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Quite a Lovely Thing

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“Who in the fuck’s she?”

He growls it to the room, all heat but no menace, his face drawn and his body defeated as blood drips from his fists to the floor. It’s not his blood, a quick scan of his lean body confirms it, but that doesn’t make the image of him bathed in firelight, blood sparkling in the flames, any less intimidating.

Intimidating, and maybe a little arousing, if the twinge of longing coursing through your middle is anything to go by.

The first twinge of such longing in nigh on five years.

You don’t speak, because really you were never even spoken to in the first place, and something about this family that Ada has tried to wrap you into doesn’t seem all that welcoming to newcomers.

You know the family business, or the gist of it anyways, so you really aren’t all that surprised.

You don’t speak, so Ada does it for you, since she’s the reason you’re even here in the first place. “She’s my friend, and you’ll treat her as such, Arthur. And anyway, what the bloody hell happened to you?”

Ada doesn’t sound as concerned about the blood as you think she should be, but then she warned you that her family wasn’t what you were used to before bringing you here. They mean well, of a sort, long as you’re on their side, she’d said.

And thank goodness she brought you here. You had nowhere left to go. Even being here is being somewhere, and being somewhere is better than being nowhere.

It appears she was right. They do mean well, as long as you’re on their side.

Which you most certainly are. There is no other side for you to choose, regardless. You don’t know the any side except theirs.

Arthur, and isn’t that name wholly misplaced on the hard planes, hard eyes, tight lips and tight fists before you, just squints in your direction before turning his back and rinsing his hands in the bowl of water.

That squint was a perusal and dismissal. You’d been sized up, and discarded.

For the first time since you were in school, you have a wash of violence bubbling under your skin, darting through your veins.

How dare Arthur Shelby skim and skate past you as though you were just another puddle in the street.

“What kind of friend?”

This question from Shelby brother two, delivered with a tip of his lip and a twinkle in his eye.

He, too, is sizing you up.

He, too, is misjudging, and only seeing what he wants to see.

Where Arthur Shelby sees just another doll to admire and discard, this Shelby sees a veritable whore.

You wonder if your eyes are as hard and jaded as his, though sweet lord, man after man in this family is built like steel with hard eyes and hard souls.

It is alluring.

That fact alone should be terrifying.

“Not that kind,” you say quietly, a sharp venom dripping behind your kind eyes and soft tongue, startling a bark of laughter from Arthur, who is loosening the top of his blood-soaked collar.

His laugh is unexpectedly pleasurable, in all the sinful, delicious ways a man’s laugh has the potential to be. It swirls down into you and awakens a fluttering deep in your belly, and you find yourself giving him a shy little smile in response whether you mean to or not.

A genuine smile, too, not saccharine sweet like what you’d graced Shelby Two with.

Arthur’s eyes crinkle when he smiles in return.

He is quite a lovely thing underneath all that blood.

Your heart races double time when you realize you’re still smiling and staring and tracing your eyes over every crinkle and plane of his face, and you flush red as you drop your gaze and try to pick up the thread of Ada’s conversation.

Maybe you’re more of a whore than you’d implied to Shelby Two, even if you’ve only ever been with one man in body.

In mind and spirit, truth be told, you’ve probably been with a thousand.

You tell yourself the pink of your neck and face is from the heat of the fire, and not the heat of your gaze on his.

His on yours.

His, which is still on yours. Just as yours is still on his.

You lie to yourself. You do it so well it is not even second nature but first. First nature to lie. First nature to hide.

First nature to protect the tiny shards of your heart you have left.

“Her name is Eleanor Carroway, and she’s from America. Pennsylvania, mining family by marriage, farming by blood. Fresh off the boat as of last week, Missus Carroway helped Ada with a spot of trouble at the bathhouse, and here we are.”

The third Shelby brother, Thomas, with the haunting eyes and quiet voice is making himself known. His assessment is spot on except for one little thing, and it is both underwhelming in its delivery and overwhelming in its attention to detail.

“Ah. Where is Mister Carroway, little dove? Bird like you is out of place here with the carrion and crows.”

It is the first time he speaks to you directly, and it takes your breath away, this second round of being at the center of his full attention.

