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At Your Service

Chapter Text

The gentleman standing at the top of the steps of the National Gallery held a prominently displayed copy of The Lady’s Choice. He squinted his eyes as he was looking for someone holding the same newspaper.

A small beige figure hurried across the Trafalgar Square with rolled-up newspaper in one hand. When she noticed the man standing at the top of the stairs, waving at her with his own copy, she ran up the steps towards him.

All the gentleman could see was, that the person was small and female. She was covered from head to toe, wearing a loose light brown alpaca coat, broad rimmed felt hat with her face obscured by an opaque chiffon veil.

“Bonjour m’sieur,” she greeted him. “You are Doctor Ben Solo, aren’t you?”

“The very same, madam. And you are?” He said with a small bow.

“I am from zee Lady’s Choice, of course,” the veil was fluttering with each of her exhale. Doctor Solo almost laughed out loud at her absurd fake French accent.

“As I understand it, sir, you want to pay for ze service of matchmaking, is zat correct?” She almost broke the character, but tried her hardest to push through. Using some sort of accent was very useful for disguising voice.

“I had expected to meet in a more private place. Perhaps an office of some sort,” the doctor said, nervously glancing around at their very public surroundings.

“Our zee offices are not open to zee public, m’sieur,” she said plainly. “Now, in zee museum are many private places we can talk business.”

They walked through the high ceiling atrium and up the stairs. Doctor Solo would let his guide show the way. After many stairs and turns, they finally reached a room which the veiled lady had in mind filled with many works by medieval painters. In the centre of the room was a circular couch around which other visitors orbited while admiring the oil paintings.

She motioned for him to sit on the couch and folded the newspaper on her lap.

“’Ere it is quite private, what do you think, m’sieur?” She declared and Doctor Solo had to admit the circular sofa provided them an intimate bubble that felt far removed from the rush in the museum. Ben sat down beside her, and a wave of her perfume hit him, some exotic fragrance resembling cinnamon. All of a sudden, he had an unexplainable urge to remove the veil from her face.

Rey turned her veiled head towards him, studying him for the first time up close. He was a very big man, tall, however he carried himself with unexpected gentleness and caution as if he didn’t want to be noticed. His coat stretched around his shoulders broad with muscles, like an athelete would have, or a boxer, a wrestler. A bump on his nose suggested it was broken once, further supporting her theory. Each of his facial features were uneven on their own, but together they created harmony all set above a plush wide mouth. His unruly black hair was ruffled by the wind.

Rey suddenly became aware of the long stretching silence which she spent assessing his appearance, when she met his intense gaze framed by dark chocolate eyes. She cleared her throat, but he started talking first.

“As I explained in my letter, I am in need of a spouse.”

“That is all you say, however. We need more details of your situation and what you look for in a spouse before we can help you with your search.”

“There are only two essential qualities I require. Apart from those, I am very flexible,” he said, as he removed his black leather gloves and unfastened his tightly wrapped scarf. He seemed to find the room too warm despite the non-existent heating. Rey thought, that perhaps such a large man also generates extra body heat and fought hard not to shiver under her many layers of coat and scarves.

“The spouse I’m looking for must be first and foremost rich.”

Rey didn’t respond yet, merely regarding him through her veil. She begun to have a bad feeling about this man.

“As I mentioned in my letter, I am a doctor. I am in process of opening a surgery since I only recently moved from Edinburgh. Setting up a medical practice is expensive and my wealthy patients will expect to be treated in luxurious surroundings by a practitioner who can afford the best for them.”

Rey detected a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

“And secondly, I need someone who is well socially established to help me to advance my practice as quickly as possible… I would expect my spouse to persuade hypochondriac ladies and duchess to come to me with their non-existent illnesses as well as all the lords and honourable gentlemen who need medical care purely because of their own laziness and gluttony.”

“In short, m’sieur, you need a sponsor and a manager, not a spouse,” Rey stated with disgust.

She was so enraged, she didn’t even stop to think if she was being too offensive. He was a paying client after all and it was her job to listen to him. She didn’t have too much time to worry about this, because he replied almost instantly.

“Yes, you understood my situation exactly. I prefer to be direct with my needs,” he tried to peer under her veil, “Is it possible for you to show me your face, madamme?”

“Absolutely not, m’sieur!”

“I don’t like doing business with people I can’t see to eye with. Could you at least drop that ridiculous accent?”

Rey bit her lip. Of course, she didn’t expect him to not see through her accent, but she sure didn’t expect him to call her out on it. She needed her voice obscured, to keep her identity secret if they ever met face-to-face. She decided to ignore his request and instead asked him with as much ice in her voice as she could muster.

“You do not have interest in marriage where affection or respect is important? You only care about money and connections?”

He frowned and gathered his gloves in one hand.

“I am first and foremost a practical man,” a frustration was beginning to show on his face.

Rey’s instinct told her to refuse this man as a client without further questions. However, she couldn’t make such decision without consulting her sisters first. She could hear their voices clearly in her head now.

This is a business, Rey, ever practical Paige loomed over Rey’s left shoulder.

There are people who would find this arrangement convenient, Rey, Rose loomed over Rey’s right shoulder.

“Our business is over for today, m’sieur. You will hear from us within ze week,” Rey concluded the interview with sour voice and stood up, “Au revoir, Doctor Solo.”

She left him in the gallery, before he had time to respond.

He took a step after her in anger, but lost her in the crowd of visitors, before he could demand an apology for her rude behaviour.

Now he saw, that for all the progressive views expressed in The Lady’s Choice, the writers and editors were probably all educated, but also well-off women, who knew nothing of the poverty of East End of London, where people lived in wooden shacks, where rats were almost bigger than the starving children and stench from outhouses poisoned the air and where he also opened his new medical practice very recently. It was one thing to write about female suffrage from a cosy sitting room warmed by a fireplace and another to put it into practice in the poorest parts of society.

He couldn’t see a reason why some rich aristocrat couldn’t spare a few pounds to improve lives of the suffering men, women and children. He, with his medical skills, would do all the menial work anyway. All his spouse would have to do was host parties and persuade their rich friends to go to him, which would provide him with enough resources to help those really in need.

Of course, he hadn’t confessed the other side of his grand plan. It wasn’t relevant to the service, so he kept it to himself.

Chapter Text

“Which poor lad did you invite for me this evening?” Rey stood before a floor length mirror in the guest room of the Dameron residence. Her sister Paige stood behind her, fastening her necklace.

“My little sister, overwhelmed with enthusiasm as always,” Paige smirked and playfully pulled a stray strand of hair near the nape of Rey’s neck. “You will be happy to hear that after you refused marriage proposal from Dopheld for the third time, I gave up.”

Rey and Paige moved to the sitting room, where Rose awaited them reading a book. She closed it as they entered the room and kissed them on cheeks.

“I’ve heard we acquired a new client this afternoon,” Rose remarked.

“He’s very obnoxious. I know, it’s not the point, we don’t have to like our clients,” Rey exhaled as she arranged herself on a sofa.

Rose and Paige exchanged amused looks.

“What was his name? Some Doctor…?” Rose said as she sat on the opposite sofa, next to Paige.

“Solo. Doctor Ben Solo. Oh, only if you heard him. All he wants is a rich spouse. An aristocrat preferably, with contacts to attract other rich patients to him,” she couldn’t hide disgust from her voice.

“You really didn’t like him at all, Rey,” Paige stated.

“He is so cold and calculating. All he cares about is building his career on the expense of someone else. However, I did not refuse him our services. At least not without consulting you two,” Rey said, “I personally can’t imagine condemning anyone to such a cold and sterile relationship.”

“Not everyone would see it like that, Rey. A successful ambitious doctor could be a very desirable partner for some,” Rose reflected.

“Maybe, but is it right, to take advantage of someone so lonely and desperate who would basically sell themselves? Because that’s how it sounds to me. Only if you’ve met him! Only then you would see his despicable nature! He seemed to think that as long as he is being honest about his calculations and greed, there was nothing to object to.”

“I don’t know, Rey, a doctor cannot be as evil as you describe him. Helping people is his vocation.”

Rey has decided to ignore Rose’s sensical ideas: “Do we know anyone desperate enough to enter into business partnership disguised as marriage?”

“Now, now, what are my favourite witches brewing here?” melodic voice of Sir Poe Dameron interrupted their conversation, “Good evening, Rey, Rose,” he kissed their hands before he bent to kiss Paige on cheek who still sat on the sofa, “And how are you, my dearest wife?” Then he knelt down on the floor to kiss Paige’s pregnant belly, too, “The dinner will be ready in a bit, my little darling peapod, we should move to the dining room.”

“Who are our guests tonight, Poe? Anyone we don’t know yet?” Paige asked.

“Only my old acquaintance Armitage Hux who moved here from Italy recently.”

Rey scrunched her face. “That sounds very exotic.”

“Don’t be fooled by him pomp. He is an Englishman at heart, only lived in Italy during his university studies and then some. His father died in an unfortunate accident recently, which promped Armitage to move back to London. He asked me to reintroduce him to the society since he was away for so long,” Poe explained.

