy glass, she thought a moment before replying.

"There was a small incident. Hugh is now to be taking care of his lady, who is, how you say, healing from pneumonia." She gave a pleasant smile. "It was a big happening around here, so they are both weary. I will be sure to be bringing them out before your visit is being over signors." She assured. Fausta draped her arm around Duncan's shoulders and took another sip of her drink.

"Now, for dinner tonight is one of my mother's recipes from home--and of course Ricci wine. I am thinking you boys will love it, no?" Fausta had an idea, and gave Duncan a wicked smile. "Amore, did you tell your friends how we were meeting each other? I am sure they would love the story." Obviously, they would keep some details to themselves, but it would open up the conversation onto a different topic while they waited for their meal.


Junior Member
Hugh could not stop the sobs that shook his shoulders and caused his throat to go tight. He could not suppress the tears and at the gentle embrace of her bosom and her sweet song he let the emotion go. It flowed from him, the anger, the frustration, the helplessness. The sweet release of all that had been pent up spent him, the emotion that he had been working to hide away because it had been unpleasant uncovered itself and when her song finished he lay there against her, the streaks of his tears mixing with the hot spring water on her skin. There was silence for a long moment, Hugh felt his throat grow loose and his mouth opened with his truths.

"I wanted more from him Adelaide. He died thinking that he had won, he told me so. I could not convince him or the town that they chose to champion the wrong player in this game." He lifted his head then, the tears slowing now, his eyes were dark as they met hers. "I failed to change the hearts of anyone. I failed to secure peace for you. I wake up thinking that I will have to face him again and once again I will fail to make him see how wrong he was..." His breath grew ragged as finally all that had been simmering came free.

"I'm so terribly sorry." He whispered. The hot springs growing warmer around them as Hugh held onto the woman who had become everything to him.


"Hugh has a lady as well!?" Landon cried in disbelief. "What has the world come to?" The man muttered.

"Is she as fiery as you lass?" Earnest asked. "Hugh's gentle heart I think could not take it." He chuckled.

"Adelaide is very well suited to Hugh." Duncan supplied, thinking of his friend fondly.

"I look forward to making her acquaintance." Landon chuckled as Connor nodded in agreement with him. "Your dinner sounds most lovely, as does the tale of your meeting." He said taking another snack from the cart. When the dogs lifted their heads he plucked a piece of meat apart and threw them both a bite which they caught and munched on happily.

"Well, she shot someone the first night we met." Duncan chuckled. "And before that all the men were swooning over her, it was certainly a night to remember." He looked lovingly at Fausta as the men laughed. "I had to chase away many suitors." He wiggled his brows at her.


Junior Member
Adelaide held him tightly to her as he finally broke down inside her arms. Adelaide sang until her song was finished, just letting Hugh's emotions fall away as he cried into her chest. After many long moments, he finally spoke, and she could feel the heaviness of the words. So, this is what had been weighing him down all this time. Oh, her poor, sweet, gentle lover. How much he wanted to fix the world. Finally, she pulled him away from herself to look into his eyes. A sad smile graced her lips as she touched his face, gently.

"Oh, my angel from heaven," she soothed "You truly are too gentle for this earth, my Hugh." She said softly. "I am so sorry that Edward was able to wound you so deeply. He was a vile man, and I am sure he only intended to injure you so." Adelaide sighed. "Hugh... it doesn't matter to me what the people in town think of me. Or what he thought. I don't need their hearts, Hugh, or their kindness. Not anymore."

Adelaide gave him another small smile, tears pricking at the corners of her own eyes, now. "I have come home to your heart, my love. All the world could turn against me and I wouldn't care. As long as I have you, and can rest in your arms like this...you are the only one whose opinion matters to me. Do you understand? Forgive me if I'm not making much sense." The warm, moist air around them was almost calming, and the water beneath them was soothing. Even with the weight of their conversation, she felt at peace.

Fausta laughed out loud at Duncan's description of the night's events, shoving his shoulder playfully but not without force.

"You lie, amore!" She said in a half-heartedly scandalized tone. "I had to chase you! You were not even interested in me that night, despite all my little tricks. I had to beg you to kiss me that first time! How terribly strange it was for me--to be throwing myself at a man and to have him so indifferent." She stuck her tongue out at him before turning to his friends.

"Duncan was, how you say, coy fish? I was almost worried he wasn't attracted to me."


Junior Member
Her soft words soothed and had him leaning into her touch. She seemed to understand how unfinished everything felt and despite it all, she loved him. He nodded along as she spoke, the clarity settling in.

"I think perhaps I am still learning that the only opinions that should matter are from my loved ones. It is just so hard to see the injustice, but if I have you next to me I know it will be easier to just move along." Hugh let out a soft sigh and leaned his forehead against hers. "You are everything Adelaide, you've opened my heart and I see now you protect me just as much as I try to do for you." He felt the brush of water as something small swam past them but he paid it no mind. Around them the grass swayed in a breeze, however the cool licks of the wind did not touch the couple. They were warm and safe in the healing waters.

