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Obéissance

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Obvious inspirations for the story: Call the Midwife, North and South

A Bookmaker. A Robber. A Fighting man. And a Fool.

The doorbell rang twice on a small, dirty little street in Small Heath. It was eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning in June and Ada Thorne (nee Shelbey) was still abed.

"I'm fuckin' comin'!" The woman cried out, exasperated. Almost seven months pregnant it took her a few long moments to maneuver carefully down the narrow front stairs to the small door of the rented flat. "What'cha want then?" She said, flinging the door open.

The girl on the steps nearly flinched back at her tone. Her mouth opened to reply but instead she just goggled at the other woman without saying much. It was enough time for Ada to take in the uniform dull blue hat and plain dress and the satchel slung over one slim hip. "Oh fuck me, sorry sister. Of course you've come about the babe, sorry about that."

"Ah, yes Mrs. Thorne, as you said, I've come about the baby."

"Yes right, come in then, won'tcha?"

Ada stepped aside to let the other woman through. Big as she'd become the slender girl could nearly just pass by in the cramped staircase but she managed it. Ada shut the door behind them, locking both the top bolt and the turn-key. "Where is Sister Ruth gone off to then?" She asked as she mounted the steps slowly, panting a bit as she went.

"I'm afraid she had a family matter present itself. She returned to the country to tend to her ailing mother. I've taken over most of the mothers she was tending to."

"You're a posh one aren't you then." Ada said. "Where are you from then? Not from around here with that accent I'll wager."

They had come out into the small kitchen, a dingy little place but at least with good light. Ada went to the stove to put the kettle on while the other girl stood, trying not to shift uncomfortably from side to side in the doorway. "No, I'm not from Birmingham."

"Schooled in London I'd wager." Ada said, her own Birmingham tone making the simple phrase into a sing-song. "No one talks like that who ain't from London."

"I was schooled in London." The blond stranger admitted. "My name is Eleanor Arden by the way Mrs. Thorne, I'm pleased to make your acquaintance."

Ada took the proffered hand with a bemused smile. "Please to make my acquaintance? I'm not sure anyone ever has been before. Would you like some tea then?"

"Yes, that would be lovely in fact."

"I could listen to you talk all day luv." She went to get out two mugs and some tea. When she turned and found Eleanor still standing she gestured to the seat at the table. "Well go on then, make yeself comfortable won'tcha?"

"Oh yes, thank you very much."

As the pot heated Ada sized the other girl up as she fought not to stare to long at anything in the kitchen, the little broken sugar bowl on the table, the meager assortment of half-eaten and stale bread on the counter between two empty wine bottles and a well-used ash tray. Not to mention the communist pamphlets that were stacked or strewn over what seemed like every surface.

"You're not a nun then?" Ada said finally after another moment of scrutiny.

"No, I'm not. Only a midwife. Working with the nuns is great training though as most of them have been doing it for decades or more. We sleep in the convent but we don't take vows and we're free to work at secular hospitals if we choose too afterward."

"I thought you were a nun at first looking atcha. But not with your hair out so and on display like it is."

Eleanor didn't really feel it was fair to characterize her hair as on display. It wasn't covered with a habit but surely the meek, mousy little red cap the nuns had dreamed up as their uniform couldn't count as such. She didn't hate it as much as the dress though, a cheap woolen thing that made her itch like the dickens in such heat.

But there was something about Ada Thorne that made her not quite eager to disagree with the other woman, even about something so trivial. She reminded Elanor in a strange sort of way of the children of great houses who had been her playmates growing up: bossy little tyrants who never questioned that they would get their own way of what games were going to be played and who was going to win. Here was a woman who was used to getting her own way, Eleanor could tell from the door.

It was a rather strange thing to find on such a small, dingy street in Small Heath.

Of course Eleanor counted herself as no expert in the area but her upbringing at least made her confident when it came to recognizing people who came from wealth or power or both. As a new graduate from midwifery school she had been in practice only a year and practicing in Small Heath only a month since Sister Ruth's mother had taken ill. But her experience with her mothers here was all but the opposite of what she found in Ada Thorne. The power she wielded over them as a professional woman, someone who earned her own money and not on her back, in addition to her accent tended to make the woman shy and deferential to the point of muteness.

She made herself smile at the other woman as she put down a mug of tea in front of her. "Thank you very kindly Mrs. Thorne."

"Don't mention it. Would you like a biscuit with it? Or maybe some whiskey?"

Eleanor had grown up with enough older brothers to recognize teasing when she heard it. She smiled. "A biscuit would be most welcome."

"You are a proper catholic though, of course?"

She shook her head. "I'm afraid not, Anglican."

"A shame that."

"So I've been told."

"So how long have you been in Small Heath then?" Ada asked ash she brought some cheap, biscuits from a package for their tea.

"Only a month perhaps."

"Do you intend on staying then?"

"I have no attachments here." The girl tried for something like a smiled. "But I have no attachments anywhere else either so I suppose I have no objection to staying."

"You're not engaged then? Don't have a bloke?"

"No, I don't."

"A pretty thing like you? Can't be for want of askin'."

"That's kind of you to say."

"It's the truth. You know it if you have a glass."

Alright perhaps Eleanor could forgive her for the hat remark then. In truth it was almost a relief to talk with Ada. After so many months of talking to no one but mothers, who tended to be silent and deferential, accepting her lectures without remark or sign of understanding, the pious and somber nuns and the serious and studious other midwifes, the braw and bony way Ada talked was a genuine pleasure. Besides the tea was properly brewed, even if it was rather cheap it was strong enough to take off paint should it have been called on to do so. And Ada had given her but a splash of milk to cut it—just the way Eleanor liked hers.

She took a sip and leaned back in her chair, taking in the home with a more generous eye. "Mr. Thorne is... a printer I presume?" She gestured to the stacks of papers that were piled around.

Ada smiled. "Something like that I guess you could say."

"And you Mrs. Thorne... do you work?"

"I work at a few things, nothing paying though."

"I see."

Ada grinned. "You think I'm a working girl, don't you?"

Eleanor helped herself to four lumps of sugar and stirred it into her tea.. "A what?"

"A working girl, lady of the night... a prostitute."

Eleanor sat up straight. The thought had indeed crossed her mind the way that the other woman lived. She had a few on her list that she knew were respectueuses. Sister Ruth had not been shy when she'd laid out the list of women she was assigning Eleanor to take over. But Ada had been a more recent addition, not someone Sister Ruth had ever met. Certainly there was something sluttishness about the flat that was common with working girls but the fine ring on the girls second finger and the boldness of her had been incongruous with all the pute that Eleanor had yet to run across.

"No Mrs. Thorne, I did not think that." Eleanor met Ada's eyes with a firm confidence.

"No? And why not exactly?" Ada asked. "I'm a woman alone with a belly full of a child and my husband is off at all hours. What makes me different from a common whore then?" She struck up a cigarette, breathing in deeply.

She offered one to the other woman with a gesture of the packet but Eleanor gave a small wave of deference to indicate she didn't want one. She couldn't help notice that it wasn't a rolled cigarette but rather a manufactured one.

She stirred the weak, cheap tea absentmindedly before answering. "You come from money Mrs. Thorne."

Ada's smile widened. "You think I come from money? With this accent and with this here house?" She said gesturing to the old, slightly dirty wallpaper and cheap appliances.

Eleanor took a sip of tea. "Poor people are not curious to meet me Mrs. Thorne, nor eager to have me in their house. When they hear my accent and see the way I walk, they shut their doors if they can. They don't smoke that brand of cigarette and they certainly don't ask me as many questions as you just have. A woman who has to scrape coins together to keep food on the table for herself is not eager to meet the class of woman whose father pays her husband too little for too much."

Ada's eyes gleamed with real joy at that. "You sound like a bloody communist speaking like that Miss Arden. Is that what brings you to Small Heath then? Grew a heart did you and felt like repenting for all the centuries your ancestors had their boots on the necks of the working class and decided you needed to come tend to them and their injuries?"

Eleanor's smile was a little sad. "That, I'm afraid, would be giving me too much credit."

Ada waited for a moment, clearly hoping she would expound. When Eleanor did not seem inclined to offer the reason for her visit she said, "well then, tell us what did bring you here to my little hovel on this dirty little street."

Eleanor opened her mouth to offer the story that she had told a hundred times before- to her parents, to the nuns, to the other midwives and her friends back home- that she had found in the war that she liked tending to the sick, that she felt that God had chosen and asked her to take up midwifing as her profession. Instead, almost to her surprise, she said, "I did not want to get married."

"Eh?" Ada's brow wrinkled. "What'dya mean you didn't want to get married?"

"Simply that. I had been to London to be presented, done half a season in society and found that I did not think a husband would suit me."

"Why ever not?"

"I wouldn't want a man to have that kind of power over me." Again she was genuinely surprised at her own candor. She wondered idly if Ada really had put some whiskey in her tea for she could think of no other reason her tongue would be so unusually loose around a stranger. To her parents she had always been viewed as rather a secretive child. Eleanor keeps her own counsel, Gabriel had once said of her when their mother had been prattling on about how she could do to talk a bit more and mope a bit less, what's wrong with that? But here she was, practically pouring her heart out to a relative stranger.

Ada considered for a moment, seeming to consider all the men in her life. One hand slipped absentmindedly over her belly to stroke it in a protective, soothing pattern. "Well that's a bloody fucking sensible thing to say." She finally concluded. "I wish I could do the bloody same but it's a little late for that now isn't it. You must not have any brothers then eh? Some of them can be worse than a husband when it comes to setting forth dictates and decrees for a girl."

"No I don't." She bit of the rest of the sentence, not anymore.

Ada seemed to be considering her with renewed interest now. "So you just told your parents that you didn't want a man and that you were going to take up midwifing instead?"

"Yes something like that."

"And they let you then? They didn't tell you you couldn't?"

She shook her head. "They aren't that kind of parents."

"What kind is that?"

"The kind to forbid things."

Ada shook her head in wonderment. She pointed the hand with the cigarette in it at Eleanor with firm accusation. "That. That is the most posh thing I swear I've ever heard."

Eleanor erupted in laughter, throwing back her hair with such abandoning joy that the mousy little cap flew back, landing on the floor. She reached for it as it fell but missed, only clapping a hand to the tidy little arrangement at the back of her head as the cap tumbled down. She didn't try to stifle her laugh though, the other hand went to her chest almost as if to encourage the sound out. Her laughter, Ada found, was quite infectious—an unrestrained burbling forth of joy that swept her up until she was giggling as well.

When Eleanor had finished laughing she bent down to pick up the hat again, wiping damp from her eyes. "Yes, I suppose it is... sorry to laugh it was just... well you looked so funny and sure of yourself when you said it. As if you were accusing me... of the worst thing imaginable." She managed through little bursts of giggling.

Ada was smiling too. "What kind of fucking plummy parent's don't forbid their children things? I swear to God I've never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life."

Eleanor was still wiping damp eyes. "Yes I suppose it is rather."

"It's no wonder you ended up in Small Heath then."

"What do you mean?"

"Any parent with a lick of sense wouldn't let a little flower of the upper class fall so far into the mud as this if they could help it."

Eleanor frowned. "I don't mind Small Heath, it's a little dirty and the people are a little distrusting of me as I said. But I think once they've gotten used to me it will be alright."

"Have you seen much of it then?"

"I walk all over to visit the mothers if that's what you mean."

Ada's smile was a little mischievous. "No, that's not quite what I meant." Before Eleanor could ask what she meant Ada stood. "Well then, let's get cracking on with it shall we."

Eleanor nodded and stood as well. The separation between the kitchen and the bedroom was only a few feet, not even a curtain hung between the two of them. This was hardly an uncommon arrangement in the neighborhood—Eleanor had seen smaller quarters for a family with up to seven children and the eldest nearly adults. Still, she always felt a little tingle of apprehension when she approached the bed itself, as if she were snooping into the private affairs of the couple in question. In her old life she would have blushed to see the bed of a married couple, almost as if she would have caught them in an amorous act. Strange that she found seeing the bed almost more embarrassing and intimate than the examination of the woman herself.

"I'll need you to take off your small clothes. You can leave the dress on but lie on the bed on your back."

She turned to give the other woman some privacy as she took of her shoes, hoes and underthings, opening up her satchel and putting on her apron. She fetched out her ledger book where she kept recordings and turned to a fresh page. She printed Ada's name in the corner neatly.

"This is your first baby then?"

"Aye."

"Never been pregnant or lost a babe before?"

"No, I've been careful." Next to Ada Thorne she wrote G1P0 to indicate she was gravida once but para never.

"And when was your last flow?"

Ada told her the date and she got out the clever little wheel that helped her mark down the weeks. In the first column of the table she wrote the date, then in the next 34w4d to indicate she suspected Ada was in her thirty-fourth week and forth day of the pregnancy. As she had been taught she felt the baby through the skin, assuring herself of the lie within the stomach. "Has he been moving well for you?"

"A little too much."

"Any bleeding from below or a sudden gush of fluid like your water has come?"

"No."

"Any frequent contractions?"

"No."

"Occasional ones are not uncommon in the last weeks but if they become frequent and regular it could be a sign your baby is coming early. If that is to happen I want you to drink two large glasses of water and send for me immediately."

She felt again the stomach and frowned. "I think he's head up. It's not uncommon at this stage. He can still flip into the proper position in the next few weeks though so don't let it trouble you."

"I know he's head up. The little bastard is always kicking me right in the... tenderest imaginable place."

She measured her from top to bottom and noted down the length.

"I need to do an exam from within now. To make sure that you're not dilating too soon."

"Oh aye, I've been warned about it."

She went to the sink and washed her hands very carefully with particular soap that she produced from her bag. It was caustic stuff and at first her hands had been raw and bleeding when she used it. She'd broken down after a week and gone to buy some rather expensive hand cream with the money that her mother sent her every week. She hid the cream from the other girls who lived in the convent with her, not because she didn't want to share it but because she was ashamed of how clearly costly it was.

She dried her hands carefully and then went to where Ada was lying on the bed. She put her hands on Ada's knees and pushed them apart until she was frog-legged in the bed. With one hand she pushed up the other woman's dress until she could see her sex. She parted the folds and then slipped two fingers in, reaching back until she could feel the cervix. High, closed, posterior, she thought to herself before washing her hands again and writing it carefully down.

She helped Ada off the bed and then turned to let her get her small things back on, writing down a few notes to help her remember for the next visit. "Everything looks just as it should Mrs. Thorne." She told her when she was finished changing back. "I'll be coming every week now to make sure you're progressing as you should. When your water breaks or you begin to feel regular labor pains send word to the convent and I will come at once. If I'm with another mother another girl will come in my place. Please send for me as well if you have any brisk bleeding or you think your water has broken."

Ada nodded. "I shall."

Eleanor took of her apron and folded it neatly back into her satchel along with her book. "Thank you very much for the tea Mrs. Thorne." She said politely.

"Welcome to Birmingham Miss Arden."

Chapter Text

Eleanor woke in the dark, knowing somehow that the pounding on the door was meant for her. It was not uncommon for the girls to be woken in the middle of the night by family members come to fetch them to a birth. But most rang the doorbell or knocked softly. There was something immediately unsettling and ominous about the insistence of the pounding on the door, as if the man who knocked intended to kick it in if not answered.

A candle flared on and in it Eleanor could see the terrified face of Rosie peering through the dark. “What... what is going on then?” Rosie whispered. “Who is it that's knocking?”

Another match flared to light a candle but no one turned on the electric lights overhead or moved toward the door of the dormitory. None of the girls seemed to want to be the one to open the door to whatever force of nature was outside of it. At twenty-one Eleanor was the eldest of the four girls who slept in the little dormitory reserved for the midwifes-in-training. That plus the fact they all knew she came from the most money had made her the unofficial leader of the group, always deferred to when it came to disputes between the others. When one of the nuns was too harsh with a girl and sent her to tears it was Eleanor's job to mend the hurt feelings or whisper to the sister she might be a little kinder next time.

Eleanor slid out of her sheets and shrugged on the robe that hung on the hook next to it. She slipped it over her nightgown and cinched it tight over her waist as if it were some kind of armor. She took the candle from Rosie and nodded to the others. “I'll go see what they want then shall I?”

She walked on silent, bare feet down the hall, feeling almost as if she were in a dream. Something about the sphere of illumination that followed her down the hall in the warm summer air, the terrible, ceaseless thudding at the end of the hall seemed surreal and almost familiar, in the way that all nightmares are familiar.

She reached the door and did not hesitate, though the pounding continued unrelenting. She put one hand on the latch and opened it, pulling the door open wide. She must have startled the man on the other side for he stepped back as she did. He clearly hadn't been expecting the vision of her to appear at the door.

She did almost seem an apparition too. The ring of light from the candle in her hands had the effect of a halo around her hair which hung in a simple blond plait down one side. Her face was soft in the light of it and the simple blue silk robe over white called to mind the iconic symbol of the Virgin to any boy brought up catholic.

But if she looked a saint to the man standing in the door, he looked a martyr to her. He wasn't thin, all lean muscle and jaw, but his skin seemed stretched tight over his features like a man who was starving. Limp golden, brown locks hung down in his face, falling out of what had clearly been carefully styled hair before drink and exertion had found him. And the lines of his face were exaggerated in the warm light of her candle, making him seem as if he had been prematurely aged by pain and torment.

“Can I help you sir?” She asked, her voice seeming to float between them in the night air.

He stared back at her, too surprised to speak. Or perhaps all he had to say he had expressed with the way he had hurled his fists against the door to summon her.

“Our sister's baby is come.”

The voice seemed to surprise them both for both startled back from each other.

She hadn't noticed the other man, standing a few feet behind the one who had knocked. In his smart, dark three piece suit and jacket he seemed to merge into the darkness and shadows.

He was as tall as the man who had knocked if not taller and with a similar lean muscularity. But where the tautness and angularity of one seemed the product of some uncontrolled rage or pain, his was a study in control. Quite the contrary, the smoothness of his face and angles of his jaw and cheekbones seemed inhuman, more carved from marble than any real flesh. And the blue eyes shining out of that face were more monstrous still. Fixed as they were on her she felt as if she were looking into the eyes of some great snake, a predator whose attention had rooted her where she stood. If his brother was a martyr, she would have said he was a demon.

But there was no time for such fanciful thoughts. “Who is your sister sir?” She asked, her voice threatening to catch in her throat.

“Ada Shelby.”

She frowned. “Do you not mean Ada Thorne?” Ada was an uncommon enough name she had to ask.

“She's not a fucking Thorne!” The martyr shouted.

“Arthur.” The single word was spoken quietly but nevertheless was a command that the other man could not ignore. He fell silent again. The demon turned to her. “She is the one. Fetch her midwife.”

“I am her midwife. You will have to wait here for a moment while I gather my tools.” She said.

“Be quick about it.” Arthur said roughly.

She did not reply but closed the door firmly. Her hands were shaking as she turned the lock again. When she turned she was not surprised to see that the other girls had come out of the dormitory. They were standing in the doorway though and none had advanced even a single pace down the hall. She turned slowly and walked back. “It's the family of one of my girls whose time has come.” She said to Rosie as she came back, trying to keep her voice even. “The rest of you can go back to bed.”

The other girls went silently back to their beds as she returned to hers and began to strip out of her robe and pajamas. “Do you know who those people are Eleanor?” Rosie asked her as she began to pull her nylons on. “Do you know who the Shelbys are?”

Rosie had grown up in Small Heath, the daughter of a baker and one of nine children. She was a round, pleasant girl of nineteen who Eleanor rather liked. She didn't talk much but she was kind and durable and never complained or shirked her work. She was working now as a midwife but she wasn't one of the women who seemed as if she would do it forever. No, in a few years when she had made some money some nice man would make her an offer and Rosie would accept. She was not perhaps the pretties girl but she would make a good wife and mother.

Eleanor knew better than to play coy with the precious moments that she had left to dress and pack. “No. Who are they?”

Rosie's voice, already a whisper, dropped even lower. “They're Peaky Blinders: Thomas Shelby and Arthur Shelby. They're the head of the Peaky Blinders, they run the family.” When Eleanor did not seem to react to that as she had expected Rosie explained further. “They're gangsters. They run a horse betting operation and they smuggle liquor. They're dangerous men Eleanor, don't cross them for any reason.”

A frisson of fear ran up her spine. She had known that of course by looking at them. There was no looking at the man in the shadows and not knowing he was dangerous. But to hear it spoken so plainly and in such a fearful whisper made her shudder. In the brassiere she could feel her nipples tighten slightly in fear and her stomach churned, muscles tightening as well.

She shook her head. “I'll be fine Rosie. I'm only going to deliver a baby. I'll be back by late afternoon at the latest I suspect.”

She pulled the rough wool dress over her head and tried not to think about how Rosie's hands shook slightly as she helped her with the zip in the back. She didn't bother styling her hair but only pinned the hat in place over the loose braid. She hefted the satchel across her body and gave Rosie a little kiss. “See you soon.”

“Good luck Eleanor.”

To her credit Rosie accompanied her down the hall to shut the door behind her. Eleanor handed her the candle and then turned the latch again. The two men had fallen back from the door by two paces, standing a few feet apart from each other. Neither was speaking but both had lit a cigarette. Both looked up as the door opened again and she stepped across the threshold for the first time into the warm night air with them.

“Alright then, took you long enough.” Arthur said.

Thomas said nothing but turned and walked back into the dimness, the shadows swallowing him immediately. She followed after him, conscious that her heart was beating so hard it seemed to want to come flying out of her chest. The night was cloudy so there was hardly any moon. She could see only because of the streetlamp on the street but the courtyard of the abbey was almost pitch black. She struggled not to trip over the familiar cobblestones of the abbey as she followed the dark shape of the black coat and back walking toward the gate. She could hear Arthur following after her and while his breath seemed to her to be that of some great slavering dog in the stillness of the night. She couldn't hear Thomas breathing at all, though he was just as close as his brother. Perhaps he didn't need to breathe at all. The fanciful though made her breath catch slightly.

Outside the gate she was surprised to see there was a car waiting for them. Thomas opened the door to the backseat for her and she climbed in. She wasn't sure if she was more nervous to be in a car with them or on the street. In a car they might take her anywhere, out of the city even. She bit back the need to ask where they were going.

The two men got into the front and the engine roared to life. She gripped the edge of her seat as the lights came on and the car pulled out into the deserted road. She fought not to peer over their shoulders as they navigated through the streets. She could see little enough of the road and didn't know Small Heath well enough to tell where they were after a few turns.

They drove in silence for a few moments and then pulled over on an unfamiliar street. Thomas got out and opened her door again. He took her by the upper arm almost as if he thought she meant to turn and run and guided her to one of the doors. The sensation of his long slim fingers locked around her arm made her breath catch in her throat and a shivering sensation shoot up her spine.

She could tell immediately it was a rather nicer part of Small Heath he had taken her too. There were street lamps for on, manicured little shrubs and all the doors had fresh paint that matched the window trimmings. He opened the door and they went in to an unexpected house. The foyer was properly decorated, it could have been a house her parents might have rented, and a proper stair went up to the second floor. To the left she could see into a charming little parlor with a fire crackling in the hearth.

“She's upstairs.” He said as he took her coat and hung it on the rack by the door.

“Alright.”

She turned to go up the stairs but froze when she saw that someone had come out of one of the rooms and was standing at the top of them. She was an older woman, perhaps in her mid forties. She was thin and well-preserved, still something of youthful beauty lingering about her features, but with the same lines of pain and worry she'd seen on Arthur's face. Her expression was one of formidable expectation.

“I brought her Pol, as you asked.” Thomas said to the woman.

“And where are you off to now then Thomas?”

To Eleanor's surprise that question brought a smile to the man's lips. It was a strange thing to behold, a light little ghost of a thing that flitted across those normally still features like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond. “To go get drunk of course. What else can men do in these circumstances?”

“And what of the father?” Pol's voice was harsh, taking no stock of the smile.

The man seemed to consider for a long moment. “The truce lasts until morning Pol, you can send word to him.”

Now it was the woman's turn to smile broadly. “Thank you Tommy, thank you!” She turned then to Eleanor for the first time and her demeanor seemed to change entirely. The formidable matron melting away into something unexpectedly soft and motherly. “Now up you get here girl, there's work to be done. What ever you shall be needing just tell old Polly here and she'll fetch it for you.” She came down the stairs to take Eleanor by the arm and guide her up the stairs. “What's your name then girl?”

“Eleanor Arden, Mrs. Shelby.” She said.

“Oh, no 'Mrs. Shelby', please. I ain't a grand lady, now am I? Call me Polly, please.” She said warmly. “Thank you for coming so late at night Miss Arden...” She hesitated. “And with my nephews. I'm not sure most girls would be so brave around here. Not the least a posh little thing like you.”

Eleanor didn't know what to say to that quite. “Of course.” She said lamely.

They went up the stairs together and Polly took her into the room. Ada was on a low couch, on her back and white as a sheet with pain, a little sheen of perspiration just starting. “Oh Jesus Eleanor, thank you for coming. Fuck the baby still hasn't flipped over. I know it, he was kicking my cunt just last night he was.”

Eleanor went and knelt, opening her satchel. Her heart was pounding. A breech birth would be hard and unless she missed her guess Ada was close. She'd have no time to send for one of the more experienced sisters to help her. But she didn't let a hint of the fear she felt show on her face. She knelt before the other woman and took her by the hand. “It's alright Ada. We'll get you through this.”

“Mrs. Shelby can I please have some boiled water and towels, all that you have I think.”

“Right away.”

She cleaned her hands and checked and found that Ada was right, the baby was indeed coming with his bottom first but luckily neither foot had come through which could make the delivery nearly impossible for both participants to survive. “You're ready to push now Ada, he's coming soon.”

“Oh Jesus!” The woman wailed. “I don't think I can! I'm going to fucking kill Freddie for putting this in me I swear it!”

But she was already bearing down to push.

The labor was hard but Ada had the spirit for it. When the two lobes of the bottom crested Eleanor put in one finger and swept a leg out, then the other one. Ada screamed as she worked but Eleanor paid her no mind. She reached up, groping for the two little cheekbones so she could guide the baby out safely the rest of the way. She couldn't find them a for a moment she panicked. But she mastered herself again and in a moment had a good grip on the babe.

She made a gentle tugging motion and the boy was free into the world. Ada let out a shuddering gasp of relief and Polly a shriek. “Is he alright? Is he alright then?” Polly demanded.

The little wail of protest cutting the air made Eleanor smile. “He's just fine I think.” She flipped him over and wrapped him in the clean cloth Polly handed him. “Just an opinionated little gentleman I think.”

“Like his father.” Ada was gasping.

Already forgiven then, Eleanor had to smile. The number of men she'd heard cursed in the birthing bed, only to see them welcomed back like heroes an hour later was almost uncountable.

This time she didn't have long to wait. No sooner it seemed had she cut the cord and arranged mother and child together then a banging on the door and the door flying open announced the presence of the father. Freddie Thorne came up the stairs two at a time. “Ada! Ada! Has our son come then?”

The new family crowded together on the couch, both parents stroking the heads of the little one.

She looked at Polly (who had become Polly to her at some point, not Mrs. Shelby). “I can stay to watch her for a while if you'd like to lay down.”

Polly yawned. “That's kind of you, it's been a long night.”

Sometime close to dawn she was awoken by another pounding sound. She started awake, wondering if she was back in the dormitory, if perhaps she'd dreamed Thomas Shelby and the whole thing up. But no, she was on the couch she'd sat down on to be close to Ada. Ada and Freddie were both awake as well and both looked uncharacteristically terrified. Ada clutched the baby to her with one arm and Freddie with the other.

Eleanor frowned, getting to her feet. “Shall I go see whose at the door then?” She asked.

But beneath them there was the sound of the door splintering apart. The sound of many footsteps coming up the stairs had Freddie standing too, putting himself between Ada and the door. She clutched at his hand. “No Freddie, don't fight! Don't fight them Freddie please don't! Think of our son!”

The door flew open and the room seemed to fill with policemen.

 

Chapter Text

Eleanor stopped short at the sight of the car. It sat just outside the gates of the convent like a great spider, waiting for an insect to come close enough to snare. She could see Thomas Shelby leaning against the front of it. He was smoking a cigarette, waiting for her.

She considered for a moment going back inside the dormitory. From all she had seen he would respect the fact that the dormitory was on consecrated ground. She did not think he would stir himself, for example, to come in and drag her out. But neither could she remain forever within the walls of the convent. She knew he had seen her already and going back inside would be a clear indication that she feared him. A dangerous thing indeed to show to a predator.

So instead she made herself stroll forward.

“Miss Arden.” He took off his cap respectfully and opened the passenger side door. “Come have a word with me.”

“I'm on my way to see some of my mothers sir.”

“Come have a word with me.”