The all went into the dining room, where Finn already nursed a glass of whisky and entertained their guest. He promptly turned and introduced him. Armitage was a man in his prime, dressed in fashionable suit, his pants stiffly ironed and he also wore a peculiar embroidered necktie around his throat. His bright red hair was slicked back with some kind of oil.

“Welcome to London, Mister Hux,” Rey said, smiling warmly.

His gaze was intense and his mouth twisted into thin smile. “I am so unaccustomed to being called Mister. I am much more comfortable with Signor, as I already explained here to the butler.”

A confused expression crossed Rey’s face for there were no servants with them at this moment, as Hux held out his hand in Finn’s direction so he would take the empty glass.

Signor Hux, I am not a butler, but a guest of this house just as you are,” Finn explained with annoyance in his voice as he stuck his hands into his pockets, leaving Hux waving the empty glass in the air.

Luckily, the dinner was about to be served and safe topics about food and drink moved the conversation along, which gave Rey a great opportunity to observe Signor Hux throughout the night as a plan started to form in her head.

/ / / / /

After the dinner, when their guest left home, the sisters were seated in the sitting room once again passing around box of chocolate bonbons. They reflected on the evening and unanimously decided, that Armitage, with his recently deceased father’s money and disdainful attitude would be a perfect candidate for their newest client.

“I think they might deserve each other. We should put them together and see what happens. They don’t have to marry the same day,” Rey proclaimed in the end and it was settled. In her head she already started to plan a list of guests for next Wednesday’s afternoon.

Rose got up and said goodnight to everyone as she and Finn left for home. Paige escorted Rey to the guestroom and helped her prepare the bed. After they said goodnight to each other, Paige hesitated by the door.

“Do you think you will be able to meet Ben Solo face-to-face after you developed such an antipathy towards him? And remain professional?”

Rey let her hair loose from her updo before answering. “I don’t see why not. He will have no idea we are from The Lady’s Choice and even if he senses I dislike him, people dislike each other all the time.”

Paige smiled and left Rey for the night.

Rey studied the closed door for a few moments. She understood her sister’s worries for she herself was worried of these strong feelings she developed for Ben Solo in such a short amount of time.

She climbed into bed and lay propped on the pillows, watching the firelight as it curled around the black coals and couldn’t help but be reminded of those haunted molten eyes of Doctor Solo and his intense gaze in the gallery. She felt her core pulsate and heating up. She knew it wouldn’t go away on its own no matter how much time she’d spend dwelling on it.

And with that, she slipped one hand in between her legs, buried it between the curls of her petals, teasing her pearl. Once she started, she couldn’t stop, imagining his big strong hands, eloping around her waist, her ribs, until her empty fancy pulsated, gushing warm slick on her thighs.

Rey stayed put afterwards, willing her body to calm down and sleep, but the prospect seemed impossible. It only angered her, because there was nothing she wished more than to close her eyes and pretend this highly inappropriate moment of weakness filled with lustful fantasies about Ben Solo’s hands never happened. Only if she were at home, where she keeps her glass dildo under the pillow. Although, she doubted it would fulfil her needs enough in this particular spell of passion, maybe the girth would at least for a while help her forget about Doctor Solo’s fingers.

If she would not fall asleep, she might as well be useful – Rey sat up, still a bit lightheaded, and went to the desk near the window. She found some spare paper and ink in the drawer and began to compose a letter to Doctor Ben Solo. It was an invitation on behalf of the matchmaking service, with information about when and where he is to arrive to meet a person suitable to be his spouse.

Ask for Master Yoda upon your arrival as a sign you were invited on behalf of The Lady’s Choice. A person of interest would be wearing a white carnation. If you will wish for an introduction, the hostess will arrange that without question.

After Rey wrote the final paragraph and folded the letter. On the envelope she wrote down the address – Mrs. Kanata’s corner shop Doctor requested to use as a Poste Restante.

Chapter Text

Ben Solo was in no hurry to get to the afternoon tea. He strolled twice around the square, observing carriages pulling up outside the house, trying to guess which visitor was invited for his consideration. Everyone seemed to come in pairs or trios, and all women were with male escorts.

He wondered about the Honourable Miss Rey. She was most certainly some elderly spinster. This event seemed to be a very popular affair and who else would have time to organize it?

As he was strolling and waiting, he re-read the invitation several times. He didn’t think it could have been written by the veiled lady he met in the gallery. It was just a list of instructions, very straightforward and practical, without a hint of condescension or moral superiority.

He glanced at his fob watch. It was just after four – time to go in.

He went up the steps to the front door and banged the highly polished lion’s head door knocker. A tall bald butler greeted him with a bow.

“Good afternoon, sir.”

Ben barely noticed him taking his coat, mainly because he was taking in the new surroundings. He noticed the faded elegance of old money seeping from every corner of the house. Luxurious oriental rugs were now a little threadbare and scattered over squeaking parquet floor, mahogany furniture scratched and polished many times was covered with vases of fresh flowers.

However, what intrigued Ben the most were little carnations pinned to lapel of every guest.

Butler Clement read from the newest guest’s visiting card. “Doctor Ben Solo, Miss Rey.”

Rey turned swiftly from the sideboard where she was pouring tea and assorting sandwiches.

Her first uncensored thought was that Ben Solo was awfully attractive that day. How had she failed to notice before? To be fair, she did notice it when they first met, but he ruined it by opening his big stupid mouth.

She came forward, her hand outstretched, expression composed with a smile on her lips.

“Doctor Solo, I don’t believe we’ve met.”

He took her hand. “Forgive me for intruding on your little soireé. I am here to meet Master Yoda,” with a little hesitation he added the secret passcode, just as the instructions required him to.

Rey looked down at her hand, surprised to see how completely it disappeared within his large palm. He held her firmly and warmly and a fraction longer than necessary. His eyes were sparkling with interest and his lips shaped into a crooked smile.

“I’m afraid he is unable to show up this afternoon, but let me give you some tea,” Rey turned back to the sideboard maybe, more than a little flustered.

Ben turned his head when the butler announced another guest.

“Mister Armitage Hux.”

“Excuse me,” Rey said, handing Doctor Solo cup of tea, then quickly moved towards Mister Hux, “Signore, how delightful to see you again! Do have some tea and let me introduce you. This is Miss Kaydell Connix, she is about to be married in a couple of weeks.”

After a chorus of greetings Armitage sat beside Kaydell who was flipping through an old issue of The Lady’s Choice and fixed her with a rather protruding gaze. “Where are you going on your honeymoon, Miss Connix? You have to go to Italy. One’s life without visiting Roma and Firenze is simply incomplete in my opinion.”

“Isn’t it a little cold in December?” Kaydell asked hesitantly as she put away the newspaper on a nearby side-table.

“No, no, no, it’s in the south,” Hux declared.

“I believe Naples is even more southern,” Rose chipped into the conversation.

“Pompeii is definitely worth visiting,” Paige added.

“It would be even more so, if they would allow women to see the erotic frescos,” Rose said, “When we were there last summer, we were not permitted to see them, while all the men were welcome to ogle all the art they desired.”

“I hardly think such sights are proper for a woman’s gaze,” Hux announced, his lips curling in distaste.

“I rather think Michelangelo’s David should cover up his tulip. It almost poked my eye out last time I’ve seen him,” Rey suggested in a sweet tone contrasting with the vulgar content, while offering the guests some cucumber sandwiches, “What do you think, Doctor Solo? Should women be allowed to view anatomy as part of a work of art?”

Ben felt trapped. If he disagreed with the sir wearing a white carnation, he would be ruining chances with a prospective spouse, but if he agreed with him, he would make a fool of himself in front of Miss Rey, whose sarcasm didn’t go unnoticed.

“I think it’s a matter of personal preference, Miss Rey. Do you know Italy well, Mr. Hux?”

“It is the home of my heart, Dottore.” Hux launched into his favourite subject and it was almost impossible to interrupt his odes. Doctor Solo seated himself next to him, sipping tea.

Rey found herself concerned for the chair Ben Solo was sitting on. It seemed too fragile to hold a man of his size. She also noticed how delicate were his hand movements, how elegantly he held the dainty teacup which seemed even smaller in his big hands. Reminding herself that he is a doctor and has to have steady and confident hand for performing surgery didn’t help at all with the red heat spreading from her womb, blooming on her cheeks.

“Do you have a practice in London, Dottore?” Hux asked.

“Yes, I’ve just opened up.”

“And do you specialize?” Hux clasped his hands in his lap.

“I treat all complaints. Although, I specialize on the women’s health.”

“How peculiar... You must struggle very much, with such a niche specialization.”

“As I said, I’m newly established.”

Not for the first time his gaze was drawn to Miss Rey, who was sitting in conversation with Miss Connix, and he wondered why his attention kept wandering from the sir with white carnation. He turned back to Hux and gave him a practiced smile he used when reassuring patients.

“Of course, I had a flourishing practice back in Edinburgh. I hope to gain success here in London too.”