"I must ask, I know the time together has felt more right than anything else in my life; but do you think I could make you happy? I can't seem to shake the notion that I will fail you in this circumstance as well. I can't bear the idea of my actions hurting you, before I made your acquaintance I would have just run from these feelings. However now I cannot fathom the idea of a life without you in it."


Duncan laughed at the gaping looks of his friends and lifted a shoulder. "I was most certainly attracted to you darling."

"I should hope so." Landon muttered. Earnest scoffed and shook his head at Landon.

Duncan smiled, and despite knowing he would get razzed for it later he took his lovers hands and squeezed them. "I knew the moment we started dancing that what we had was important."

"Oh dear lads, we better leave before Duncan melts into a puddle before us. I may never look at him the same." Earnest chuckled, however the men were saved by the dinner gong. Everyone rose, and Duncan ushered his friends into the hall before stealing Fausta away for a moment for a deep kiss.

"Any more of this teasing from you and I'll have you on the dining table." He growled at her, a playful look in his eye. "I do so enjoy seeing you 'throw yourself at me'" He winked and kissed her once more before leading her to the dining room. The hunting party stood at their entry, they all had silly smiles on their faces. Duncan rolled his eyes at them and pulled out Fausta's chair before taking a spot next to her.


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Adelaide smiled as Hugh spoke, and moved onto his lap, so she was looking down into his face just slightly. The clear water rippled around them as she settled, and stole a long kiss from his lips. When her eyes fluttered open again Adelaide sighed softly. She cupped either side of his face with her hands, stroking his roughened skin with her thumbs.

"Hugh... every moment since you entered my life has been filled to the brim with happiness. You ask me such a thing, but can't you see already how happy you make me? When you kiss me, or come close to my side in the bed we now share...I feel as if I am glowing with happiness." She kissed him again, smiling against his lips. "I've told you how much it hurts to be apart from you, haven't I? A day, an hour...I feel empty. As if you are my heart. When we are parted, it is as if you are missing from me. I never wish to be away from your side again." Again, she kissed him, twice, thrice over before she continued. "If I could die, old and haggard in your bed as you, old and wrinkled, held onto me, why, I think I would not have a single regret in this life." Adelaide laughed, wrapping her arms around him in a tight hug.

"Please, Hugh. Promise that you will stay with me. I could not bear to live away from you, now. Life would lose its luster." The steam from the pool seemed to act as a curtain, hiding the couple from the rest of the world. In that moment, in that glade, it was as if time altogether had stopped and the two of them had all of eternity to simply sit in such an embrace.

Fausta laughed as Duncan's friends teased him, and they soon rose to attend dinner. But before she could step into the hall, her lover grasped her by the waist and kissed her passionately. Her heart beat like mad within her chest and when they broke apart, she was terribly giddy. Duncan gave her his playful warning, his eyes dark upon hers, before leading her to the dining room. His friends gave him knowing smiles, and she laughed again as they sat. The servants began to bring out the first course and fill up the crystalline goblets before them, and Fausta leaned in to whisper in Duncan's ear.

"<Nothing would please me more than to have you in such a state, my love. You've given me quite the little challenge, now, haven't you?>" Fausta leaned away again, hiding her satisfied grin as she saw the tips of his ears go red. Oh, yes. This would be a magnificently fun evening indeed. She would be subtle as she could, of course, to avoid making their guests uncomfortable. The group spoke adamantly of anything and everything--Fausta found she much enjoyed the company of his friends. They told old stories, debated in which prey was hardest to hunt, and lemented on how stuffy society was becoming.

All the while, Fausta was set to work. She flashed Duncan several seductive faces when the guests were in a heated debate amongst themselves, ran her toes up and down his calf, and was sure to lean over his lap to grab the salt herself, giving his a wonderful shot of her bust as she did so. She knew it would drive him crazy to keep his composure, so she simply pretended not to notice his subtle reactions to her ploy. The dinner--after several bottles of Ricci wine--ended in a show off of scars. Connor was able to stay fully clothed, as his were the most visible, but Earnest shucked his dinner jacket and vest to roll up a sleeve and present a long slash from a sword, And Landon removed his boots to show off a pair of gashes along his calves.

Seeing an opportunity, Fausta pulled aside her own shirt, revealing the starburst shaped scar above her heart. She heard Duncan inhale sharply, and knew she had gotten him dearly.


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She was right, every word from her lips was all he needed. They would have no need for anyone but each other. Her kisses were wet and sweet, her embrace around him warm and revitalizing. Slowly the tension he had been carrying fell from him and his body relaxed. The clear blue of his eyes returned and he leaned into Adelaide for another long kiss.

"I wish never to be parted from you again." He murmured, his lips never leaving hers. "Will you make Westwood's your home as well as Ivydown's?" The question was whispered softly, as his mouth moved to press warm kisses along her jaw and down her neck. They had been in the water so long, above them the evening turned to night, a few stars twinkling happily as the couple below finally laid all their cards on the table. He stirred in her arms, slowly the life and passion filling what had been empty.