Those piercing blue eyes gave nothing away. In the bright light of the morning they were somehow even more intense then they had been in the warm glow of the candle and electric light. It was like looking into the sky for human emotion and if she met his gaze for too long she felt a sense of vertigo, almost as if gravity might fail and she would begin to fall up into that endless blue void. She swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. Do I have a choice? Is this about your sister? About Freddie Thorne being dragged from your house by the police? About the interview with Inspector Cambell I endured afterward? She fought back the series of questions that raced to mind and instead nodded and stepped into the open door.

They drove in silence through the heart of Small Heath. Eleanor tried not to let her mind fill with images of abandoned and isolated factories she might be taken too. Instead he pulled the car to a stop outside of what looked to be a pub. She let him get out and open her door. He offered her his hand as she stepped out, almost like a country gentleman might help her out of a carriage or down from her horse. But instead of offering his arm he took her again by the upper arm, as he had the night Ada's baby was born, as if she might run. The pub, The Garrison it was called by the lettering over the door, was mostly empty on a weekday morning.

He was obviously familiar here for he took a bottle of whiskey and two glasses from the counter top before leading Eleanor to a private room in the back. It was separated from the rest of the establishment by fogged glass windows so they could see the shapes of people moving around outside but could make up no details. He settled her the seat farthest from the door and then took off his coat and jacket, hanging both, along with his hat, on the coat-stand in the corner. Part of her wanted to blush and look away. She'd seen her father and brothers in their shirtsleeves before, she'd seen workers in their simple shirts with no coat but no other man in her life had ever shown her his sleeve garters. The act of taking off his well cut suit jacket was strangely stirring. There was something intimate in it, like seeing the marriage beds of her work that made her shift uncomfortably in the bench seat.

He was a handsome man too, there was no denying it.

But she did not think that Thomas Shelby was taking off his jacket just to show her how broad his shoulders were beneath or how the sleeve garters bunched his shirt around the lean muscles of his arms. No, it was something else that he had intended to make sure she did not mistake: the two crossed leather straps across his back that looped over his shoulders to carry the pistol that hung at one side. Perhaps a woman who had been born in Small Heath would not have needed him to take off his jacket to notice it but he had been correct in assuming she hadn't seen it before.

She did not get the impression that he was threatening her exactly by showing her the weapon. But neither did he want her to mistake the kind of situation she'd gotten herself into. If anything it seemed more of a warning he was giving her, an almost solicitous or gallant attempt to, if not level the playing field, at least let her see the game she was playing. Freddie Throne, the police, Ada, this man all meant deadly serious business and the kind that could not be discussed away over tea or even whiskey.

Her mouth went dry as he crossed back to the table and sat in the chair directly between her and the door. He placed the pack of cigarettes he had fetched out of his jacket on the table between them, fished one out and lit it with a match. “Cigarette?”

“No, thank you.” She was surprised she could speak at all, much less how steady her voice sounded.

Thomas placed the bottle of whiskey on the table and poured out two generous helpings. He pushed one of the glasses toward her across the table. “Drink.”

“I've got work to do after this Mr. Shelby, mothers to attend to.”

“Drink.”

She took the glass in her hand and brought it to her lips, taking a small sip and trying not to let it show how badly her hands were shaking.

“What is this about Mr. Shelby?”

“Finish the glass.”

She considered him for a moment, wondering if she should refuse, wondering if she would leave the pub alive, wondering what it was in the world that drove this machine of a man sitting in front of her. There was no going backwards she decided finally, not with him. She couldn't go back to the dormitory, back to the night she'd seen Freddie Thorne taken by the police, back to the morning she met Ada and do things differently. Perhaps if she could she wouldn't be where she was, staring into the infinite coldness of his eyes and the glass of whiskey in her hands. But there was nothing to do about it just then.

She'd told Ada that her parents weren't the type to forbid things. But as she thought about it she couldn't remember the last time in her life someone hand commanded her to do anything as he was now. Perhaps in school to finish her notes or come to the board to do a maths problem. But now... no one in her life could make her do much of anything. The nuns and the father, her parents, the other girls, the mothers, none of them could compel her. None of them had any power over her. Her mother and father couldn't make her get married, or come back to London or the country house. The nuns couldn't keep her her in the convent if she wanted to go out for drinks or to the movies. The other girls and her mothers were deferential, afraid of her because of her class and education.

So why now did she find that there was something in her that wanted to obey him? That cool, dominating will that clearly had such masterful control over himself, she wanted to see more of it. Like some great jungle cat she imagined how it might feel to lure out of it's lair. She'd seen the lions at the London zoo as a child and had shivered at their fangs and paws. How would it be to stand before them with no glass between her and them, to have the terrible, hungry will focused entirely on her? To have the great weight of a paw placed on her shoulder? Much like this I suppose, she thought. Something deep in her abdomen clenched at the thought.

She put the glass on the table and unslung the satchel of her instruments and book from over her shoulder, placing it on the bench seat beside her. She carefully raised her fingers to the hat, the stupid little woolen thing, so unstylish and hated and took down the pins to let her braid fall. She placed each pin carefully along the brim of the hat and then placed the hat on top of her satchel.

Then, having no idea what else to do, she picked up the whiskey and drank it down in several shuddering gulps. She winced as she brought the glass down, feeling a sudden rush of warmth in her belly and her brain. She shuddered visibly, unused to the strong taste and sensation of it.

She did not have to be told to finish the second or third that he poured for her, nor the forth or fifth though her hand was wobbling when she put the glass down on the table and mercifully he did not pour her another.

“What is this about then Mr. Shelby.” She repeated, words slurring slightly

“I hear that you were taken up in the raid that took Freddie Thorne from my house.” He said. “That you went with the police.”

“I was taken to the station and questioned, yes.”

“And what pray tell did they ask you about?”

“About you mostly, and your family.” There was no use lying.

“And what did you tell them?”

“All that I knew.” She said flatly. “Which was not much, nor very interesting to them.”

“What exactly do you know about me and my family?”

“I've heard your gangsters, that you fix horse bets. That you run the Peaky Blinders. None of this seemed new information to the detective who questioned me.” The room was beginning to spin around him and she was struggling to focus on him. “Honestly Mr. Shelby I didn't have much to tell them that they didn't already know more about than I do.”

“And what about what you had to tell them before you came to my house that evening?”

She felt like she might be sick. “What do you mean?”

“Did you tell them that Freddie Thorne would be there that night? To see my sister?”

“How could I? You came to pick me up from the convent. I wouldn't have known Ada was in labor otherwise.”

“You didn't ask one of the other girls to send word to the police of who she was and that Freddie might be there at the house?”

She shook her head. “I don't know anyone in Small Heath. Who would I ask to send word? And why would I know to... or want to?”

“If I look through your satchel what will I find?”

“A book of pregnant women in Small Heath and some medications.”

“Not a gun?”

“No.” She wiped her forehead which was starting to sweat slightly. “Mr. Shelby I'm afraid I'm going to be sick.” She said firmly before she leaned forward, vomited spectacularly into the spittoon and then slumped forward in a dead faint.

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas Shelby thought that perhaps this has not been his best considered plan as he bent and slid one arm under the girl's knees, the other going around her shoulders. He had, at the minimum, not done a very good calculation of how much whiskey she would need to tell him anything he wanted to know. Her head felt limply against his shoulder as he hefted her to his chest. She was a pretty little thing, he reflected, staring down into her face. Even weak, sweaty and streaked with vomit she was lovely to behold.

She had never been this drunk in her life, he would have placed very favorable odds on that.

One shoe dangled precariously from her limp feet and he brought her back to the car and installed her in the backseat. The shoe slipped off as he arranged her lying in the back and he bent to slip it back on. He stood again and couldn't help but notice that the skirt of her dress had pushed up, revealing creamy slender thighs and inciting garter belt. He would have thought she wore hoes under such a dowdy skirt, the thought of garter belt was something he wished he didn't know about it. He was ashamed of the reaction he had to it. He'd never been the kind of man who liked a woman drunk when he made love to her, nor one to take advantage of those who were. But at the sight of her he felt himself stir in his pants.

But she had stirred his blood since he'd first seen her, standing in the candlelight of the convent door, looking for all the world like the Virgin in her blue and white. The blond halo of her hair about her looked to him like one of the gold ones that ringed the heads of saints in church paintings. She hadn't had to open her mouth for him to know what her class was. The shoulders and the way she held them alone spoke of a proper education, a boarding school with carriage and etiquette lessons and a mother who cared enough to remind her to sit up straight.

The top of Tommy's own mother's jewel box had been a little figurine of a woman that you could wind up. Out would come a tinkling little melody and the woman, a slender little maiden in a long white dress, would spin gracefully, her arms thrown wide as if waiting for an embrace. Tommy had watched the delicate ceramic girl for hours as a child, winding up the box until the springs within were almost bursting with the strain of it. It was one of his mother's prized possessions, a rather expensive gift from one one of his father's rare drunken benders that had ended in generosity instead of violence. That was what she reminded him of: something precious and delicate and too good for the world he'd come from.

The jewel box had been sold of course during one of the hard spells. But now here was this nubile creature who had been thrown into his path, all soft pale skin, blond hair and honeyed words and something in him wanted to wind her up, to see her dance for him. What would it be like to posses her? To have her? It was more than just her body for which he felt a covetous desire.The Sheby family was fighting for legitimacy after all were they not... How much would it mean to have a woman like that on his arm, in his bed? She'd heard he was a gangster, she'd said. Little enough chance then.

But what was she doing in Small Health then though, so far from the protection of her parents and family? He couldn't help but think that for a posh girl like her she must have been somewhat wild to end up where she was. A pregnancy perhaps or even just the rumor of one with the wrong lad was the most likely reason she'd been hidden away from society in the convent until the world forgot what she had done.

He slid her thighs back together and rearranged the skirt into a more demure position.

What to do with her now though? He could hardly take her back to the convent and leave her passed out on the steps for the nuns to find her. Neither could he take her to Watery Lane. Polly and Ada would kill him if they saw the state of her. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of the car and finally pressed his lips together. It was still early enough that the betting hall would be mostly deserted.

Mind made up Tommy pulled the car out onto the street and turned toward his work.

He mostly used the little bedroom over the betting hall for rendez vous with Lizzie Strong or the other infrequent prostitutes he saw. He found their lodgings universally depressing. The little touches of cheap feminine taste—macrame over the chair backs, fake flowers on the table— made him feel somehow disgusted with them, himself, the act. It was cleaner to fuck them in the sparse little bedroom where he sometimes slept when the races were particularly fraught and there was too much money in the parlor to be left without anyone to guard it. It felt more honest.

He pulled into the garage of the parlor and shut off the car. He opened the back door and crouched again to pick her up. Her head lolled back as he lifted her again to his chest and closed the door with his shoulder. He carried her into the parlor and was relieved to find it deserted as he had expected. He carried her up the stairs and deposited her in the bed.

She lay still, unmoving as he took off her shoes and put them by the baseboard. He went down to the car and brought up her coat and satchel which he put on the coat rack. He rolled the covers to one side and then slid her beneath them, arranging her on her side.

Unbidden again he could feel his lust stir in his pants at the sight of her in his bed. He'd fucked a dozen women at least in it but none had ever slept in it. What was it about the sight of her blond hair spread out over his pillow, the long neck exposed and inviting, that seemed to make something in his chest clench in a painful but not wholly unpleasant way. Unable to help himself, he reached out and ran one tip through his fingers. It was as soft as he had imagined.

He pulled his hand back feeling unexpectedly guilty. It was an unfamiliar feeling to him, one he dimly remembered from before the war. Guilt though was predicated on the idea that one had violated ones own moral code. And these days Tommy acted exactly as he felt he should. Even when Arthur or Ada, even Polly, raged at him his own internal moral compass had always told him he was pointing due North. But now? He felt like a right villain.

It had been indulgent to get her drunk. He could have had the truth from her without the theatrics of showing her his gun, his power and bending her to his will that way. He had wanted to see her do as he had commanded. When she'd put aside her hat and satchel and raised the whiskey to his lips the sight of it had shot through him to the root of his sex. Her public school education demonstrably hadn't taught her to shoot whiskey but for him she had done it, slugging it back with a shudder. He wondered what else she would do if he told her. Would she get on her knees for him? Bend over his desk and hike up her skirt, holding her ass at just the right angle for him?

He could show her a better time then the whiskey certainly had. A girl like that probably had a cunt that tasted like honey and champagne.

He adjusted his pants into a more comfortable position and went back down into the gambling house.

 

Chapter Text

Eleanor woke feeling as if her head were being split in two. Her mouth felt like it was full of ashes and her gorge was rising again. She slid from the bed on wobbly legs and made it to the small vanity and sink at one end of the room before she lost the contents of her stomach again. There wasn't much in it but the acidic gastric juices but she made a fair attempt to empty her stomach of all its contents. When she was finished she washed her mouth with soap and regarded herself in the mirror.

Where the hell am I?

She looked a fight. Her hair had come undone and hung about her head in a wild mane. Her face was sallow and pale and she looked as if she might vomit again. Her clothes were rumpled and slept in and there was a little bit of vomit on one of her sleeves. She took down her hair as she took stock of her surroundings. She was in a small, unfamiliar room with no recollection of how she'd gotten there. She remembered going to the pub with Thomas Shelby and that he'd had her drink quite a bit of whiskey before interviewing her on what she and the police had talked about. But the details of what had transpired after that were a mystery.

She splashed some water on her face and neck, rinsing down the contents of the sink as best she could. She used a little bit of water to get control of her hair and then braided it back up into something acceptable. The little vanity by the sink was very much like the rest of the room: spare and masculine with only a shaving kit, a small bottle of rather expensive aftershave and a little oriental-style dish for keeping rings, pocket watch and other male accouterments to one side. There was at least a little bottle of aspirin and she took two gratefully, washing it down with the water from the sink. Surveying the rest of the room she saw there was a large desk to one side, facing away from the large window and carved in the same dark, ornate style as the large fourposter bed out of which she'd so recently crawled.

Once she felt that she had gotten the best she could out of her appearance she squared her shoulders, pushed open the door of the room, and froze in place. Whatever she had been expecting on the other end of the door was not what she was greeted with. The room was full of men, all talking at once it seemed. One one end there was a large chalkboard with what seemed to be the names of horses written on it and between her and it desks of men writing in ledger books.

The gambling parlor she realized with a real start, he'd taken her to the gambling parlor.

She looked across the room and realized that he was sitting beneath the chalkboard, right in the middle of it all and looking like nothing else so much in the world but a king at the head of his court. And he was staring right back at her.

As if drawn by his attention more gazes turned to her and there was a strange lull in the furious activity of the room, conversations stalling out as all the men followed his gaze to where she stood at the top of the stairs looking down at them all. She froze, almost wanted to slam shut the door again and the room became almost silent. For a long moment she dangled in place, feeling pinned down by the force of the cool blue eyes staring across the room at her.

Then Tommy stood and with a gesture indicated for business to resume. Instantly the room seemed to fill again with sound and noise but he started across the room toward her, mounting the stairs and coming to where she stood.

“Not too ill I hope.”

“I've felt better. What time is it?”

“It's nearly six. Go get your satchel and I'll take you for dinner.”

“I don't think I could stand the sight of food.”

“You'll feel a little better once you've eaten.”

She went and put her hat and coat on, the satchel across one shoulder. Then came and let him lead her down the stairs and across the room. She gripped the metal banister coming down the stairs, not trusting her own legs yet. As they move through the crowd of men she could tell that all were examining her as she passed them.

“Well done Tommy.” One remarked as they passed. “She's a fair pretty wench.”

Eleanor blushed to the roots of her hair but Tommy did not reply. He took her out to a little garage where the car was waiting and opened the passenger door for her again.

He drove to an elegant cafe nearby whose owner he knew. It was almost dinner time and there was a line outside but Tommy walked passed it without remark and they were shown immediately to a table, a secluded little booth in a far corner. If anyone noticed Eleanor's unusual attire, still in her rumpled uniform, or the vomit on her dress sleeve they did not dare remark on it. In fact she had the distinct impression that the other diners were doing a rather pointed job of not looking at them at all as they walked to their table. “Whiskey for me, highball for her.” Tommy said when they were seated.

“Right away sir.”

She didn't speak as the waiter went to fetch the drinks. When they were placed in front of her and Tommy had ordered the small plates she met his eyes for the first time since she'd gotten out of the car. “Is this one mandatory then?” She asked, raising her eyebrow slightly.

Did she imagine that faint blush that stained his cheeks? His expression changed not a hair however. “No, it isn't mandatory. Polly says that highballs are the only cure for hangovers though so I thought you might like one.”

She seemed to consider for a moment, toying with the glass before her on the table. “I guess this means... what does it mean? That you've decided not to shoot me after all? Not to dump my body in the cut for talking to a copper as they say?” She pitched the phrase with a mockery of the Birmingham accent. “Or only that you've decided I should go to my watery grave well fed?”

The little ghost smile was back at that, flickering across his face for only a moment. “Are you mocking me Miss Arden?”

She leaned back in the booth and sighed. Her head ached and her mouth felt full of ash. “No, that would be a rather poor idea on my part I think.” She said, not sounding too convinced herself. “But I can't bring myself to cower before you for the entirety of dinner. A place like this will serve three courses at least. Why did you bring me here by the way? I said I couldn't stand the sight of food.”

“Perhaps I was hungry myself. Perhaps I wanted to be seen in a smart restaurant with a beautiful woman.”

“One with vomit in her hair and in her midwife's uniform?”

“You are still very beautiful.”

“You haven't answered my question. Have you gotten whatever information it is that you needed from me about the night your sisters husband was taken from her? Have I satisfied you?”

Her choice of words made him shift in his chair. No, sweetheart, you have not satisfied me. If anything the whole drunken incident had made the hunger he felt for her more profound. She'd shown real courage, which had surprised him. He wondered what other surprises she held: how she would taste, how she would moan beneath him. But from her expression he could tell she was naive to the way it had fallen on his ears. He decided for a rare bit of honesty. “It occurred to me that it might have been you who told the police that Freddie Thorne had come to my house to see Ada that morning. From what you have said I am content that you are not the cause of that unfortunate series of events.”

She frowned. “Ada and Polly seemed to think that it was you who had told the police yourself.”

He fished a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and lit one. “You don't smoke do you Miss Arden.” She shook her head, though it had not been a question.

She considered for a moment while he smoked. Then finally said, “but you know that isn't true because you didn't do it.”

“Ada said you were clever.”

“Who did then?”

“Well if I knew that I wouldn't be getting young nuns drunker than they've ever been in their lives now would I?”

“I'm not a nun.”

The small plates came and she was surprised to find that her mouth was almost watering. He'd ordered extravagantly: asparagus tips in a creamy sauce with the fat separating out it was so rich, aiguillette of pork, potatoes a la hollandaise with fresh baguette on the side and a bottle of crisp white wine and that was just the opener. She tried to remember the last time she'd had food of this quality. When she'd met her mother almost six months ago in London on the anniversary of Gabriel's death, she decided. And that day the food had tasted of nothing but ash in her mouth, swallowed around a painful lump in her throat.

Not that she was starving. She and the other girls who stayed at the convent subsisted mostly on what the nuns ate (porridge in the morning and plain, simple food in the evening) with perhaps a sandwich bought outside if they were too busy to return for the mid-afternoon meal. She certainly could have afforded to take herself out to a restaurant as nice as this. It wasn't a question of cost but of company. She had no real friends in Birmingham. To Rosie and the other girls, her only acquaintances, she felt instinctively embarrassed of her wealth and station and sought to hide it as much as possible. He served her a generous quantity of every dish onto the small plate that had been brought.

Still, she held back from touching her plate. It occurred to her that the most sensible thing to do would be to stand up, thank him for the offer of the meal and then leave through the front of the restaurant. He could hardly shoot her with so many looking on and he had said he didn't suspect her of alerting the law of the where-abouts of Freddie Thorne. What more could he want with her? He didn't seem to her to be the kind of man who would take rash action then with little promise of helping him achieve his goals. Another sort of gangster she might have been afraid of embarrassing by leaving at a restaurant but somehow Thomas Shelby did not seem the type who would hold a grudge against a woman, not for that.

So if she stayed then, what did that mean? That she accepted what seemed to be some kind of apology for getting her drunk? That she wanted to know more about him? That, despite the way her heart pounded in terror when she looked at him, she could perfectly imagine those long fingers closing on one of her slim hips, fingers tightening enough to bruise as he pulled her toward him?

Her head hurt something awful and her stomach, empty of whiskey, food and it felt like most of the acid it contained, turned over at the sight of the food. He had been right, the hangover had split open into hunger and now she was suddenly starving.

She glanced up and realized he was watching her, cigarette still dangling from one hand. As ever his face betrayed nothing but she suspected he had guessed something of the mental struggle that was going on within her. What it meant if she accepted the food he was offering was a fairly straight-forward question. What hook waited in the bait he offered forth?

“Do you know what gypsies believe about the faeries Miss Arden?” His tone was casual, as if remarking on the weather.

“No, why do you ask?”

“Because you seem to be thinking of the same kind of considerations.”

“What considerations are those?”

“Every good gypsy boy knows that you musn't step into a ring of toadstools or sleep in the air under a full moon or leave silver or bread by a stream, else you'll surely be dragged to fairy the next time you sleep.”

His mother had told him these tales when he was a boy, given as edicts of behavior. She had whispered them to him as he fell asleep and made him repeat them back to her as if they were as real as any law of men. So ingrained in his thoughts it had been that the first time he had slept in the open under a full moon in France he had put one arm over his head to shield himself from it. The day before he had seen his first death, a young boy blown to pieces by a landmine, and still he feared to sleep beneath the full moon.

“But if you should be dragged down by the fae we all know that the very last thing you must do is eat or drink of anything they offer you. For if you eat or drink any fairy food, partake of any offerings they give you then there is no going back to the world of mortals. You will be surely lost and become their vassal.”

He leaned forward. “So tell me, Miss Arden, do you fear you'll be lost if you take what I offer?”

She swallowed. “I drank the whiskey already, did I not? Perhaps I am already lost.”

“Oh, I don't think that you could be kept for something I commanded you to do.”

She raised her eyes to his and he was surprised to see that almost nothing was left of the corn-flower blue color of them but a sliver on each side, like twin eclipses. The wide black pupils were as black as space staring back at him. “Will you not command me now?”

For Tommy the noise and sights of the restaurant seemed to blink out of existence.

Only a slight flicker of muscle at the edge of his jaw betrayed his reaction to this statement but his throat had clenched tight and he was immediately rock hard in his trousers. She was all but asking him to order her to eat. She wanted him to command her. He imagined taking that slender neck in one hand and feeling her relax beneath his grip, limp, pliable and waiting for his will.

When he'd lifted her to his chest he'd been close enough to know how she smelled: a clean fresh smell that reminded him of soft grass, starched white sheets hanging on a line or fresh made on the bed, the smell just before a rain shower. Those blue eyes, so unlike his own, seemed like blue summer skies, warm and endless. When he'd picked her up he'd felt too the slender limbs beneath her dress, delicate and pliant beneath his hands. How would it be to have those limbs bend willingly beneath him?

“Would you like me to?” How he managed to keep his voice even he never knew.

He could almost see the internal struggle playing out behind those blue eyes. Desire warred against propriety, reason, sense and upbringing. She knew exactly what she should say and exactly what she wanted to say and for a moment he was sure that neither of them was sure which she would. God but she was glorious. That perfect figurine of a woman on his mother's jewelry box, spinning for him once again, all soft, clean, delicate lines but now come to life. He could see her pulse racing at her neck.

“Yes.” The word was almost a gasp.

He had to fight for mastery over himself for a moment. But when he spoke his voice was calm. “Eleanor, clean your plate.”

She hesitated only a moment longer, then her hand reached out.

He lit another cigarette as she took up the napkin from where it had been artfully folded and spread it across her lap. She selected the fork and knife destined for the appetizers and began to cut the potatoes into manageable bites. He studied her as she ate. She didn't eat with any speed, pausing occasionally to sip her wine or brush her napkin over her lips. She looked for all the world as if she were out with her parents or a group of friends, enjoying dinner out as a treat.

Only the little trembling in her hands gave away that

Nor did she pause or stop until the plate was clean but for the sauce of the asparagus. She crossed her utensils over the plate and sat back against the cushion of the booth, looking suddenly shy and out of place.

The waiter came again and Tommy ordered a steak and a bottle of wine for her and another whiskey for himself. The intensity of the hunger he felt for her, the desire that threatened to overwhelm him had put him off the idea of food himself.

She ate the steak and the small bowl of ice cream he had brought for her. Then Tommy paid the bill and they both collected their coats from the hooks at the end of the booth. Tommy put one long arm around her slender waist and let his fingers wrap around her hip. He closed over the prominence with enough pressure to let him feel the power in his arm. It wouldn't do to put his hand on the nape of her neck here, though he was sorely tempted, but the effect was exactly what he had been hoping for. She melted against him, letting him pull her to his hip as they walked toward the door, letting him guide her steps.

He opened the door of the car and helped her in, then went around to the driver's side.

The streets of Birmingham were already dark and mostly deserted as they pulled up the abbey steps. He got out and opened her door again. She climbed out and stood at the car door, waiting for him to speak, waiting for a command.

This was the true test of if she could be kept, he thought. His mother would have told her that if she'd still be alive. It was one thing to drink whiskey when he told her, to let him watch her drink the nice bottle of wine he'd bought and cut her steak with manners. But now came the choice that would decide her fate. In the reflected light of the streetlamps he could see only the dim outline of her features. The blond hair was warm in the orange light but those blue eyes were hidden.

“Come tomorrow to the betting house at five o'clock. Ask anyone in Small Heath and they will know how to direct you there.”

“Alright.”

She was hopeful that the other girls would not take note of her arrival. It wasn't unusual for someone to stay out late with some mother and in general no one really kept track of the others comings and goings. Besides she had arrived when most of the girls were getting ready for sleep, putting in curlers, brushing their teeth or changing into their nightgowns.

Imelda and Tessa were putting their hair in curlers while Rosie read a tabloid on her bed. The other two girls continued on unperturbed by her entrance but Rosie came to her immediately, pulling her back out into the hall where the other two girls wouldn't be able to hear them.

“Are you alright?” She asked.

Eleanor blushed. “Yes I'm fine Rosie, what do you mean?”

Rosie shook her head. “I'm from Small Heath Eleanor. I don't mean to pry but I know you were seen... coming out of the betting parlor upstairs this afternoon. And at dinner with him. I know you didn't go see your mothers today. He didn't...”

Eleanor shook his head. “No, nothing like that. He had some questions about the night that Freddie Thorne was taken from his sisters house. Afterward I'm afraid I was ill so he took me to the betting parlor to recover. We didn't... I mean that is to say nothing happened between us Rosie.”

Tomorrow however...

Rosie sighed in apparent relief and crossed herself. “Thank God. I wouldn't have thought so. It wouldn't think it would be like Tommy Shelby to force himself on a girl but you never know with men I suppose. Particularly thems that went to the war.”

“No, I'm alright. He was... mostly quite a gentleman with me.”

Rosie looked as if she took a moment to decide she didn't want to know in what ways he hadn't been. “I'm just glad you're back safe.”

“Me too.”

That night she lay awake for hours, listening to the steady breathing of the other girls. Her eyes were open and in the dark but her vision had turned inward, to cold blue eyes, long slender fingers leading to powerful arms. Her sex throbbed and she could hear her heartbeat in her ears.

“Eleanor, clean your plate.”

She didn't know why it had affected her so. The words felt as if they were some invisible rope attached to the center of her that had cinched tight, right at the crux of her legs. The tightness of her muscles, a clenching, warm sensation had made her feel light-headed, panting. No though, it hadn't been the words themselves but his rather his tone. She wanted him to command her to do other things, things she couldn't quite imagine. The power in them, the selfishness jealousy of them had opened in her a longing that threatened to drive her mad. She wanted him to take her selfishly, to ravish her without regard for her own wants or pleasure. She wanted him to bend and use her, to satisfy himself with her flesh.

She pressed her hips against the mattress, the pressure against her sex was excruciating but she only wanted more. She imagined him lying on top of her, pressing her down with the weight of his body, one hand gripping her hair while the other caressed her length at leisure. She could almost feel the powerful fingers closing tight in her curls, pulling just hard enough to make her mouth part in the dark, letting her feel that those fingers could pull tighter, could guide her head wherever he wanted it to go.

When she had been in her A levels a girl in her dormitory had found some photos in her family library, no doubt hidden there by the girl's brother in a boring treatise on morality, and had brought them back with her after the Christmas holidays to shock and titillate the others. Eleanor, like the other girls, had eagerly look through the photos, giggling in a mix of embarrassment, horror and fear. Most of them had just been smiling women in various states of undress, some pretending to be coy with a hand over one breast or to their mouth, others looking a little more eager to be exposed. Like the other's Eleanor had been mortified on behalf of these women, eager to compare their bodies to her own and embarrassed by her own obvious interest in seeing them all.