You were wrong before. He never sized you up and dismissed you.

He sized you up and dismissed himself.

Arthur is far cleverer and far more observant than either brother or Ada give him credit for.

Your eyes are watching another slow-moving drop of blood as his travels from his knuckle, down, down his finger, until it splish-splashes to the carpet under his booted feet.

“Buried in a field in France, far as I know,” you say quietly, not able to bring your eyes up from the drops of blood that have gathered into a collective puddle, soaking into the rug.

Thank goodness it was already red to begin with; there would be no getting that stain out now.

Your eyes drift further along the rug, and it comes to you with startling clarity that the patterns on the rugs are actually patterns of similar spots of dried blood from similar evenings gone by.

“Ah,” Arthur intones. You hear the slide of cotton on skin and glance up to see him rolling up his shirtsleeves, hiding the stains.

He is sheepish, hiding the evidence of his brutality for your benefit. He thinks you are troubled by the blood on the floor and the blood on his shirtsleeves, the blood on his collar and in his hair.

You aren’t troubled.

May the good Lord help you, but you certainly aren’t troubled.

You’re intrigued.

“You came for family. Well, Miss Carroway, I don’t mean to disappoint you, but in Birmingham you’ll be finding none.” Thomas Shelby is as brutal with words as you assume he is with the razors sewn into the cap upon his head.

From what you’ve already gathered he shows no mercies, not with his fists, not with his tongue. You are in his family home not longer than a few hours and yet this fact is branded on your very psyche.

It is funny, how much damage small, simple words can do to a fragile soul.

They can take the very breath from your body before you even realize its gone.

Your vision is turning black, the edges of the carpet fading from red into a foggy gray, old puddles of blood swirling and swirling and swirling until you’re sure they’re going to come up out of the floor and drown you and sweep you away with the tide, when hard hands, crinkles around the eyes, and a gentle voice force the breath back into your lungs and the color to burst forth more vibrant than before.

“Breathe, Ellie, just breathe.”

Your eyes meet his, and this time there is no looking away, even as the flush spreads from your face to cover your neck and the top of your chest, and your body sucks the air back into your lungs.

Just as Arthur tells you to, like the good little widow you are, you breathe.

You breathe, and you trace with your eyes the longest eyelashes you’ve ever seen a man blessed with. You breathe, and your vision sweeps down a slightly bent nose, one that was broken recently and not set quite right. You breathe, and your eyes skate over lips that are the perfect plumpness and perfect thinness all in one, not a crack in sight.

You breathe, and with a jolt of embarrassment that comes with his flash of white teeth you realize your breathing is no longer panicked at all.

It is deep, and slow, and filled with anticipation, pregnant with want and need as you stare at those lips and those teeth and that smile.

Arthur Shelby is dangerous.

More dangerous than anything Ada warned you about.

He is the sort of danger your mother warned you about.

He makes your heart stir and your mind stutter and your skin blush pink while your brown eyes darken ever further.

Arthur Shelby is more dangerous than any man you’ve ever met before, and it has nothing to do with the speck of blood below one of those impossibly long eyelashes or the dried bits coating the thumbs sweeping over the backs of both your hands.

It has everything to do with the trembles those thumbs, and those eyelashes, and those teeth and lips are causing to ripple through you.

You jerk your head and physically snap your gaze away from his, clear your throat, and on shaky legs attempt to stand. You’re still holding Arthur Shelby’s blood-coated hands, and they are still doing more to light up your soul than Mister Carroway’s entire presence in your life and your bed ever did.

“Where do you think you’re going, Ms. Carroway?”

It is Polly, Aunt Pol as Ada calls her, beckoning from the doorway with a question that is not a question at all.

Aunt Pol knows where you are going, because she is pointing you in a specific direction, with a watchful expression, a tentative smile, and a thick afghan blanket in hand. “I’ve got Ada’s old room all made up for you. Run along now, love, and we’ll talk in the morning.”

“Just where am I and Karl supposed to sleep?” You hear Ada question.

There is probably an answer, but you don’t hear it, you don’t hear a thing.

You don’t spare a glance for John or Thomas or Karl or Ada or Polly as you dart in that direction.