Duncan wished desperately to send away his guests and the staff, and claim the temptress next to him. He did his best to follow along with the conversation. The Ricci wine flowed freely that night and he helped himself to many goblets. Her touch drove him mad and his pupils dilated as she revealed the scar above her heart. The rest of the men looked and appreciated politely.

"Blimey, that looks like one hell of a wound." Earnest said, scratching his jaw, unsure if he had a wound that could top it. He rolled up his other sleeve and examined his arm as if perhaps he might have one that he had forgotten about. Duncan stood as well, and with his eyes steady on Fausta, he also removed his jacket and vest, and pulled out his shirt from his trousers. She had the glimpse of a flat stomach before he turned around to show the three marks hashing across his back.

"Damned french man thought it was honourable to slice away at a man who had his back turned." He said proudly. He turned around and left his undress as it was. He caught Fausta staring, a delicious gleam in his eyes and his smile flashed to her, dark and dangerous.

"And a fool you made him feel!" Landon said, his cheeks rosey with the wine. He toasted to his friend and leaned back to down the whole glass. Connor lifted his brow at his friend who slumped back in happy bliss at the meal and the wine. With a loud belch that made the maid cleaning the table jump in surprise.

"Come now you oaf." Earnest shook his head, but he took hiccuped as laughter overtook him. Soon the two men were roaring with laughter for no apparent reason. Duncan took his opportunity to lay a hand on the back of Fausta's neck, his grip firm. He had the urge to gather some of her hair in his hands and pull slightly, so he did, their movements, subtle as the ruckus from his friends proved to be an excellent diversion. Connor, the gentle giant that he was stood and bowed deeply to the two and picked up each of his friends by their scruff and helped direct them to the door.

"Have a most excellent evening you two! Good rest and hunting for the morrow!" Landon said cheerfully, missing the heat between the two of them.

"Thank you for the lovely meal." Earnest hiccuped. Connor just smiled and soon the room was much quieter. Duncan caught the eye of the maid and gave her one of his usual charming smiles.

"That will be all for now. Please leave us." The maid curtiesed and left without another word. Duncan followed after her and when the door closed he flipped the lock on the knob. He turned to her then, catching her gaze his eyes filled with challenge and heat.


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Adelaide felt him come alive in her arms. His eyes seemed to clear and return to that beautiful blue that she wished to drown in, his arms encircling her tightly as he asked his whispered question. Her heart leap in her chest, and tears of joy began to prick at her eyes. "Yes!" She exclaimed "Oh, Hug--" Adelaide's sentence fell short from her lips as her lover lingered on the sweet spot at the base of her neck. It had been almost a month since they touched each other, and that simple action made a loud moan tumbled from her mouth. Hugh's arms tightened around her, and reflexively, Adelaide angled her neck back to give him better access to her skin, her eyes fluttering closed.

"Angel...God..." Her breathy words were barely audible. "Shouldn't w--" He refused to stop his assault, and Adelaide finally managed to push him far enough away to look into his hungry eyes. Their chests heaved in unison, and she continued "Shouldn't we return to the house, Hugh? Or, at least get out of the water? If we stay too much later we could catch a cold..."

How badly she didn't want to stop--and by the look in his eyes as he pondered her question she knew he didn't either. But it would be best to be sensible at the moment, as they were both still recovering from their own ailments. With effort, Adelaide pried herself from his embrace and managed to retreat onto the blanket. She began to dry off with one of the towels, looking over her shoulder at him in the starlight.

Fausta inhaled sharply at Duncan's smooth tease, a small curse in her mother tongue slipping past her lips. Soon enough, the guests were gone in their drunken stupor and he had dismissed the maid. Her lover turned to her, then, a wicked grin crawling over his face as he appraised her from afar. Fausta let out a small hum, leaning back in the chair. Keeping his gaze, she slowly began to untie the corset, her own eyes dark with passion.

"<Had enough yet, love? Have I fulfilled your little challenge?>" Fausta stood as she shed the garment, the shirt coming free and softening her silhouette. Just as slowly, she removed her long boots and took her hair down, shaking out the long curls. "<Come, give me the tiger.>" Fausta goaded, beginning to cross the room to him. "<Don't you know it's impolite to keep a lady waiting?>" She quirked a brow as Duncan let out a bark of laughter, his eyes intense upon hers. All the muscles in his body seemed to be coiled, ready to strike.

Fausta turned away and hopped up on the table, crossing her legs over one another as she perched, looking at him expectantly. "<Well? Don't make me do the first move again, dearest Duncan.>" She purred, extending her hand towards him with a seductive smile.


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She had a point, as much as he did not want to see it. Hugh felt a renewed sense of hunger through his peace. He felt the need to relearn every bit of her. She climbed out of the water and he followed shortly after, the hot spring water clinging to his hair and skin. He thanked her when she passed him the towel and he did his best to keep his hands to himself as they dressed and got ready for the ride back home. The cold night air should have chilled him, but he felt warm. With their clothes back on and the surroundings cleaned up Hugh helped Adelaide up onto her horse and swung up on Hellfire.