“I’m sure you will. After all, medicine is such a well-payed, noble profession.”

Ben produced a forced smile. Why did he find this man so repulsive? In an instant he reminded himself that that is not important. All he expected of his spouse was wealth and social position.

After another half an hour of conversation he stood up to make his farewells. Outside on the pavement he looked up at the house.

Signor Hux seemed rich enough and eager enough. But Ben was under no obligation to pursue this introduction, when Honourable Miss Rey also seemed rich enough, aristocratic enough, with all the right social connections and to be much more interesting prospect than who the matchmaking service had presented so far.

/ / / /

“I really liked your Doctor Solo, Rey,” Rose remarked after the last visitor had left when the clock had struck five, signalling the end of visiting hours.

“He is not mine,” Rey protested, “I hope he may soon be Signor Hux’s.”

“He’s attractive. There is something very physical about him,” Paige smirked, “Don’t you think, Reeey?”

Rey tried to shrug nonchalantly. “He’s just huge.”

“You make him sound like some fat bear or a mountain, when in fact he is very tall, broad, muscular…” Paige giggled as she watched frustration making itself known on Rey’s face.

“Rey, do you have any plans for the evening? You could come have dinner with me and Finn.” Rose interrupted Paige’s teasing.

“No, thank you. I am going to a concert at Albert Hall with Dopheld and his friends. We’ll stop for dinner on our way there,” Rey smiled.

She knew her sisters were worried about her. Ever since their mothers died, she lived alone and some days the only people she would see were her butler and maid. Even though the period of grief was long over, loneliness sometimes crept under her skin when she least expected it. However, she also knew that she was very welcome to stay for a night or even permanently at either of her sister’s if she ever felt the need or desire to do so.

“But you don’t sound too enthusiastic, Rey,” Paige observed.

“I am just a little tired. Making small talk with Armitage, I mean Signor Hux, has been exhausting and I am not looking forward to tomorrow morning. He asked me to bring him some of our old art books mama Ami collected. He was moaning about being bored without his precious Firenze, while his own library hadn’t arrived here yet, I simply couldn’t refuse. I’ll be all right once I’ve had a bath and some rest.”

“Well, we’ll leave you then,” Paige kissed her cheek and Rose said her goodbye too.

“Have a nice evening, Rey!”

When Rey was alone, she asked her maid Rachel to draw her a bath and in a few moments she was already sitting in a steaming tub, her hair secured in a towel.

Something was matter with her. She felt confused, restless, and frustrated. She wasn’t particularly outgoing type of person, but a prospect of spending an evening with her friends at a restaurant with good food rarely didn’t uplift her spirit.

She contemplated sending an excuse to Dopheld and spending the evening with a book by the fireplace. Despite the fact that Dopheld asked her to marry him at least three times already, she liked him as a friend. He was easy to talk to and a true gentleman. His friends with whom they were going out tonight were also pleasant to be around. But at the moment, spending time with them didn’t seem tempting at all.

She closed her eyes, but all she could see were images of Ben Solo. She felt betrayed by her own mind, as if it didn’t let her have one moment only for herself. Even as she tried to relieve the tension by inserting a finger into her sacred shell, it only left her more frustrated, her imagination never allowing her to think about anything else but how much better strong hands of Doctor Solo would fill her, his fingers thick and long enough to scratch that itch deep inside of her.

Angry at herself, she got out of the bath and chose a gown for this evening. She flung open her wardrobe and took out her most dramatic robe – midnight black velvet embroidered with thousands of little silver stars and constellations, with puff see-through sleeves and a decent décolletage. She brushed her hair up into her usual bun and carefully applied plum lipstick on her lips.

She heard a door knocker as she left her bedroom. Dopheld said he would pick her up just before seven, but when she reached bottom of the stairs, she heard the unmistakable Scottish lilt of Ben Solo who was talking to Clement.

“Doctor Solo, what a surprise.” Rey said, as she reached the bottom step.

“Doctor Solo has lost his briefcase, Miss Rey. He was wondering if he had left it here,” Clement explained.

“Forgive me for intruding once again, Miss Rey. I see you are on your way out. Don’t let me hold you up.”

He made no attempt to conceal his admiration. He had though she was attractive that afternoon, but her evening look was absolutely breath-taking.

“I’m sorry, Doctor Solo, I’m afraid I haven’t seen any briefcase. Perhaps you left it somewhere else.”

“I suppose so,” Ben said just as there was another knock on the door and Clement opened it.

“Good evening, Sir,” the butler stepped aside to allow Dopheld Mitaka step in.

“Good evening Clement, Rey. Are you ready? Oh my, you look stunning,” Dopheld said cheerily and extended his hand to Ben, “I’m Mitaka.”

Ben shook his hand and explained his presence.

“Oh, I see. It’s easy enough to lose something.” Dopheld nodded. “Rey, if you are ready, we should head out. The others are waiting for us at Starlight.”

“I’m quite ready,” she held out her hand to Ben, “Good night Doctor Solo, I hope you’ll find your briefcase soon.”

Ben looked after Rey holding onto Dopheld’s arm as they walked towards a hackney.

“What’s a Starlight?” he asked the butler.

“A café, sir. It is a favourite gathering place among Miss’s friends,” Clement informed him. Ben nodded and held his gaze. He made no attempt to leave just yet and after a few moments of silence, the butler exhaled with noticeable tiredness.

“I believe Miss Rey and her friends are going to the Albert Hall afterwards.”

“Thank you,” Ben nodded again and satisfied with this added piece of information swiftly left.

Such impulsive evening visit was very unusual thing for him to do. He had thought that a surprise call on Miss Rey might have resulted in a dinner invitation, or she would at least agree to go for a drink with him. Seeing her dolled up like this to go out with someone else made his stomach flip.

He hailed a hackney. To his own astonishment he heard himself say: “Take me to the Albert Hall.”

Chapter Text

After Ben had bought a ticket at Albert Hall box office and then waited for the concert to start at a nearby pub.

He did enjoy orchestral music, but he had never before attended a concert at such a grand building, so regardless if he meets Rey, he was resolved to enjoy his evening. However, he would be lying to himself if he’d pretended he was not here because of a desire to at least glance for a second at her wearing that impossibly flattering black gown.

Then he tried to merge with the mass of waiting people on the pavement – not an easy task, when one stood head above the majority of the crowd – and he glanced casually around. He immediately noticed Rey’s dress with its silver constellations embroidered all over. She was cheerfully chatting with Dopheld in a group of elegantly dressed young people. They were going into the music hall ahead of him, so he followed them at a distance to take up his position at the rear of the final tier of seats.

When the orchestra struck up the opening chords and he leaned back against the wall, arms folded, he smiled, for he had an unobscured view of Miss Rey in a front row seat.

/ / / / /

Rey felt much more relaxed. Warmed by a bowl of rich soup she ordered during the dinner beforehand and cheered by the sublime music, she had completely recovered from her gloomy mood. By the time the last chords of violins faded into the grand expanse of the Hall she was smiling brightly at her companion. The musicians took their bows and left the stage.

As the group of Dopheld’s friends exited the row and entered the lobby, Rey made her way to the cloakroom to refresh herself. When she returned, she gazed dumbstruck at the sight of Ben Solo casually conversing with Dopheld.

“Wonderful music, don’t you think, Miss Rey?” Ben commented as she came up to them.

“Yes, of course. What a coincidence, you, being at the Albert Hall this evening.”

His eyes sharpened. He couldn’t not notice her sarcastic tone.

“I hardly think so, Miss Rey. What lover of music would miss the opportunity to see the best of the finest London’s orchestra playing on such a beautiful evening?”

“And you are the music lover of course,” Rey retorted with raised eyebrows.

“A very passionate one indeed,” he moved closer to her, his hungry gaze enveloping her whole. She suppressed a shiver and turned to side as if to dismiss him, when Dopheld clasped Ben’s shoulder.

“Say, Doctor Solo, why don’t you join us? We are about to go for a supper. There’s plenty of room for one more,” Dopheld invited him as was expected with his good nature.

“That’s very kind of you. I would be delighted to spend the evening with all of you.” Ben said, never taking his eyes off of Rey.

As they walked to a nearby restaurant, Rey was deep in thoughts. Was it more than a coincidence that had brought Ben Solo to the Albert Hall this evening, so soon after calling on her at home with a meagre excuse? Why wasn’t he calling upon Signor Hux as he was supposed to?

It was just as disconcerting to find herself sitting next to him at the round table in the noisy restaurant. One minute she had been about to sit between Dopheld and his sister and the next Ben Solo rather forcefully displaced Dopheld and sat to her left.

“What a lovely place,” he said, placing a napkin in his lap.

“Yes, we go here quite often,” she took a sip of water as her eyes roamed over the menu.

“What are you going to eat? Do you recommend anything special?”

“The roast chicken is good,” she said simply, refusing to look at him.

“Roast chicken seems rather bland.”

“That depends on your point of view,” it was hard for Rey to conceal her annoyance.