There had been one though that had stopped her short in her tracks, stunning her almost the point where the photos slipped from her fingers. It was clearly a recreation of some Greek play, though which one had likely not been clear even to the participants in the photo. A man dressed in faux-armor with a garish Corinthian style helmet with a gaudy horse-hair crest embraced a woman who stood chained to a pillar. Her arms were chained above her head and she looked pleadingly at the warrior whose hand cupped one breast through her toga.

It was a silly photo overall, certainly far from the most explicit for neither of the participants were nude. But of all of them Eleanor had looked at it the longest, the only one she could still see with perfect clarity. It had made her stomach turn over, clench, her sex throb in a way the others had not.

She wanted to be chained to a pillar before Tommy, vulnerable and exposed, unable to resist him. Even in the dark the thought made her blush. She knew how ridiculous it was to imagine herself as some nameless heroine of a nondescript Greek tragedy, ravished by some equally nameless warrior. She couldn't help it though. She pressed her hips down harder into the mattress. The pleasure she felt between her legs was becoming more intense, spreading out within her in a seemingly endless way.

She wanted something more, some conclusion, some resolution to her racing thoughts. But the more she pressed her hips to the mattress the more that tantalizing feeling of pleasure seemed to expand endlessly until it had transformed somehow into pain, suffering.

She pressed her lips to the pillow, fighting not to scream.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

Eleanor walked to the betting parlor as if she were sleepwalking. Her feet followed the instructions she'd been given by one of the women she'd seen that morning and contrary to what she expected, she felt completely calm. More then calm, she almost felt as if she was watching another woman go, disconnected from her own sense of self and ego.

She wasn't thinking about what was to come next, what her mother or friends would think if they knew where she was and where she was going. What Rosie or the gossips of Small Heath would say. She wasn't thinking about all the priests who had taught her about sin, about white dresses on a special day or what she had been taught a woman's virtue should be.

She was thinking instead of a day many years ago when she and Gabriel had gone out for a ride and been caught up in a sudden summer storm. They'd turned the horses back towards the house and run full out for it but in the mud and the rain her horse had slipped, taking her down with it into the mud. She'd fallen hard enough to knock the wind out of herself but by the time her brother had noticed she'd fallen and ridden back to check on her she was only laughing.

“Are you hurt Ellie? Why are you laughing?” Gabriel had asked, sliding down from his horse.

She hadn't been able to answer, still laughing so hard that tears were streaming down her face, mingling with the steady rain.

Her brother had pulled her to his feet and then he was laughing too. “I'm not sure why I thought that was so funny. I was terrified when it happened.” She said when her laughter had died down to a little giggle. “Sometimes I think I was born with the switchboard wired up wrong in my brain.”

Her brother gave her a fond hug. “Not wrong, just not like everyone else.”

She stood in front of the betting parlor and noticed that though her mouth was dry with terror and anticipation she was already starting to feel that strange and delicious throbbing at the apex of her thighs that she'd felt the night before when Tommy had ordered her to clean her plate. A little frisson when up her spine, either fear or lust, she couldn't distinguish the difference. She noted this all with a strange indifference, as if she were standing outside of her own body and remarking on something that didn't pertain to her directly.

She pushed open the door and instantly the spell was broken, doubt and terror and lust rushing in to fill her mind. Instead of the busy, noisy hubbub of commerce that had filled it the day before Thomas Shelby alone sat at the large desk that she had thought so like a throne the day before. The bottom fell out of her stomach. She should have considered that there would be no men at work here on a Sunday in such a religious neighborhood but her thoughts had been so foggy she hadn't thought of it. But she had not expected him to be alone and for some reason it seemed to her much more dangerous. Part of her wanted to turn and flee but another part of her told her not to be ridiculous. What else had she thought he meant by asking her to come?

He stood and came to take her coat and hat, which he hung over the hatstand. “You look beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

She had dressed very carefully that morning. She had gone to church with a little more enthusiasm than usual, grateful for the excuse to wear a more becoming dress than she usually might. She'd picked a cream-colored taffeta dress with a scooped neck and small sleeves decorated with a dark green bow at the dropped waist. Her hair was tucked up demurely under a matching dark green hat. It was something that she might have worn to a garden party with her mother or to tea with the vicar but it also flattered the thin curves of her shoulders and slender waist.

He was dressed in his habitual smart suit but the characteristic flat cap and jacket were already hung up beside hers. She pressed her lips together, again surprised at how embarrassed she felt to see him somewhat deshabillé. It sent a queer shiver through her the sight of him only partially dressed.

He went back to the desk when he'd hung up her coat and fetched out of one drawer a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. “Come.” He said, drawing her to the metal stairs and the bedroom where she had slept the day before.

His hand was already back on the small of her back, long fingers curling over one hip. Something about the pressure he exerted there made her knees feel slightly weak, as if at any moment she might fall into his arms. It made her mind feel as if she'd already had a rather large glass of whiskey, her wits slightly fuzzy and her fortitude weakened.

Her heart was pounding. So this was it was it? All those years in secondary school she'd spent swatting away one boyfriend or another's hands when they tried to pull up her skirt as they kissed. All the lectures by her mother, the teachers at school, the vicar... and this was how it ended. All she had needed to make her want, really want, to part her legs and give away her virtue, was a brummie gangster with ice cold eyes and long lashes, a voice that sounded like two great stones moving beneath her feet and the will to command her. She'd always, secretly, thought that she'd had a bit more self control than the girls who had given themselves up before her but here was absolute proof to the contrary.

She had never wanted to know what came next when other men had kissed her. She had liked the feeling of it to be sure and her heart hand beat wildly when one had slipped a hand up her sweater to cup a breast one cold autumn evening outside of a school dance. But the kissing had been enough and what came afterward had been too scary to contemplate seriously. She had given what she had wanted to give only, some kissing and necking, but had never hesitated to rebuff any further advances.

But Tommy Shelby could have had her in the back seat of his car the night before for the price of snapping his fingers.

Not to say that she wasn't scared. She was far more scared of him than she'd been of any other man she'd met in her life. The thought of those cool blue eyes was like a sudden freezing in her chest, something that made her shiver to the bottom of her feet while at the same time setting something warm and languid loose in her pelvis. But there was no question she would do anything he'd asked.

Eleanor, clean your plate, he'd said and something right at the core of her had clenched so deliciously. It was as if the universe had disappeared except for him in that moment and she was floating on warm water.

Once when she was a child she had fallen asleep in the warm water of the Mediterranean on vacation in Spain with her parents. She had woken in that warm and buoyant sea with a feeling of perfect contentment, carried along by the gentle lapping of the tide. She had felt almost as though for a moment she had disappeared into the water, her will and substance dissolving as she let go of all that was Eleanor. She had not been her parent's daughter, her brother's sister, a star student, a good girl, a church choir member... she had simply been. She had existed in that moment with no expectation of what was to come next nor any strong memory of what had come before.

That was what it felt like to obey Tommy Shelby. All that mattered when he gave her a command was to do it, to focus on what he had told her to do and allow his will to wash over her like that buoyant sea.

What would it be to obey other commands of his?

Something in her had ruptured open when he'd told her to drink the whiskey, like an vital organ had been punctured and ruptured forth all the hot warm contents within, leaving her panting and reeling. But instead of finding herself destroyed by the experience instead she had felt somehow reborn, reawakened and alive in a way she never had before. She would never be able to live not knowing what it would feel like to lie beneath him and satisfy him, to give in to any demand he made.

She was surprised then when he didn't open the door to the bedroom, instead leading her up another flight of metal stairs and then another, finally pushing open a hatch and climbing out onto the roof of the building via a little shed-like building.

They were at a high point in the city with Birmingham and the Cut spread forth like a tapestry before them in the brilliant red warmth of the setting sun. He pulled her forward to the edge of the building where a wide railing or stone ran the side of it. He put the two glasses down, poured a generous helping of whiskey, then handed it to her.

“I've always wanted to show someone this.”

“It's beautiful.” She was barely looking at it.

He pointed out across it. “I own all of this. Or someday will.”

But she was paying no attention to what he was saying. Her eyes were locked on his lips and very slowly she stepped forward, raised herself onto her toes and pressed a very tentative kiss to his lips. He held still as she moved her mouth against his for an instant, soft lips curving against his hesitantly before pulling back. She was blushing. “I'm sorry Mr. Shelby... I must have misread the situation.”

He considered her for a long moment. “Go put both glasses on the railing.” He handed them to her. “Then come stand exactly here.” With his fingers he indicated the space just in front of him.

She took his glass and brought it with hers to the railing, then stood where he had indicated. He moved closer and she did not move or flinch back. One long arm went about her waist and he pulled her flush against him. His lips came crashing down on hers like a wave. His free hand tangled in her hair, tilting her head back, parting her lips and plundering her mouth. She could feel that he was already ready against her through their clothes against her thighs. She gasped and arched against him as he dug his fingers into her buttocks.

The arm around her waist tightened like a vice and he stepped backward. Like the follower in a dance she stepped back too and he pushed her up against the wall of the little rooftop shed hard enough to knock the wind from her. The rough brick of the shed scratched one elbow but she didn't care. Tommy was drinking from her mouth with a hungry abandon that she was meeting and even exceeding. Slim fingers found hers and twined within them. He raised her arms over her head and she arched against him, needing to feel his hot need even closer to the center of her own burning desire.

“Like a bit of rough do you?” His hands tangled in her hair, pulling her head back. “Say 'yes Tommy.'”

“Yes Tommy.” It was a gasp.

He slammed her hands against the wall, stretched almost to her toes with them as high above her head as she could reach. “Don't fucking move.” He snarled.

He pulled the top of her dress down, taking the little lacy brassier with it and baring her breasts to him. He bent his head and took one peak into his mouth making her scream. He had looked to her a demon at first glance and now she was sure he was one but instead of a pitchfork his tongue was surely his instrument of torture. It curled over the peak, pressing it down and making her groan at the intensity of the pleasure that seemed to be breaking over her like relentless waves. His knee was pressed between her legs, splitting them and putting pressure just exactly right where she seemed to need it the most.

She rocked back and forth against it instinctively, trying to increase the pressure she seemed to need more of and almost sobbing with her need.

“I said don't fucking move Eleanor. Don't make me spank you later.” His voice was unfathomably calm as he lifted his head. He met her eyes once to let her see how the thought affected him. The cold blue eyes were as black as a sharks, lust having blown his pupils wide. “I'll take you over my knee and spank you in your garter belt before I fuck you if you don't do as I say.”

“Yes Tommy.”

He returned to his ministrations at her breasts, alternating between nipples until she was almost crying out for mercy, a little choking, begging warble of not-quite words tumbling forth from her incoherently. “Please... Tommy... oh... please.... oh....”

His fingers turned to her skirt, rucking it up over her hips with a brutal movement. He didn't waste time with her garter belt or slip. With the knee that was between her legs he kicked her feet a little wider, spreading her. He slid his fingers up one thigh until he found the warm apex of them. She was radiating heat and when he parted her lips he couldn't help but smile against her breast. The posh little wench was dripping wet for him. He let one thumb slide the length of her slit, flicking the nail across the sensitive clit at the top and making her gasp. Then he parted her folds and let his long index finger slide into her.

Eleanor let out a choking gasp of pleasure and arched against him.

Tommy, tongue across her nipple, froze.

So she hadn't been as wild as all that.

The proof of what he almost couldn't believe having kissed her was settled neatly around his index finger, like a promise ring. Slowly, and very carefully, he drew back the finger from her. Eleanor seemed to have noticed the change in his demeanor as he lifted his head, though it took her another moment to reach coherence. He let her skirt fall back down, covering her knees modestly and gently slid back the front of her dress and brassiere to cover her. Finally, and most reluctantly of all, he stood back from her, long leg moving from between hers.

As if she were a marionette whose strings had been cut, her arms fell again to her sides, smoothing out the skirts in an unconscious habit, brushing down the front and settling it into place. In a moment, but for her lips which were plump and raw from his kisses, she looked as if the interlude had never taken place.

She crossed her arms protectively over her waist and met his eyes only reluctantly. She seemed to have pieced together what had brought him up short. “You thought... that is you did not think me an innocent.” She said quietly.

His voice was even rougher than usual. “No sweetheart .” Why in the hell would a virgin have agreed to meet him, alone, at his illegal betting house? She wasn't witless. The way she had kissed him back, arched against him, spread for him made it clear that she understood that he had intended to fuck her. So why in the world had she come in the first place?

Her expression was grim. “I see. And... and that's a problem for you?”

God but he'd never needed a cigarette so badly. He fished one out of his vest pocket and lit it, fighting not to let his hands shake. “I would have thought it would be more a problem for you.” He finally managed, taking the smoke all the way into his lungs and letting it out only very slowly.

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I looked you up today in Burke's Peerage. Eleanor Anne Elizabeth Arden, daughter of Patricia Granthorne Arden (nee Granthorne-Hardy) and Charles Philips Angus Arden, the Earl and Countess of Carnbrook. You're a fucking countess Eleanor.” He didn't know why it was so easy to remember her parent's names. It was as if they had been burned into his brain with a brand.

Eleanor didn't say what it occurred to her to say: that the Earldom was not considered the most lucrative one, despite having a rather nice estate and lands, or that her great grandfather had been from the merchant class, or that if she didn't marry the title would actually pass to Philip, a distant cousin when her father died.

Instead she said, “yes I know.”

His head felt like it was swimming. He'd had his finger in the wet, virgin cunt of the daughter of an Earl. A century ago they would have hung a gypsy like him for such a thing.

He lit another cigarette and took a drag to start it before passing it to her underhanded. “I don't smoke.”

“I know, take it.”

“Is that a command?”

“No it bloody well isn't.”

She took it anyway and took an obliging drag. He went to the railing of the roof and handed her back her glass of whiskey, taking his own and fighting the urge to throw it back in one gulp. She came to lean beside him on the railing. “Have you thought this through?” He asked, turning to meet her eyes.

“No.” She admitted.

“Why then? Why me?”

She met his eyes levelly. “I'm not sure. When you tell me to do something though, all I can think about is how much I want to obey you, to please you. I'm not sure why.”

Perhaps because she could tell how much he needed that. All the people in his life who he sough to control—Arthur, Polly, Ada, John, the Peaky blinders and their rivals—and everyone struggled against him. The more he bound them to him with cleverness and strategy the more they pulled away, fought to disobey. In France Tommy had sworn never to let himself be controlled again. And the end of a tunnel where violent death could come at any second he had felt himself mastered by fear, bent to the will of other men. The men who had ordered him into battle and those who might at any time burst forth from the other end of the tunnel to end his life at the end of their bayonettes. It had been his task to not allow himself to be taken over by that fear. He had found within himself the strength the keep the kingdom of his mind and leashed his own fear.

The power it had given him, a power that could be taken away by no other human, had been like nothing else he had ever imagined. He had mastered himself and sworn that if he made it out of the war alive he would master the world too. Nothing at all in the world now held Thomas Shelby afraid except his own fear. The Lees, the Italians, the coppers were all just men and none of them held any power over him. The nightmares, the shoves he heard against the walls at night, the return of the powerlessness he had felt was his only true terror left.

How tempting then this woman who wanted his control, an outlet for all the darkest desires within him. She wasn't weak willed: he'd seen her master herself when Arthur had pounded on the door of the convent dormitory. He'd seen her take control of herself again when he'd commanded her to drink the whiskey at the Garrison. But she wanted to bend that will to his own. He had seen how her pupils had widened when he'd told her to clean her plate, felt how her pulse had raced when he'd told her he would spank her for disobedience. Why she might feel this way he couldn't fathom.

But Tommy Shelby had learned from an early age not to question fortune.

He took her by the hand and led her back to the shed and the stairs down. He climbed down with the whiskey then came back to help her down. He led her back again to the desk at the front of the long hall. Dusk was beginning to fall outside, long shadows creeping in the frosted windows of the front door. He turned on the lights, high bulbs hung from the exposed rafters that did little to chase away the shadows below. Still they served well enough to illuminate her face.

He put the whiskey back into the desk and then turned to face her. His expression hadn't changed but something in his demeanor made the back of her neck rise slightly. “Sit on the desk Eleanor.”

She obeyed carefully. The top of the desk was almost entirely clean so she chose a spot in the middle of it. He came to stand before her. “Spread your legs.”

 

 

 

 

 

TBC

 

Chapter Text

Beneath the creamy white skirt her thighs parted. He could see the pulse at her neck bounding an insane pace as he came to stand between them. He put light fingers to trace the curve of her neck, making her shiver. He let his fingers drag out over her collarbone, exposed by the scooped neck of her dress. Each place he touched her seemed to spark some kind of unseen electricity that flowed from him and grounded at the apex of her thighs.

This close she could smell him: horses, whiskey, cigarettes and gunpowder. She could hear his breathing and see the rise and fall of the crisp white shirt as he took slow, steady breaths. She raised her eyes to meet his and found him staring back at her. “You can stop me with a word.” He said. “At any time. Do you understand that?” His tone was light but something small had changed in the lines of his face that let her know that he was deadly serious.

She nodded very briefly, her throat too dry for words.

Very, very slowly Tommy lowered his lips to her. It was a much softer kiss than she would ever have anticipated, not sweet or chaste but slow, methodical. Nothing like the dominating, claiming kiss he'd given her on the rooftop. He slide one large hand into her hair and tilted her face to his. When her mouth opened of its own accord he took it slowly, sampling each lip once or twice before exploring deeper. The other hand went to one of her arms, braced on either side of her legs and began to draw a slow and steady pattern up it, into the sensitive flesh at the crook of her elbow, up higher into the tender skin on the inside of her arm and then back down again.

He let her kiss him back, exploring his mouth at first tentatively, then a little more confidently with some coaxing. She brought one hand up and slid it through his hair. It was such a strange feeling, the sides buzzed short tickled her palm while the top, longer part was unexpectedly soft.

The hand at her arm dropped down to one knee, pushing it wider on the desk. He pushed the skirt up over her knees and dropped his hands to her thighs. “Put your hands around my neck sweetheart.” He ran one hand up her side, cupping one breast through the thin material of her dress, thumbing the nipple he could feel harden beneath his fingers and making her mouth open in a silent gasp against his lips. The other hand slid up her thigh again, this time pressing deeper until he had reached that warm nook again. He stroked her through her bloomers for a moment, feeling them soak beneath his ministrations.

He was determined to take this as slowly as he could, to savor it, to give them both something fond to look back on. Whatever queer spin of the rota fortuna had landed her soon to be literally in his lap, he didn't want her to think back too unkindly on it.

He slid aside her bloomers and let long slim fingers slide in, stroking the little nub of pleasure at the apex of her folds with his thumb while his index finger slid into the warm furnace of her. She gasped, letting her head fall back. She tried to rock on his hands, give herself more friction and this time he didn't scold her but rather just moved his hand with her, denying her what she craved. For his own benefit as well he intended to prolong this experience as much as possible.

He could feel the little spiderweb of flesh that spoke of her virginity against his finger and was surprised at how it made his cock twitch in his pants. He'd never put much value in a woman's chastity. Having lost his faith in the war, he didn't see it was something they owed God; having lost his own virginity long before the war, he didn't see it was something they owed him. And yet... something about the idea of being the first man to taste her, to fuck her, made him wild with lust.

But perhaps it was to be expected. Her virginity had been conceptualized by society in a way unlike any other woman he had taken to bed before, like some precious jewel that, while temporarily in her possession, truly belonged to the aristocracy, her future husband and the church. A robber Polly had once called him. Was it the robber in him that want to take something of value from the clergy and nobility? Or was it something else, something about the whom woman he knelt before, fingers in her cunt?

She had said she wanted to obey, to please him. And as for him... he wanted to posses her, control her. No, it wasn't thoughts of her future husband or vicar or father that got him so hard thinking about being the first man to have her. He didn't just want to take the virginity of a countess simply because it was precious. He wanted to be, even just for a little while, the only one to know how Eleanor Arden tasted, how she screamed, how to bring her just to the edge and then tip her over into unknown pleasure. Because while that was true, he could imagine that he owned her completely.

When he could withstand her little mewling noises of pleasure no longer Tommy knelt. He gripped her buttocks with two hands and slid her forward on the desk until she was almost standing before him. He gripped her bloomers and slid them down to her ankles, then coaxed her to step out of them. He placed them carefully on the desk beside her and then reseated her on the desk, rolling her skirt up over her hips again.

The sight of her looking down at him, pupils blown, breast flushed and heaving was a sight he knew he would never forget. “Tommy what...” She began to ask but stopped short as he leaned forward and claimed her sex with his mouth.

She started back in shock, almost trying to stumble back at the intensity of the sensation but he caught her thigh with one hand, looping her knee over his shoulder, his other hand going to splay wide her knee. He spread her open before him and feasted. “Jesus Tommy.” She moaned, head falling back. One of her hands was at the edge of the desk, supporting her, the other went to his hair, gripping it as if she might slide off the sharp and keen edge of the work if she didn't hold onto him. Orr perhaps it was there for another reason. He glanced up and the look on her face was disbelieving, raw and wild. Her fingers tightened in his hair as if she hadn't made up her mind that she shouldn't pull him back, stop him from giving such dangerous pleasure, or urge him on toward her own peak.

He would have liked to savor the taste of her, a warm and light taste that with something in it like honey and whiskey and cream but he could tell she was too close and almost afraid of what was now hurtling toward her with an inevitability that could not be denied. Later he promised himself he'd lash her hands to his headboard and her feet to each bedpost and spread her so she couldn't deny him or hurry him up. He'd bend and feast for as long as he wanted until she screamed his name in a hoarse voice.

But for now he was content to let her tip over into oblivion. He slipped a long finger back into her tight tunnel, stroking in time with the movement of his head. The added sensation of fullness made her moan like a woman in pain.

With a final thrust of his head he leaned forward and caught her clit in his lips, sucking with a gentle pressure that proved to much. He felt her contract on the finger he still had against the tight ring of her and the little sighs of pleasure turned into a ragged, panting wail. “Tommy... oh God... Jesus... fuck...” She threw her head back, arching her body against the pleasure as if it were almost too much to be born.

When her fingers relaxed and she began to raise her head back a bit he stood, pulling the dress back down and pocketing her slip. He bent and lifted her again, as he had carried her the night he'd gotten her so drunk, and carried her up the stairs. She was almost as limp as she had been unconscious, still reeling from the orgasm he'd given her. He flicked on the lights and lay her on the bed.

He undid his cufflinks and laid them carefully on the dresser. He took off his vest and slipped off his shoes. Next came his garter sleeves and then he undid the buttons at his wrists and collar and then slid the suspenders off each shoulder. She was watching him he realized. She lay back, propped up on her elbows and clearly watching him as he undressed with the unwavering interest of an animal of prey watching a predator circle closer. She looked afraid. But she also looked hungry.

He let the suspenders fall to his sides. “Your turn sweetheart. Stand.” She slid off the bed and stood. “Turn toward the head of the bed.”

He stood behind her and grasped her by the shoulders, content for a moment to enjoy the shivering fear he could feel tingling under his fingers. Some part of her must want to run, he thought, want to cry mercy. But she wouldn't, not unless he told her too. She wanted to obey him, to please him, she'd said and he intended to drink the full measure of her submission. He lifted his fingers to the zipper of her dress and slid it down.

He went back to the chair by the dresser where he had laid his vest and fished out the cigarettes. He lit one and sat in the chair, folding one leg over the other so his ankle wrested on the contralateral knee.

“Turn.” He said, very quietly. “And strip. Make it last the length of this cigarette.”

She turned back to face him and met his eyes without hesitation. She looked practically feral as she pushed the sleeves of the dress down and let it pool around her ankles. She stepped out and bent to pick it up, folding it neatly onto the dressing table. Beneath it she wore a thin white brassiere, more lace than anything else but enough to support the firm, supple breasts beneath. Her bloomers and garter belt were white too. Virginal.

She took down her hair next, letting the blond mane fall down around her shoulders. She bent and slipped off her stylish little heels and arranged them neatly by the bed. She hesitated then for only a second but he did not have to prompt her. She slid down the brassiere and then lifted it over her head. Her breasts were perfect. He hadn't had the time to really admire them on the rooftop but now he took a moment to savor the sight of them. The smooth creamy skin rose to perfect, tiny, rose-bud peaks capped with little mounds like minuscule berries. The contour of her rib cage tapered down beneath to a pert little waist before flaring into her hips.

He tapped ash from the tip of his cigarette and she began to unbuckle her garter belt. She rolled down the stockings first, bending at the waist to pull off first one and then the other. Then she shimmied out of the waistband of it. He had plans for her garter belts in the future but for now he wanted to see her completely vulnerable. Shyly he could see that her fingers were flickering at her sides, wanting to hide herself from him. But she seemed to know better than to conceal from him what he wanted to see.

“Kneel on the bed and wait for me.” He said. “Legs apart and arms by your sides.”

After dropping her off at the convent the night before he'd come home and pleasured himself with his hand twice, spilling easily both times at the images her obedience had conjured for him. He wasn't sure even with that though he was going to be able to take this as slow as he wanted to. He was beginning to feel slightly out of control himself as he looked at her kneeling naked in his bed, waiting for him.

He went to the small sink and splashed some water on his face to calm him down, wet the back of his neck and hair as well. He stubbed out the cigarette and then turned back to her. He loosened the buttons at his wrists and collar, pushed the suspender straps off either shoulder and then pulled the shirt over his head. He gave her a moment to examine him, moving slowly to fold the shirt over the back of the chair. Then he unzipped his trousers and pulled them down, stepping out of them and folding them just as neatly.

He almost smiled at the ways her eyes widened at the sight of him. Tommy knew he was big but the startled look she couldn't hide was rather flattering. Come on sweetheart, you've felt me though my pants at your thigh, he wanted to say. Or perhaps, don't worry Eleanor, it will all fit, I'll make sure of it. But instead he came to the side of the bed and climbed in beside her. She didn't turn to face him quite yet. Good girl, already guessing not to do what she wasn't asked. He caught her chin in his fingers and turned her head toward him, catching her in a kiss.

His fingers went down again to her sex and was pleased to find that she was still as wet as she had been for him. He slid in a finger again and she moaned, spreading her legs to accommodate him. He smiled, the lass was so tight she had to spread to fit his finger. He was in for a treat and no mistake. Riled up as she was from her first orgasm and stripping for him it was quick work to get her riding his fingers again with that same earnest abandon she had before. He took her by the nape of the neck and rocked her on his fingers until she was panting, lips parted, eyes closed against the pleasure.

He tilted her back on the bed with the hand at her neck, laying her down so her head was on the pillows. He fetched a capote out from the bedside table and rolled in onto his shaft. He spread her legs, pushing her knees up towards her chest and pushing them open so he could kneel between them. He pulled her hips toward him until she was just where he wanted her, spread out just in front of him. He could feel the tense muscles of her thighs shivering beneath his broad hand. “Try to relax for me sweetheart.” He said. “It will make it easier.”

He hefted his shaft, as stiff as he'd ever felt it and allowed himself to tease her once, running the head along the slit up to the clit and then back down before he found her opening and pushed in. The feel of her was like paradise, all warmth and tightness and womanly welcome. He felt the resistance of her hymen against his shaft and with a quick jerk of his hips tore past. She let out a surprised little moan of pain, curling her stomach and tightening on him, making him exhale sharply in pleasure, falling forward to catch himself on the headboard. Fighting the urge to plunge into her, into that wet inviting dark with all his strength.

“Fuck but you're a tight fit. It's enough to drive a man wild.”

He made himself go slow, letting her get used to the length of him at every agonizing inch. When he finally slid home he felt as if he might spill then and there. His hand fisted in the pillow beside her head as he remastered himself. She looked up at him with wide blue eyes, arching her back against the sensation. “You feel... you're filling me up Tommy.”

I will fill you to the fucking core, he wanted to say. Instead he began to slowly thrust within her and soon he had forgotten about anything else except the warm inviting feeling of her on his shaft. He pressed her knees to each side, giving him more room the thrust deeper. He could hear her panting beneath him and the warm creamy skin of her thighs and breasts beneath him. With each thrust she arched against him. Her hands went to his arms, trying to pull herself closer to him. It was like running down a dark beach though somehow, chasing something that was suddenly running full force at him as well. With a surprised cry she came again, spasming this time on his cock instead of his finger, arching up and letting out a little scream of joy.

That proved too much.

Tommy felt as if the universe exploded around him. With a roar he thrust deeply into her and spilled over. All his being condensed down to the singular pleasure of being buried and safe within her, the feeling of absolute warmth and safety. Whatever Tommy Shelby was came apart into pieces as surely as if he'd met his end on a landmine in France, exploding out in light and sound and pleasure.