The ride back they spoke of meaningless things, gossip and the latest town news. The time passed quickly and soon with the moon bright above their heads they reached the stables. With the servants all asleep Hugh took care of removing saddles and leads and had Adelaide feed the rest of the horses in the stables with some carrots from the garden. When the two horses were settled away in their stalls Hugh saw his breath fog out in the cool air and smiled.

"Let's get to bed." He said as he grabbed Adelaide's hand and led her inside Westwood. They climbed the darkened stairs and stole away in Hugh's bedroom, upon the bed a single bloom lay on the middle of the spread. Hugh blinked at the flower and tilted his head. "That looks a bit like an apple blossom, strange they are not in season." He picked up the stem and lifted the blossom to his nose, taking in the sweet scent of spring. He chuckled, and lifted the flower to place in Adelaide's hair just above her ear. "Lovely." He murmured.


"<You make me burn.>" Duncan growled, his eyes steady on her movements as she undressed and perched herself up on the table for him. A delicious dessert after a meal, with a low noise in the back of his throat he advanced on her. His own hands making quick work of the rest of their garments. They were fevered and insatiable, he whispered words of praise and demands. She met him at each turn, every motion.

A long while later they lay half on the table half on the chair, breathing heavily. Duncan spotted a grape in Fausta's hair and plucked it from her tangles to bite down on half. He offered the other half to her with a kiss. He let out a happy contented sigh and nuzzled her.

"<Sweet temptress, never stop.>" Duncan murmured, content to have his lover against him, even if a spoon was pointing into his thigh. He shifted to pull it out from under him and placed it elsewhere. "<I certainly will never grow cold with you next to me.>" He leaned over more to bite gently at her collar bone.

They lay together a long while, catching their breath and whispering sweet words. They did their best to clean up the mess of the table they had made, and snuck away to Duncan's room to fall into one another's arms again. Not paying mind to the wake up time, wishing only to stay awake with their loving.


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Adelaide felt her heart beat madly in her chest as they rushed up to his room in the near darkness. As if it was some secret tryst they had been waiting for. Hugh paused when they came to the bed, and when he placed the bloom behind her ear, Adelaide blushed. A page from Fausta's book of flowers flashed through her mind. Apple Blossoms represented heady love, peace, sensuality, and...fertility. She brushed the thought away, and leaned forward slightly, grasping the front of Hugh's shirt and drawing him in for a sweet kiss. Adelaide wanted to focus solely on this moment, nothing else. She would think of the future later. When they broke apart, she gave him a big smile.

"Are you speaking of me, or the flower, angel?" Adelaide jested softly, her eyes half lidded with desire. "I've missed you." She murmured earnestly, moving to kiss him again. At the last moment she flitted away, moving around him to sit on the bed. She kicked off her shoes and pulled her loosely tied hair down. The soft curls tumbled down around her shoulders as he approached her. Hugh knelt before her with an air of reverence she was unaccustomed to. Hugh kissed her knuckles, then the tips of her fingers, his blue, blue eyes seeming to shine with a light all their own.

"What is it?" Adelaide asked when he stopped again, simply looking at her with a soft, loving expression. "Angel, are you alright?"

They stayed up late into the night, too enthralled with one another to truly care about the consequences to be had the next day. She loved being able to get drunk on him. Nothing else mattered when they had nights like this. The whole group slept until almost eleven that morning. Fausta laughed over her teacup as all the men dragged their feet, looking as if they'd been in the wringer the night before. As always when she drak, Fausta was up early and looked fully dressed and ready for the day. Inwardly, she was just as exhausted, but she'd be damned if she'd let her friendly opponents see that.

"So," She spoke as the men groggily ate and tried to wake fully. Save the gentleman Connor, of course. "We are limiting the prey to foxes, or no? I want to ste rules for our game." Tatiana and Oberon were tangled up under the table, both with their sturdy leather hunting collars on. "I will be letting you all pick your dog first, too." Fausta gave them a fiesty wink, which seemed to finally rouse Duncan out of his weariness.


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She was a vision, Hugh sighed happily and let the euphoria that was coursing through his veins guide his actions. The spring had done more than he could possibly imagine. His heart felt free. When he knelt in front of her, he took time to relearn the fingers that had spent so much time these past months soothing and caring for his hardened soul.

"I find myself more happy than I could possibly imagine." Hugh chuckled at her question. "I cannot explain it, but I feel much lighter than I've ever felt." Hugh straightened his torso in his kneeling position and brushed a soft kiss on Adelaide's lips, her neck bending to meet him. "Since meeting you, things have gotten rather magical." He looked pointedly at the flower still tucked into her long hair that waved and curled around her face. The pendent at his breast warmed as well and he touched it through the cloth of his shirt. "I can't help but feel we were fated, destined for one another. No matter what tries to pull us apart we seem to always find a way back to one another." Hugh looked up to Adelaide then, he mouth caught her again and this time he did not stop kissing her.