You wouldn’t spare one for Arthur, either, except the slide of your hands leaving his is so unsettling you can’t help but turn his direction, even when the last traces of your sanity scream at you not to.

He winks.

He winks, and your soul takes a breath and comes alive as tingles dance along your spine.

Oh yes, Arthur Shelby is dangerous.

As you lay your head on Ada’s pillow and pull the Shelby’s afghan up to your chin, you thank the Lord for every last misfortune you’ve had.

Every single one.

Because each one has led you to him.

~*~

You are an early riser, you always have been. So you do what early risers do.

You rise, and you bring in the milk and eggs on the porch. You take the bacon out of the icebox and the fresh loaf of bread from the counter, take stock of the number of spices available, set the skillet on the top of the stove, and get to work.

You make a feast that you think should be enough to feed all of Birmingham, and you feel a little ridiculous and wasteful. Clearly you are out of practice. It has been so, so long, since you’ve cooked for more than one.

You tell yourself these self-deprecating little notions as Shelby after Shelby drifts in with wide eyes and a watered mouth and crowds the small table for breakfast.

You’ve wasted their stock, and cooked far too much, and you are about to apologize as you sit down to eat until you realize there is barely any left for you.

Four Shelby brothers, because Finn is here now too, Ada, Karl, and Aunt Pol, have devoured your breakfast, with barely any eggs left to spare.

Your startled eyes fly upwards and straight into the grinning face of Arthur.

He shoots you another delicious little wink, your first of this morning, as his eyes meet yours and he slides a piece of bacon he’d saved just for you onto your plate. “Cook shouldn’ hafta go hungry, Ellie. Thank you for breakfast.”

With a clatter of dishes and a sweep of coats, the Shelby men disappear through a literal hole in the wall and into a bustling room that you never even noticed the night before.

You don’t move a muscle.

You don’t even take a bite of the cherished slice of bacon.

You sit there, dazed, shattered by the realization that Arthur Shelby calling you Ellie lights your soul on fire while every other person who ever called you any variation of Eleanor, my name is Eleanor got a sharp word and a sharper look and sometimes even a sharp left hook in the schoolyard.

You should feel guilty, that even your late husband wasn’t allowed to call you anything other than Eleanor.

Over my dead body, you’d told him.

Fate is such a petty, twisted little thing.

Because you know it like you know the back of your hand, you know without a damned doubt. Arthur Shelby could call you Ellie every second of every day for the rest of your life, rolling it around in that rumbling baritone as your thighs dampened and your nipples tightened, and you’d still beg him to say it again.

And again.

And again and again and again.

And still, you’d want to hear it more, and it would never be enough.

You wet your lips and think of begging him for again right now, until you see the calculated smirk Aunt Pol is sending your direction.

“Oh, bloody hell,” you whisper, blushing the darkest shade of crimson the world has ever seen, as Ada claps and cackles with delight, feeding her son a piece of egg.

Aunt Pol’s grin is wide and her eyes dance merrily. It is a true smile, this time, and you know it precludes your doom.

Or your deliverance.

For Arthur Shelby could only be one or the other, depending on the way the winds blow, depending on the mood of fickle, fickle Fate.

“Bloody hell, indeed,” Aunt Pol agrees.

~*~

You’re good with figures, as most ladies are, and the Shelby men are downright atrocious with them, as most men are. Simple facts rarely acknowledged and yet true all the same.

One week after Ada deposits you into the Shelby home, Aunt Pol sets you to work in Arthur’s pub with a ledger that hadn’t been updated in over a year and a long list of scribbles that, apparently, were Arthur’s notes.

“You can’t be serious.”

Aunt Pol laughs at the horrified expression you must be propagating as she pushes you down into Arthur’s chair. “You want to earn your keep, right? Want to help the business? Well, set these books aright, and you will earn your keep for the next half century.”

You giggle, crack your knuckles at the challenge, and dive right in.

The ledger is only one year behind. How hard could it be?

~*~

Arthur’s bookkeeping abilities leave so much to be desired it very nearly crumbles your desires for that man.

The books are abominable.

Abhorrent.

Repugnant.

Truly offensive, really.