When the pieces of him began to drift back together he found that he was still buried within her. He had managed to remain propped up over her on his elbows but his head had slumped forward, lips against the center of her chest. He fought the urge to give that soft skin as kiss and rolled off her instead. He gripped the base of his shaft and carefully slid out of her. He arranged her legs into a more demure position. Her arms were to the sides, clutching the bed sheets still with white knuckles. He disposed of the capotte and splashed some cold water on his face from the sink. Then returned to the bed with her.

He curled her little body against his, pressing the length of himself to her. He kissed her neck and gave it a soft bite to make sure she didn't think of wriggling away and making her shudder and shiver. “Lie still,” he told her, “just let me move you how I like.”

She relaxed as he bid, letting him arrange her into a little ball against his chest.

He fell asleep and slept deep with her limp against him. He hadn't slept that well in months. The usual nightmares of scraping shovels and endless tunnels replaced with a blackness so profound it might have been death and he woke feeling almost weak with the relief of it. He'd hardly felt so refreshed in months and it was only just dawn, judging by the light in the windows.

In his sleep one hand had slipped to her breast. He slid his hands down her hips and buttocks. She was so warm and sleepy and pliable in his hand he couldn't help himself. He parted her cheeks and maneuvered her buttocks back until she was spread before him. He slid a finger between her parted lips and found she was still wet for him. He pushed his head between them and then thrust in. She woke with a little pitiful moan of surprise that make him only harder.

He rolled on top of her, so she was on her stomach, legs spread and trapped beneath him and pushing her down into the mattress and spreading her legs with his knee. From this angle she was even tighter and she gasped as he pushed deeper. “Oh please...” She pleaded but he paid her no mind. “Tommy it's too much.”

“Open for me sweetheart.”

She spread her legs obediently and he thrust in. God the feel of her was incredible, all tight, unbelievable wetness. He took his time thrusting in, taking it slow. Her fingers clenched on the bed sheets almost as if she were a little mouse trying to crawl out from under the enormous cat paw on top of her, but she obediently didn't try to squirm forward. He tangled one hand in her hair and gripped her hair, jerking her head back and encouraging her to trust back against him each time he pushed forward. Despite the fact that each slow thrust made her sob slightly, gasping at the intensity of the sensation, she pushed back against him submissively, letting him take her at any pace he chose.

The dutiful little way she squirmed back against him, clearly almost at the edge of pain with each thrust made him feel as if the world was slipping away from him, so intense was the feeling of pleasure. He cock clenched painfully at the sight of her body bent almost like a bow beneath him and the feeling of her tight, wet cunt was like nothing he'd felt before.

But finally it was too much for them both, her tipping over first and then him thrusting viciously into her until he spilled over with a roar. Pleasure broke open like a molten liquid filling him from his cock to his toes to the top of his head. When they were both recovered he thrust into her twice more, his cock softening but enjoying that she cried out with each thrust. Then he released her head back, letting her go limp, face down on the pillow.

He pulled out of her slowly, savoring another gasp, and then rolled onto his back, reaching for the nightstand and fished out his cigarettes, lit one and lay back on the pillows to enjoy the afterglow of her pussy. He felt empty, soft, relaxed, awash with pleasure and satisfaction.

She had rolled back onto her back and was watching him with a little bit of a wary look in her eyes. When he reached for her though she came without hesitation. He gathered her to him, pressing her breasts and sweet naked body along his length with one arm, one hand gripping the ripe peach of her ass, the other holding a cigarette. Pleasure in both hands, a man could get used to this, he thought.

“You were surprised that I... that is that I had never... made love before.” She said, sounding almost shy.

“Yes.”

“May I ask why?”

He considered. “You're quite beautiful for one and you live in Small Heath far away from your family for another, not an uncommon situation for a girl whose been disgraced in someway.” He said honestly. “Besides, the way you react to me, that you came at all is not exactly usual behavior for a virgin.”

“Who did you think had had me first?”

“Some bloke before the war I suppose, a fiance you took pity on before he left to get blown up far from home for King and country. Wouldn't have been that out of the question if you'd already had a ring on your finger. People never think its their own loved ones who will die in the trenches.”

She shook her head against his chest. “I've never wanted to be married.”

He glanced down at her, surprised. The pale blue eyes tilted back at him though seemed perfectly genuine. “No?”

“No.” She said.

When she offered no further explanation he didn't inquire. That at least explained perhaps some of the reason she'd been more willing to come to him. If she wasn't saving herself to wear white on a special day and she enjoyed the way he fucked, which clearly she did, why deny herself?

“May I have a drag on your cigarette?”
“No sweetheart, it's a bad habit. You shouldn't pick it up.”

She sighed. “It's only that I feel a little strange, a little different then I did yesterday.” She blushed. “Is it usually so nice... between a man and a woman?”

“No.” He said firmly. “It isn't.”

“Thank you then... for being so considerate of me. It wasn't as painful as I had feared.”

He said nothing to that. There was nothing to say to this woman, this fucking countess, who spread her legs when she was told and then imagined that it was consideration of all things that had made him want to kneel and taste her cunt. And as for pain, well that he intended for her only to feel precisely when he wanted her to.

“I hope I didn't make a fool of myself.”

“No Eleanor, you did not.”

“You would tell me if I had?”

“It wouldn't have been possible for you to, not like that.”

“It's only... well I don't have a lot of experience.” She was actually blushing he realized, looking up at him with those pale blue eyes as if her were God himself, little fingers curled against his chest like the perfect innocent she had been just the day before.

Virgin daughter of an Earl and she'd spread her legs at his command. He was hard again at the thought of it. Perhaps there was something of the robber in him that wanted all she would give him.

He leaned over to the nightstand and stubbed out his cigarette in the ash tray. Then he rolled back and in a smooth motion was on top of her. They had a few hours before he had to take her back to the convent after all and he had no intention of going back to sleep. “Oh Eleanor, I can fix that.” He said as he pushed one knee wide with one hand, the other gripping his shaft and sliding it home between her legs.

He fucked her twice more times that morning. She fell asleep again before the last time, lying on her stomach, one hand across his chest, her sweet breath blowing out across the pillow into his neck as he relished another cigarette. He took her again from behind the last time, waking her again by thrusting into her and then fucking her into the mattress as she writhed beneath him.

 

 

TBC

 

Chapter Text

The next few days felt suffused with his presence. She was able to go about her day in a seemingly normal pattern but inside the roiling storm of her thoughts seemed to swirl around the point fixe of Thomas Shelby like the eye of some great hurricane. She had bathed when she had returned to the convent that morning. She sat in the warm water of the tub for more than an hour, awash in memories of his body against hers, marveling at the soreness between her legs, in her thighs where he had spread them, in her arms as she had clung to him. But could swear she could still smell his cologne and cigarettes on her skin. And with every movement the stiffness in her limbs and the aching between her legs reminded her of what had passed between them. She found it hard to concentrate, catching herself stopping randomly in the street or as she made her notes, suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of images of him, kneeling before her, pushing down the front of her dress, spreading her knees and pushing them up to open her...

She had never noticed how many flat caps there were in Birmingham until her heart started to turn over in mix of fear and anticipation whenever she saw one. Small Health seemed to be full of his presence and the possibility of meeting him at any moment. Whether she wanted to see him or not seemed to vary second to second. The night at the betting parlor it had been at once perfect and overwhelming. She wanted to keep the memories as they were now, perfect and potent and unmarred. And at the same time... she felt as if she might slowly suffocate without his touch.

He had taken her back to the convent in the morning in the car but had made no mention of when she might see him next. It had been early enough that the street leading to the convent was deserted but still she had been nervous about being seen getting out of his car so early in the morning. He, on the other hand, had seemed to have no such scruples. He'd taken her by the waist, pulling her into a lazy embrace so she stood between his legs where he leaned against the hood of the car. For a moment he'd been content simply to regard her upturned face before he brushed a light kiss over her lips. “Until next time, Eleanor.”

Then he'd been gone.

A gypsy gone, as if in a puff of smoke. It was a thing from the carnivals, almost enough to make her laugh except...except it wasn't funny at all. The joke was on fucking her.

When would that next time be? Even more than what the next time would be, it was the question of time that preoccupied her. The anticipation was agony she found she couldn't quite get enough of... at least at first. After two days she felt like she could barely take it. She was hardly sleeping at night. He had awakened in her a need that she couldn't remember having before but now seemed boundless. It was as if she had been starving her whole life but never knowing what food was. Now, having feasted once, could think of nothing else but doing so again. Obeying him had been awakening, fucking him was incandescent.

She had feared before their interlude that she might feel some regret afterward, having given away her virtue to a man who would never marry her. She was so young, her mother kept reminding her. “When I was twenty-one I wanted to devote my life to studying the birds of Ireland darling.” Her mother had told her on a phone call the very day after the night in the betting parlor. “So I went away to university for a semester and realized that most of ornithology is capturing and killing the poor creatures so I could never have done that. But it all worked out in the end of course because it was there I met your father.”

“I'm enjoying my time in Birmingham mother, I love the work I do with the mothers here.” Eleanor said softly. “No one makes me kill or capture them for taxidermy.”

“Yes of course you're enjoying yourself darling, that's what I'm saying. Your father and I think it's wonderful that you're having this little adventure. Very important for a woman to make a bit of her way in the world before settling down.”

“I'm not intending to settle down.”

“Oh yes right of course dear, I had forgotten. It's only such a waste that you're so pretty and becoming a nun.”

“I'm not a nun.”

“Don't be cross with me dear, I'm doing the best I can.”

“I know mama.” She'd said, leaning her head against the wall in front of the phone in the rectory, trying not to make eye contact as one of the sisters walked by, casting a rather judgmental look at her for her exasperated tone. “I know mama.” She repeated, more kindly. “It's only... I wish you would listen sometimes when I tell you what I want.”

There was an uncharacteristic silence on the line. Then, “shall I put your father on the line then? He'd love to hear your voice!”

“Alright.”

But there was no space in her brain for regret. Anywhere it might have taken root had been overgrown by weeds of desire, lust, and the aching, pervasive need to know when she could see him next.

To her shame she'd tried touching herself at night when she was sure the rest of the girls were asleep. Blushing furiously in the dark and moving very slowly so as not to make her sheets rustle too much she'd slid her hand beneath the skirt of the sheer little negligee she wore to sleep and then up to the warm crux of her thighs. She'd almost recoiled at how wet and warm she'd found herself, her sex swollen with need. She'd slid her fingers inside herself, trying to mimic what he had done with his tongue and fingers. His tongue. God the thought was enough to make her sex clench even as she blushed. She'd never known men could do such a thing, would do such a thing. She'd heard of women using their mouths to get men off. It was something for prostitutes to do, and women of her class to whisper about.

But for a man to use his mouth on her...

What else could he teach her that she hadn't even conceived of yet?

In her little bed in the convent, listening to the breath of her dormitory companions Eleanor closed her eyes tight, arching her hips slightly, trying to replicate the tension of that moment: the way he had spread her thighs until they almost ached, the irresistible pressure of his tongue, the roughness of his hand within her, the softness of his hair beneath her trembling fingers. She remembered perfectly the way his head had moved beneath her hand, never hesitating, never halting as he'd driven her to orgasm. Her first orgasm. How had he known how to do it?

Eleanor had been told about climax, mostly of course in the context of a man's ejaculation, a somber warning in her girlhood about the unpleasantness of wifely duties to come. She had been told in some breathy conversations whispered and giggling at garden parties by some of her more wild friends that women could also experience it as well. There were perpetual rumors that so-and-so's cousin had found joy when she was trotting on her horse, or someone had been told that French women routinely had phallic replicas made of all sorts of materials that they used to pleasure themselves. The vicar had warned them all very sternly that touching themselves in their genteel places outside of the context of hygiene was a sin, which alone suggested that it was possible to achieve something by doing so.

Le petit mort. That was what the French called it she knew and God how true it was. She felt like she had really died on that desk, his face between her legs and hand inside her. And again on his bed and then several more times face down, pressed against the mattress throughout the night. For those moments of unparalleled pleasure she had ceased to be Eleanor Arden. She had been without conscious thought, aware only of her own corporeal form and his and the pleasure he had wrung from her. White light and stars. The roughness of his tongue and fingers. The softness of his hair and warmth of his breath...

Fighting not to sob in frustration she pulled her hand back from her sex. She seemed so close but the more she tried to attain release the more painful it became. Her own small hands were no substitute for his and the memory was only strong enough to torment her. She turned onto her side in the bed pressed her thighs together, begging the heat and throbbing feeling to recede but it took hours before she could sleep that night.

But then on Wednesday the miracle came. She returned back to the convent and found a single envelope waiting for her in the little mailbox slot assigned to her by the door. She froze when she saw it. Something about the neat but blunt hand that had written nothing more than her name across the front sent a chill down her spine that told her exactly who had sent it.

She opened it with trembling fingers.

 

Come to the betting house when you've finished work.

 

TS

 

Her heart pounding but her feet seeming to float as she went back to the bedroom to change. She choose another church dress with care and put it on. She went to the mirror and fixed her face. Her fingers lingered over the selection of lipsticks she had before she decided on a red she rarely had the occasion or the daring to wear. She looked at the expensive bottle of perfume, half empty but not used in many months in her toilette. It was a subtle smell, roses and oranges and honey that her mother had gotten her as a birthday present. It was far too extravagant for Small Heath and the work she did but for this...

Blushing slightly she dabbed a bit at her wrists and behind either ear, then quickly put on her coat and hat, hoping the other girls wouldn't notice.

The shadows were just beginning to lengthen as she walked quickly through the streets. Her heart was pounding a tattoo against her chest. It was surreal to walk through familiar streets and familiar scenes with a feeling of infinite anticipation. Everything seemed to have a different hue: the cafe owner taking in tables from the sidewalk, the mother taking her shopping home, two little ones trailing behind, it all seemed unreal, like a play being put on for her. In some short amount of time she would be fucking Thomas Shelby again and it was impossible that the rest of the world went on undisturbed. She found the betting house and was surprised to see the windows were darkened. Had he forgotten he'd sent her the note? Had she mistaken something?

But there was no question that she would turn back. She needed to feel him fill her up again, to thrust into her and overpower her.

She put out a trembling hand on the door nob and to her surprise the handle turned easily. She slipped inside and found the hall deserted. She glanced around and saw that the only lights that were on was the desk lamp in the front where Tommy usually sat and the lights in the little bedroom on the second floor. She swallowed, mouth suddenly dry and feeling suddenly very lonely and isolated. This part of the city was not well traveled after dark. She had slept in his arms there Sunday night but she'd arrived before dusk and it hadn't occurred to her that if she'd wanted to leave in the middle of the night how terrifying it would be to do so.

Walking down the hall and up the stairs felt as if she were descending into some still crevasse where she knew a dragon slept. The taping sound her high heels made against the metal staircase was soft compared to the blood that seemed to be roaring in her ears as she made herself put one foot in front of the other.

She turned the handle of the bedroom door and stepped inside.

He was seated at the little desk near the single window, reviewing what looked to be one of the bookie's ledgers. He had the habitual cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey stood on the desk. He was dressed in only his vest and shirtsleeves—a look she was surprised to find still made her blush slightly. She'd seen him fully naked and still the sight of his sleeve garters seemed indecent. He didn't look up as she closed the door behind her but rather let her stand for a moment, wondering if it were up to her to speak.

Finally he said, still without looking up, “take off your dress and slip. Leave the brassiere, garter belt and shoes on and go sit on the end of the bed.”

She hung up her coat and hat first, then unzipped her dress and pulled it over her head. She hung that over the back of one of the chairs at the vanity. She slid the little slip down over her thighs and added it to the pile. It was easier to strip this time without him watching her. She went and sat on the edge of the bed demurely, knees together and hands folded in her lap.

When she was seated he put the book aside and leaned back in his chair, surveying her. He let the moment stretch for a while as she struggled not to writhe under his gaze. He opened the desk drawer and took three neat bundles of cord from it, setting them on the top where she could see them. “I'm going to tie you to the bed Eleanor.” He said.

Every muscle in her abdomen seemed to tighten at the same time and she heat and wetness erupt at the crux of her thighs. His tone had been so unaffected, as if he were telling her where they were going for dinner. That alone was enough to drive her wild. She'd been wet since she read his note but now it felt as if she might leak out onto the bedspread below her. She shifted slightly, pressing her thighs together for the pressure and to save herself the shame of a stain beneath her. She felt like her lungs were on fire from the flush of desire that was rising in her chest and her mouth parted slightly.

He stood and took the cord and strode over to stand before her. He cupped her chin and looked down at her, eyes almost black with desire. He could smell the perfume, could see she'd made an effort to please him. The brassiere and garter belt were clearly part of a matched set, a pale blue that set off her eyes marvelously. She was a beautiful woman, even in the painfully plain midwife's uniform. Half naked on his bed and waiting for him she was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen. The thought of her choosing lipstick and intimates with him in mind made his cock twitch in his pants. But most of all he was pleased with how she was trembling. He wondered what percentage of the little shaking could be attributed to fear and what percentage to lust but he was sure even she didn't know.

He put down the cord on the bedspread beside her, conscious that her eyes followed every movement of his hands. Well he could fix that. He took the silk handkerchief out of his pocket and folded it neatly before tying it around her eyes as a blindfold. He bent down to fix it into place so she couldn't see beneath it.

“No need for your eyes sweetheart. All you need to do is focus on doing exactly what I say.” A shiver went up her spine at that but she didn't protest. She was so quiet: focused on all that was happening to her, like an animal of prey, alert and wary of making a sound. But he'd have noise from her soon enough.

Her lips were open and panting and he took a moment to sample each, causing her to jerk slightly as she hadn't seen him coming but she relaxed immediately, parting her lips and letting him take what he pleased.

“Lie back and stretch your arms above your head toward the headboard.”

He'd learned to tie knots in France. Half of everything in the trenches seemed held together by twine. He went to the side of the bed and caught one wrist in his hand. He passed the fine rope around it a number of times to diffuse the tension over a larger area of her wrists. There was no use giving her bruises she have to explain, not unintentionally. He lashed her wrists together and then pulled it through a convenient place in the decoratively carved headboard to secure it in place. She looked beautiful, stretched out as she was. Her long torso was pulled taught, breasts arched up to the ceiling.

He slid a hand into the lacy cup of one brassiere and she gasped, arching against him as he gave a slight pinch to the sensitive top. He pushed down the cups, exposing both peaks, causing a little shiver to run down her chest, hips and legs. Already both tips were hard. He fought not to groan at the way she offered herself to him, arching up against his touch, accepting whatever caress he chose to bestow. He went back to the end of the bed and knelt. He took one ankle in his hand and drew it out until he felt the muscles of her legs just beginning to stretch. He passed the rope around the ankle and then lashed it to the foot of the bed, then did the same on the other side.

The effect was what he had been thinking about since he'd gotten up that morning. He'd pleasured himself in his bedroom twice before rising just thinking about the image of her like this but the reality of her splayed out before him was more than he had hoped for. With her hips just at the edge of the bed the arrangement spread her, making her unable to close her knees, kept her available. With her garter belt on and her brassiere pushed down she looked debauched, more sensual and vulnerable somehow than if she'd been completely naked.

He knelt before her, letting her feel his breath against her spread sex as he spoke. “How does that feel then Eleanor? Being spread so? Unable to close your legs for me? Tell me the truth sweetheart.” His voice was rough with lust as he palmed one breast, twisting lightly at the nipple until her lips parted in a silent moan. She was so small he could reach her shoulders, even kneeling as he was before her.

She swallowed deep in her throat, a sound that made his cock twitch in his pants. “Good... it feels good Tommy.”

“Would you like me to fuck you like this?”

“Yes Tommy.”

“I could take you hard girl. As hard as I liked. And all you would be able to do is jerk in your bonds.”

Her only response to that was an inhuman whine of need.

He slid his hands along her flanks, stepping between her legs and nudging them open with his knee, making her arch against his thigh. He bent over her and kissed the sweet little hollow of her abdomen, feeling the fine baby hair prickle in anticipation. He kissed each hard peak of her breasts, sucking them in turn until she cried out. Then he slid his hands down along her front. She arched her hips towards him, inviting, begging. He slid his fingers along her slit a single time but he didn't slide a finger in.

“But not just yet.”

He stood and stepped back and, with enormous effort for he was as hard as he had ever been in his life, went back to the desk. He took a large sip of whiskey to calm his need, poured himself another glass, then opened the day's book again.

Eleanor couldn't believe the exquisite torment of the position she found herself in. Her mind and body were on fire with lust. Something about being spread so helpless was intoxicating. If he'd asked she would have spread her legs for him willingly, kept them open for him as long as he asked but this was somehow more arousing. She arched against the bonds a little just to feel them restrain her. She tried to close her legs for the pleasure of feeling herself unable to. I could take you hard girl. The ropes felt like his hands, or an extension of them, physical evidence of his will acting on her body. She could feel herself dripping onto the bedspread at the thought of it.

Her thoughts were incoherent. What she wanted she could hardly say. She thought of the Greek woman from the picture, chained to her pillar; Tommy's strong hands; a glass of whiskey pushed across a bar; her own hands thrust over her head and how she must look, spread for his pleasure. She tried to pull her legs together again and groaned at the fact she was unable to, canting her hips up. She needed release from this torturous pleasure.

She knew instinctively that begging would not work. If he'd wanted her to beg he would have instructed her to do so. No, this was what he wanted: her bound and displayed and thinking of nothing but him while he went on about his business. With the blindfold on she couldn't even tell if he was looking at her or if she was being treated like no more than a work of art, hung on the wall for the enjoyment of passersby and then forgotten about.

If she had been able to see the clock on the wall she would have known that he lasted no more than half an hour but subjectively it was an eternity before she heard him put the book back on the table. He stood, drained the whiskey glass again and then walked back to the bed.

She heard the soft thud of the glass against the desk, his feet across the carpet, then the sounds of him unbuckle his pants and the zipper go down. That was the only warning she got before he thrust into her to the hilt. She screamed, pulling against the bonds. Wet and ready though she was she hadn't been prepared for the sudden fullness, the length of him slamming into her.

But he gave no quarter.

She shifted her hips, struggling to find an angle that was less intense and failing miserably. The next thrust hit home just as hard, making her arch and moan. The feeling was overwhelming.

He started slowly at first, to please himself more than her, wanting to drag out the exquisite feeling of that warm, enveloping tunnel. Each stroke he gave his full power, thrusting to the hilt, wanting to bury himself as deeply within her as he could. He reached down, both hands encircling her hips to allow him to pull her back to meet his trusts. His hand was almost large enough to span the entirety of her waist at the narrowest part and the sight of his tan hands against her creamy white skin was intoxicating. He closed his eyes momentarily, fearing he would spill too soon. She was arching up against him even though she gasped every time he drove home.

He began to thrust harder, unable to hold back much longer. With each thrust of his hips he ground his pubic symphysis against her clit and he could tell from the way she was now fluttering in her bonds, mouth open and panting, that she was close. “Hold back Eleanor.” He commanded.

She moaned and tried in vain to tilt her hips at a different angle obediently, hoping to relieve the pressure he was putting just where she most needed it. “Hold back for me Eleanor. Not until I tell you.”

But it was too late. He pushed forward and with a gasp she was clenching around him. “I can't.” She sobbed, before tilting back her head and giving over to the pleasure. Blazing white heat spread from her sex, overtaking her senses. Every muscle in her body tightened against the wave of pleasure, arching, keening, both searching for more and bracing against the impact.

The sight of her orgasm was enough to bring him over the edge. With a roar he thrust into her and spilled. Pleasure swamped his senses and the universe fell away, turning to nothing but bright lights behind his eyes and the feeling of taking her, filling her.

When he regained his senses he let himself linger a bit within her before pulling out. He leaned down to kiss her gently, her lips, her nipples, the hollow of her stomach, and then pulled back. She groaned as he slid out. He tucked himself back into his pants and then went to the side of the bed and untied her arms and legs. He slid her legs demurely back together than helped her sit back up. He slid the handkerchief from her eyes. She didn't look at him right away. She looked dazed, eyes glazed over slightly still from her orgasm. Her lips were swollen and puffy from his kisses and where she had bitten them trying to hold back from her ecstasy.

He took off her chin between his thumb and index finger and tilted it up so she met his eyes. Soft blue eyes met his hesitantly.

His face was utterly still: wide blue eyes framed with long lashes, high cheekbones and soft broad lips. Taken individually the features of his face were oddly feminine for a man, particularly one who wore a pistol beneath his smart suit and fucked like he did. And yet... there was something about the stillness of him that gave him up for what he truly was. Those blue eyes were a wolf's eyes, a shark's eyes and the stillness the terrible patience of a creature on the hunt.

“When I tell you to do something Eleanor, I expect you to do it.”

“Yes Tommy.”

He was pleased that she didn't apologize or offer an excuse. He would let her know when he wanted to hear her beg. “I'm a gambling man. That's right isn't it?”
“Yes Tommy.”

“And I would give very good odds that your plummy parents and private school tutors never once hit you. Never cracked you across the knuckles for day dreaming nor beat you with a belt for bad marks.”

She shook her head, eyes wide. “No Tommy.”

“No one has ever hit you in your life eh? Have they.”

“No Tommy.”

He bent and kissed her lips tenderly, lips soft and warm against hers, no hint of malice or anger. “That is going to make this all the sweeter for me then isn't it?” He could see the heartbeat at her neck jump when he stood and took off his belt and folded it over in his hand.

He turned slowly and went back to sit at the large chair at the desk. He sat with his legs apart, the belt clenched in one fist. “Come over here then, and lay across my lap.”

She swallowed, then stood and, very slowly, crossed the room to him. He took her by the scruff of the neck to guide her across his knees, positioning her ass over the one closest to the belt. He let her head hang down over his other knee and with his free hand gathered her wrists to the small of her back in his own larger palm. The effect was to present her ass arched, as an easy target for the belt. She shivered as he pushed her into the position, clearly feeling how exposed she was.

He ran the hand that held the belt over the smooth curves of her ass. Fine white skin, delicate globes looked like nothing so much as a peach. He intended to find out if they bruised just as easily. He bent to whisper in her ear. “The first to have your cunt, the first to redden your ass. You'll give me anything I want won't you sweetheart?”

“Anything Tommy.” The voice from between his legs was a breathy whisper.

He slid a finger in and nearly let his head fall back in gratified disbelief. The girl would surely be the death of him. She was if anything wetter than she had been, trembling in anticipation and clearly aroused by the idea of the belt. He wondered if she would like the beating itself or if only the idea of submitting to it turned her on. He intended to find out.

“Since it's your first time with a beating, I'll let you decide if you want to know how many blows I'm going to give you.”

She swallowed, considering. “I want to know.”

“Ten.”

The brave little thing tried to be stoic about it at first. She managed to take the first three without so much as a peep and he wasn't going easy on her. The first mark bloomed across the white flesh like a sudden rose and she jerked in his arms. He let her have the second before she'd quite realized how much the first hurt and the third before she'd recovered from the second. She tried to stand up then, as if she couldn't quite believe what was happening to her.

The arm that held both her wrists made it easy enough to push her back down into position but she was struggling still to get up. “Eleanor.” He said coldly. “Lie still.”

She stilled instantly, going limp at his words. Her mouth was open and she was panting roughly.

“Back in position sweetheart. Make it pretty for me.”

Eyes screwed tight, she obeyed. Tommy fought not to groan at the sight of her, ass red, braced against the fear and pain, ready to accept whatever he chose to bestow. Would there ever be a more beautiful sight? She must be able to feel how hard he was in his trousers, despite having come so recently.

WHACK.

The forth blow landed just as hard but over a new area and she let out a little scream. By the seventh she was outright sobbing and limp. Far from having to hold her down now he was supporting her as her head hung down. By the time he was finished she was crying outright, uncontrolled tears making her slim shoulders shake.

As the last blow landed he threw down the belt. He pulled her up and into his arms, cradling her to his chest as she cried. He stroked her hair, pulled her bra back up and didn't tell her to hush or not to cry as she sobbed. He rubbed her bottom a little bit to help calm down the irritated skin and circulate the blood to keep her from bruising too badly. He was glad he kept a spare shirt in the betting house for he was sure he would have mascara and lipstick on the ruined starched collar.

“You're alright sweetheart, only shocked eh. You did so well. I'm very pleased with you.” He murmured. “You obeyed me eh? Kept your head down and your ass where I wanted. You're only rattled from the blows.”

When her tears had died down she turned her head from his collar and laid her cheek on his shoulder. Her hiccuping little breath was sweet across his cheek. He let her relax against him for a while, stroking her hair as she settled. Soft little kisses began to be laid across his neck, slender fingers going to his collar to pull it back so she could flutter sweet and pleading lips across his neck.