The night passed sweetly, their loving gentle yet passionate. The slept tangled in one another, unwilling to be parted from the others touch.


Duncan was the perfect blend of tired, sore and drunk on love. The nights activities had been entirely worth it and he ate happily enjoying the hash and eggs. Fausta was as chipper as ever, and Duncan wondered what he would have to do the night before to have her just as weary as him. He smiled at the thought and was roused out of his daydream at the mention of rules and dogs.

"Tatiana." Duncan said without a second thought. The white dog lifted her head at her name and went over to Duncan to sniff for any leftover scraps from the table. Duncan gave her a piece of ham before petting his hand down her long snout and curved back.

"Foxes are in season." Landon agreed. "However I am happy to eat a plate of venison upon our return, but the foxes do need to be culled. It shall be the largest fox for the win." Landon turned to Fausta then and gave her a smile. "Spent a great deal of time thinking about my favour." He challenged playfully.

"The pelt will certainly make a nice rug in my home." Earnest joined in on the fun. "I am not for leaving the carcass in the woods, Mr. Goldsmythe did that last season, I kept finding the bodies from the season previous. What a waste." He grumbled, remembering the event.

"Was certainly unpleasant. The meat is rather gamey, but used well in broth." Landon agreed. Connor nodded along with his friends, Tatiana had turned her attention to him for scraps and he was breaking off pieces from his toast to slip her. His large hand gentle and precise in his offerings.

"I'm sure the heads will make for nice trophies as well." Duncan added his two cents. Just then a servant entered the room and with a bow they announced that the horses and items were all ready for their little adventure.


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Adelaide woke late the next morning, still feeling as though she was in a dream. Hugh was pressed against her, skin to skin, sleeping peacefully. The bright sunlight that filtered through the crack in the curtains gave his soft hair a gentle halo. She was entranced, and nuzzled into him further, pressing soft kisses to him. Hugh roused with a grumble, wrapping his arms around her and peeling open one eye. A smile bloomed across his face and Adelaide laughed.

"Good morning, Angel." She whispered. Hugh made another half-awake noise in response, and she laughed again. The couple took their time waking up, trading sweet nothings and soft kisses until the afternoon. Finally, they got dressed and went downstairs. They took lunch in the study, as Hugh had some papers to look over. Adelaide made a list of things she'd need from her estate, and sent for Charles as well. The moving process would require some coordination between the two of them. They were also informed that the dogs had been taken for Duncan and Fausta's hunt.

Adelaide lounged in the chaise, her light blue dress rippling down to the floor like a waterfall. She watched Hugh quietly as he worked, her face aching from smiling so long. A rush of emotion came over her then, and she sighed happily.

"I love you, Hugh." She said aloud, almost without thinking. A bright blush took her cheeks as he looked up.

The hunt was on. The group had split up once they reached the woods, Oberon loping along beside Fausta as her steed. They seemed to be a good team, as an hour in she had already caught a small black fox. Fausta had forgotten how much she had missed the feeling of being free like this. The sun, the wind, the small and sounds of the forest. A strong horse under her, galloping smoothly. If only Duncan were beside her, it would be perfect. Later. She told herself. Later she could be romantic. Now it was time to focus on the game.

Oberon suddenly barked, dashing off like a shadow into the thicket. Fausta let out a whoop of excitement and spurred her horse on to follow him. "<Bring me home a beast, Oberon!>" She called fiercely.


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It felt right and peaceful to be with her like this. Like they had done this for years and would continue to do so peacefully for the duration of their lives. Hugh took comfort and Adelaide quietly working in the study with him. She hummed while she thought and he found the noise rather endearing. The integration with Italy was going well, Rocco had three ships already being loaded for transport and another four commissioned to be built. With these editions the entire family was well on the way to being very wealthy. Hugh leaned back in his chair after signing his name one last time and looked up just as Adelaide announced her love. He laughed and caught sight of her rosy cheeks.

"I love you, Adelaide." He replied. Hugh got to his feet and paused of a moment to stretch as the feeling over took his body. Acting like a cat who had just left a lovely sun beam he wandered over to her and took her hand. There was a knock at the door and Hugh turned to see Aunt Lydia with a pile of papers in her hands.

"Never you mind." Lydia snapped at them when they both rose to greet her. "I took it upon myself to deliver the days mail. Joseph is off helping Charles prepare." Lydia shuffled over to hand Hugh a few folded pieces of parchment and then handed a larger letter to Adelaide. The paper was thick, and the scrawl upon it looked quite official.

Lydia sat and shuffled through her own mail. Raising her brow at a letter Lydia flipped it open and saw the desperate writing from none other than Miss. Green.

Ms. Montgomery,
I beg of you, a charitable donation from your home of a mere 500 pounds will buy me my freedom and passage to London. I am -

Lydia rolled her eyes and crumpled the paper before she read another word. How disappointed she had been in the woman of her choosing for her boys. The trollop was exactly where she belonged. Lydia tossed the paper over her shoulder and ignored the questioning glances from the two lovers.