Bloody fucking hell, they were just plain sad.

You delight yourself with every three to four syllable word you can think of as you trudge through the myriad of scribbles and crosses and numbers until you work yourself into the largest headache you’ve had since the war.

Tossing the pen down with disgust and very little progress unless you count the number of syllables in your latest word, you sigh, shut your eyes, and rub your fingers over the tension that has gathered in the middle of your forehead.

“Fuck the tea, I’ll need bloody rum to get through this mess,” you mutter to yourself, eyes shut tight, all tingles associated with Arthur Shelby’s winks momentarily forgotten.

A warm chuckle slides into the room and over your skin and leaves raised hairs on your arms and prickles down your neck as heat fills your belly. “That bad, eh?”

Arthur Shelby doesn’t even look the least bit sorry about the pathetic state of his own pub’s books.

He does, however, hold out his flask. “Haven’t got rum on me, but maybe good ole Irish whiskey will do the trick, yeah?”

You do as your first nature leads you to, and you lie to yourself, and you try to pretend that your very heart doesn’t stop when your fingers graze his as you take the flask.

But the flush on your cheeks and the hitch in your breath gives away your lie, and not just to you. They give you away to Arthur, too, whose eyes and mind are far sharper than the world gives him credit for.

By the twitch of his mustache and the dimple in his cheek, it appears he doesn’t seem to mind.

Your gaze doesn’t leave his as you let the whiskey slide down your throat, and you are more proud than you’ve ever been in your life when you manage to hold back a cough as you hand the flask back to him.

Heat flares behind the crinkles around his eyes.

You have his attention.

For the first time in nearly a week, you are the sole focus of Arthur ‘fooking’ Shelby, as you’ve heard him bandy about his pub.

About ‘fooking’ time.

Or it would be, if the tongue sweeping over his bottom lip is anything to go by, except you both hear as the front door of his pub bangs open, and the hustle and bustle on the floor goes eerily quiet.

You rise to your feet to peek around him as he waves you off. “Stay here and stay hidden, luv,” he says lowly, all rumbles and gravel, squeezing your fingers in reassurance with one hand as the other slides into his coat to finger the gun you know is tucked in lovingly by his hip.

Oh, it is a sad thing indeed, when you find yourself envious of a gun.

You swallow and nod at his back as he stalks from the room, all Shelby confidence, brash self-assurance, and a swagger that is all Arthur’s own.

“Ah, Inspector Campbell. What brings you to my fine establishment this evening?”

Is it evening already? Sweet Jesus, that means you’ve poured over the despicable state of Arthur Shelby’s books for at least nine or ten hours by now.

Horrendous.

Aunt Pol slides in the back door of the pub and comes to stand next to you, where you both take turns watching through the sliver in the door Arthur left cracked.

“I’m looking for Thomas Shelby, though I suppose you’ll do.”

Inspector Campbell’s very existence seems to demand instant dislike, if the rage in your gut and the narrowing of your eyes is anything to go by.

Even if you didn’t know Arthur Shelby, you know instinctively this fact would be true. He is a snake, something to be sneered at and ignored, hated and feared.

Inspector Campbell is a rat you want to smoke out of Arthur Shelby’s life for good.

Polly grips your arm tight and whispers, “We need a distraction so the boys can slide out. They were in the nook last I checked, and they’ve got Michael and Finn in there with them. Saw a lot of coppers on the street. We need the boys gone.”

You’ve only been with the Shelby’s for a barely a week at this point, and yet in the face of Ada’s kindness and Aunt Pol’s welcome, you can’t help but rise to the occasion.

This is something you can do.

This is a way to make your loyalties known.

This is when you choose a side.

This is a way to contribute without slaving away over the inexcusable state of Arthur Shelby’s ledger.

Your eyes drift until you see Arthur is slowly positioning himself closer to the meeting nook by the front door as he gestures and trades barbs with Inspector Campbell.

The nook where you now know the others to be hidden.

Inspector Campbell monologues and attempts to bully and intimidate every man in the place.

You won’t bloody well stand for it.

When it comes to someone bullying the common working man, you never could.