He was still hard from the spanking and the imploring way she was kissing his neck proved too much. “Ready to be fucked again already are you eh?” He asked as her kisses became a little more pleading, her tongue gliding over the pulse at his neck. She sucked an earlobe into her mouth, grinding her hips against his thigh. “Answer me girl.”

“Yes Tommy.”

“Yes you are ready to be fucked?”

“Yes.. Please.”

He turned her over in his lap, guiding her until she was kneeling over him. He undid the clasp at the back of her brassiere and tossed it aside. He slid his hands down her sides, gripping her hips and tilting them so her flower spread.

“I'm sorry Tommy. Let me show you how much.” She whispered against his neck, pressing desperate little kisses to his ear, hair, collar, anything she could reach. “Let me show you how obedient I can be...I'll do anything you ask.”

“Spread for me girl, show me how much you want my cock in you.”

She arched, spreading, pressing her bare breasts to his shirt and he could feel the pounding of her heart beneath.

“Anything you ask Tommy, you can have anything...Take anything that pleases you.”

He took out his cock again and guided it to her slit, he teased it across her opening before gripping her hips and pulling her down to him. “Fuck me Eleanor, show me how much you want to please me.”

She took a moment to get the hang of the movement. His grip on her hips anchored her as she slid obediently up, guided by his hands. “Now push yourself back onto me girl.”

She moaned a bit as she slid back down. “God you're filling me up Tommy.” She moaned, bracing her hands against his broad chest. “You feel so big like this.”

She bounced obediently on him though, letting him set the pace with his hands at her hips, moaning exquisitely as he pushed her down each time. “Please let me cum Tommy, please...” She begged as he increased the pace. “Please...”

“Whenever you like sweetheart.”

She redoubled her efforts, grinding down on him at the end of each thrust. The pain of the spanking and the deep angle of him within her all had changed now he could see a pleasure almost too great to be imagined welling up within her. Her eyes were unfocused and her lips parted as he slowed the pace slightly, keeping her just at the edge of incoherence. He managed to hold her there for what seemed to him an eternity, drinking in the sight of her flushed cheeks, parted pink lips, the tips of her breasts pink and hard as she thrust against him like a woman under some spell. But finally it proved too much. Her head tilted back and he felt her muscles tighten around him.

His own abandon came moments later, thrusting into her as the world blew apart again into warm fragments of pleasure. He pulled her to his chest, pressing her to him until he could feel the pounding of her heart again, the thrumming of it seeming to match his own.

When he regained coherence he helped her off his lap. She gasped when he pulled out and wobbled slightly on her feet when he stood her up.

“Come now sweetheart, fix your face and put your dress back on and I'll take you to dinner.”

She didn't say anything as she went to the vanity and made herself back up, then pulled the dress back on. Tommy changed his shirt while she did and it didn't escape his notice that she watched him in the vanity mirror as he stripped his shirt off , her eyes sliding over the broad muscles of his chest and arms, the tattoos over his chest and biceps. She looked dazed, unfocused but still her eyes tracked his every move.

When they were both presentable he took her hand and led her back down the stairs and out to the garage where the car was waiting. She winced slightly as he handed her into the front seat and she sat down. He bet she wouldn't sit down for a week without thinking about him. He would not have thought it possible but he felt himself grow half hard again at the thought of that.

He pulled out onto the road and had made it no more than a few streets when the sound of hysterical laughter from the seat beside him made him turn to look at her. She was somehow managing to laugh and wince at the same time as the rough ride of the car wheels over the cobblestones was making her bounce slightly on her sore bottom. She was laughing hard enough that her eyes were shinny with tears of mirth.

“You're... a... bloody... monster... Tommy.” She managed to gasp out.

She looked to him like a man who'd just come out of the tunnels or out of battle, the sudden release of tense energy had a way of making one feel the most amazing sense of overwhelming giddy joy. She looked elated, drunk with joy. He knew how addictive that feeling was, how nothing in the world after seemed to compare. Not even opium had felt as good.

The little tinkling laughter was infectious though and he found himself smiling as they went down the road. “Should I take a longer way? You seem to be enjoying yourself.”

“Oh... please... no.” She giggled.

She still had the drunken smile on her face when they arrived at the French restaurant he'd had in mind. Again, though it was the dinner rush, they cut the line and were shown to one of the best tables. He pulled out her chair and she winced again as she sat.

The waiter came and he ordered a whiskey for himself and a cocktail for her. He opened the menu and considered. “I'm starving. I feel empty.” She said, sipping on the cocktail with a dreamy expression. “I feel like something just cracked open and is oozing out of me onto the floor but in a nice way somehow. I want to eat everything on this menu and yet somehow I'm not even hungry.”

“I'm glad you're pleased.”

She frowned suddenly. “You... you enjoyed yourself too though... did you not?”

He couldn't keep the disbelief from his face entirely, a little quirk of his lips betraying his bemusement. “After all that. You're worried that I did not enjoy myself sweetheart?”

She seemed to catch his meaning and blushed. “Was it not... well an awful lot of effort I suppose?”

He considered for a moment, then said, “the day that I consider it too much effort to tie up and fuck a pussy or spank and ass as nice as yours Eleanor, I hope it's the day that I die.”

Her face reddened even further and she glanced around to see if anyone had overheard him. He'd made no effort to lower his voice but the restaurant was rather crowded and most of the dinners seemed to be attending to their own business.

She glanced at him shyly. “So you did like it then?”

God he felt he'd never come so hard in his life. But all he said was. “Yes, Eleanor, I did like it.”

She bit her lip. “Then you might want to do it again?” She blushed. “I only ask because after last time I thought... well I worried that maybe it was only a one time thing for you. Not... not that there would be anything wrong with that, of course you don't owe me anything. I just... wanted to know for myself I suppose.” She hurried to add. “I guess I just want to know what to expect... what the rules are.”

“The rules of what exactly?”

She gestured between the two of them. “To... whatever it is that you do to me?”

And what is that exactly? What is it you think I do to you Eleanor? He wanted to ask but decided against it. She wanted rules then. Perhaps not unexpected. He hadn't been surprised when she'd wanted to know how many blows she would receive. She had after all been curious enough to come to the betting house, to follow where he led and do what he said. It was no wonder that she wanted to know more about what was to come next.

He got out his cigarettes and lit one to give himself a moment to think. He was surprised how often it was that he found himself telling the truth to her. Before he'd met her if someone had asked him what fucking a countess would be like surprising honesty would have probably been almost as far down his list of expectations as brutal spankings.

“I'm going to do what I want with you. Until you tell me to stop. If you don't do what I want, then I will punish you. Until you tell me to stop.” He took a long drag. “How does that sound to you?”

She shivered when he said it, lips parting slightly. She swallowed. “Good. That sounds good Tommy.”

The conversation paused as the waiter arrived with the small trays. He had ordered extravagantly again and he served her some of all of it. She took out her napkin and folded it gently, starting to eat. He was still finishing in cigarette and watched her. “Did you have any specific rules in mind?”

She paused slightly with her fork in her mouth. She chewed and swallowed carefully and wiped her lips delicately. Then she said, “I'd like to see you at least once a week at the same time. I'll go insane if I'm forever wondering when I'll see you next.”

Whatever he had been expecting it surely wasn't that. She wanted to make sure she saw him once a week? What the hell could she mean by that? If anything holding out for the past few days so as not to frighten her had been the real challenge. As long as she was willing he was damn sure he'd never give her a full week of respite. Given his own way he'd probably not go a full day without fucking her. But there would be no strategic value in sharing that information with her and he decided that the surprising honesty did not need to extent to the realm of tactically disadvantaging himself voluntarily. “Sunday then.” He said. “I'll make sure we see each other every Sunday. I'll pick you up from church.”

She blushed. “Alright then.”

He cleared his throat. “I more meant Eleanor is there anything that you don't want me to do to you though?” He said, his voice unexpectedly soft, almost tender. “The beating for example... you can say if it was too much.”

She met his gaze. As always she felt the strange vertigo she felt looking into those cold blue eyes, like she was looking into water so clear it's impossible to know the depth of it. “Take me as it pleases you. Until I tell you to stop.”

Did she imagine his eyes widened slightly at the pronouncement? He took a last drag on the cigarette between his lips, stubbed it out, and unfolded his napkin.

Chapter Text

“Tommy Shelby said to tell you that you're sent for.”

“What?” Eleanor was busy finishing up her notes. She didn't quite pay attention to what the woman, the last mother of the day on Thursday, was saying. She was twirling her pen over in her fingers, contemplating how exactly to document that as her current patient was, in fact, gravida ten para nine she did not truly anticipate being a participant in this particular birth, but rather a happy recipient of the news the next morning.

“Tommy Shelby says you're to meet him at the betting parlor tonight when you're finished work.” The woman was grinning widely, almost garishly at her. Mrs. Muller was surprisingly pretty and slender for having birthed ten children (eight of which were strapping lads born at ten pounds a piece according to Sister Ruth's meticulous notes). She was not quite as beaten down as some of the other women Eleanor visited. The house was clean and well kept despite the children and she wore an almost cheeky red bow in her hair as she fussed about with a pile of dishes in the sink.

“My husband is a Peaky Blinder see and when he told Tommy you were coming to see me today, Tommy said you was to come to him directly after work.” Mrs. Muller continued.

The expression on the woman's face left no doubt that she imagined what Tommy Shelby could want with a pretty little slip of a girl like Eleanor after hours at the betting parlor. She raked her eyes over Eleanor's figure. “You're pretty enough for him I suppose. Wouldn't have thought he'd go for a gentle-bred little thing like you though... nor you him. Delicate little flower of London like you? I'd have thought he'd snap you right in two with his...”

Eleanor blushed furiously. “Yes, well thank you for passing the message along.” She said hastily before the woman speculated further. She slapped the book shut. “I shall see you in a week then Mrs. Muller, do call me if anything arises.”

She went back to the convent and changed into a better dress, put on the perfume again, again feeling slightly ashamed of the indulgence, then slipped out into the dusk, heading for the betting parlor. None of the other girls asked her where she was going with night falling and in one of her nicest dressed, a clear sign that they already knew. Imelda, like Rosie, was from Birmingham and she must have known about Tommy Shelby. Tessa, who was from Liverpool, had clearly been told by the other girls for she too didn't glance up as Eleanor opened the door and strode out through the courtyard of church.

She made good time to the betting parlor. If it was fear of the darkening streets of Small Heath or desire to reach her goal sooner she couldn't tell. Eleanor had certainly grown used to the dim, dirty and noisy streets of the town but something about them at dusk made her want to clutch her coat around her form a little tighter. Women pushed prams down the sidewalk, men sat on the stoops drinking beer and smoking, for all the world looking as they did in the frank afternoon daylight. And yet something priggish and posh in her made her feel as if all the world was watching her, knew she didn't belong in this milieu as dusk fell. At the betting parlor though, she felt oddly more comfortable. The last time had been a test of her bravery, determination. This time she didn't hesitate to push open the dark door and slip up to the light that was on in the bedroom. She turned the handle and stepped in.

She was surprised to find he was reading a novel this time, though she couldn't make out the title from the door. He looked up when she came in and let his eyes drag the length of her. She took off her coat and hat and hung them up, letting him get a better view of what she wore beneath.

It took all her finishing school training not to nervously shift her weight from foot to foot like a horse waiting for the sound of a shot and the jockey's lash to fall, when he looked at her like that. “All your clothes off tonight I think, sweetheart.”

He went back to reading as she undid the little buttons at the front of her dress and pulled it over her head. She lay that across the back of the chair at the vanity, then added her slip, garter belt and stockings to the pile. Her heels she slipped beneath the chair. He let her stand nervously by the door, one hand clasped shyly to the opposite elbow across her stomach for a few moments. Her bare feet curled against the wooden floors as if to give herself an extra grip in case they shifted suddenly beneath her. Then he looked up and put the book down on the desk. He pushed the chair back from the desk. “Come here. And kneel between my legs.”

Her mouth went dry but her stomach clenched deliciously at the thought of it. She didn't know why she liked the idea of kneeling before him so much but somehow it seemed what she had wanted to do all along.

She walked to where he indicated and knelt, calling on the years of ballet and finishing school to make the movement smooth and appealing. She tucked her toes demurely under her bare bottom, leaning forward to show a little eagerness to be close to him. This close she could see the outline of his cock beneath his pants and knew he was hard. She looked up at him and shivered at the expression in his eyes, a dark, foreboding pleasure.

Despite the warmth of the room the tips of her breasts were already hard, aching. It was impossibly arousing to kneel before him, naked while he was completely clothed. When she was a girl, before the War, her parents had once taken her to Étretat on a cloudy day. With the fog rolling in the bottom of the cliffs had been obscured, making the fall only a few paces from where they picnicked seem endless. Eleanor had been terrified and thrilled. She had stared into that fog for hours until horror and exhilaration had felt nearly the same. The control he exerted over her in this attitude was like vertigo. She felt sick to her stomach, heart racing and lungs burning and yet... all she wanted was to stare just a little longer into the abyss, get a little closer yet... run her fingers over his thighs and bend her head in supplication.

“Hands on your knees sweetheart.”

He took her chin in his hands. “I've a present for you Eleanor.” He turned and opened the desk drawer closest to him. From it he took out a thin, long jewelry box. He opened it and took out a slender silver chain necklace. It had the bright shine of very high quality silver that was well taken care of, and an heirloom look of an older generation as well, but the necklace itself was very simple: just a little square of silver no larger than his thumbnail with no marking on it.

He took it out of the box and opened the clasp, slipping it around her neck and fastening it. The chain was long enough that it hung between her breasts, where it would be concealed in the neckline of most dresses. He took a moment to consider the chain where it rested, as if assuring himself that he was satisfied with where it hung.

“Don't ever let me find you not wearing this.”

“Yes Tommy.”

She wanted to ask him what the necklace was, where it had come from. It clearly had some significance to him. But he'd slipped one stylish shoe between her legs and was beginning to rub her with it and suddenly that was all she could think about.

“Why don't we find some way for you to thank me for my gift.”

“Yes Tommy.”

“Have you ever pleased a man with your mouth?”

He knew the answer but he wanted to hear it from her. God but he was rock hard. First to fuck her, first to spank her and now first to have his cock in her mouth. What had he done recently to make Fortuna so happy with him anyway?

“No Tommy.”

“Something tells me you're going to be a natural. Say 'thank you Tommy' to that.”

“Thank you Tommy.”

“Take me out then.”

With trembling fingers she unbuttoned his buckle and unzipped him. She took out his cock and he sprang to attention. “Take it into your mouth, wrapping your lips around your teeth. Stroke the top part with your tongue and then flatten your tongue along the base as you slide down.” He took one of her hands in his and wrapped it around his shaft, showing her how he liked to be stroked.

His let his head fall back so she couldn't see his expression as he moved her hand up and down himself, ecstasy and abandon threatening to overwhelm him. Her soft little hand was so utterly different then his own it was impossible to mistake. But he wanted more. He took his hand off hers and tangled his hand in her hair. He didn't draw her forward but the meaning was clear enough.

Tentatively, without breaking the stroke that he'd shown her, she leaned forward and took him into her mouth. He groaned at the feeling of the hot, wet cave of her lips closing around him. She was a little too ginger, a little too shy perhaps but the clear eagerness with which she took to it was enthralling. She knelt up to get a better angle, bobbing her head unresistingly up and down. He let the hand rest on her head but forced himself not to push her farther down on his shaft, though every nerve ending in his body begged him to do so. There would be time enough for that later, for now he only wanted her to get comfortable with having her lips around him.

“Look up at me sweetheart. I want to see those eyes.”

She obliged, arching her back to get the angle right so she could peer up at him while still taking him down as far as she could. God he almost came at the sight of her. Her expensive lipstick was smeared only a little, her legs were spread almost to his knees to brace her movement, one hand on his cock stroking him, the other braced on the dark cloth of his suit over his thigh. Her breasts he could see, arched as she was, bouncing very slightly as she bobbed, those pleasing little tips like small, sweet berries. But it was her eyes that drove him mad. The pleading look in them was as clear as if she'd spoke aloud. Be pleased with me Tommy, let me have pleased you. Anything you like, only let me have pleased you.

“Fuck but your mouth was made for this eh?” He ground out through gritted teeth.

She wasn't as coordinated as she might have been, a little fumbling perhaps but even that only aroused him more. He was the first man who had ever had her this way, on her knees, with his cock in her mouth. The posh country gentlemen who she'd grown up with had never seen the sight of her, lips split by him, eyes still turned up, thinking only of how best to arouse him. The question in her eyes was going to be his undoing, that had always been clear. The desperate need to give him whatever he wanted made him want to take from her all that she had to offer, ravage and debase her, keep her on her knees and wanting until he was satisfied. But with her he would never be satisfied. He felt he could drink from the well of her cunt, her mouth, her breasts until he died and still want more.

The next time she bobbed down on his cock he gripped her head and pushed down slightly, letting her feel what it would be like if he pushed the head of his cock into her throat, passed the muscles of her oropharynx until her nose touched his abdomen. Just the threat of things to come, letting her feel what he would soon train her to do. She gagged slightly but never broke the rhythm of her movement. He tried it again with the same result. Good girl.

“I'm going to come in your mouth sweetheart.” He told her, fighting to keep his voice even. “Swallow it down like a good girl.”

She didn't have to nod, couldn't have even if she'd wanted to. He was pumping faster and faster into her mouth and she was all she could do to keep her lips open and her tongue flicking over his head. He looked down at her, little creature on her knees and lost himself to pleasure. With a groan he pushed her head down, spilling his seed into her mouth. He came hard, arching into her mouth and she did her best to keep up. Her fingers fluttered frantically against his thighs as she tried to swallow the salty liquid filling her mouth. He could see the muscles of her throat moving as she swallowed. She looked not a little panicked. Her hand gripped the expensive material of his trousers but her eyes never left his.

The familiar feeling of coming apart, of uncoupling from reality overwhelmed him. But instead of darkness alone she was there with him—soft blue eyes that never left his, a warm cave that held him and the hot little palm against his thigh.

When he came back down to earth he was still resting on her tongue. Her eyes watched his face, enraptured. She was naked in front of him and a bit of cum had leaked out of one corner of her mouth, spilling down over one breast. The necklace hung down between her breasts and he was sure he'd never seen a more beautiful sight in his life.

Her eyes were slightly glazed, as if she couldn't believe what had just happened, pupils blown wide though. He pulled her back and then tucked himself away. He bent down to kiss her gently. He lips were raw and she tasted of him, a salty bland flavor. He kissed both her brows, as if he were a priest blessing her after she'd taken the sacrament. “Someday I'll have you so well trained that I'll tie your hands behind your back for the sport of it.” He promised.

Maybe, he decided, he'd start all encounters with him by cumming in her mouth. He found it rather cleared the head. She on the other hand...Her legs were spread and he could tell she wanted release. But he was quite satisfied himself. He decided she would have to convince him of it if she wanted her own gratification.

“Put your dress on.”

Dazed she went back to the vanity and put on her small clothes and dress. She touched up her smeared lipstick as well in the vanity, most of it having been left on Tommy's cock in the end. He fixed his clothes in the vanity next to her, straightening his tie, cufflinks and sleeve garters. When they both looked respectable again he took her by the nape of the neck and bent her over the vanity until her forehead touched the cool marble surface. As ever the easy way in which she bent beneath his fingers sent a shiver of pleasure right to the root of his spine. He could see in the mirror the eager look in her eyes as he flipped up her skirt. “I didn't tell you to put these back on.” He said, hooking his fingers into her bloomers and pulling them to the floor. “Step out of them.”

She obliged and he tossed them aside. “Put your hands on the edge of the vanity and push yourself up to look in the mirror.”

Still with one hand on her neck to keep her bent over he ran a hand over her ass. He watched her eyes widen as she saw his hand draw back in the mirror, then flinch as it made contact with her ass again. She started and gasped as the red mark bloomed over her ass. He spanked her twice more but as the flush on the cheeks of her face began to redden just as much as her cheeks below he began to suspect the effect of the spanking was rather not what it was intended to be. She was close enough even the pressure of his hand against her ass as he spanked her was enough to push her in the right direction.

He pulled her standing and then took her by the hand. She went downstairs with him, looking a little docile and stunned, and let him put her in the car. He drove to the Garrison and parked on the street. The main room was crowded with patrons and noise, cigarette smoke and the smell of drink.

He nodded to Arthur behind the counter and said in Romani, “Send in a bottle of whiskey. Then see we're not disturbed for any reason.”

Arthur frowned at Eleanor but nodded. “Alright then.” He replied in Romani.

He took her into the same private room with frosted windows where he'd commanded her to drink the five whiskeys that had sealed her fate. He took off her coat and hat and hunt them up. He took off his jacket as well and guided her to sit at the table facing away from the door. A girl came in with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses which she set upon the table. He stood behind her, looking down at her for a long moment, considering. Finally, over her shoulder, he poured two generous servings of the whiskey.

She was wearing a rose-colored dress and hopeful red lipstick that he had smeared already once over his cock. Her little pearl earrings glinted in the bar light and around her neck was the slim silver chain that fell below the neckline of the dress that he'd put on her that night. She was nervously looking ahead of her, not looking back over her shoulder to where he stood.

He leaned down to whisper in her ear. “You've got a choice to make Eleanor.” He told her. “You can bend over this table and lift your skirts and I will fuck you until you cum. Or you can sit there and have some whiskey and I'll order us something nice to eat and that will be the end of it. Either way makes no difference to me. I'm taking you back to the convent directly after this.”

She must know he hadn't locked the door since she hadn't heard the sound of the latch turning. Arthur would make sure that they wouldn't be disturbed of course and the no one in the Garrison would come to investigate any sound she chose to make but she had no way of knowing that.

She hesitated for only a moment before she stood. Bending at the waist she pressed her chest to the rough wood of the tavern table and tilted her hips up toward him. Her fingers went to the hem of her skirt and she drew it up until she was exposed. She'd left her bloomers in the betting house and he could see that she was dripping.

Surely at some point he would grow used to being surprised by her. It had happened so regularly in the short time they'd known each other already after all. And Tommy was not a man who was used to being surprised by people. He had always been good at reading people, figuring out what motivated and controlled them. But for all that Eleanor got on her knees for him, opened her mouth and her legs at a word, when he looked at her with her clothes on he still saw the countess.

In school, for the short years he'd been spared to attend, one of his teachers had shown the class a drawing from a book and asked who saw an old woman and who saw a young woman to illustrate the principle of an illusion. Most of the class had been in open rebellion when she revealed that both were correct, furious at having been asked a question that had no true answer. Tommy had rather liked the experiment. Eventually he had been able to adjust his eyes to see both women at will. Perhaps it would be like that for Eleanor as well: someday he would learn to see the countess and the coquette both.

But there would be time enough for that later. His cock was as hard as it had ever been as he took it out of his pants and guided it to her snatch. He fucked her hard, one hand reaching around to claps her mouth to stifle any sounds she made. He didn't particularly care if she made a noise or not but he enjoyed the feeling of her hot, ragged breath against his fingers as she struggled not to vocalize her pleasure. She came quickly against him, writhing back and shaking as she did. He took a little longer, having so recently cum, but eventually he found his release and spilled over. When he'd finished cumming he pulled out and tucked himself back away. He pulled her dress back down and settled her back in her seat.

He tapped twice on the glass to indicate he wanted to be served and half a moment later the barmaid was back in, ready to take their orders. He ordered two shepherds pies and more whiskey. When he looked up Eleanor was still looking rather dazed. He lit a cigarette. “You look like you need a beating.”

“I feel like I need a beating.” She glanced at the cigarette. “May I have one of those?”

He passed the already lit one to her and struck up another. “A beating you'll get soon enough.”

“When?”

“When I decide.”

She took a deep drag on the cigarette. “I feel incredible. I can't explain how good I feel. How did I live without this? I can barely remember.”

He tilted his head back against the fogged glass behind his head and blew out his breath. The girl wondered how she would live without this? He was not fool enough to think that she'd put up with this for the long-run. A few months of sucking his cock and dim rendez-vous in a illegal betting parlor would surely have her running back to her mummy and daddy in Kent. She might like a bit of rough but there was no long term plan for the two of them. She would wise up eventually.

The Countess and the Gangster. It sounded like a fucking fable. One that was sure to end badly, with only the narrator left alive to adjure young women to be careful with their virtue and not to stray too far from home.

When she grew tired or got scared she would simply disappear back to where she came from. But him? He would always know what it was like to fuck into that young, sweet virgin cunt. Like a fucking curse. He had had her on her knees before him, reddened her ass under his hand and tied her too his bed. How was he supposed to go back to normal life once that was gone?

You're asking me sweetheart?

 

 

The next Sunday, as promised, Tommy was waiting for her at the gate after church. It was a beautiful summer day and she was dressed lightly in a white summer frock with red flowers on it and a straw hat, almost too informal for church but saved by the little bird decoration. She was wearing little patent leather shoes and light stockings.

She came to him nervously, clearly aware that the bevy of girls she'd broken off from was still watching her with varying degrees of openness, all of them, herself included, wondering how he would greet her in such a public place. Eleanor knew well enough that the gossip of Small Heath had made short work of making it universally known she'd given up her virtue to him. The more... unique details of what they did together were private but the fact that she'd been seen with him out to dinner and coming out of the betting house just the two of them in the wee hours of the morning had made it through the neighborhood almost at the speed of sound. Nothing else needed to be said about it. Not that she'd been wearing the same dress as the night before, not that he'd held her quite close and not by the waist ducky if you catch my drift...

Eleanor Arden was a fallen woman.

Still, it was one thing for a respectable girl to be fucking Thomas Shelby and trying to keep it quiet. Perhaps she could be forgiven for liking a bit of rough as he had said if she were to be properly ashamed of it. It was another to be picked up from church by him as if he were courting her.

But it was she who had asked to see him once a week, he reminded himself. He intended to give her what she'd asked for.

He was leaning against the side of the front of the car, watching her as she approached. He held out his hand as she approached and she took it. He pulled her gently forward until she stood between his legs, the arm leaving hers and going around her waist. He cupped one ass cheek and drew her flush against him, rocking his hips against hers though he wasn't hard to let her feel the length of him beneath his trousers. He tilted her head up and brought his lips to hers. The kiss was not as unchaste as it could have been but neither was it wholly innocent. He parted her lips and explored her thoroughly. When he let her step back she was blushing furiously and the girls he could see behind her had all looked away, blushing almost as deeply as Eleanor and stealing furtive glances.

“How was the sermon?”

“Haven't a clue.” She said. “I didn't listen to a word of it.”

He smiled. “Come on then, into the car.”

She sat for the first time that week he could remember without wincing. “Where are we going?” She asked as he turned the away from the Garrison, the betting house and Watery Lane and toward the road out of Small Heath.

“Picnic in the countryside.”

She laughed. “A picnic? You're joking.”

“I'm not.”

They drove out of the city until he found the place he wanted. He turned off the main road and went to open the wooden gate to a little informal path through a meadow. They drove for a while until they found a likely looking tree on a little hilltop to spread the blanket under. She helped him spread the blanket out in the shade, then he fetched out the basket. Polly had spoiled them: chilled champagne in a ice bucket, with strawberries, cold turkey sandwiches with good dark bread and mustard, potato salad and apple cake.

He poured them both flutes of champagne, then stretched out, hands behind his head, looking through the tree branches to the impossible blue of the sky beyond. The bright speck of the sun was a hallow around one of the branches, intermittently piercing through and making him close his eyes against the glare. He'd stripped to his vest and shirtsleeves and light spring breeze felt incredible piercing through the crisp cotton.

She sat beside him, propped up one one hand, the other holding her champagne and looking out at the field. “How did you know about this place?” She asked. “It's almost a perfect place for a picnic.”

“My family used to camp on these lands. The farmer who owns them is friendly to gypsies so there's usually travelers somewhere or other on them.” He said, eyes closed now against the sun.

She let out a shocked little laugh. “Your family used to camp? What like tinkers?”

“We are tinkers sweetheart.”

She took a sip of the champagne. “Hmmmm I suppose I keep forgetting because of the way you dress. I've never seen a gypsy wear a suit like that.”

“It's not a question of tailoring Eleanor, but blood. I would have thought the aristocracy would understand that.”

“Understand what?”

“The importance of blood.”

He heard her drink the last of her champagne and sat up, pouring her another glass.

She met his eyes shyly. “Could Poll read my fortune in my tea leaves then?” Her voice was teasing but hesitant, as if gauging how he would react.

He lay back, folding his hands under his head again. “Oh you wouldn't want her to do that.”

“Why not?”

“For a gorger like you? All she'll tell you is what she thinks you want to hear... tall handsome men, plenty of money. Chapel bells and babies.”

Eleanor laughed. “Alright then, I won't ask what's in my tea leaves then.”