As they ate dinner, she noticed he was sitting very close to her. She hadn’t noticed the proximity before – the tables are always cramped – but now, eating next to this mountain of a man she felt very aware of every tiny movement that brought their bodies closer, be it legs under the table, or when they passed the basket of bread.

When his forearm rested on the table and he reached for his wineglass she noticed the muscles of his upper arm pressed against the material of his coat. She glanced at his profile. His elongated jaw and nose with prominent bump gave his face sculptured appearance.

She hastily dropped her eyes when he suddenly turned towards her with a slightly amused and quizzical look in his eye. When the waiter appeared to remove empty plates, it was a welcome diversion.

“You were right about the chicken,” Ben commented, “Almost as good as during Christmas when I was a child.”

“Do you have chicken for Christmas? We always have goose,” Rey said, thankful for a safe topic of conversation.

“Chicken at Christmas, haggis at New Year.” Ben said.

“When are you going home this year?” Rey asked as she sipped her water.

He shook his head. “No, I’m afraid I will not spend Christmas up north this year. I would have to go for at least two weeks to make the journey to Edinburgh worthwhile and I have too much to do here with work and setting up a house.”

“Did you buy a house?”

“I rented a flat for the time being. It comes with a housekeeper, already furnished. Ideal arrangement for a working bachelor like I am.”

“Then setting up can hardly be a major chore. Definitely not major enough to keep you away from your family, at Christmastime certainly.”

He looked at her and said with a hint of mockery at her sharp comment. “You don’t let anything slip by, do you, Miss Rey?”

“I just think it is quite sad when families are not spending time together, especially during Christmastime.”

“Three wonderful daughters and a baby on the way must make for quite a cheerful holiday celebrations at your parent’s house,” he remarked with a chuckle, sipping the last of his wine.

Rey’s biological parents had died when she was too young to remember them. And even though she has spent a lot of happy years with her adoptive mothers, they both died weeks apart a few years ago. Rey would mourn them all from time to time even now. Not to say she wasn’t thankful for the fortune of spending some years of her life with her adoptive sisters, however, she couldn’t help but feel a tiniest pang of jealousy in some of her darkest moments, not only because Rose and Paige did remember their biological parents, but they would always have one another, unlike Rey who didn't belong with anyone.

Rey rested her gaze at her lap silently, forcing tears back into her eyes.

“No, Rey, I’m so sorry… For whatever just happened,” Ben said in mildly panicked voice and his hand brushed over her tightly squeezed fist. There was so much natural empathy in that simple gesture. Rey’s hand relaxed under the light warmth of his fingers. She began to wonder if her negative assessment of Doctor Solo had been too harsh.

“I’m in a mood for dancing. Who’s for going afterwards?” Dopheld’s sister asked and other friends started nodding or propose clubs where they could go.

“I get the impression you’re not too keen on continuing the evening,” Ben whispered softly into her ear as he discreetly pushed a handkerchief into her hand under the table.

“I’m rather tired. After I say my farewells, I will take a hackney home,” Rey agreed, wiping her cheeks.

“No, no, I’ll see you home. Of course I will,” Dopheld said as he overheard their conversation.

“It’s not necessary, Dopheld. You should have fun with others, I can manage on my own.”

“Of course you can, but I insist. It’s most unsafe for a lady to wander around city at midnight by herself,” Dopheld frowned.

“If Miss Rey agrees, I would be happy to see her home. I’m not one for dancing myself,” Ben said, placing his empty wineglass on the table, “Would you give me the pleasure of seeing you home, Miss Rey?” he turned back to her as he stood up from his spot, offering his arm to her.

Rey took his arm, murmuring thanks as they all went out to the street.

“Are you sure, you won’t come dance with us?” Dopheld asked one last time as Ben stopped a hackney.

“I’m sorry Dopheld, I am rather tired. Thank you for a lovely outing,” Rey said, still clutching the now wet handkerchief in her hand.

“Thank you for including me, I very much enjoyed this evening,” Ben said, extending his hand to Dopheld and then opened the carriage door for Rey.

“Allow me,” Ben said, taking her by the waist and lifting her into the carriage. When he climbed after her, he slammed the door shut.

Even after a few moments after he let her go, Rey still felt an indent of his giant paws on her waist and tried to catch her breath.

All of the full weight of the fact that he is escorting her home all alone hit her hard. It would be a good opportunity for him to ask her about her little show of emotions at the restaurant, but she didn’t let it throw her off balance and she regarded him with sharp glint in her eye. “I see you are one of those men who believe women are easily charmed by being made feel like porcelain dolls. However, strange women in general don’t appreciate being scooped up by giants without at least warning them first.”

He looked surprised, his ears turning pink. “I don’t think we are complete strangers.”

“You said earlier, that you don’t dance. Were you being serious or was it just a ploy, to see me home?” Rey asked playfully after a few moments of silence, resolved to not give him a chance to open the topic she wanted the least to discuss.

“Why can’t it be both?” Ben asked nonchalantly.

“Really? Not even Scottish Kaley?” Rey asked with mock shock, ignoring the other part of his implied statement.

“Scottish folk dance is in a rather different category. At those I excel,” he decided to indulge her in the easy banter, glad to see her fully recovered from the sudden surge of sadness that overcame her at the restaurant.

“Do you wear a kilt when you dance, Doctor Solo?”

“I do wear a kilt on the appropriate occasions,” he smirked.

“I would like to be present at such occasion,” Rey heard it was customary to go commando under the kilt, and she almost regretted taking the conversation this far as she felt her cheeks turn hot.

When he noticed under the slowly flashing light of the oil lamps her healthy rosy glow that ran from her cheeks down her décolletage, he couldn't resist the temptation to lean across the narrow space dividing them and lay his hand over hers. He could feel her warmth even through her thin embroidered gloves.

Rey was shocked by this sudden turn of events and couldn't tear her gaze from his giant hand, which covered hers completely. She could feel his steadiness and strength as he slowly moved moved his thumb back and forth over the back of her hand which only stoked the flames of desire budding in her lower belly.

Her mind wandered to the glass dildo awaiting hidden under her pillow and she breathed out with relief when she noticed the carriage is already on her street.

When they stopped outside Rey’s house, Ben jumped down and extended his hand to help Rey exit the carriage. His hand gripped hers firmly until she was on solid ground and even then he didn't release it. His unmoving gaze was tranfixed on her eyes.

Rey pushed the handkerchief back into his hand and only then he reluctantly released her, to put it into his pocket.

“Good night, Ben,” she gave him a small bow and moved to thhe steps of to the front door, “Thank you for the handkerchief.”

Ben only smiled and waved at her, as she dissapeared inside. Then he paid the hackney as he was resolved to go home by foot. It was only a short walk to his flat and he could use some fresh air despite the freezing temperatures. He was in need to clear his head, their conversation leaving him puzzled and aroused beyond reason.

Chapter Text

The next morning Rey stood in front Signor Hux’s house, a stack of books neatly packed with a piece of ribbon hanging by her side.

She knocked a few times with her free hand and waited. She was in a strange daze from last night, for she woke up early after sleepless night. Her mind was too preoccupied with thoughts and dreams about Ben Solo’s strong hands, but she was also angry at herself for losing control over her feelings in front of the Doctor.

A butler opened the door for her. He was wearing a costume as any gentleman at royal court wouldn’t be ashamed of, with golden hardware pieces and shiny bowtie.

Rey stepped inside the massive entrance hall, which was filled with bright white marble statues, paintings in golden frames. Rey followed the butler inside and almost tripped over her feet when she looked up and saw that the ceiling was painted with intricate details, almost as in Sistine Chapel. It was a perfect Italian villa, but the decorations seemed very out of place in a Gregorian mansion in London.

Armitage Hux rose from a sofa with a measured smile of greeting. He was dressed in light blue silk robe over his usual pants and shirt, his hair perfectly slicked back even in these early morning hours.

“Miss Rey, how nice of you to call so soon.”

Rey’s gaze however darted straight to the massive figure standing by tall windows. Doctor Ben Solo seemed to have called Signor Hux too.

Rey managed to put on a practiced smile. “How are you, Signor Hux. I brought you the books to borrow. All about the history of European art.”

“Thank you very much, Miss Rey,” Hux responded with the same formality and a butler took the books from Rey’s hands to bring them to his study. Hux motioned for Rey to sit down.

Ben sat next to her on the sofa, so the only place left for Hux was on either armchair opposite of them.

“I hope you slept well, Miss Rey,” Ben said quietly to Rey, as Hux asked a servant to bring them all coffee with biscuits.

“Not really, Doctor Solo.” Rey responded with accusation with her voice. He can hope all he wants, in the end it was fault of him and his giant monstrous muscular arms she woke up sweaty and wanton every half an hour or so.

Hux cut off their conversation. “Oh, Dottore, I am a martyr to insomnia. Is there anything you would recommend? I have heard opium makes wonders, although I also heard it can be very addictive.”