So you swallow, and you nod, and you try to wrap yourself in your own brand of Arthur ‘fooking’ Shelby’s swagger as you slowly push open the door.

Eleanor may be meek as a church mouse, but Ellie is a fiery vixen sure in what she wants and what she must do.

You always were so good at lying to yourself. But maybe, just maybe, this lie might come true.

It takes a moment, a stretch of heartbeats as your heels click over the floor and you walk to the center of the room, before your presence is noted.

The slide of the chair across the hardwood floor is so loud in the silence it nearly hurts your ears, and as you step up and take your place in front of the shocked Inspector Campbell, you can’t help but sweep your eyes one last time to Arthur in the back, now next to the door of the nook.

Arthur’s expression is closed, his eyes are hard and cold, his posture is stiff as a bloody board, and you get this sense that he’s about two beats from going red with rage and putting on a display that you know will leave you face to face with fresh bright red blood.

You open your mouth, take a deep breath, and with your eyes pinning his, you start to sing.

It is cliché, and probably to be expected, and yet the cliché song is the one that comes out all the same.

“Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling
It's you, it's you must go and I must bide.”

Arthur has become your sole focus, the room has long since faded, and if it weren’t for Tommy’s tug on his shoulder tugging your attention right along with it you might have stood and sang just to Arthur Shelby, on a chair in the middle of his pub, forever if he wanted you to.

Arthur’s mouth opens slightly before clamping shut, as Tommy tugs him to slide out the door from the room, one Shelby man after another slipping out of the pub right behind the back of the enthralled Inspector Campbell.

“But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
And I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.”

With another precious, delicious, sinful wink, a twitch of his mustache, and a tilt of the brim of his cap, Arthur Shelby is the last to go, and you are left alone, singing for a room of Peaky Blinder faithful’s and the bewitched Inspector Campbell himself.

You fear that bewitching. A man bewitched always, always, spelled one of two things.

Deliverance, or doom.

“But when ye come, and all the flow'rs are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an ave there for me.”

You meet Billy the barman’s eyes as he nods, and know the coast is likely finally clear for the Shelby boys to scatter. Still, you sing, finishing the song in the way you used to when you sang for the babes in town on a Sunday morning, as their mothers worshipped, and their fathers prayed.

“And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be
For you will bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.”

There isn’t a dry eye in the pub, as you step off the chair and hold Inspector Campbell’s eye until he blinks with a start and whips around the pub.

A man bewitched is a dangerous thing indeed, if the murderous look he slides your way is anything to go by.

But you are not docile little Eleanor, you are spirited Ellie, and Ellie does not fear the formidable Inspector Campbell.

Arching a cool brow, you turn, and you take your time with your head held high as you walk back to Arthur’s office. You don’t even flinch from the echoes of Inspector Campbell’s threats and shouts of rage in your ear.

Aunt Pol is stunned, you can tell, by the secret smile you’re wearing as you shut the door behind you. Maybe she knows, or maybe she doesn’t that Arthur fooking Shelby is the only one responsible for its placement there.

~*~

“Finish it for me, would you, Ellie?”

It is a few nights later, and once again Arthur is bathed in blood, his hair in disarray, his eyes haunted as he stares at his closed and bruised fists.

You were there when he got home, sipping your tea and watching the fire because you couldn’t sleep.

It is this fact, this lack of sleep, that will lead you to returning to a bed that is not your own in a few hours time.

Thank the bloody fooking Lord.

“Finish what, Arthur?” You ask softly, watching as the towel wipes the blood from where it paints his skin.

It is a sight you are quickly becoming used to; Arthur coated in another’s blood, remorseful, sad, a little lost, and still a tiny bit proud.

He is, after all, Arthur fooking Shelby. He is rarely, if ever, just Arthur.

“Never got to hear the end of it, and right now, I want the whole song all to m’self, luv.” He mumbles it, shy yet sure of what he wants, and it humbles you and lifts you to hear and see Arthur, just Arthur, even for a moment, all for yourself.

This, this is an opportunity that will lead to the rest of your life if you let it.

If you stand and sing for Arthur and Arthur alone, your eyes meeting his, your heart barely beating except to beat for him. The rest of your life, if you’ll just let it.

You let it.

You welcome it.