"And... Miss. Lovelocke, will you prove to be a better match for my Hugh than Miss Green." Aunt Lydia asked, not wanting to beat around the bush. "I must declare he smiles more, but that hardly speaks to the success of the pairing." Folding her hands together Lydia stared hard at Adelaide.


Duncan and the men were practiced with their hunt, they worked well as a team and with Tatiana leading the way they were able to find a nice set of tracks made by a fox. The horses walked deftly around the roots and bits of frozen ground. The snow still clung to some places where the light did not hit in the forest but the nature of their activity had the men and the horses sweating as the chase was on. Connor was the best shot of them all and with a loud boom, the first fox went down with Tatiana on it to finish the job.

The fox was quickly picked up and added to the back of a free horse, The hunt was on again and by the end of their first day the group of men were smiling and cheering at having bagged five of the beasts. All rather average in size except for one, a great large red fox. Tatiana had found the creature and taken it down in a great fight. Duncan had checked the dog for injuries after and other then a slight scratch on her breast the dog had clearly overtaken the wild animal.

Before parting ways with Fausta they had agreed on a site of camp, and the men returned there to water and feed their horses before setting up their gear and tents and getting a warm fire going. They laughed, cheered and toasted to one another with another fine bottle of Ricci wine. Their prizes lay out for Fausta to appraise when she returned.


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Adelaide placed the thick envelope on the coffee table between them, then smoothed down her skirts as she sat again. Straightening up, Adelaide cleared her throat and delicately removed her choker. The scars were as unsightly as ever, and she saw Lydia shift uncomfortably at the reveal. Adelaide looked the old woman in the eyes as she spoke.

"Why, you've known me all my life, I really thought you would be pleased. With the way you used to dote on me, I must say I never expected to get such a challenge from you, Miss Montgomery." She said. Reaching over, she twined her fingers through Hugh's. "I rather like to think that I make your respectable nephew quite happy. If that really isn't enough to convince you that we are a good match, I can give you a proper courting proposal." Adelaide gave Hugh's hand a small squeeze, took a breath and then began.

"I am Adelaide Lovelocke, sole heiress to the Lovelocke Estate and all it entails. I run my own successful business, and have no need for Montgomery money as I am independently wealthy. My dowery is quite affordable by your standards. I have an experienced chaperone who can accompany us on outings. I enjoy many fine arts and am adept at needlework and music. I am a capable hostess and can run a household smoothly. And may I remind you that it was a I who brought your nephews to Italy with my own connections, from which their business is now vastly profiting from." Adelaide finished the speech, one which had been reversed since she was fourteen. She looked at Lydia expectantly, not shying away from the icy stare.

Fausta returned to camp near sundown. She swung off her horse as Oberon padded into the clearing towards his other half, tongue wagging as he panted from a job well done. She examined the men's prey with an appreciative whistle, clapping her hands a few times.

"Well done signors. I am being glad you had a successful hunt." Fausta then winked and went to retrieve her own prizes. Two adult black foxes, not terribly large, a hare and one massive quail. She laid them out before the others and went to finish untacking her horse. After she'd tied the beast up next to the others, Fausta took out her knife and put one hand on her hip. "What shall we be eating tonight?" She asked.

"Though luck was with you today, I have a feeling she will fly to my side tomorrow, no?"


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Hugh was proud of Adelaide, he had seen many a woman shy away from the old woman. She had a cold gaze that had made woman of fine accomplishment cry. Adelaide's speech was filled with pride for herself and her accomplishments. Aunt Lydia stared at Adelaide for a long quiet moment before breaking into a large smile.

"Gumption looks most splendid on you Miss. Lovelocke." The old woman barked out a laugh and and clapped her hands together. "Forgive me my tricks, but I would not allow any more meekness into this house." Aunt Lydia stood then, adjusted her shawl and gestured for Hugh to to follow her out into the hall. Hugh blinked in surprise at the sudden change in his Aunt but obliged. Giving Adelaide a kiss on the cheek before standing and following his aunt out. Lydia closed the door smartly behind her and took her nephews arm.

"Where are we going?" Hugh questioned as Lydia began to walk towards the front door and out into the cold.

"For a walk." Lydia stated plainly. She had a glint in her eye, and Hugh had to give her a second look to realise the shine was from tears that she refused to shed. Frowning Hugh remained silent as they took the side path and slowly wandered towards the gardens in the back. "I have something for you boy." She said, her voice grainy now. "You mother gave this to me, the day before... I didn't understand then." She paused to clear her throat and Hugh chose to ignore the tear slipping down her wrinkled face. He squeezed her arm and let her know silently that he was there for her. Aunt Lydia took out a small envelope with a shaky hand.