The sun went back behind the branch and he opened his eyes, staring skyward, “Your palm on the other hand, that no gypsy would dare deceive you about.”

“My palm?”

He nodded solemnly. “The lines of your palm tell your past as well as your present.”

“Do they?” She picked up the hand that was not holding her champagne glass and peered questioningly at it. She took another sip of champagne before she ventured. “Could you read my palm then?”

“If you like.” He took one hand from behind his head and spread it beside him, gesturing for her to lie beside him. He folded the suit jacket behind his head as she curled under the wing of his arm, head resting on his breast. She could hear his heartbeat beneath the fine cotton shirt. The smell of him: cologne, cigarettes, whiskey and horses as ever made her heart pound.

“My left or right?” She asked.

He took her right hand, the dominant one he knew, and brought it up until it blocked out the sun between the tree branches. He stroked the surface with his thumb, flattening it out a bit for a better view and holding it aloft for both of them to see it well. He traced her Head line. “This one means you're very smart as it's so long. But we knew that already. The hash marks across it mean in the end though you won't listen to your head when it matters.” We knew that too, he didn't add aloud.

He next traced the Life line. “A long life for you, though with all the twists and turns, unclear if it will be happy or not. These two crossed together, the Heart and Fate mean that before you find the man you're meant to marry you'll go through trials.”

He almost felt something like repentance when he looked down and saw the earnest way she was looking at her own palm as he let his hand slip under her skirt to the flesh he'd bruised only the night before, gripping it hard enough to make her squeak in pain and surprise.

Quick as a snake he rolled her underneath him so he was straddling her hips with his own, pinning her arms to either side of her head so she was helpless beneath him. “Many... many trials I think Eleanor. I shall make sure of it.”

Her mouth parted and she blew out an annoyed breath. “We're you making all of that up then? Honestly Tommy I had the chills! I can't believe...”

But he bent down to kiss her until she was breathless and panting but his kisses were not ravaging. He let go of her hands, letting her put her arms around his neck, sliding her fingers through the shorter sides to gently finger the longer top. He broke the kiss, gazing down at her for a long moment before he rolled to sit beside her again.

“Don't trust Poll indeed.” She giggled, still lying beside him. “You're terrible Tommy, I can't believe I believed you.”

He went down on his elbow beside her and pushed her hair back from her face, his expression solemn. “But have I told you about tarot cards? Now there is something no gypsy...”

She put her hands on his chest and shoved. It was barely enough to make him rock back. “Oh no Thomas Shelby, don't think I'll fall for that again!” She said with a laugh. “I've got a very long intelligence line you know.”

He favored her with a rare, genuine smile. “Alright then Eleanor, peace. Let me make it up to you.”

He found her empty glass of champagne and topped it off again. She took the glass and sipped. “Are you trying to get me drunk Mr. Shelby?”

“Yes.”

“You know you needn't bother don't you?” She put the glass aside as he reached for her cheek.

“Yes.” He cupped her cheek, tilting it up to meet his mouth as it descended.

His lips tasted unusually sweet from the champagne, unlike the usual whiskey and cigarettes. He slid a hand along her waist, making her shiver and she reciprocated, reaching over to feel the smooth curve of his chest where it tapered to his narrow waist. He kissed her for a long moment almost tenderly. He explored her mouth, cupping her chin to his and tasting it. He undid the little red buttons at the top of her dress and slipped his hand in, gently playing over her breasts through the brassiere until her nipples hardened and she was panting.

He shifted, rolling over onto his knees beside her. He gently eased her back onto the red and white checked blanket, then knelt between her thighs. He bent over her, pressing a searing kiss to her lips, tilting her head back and plundering her mouth. As ever she opened beautifully for him, inviting him in, tilting her head back for more. He let his fingers caress her neck, feeling the racing pulse beneath. When she was writhing against him, only then did he allow himself to slide down further, trailing little kisses as he went.

He slid his hands up her thighs and found her garter belt and slip and pulled them down, taking her shoes and stockings with her so her bare legs alone were left under the dress. He pushed up the dress and lay between her legs. He his arms beneath her ankles until her knees hung over each shoulder, pushing her knees aside until she opened like a book. He blew on her sex and she moaned. “Please Tommy... please.”

He bent his head and her little gasp of surprise did nothing but spur him on. He took his time, licking her slowly and enjoying himself. The taste of her was intoxicating, far better than the champagne. She wasn't exactly sweet but there was something of sweetness in her taste, something that reminded him of some warm and sunny riverbank where nothing could go wrong. She arched, trying to sit up, to reach for him. He caught her hands and brought them to her side where they fisted in the picnic blanket. “Oh God Tommy please let me cum, please Jesus let me cum.”

He pushed her over the edge by raking his teeth ever so gently across her sensitive hood, then leaned forward and sucked as she tilted her head back and all the muscles in her body tensed at once as she spilled over the edge. When she had recovered he moved up to lay beside her. He kissed her again. Her hair was sweaty from the exertion and she still looked a little dazed from the orgasm. Her skirt was still pushed up over her hips, sex bare. He slipped a finger in and she jerked, still sensitive. He withdrew it carefully and kissed her again.

He undid his zipper and belt and took himself out. Then took her by the hips and rolled her over, guiding her up until she knelt over him. He guided himself to her entrance and then with exquisite care began to push into her. From this angle she was particularly tight and given how sensitive he knew she must be he went slow, spreading her with care. By the time she had fully accepted him in she looked almost amazed that she'd been able to. Her eyes were wide at the feeling of such fullness. He used his hands on her hips to rock her forward, showing her how her clit would grind against his pubic symphysis on every down stroke, flexing slightly within her against the sensitive front wall of her vagina. She gasped at the feeling.

“Tommy... that's incredible.”

He set a slow pace, guiding her with the hands on either hip. He took her almost to the tip of him each time, then slowly back down. The feeling of her from this angle was unbelievable and she seemed to agree for soon she was grinding her hips against him whenever she took him most fully. And yet somehow he managed to keep the slow pace right until the end. Finally though she pressed herself against him once more and he felt her spasm around him. She fell forward over him, gasping as she came. “Tommy. Oh fuck Tommy.”

He rolled her hips against him twice more and then found his own release.

He kept his eyes open as pleasure flooded his body, looking up at the halo around her face and the canopy of the tree above her. Through the shade the sun seemed to frame her face with a special light as he lost touch with reality for a moment, that deep and immense pleasure, so unexpectedly profound whenever he came in her, washed away all other thoughts.

The sensation of her around him, the smooth skin and angles of her hips under his fingers, the slender little legs on either side of his filled his minds. He wanted the moment to go on forever, stretching toward the horizon of time in perfect bliss. But eventually pleasure receded, the sound of the birds and the wind in the grass returning. He allowed himself to lay beneath her for a few moments more, enjoying the feel of her light little body on his lap. Then he shifted her off him and sat up, tucking himself away.

“Shall I make you a sandwich?”

When they had eaten the picnic they sat together for a while. He read the latest racing sheets with his head on her lap and smoke while she made a daisy chain and drank the rest of the champagne. Perhaps emboldened by the champagne or the domestic scene he had envisioned for them that day she let one hand drift, very lightly to his hair. Slender fingers slid lightly through the shorter buzzed sides, then, when he made no comment, the longer part as well. He hated to admit how good it felt. Tommy's mother used to stroke his head when he was sick and he found the soft repetitive motion of her hand as calming as any sedative. His eyes began to grow heavy.

Eleanor wasn't sure why she had expected him to protest when she began to stroke his hair. She had been surprised enough when he'd put his head in her lap. The whole thing was ridiculous. On a picnic date with Thomas Shelby, leader of the most feared violent gang in Birmingham, and she was sipping champagne and making flower garlands, and running her fingers through his hair. But with his head in her lap it had been irresistible. The long locks that made the top of his quiff had looked so smooth and inviting. Besides she was quite drunk. Tommy clearly had no taste for it and she'd finished most of the bottle by herself.

She twirled a bit of the longer part of his quiff around her fingers, so different then her own. Straight and black where her own was blond curls and yet unexpectedly soft. It was a decidedly... working class haircut. There was nothing exactly unsuitable about it but no man she'd ever been introduced to wore his hair like this. But then again she and Tommy had never been introduced after all. Arthur banging down her door in the middle of the night was hardly the same as someone presenting them to each other at a party. She ran her fingers along the short cut sides, pleased at how the stubble felt beneath her fingers and wondering that he submitted to being caressed so. She'd had his cock in her mouth of course but this seemed almost more intimate to a man like him. He'd probably fucked more girls than she cared to know about but how many had he let run their fingers through his hair?

Her surprise had be total though when he had folded the racing sheet on his chest, put out his cigarette, and closed his eyes. A moment later the deep, regular pattern of his breathing let her know he was asleep. She didn't know why it made her so nervous, as if some great dangerous cat had fallen asleep on her lap. She sipped her champagne for courage and looked down at his face in sleep.

The lines of his face were still sharp, severe for a man his age. She couldn't decide if he looked older or younger than he was, then realized she didn't know how old he was to begin with. With his eyes closed his lashes looked even longer, spread over his cheeks. That made him look like a little boy, overcome by the deep sleep of children. With bated breath she let herself trace the scar on one cheekbone, wondering where it had come from and if she would ever have enough courage to ask. His lips were surprisingly soft for the kind of kisses he delivered, the ones that made her body arch as if she'd touched a life wire. She trailed the clean-shaven line of his jaw and let her hand slide over his chest.

In all their interactions it was he who touched her, not the other way around. She knew that was a silly thing to say, physically it was impossible for him to touch her without her touching him. But it was always him exploring her body, positioning her, spreading her, touching and stroking her. It was a rare pleasure to be able to caress him for a change.

He slept for perhaps half an hour and she was surprised that she didn't become bored watching him. The rise and fall of his chest, the sound of his breathing and the texture of his hair (in parts prickly, in others smooth) had a rather hypnotic effect on her. She could feel her legs beginning to cramp from being so long in one position but didn't dare adjust her knees for fear of waking him.

Finally he spoke, eyes still closed, making her wonder how long he had been awake and if he knew she'd been watching him. “I'm going to London this week. I leave tomorrow and will return either Thursday or Friday.”

“Alright.”

“If you have any difficulties while I'm gone, go to Poll and she'll help you.

“Difficulties with what?”

“With anything at all.”

“Alright.”

They drive back was pleasant enough. Tommy smoked and Eleanor rolled down both windows to catch the last of the fresh country air before they returned to the smoke of Small Heath. She cupped her chin on her palm and gazed out, watching the fields roll by. He liked that she didn't feel the need to fill the silence with chatter but he couldn't say it came as a surprise. That at least he felt he had expected, no matter what else within her had surprised him.

Perhaps if he had met her in different circumstances he might have been fooled by her looks, her age, the tinkling way that she giggled at a joke. He was sure that he would not have been the first to overlook in her that measure of reserve in her for which he felt a strange kinship. For all her elegant dresses, the practiced way she drank champagne and perfected social graces, here was a woman who longed for quiet with the same intensity that he did: the stillness and silence that overcame them when they were naked, the way time seemed to freeze about them for those moments when he held her in bondage, plunged into her, when they blew apart with pleasure. It was more than just a lack of words but a real tranquility, a peace wrought of the unexpected symbiosis of them. He took and she gave. He commanded and she obeyed. Both of them were nourished by it.

He pulled the car to a stop in front of the entrance to the church courtyard and got out to open her door. He took her in his arms and bent to kiss her. She came, willing, obliging as ever, lips tasting of champagne and strawberries.

“Thank you for the picnic Thomas.” She said, looking up at him dreamily.

“Don't touch yourself while I'm gone Eleanor.” He commanded her. “I'll expect you to wait for me.”

“Yes Tommy.”

 

 

Chapter Text

She'd told herself she would simply have to put him out of her mind but it was far easier said then done. She might have thought that without the possibility of seeing him she would think of him less in the streets of Small Heath. But everywhere there seemed to be reminders. Every car coming down the street looked like his, every suit looked like his and she could swear she could smell him sometimes just on the street, the whiskey and the cigarettes turning just for a second to the familiar, unique and intensely masculine smell of him.

She lay in bed at night wondering if it was even a remote possibility to go see him in London, thinking up insane excuses she could possibly offer to make the trip. Was her mother in London? Any of her Aunts? Any friends? Only her pride kept her from telephoning to ask.

On Wednesday evening when she was getting ready for bed Imelda came in looking excited, a little flush in her cheeks. “The phone is waiting for you Eleanor.” She said. “I think it's him.”

Eleanor had to fight the urge to run down the rectory, giving the other girls a show. Instead she forced herself to walk at a somewhat dignified pace and pick up the phone waiting by the receiver. She hadn't expected the crowd in the entrance hall to the rectory. But Tommy, having been raised a catholic, would know exactly what time vespers would be called for the nuns. Had he meant for her to take this phone call with the sisters all filing past her? The thought filled her with dread and excitement.

“Eleanor Arden speaking.” She said and then blushed furiously that the rigid phone etiquette she had been taught had somehow, of all things, won through just at that moment.

Tommy, who clearly hadn't read the same etiquette manuals as she had said, “I bought a horse today at auction. When I went to go see it put through its paces all I could think about was the fine looking crop the man was using. I asked him where he got it and purchased one for you.”

She racked her brains as to what she could say to that that might sound innocuous. Not only was the hall crowded with the nuns going to the evening prayers but to her dismay Imelda and Maria had followed her as well to listen in. “That's very thoughtful of you.”

“I'm going to have you kneel at the foot of my bed, in nothing but your skin, and I'm going to turn your ass red for my pleasure.” She bit her lip, flooded with the image and fighting not to let it show on her face. “And once you're screaming, I'll fuck you from behind to hear you scream from that as well.”

“I'm glad you're having a good time in London then.”

“But first I'll come down your throat to clear my head before I start.”

“I am looking forward to see you again when you get back.” Her knuckles were white on the side of the little alcove where the phone resided but she felt that if she loosened her grip she might fall over.

“The only thing I can't decide is if I'm going to tie you down or not. Part of me wants to see how still you'll hold for me on your own, how motivated you are to obey me, but another parts of me want to see that little helpless shiver that goes up your spine just when the knots are all secure and you realize that I could do anything I want to you.”

“Yes, I miss you too.”

“Tell the girls who are listening in when you hang up that I rang to tell you I'm bringing you a present from London, a dress to take you out in next Sunday.”

And without a word, he hung up.

She felt like she might burst into flames as she walked back across the church courtyard and under the image of the cross that loomed over the walkway between the convent and the main hall. The image he had conjured at set her aflame and she knew sleep would be long in coming.

 

 

 

On Thursday the first mother opened the door to her and said, “Tommy Shelby got back into Birmingham this morning on the first train. He's at the betting house.”

Eleanor's pride was past the point of forcing her to dissemble or hide her interest. “Did he send me any message?”

“Not that I heard.”

She was hopeful at the next few mothers but as it got closer and closer to the little gap of a few hours she had between appointments in the morning and afternoon she realized it was ridiculous to lie to herself, to pretend as if she was going to wait for him to send for her. Pride had kept her from coming to London but knowing he was in Small Heath, so close, it was impossible to think of anything else.

She felt a little unhinged as she stepped out of the last house and turned toward the betting house. She hadn't been there in the daytime since the first time, when she'd woken there after he'd taken her there drunk. She was blushing furiously as she pushed open the door. A little lull in the conversation and a flicker of heads turned toward her marked her appearance but quickly resumed. No one said anything to her or acknowledged her directly as she walked, with all the poise she could muster from finishing school, across the floor to the small metal stairs in the back. She was blushing badly but there was naught to be done about it.

She mounted the stairs and knocked at the door. “Come in.”

She turned the handle and he looked up from behind the desk where he was smoking and reading the ledgers. She was glad at least he was alone, glad he was there at all. She wasn't sure what she would have done if she'd turned the handle and found Arthur waiting for her, or Polly or John. Hopefully spontaneously combust in shame but there was no telling.

His eyebrows quirked up for just a fraction of a second. She thought she was becoming better at reading his expressions and for him she thought this interpreted to something like very profound surprise. Then there was the ghost of a smile that indicated he was pleased with her. Relief flooded through her, almost strong enough to make her knees buckle. She might be in for the beating of a lifetime to be sure but he was happy she had come, not displeased she had. He was not going to send her away.

“Alright then.” He said. “Lock the door and hang up your coat and hat.”

She locked the door and hung up her coat and hat. “My dress?”

“Unfortunately I've no time for anything so thorough as what I'd like.” He pushed back from the desk slightly. “Come over here and kneel between my legs Eleanor.”

She walked across to him, then knelt as gracefully as she could in her stockings, heels and uniform. She knew how he liked her to kneel now, knees spread, toes tucked beneath her and hands on each knee. She turned her face up to him and opened her mouth slightly which she knew he also liked. He cupped her chin with the hand that wasn't holding a cigarette. “You've come for me to fuck you then?”

“Yes Tommy.”

“Are you willing to beg for it?”

“Yes Tommy.”

“Alright then, beg.”

She blushed. “I don't know what to say.”

He took a drag on his cigarette to think. “Ask me to let you kneel on my lap and ride me like a common whore whose come to give me pleasure on my lunch break.”

She swallowed. “Please Tommy, let me kneel on your lap and ride you like... like I'm a common whore whose come to give you pleasure on your lunch break.” The way she stumbled over the rough words, glanced down shyly a bit, and how they came out in that posh voice went straight to his cock.

“Tell me how badly you want my cock in your slit.” He said, running a thumb along her lower lip, dragging her it open slightly. “And don't drop your eyes while you do it. I want to see your face while you say it.”

“I want your cock in my slit very badly Tommy.”

“Tell me you'd do anything I like. Suck my cock, bend over the desk, anything.”

“I'd do anything you like Tommy, anything at all.”

“Say the words.”

“I would do anything. Suck your cock, bend over the desk, anything.”

He let go of her chin and patted the space on the chair beside his hips with a smile. “Alright then, up you get to earn your keep Eleanor.” He unbuckled his belt and undid his zipper, freeing himself as she stood. He held out a hand in an almost gentlemanly fashion and helped her kneel over his lap. He pushed up the skirt and pushed her bloomers aside. “No time for the niceties today Eleanor, eh, just a quick fuck and then I'll need to get back to work. Not even going to put out my cigarette.”

He lay the half finished taper in one of the little grooves in the ash tray.

He guided himself up into her and found her soaking wet. He didn't take it easy on her. Usually in this position he liked her to ride him, for her to work to please him with her body. But there was no question now that he was simply fucking her. He gripped her hips hard enough to bruise and thrust into her with abandon. He long fingers gripped her buttocks, parting her cheeks until she almost wailed at the spread feeling. She was pressing her lips together, fighting not to make a noise.

He slapped her ass hard with one hand. “None of that now Eleanor. You've come to fuck the boss and everyone knows what you're doing in here. No pretending otherwise. I want to hear your screams.”

She obeyed, opening her throat to the inhuman, rhythmic uh uh uh sound that he forced out of her with every thrust. She put her arms around his neck and tried to hold on as he fucked her hard. She was so needy though it was only a few moments before the slamming of his hips against her clitoris pushed her over and with a little grateful sobbing cry her fingers tightened in his hair, her head falling forward against his shoulder. He ignored her, forcing her to keep the exquisite rhythm with his hand until he spilled over with a roar.

When his pleasure receded was still gripping her hips and he was still half hard within her. He took her and guided her in a small rocking motion on his cock, grinding her clit against the base of his cock until she came to another shuddering little orgasm.

“Thank you Tommy.” She sobbed as she came. “Oh Jesus thank you.”

When she had regained coherence he held her tightly against him, gripping her hair. “No need to thank me sweetheart,” he whispered into her ear. “I've done you no favor. You'll pay for both of those orgasms dearly.” He felt the little shiver that ran down her spine all the way to where it made her flex slightly on his cock. “I was going to stretch out your pleasure when I got back to Birmingham, have you over a period of hours. Don't think you won't be punished for impatience.”

He slapped her bottom again fondly. “But in the meantime, on your way. I've got work left today.”

She blushed and slid off him.

He picked up the still lit cigarette and pulled the ledger book back to him.

She hesitated at the door with her coat and hat in one hand. “That means... do you mean I can come back this evening then? You want to see me?”

He didn't look up. “I'll pick you up at six. I've sent something to the convent for you and I'll expect you to wear it.”

She was careful not to make eye contact with any of the men as she walked back out of the betting house and into the streets of Small Heath.

 

 

 

When she got back to the convent that night there was indeed a package waiting for her from one of the best shops in London. The dress he'd told her about on the phone. She blushed, thinking of the conversation that had no doubt inspired him to think of the purchase, and the cost, which had no doubt been extravagant based on the mark. She opened the box and found within a superb dress. It was the exact blue of her eyes, made of fine silk with cotton beneath. It would feel exquisite against her skin. With it came matching blue shoes and a cream colored fox-lined coat, gloves and hat. If he'd been another kind of man she might have protested that it was too much but with Tommy there was no arguing. If he wanted to see her dressed in this, she would not refuse him.

She pulled back the last layer of the wrapping in the box and almost jerked back to close the box, blushing furiously and glancing around to make sure none of the other girls had seen. Beneath the little layer of tissue paper lay an exquisite set of lingerie. The little brassiere was sky blue and nothing but lace, decorated with a tiny blue ribbon that would fall between her breasts. The garter belt and slip were minimal but matched the top: all delicate blue lace with little ornamental ribbons on the straps of the garters, making them seem ready to crumble away at the right touch. She would have to change in the toilet so as not to let the other girls see it. This was not something that was intended to be taken off by one's own hand and she didn't need to push their indulgence of her and Tommy to the extreme.

She bathed and did her toilette with care, having arrived home early with the express purpose of making it back to the betting house on time. She dressed with in the new underthings and dress as she had planned in the privacy of the WC. “Wow Eleanor,” Elizabeth remarked as she fixed the hat over her hair. “Your bloke sure has some taste hasn't he? You look like a movie star.”

“Thank you.”

He was waiting for her, in his usual place outside the courtyard, leaning against the side of the car and smoking a cigarette. She came forward and he kissed her thoroughly. She felt he rather made a point to do it when he picked her up from the convent, as if to make sure she would in front of the nuns and girls walking by. He pulled her body against his and she let him, enjoying the feeling of his strong, lean frame against hers. As always she could feel the pistol at his side beneath his jacket, less welcome than the hard length she felt against her thigh.

“The nuns will be out of vespers in a few moments.” She said when he broke the kiss.

He looked at her for a moment as if he didn't catch her meaning. “I know.”

“And then compline will come...”

“At seven, yes.” He finished for her.

She peered up at him for a long moment, studying those guileless blue eyes framed with lashes so long they might be feminine on another man. She pressed her lips together. “Based on expression alone I could almost believe it wasn't intentional Tommy, really I could.” She said. “But you forget... you've tipped your cards to me. I've seen the devilish hand you're playing.”

He leaned in until his face seemed to fill her vision. He drew his lower lip into his mouth as he studied her own so intently she almost felt the physical presence of his teeth on it. Then his gaze flicked up to meet her own.“Is that what you think you've seen Eleanor?”

Heat blazed through her, straight to her sex. This close he couldn't fail to see how his words affected her, the shiver that went through her. Once again she had the sensation of being mesmerized by some great serpent so blue and infinite were his eyes.

He broke the spell though a moment later, taking a merciful drag on his cigarette and letting her catch her breath. “You look beautiful.”

“Thank you for the dress Thomas. But really, it's too much. You shouldn't have.”

He didn't reply to that, only opened the door to the car and handed her in. He didn't take her to Watery Lane or the betting house, their usual sites of rendez vous. Instead he wound deeper into the streets of Small Heath until he stopped the car in front of a building that looked to her to be a pub of some kind.“Where are you taking me Tommy?”

“To show you off.”

The door of the pub was open and she could see men coming and going from it as they approached. There was a strange, tense energy in the air that made her walk rather closer to Tommy than she might have otherwise. She couldn't see any women in crowd beyond as they walked through the dark entrance way. Seeming to sense her nervousness Tommy took her by the hip, pressing her almost side-on against him. His fingers curled possessively over her hips.

The bar smelled of liquor, cigarettes and a stale smell of sweat and human exertion that was pungent but somehow exhilarating. The crowd was thick, almost all men in dark suits crowded in under a thick cloud of smoke. She'd been wrong in saying that there were no women in the bar but even to her untutored eyes she could tell at a glance they were all prostitutes. One was sitting in a man's lap, laughing as he fondled her in full view of the rest of the bar. Another sat in a group of men, stripped to the waist as they took turns lifting pints to her mouth to drink. She fought the urge to cling to Tommy's waist, trying her best to look unimpressed and unaffected.

He had dressed her to stand out, that much was clear to all who saw her, and Eleanor most of all.

The robin's egg blue of the dress was uncanny in the dim light from the electric lamps at the edge of the rooms and haze of cigarette smoke of the pub and all the men dressed in dark suits. Without exception every table looked up at her as she passed, then glanced to the man whose arm rested proprietorially on her hip. To show her off, he'd said, and he clearly hadn't been joking.

He lead her to the bar and leaned against it. They didn't have to wait for attention for the bartender and Tommy ordered them both whiskys and handed her one, laying a rather large bill on the table. “Keep them coming for the night Charlie.” He said, lighting up a cigarette.

“Yes sir Mr. Shelby.”

Another man approached them from the crowd. He was dressed in a rather expensive suit, better quality of then the more average looking of the crowd, and flanked on either side by two men who were unmistakably somehow in his employ. Eleanor noted that all three of them were carrying pistols beneath their jackets. It had only taken a few weeks of the weight of Tommy's pistol being pressed against her side for her to

“Good evening Mr. Shelby, you look well.” He addressed Tommy but it was Eleanor he was looking at. Though his grip didn't tighten she somehow felt that there was suddenly more strength in the arm that held her though Tommy looked as impassive as he always did, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

“Good evening Mr. Kimber.”

“You've done well for yourself tonight.” He said. “Who is this beauty?”

“Eleanor, say hello to Mr. Billy Kimber.”

She held out a hand, fighting not to let it tremble. “Good evening Mr. Kimber, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

He kissed the hand she held out rather than shaking it. “The pleasure is all mine Miss...”

He looked to Tommy to supply her last name but Tommy stared back with his habitual unreadable expression, unblinking. A full moment passed before Kimber released her hand without her surname. “With those looks and that accent she must be a fortune.” He said in the hopeful tone of a man interested in the price of a painting in a gallery he might wish to buy.

Tommy met his eyes levelly. “She isn't for sale.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don't pay for her.”

The other man looked at Eleanor, gaze raking her from head to toe, in disbelief. “You don't pay? For all that?”

“No.”

Billy Kimber let go of her hand. He lit a cigarette himself and seemed to consider the two of them for a moment before saying. “As I said Mr. Shelby, you look well... satisfied if I may say so.”

“I am.”

Billy Kimber shook his head and looked at Eleanor. “Shame he got to you before I did duckie, I could have shown you a real good time if you get wet for gangsters. If you ever get tired of him and want a taste of the real power in this city, give me a ring, anyone in Birmingham knows how to find me.”

She said nothing but blushed and looked away.

Billy Kimber laughed. “Ah she's charming, blushing at the thought of it.” He hesitated. “And you've only gone and brought her ring-side. I'll be interested to see if she faints at the sight of blood. You don't happen to know if she does do you?” His eyebrows rose suggestively.

Eleanor's blush deepened. He was asking if she'd been a virgin when Tommy had taken her to bed and the expression that crossed his face at her deepening blush made her rather think he'd guessed the answer based on her reaction.

“Jesus where ever did you find her Tommy”

Instead of answering him Tommy only said, “would you care for a drink Billy?”

“Don't mind if I do.”

Tommy signaled for the bartender and another glass was poured for the man. He leaned against the bar next to them. “You wouldn't care to lay a wager on the match would you Tommy?”

“What stakes were you thinking?”

“I've got a sweet little mistress in the North side. She's a beautiful little thing, looks like a film star but fucks like she's from the gutter she grew up in. Got a fine little fanny and excellent tits. I'll wager a night with her against a night with the lovely young lady here.”

Tommy smiled. “I was thinking more of a real bet. Let's say three of your pitches in the next race against the little filly I just purchased.”

Billy's face was a sudden snarl. “Three fucking pitches?”

“She's going to be a champion Billy. All you need to do is train her up.”

Billy considered for a moment. “You'd throw in a little accommodation for your old friend Billy of course, something to sweeten the deal.”

“Not a fucking chance.”

Billy's eyebrows rose. “No? She wouldn't come if you asked her?”

“I wouldn't ask her.”

He shook his head sadly. “What a fucking shame. Real waste I think. Goddamn pearls before goddamn swine.”

“Do we have a deal then?”

They shook hands.

“Almost time for the fight then.” Tommy said. “We'd best to take our seats.”