You bloody fooking race towards it with every beat of your heart.

Except you don’t just stand and sing for Arthur and Arthur alone.

You stand.

And you sing.

And you gently take the towel from his hands, and use it to slowly wipe away the blood, until the cloth wrings clean and the bowl is full of red, and by the time the song is finished you are in his lap and he’s wrapped around your waist, and you are perfectly sure that he will absolutely never let you go.

There are words, so many words, that you could say in this moment to shatter the illusion of peace and break his heart into a million pieces.

Words, so few really, that he would need to say to crush what is left of your own soul at this point.

So you don’t speak, and just as he opens his own mouth to, you silence him.

You’ve taken him by surprise, pressing your lips to his. It is a very forward thing for a lady to do, and you pull back a beat at his lack of response.

Just as you start to spiral into a pit of second-guesses and misjudgments and self-deprecation and despair, a firm finger tilts up your chin.

Your eyes flutter up and you are trapped, exposed, seared by the heat in his gaze.

“Don’t fly away now, little dove. Not when we are just getting started.”

You melt, and combust, and burst at the seams with lust and longing and wonder as his head slowly dips and his eyes slide closed until finally, finally, his lips press oh so gently against yours.

Gentle, and timid, and yet oh so sure, that is your second kiss with Arthur.

For all of three or four heartbeats.

Until your lips press back and your fingers twist through the nape of his neck, and then you are both lost.

His tongue slides in between your lips to dance and play with yours, his hands wander over the fabric of your nightdress, and your body is on fire as you squirm in his lap and your bum meets with the hardness of Arthur fooking Shelby’s rock hard cock.

He tastes like smoke and whiskey and straight up sex and it is divine and you cling to him and can’t get enough and give him your very breath if only he won’t stop, never stop, oh Arthur please.

You don’t realize you’re moaning into his mouth words you never thought you’d say aloud until his chuckle rumbles through your mouth and straight to tease your lustful soul. His grin is playful, his mustache is tickling, and his rough hands snagging all over your breasts and legs and bum are making it hard to think.

“I have no intention of stopping, my little dove.” He’s chuckling, but suddenly you’re deathly serious, because for one heart-stopping moment you picture a time when he does stop and you can’t bear the thought.

So you grab his face hard, and you bring your gaze to his, and you pour every last thing you will never say but want to into your look as you whisper “please, Arthur. Please, don’t stop.”

He meets your brand of intensity with his own, acknowledges the gravity of what you’re not saying and yet still giving all the same, and the crinkles and warm looks ring true as he says softly, “with every breath in my body until I breathe no more, I will never, ever stop, Ellie. This I promise you.” He pauses a moment, and the joy choking you makes it hard to even think, hard to even breathe. “Now no more talkin’, yeah?”

You smile the biggest, widest smile you have ever smiled in your entire life as you nod and sink back down into Arthur fooking Shelby’s kiss.

Arthur’s kiss, which you know you will never tire of for the rest of your days.

It has become a roughened, possessive thing, as you card your fingers through his hair and he threads his fingers through yours. As your teeth clash together with urgency while his tongue sweeps through to taste and claim all you are as his own.

He steals the heart from your chest and the breath from your body as he kisses you until you are dazed and gasping and throbbing wet and grinding onto the hardness on his lap, desperate for any form of friction you can get.

He, too, is breathless and gasping and groaning as he thrusts lazily up into your bum, making you throb and gasp and need all the more.

Please, Arthur,” you plead for mercy, for sense, for more.

“Oh, fuck it,” he mumbles, and you don’t even have the space to wonder what he means because all of a sudden he lifts you and turns you until your splayed out straddling his waist, and he hikes your dress straight up to your hips, baring you for him and him alone.

You don’t wear underthings at nighttime, a fact you are both endlessly grateful for.

You gasp, and bite your lip, and watch with a hooded gaze filled with rapture at the look of wonderous longing drawing his handsome face at the gift that is literally dripping onto his lap.

One calloused finger flicks that little nub of glory between your folds, and then you tumble right on down into his lap, slamming your head into his neck as you are well and truly lost.