“I normally recommend valerian or belladonna,” Ben said, suppressing a sigh. He remembered how in Edinburgh he had grown accustomed to being asked about medical advice on all his Mother’s gatherings when he would then have to carefully nudge the guests to visit his surgery. He assumed it would be the same in London, which didn’t mean he was looking forward to it at all.

Luckily, Hux fed directly into his thoughts. “Perhaps I should make an appointment to see you in your practice.”

“And I will be happy to help you however I can,” Ben responded, “Although I must warn you, my consulting rooms are not completely furnished and decorated just. I didn’t have time to see to such details yet.”

“You must let me help you!” Hux exclaimed with such force, Rey almost clutched her heart in shock, “I have excellent taste in decoration and furnishings. I have a lot of practice, you see, I move very frequently and always decorate my villas and holiday houses by myself.”

Rey cast an involuntary glance around the ornate sitting room and though of the hall beyond. Her eyes widened and then she met Ben Solo’s gaze and laughter almost tore its way from her lips. He looked dumbstruck, obviously trying to imagine having to sit all day in an office resembling this room, filled with luxurious golden trimmings, pink and red embroidered pillows, lace curtains and pale blue frescas painted on the walls.

Rey coughed and hid her face in a handkerchief, unable to contain herself anymore. Ben leaned over and patted her back with some vigour.

“Choking on something?” he asked with all seriousness.

“On absurdity,” Rey murmured quietly, glancing playfully at him.

“Indeed, Dottore, I will come visit your consulting office and you shall advise me on my insomnia and I will advise you on décor.”

“No, please, you mustn’t trouble with-…”

“It will be my pleasure to give your gloomy office an artistic touch. I studied art history in Firenze, you see, so I am truly a professional,” Hux declared with assertion, making it known there is nothing further to discuss.

“I welcome your assistance, Signor Hux,” Ben bowed. Rey could see through his façade. There was nothing he wanted less. However, she was not there to judge. He is, after all, looking for a spouse who would support him financially, which includes buying furniture for his office. And on top of that, Hux, with his imposing personality would be most skilled at rounding up rich patients to it too.

Her matchmaking plan had to be set into further motion.

Signore Hux, my sisters and I host a get together every Christmas at our manor in Worthing. We would be most honoured if you would join us.”

“What a splendid idea, Miss Rey. It is most generous of you to let me spend the holidays in such a pleasant company.” Hux exhaled with a smile. He could be as enthusiastic as imposing and Rey sometimes felt as if she is not able to keep up with his moods.

Then Rey turned to Ben. “Doctor Solo, you said you couldn’t spare time to go home to Edinburgh. Could we perhaps persuade you to join our little party just for a few days? London is very dull during the wintertime anyway.”

A Christmas party would be the ideal opportunity to woo both potential spouse and patients. Ben accepted readily. “I would be delighted, Miss Rey. How kind of you to invite me.”

Rey smiled. “Maybe we should drop the formalities if we are to enjoy Christmas together.”

“As you wish, Rey.”

/ / / / / /

Ben left while Rey remained to discuss Christmas travel arrangements. Hux promised to call upon him that very afternoon with his ideas for the appropriate furnishing and décor.

He had no idea how to steer clear of his more florid ideas. Now, if Rey undertook this…

Ben shook his head. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing she would volunteer for. He found that with her very sharp wit very refreshing. Images of the previous night assaulted his mind as he sat in an empty hackney, remembering their shared ride home. She seemed so soft next to him. He remembered being struck by the curve of her forearm in that wonderful black dress when she readjusted her hair at one point… and the creamy swell of her breasts rising with her breathing. His hands enjoyed very much the moment he lifted her into the hackney, the feel of her warm body… He could feel through the thin material of her dress she wasn’t wearing a corset.

As a doctor he could only applaud any woman who refused to torture her body that way.

As a man he could only relish in the memories of her warm flesh against his palm.

His hackney stopped a few streets away from his practice at the East End of London. He walked the rest of the way and briskly strolled into the building once he arrived. It was in a two story house just behind an orphanage. As usual the front room was filled with women and screaming children. It was cold and gloomy outside.

He beckoned a woman with a toddler clinging to her apron inside his office.

“Hello, Mrs. Blagg, how is little Temi?”

It turned out little Temi had an awful rash on his neck and forearms. Ben gave him a little jar of ointment.

“Put it on three times a day, Mrs. Blagg. It should clear up quickly. If it doesn’t in a week, bring him back.”

“What do I owe you, Doctor?” she hesitantly asked.

Ben saw that the coin she is holding in her hand is a penny. She could buy a loaf of bread and a pint of milk with that. It wasn’t nearly enough for the ointment. But pride was the only thing these people have left. He smiled.

“Just a penny, Mrs. Blagg.”

She laid it on the table with a firm nod. “Thank you, Doctor. Temi, don’t scratch it again!”

Ben leaned back in his chair, running his hands through his hair as the door closed. He looked at the penny and dropped it in a tin box where it joined a very small group of pennies at the bottom.

A baby wailed from beyond the office, Ben stood up and called in his next patient.

Patients poured in and Ben struggled to keep calm knowing, he had to leave some of them without consultation just to meet with Hux to talk about pillows. He had to remind himself it was for the greater good. Once he will support him as a husband, he will have all the resources to help these poor souls all day long. He made sure to take in the most serious patients, but the rest would have to wait until he would come back in the evening.

Ben was back at his new office just as Signor Hux pulled up with a hackney. He was feeling very worn after working all day. However, he straightened his collar, buttoned his coat and greeted Hux with a smile.

When they entered the consulting rooms, Hux immediately started to examine his current furniture.

“Yes, Dottore, I can see it exactly in my mind what should be done. We need pastels, nice well stuffed armchairs, and flowers on the walls. Paintings preferably. I know a wonderful painter in Firenze, I am going to write him a letter this very evening to order some of his most recent works. I am certain all this will make your patients feel very welcome.”

How to make his patients feel welcome? All this sounds like some old lady’s boudoir. Ben looked around doubtfully, images of long forgotten memories flashing through his mind. Anything would probably better than the dull green tapestry… besides ornate gold or other frilly decorations.

“I was thinking cream colour for the walls.”

Hux just laughed. “You are here not to think about decorations, Dottore. All you have to do is sit in your little office and consult your patients, while you let the artist work.”

It would be very unreasonable to refuse him. Wasn’t this exactly what Ben wanted from the start? In spite of how well Hux seemed to fit his criteria, he couldn’t shake away his doubts.

Chapter Text

Rey hurried along the freezing streets of London, icy wind threatening to seep under her buttoned coat with fur collar. Her hat was pulled down low over her brow.

Mrs. Kanata’s corner shop was a welcome haven. Rey entered and Mrs. Kanata emerged from the curtain that separated her kitchen from the shop.

“Miss Rey, It’s freezing outside, isn’t it? Come in now and have a nice cup of hot cocoa. I’ve just made a sponge cake, it’s still hot from the oven.” Mrs. Kanata lifted the hinged top of the shop counter to let Rey come in.

“Mhm, yes, thank you,” Rey is not one to say no to a cake. She followed Mrs. Kanata into the kitchen.

“There’s couple of letters for you on the shelf there, too,” Mrs. Kanata set a pan of milk to heat on the stove.

Rey reached for the letters and sat down on a stool to quickly skim the envelopes. They were all addressed to The Lady’s Choice. She put them unopened to her coat pocket, before unwinding her scarf.

Chime of the doorbell announced arrival of a customer and Mrs. Kanata hurried back to the store, leaving Rey to watch the milk.

“Been busy, Doctor?” Rey heard Mrs. Kanata greet them. She stopped stirring the milk, her whole body stiffened reflexively.

No, there are more doctors than one in the whole city of London.

But when he answered the question, there was no doubt about whose deep but strained with exhaustion voice enveloping her senses it was. “Helped deliver a baby this morning. Fine healthy boy.”

Rey stayed put, not making a sound, barely breathing. Did she arrive five minutes earlier or later, she would have surely run straight into him, and how in the world would she have explained her presence in such an unfavourable part of London, in the same place as the poste restante for The Lady’s Choice? On top of that, he’d been introduced to a prospective spouse at the afternoon tea she was hosting. He would certainly have put two and two together.

“Oh, how nice. Postman brought you a letter this morning,” Mrs. Kanata reached under the counter and handed him the envelope.

“Thank you. I will also have the usual. Liquorice, hard candies, lemon drops… a pound of each, please.” Ben said in his pleasant voice. “And I also have a letter to leave for you to be collected.”

“All right, just drop it on the counter over there, Doctor.” Mrs. Kanata said, the sound of shaking and measuring sweets reached Rey, still standing paralyzed next to the stove. She tried to quickly swallow her cake as she poured the milk into the mug.

She listened as the exchange was completed and the chime of the doorbell signalled Ben’s departure. Mrs. Kanata came back into the kitchen holding a letter.

“What a strange thing, Miss Rey. Doctor Solo left a letter for The Lady’s Choice. Isn’t that a curious coincidence, with you sitting right here, just behind the curtain?”