Eleanor's heart was racing as Tommy signaled for another two whiskeys and guided her down the stairs into the basement of the bar. To her surprise it was a rather large and airy room in the basement. Many seats had been set up and in the center had been set up an arena of sorts, elevated on a wooden platform and roped off on all sides with sturdy looking cords. A boxing arena she realized, they'd come to watch a fight.

Tommy guided her to two seats in the front row and they settled in.

“Was that man really offering to buy me from you? He wasn't serious was he?” She whispered when they sat.

He hadn't missed that she hadn't let go of his arm when they sat. She was clinging to him rather as one might cling to a life raft in a stormy sea. He put an arm around her waist and pulled her close, so she was almost sitting in his lap, feeling her relax slightly at his proximity. “You're not a whore, Eleanor. You're not for sale.” He said, clearing his throat and looking around at the other spectators and the arena as if to fix the lay of the land in his mind.

“Yes, I do happen to know that Thomas. That's not the question I asked.”

He met her eyes. “Yes,” He said flatly. “He would pay to fuck you. Most of the men in this pub would, myself included.”

She shivered. “Do you think that's true?”

“I know it's true sweetheart.”

She considered for a moment. “How much?”

He looked at her blankly. “How much what?”

“How much do you think I would earn then, as a prostitute.”

His expression widened only a fraction. Then he let out a small laugh. “What kind of question is that then, for a girl like you to be asking?”

She smiled. “I'm curious. I only want to know how much the working girls make.” She looked suddenly shy. “You do know... don't you Thomas?”

He considered her for a second. So she wanted to know if he'd ever seen a prostitute. Or perhaps it was fairer to say that she wanted to confirm her suspicion that he'd seen prostitutes. Well, he'd not lie to her.

“Yes, I know.”

“Well then, how much?”

“Would your mother, the Countess of Carnbrook, want me to be telling you such things?”

She glanced around the room. “You're asking me that, after taking me here?”

He kissed her. “Exactly, I've done enough damage as it is.”

The fight was bloody. The two were welterweights but in Tommy's experience the smaller classes of men tended to fight a bit harder. The heavyweights knew they could kill each other with a wrong punch, the welterweights and below seemed only curious to find out if they could. Eleanor's hand never left his arm and with each blow she unconsciously gripped it harder for a moment in fear, mouth parting in a silent gasp.

The two men in the ring hit each other with a ferocity that took Eleanor's breath away and several times she almost cried out when a blow landed so heavily. How they could take so much damage was beyond her. She couldn't deny how it stirred her though, she couldn't tear her eyes away.

When it was over she turned to Tommy and she was nearly taken aback at the raw lust in his expression staring back at her. The fight had clearly affected him too, almost as if he'd fought himself. She felt that familiar clench of fear mixed with desire tighten deep in her abdomen when she thought of what he might do to her that night. Suddenly she couldn't wait to get out of the pub.

But though she knew Tommy had been aroused by the fight he seemed in no hurry to get her home. He shook the hands of a few of the better dressed men in the crowd, clapped arms with some of the Peaky Blinders and finally settled them at a table that, though consigned to one corner was a little bit raised and brightly lit. It was the center of the room in some way that wasn't physical, a stage almost. Soon enough a small crowd of men had gathered around them, most were Peaky Blinders congratulating him for his fighter having carried the day. A few remarked on Eleanor. As with Billy Kimber none of them spoke to her directly but rather remarked on her beauty to Tommy himself.

Tommy bought drinks, laughed and chatted with the men around him. No one spoke to Eleanor directly and when the drinks came the waiter handed both to Tommy to hand to her.

He hadn't been joking when he'd told her he was taking her to be shown off. He wanted these men to see her with his arm around her waist, on his arm. Perhaps it should have made her feel cheapened in some way, being treated as if she were some prize filly being trotted out for display. But something in the reverence with which Tommy and the other men treated her made her feel quite the opposite. Though the pub was crowded she was given a very carefully measured amount of space. The men who were blind drunk held back for approaching her, either held back by themselves or by their compatriots. Not an animal but a costly piece of art, that was how she felt they saw her. Still perhaps an object that belonged to Tommy, but a valued and venerated one.

She didn't know why the thought made her sex throb and warmth spread from her apex. Perhaps it was the pleasure Tommy clearly took in the possession of something that other men coveted. She let him brush her hair over one shoulder to whisper in her ear and slide the hand at her waist up so his thumb was resting against the side of her breast. All the little things that told all who looked at them that he had taken her to bed already. She thought of the woman she'd seen earlier, sitting on a man's lap out in the open with his fingers up her skirt and shivered, wondering if Tommy would do the same. It would be the work of a second for him to pull her into his lap and if he slipped his fingers beneath her skirt. And if he did? She was sure no one in the pub would stop him.

The crowd began to grow a little rougher as the night wore on a more drink was poured. A fight broke out near the bar that ended with a gush of blood from one man's nose and the other unconscious on the floor. One man at their own table brought out some cocaine and cut it into lines which he shared companionably with his cronies. She could see that men were taking prostitutes either up the stairs behind the bar or even to the stalls that were clearly restrooms. The girls returned to work so quickly, looking perhaps a little more rumpled but ready for their next client.

He ordered her another drink and she took it from his hands with trembling fingers.

He pulled her flush against his side. With the hand that held his cigarette he cupped her cheek and turned her to him, planting a kiss on her lips. He didn't part her lips or deepen the kiss but neither was it brief. When he broke it he peered into her eyes for a moment, then leaned forward to whisper, “are you scared sweetheart?”

“Yes Thomas.”

“You shouldn't be. Not here. No man here but me would think to touch you.”

She blinked, nodding.

“Everyone in Small Heath knows who you belong to after tonight. You could walk through this pub alone at any time of night without so much as a man asking you for the time of day.”

She shivered. “I'm the only woman here Thomas who isn't working.”

“Yes.”

Warm blue eyes turned up to his, pink lips parted. “Will you not lift me onto your lap then? Like the others? Not lift my skirts here... or in the stalls in the back.”

He felt himself harden instantly in his trousers at the image her words conjured: Eleanor Arden pushed against the wooden slats of a pub lavatory, skirt around her waist and he plunged into her. She was so light he could lift her by the thighs, wrapping her legs around his hips as he fucked her against some rough wooden beam.

He lifted one thumb to her mouth, tracing her bottom lip with it.

With his other he caught her hand and guided it to where his cock was straining against the expensive fabric of his suit, savoring the shiver that ran through her. “Fuck but the things that come out of that public-school educated mouth never fail to stir Eleanor. Obscenities in a posh accent, every Birmingham lad's dream eh? ” He said. One hand held her hand to his cock, the other around her waist kept her close as he whispered. “But there will be no quick relief for you tonight sweetheart, I intend to take my time.”

Finally he stood and made his goodbyes to the table, bought another round of drinks and then handed her out. He took her by the waist, leading her back up the stairs and out of the pub. They collected their coats and hats and drove to the betting parlor and led her up to the little bedroom.

He took her coat and hung it up again as she stepped forward into the approximate middle of the room.

He unzipped the back of her dress and slid it down slowly. She stepped out of it and he folded it over it's usual chair. Next he took the slip, leaving the lacy blue brassier and garter belt. He took her by the nape of the neck and led her until her forehead was pressed against the firm, ornately carved wood of one of the tall posts of the four-poster bed, then spun her by the hips until she faced the room.

He went to the desk and poured himself a glass of whiskey. She'd had about half of the two he'd ordered her in the pub and she knew he liked her to be fresh, reactive. He could handle liquor but she had yet to build up a tolerance.

He shrugged out of his jacket and began to do undo his cuff-links, rolling up the sleeves carefully as if he were about to do manual labor. For her it was an ominous action and her body reacted accordingly, a little shiver of anticipation going up her spine.

“First things first Eleanor. On your knees.”

She knelt carefully where she stood, carefully folding the sky-blue heals beneath her ass parting her knees as she knew he found most appealing. He came to stand in front of her. She knew by now the exact height she had to come off from her ankles to be at the right level to take his cock in her mouth. She looked up at him, feeling as if she might leak onto the floor. The sight of him towering over her made her heart hammer against her chest. First I'll cum down your throat to clear my head before I start, he'd told her on the phone. With the back of her head pressed as it was against the post of the bed she wouldn't be able to move her head back. She was trapped between him and the hard wood behind her.

“Put your hands on your ankles. Don't move them until I tell you.”

He unbuckled his trousers and drew himself out. Jesus how was it that she felt she forgot how big he was every single time he took her. Her racing pulse jumped another ten beats at the sight of him.

“Open your mouth.”

He rested his cock on her tongue for a moment, one hand tangled in the hair at the back of her head. “Focus on is relaxing the muscles of your throat sweetheart. I'm going to put your nose to my skin one way or another and it will go easier for you if you don't tense.” He said, running a fond finger over her bottom lip. “Do you understand, nod if you do.”

She bobbed her head in the affirmative.

He took a moment to fix the mental image of her in his mind forever: wide blue eyes turned up to him, a halo of blond locks around her angelic face, her slender, perfect body clad only in lingerie that he had bought her, back against a beam, hands on her ankles and his cock balanced perfectly on that delicate pink tongue. Then his fingers tightened in her hair and he thrust in. She did gag at first, closing her eyes and wincing as he tried to push past her pharynx, deeper into her mouth.

He thrust in again and again she gagged, trying to shy back from him but prevented by his hand and the bed post behind her. But her hands stayed obediently on her ankles, not trying to prevent him from taking what he wanted.

“Look at me Eleanor.” Wide, fearful blue eyes met his, tears from where he had gagged her forming. “Relax.” He commanded. “Don't fight me when I push in.”

He pushed in slowly again and this time he met resistance, pushed, and he was through. Her nose slid up against the wiry hair at the base of his shaft. She swallowed, panting through her nose, looking up at him with sweet, pleading eyes and he felt he could have come from that alone. Instead he slid out and began a slowly, to fuck her throat in earnest.

He took his time. Once she got the hang of it, the angle to hold her jaw, the way to relax her muscles it was easy to pump into her mouth as slowly or as quickly as I wanted. Sometimes if he pushed a little bit deeper she would gag and splutter. At first he indulged himself for the rippling motion it made her produce. But as his speed picked up he found he did not want to take the time to stop fucking her throat to allow her to recover from this. One hand he braced on the post of the bed above her, the other still in her hair as he built speed and momentum.

The sight of his cock pushing all the way to her lips made him feel slightly unhinged. He felt the tightening in his abdomen, somewhere so deep within him it couldn't possibly be a physical place and then. Tommy tilted his head back and with a roar, emptied himself into her mouth. He pushed her head back against the wood of the bed, trapping her as he unloaded. Pleasure exploded across his mind, as white hot as any pain and equally destructive. What he was, was no more for that brief second. All that was the warm sanctuary of her mouth and an emptying of himself that seemed to go on and on.

When he regained his senses he tilted his head back down. He was still braced against the bed with one forearm, still had the other hand tangled in her hair and her nose was pressed against his abdomen. Her eyes looked up at him and the question within them nearly undid him. Are you pleased Tommy? Have I done enough to please you?

“Swallow me down sweetheart and then clean me off.” The noise of her swallowing and the small pop as her lips broke seal with his cock was almost sweet. She licked him dutifully, fingers never leaving her ankles until she'd cleaned all his cum from him.

“Now that's settled. Time for your other present from London Eleanor.”

He went to the desk and got out several of the same small cords he'd used to bind her with before. He took her by the hips and turned her so she faced him again. “Ankles together. Cross your hands in front of you.”

He bent began to lace the ropes between her thighs, passing them around and between them to lash them tightly together. He took his time, making sure the ropes were square and secure. “I had intended to give you a choice if you wanted to be beaten or fucked first,” he told her as he worked, “but now I find I rather don't care which you prefer. I intend to hear you wail Eleanor before I fuck you again.”

His only reply was the little shiver that went up her legs.

When he was finished with her thighs he worked on her ankles, binding them together tightly so her legs were hobbled and unwieldy. Next he turned to her hands, lashing them together wrist-over-wrist with a much longer rope than he'd used to bind her legs. The end of the long rope he tied to the post of the bed and then pulled the slack until her arms rose over her head. Her arms rose over her head and he didn't stop until she was fully stretched out, almost having to rise onto her toes in her high-heels to meet the strain it put on her wrists.

She was stretched out like the woman in the photograph, ready to be taken roughly by the centurion who approached. Eleanor could barely believe it. He couldn't have known about the photograph so how had he recreated it so perfectly? Was it merely that they wanted the same things-- both wanted her stretched and wanting and unable to flee. Or was it something else. She was almost certain that he wasn't kidding when he talked about gypsy magic—faeries and gorgers, palmistry and tarot— but moments like this made her doubt it. Had he seen it in her palm that day under the canopy of the tree? Somewhere in her eyes when she looked up at him and felt as though he could see right down into the very soul of her? In her dreams when she lay beside him and pressed her hand to his heart almost as if she was knocking to get in?

But none of that mattered in that moment because then his hands were on her and that was all she could think of.

He pulled her brassier up over her breasts so they were bare, the little lace giving away easily under his fingers and scrunching up over her pert little peaks. He took her by the hips and turned her again so she faced towards the post of the bed.

He stood behind her and leaned forward to murmur in her ear. “Every man in that bar knows I've had you, splayed beneath me, moaning and out of your mind. Every man looked up from his table when you passed in that dress and thought how Thomas Shelby had had you knelt before him, his cock in your mouth. You know that don't you Eleanor?”

“Yes Tommy.”

He pressed his cock through his trousers against her ass. She could feel he was hard already and that he would have to bend his knees slightly to get the angle right to allow penetration.

“That will do nicely sweetheart.”

She shivered at the thought of it, suddenly feeling more vulnerable than if he'd tied her legs wide. With her knees and thighs together she wouldn't be able to spread for him and she knew it would make the sensation of him overwhelming. She was already barely able to accommodate him, how in the world he would get in her with the extra tightness she had no idea. But she also had absolutely no doubt in her mind he would find a way.

It helped that she was already as wet as she'd ever been, almost drooling down onto the ropes. Jesus the thought of being so helpless, so at his mercy made her almost pant with desire. She wanted his hands on her more than she could tell, wanted him to thrust into her without waiting and show no gentleness or regard for her plight. She wanted him to take his satisfaction from her body in any way she could offer it.

As if reading her thoughts he slid a finger into her moist interior. “Jesus Christ. You are always ready for me aren't you Eleanor.”

“Yes Tommy.”

He turned her again to face away from the post so she could watch what he was doing.

He took off his vest and hung it without hurry. He removed his jewelry, his vest and watch, cuff links and sleeve garters. He unbuttoned the top of his shirt and carefully pulled it over his head. The sight of his bare torso never failed to affect her. The long, lean musculature of him looked to her like fast flowing current over still waters, something dangerous rippling beneath an apparently still surface. The tattoos as well always made her breath stop. She'd never asked him what they meant but they were clearly related to his army days, the little spray like the sun over his heart in particular was a rough juxtaposition to the stylish, neat way he dressed. It was almost a physical representation of what he was, something dangerous and brutal beneath the restrained veneer of the suit.

He reminded her of the boxers they'd seen in the ring that night, bare to the waist. He lit a cigarette and looked met her gaze, blue eyes burning holes in her once more.

He went to the desk and got out the riding crop he'd warned her about. It was a thin little thing, the usually flat little tab on the end slender, almost no bigger than the length of it which was no bigger than Eleanor's ring finger. It was clearly well made, nice warm black leather, but it looked ominously rigid. She struggled not to flinch away from it, knowing that it would overbalance her on her precarious heels.

He surveyed her like a painter looking at a blank canvas. “You keep count for me.” He said.

The first one landed across her breast, a little red line blooming just across the nipple. She gasped and fell forward, catching herself with her wrists and pulling herself back to standing. He hadn't held back any strength and it was enough to nearly knock the breath out of her.

“If you don't count them Eleanor, neither will I.”

“One, Tommy.” She panted.

The second was clearly to make her symmetrical, a line of fire blooming across the opposite nipple. But she didn't need to be told twice. “Two, Tommy.”

The next landed across her thigh. If she could have she would have winced back, spreading her legs away from the lash. “Three, Tommy.” There was a little catch in her breath now.

Another crack across the other thigh, this time.

“Four, Tommy.”

He took her by the hips and spun her so her ass was facing him. She was trembling with anticipation as the next blow landed right across the middle of her ass, a little line of fire blooming across them. “Five Tommy.”

He pulled her into better position, making her lean forward slightly, holding herself up by her bound hands above her. He ran a thumb over the marks on her ass, then up her flank, gripping one tormented nipple and twisting slightly. She gasped at the manipulation of the newly tormented flesh. “This is how I want you for me.” Then he stepped back and laid another blow across her ass.

“Six, Tommy.” A definite sob in her voice now though she struggled to keep the pose.

Another crack, this time lower, almost to her thighs.

“Seven, Tommy.” Her head fell forward in defeat.

“Back in position Eleanor, I won't remind you again.”

She forced herself to lean forward, present. Another crack across her buttocks and she flinched, dropped her posture and had to struggle back into it. He waited patiently for her to resume the correct posture. “Eight, Tommy.” She said when she was ready.

He'd intended to stop at ten but he indulged himself, giving her fifteen in total. The last four he flipped her around to give her on her thighs again, four little symmetrical lines below the first too. Her lips were plump and her eyes were watering by the time she whispered, “fifteen Tommy,” but her pupils were blown wide with lust.

She looked like a wild animal, all semblance of the contained being she usually was had gone somewhere else. Where he couldn't say but what was left behind was a raw and sensual feral thing who would have begged him for ten more lashes at least. Her mouth was open, almost obscenely and her hair fell about her head like some kind of ironic halo.

He'd forgotten about the cigarette at some point, left it on the desk perhaps. He wouldn't have thought it possible but already he was bursting again to be inside of her, the sight of her marked flesh and wild eyes was enough that he was hard again in his trousers. He spun her again and jerked at his belt and zipper, almost fumbling to get them off. He slid down his trousers, wrapped a hand around himself and bent his knees slightly. He didn't need to remind her to push her ass out for him this time. She was clearly mad to get him inside of her, pushing that plump, delightful little ass out for him as if she were a bitch in heat. He teased her once, sliding up and down her slit with his head, then plunged in with one brutal thrust. Her head jerked back and she wailed at the sensation. Both of them were beyond words. He reached forward, one hand gripping her by the chest, flicking a finger over her nipple, the other reaching forward and tangling in her hair. With the hand in her hair he jerked her head back. With both of them combined he thrust her body back, fucking her onto his cock rather than stroking forward into her.

The effect was intoxicating. She complied beautifully, letting him set a brutal speed and only following him like a partner in a dance. Her little muscles fluttered around his cock, trying to give him more, trying to make that heavenly, hot, tight passage even more transendent. Despite the lashes, the uncomfortable position, the brutal tightness he had engineered for her, she was still trying to please him in any way she could think of, wanting to increase his pleasure at any cost.

He felt her getting close to her own release though, the little gasping pants were getting more frequent and the clenching of her muscles on him more erratic. He pinched the abused nipple, trying to push back her finale and his own, to buy them a little more time in the exquisite now. But it was an absolute miscalculation. The pain had already been transformed in her mind to pleasure and it was enough to send her over the edge.

“Tommy... oh God, Jesus, Tommy.” She gasped.

He pushed in one last time and felt himself tip over the edge as all of her muscles contracted beautifully around him. As ever the world blinked out of existence in that perfect moment of filling her up. Everything that had been too much shattered away into a nothingness that was even better. Nothing at all mattered except that he had pleased her, taken pleasure from her. The warm willingness of her washed over him like sunshine on an English summer day and everything that he was dissolved in the radiation.

When he returned to himself she was limp in his arms, held up only by the hand in her hair and the other at her breast. He righted her gently and withdrew, making sure she was steady on her feet before he turned her back to face him. She struggled to regain her strength but did manage to stand on wobbly legs finally.

Then he stood, tucked himself back into his trousers, and went back to the desk. He'd won the bet with Billy Kimber after all and he needed to send some telegrams and make some phone calls to London to tell his bookies what to do with the new pitches. And he'd be damned if he didn't intend to do so watching her dangle in front of him, fucked and submissive.

He picked up the telephone and took his time calling his bookies and making arrangements. She did not complain, only watched him he could see out of the corner of his eye. He knew she liked the look of him in just his trousers so he let her look. She herself was a sight to see, red tits blooming over the rucked up fancy brassiere. He liked the combination: the posh, expensive little wisp of cotton he'd bought for her in London juxtaposed with the rough red he'd brought to her tits. He felt himself grow hard again as the phone calls went on.

Still, he made himself finish the business before he returned to her.

He drew down her arms. “Kneel.”

She knelt gracefully before him. He took out his cock again from his pants. He took her by the head again, tangling his fingers in her hair and guided her onto his shaft. He wasted no time with the niceties, pumping into her throat until she choked against him. All the resistance had gone out of her though and even when she choked it was not with the same panicked intensity of the previous time. Her eyes were almost glassy with bliss, transported to some other dimension where all pain turned into pleasure. The pressure her gagging produced felt incredible but he felt like he might become unhinged when she managed to swallow him down. He pressed her nose to the rough curly hair at the base of his shaft, pumping her against it as she gagged. He knew he was rapidly approaching another orgasm though and didn't intend to spend himself in her mouth.

He pulled her back off him with the hand that was tangled in her hair. He pulled her to feet and then led her to the bed. He bent her over the end of the bed so she was resting on her breasts and elbows, as if bowing before some god that resided in his headboard. In her high heels her snatch was at just the right level and the graceful bend of her back was enough to drive him wild. Roughly he pulled her hips back to his and slammed into her, bottoming out in the first thrust. Her ass was still red from the beating and she screamed a bit as his thighs slammed against her abused flesh. But bound as her hands were and despite the discomfort she did a valiant job of trying to push back as he fucked her from behind. She screamed out a little bit, a mixture of agony from the deep angle of penetration mixed with the slap of his thighs against the tender flesh of her buttocks and thighs.

“You please me so well Eleanor.” He groaned. “That fucking cunt, your mouth, the way you take what I give you.”

“Yes, Thomas, please just take your pleasure.” Her voice was high, thin, so close to relief.

“I thought you would have touched yourself while I was in London. But one look at your face today in my office and I knew you hadn't.” He said, trying desperately to distract himself from how fucking amazing she felt around him, anything to prolong this feeling just a moment longer.

“No Tommy, no I didn't.”

“You let me fuck your throat, whip you like an horse and save all your orgasms for me. Anything I fucking want you give me.”

“Yes Tommy, anything you want.”

He gripped her ass, tilting her hips to an even more extreme angle, plunging down into her at an impossible speed. “That cunt opens only for me eh.”

“Yes... Tommy... Oh... fuck...”

Her muscles spasmed around him again and they were both over the edge again. Heat and light seem to flow out from her and into him from every point of connection, his hands, his cock, the front of his thighs, filling him with warmth and pleasure that threatened to tear him apart.

When both had regained their senses he withdrew and flipped her onto her back.

He kissed both abused nipples and then slipped the brassiere off gently over her head. He untied her wrists, then ankles and thighs. He stripped off her garter belt, stockings and heels almost reverently. He pulled the covers back and slid her beneath them, naked, content and raw. “Tommy please...” She said, reaching for him.

“In a moment sweetheart, I've only to strip off my trousers.”

He stripped himself to the skin and then slid in next to her. She curled against him immediately, wanting more contact that a human body could provide, as if she wanted to crawl within the very skin of him if she could. He wasn't sure where to hold her with all the tender flesh so he decided on cupping her waist, which at least had suffered no blows directly and pulled her to him, draping her over his chest. A shy little hand reached across his settle just over his heart, in the little circle of bullets from his regimental tattoo, as if she were about to knock. He lit a cigarette and with his free hand set to running his fingers absentmindedly through up and down her arm, a soft, soothing caress after all he'd put her through.

“A hundred pounds at least.”

“A hundred pounds of what?” She asked dreamily.

“In the best London brothel, you would fetch a hundred pounds at least. Just for a quick fuck or suck, never mind what we did just now. Half an hour at a time with a man outside your door to make sure none of the customers ever got too rough with you.”

She looked up at him, looking shocked. “Really? That much.”

He cupped her ass, pulling her against him and making her wince. “Believe me sweetheart, it would be a bargain. The bet Billy Kimber and I made tonight was for at least twenty thousand pounds or so. Who knows what he would have offered me for you.”

She shuddered but looked pensive. “I used to think men were ridiculous when it came to sex, women too. It didn't make any sense to go to the lengths they did for it, to risk what they did for it, to endure what they did for it. But I think that was rather naive of me.”

He almost smiled at that. True enough. A hundred pounds, even ten thousand pounds for her was nothing in the face of what she was risking to continue having sex with him. Risking perhaps quite a bit more even then he'd bet on the fight with Billy Kimber: her good name, marriage prospects, reputation. What would the cost of her be, all told? More than a prize derby racehorse, more than three licensed bets. A girl like her, landed and moneyed and schooled, had fallen into his lap. Pearls before swine Kimber had called her and he couldn't help but agree.

 

 

TBC

Chapter Text

The next few months settled into what Eleanor could almost call a routine. Most days she was summoned by Tommy to the betting parlor to do the kinds of things that were too loud or too conspicuous to be done at Watery Lane. Some long afternoons he left her tied to the bed or on the floor, kneeling, displayed like a piece of art. Other evenings he bent her over his desk and fucked her quickly and brutally.

In another mood he would take her to bed sweetly, sometimes bring her to completion with his tongue a number of times before burying himself in her and making love to her slowly. He would draw out her pleasure for hours until even that seemed an unbearable torment and she writhed and begged beneath him.

On Sundays he always took her on something like a date: to the pictures, to Ada's for dinner, to a restaurant or somewhere nice for drinks. Then he usually took her back to Watery Lane and made very conventional love to her. There was no need to wonder if he'd tie her or beat her on Sunday. Those days were reserved for long kisses in the flickering light of the pictures, him slipping off her dress and then slipping her under the covers before he joined her. In the dark of his room he'd caress her to a blaze and then slide on top of her, parting her legs before slipping in to make slow love to her. When he was done he would arrange her neatly against his chest and let her drift off there as he smoked a cigarette.

Arthur was clear in his continued disapproval of her but Ada and Polly took to her quite naturally. Some afternoons Ada brought Karl around to the convent and the two women took strolls together around the pleasant grounds of the church or went off to enjoy a humble dinner together in some local joint. Polly never let her leave without a bit of eggs and toast in the morning after she'd spent the night in Thomas's room.

The first time she'd been caught by the older woman sneaking down the stairs in the morning she'd been mortified, blushing to the roots of her hair as Polly called out, “Eleanor come to the kitchen and have something to fortify you before you set out.”

“Oh hello Polly, I didn't expect you'd be up so early.” Eleanor said, slinking into the kitchen.

She winked. “Me? Still abed? I'm sure I've had more sleep then you.”

Eleanor blushed, if possible, even more. “Oh yes... well I...that is...”

“Just sit down and let me fry you up an egg pet, before you go out for work.”

Before long the strong coffee and eggs, beans, bacon and toast that Polly served in the mornings were something she rather looked forward to. It was better fare than the porridge the nuns gave the girls in the morning, which either seemed to have far too much or not enough sugar in it to make it palatable. Averaged out it might have been alright but somehow it managed to offend every morning.

She was surprised too at how little stir it had caused at the convent. She was quite sure that it was because the nuns and priests, whatever they might protest, were afraid of Tommy. She didn't doubt that had she chosen quite a less famous gangster as her (what was he anyway? Her boyfriend? Her lover? Her beau? None of it seemed quite right) .. whatever he was, there would have been quite a scandal. But the nuns and other girls pretended not to notice when she returned after dawn or not at all for a few days.

All in all she was happier than she'd ever been, truth be told.

She had stopped writing in her diary because she couldn't explain it, even to herself, but whatever it was that went on between her and Tommy in that bedroom over the gambling parlor was the tonic she had been waiting for her whole life. If he was away on Blinder business for a few nights she found it nearly unbearable. Lying in the dark she'd waiting for the other girls in the dormitory to fall asleep before she'd tried to pleasure herself as he did, slipping her fingers between her legs and rubbing and rubbing until she was nearly raw. But it did nothing but frustrate her further.

The more he touched her, the more he used her, the more she craved from him it seemed. Some days it was agony to wait until he found her or sent word for her to come.

Other days seem cut straight from paradise.

One Sunday morning they'd slept late at the Watery Lane house. When they'd awoken realizing the rest of the household had gone to church. Tommy thrown open the large curtains to let in the brilliant morning sun and gone downstairs to fetch the strong coffee Polly had left warming on the stove and the newspaper. He'd come back into bed and read the sports section, mostly the odds for the races and boxing matches, while she read one of the manifestos that Ada had given her on the benefits of communism. “Burn that shite when you're done with it.” Tommy told her conversationally, turning a page of the paper.