Lost on a tidal wave of pleasure as his fingers play between your folds, teasing in an exploratory rhythm, back and forth, back and forth, circling and teasing but still not quite enough as he pulls all manner of embarrassing hitches and moans from your mouth straight into his ear.

And then you feel it, finally.

One long finger, slowly, oh so slowly, sliding into your heat, sliding home.

You don’t know if that embarrassing moan is his or yours as you ride that finger, and the next one too, while his thumb circles and circles and circles and drives you higher and higher and higher until you think you might explode.

Your belly is tight, your thighs are aching, and your head is tossed back with abandon as you take in the look of worship he grants your way. You are close, so close, and just as you begin the unending clench that precludes a rainfall of sensation, he stops.

He stops, and you feel like you may die.

His chuckle is nearly enough to send you over alone, but it isn’t, even though it is deep and rolling and filled with sand and grit and husk.

“I have what ya need, Eleanor Carroway, and I’ll give it to you however you want it, but you must give me somethin’ in return, yeah?”

You will give him the bloody moon if he will just put his fingers back where you need them, immediately.

Or his tongue.

Or, sweet heaven, his cock.

He licks his lips and you realize he knows exactly what you are thinking, and he’s thinking up all the delicious ways he’s going to ruin you for any other man in your entire life.

“Anything, Arthur, please.”

He tsks and shakes his head with a grin. “Not even gonna negotiate, luv? We’ll need to work on that.”

You are blind with lust and still teetering on the precipice of the largest wave of pleasure you’ll ever crest when he finally, finally, swipes a tiny swipe over your nub.

“Tell me,” you say. You don’t even know who that voice belongs to, all strained with need and ragged with longing, but he loves it, if the involuntary thrust and the groan he lets out is anything to go by.

“I’ll give you everything, Ellie girl, my cock, my life, my heart, long as you accept when I give you just one last thing.”

You are dizzy with desire, but the weight of what he’s saying still penetrates through the haze to make your heart stutter and your mind stumble as he smiles and watches you closely. “My name,” he says quietly, still humble, still shy, yet still so, so sure.

You are certain you must blind him with your smile as you nod and giggle and sigh, “Ellie Shelby, has a nice ring to it don’t you think?”

There is a pregnant pause where you fear you’ve read him wrong, and your head snaps up and your heart starts a panicked tattoo until finally, finally, you feel his cock, unfettered at last, tracing through your folds.

You don’t know how we find the time or space to free it what with all this proposing, but you are thankful and oh so excited to welcome it home.

“Speaking of, we’ll go pick a ring up tomorrow, we will,” he rumbles, before finally, finally, sliding in where you never knew you needed him until his eyes met yours barely two weeks ago.

There is no more talking after that.

No more talking, yet so much sighing and moaning as he thrusts up into you and you grind and twist back down on him. Your legs shake, and your breath catches, and you cling to his shoulders so hard he might bruise as he grips your hips tight and fucks up into you until you forget about Eleanor Carroway, forget she ever existed, for only now, in this moment, as your body is tight as a bow and tingles dance over your skin, are you truly ever alive.

It feels like it is your first real breath, the one you suck in as your body comes apart in ripples and waves and white hot heat, fluttering and clenching around him as you milk him for all he’s worth and then some.

You are alive, and free, and flying on a carpet ride of pleasure and indulgence as Arthur fooking Shelby makes you come so hard you nearly forget his name, too.

In these moments as your soul leaves your body and flies high overhead, you know it like you know the sun will rise in the morning and the forecast is rain in Birmingham tomorrow.

Arthur fooking Shelby is the only man for you.

You shudder and fall apart with a sigh in his arms, and he presses his forehead into your neck as he chants your name and pants his release, before he slides a sweaty hand into your hair and jerks your head up to meet his kiss.

He’s gentle the second time, gentle and slow and reverent, as you come apart once more, this time in his bed.

After the third time, or maybe the fourth, you slowly start to drift in his arms, and you hear him softly start to snore.

Still, the only thought you have left, is one you know in your very soul to be true.

Arthur fooking Shelby is the only man for you.

And you thank the Lord for every last misfortune you’ve had.

Every single one.

Because each one has led you to him.

And he is quite a lovely thing, too.