"This was for you. I kept it safe until you needed it." Lydia turned away from him then and worked on brushing away the salty tears. Hugh breathed out and opened the faded and old envelope. There was no letter, but a ring slid into the palm on his hand. His mother had treasured that ring, it had been a gift from her grandmother, near the end she had replaced the wedding ring from father for it. It was expertly crafted, simple gold leaves coming together to hold two small stones. It was not extravagant by any means, but simple and sweet. Absolutely perfect. Hugh smiled down at the gift and slipped it back in the envelope, he tucked it into his breast pocket and went to his Aunt. Following his heart he pulled the old woman into his arms and let her cry.

A while later Hugh returned to Adelaide, Charles and Joseph had arrived with the first set of items Adelaide required from her home. She was directing them and Hugh stood next to her and watched proudly as the two men regarded her as the woman of the house. Everything was falling into place it seemed.


Duncan stood and lifted his glass in greeting at the sight of Fausta. "Welcome!" He cried. He appraised her kills and smiled proudly. "Perhaps the quail." Duncan answered her question for the nights meal.

"Luck is a fickle woman indeed." Ernest said, standing to help Fausta pluck and prepare the animal for the roast. Duncan poured another drink for Fausta and handed it to her as the bird turned over the open flame.

Connor was quiet as he worked his knife over a stick, sending bits of wood on the ground at his feet, next to him Landon rested against a tree trunk, his eyes heavy with fatigue. It had been a long busy day and the men were tired. Other than Duncan of course, seeing his lover had renewed his energies and he chatted with her happily, regaling on his finest kill for the day and asking for a play by play of hers. Soon the camp was lit only by the fire light and the quail was evenly dispersed among the hunting party. Landon was the first to call it a night, heading to his tent to sleep off the days events. Connor had finished his whittling and presented Fausta with a quickly made fox carved out of the stick. He smiled at her and waved goodnight as well.

Earnest lasted the longest, staring at the fire for a long time in silence. He smiled at his companions and wished them a peaceful evening as well.


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Adelaide gave Hugh a bright smile as he came to stand by her, Lydia breezing past them to settle into the lounge before dinner. Charles had retrieved a good portion of her wardrobe, a few cases of important work documents, some tea and spices, and the dogs' necessities from Ivydowns. The staff had also unearthed a small ladies' desk from the bowls of Westwood and she set up her own small office in the sunroom, just across the hall from the study proper. She didn't wish to interfere with Hugh and Duncan's work. While he and his Aunt were out on their stroll, Adelaide had taken charge of the house. She had set the chefs onto beginning supper, had all the candles lit and got the maids to go on cleaning the spare rooms. The hunting party would be back tomorrow evening, and the guests would be staying that night before departing again.

Once her study was arraigned, Charles went to prepare the dogs an area in the lounge by the fire, a large goose feather bed and several dedicated blankets. Finally, she turned and embraced her lover, wrapping her arms around his neck and smiling warmly.

"Did you have a good walk with Miss Lydia, Angel? It's getting so cold out, I was beginning to worry for you." Adelaide pressed a kiss to Hugh's cheek, the stubble tickling her lips. "I hope you don't mind that I took over for a moment. I just wanted everything to be done by the time you returned. You've had so many stressful days, I didn't want you to worry over anything." Hugh wrapped his strong arms around her in a hug, and she blushed madly as they embraced so plainly before the staff.

"Whatever was that for?" Adelaide asked sheepishly, a happy smile blooming on er face all the same.

Fausta had a wonderful time that evening. Roughing it with the men was delightful, dirty, loud and full of raucous. Finally, the sun set, and one by one the group began to retire for the evening. Only Ernest was left as the couple said goodnight. Fausta gave the man's shoulder a comforting squeeze, recognizing the misty, far away look in his eyes.

Fausta crawled into the tent behind Duncan, stripping off her shoes before coming fully into the blankets. Duncan wrapped her up in his arms as soon as she was within reach, and she laughed. Snuggling into him further as eh pulled up the heavy blankets, she spoke softly.

"<Did you have a good day, my love? The shine in your eyes is beautiful. I can tell how much these men mean to you.>" She placed sweet kisses along his jawline, simply wishing to touch him after almost a full day apart. Fausta could never get enough of him. The cold air outside seemed warded off by the warmth they shared in the dark canvas tent, like the rest of the world had simply fallen away.


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Watching Adelaide take charge of the house and account for things that not even he had considered made Hugh proud. He trusted Adelaide and felt the need to take her into his arms. She returned the embrace despite the servants presence and he smiled at the giggles of the maids behind them.

"Already Westwood's feels more like a home than it ever was." Hugh said in response to her question. "And yes, it was a most excellent walk. I think Aunt Lydia and I both needed it." He pressed a kiss to the top of her head and watched for a moment as Adelaide's orders were carried through.

"You have many plans it seems." Hugh said after a moment. "Is there anything that I can do to assist? Perhaps you can tell me of any ideas that you may have. It has been a long while since Westwood's has been touched by the keen design sense of another." Hugh weaved his fingers together with Adelaide and they wandered down the hall and into Adelaide's new study.