“Quite a lot of people write to the publication,” Rey took the letter Mrs. Kanata held out to her. She thrust the unopened letter in her coat pocked where it joined the rest. She stood up, reaching for her gloves and scarf. “I must run, Mrs. Kanata. Thank you so much for the cake.”

Rey opened the door and peered cautiously out of the store. Despite the fact Ben was headed in the opposite direction from her route home, she set off after him. She didn’t want to meet him per say, but she did want to find out where he was going with pounds of sweets.

She had a sweet tooth too, eating at least half a dozen chocolate bonbons every evening, but the amount he bought today was far more than one person would be capable to eat before it spoils. She wondered if he bought them for the children who came to his practice. This idea warmth her own empathetic nature, for she remembered how much every sweet and treat meant to her as a little orphan, before Amilyn and Larma adopted her alongside with the Tico sisters.

She would always wait for him to until he turned the far corner, then ran in the most unladylike fashion after him, anxious not to lose him at the next corner.

The streets were getting dirtier. Few people were out and those who were standing around were poorly dresses. Children were often barefoot. Rey was horrified and overwhelmed by a sudden rush of emotions, being reminded of her own childhood spend on these very same streets.

Still, she followed the doctor’s unmistakable figure as he strode with purpose ahead.

“Lady, lady, a penny?” Rey turned around to find herself with a group of ragged children, hands outstretched. Her heart clenched with sorrow, seeing their dirty faces and matted hair. She felt in her pockets for her coin purse and suddenly there was predatory look in their collective gaze. Rey didn’t feel safe at all. She emptied her purse, tossed all the coins to the ground and ran after Ben, while the children fought over the heap of coins.

Ben finally stopped in an alley behind the orphanage, still unaware of Rey behind him. He opened the door and disappeared within a shabby building.

Rey shivered as the cold penetrated her thick coat, but straightened her shoulders with resolve as she stepped directly into the same room Ben entered a few moments before.

It was just slightly warmer than outside, filled with women and children for the most part. She was overwhelmed by all the misery around her.

Ben had his back to her and was talking to a woman with baby in her arms. He reached to take the infant from her a cradled it against his shoulder with a completely natural ease.

“Close the door, will you.” He said without turning around and only then Rey realized, she was still standing in the open doorway, letting freezing wind into the room. She was about to step back into the street, when he glanced over his shoulder.

He stared at her disbelief, his large hand cupping the baby against his shoulder. “Rey-…? What the-…?”

“I saw you back outside and I followed you. And then some children started demanding money and I… I didn’t know what to do,” she looked at him helplessly, knowing it was a pathetic explanation.

The baby wailed and Ben turned his attention to the child. He touched their tiny ear and the child screamed. He rocked the infant as the mother looked up at him with a mixture of hope and helplessness in her eyes. “It looks like an ear infection. I have something for that. Come into my office, Mrs. Zaya.” He said with a reassuring smile.

Rey remained standing by the outside door, wondering whether she should just slide away and pretend she’d never been there.

Suddenly something tugged at her skirt and Rey looked down – glassy eyes of a little girl stared right back at her, her nose was running, and her wispy brown hair was sticking out of her braid. Rey’s heart clenched once again, because seeing this girl was like looking into time-bending mirror.

Rey felt in her handbag for a pack of peppermints she always carried with her. She offered some to the girl, who regarded it with suspicion at first, before grabbing one quickly, stuffing it into her mouth, so that no one would take it away from her.

The door of the office opened, Mrs. Zaya with her baby in her arms. Ben appeared in the doorframe and beckoned Rey to come inside, his expression dark.

She followed him into the little room. It was sparsely furnished with just a table, two chairs, a few books in a shelf, and a screen in the corner.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Ben demanded without a preamble.

“I told you I was trying to catch up with you…”

“And just what could have brought the Honourable Miss Rey to this part of London, that couldn’t be arranged by a letter?” He asked with a sneer.

Honourable Miss Rey. There was a huge abyss between her old life and the one she is fortunate enough to lead now. “I was visiting and old servant for tea. She lives a few streets from here. My sister and I take turns visiting her, the poor old dear gets very lonely,” Rey lied with ease, for she had enough time to make something up in the waiting room, “I was just leaving when I saw you turn a corner of a street and I thought this would be a good opportunity to ask you a question.”

“Why didn’t you call out to me when you first saw me?” Ben asked with accusation.

“Oh, I did… but you probably didn’t hear me, with the wind blowing so forcefully. And you were walking very fast. My only choice was to follow you here.”

“Not your usual meeting place, I’m afraid.” Ben’s words were tinged with sarcasm.

“I wouldn’t have thought it was yours as well. It’s quite far from Hyde Park.” Rey managed to say with her voice level, but she couldn’t help but her angry flush deepened further. How dare he speaks to her with such condescension.

“I will leave you to your work now, you seem to have a lot of patients waiting today.”

The last thing he needed was this high society lady poking in his very private business. If she left now and chose to blab about it to her friends, it would be all over town in no time and how many wealthy patients would be willing to be consulted by a physician who also performs surgery on people in London slums?

“It would be safest if you waited until I am ready to take you home. You will certainly draw unwanted attention.”

“I will hail a hackney.” Rey rose to her feet to leave.

“Don’t be absurd, Miss Rey. You don’t really think hackneys drive these streets.”

“I know my way around here. I’ll walk until I find one.” Rey said with a careful lack of expression.

“I highly doubt you are capable of looking after yourself in this part of town.” Rey frowned at that, words already forming in her mouth to tell him off. She was more than capable of looking after herself in this part of town ever since she was five, thank you very much. As soon as that though materialized in her head, she dismissed it. It was too heart-breaking to think about. Being such a self-reliable child is not an admirable or desirable trait, but a tragedy that should not happen to anyone.

“Please, wait in that chair over there until I can escort you to the nearest hackney.” He gestured to a chair in one corner of the room.

“I’ll find a seat in the waiting room.”

Rey left the room without another word. She couldn’t understand his hostile manner. How could such an educated, charming, attractive man turn into such rude and insensitive creature. Not that he had been cruel to his patients, quite the opposite.

Rey found herself a spare seat in the waiting room. Children whined, sniffed and cried, their blank-eyed mothers spanked or hugged them. Everyone shivered, the coal barely emitted smoke in the fireplace. Rey handed out all her peppermints and wished she had more with her. She huddled into her coat with her thoughts, observing Ben at work, as he spoke softly to each of his patients in the waiting room before taking them into his office.

This doctor was a very different man from the cold and calculating physician she met in the National Gallery… And very different from the charming and witty dinner companion.

Why was he working here? Were these the only patients willing to come to him, because he was such a bad doctor? Or was it simply that he didn’t have established practice in the nicer part of town he already lives in.

Could it be a choice? Rey thought suddenly, watching as he knelt on the dirty floor in front of an elderly woman, whose feet were wrapped in rags. As he unwrapped the rags and gently examined her, it came to Rey with blinding revelation that he was treating these people with respect and tenderness.

And why had he been so hostile towards her if he loves and is proud of what he was doing? Was he ashamed for some reason? And how does this all fit with his new practice for the wealthy patients referred to him by his rich spouse? Is he going to just abandon all these poor people in pursuit of wealth?

Rey sat against the wall, trying to appear invisible, for hours.

Well, at least she discovered why he needs such a ridiculously large supply of candy, noticing that most adult patients left with some kind of medicine and the children without exception left with a handful of sweets.

When the last patient for the day left, Ben stepped out of his office wearing a coat and a scarf, ready to escort Rey to the nearest hackney.

“Did you find it an interesting afternoon. An enlightening one, perhaps?” There was the same contempt in his voice, as if he was challenging her in some way.

“No, I found it depressing,” Rey said truthfully.

Ben opened the door for her and they stepped out into the icy street.

Rey noticed he didn’t lock the door behind him. She figured he didn’t have much there that could be stolen and someone might want to hide there from the cold at night. And if she didn’t presume he was intending to leave that practice and all his patients when he establishes himself among the rich of the city, with a wealthy spouse on his arm, she would be overcome with admiration for him right now for his thoughtfulness, despite how rude he was to her all day.

“May I ask you to keep this little adventure of yours a secret?”

“Your business is no business of mine. I am not in the habit of gossiping,” Rey answered, not even hiding annoyance in her voice.

“What did you want to ask me so urgently earlier?” Ben inquired after a few minutes of silence. Rey took her time to consider her poorly manufactured excuse. Every question she could think of in the waiting room sounded so unimportant.

“I wanted to know what arrangements you wanted to make about coming to Worthing.”

“That was your only question?” He asked with disbelief. “You followed me into the darkest depth of East End just to ask me about a Christmas party?”

“You might consider it trivial!” Rey snapped defensively, “However, as your hostess, I don’t. I need to make arrangements for all the guests in advance for everything to run smoothly. Which day are you intended to arrive? How long do you intend to stay? Will you bring any servants? All of these are vital information.”

He laughed without humour. “Dear Lord. Vital information,” he turned his head to look at her, “After what you saw this afternoon, how can you call-…” he shook his head, “No, I know perfectly well I couldn’t expect someone like you to understand.”