Duncan took Fausta into his arms with no hesitation. She was sweet and warm against him, happily touching him with her lips and hands, easing away the tension from the days events. Her voice was husky and quiet, so as not to disturb the others.
"<They have been around through the thick and thin. I do not think I would be alive to kiss you without them.>" Duncan chuckled. "<Connor most of all, I owe him my life.>" Duncan nestled into the crook of Fausta's neck and closed his eyes, breathing in her scent deeply.

They fell asleep entwined with one another, warm and tired from the day previous. Duncan dreamed of large mountains, birds flying overhead and an oasis beneath them as they soared.

He woke the next morning with the sunlight streaming through the opening in the tent. Outside he could hear the calm chatter of his friends as they got ready for the day ahead.


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Adelaide gave a laugh as Hugh stated his observations. She smiled and broke away from him as they came into the sunroom, sitting down at her desk and shuffling through some papers. "I'm afraid I am guilty as charged, Angel." She replied "It's obvious how long this house has been without a proper keeper. I'll need your opinion on some things, of course. We'll need new drapes, a few furnishings have become rather worn, so I'd like them replaced as well. Fresh linens too, I think, I'm afraid yours are somewhat old, now." As she talked, Adelaide had opened the heavy envelope she'd received earlier and began to read it.

Her expression dropped almost immediately, a frown taking over her face. She sat back in the chair, leaning her elbow on the armrest as she sifted through the papers. "Oh, dear." Adelaide muttered, finally tearing her eyes away from the page to look at her lover. "Hugh, it seems I might need your help with more official matters, as well." She handed him the first page from the bundle of documents--a letter from her distant cousin Perseus Lovelocke. It said that he would be coming to thoroughly investigate how the company and estate had faired under her care, as it had now been almost a year since her father's passing.

"Could I trouble you and Duncan to look over some of my business affairs? I hate to think what the main family will do if they find my business sense lacking."

They woke together the next morning, a tangle of limbs and sleepy whispers. When they finally roused, the others presented them breakfast. Many crude jokes were made, and Fausta couldn't help but laugh. The men seemed vibrant and alive within the forest, she couldn't help but feed off of the positive energy. It was almost eleven when they started out again. Fausta gave Duncan a kiss for good luck and waived merrily before heading off.

Oberon was on the scent immediately, tearing off into the thicket at a pace she almost couldn't match. Excitement got her heart pounding as her horse thundered after the dog, and she let out a loud whoop of anticipation. They wouldn't beat her today, she could feel it in her bones.


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Hugh chuckled at Adelaide's honesty and he nodded along as she spoke of what needed replacing or tending to. He found himself quite eager to have Westwoods transformed into a fine home. The idea of a ball came to mind but he shrugged it away remembering their track record with parties. She settled into the chair behind her desk. He sat on a chair at the other end of the desk and took in the sight of a woman who had been through so much, and yet she looked so at ease and confident. However the look melted down a little as she read through the thick letter Aunt Lydia had brought for her.

He took the letter that she offered to him and frowned down at its contents.
"Of course, we would be happy to. We have a most excellent friend in London who had saved us numerous headaches. I could send for him." Hugh sighed reading over the paper again. "What trouble... Why is it we can't seem to find more than a moments peace." He said it with a smile and a lighthearted tone. "I will need your expense reports and profit margins..." Hugh rattled off another couple of items for Adelaide to find.

"I can already tell you, Adelaide; there should be nothing to worry about. You have taken great strides to ensure your father's company is successful. That idea for shoes you had in Italy seems to be taking off now." He said proudly. "And with the addition of the Montgomery's to Italy we should have a new shipment of fine fabrics on its way to your workshops." Hugh folded the cousins letter and placed it on the desk with a flourish.

"Perseus is a rather unique name. Have you ever met the man?"


The men were happy and rowdy, they wished Fausta well, and were soon on their way. Trotting along the forest paths made by the deer. Tatiana was happy to lead the way and it took a long while before the found the scent of a fox. It seemed their luck that they had been enjoying was running out. With a bark Tatiana set off and the men followed after, the gallop of the horses hooves dull against the forest soil.

As the day passed their fever to win waned with their lack of quarry. With only two foxes added to their collection the group decided to cut their losses early and head back to camp to get drunk and think of the favours they would soon owe Fausta. They laid their new kills next to the previous days, putting them to a total of seven. Their camp was near a river, and Connor took time to fashion a rod and twine to see if they could catch a few fish that journeyed down the river. Landon got the fire going and Earnest poured mugs full wine and cheersed to their inevitable loss.

"And what favours may the lady be wanting hmm Duncan?" Landon eased back and sighed as he found comfort against the trunk of a tree.
"Perhaps a token? Like a necklace?" Earnest guessed, which made Duncan snort.
"Likely not." He said. "My love is certainly not a material woman. She will likely ask for a task or a job to be done." He said, his face warm as he leaned close to the fire.
"Ah that is much better." Earnest said approvingly. "Had we won I would have asked her to dine with me in town. To see the looks of the old warts here would have been quite the scene." He chuckled into his mug and took a deep drink.

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