Someone like you. Rey almost lost it there, her mouth forming a shocked O.

All afternoon she’d been horrified and filled with pity, she’d been reminded of what would have happened to her if Amilyn and Larma didn’t decide to adopt her alongside with Rose and Paige, despite the fact she wasn’t their biological sister. It wouldn’t be too far fetched to imagine if she weren’t saved her from this wretched place, she would be one of the miserable patients waiting for Ben Solo’s consultation, too. Of course, if she didn’t die of exposure or hunger sooner than he would manage to open his practice in London.

The streets were getting cleaner as they went on and they would soon reach the outer centre. Rey hailed herself the first hackney they stumbled upon, hopped in without even looking at Ben and he in turn didn’t attempt to help her get in.

He had been furious all day at the position Rey had put him in, that he needed to make her promise to keep his practice a secret, as if it was something shameful.

However, that was not an adequate excuse for having been so damnably rude to her. He himself couldn’t understand what had provoked him to such a display of antagonism.

But now how was he to save the situation? He could hardly spend Christmas as a guest of a woman he had so deeply offended.

/ / / / /

Rey arrived home, still in emotional distress. She hurried past Clement into the upstairs parlour, where she unpeeled her outer garments before dropping into a deep armchair by the fire. She closed her eyes for a minute, before looking up at a black and white photograph of her Mothers, framed and hanging on the wall covered with pale blue floral wallpaper.

Clement tapped on the door and came in with a tray of tea and biscuits. “I thought you might like a cup of tea, Miss Rey, to keep out the cold. Are you quite well?” He looked at her with concern.

“Yes, just in my thoughts,” she said, not looking away from the photograph depicting two women with fashionably braided updos, each holding a small bunch of violets.

Clement followed Rey’s gaze and noticed what she was looking at. “I will not disturb then. The dinner will be ready in a bit.”

“Thank you, Clement,” Rey looked at him with a faint smile on her lips. After a cup of tea she felt more like herself again and remembered the pile of letters she still had in the pocket of her coat.

Most of the time she would open the letters for The Lady’s Choice with her sisters, so they could discuss appropriate responses together.

She tapped the one from Ben Solo against her palm. It was irresistible. And besides, he was very much her own special client.

She set down other letters and teared open the one from him.

To whom it may concern:
I have made contact with the person suggested to me and have found him potentially suitable. However, the contract states that you will offer me up to three prospects, so should you have other suitable possibilities at this time, I would be happy to meet them.

Sincerely,
Ben Solo, MD.

Rey read the note in disbelief. How arrogant of him. Mister Armitage Hux would do just fine, but he would like a few more choices up his sleeve. These were people, not pieces of cake.

Of course, he was right in a way. They did owe him two more introductions. She put the letter back in the envelope, planning on discussing a proper response with her sisters tomorrow.

A discreet knock announced the return of Clement once more. His whole torso and head were hidden behind the most enormous bouquet of tulips that Rey had ever seen.

“Oh Goddess gracious!” Rey exclaimed, jumping to her feet, “Who are they from?”

Clement set the vase carefully on a side table.

“The delivery boy didn’t say, but I see a note attached.”

Rey found the little card attached to the stems with a silver ribbon. She recognized the neat handwriting immediately, since she had been reading it not two minutes earlier.

My dearest Rey,
can you forgive me for being such a bear?
I behaved abominably this afternoon.
I have no excuse and will not try to find one.
Please accept my apologies.
Ben.


Chapter Text

The tearoom overlooking Piccadilly was buzzing when Rey strolled inside. She was there to meet her sisters and they were both already waiting for her at a tale in one of the more private corners.

“Good morning,” Rey greeted them, unbuttoning her coat. She placed the letters for The Lady’s Choice on the table.

The waiter took their order of coffee, tea, and cakes. They exchanged pleasantries and small talk while they waited for their order to arrive and only after Rey finally swallowed her first sip of coffee, she rested her elbows on the table and leaned forward, ready to talk about more serious stuff.

“I agreed not to tell anyone, but of course my two favourite sisters don’t count,” Rey’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “Although I expect Ben would object to that, I trust you will not betray his secret.”

Rose and Paige looked at each other with bemused expressions on their faces. Ben Solo again?

Rey told them all about the previous afternoon, how she met him at Mrs. Kanata’s, followed him to East End, his rudeness, her unease with returning to these parts of London, his apology, and finally, she showed them both letters from him. Paige and Rose listened for the most part in silence, only occasionally interjected with a question or two, or held Rey’s hands to comfort themselves when Rey spoke about the poor children Ben treated in his surgery, which stirred unpleasant memories in all of them.

“This is the card that came with the flowers. And this is the letter he’d sent to The Ladies Choice,” Rey showed them both pieces of paper, “How could one resist such an apology? And how can the very same man be so arrogant and calculating?”

“He certainly leads a double life,” Paige said, passing the card to Rose after she’d read it.

“From what you told us, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s looking for a rich spouse to help him with the rich practice and has a poor spouse stashed somewhere at East End helping him with the poor practice.”

The sisters laughed, although Rey internally cringed. The idea didn’t strike her as completely ridiculous. Ben Solo was mysterious enough for one to believe almost anything of him.

“Do you think he is going to abandon his East End practice as soon as he’s married?” Paige asked.

“I assume so. All he’s ever said was that he wants a rich spouse. On the other hand, I had a feeling that he feels true compassion for those patients yesterday. I truly don’t know what to make of him.”

“I don’t know, Rey… It seems like the East End practice doesn’t make him any money. If he truly were only money driven, he would be better off not keeping it at all, and despite that he does,” Rose mused with a serious tone watching Rey stirring her coffee intently.

/ / / / / /

A few rounds of coffee and cakes later they parted on the pavement outside the tearoom. Rey went back home, Paige went to the bank to make some payments regarding The Lady’s Choice, and Rose went to attend a meeting of suffragettes she wanted to write about in the next issue of their newspaper.

Rey reached home and asked Clement to bring her some bread with butter for lunch. She went to the upstairs parlour, to work on her thank-you note for the flowers Ben had sent her. The sooner she made amends with Ben, the sooner she would be able to get him together with Hux.

Just as she took her pen, Clement tapped at the door. She expected her lunch to be ready, but instead, Clement held a plain silver tray with a visiting card.

“Doctor Solo has left this card, Miss Rey. I didn’t know whether you were at home for callers right now,” he presented the card.

“Did he leave right away?” Rey took the card with frenzy. All of a sudden she felt blood rushing through her body and a pleasant shiver down her spine.

“I suggested for him to wait in the sitting room, while I-…” Clement didn’t even finish his sentence and Rey rushed down the stairs, taking two at a time. She abruptly stopped in the hallway and went the rest of the way in a dignified ladylike pace.

Ben was standing at the window, looking out into the garden with his hands clasped behind his back. He turned at the sound of someone falling down the stairs and a smile grew on his face when he saw Rey come into the sitting room, seemingly unharmed.

“Rey, I didn’t dare to hope you would see me.”

And this was the man she’d spent the evening at the restaurant with again. Not the contemptuous arrogant monster of yesterday. How could he be so different? Somehow under the genuine warmth of his smile all her resentment and doubts faded. He reached for her hands and they were lost in his huge warm palms and she didn’t attempt to withdraw them. He raised both her hands to his lips and the gesture seemed so smooth and natural, Rey didn’t stop to think about it twice, instead letting herself enjoy his warm soft lips on her cold delicate hands, as his exhale caressed her knuckles.

“The tulips were beautiful,” Rey breathed out, careful not to outright moan, “I was just about to write you a thank-you note.”

He still held her hands with warmth and strength that reminded her of the compassion and love she’s seen him present for his patients the previous day.

“Can you forgive me?” he asked quietly. Rey found herself tongue-tied under the deep penetrating gaze of his chocolate eyes. She searched his expression for some indication he was not being sincere but found nothing but warmth underlined with anxiety.

Rey nodded, knowing she had forgiven him already, but also heard herself say: “I need and explanation, too, Ben.”

“What would you like to know?” He reluctantly released his hold on her hands.

“I want to understand you. Why are you working there with those poor people, while keeping a practice next to Hyde Park?”

Ben looked at Rey, his hand resting on his chin. Years ago, he’d trusted others to understand. He tried to make acquaintances at Mother’s year-round dinner parties countless of times. However, each relationship ended, because in his youthful naivety he was of opinion they should be honest towards one another before they make any life-long plans. Once he told each prospective suitor of his ideas to create a system of practices where the rich would finance the poor, the engagement would be cancelled. He didn’t take it personally the first two times and the few others that followed were humiliating to say the least, but now that Ben was becoming rather old bachelor with his plans for the redistributive hospital still unfulfilled, he was willing to make the sacrifice and bind himself to any decent, rich, and easily deceivable person.

“Do you have half an hour to spare?” he asked abruptly. It was probably a foolish idea to confide in her, but even if she reacted to his explanation like a typical upper-class woman, he had no reason to be disappointed. They were barely acquaintances.

It wasn’t as if he were in love with her, or any other similar sentimental emotion.

“Yes,” she answered readily.

“We’ll go for a walk.”

This suggestion surprised her. He could have just as easily answer her questions here, in the quiet warmth of the sitting room. However, as they stood on the steps outside her house, she noticed how he squinted his eyes looking up at the sky and she though he might have felt confined in the stuffy house. When he tucked her hand into his arm she was once again reminded of the sheer physical size and broadness and tallness and masculinity of him and maybe the room didn’t seem big enough to hold him and his secrets.

“It’s going to snow.” Ben stated, as he guided her down to the pavement.

“How can you be so sure?”

Ben laughed and the fog evaporated from his mouth as he exhaled.

“I am a Scot, from the frozen north, remember? We know about these things,” his tone changed to serious and he nervously glanced at her, “I’m looking forward to spend Christmas by the sea, though, if the invitation still stands.”

“Of course, it does.”

Ben nodded with a smile.

“So, are you going to explain your mysteries, or are we just going on a hike?” she asked after they’ve been walking in silence for ten minutes and it started to lightly snow. The pavements were becoming more crowded as they got closer to the Oxford Street.

“I don’t have any mysteries,” he stated simply. Rey looked up at him little annoyed, but instantly forgiven him for being difficult when she saw the way snowflakes set on his black hair peeking out from under his woollen hat. Sensing her gaze, he looked down at her.

“Why did you become a physician?” she asked abruptly. If he would not talk about the previous afternoon directly, she had to reconsider her strategy.

“It runs in the family,” he said casually, tightening his grip on her elbow as they crossed the street.

“So, you inherited the practice from your father?” Rey hated when she had to ask men for every single piece of information separately. Why don’t they ever say more than one fully formed sentence, sometimes barely that so?

“No, actually,” Rey almost audibly groaned when she thought she would have to ask him another follow-up question, when he continued on his own, “My maternal grandfather used to be a physician, but he… He ended his career after my mother and uncle were born,” not giving Rey an opportunity to ask further questions he quickly added, “Because he died. You see, they were twins, my mother and uncle… My grandfather didn’t trust anyone else to perform the surgery. He managed to save the infants, but my grandmother died. The very same day he drove up to Edinburgh and left both infants at the doorstep of a farmstead of his extended family. Once the babies started crying, his sister-in-law discovered them by the doorstep and the next morning someone discovered his body in a nearby forest.”

They entered Hyde Park through the northern gate. Ben led the way to a nearest bench, sweeping the snow away with his bare hand so they could sit down.

“However, I would say, that what influenced me most, was my mother. Not a lot of people know this, but I am in fact her oldest child. One and only son. She was pregnant six more times… But all her daughters were stillborn. I remember only the last four, I was old enough then and seeing her suffer so many times… It made me want to help ease the suffering of other women, too.”

Rey at loss of words reached with her hands to grab one of Ben’s, trying to comfort him but also herself somewhat.

All Rey wanted to know was if he is going to abandon all his poor patients when he finally marries the richest and most well-connected person in London. She wasn’t ready to hear such an all-encompassing multi-generational tragedy.

She regarded him with soft expression on her face. Cold air reddened his cheeks and tips of his ears that stuck out from under his hat. His hand was quite cold since he touched snow a few minutes ago and exposed without a glove was it was only getting colder. She had unexplainable urge to bring it to her lips and kiss each of his knuckles to keep it warm.

Ben relaxed under her touch, as she stroked the back of his palm with her delicate fingers and he studied her face with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

Maybe it was because he shared such private details of his life just moments before, as they sat on the bench with people passing by it felt more intimate than whatever else he’s done with anyone so far.

“I need to ask you something personal, Miss Rey, and I am trying to come up with the right words,” Ben said frankly.

“Why don’t you just come out with it, like you usually do?” Rey couldn’t help but tease him.

He averted his gaze with a snort. “I see no rings on either of your hands,” he said without looking at her, anxiety taking over, “Or is there a close friend you are promised to?”

Rey shook her head, feeling hot despite the freezing temperature. “No, no one special. I have a few good friends, but I haven’t considered marriage yet, even though I am much older than enough,” she ended her sentence with a hint of sadness, “My parents-… my adoptive mothers died a few years back and I may have been grieving yet still, until very recently. I want to take my time before I let someone new into my life.”

Remark about adoptive parents didn’t surprise him at all – Rey didn’t resemble her sisters one bit, he could tell so much from that one time he met all three of them. Ben decided not to elaborate on this topic further. They should take their walks one lifetime story at a time and knowing she doesn’t have a significant other in her life was enough for him for now.

The snow was falling more and more heavily. Rey shivered despite her wool coat so she reached behind her to turn up the collar.

“Maybe we should head back. I don’t want you to freeze to the bench.” Ben gently pried his hand from hers. He unwound the thick scarf he wore and turned Rey to face him. He wrapped the scarf around her neck, his movements deft and swift, his brow frowned in concentration. He smoothed the material of her coat with what seemed like a rather lingering gesture.

When they left Hyde Park Rey couldn’t contain herself with her time running out. “You were going to tell me about yesterday afternoon.”

Ben had been hoping talking about other things might take her mind off of that. He was enjoying her company and the more time he spent with her, he realized with surprise, that her response to his plans about the clinic would in fact matter to him. It didn’t seem possible to dismiss her as just another spoiled lady. He couldn’t pinpoint when exactly, but something had changed his view of her.

It would be much easier not to tell her and therefore not risk the wrong reaction, but as he looked down at her determined expression, her small mouth firmly set, he knew she was not going to let him leave until he answers her question.

“Can you imagine why a doctor would choose to serve those people?”

Rey frowned. Is he going to switch back to dodging her questions and patronizing her once again? “They get sick like anyone else. Even more so. Of course, they need medical care without question.”

“And what kind of doctor should they have?”

“There are more than one kind?”

“There are unqualified ones. They are usually not paid well at all. And medicine is not cheap as it is, too,” he smiled bitterly.

Rey finally felt like she had a complete grasp of the point. Her heart swelled with happiness. Ben Solo wasn’t a complete monster after all. Quite the opposite.

“Are you saying that these poor souls in East End are your primary concern? And you are setting up your other clinic to have a source of income to provide for them?” She asked with awe. It sounded too good, too selfless to be true.

“In a nutshell, yes,” He couldn’t tell yet how she was reacting, but he liked the way she seemed to be looking at it from every angle.

Now she looked at him and her eyes were filled with a warm light and her lovely pink mouth formed a smile of such genuine pleasure and sympathy it made his heart sing.

She slipped her hand into his. “I think that’s wonderful, Ben. I wish more people were just like you.”

She felt a tinge of discomfort as she remembered how she used to dislike him. But he was a good man after all. Truly good inside out. He was also awkward, arrogant, confrontational, but that did nothing to erase his goodness. Of course, he spoke with such contempt about his rich hypochondriac patients, when he was trying to save those who truly needed him.

They walked hand in hand back to Rey’s house quietly, which gave Rey time to think of the next steps in her matchmaking plans. Now it was obvious he needed a rich spouse for altruistic reasons it was Rey’s solemn duty not to disappoint him.

When they reached Rey’s house, Ben escorted her up the stairs to her front door, where they both stood on the top step.

Rey looked up at him, suddenly noticing he was standing somewhat close, forcing her to tip back her head.

“Let me take my scarf back,” he slowly unwounded it from her neck. Now he stood even more unnecessarily close and she could feel the warmth of his breath on her cheek.

And then he bent down and without any sort of preamble he kissed her straight on the tip of her nose. Rey held her breath.

“Your poor little nose was red with cold. It needed to be warmed up,” he whispered, holding both ends of the scarf while it still lay around her neck.

“That’s not a proper way to go about it,” Rey heard herself protest.

“Oh, but it is. As a doctor, I dare to say it is the most efficient way to go about it,” he laughed softly and then he started to lean into her very slowly, his lips so close to her own she could feel his warmth.

“We didn’t talk about Christmas!” she exclaimed rather forcefully and lifted the scarf to put some space between them, abruptly ending his deeply intimate gesture.

“No, we didn’t,” he agreed, taking his scarf with bemused expression on his face.

“My sisters and I are taking the four o’clock train on Christmas Eve. If it’s convenient you could travel with us.”

“I shall be delighted to accompany you and your sisters,” he said with a small smile.

“And what about your butler?”

That made him outright laugh, breaking the awkward tensions lingering after their almost-kiss.

“My dearest Rey, after what we discussed today, how could you possibly imagine I’d have a butler?”

“You are not always what you seem, Ben,” she said with pretend seriousness but shook her head and slightly laughed after a moment, “Of course, I didn’t expect you to bring a servant. I was just teasing you.”

She felt for the key in her pocket and opened the front door.

As she leaned against the closed door of her warm hallway an awful thought had occurred to her. What if Ben intents on switching his attentions from Mister Hux to her, only because he assumes she was single as well as rich enough to his liking?