She laughed. “Don't want me getting ideas from Ada? You know that women are supposed to be equal to men once we're all just comrades. No more women confined to the kitchen raising the babies while the men go out and earn a paycheck. Everyone will take an equal hand in all tasks it says here.”

He let out a dismissive snort. “I should like to see what Ada would say about equality after one day of work at Charlie Strong's yard.”

She glanced up at him. “You don't believe in the new rights for women then? Suffrage and all that? You don't think that women in England emancipated the same as those in America?”

“I didn't say that.”

As ever he held her against his chest, splayed across it like he was some barbarian conqueror, one hand gripping her ass cheek. He looked down at her and found her looking up at him expectantly. He folded the paper away and lit a cigarette. “Jesus Christ. Ada really is putting ideas into your head.”

“I only want to know what you think about suffrage for women.”

“I don't think about it.”

“But you wouldn't oppose it?”
He wasn't sure why but it rankled him that she asked the question. He knew she was at least half teasing him, knew it didn't matter to him. even if she did think he was the kind of man who would oppose her right to vote. Shouldn't matter to him. So why then was it suddenly a struggle to keep his voice from sounding defensive as he said, “Poll and Ada vote the same as me or Arthur or John at family meetings and I care a lot fucking more about what goes on in those than any meeting of parliament. I have no problem with women having their say in how things go.”

“So you'd vote for it then?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I'd vote for it.”

“But you wouldn't want women working then? Wouldn't want them doing the jobs that men do?”

“I employ women in the factories and gladly.”

“But not to do all jobs?” She asked lightly.

“No, not for all jobs.” He agreed. “It's a rare woman I'd hire as blacksmith or foreman. The first for the physical strength it requires, the second as it would breed resentment among the men beneath her.” He didn't mention the types of jobs on the less legal side of his business where he rarely employed women, the violence of men being usually much closer to the surface.

“Reactionary.”

“What?”

“I said you're a reactionary.”

“Few men would disagree with me at the present time sweetheart. Perhaps it's true that I'm not a progressive but I don't think we should go back to the days when women were little more than property of their husbands and fathers.”

She cocked a rather teasing eyebrow at him. “Do you not Mr. Shelby?”
He smiled fondly down at her and stubbed out the cigarette. With a single quick motion he had her on her stomach so quickly it made her let out a squeak of surprise. She was already naked beneath the sheets he covered her body with his, letting her feel the weight of him pushing her down into the mattress. Letting her feel his cock, half hard, against her ass. He brushed a curl from her ear, leaned down and took the perfect lobe with its heirloom pearl earring between his teeth. She shivered at the sensation beneath him.

“I am not your husband Eleanor, nor your father.” He said, voice soft and menacing in her ear.

He could see the smile on her face, head turned to one side as it was through a screen of loose curls. “But am I your property Thomas?”

He slipped a finger into her and groaned, finding her wet as ever. He rubbed the little nub at the crux of her and she moaned, arching. “Only for discrete periods of time sweetheart.”

When she was moaning beneath him he pulled her hips up until she was on hands and knees, gripped her hair with one hand, and plunged in. He took her hard and quickly, working them both up the a frenzy quickly and easily until they both came in rapid succession. When they were both spent he lay back and settled them into their original position, one hand stroking her sweat-damp locks, the other trailing up her arm.

“Come to Ada's for dinner Friday. It will be an early dinner and nothing too extravagant. We'll drive down to London for the weekend Saturday. I'm taking you to Epsom.”

“Epsom? The races?”

“We'll leave in the morning and spend the night after, come home late on Sunday.”

“I'll have to get leave from Mother Superior to sleep away from the convent.”

So far the other girls and the nuns had done a superlative job of turning a blind eye to Eleanor spending so many nights away from the convent. It was easy to pretend that each individual night she might be spending with a mother. But if she were to pack a valise and get in Tommy's car and leave the city for the weekend, that required permission.

“Get leave then.”

“I can't tell her I'm going with you.”

“Don't then.”

Eleanor considered. Most people assumed she was from London based on the way she talked anyway. She might not even have to lie to the Abbess. If she said she was going to London the woman would probably presume she was going to visit family with no further explanation needed. And as for being picked up by Tommy... she supposed it wasn't inconceivable that he was taking her to the train station to drop her off.

“Why though?”

“I've got a horse running tomorrow whose going to win. I'd like to be there to see her do it.”

“I meant why bring me?”

“The reason I bring you anywhere else Eleanor.” He said lazily, picking the paper back up. “To please myself. And to show you off.”

 

 

 

Eleanor almost laughed when he pulled the car to a stop in front of the Savoy. It was her mother's favorite place to stay in London since she was a girl. They had a town house as well but her mother sometimes insisted that they indulge by staying in the grand hotel instead. She wondered if she would run into anyone she knew staying at the hotel as well and if so, what in the world she would say to explain herself. She was almost sure to meet someone she knew at the races but it would be one thing to be seen on Tommy's arm there, quite another to be seen with him at his hotel.

The room they were shown too once they'd checked in was extravagant, one of the penthouse rooms at the top of the building that was larger than many flats in London. The maids unpacked her suitcase, hanging her dresses in the closet while she sat on the bed and Tommy made a few phone calls in the large common area.

“Mrs. Shelby shall I press one of your dresses then?” One of the maid's asked Eleanor.

She blushed but didn't correct the girl. “No thank you. I don't think we'll be going out this evening.”

“Very good Mrs. Shelby.”

He came back in after a while once the maids were gone. “I'll be gone this evening and back quite late. Order anything you like to be brought to the room and don't wait up for me.” He said.

She glanced hopefully at the large bed, making him smile. “Oh don't worry on that count sweetheart, I won't cheat you for the whole trip but just now I'll need to be off unfortunately.”

She amused herself that evening with a long bath and a book she'd brought, listened the radio a bit and went to sleep early. It was strange sleeping in the hotel without him and she lay awake for an hour or more before finally drifting off. It was surely the middle of the night by the time he came in. He slid off his clothes and climbed into bed next to her, stirring her only to semi-consciousness before tucking her against him. It must have been late and he must have been tired for he contented himself with slipping a hand into the top of her negligee but didn't lift the skirt or part her legs.

When she woke he was gone again. She took tea in their room and then went out for a bit. So abrupt had been the trip she didn't know who was in London she could call on and wasn't sure what she would say if she did. She bought a few small gifts for Ada, Polly, Rosie and the others, chocolates mostly and a stuffed bear for Karl. She went to Bond Street as well and bought herself a rather indulgent new dress for the race. It was a dark emerald green of first rate silk with a modest fringe and skirt. The neckline was not exactly low, though it did manage to show off her collarbones to full effect. It was the back though that made her settle on the dress. The fabric plunged in a deep V to the waistline of the skirt, showing off the smooth, creamy skin of her shoulders and back. She could imagine Tommy putting his hand at her waist and slipping one thumb beneath the silk to caress the narrowest part of her waist. She bought a matching deep green peacock facinator to round out the look and then, blushing, asked the girl helping her if she had any recommendations for underthings that might suit the dress.

The girl nodded enthusiastically. “I have just the thing Miss!”

“Mrs. Shelby! Oh Mrs. Shelby!” The receptionist waved her over and she went, blushing and knowing better than to correct him.

“Yes?”

“Mr. Shelby left word with me to tell you that he'll be by to pick you up for the races at twelve thirty and that I'm to send a bottle of champagne to your room in the meantime. Would you care to pick out the vintage?”

She made a selection somewhat at random and then went up to the room.

She took an unusual amount of time with her appearance. She could feel the dull throbbing between her legs and the familiar haze of lust and anticipation that seemed to fill her whenever she was going to meet Tommy somewhere. Something about the fact that he hadn't taken her the night before, the sight of the newly-bought lingerie she'd left hanging on the bathroom door, the empty opulence of the hotel room and the simple fact that she was waiting for him all gradually coalesced into something unbridled within her.

The act of preparation had become erotic. The way she made herself ready for him, fixing her hair and makeup carefully in the enormous vanity mirror in the bathroom to please him, made her feel wild with lust. She could see the champagne still in the ice bucket, unopened, melting in the living room. She took a piece of ice from the bucket, feeling as if she were almost feverish, running it over her neck and breasts and thighs, hoping to cool herself. She slid fingers still cold from the ice between her legs but as ever it did more harm then good. The clock behind it on the wall seemed to move at a snail's pace.

When she was pleased with her appearance in the mirror she went and got the underthing she'd bought that day out of the shopping bag and slipped into them. She put on the bralette and bloomers, both no more than puffs of green silk. The aching between her legs was almost painful now, a throbbing need for him. At four fifteen she checked her hair and makeup for the last time, applying a fresh coat of the most daring red lipstick she owned. At four twenty she poured him a whiskey and set it on the low glass table in front of the large couch. At four twenty five she went to kneel at the center of the common room, carefully positioned to be visible from the door and held perfectly still, waiting for him.

She heard the key in the lock a moment later and he came in. He paused when he saw her, then closed the door behind him. She could see the muscle at the corner of his jaw was clenching slightly, a sure sign that she'd made the right decision when it came to the underthings. He took off his jacket and went to sit on the couch where the whiskey she'd poured him was still not yet beginning to have condensation on the outside. “Crawl to me.”

She obeyed, slinking over between his knees and pressing her head to one of his strong thighs. “Welcome back Tommy.”

“Jesus Christ, you are insatiable Eleanor.” But the hint of a smile at his lips betrayed him.

“I want you.”

“I can see that. And if I'd come in with some business associates?”

“They would have seen how much I want you... that I would do anything to please you.”

She'd thought about this quite a bit he could see. She'd chosen for him to sit on the couch because behind her was a long mirror just to the left of the fireplace. He could see the way she knelt for him, the sheer slip barely covered the lower curve of her ass and was sheer enough to give him a good view of the rest. He could see that she knelt carefully too, toes together and knees spread. Her blond hair was carefully pinned.

“Over my knee I think sweetheart.”

She stood, knelt on the couch beside him and bent over his knee. He pulled her bloomers down and ran a hand possessively over her ass. In the mirror he could see that her mouth was parted, panting, and the look of fear. Her head was almost to the ground, her knees on the couch next to him to present a better target. He watched his hand in the mirror travel over the creamy skin of her thighs and ass, the rings he wore making her shiver. He slid off his belt and she shivered as it slid past her cheek. He bent down to whisper in her ear.

“I'm going to beat you until you sob Eleanor.” His voice was level, no trace of emotion. She shivered over his knee, her hair brushing the floor.

“Yes Tommy.”

He made good on his promise. The belt cracked across her ass the first time hard enough to make her jerk. She tried not to cry out as the second blow landed but it was no use. She let out a muted scream but he tangled his hands in her hair, pushing her back down to keep her still. Another crack across her back and she jerked but fought a bit less this time, sobbing. Only when she stopped struggling altogether, tears falling on the carpet did he relent. He rarely hit her that hard and she was feeling that same familiar cracked-open relief and desperation she'd felt the first night.

He pushed her off his knee, guiding her to kneel before him. He opened his pants and let the erection she'd felt against her stomach as he spanked her free. She didn't need the hand tangled in her hair guiding her forward to latch her lips to it and press herself all the way to the base of him. She gagged, choked and swallowed him down, heedless of her own comfort.

“That's it Eleanor.” He groaned. “Let me fuck your mouth.”

The careful lipstick and makeup smeared as she fit him into her throat. Her eyes turned to him, looking up at him as she knew he liked: blue eyes wide and perfect lips spread by him. His head tilted back, one hand reached for the whiskey on the table, gripping it with white knuckles, the other keeping her bobbing on his cock. “God but I could fuck your throat for hours.”

He pulled her off, letting her gasp and sputter. “Anything Thomas, anything you wish.” She gasped. “Just let me please you.”

Back down she went, choking and grateful to be filled. Her own sex was throbbing, aching for him but she focused on his pleasure, running her tongue along the base of him, flickering it over his head when he let her up for air.

He took a deep drink of the whiskey and let the warm heady feeling flow down his throat, mixing with the warmth that was already forming at the base of his cock. He tried to steady himself, not to give in to the impulse to go too fast, to let the moment last and not race towards what he wanted more than anything else: to cum down this woman's throat who knelt at his feet, looking at him with adoring, pleading eyes.

She'd once told him that it was peaceful to kneel at his feet and he couldn't help but agree. Nothing in the world could disturb him in the moment. He was focused on her, the pleasure she was giving, the muffled noises she made, the bobbing of her ass in the mirror as she slid up and down on him, the occasional flicker of her tongue over his head.

In the mirror he could see himself, legs spread with this perfect woman between them, choking on his cock. Her ass still ablaze from his belt. He met her eyes as she gazed up at him, adoring, distressed, eager to please. Her long lashes framed dark blue eyes, red lips smeared slightly from the rough way he treated her. His fingers tangled in her hair in the mirror seemed impossibly large on her skull, as if they were not the same species of human—him some large feral breed and her the smaller domesticated version.

She'd engineered this moment herself. Usually it was him who picked the ambiance, the specific acts, how and when he took her. But she had wanted this specifically, wanted to kneel before him and be used roughly. And damn if she hadn't figured out exactly how to get what she wanted. He could have smiled if he wasn't so painfully close to coming. He let his head fall back for a moment, savoring the moment, pushing her down until she swallowed him down, her lips at the base of his cock.

He let her rest there for a moment, then looked up, meeting her eyes. “Do you want me to come down your throat sweetheart?”

He pulled her off long enough for her to answer. “Please come down my throat Thomas.”

It didn't take long before he'd reached his limit. His head fell back and all the muscles in his body clenched as he filled her senses with the taste of him: salt and whiskey, cigarettes and gunpowder. She swallowed him down eagerly, wanting more. She let him rest in her mouth as he slowly came back to the world of mortals. She kissed his thighs, his shaft, his head lovingly, licking away any of the salty remnants she had missed.

“I think I will take you to the races like this.” He said, stroking her hair fondly. “Taste of my cum still in your mouth, your ass still red from my hand and still wanting me and unsatisfied.”

“Yes Tommy.”

“I could fuck your mouth again, couldn't I? And you'd do nothing but thank me.”

“Yes Tommy.”

He groaned. “Pleasing thing aren't you sweetheart.”

“I would do anything to please you, Tommy.”

With the hand on her head he tilted her head back until she met his eyes.

“Say that again.”

“I would do anything to please you, Tommy.”

He smiled. “Then go fix your face and put on your dress. I'll pour you some champagne.”

“Yes, Tommy.”

They drove to the racetrack in almost silence, Eleanor making a conscious effort to master herself, not to push her legs together. She was so aroused that she felt even that little bit of pressure would be enough to push her over the edge but she knew Tommy would never allow it.. He left the car with the valet and they walked through, waved passed the lines of people waiting to show tickets straight to the owner's booth.

He walked her right to the front of the glass that overlooked the track and as she had imagined, his thumb slipped beneath the thin silk, caressing her heated skin. He bent and kissed her gently. He could almost feel the throbbing need beneath this hand. He let his hand slip lower to cup one cheek for a moment, smiling as she winced as he rubbed the raw flesh. “I'll get us some drinks shall I?”

She had just opened her mouth to ask for a double when a familiar voice interrupted them. “Eleanor! Eleanor! Eleanor Elizabeth Anne Arden, as I live and breathe, is that really you?”

“Abigail! How wonderful to see you!” She embraced the other woman: Abigail Smythe, one of her oldest friends and neighbors. She was dressed for the races in a fine frock and hat, a man about their age stood at her side, dressed in a smart suit.

“You look fantastic! I can't believe how wonderful you look!” Abigail said, regarding her. “And who is this then?” She asked, looking Tommy up and down with an appraising look. “I thought you were in Liverpool or somewhere awful, trapped away for good on some church mission according to your mother. No mention at all of anything so tall, dark and handsome among all the nuns.”

Eleanor smiled. “Birmingham in fact, and I'm working as a midwife. And this is Mr. Thomas Shelby, a friend of mine.”

“A friend of yours?”

“Thomas Shelby, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Abby stuck out her hand and shook his gamely but the man beside her had gone as rigid as a plank. “Hello Mr. Shelby, good to make your acquaintance! Abigail Smythe and this is Reginald Thorp.” Abigail said gamely. “Ellie, meet Reggie as well. He's my swain.”

“Please to meet you Miss Arden.”

“Pleasure is all mine.” She assured him. “Anyone with enough sense to be Abbey's swain is surely a smart enough chap. I'm happy to meet you.”

“Good of you to say. She quite bowled me over of course.”

“Of course.” Eleanor agreed. “Abbey does with everyone she meets I think.”

Abigail was talking again however. “Midwife in Birmingham though? Sounds awful. Thank goodness you've come to your senses and come back to London for the races. How long will you be here? We must go to dinner together.”

“We're leaving tomorrow I'm afraid.”

“But you can't leave tomorrow! Oh no that simply won't do, tell her that Reggie!”

“Oh yes, you two must stay for a few days at a minimum.” Reggie mumbled agreeably. He was still looking at Tommy with a strange mix of excitement and disbelief.

But already Abigail had moved on from the project. “Do I know any of your people Mr. Shelby? I can't think of any Shelby's I know from Birmingham.”

“I wouldn't think so.”

Reggie though knew who he was, of that, Eleanor was sure. His wide eyes and stunned look told her he knew exactly who and what Tommy was. Her stomach turned over in her elegant new dress, a tingling frisson of fear going up her spine and her skin felt suddenly cold, everywhere except where Tommy's warm hand made contact with it at the edge of her bare back.

“How did you meet our Eleanor then, Mr. Shelby?” Abbey asked.

“She delivered my sisters first child.”

“How romantic of you. A family man then are you?”

“Something like that.”

“I couldn't trouble you for a smoke could I? I've forgotten mine in the car and neither David nor Reggie smoke.”

Tommy took his packet of cigarettes from his breast pocket and lit one for Abigail and passed it over. She took it and took a deep drag. “And what is it that brings you to the horse races then, Mr. Shelby?”

It was Reggie who answered. “He's got a horse in the race, doesn't he love. Will O' The Wisps is a right dark horse but some of the people who aught to know say she's to take it all today.”

“Have you now? You've a horse in the races?” Abigail asked.

“I have.”

“Should I bet on her then?”

“Yes.”

“You think she'll win?”

“I do.”

Abigail took a deep drag on her cigarette and considered him for a long moment. “Well then, we had better go bet on him then shall we?”

Tommy smiled. “Why don't you let me take care of that for you. And another bottle of champagne? It seems you're almost finished.”

“David's gone to get another! You needn't trouble yourself so Mr. Shelby.”

“No trouble at all.”

The second he was out of earshot Abigail leveled a finger at the space he had disappeared through in the crowd. “Who the bloody hell is that Ellie?” She demanded, eyebrows almost to her stylish fringe. “And where did you find him? All sky blue eyes and cheekbones you could cut your fingers on? To hear your mother tell it I thought you were living in a bloody convent, eating bread and water with the humble servants of the earth... not gallivanting around the races with a man who looks like he plays a villain in the pictures.”

Sometimes he plays a villain in real life, Eleanor refrained from saying.

Eleanor laughed, “well in fact I do actually live in a convent you know...” She began.

“That's Thomas fucking Shelby darling!” Reggie cut in. “Don't you know who he is?”
“No? Should I?”

“He owns Shelby Company Limited. And almost all the big legal horse racing in Birmingham and London too, to say nothing of the illegal side of it, of which he owns all!” Reggie said, blowing out a rather impressed sounding breath. “He's the head of the Peaky Blinders along with the rest of the Shelby family.”

“The what?”

“The gang Abbey! Surely you've heard of them. The biggest gang to come out of Birmingham and they're only starting to edge out the London gangs as well: the Italians and the Jews as well. They've all got razor blades sown into the front of their flat caps in case they need to slice a man's neck open with it.”

Abbey frowned. “That man? That man is a mobster?”

“Not a mobster ducky, a fucking kingpin.”

Both turned to Eleanor for confirmation. “He owns the Shelby Company Limited and rather a lot of the racing pitches, as you said.” She said evenly. “I've heard the rest of course but Tommy doesn't talk to me about business.”

“Are you joking right now Eleanor Arden?” Abigail's expression was incredulous. “I'm honestly asking if you've really moved to Birmingham, told your mother that you're off on some mission from God but are secretly stepping out with a bloody criminal? The same girl who used to romp around Kent with me through streams and puddles no matter what our mothers said...”

Eleanor smiled slightly. “Honestly Abbey sometimes I ask myself the same question.”

“Jesus.” Abigail took a drag on her cigarette. “And to think all these months I've been thinking what a shame it was that you'd turned into such a boring little twat.” She let out a tinkling laugh. “I should have known better though I guess.. Gabriel always said you never disappoint and he got the closest to you of any of us I think.”

Eleanor found herself laughing too. “Is that almost a compliment? You're not horrified?”

“Horrified? Why would I be horrified? I'm elated old thing. Just think... Ellie Arden, dating a kingpin from Birmingham. David of course will be mortified but that will just have to be his own personal problem I think.”

“I hope... that is I don't think I've gotten around to writing my mother about Tommy just yet...” She began.

Abbey waved her off. “Oh think nothing of it. And I'll make sure David doesn't say a word either. We won't mention to your parents that we saw you at all, I'll see to that.”

She let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. “Thank you Abbey.”

As if summoned by his own name Abigail's brother appeared out of the crowd, looking rather harassed and holding a sweating bottle of champagne. “Jesus Abbey I hope you're happy, I swear getting service in this place is a rather mean affair. Next time perhaps I'll send you to fetch the champagne instead since I'm sure you'll drink most of the bottle anyway.”

Abigail blew out a breath. “Oh don't be so dramatic David, besides look who we've only just run into! How can you be so caught up in yourself you didn't notice her.”

The look on David Smythe's face seemed to freeze, as if he didn't quite recognize her for a moment, then a smile broke across it. “Ellie!” He looked ready to clasp her hands if he wasn't holding the champagne. “Why I swear I'm bowled over! Your parents never said you were coming to this!”

She laughed. “They didn't know I was...”

“I say, you look fantastic Ellie, absolutely ravishing. You'll come out with us after I hope, to the club I mean, or dancing, or anywhere you like really. I'm sure Abbey and Reggie won't mind going anywhere we please.”

Abigail pressed her lips together, looking as if she was rather enjoying herself. “You'll have to ask the chap she's come with I think David, who knows if he's fond of dancing.”

“Chap? What chap?”

Long cool fingers slid back into the edge of her gown again. Tommy had reappearing holding a bottle of champagne and some betting tickets in one hand. His fingers were clearly still cold and wet from the bottle made her shiver slightly, or maybe it was just the reappearance of his presence, as ever a strangely magnetic force within her mind. “Thomas Shelby.” He said, making a slight inclination of his head. “And I don't mind dancing though I don't do it much.”

David's expression seemed to freeze again but this time for a very different reason. “I say, and who are you then?”

“A friend of mine,” Eleanor offered. “From Birmingham.”

Tommy took the hand from Eleanor's waist and offered it. He almost smiled at the way the other man gripped his hand as if he wanted to break his fingers. He had the idea that Thorp knew who he was but this man clearly did not.

“David Smythe.” He said, very flatly. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“Likewise.”

“David is an old friend. He, Abigail and I grew up together as we were the only people are age within walking distance. Quite the savages we used to be, running about over hill and dale.” Eleanor said with a smile.

The other man looked at Tommy as he said, “yes I've known Ellie since she was born practically.”

“Have you then.” It wasn't a question. Tommy turned to Abigail and offered the betting tickets. “You've just beaten the plunge by a moment I think Miss Smythe.” He said.

She took the tickets. “Oh thank you very kindly Mr. Shelby. You're a right sport aren't you?”

He held out another ticket to Eleanor who took it with a smile. “For you sweetheart.” He tilted her chin up and gave her a short kiss.

He pretended not to notice the looks on the siblings face: one like a thundercloud, the other beaming as bright as any angel. “Eleanor and I were planning on watching the races in the owner's box if the three of you would care to join.” Tommy said convivially.

David started to refuse but Abigail cut him off. “We would love to Mr. Shelby.”

The owner's box was more rarefied then the clubhouse. They found a comfortable table near the windows overlaying the track. A waiter came over and brought them all glasses, opening the bottle of champagne that Tommy had brought from downstairs and offering them a selection of aperitifs.

Abigail took a deviled quail egg on a cracker and a glass of champagne. “So then, Reggie says you're a gangster Mr. Shelby. Is that true?”

Reggie looked as if he might choke on his champagne at the pronouncement, David, already looking furious only looked more so. Tommy met the girl's eyes calmly though, a hint of a smile. “A common rumor that circulates around men like me Miss Smythe who come up quite quickly in the world. Everyone wants it to be piracy when usually it's just good bookkeeping.”

“Good bookkeeping?” She raised a challenging eyebrow.

“You would be surprised at how far it will get you.”

She glanced around the elegant room. “Clearly.” She took a sip of her champagne. “So you don't have a razor blade sown into your cap then?” She asked lightly.

“I'm not wearing a cap Miss Smythe.”

She licked her lips and smiled impishly, clearly pleased with the answer. “So you aren't.”

“And what is it exactly that you do then Mr. Shelby?” David asked.

“As I said, I'm a bookmaker at the core of it.” He said evenly. “A glorified gambler.”

“Ellie delivered his sister's baby. Isn't that charming David?”

David made a non-committal sound in his throat.

“I'm afraid as a glorified gambler I'm not exactly at my liberty at events such as these. I'll need to see a few of the other owners about some business before the race starts.” Tommy stood and bent to kiss Eleanor who had instinctively reached for him as he moved away. She let go of his sleeve almost reluctantly and he turned and moved off into the crowd behind her.

“He's a right blighter isn't he.” David said when he was out of earshot.

Abigail slapped his arm. “You would say that wouldn't you David Smythe. As if anyone asked your opinion.”

David finished his champagne and poured himself another. “Is Birmingham really so low that that's the company you've been reduced to Ellie?”

Abigail looked away from her brother, rolling her eyes. “Jesus help you David Smythe if this is what you think will get you what you want.”

“He's a scoundrel Eleanor, surely you can see that!”

“I just told you he's a gangster! He just confirmed it. I'm not wearing a cap – just an elegant way to say yes if you ask me.” His sister protested. “Do you ever pay attention to what I'm saying? Or anyone else for that matter?”

“Eleanor, really, you must come home with us tonight. Your parents would never forgive us if we left you in that man's clutches.”

He reached forward to catch her by the wrist but she surprised them both with the force with which she wrenched her arm back. He'd had a few glasses of champagne already clearly and wobbled slightly, almost overbalancing as she tore her arm away from him. He frowned at her. “Ellie... don't make me insist.”

“David,” she said, “don't make me insist.” Her voice was even but there was something in it like the groan of ice just beginning to melt that one cannot determine if will crack or not.

“What would your brother think?” He asked coolly. “Of your Thomas Shelby?”

Her jaw snapped shut, rage cracking open in her chest like some warm egg shattering forth into claws and talons and pure fury. “For the love I bear your father David I'll not slap you,” she bit out. “But I'll thank you not to bring Gabriel into this again.”

Abigail reached forward to the cigarettes Tommy had left on the table, fished one out and lit it. “Jesus, some reunion this has cracked up to be. I promise Reggie it isn't usually like this when we're picnicking in the countryside. I don't know what the fuck has gotten into the two of them.” She took a drag. “This high drama is too rich for my blood.”

Eleanor shifted uncomfortably. “Forgive me David, I spoke in anger. I know you're only trying to do what you think is right.” She said stiffly.

He shook his head. “It's me who should ask forgiveness Ellie. I know you don't like to be reminded of Gabriel.”

She swallowed and stuck out her hand. “Let's try at least to give Abigail the reunion she deserves then shall we.”

He shook her hand. “For Abigail.”

The rest of the night passed rather merrily after that. David was perhaps a bit taciturn but Reggie and Abigail were more than gay enough for the four of them. They ordered quite a bit more champagne when Will O' The Wisps won and they'd all made their money back and then some for the races. They were all quite tipsy by the time Tommy returned to them. Abigail toasted him rather profusely for the good time at the races.

All of them, except for Eleanor. She looked at him with a focus of intent that betrayed that she'd drunk far less champagne then the others and, unlike them, was looking for another kind of abandon than liquor. He drew her up from the couch and tucked her against his side. “You'll forgive us. We're to leave early for Birmingham in the morning so that Eleanor is not too much missed at her work.”

David Smythe looked ready to protest but his sister spoke quickly. “Take care of our girl, Mr. Shelby.” She said. “And do come visit us in Kent when you have the time. I'm sure you'd make a charming edition to the neighborhood get-togethers.”

He took her by the waist and led her down the stairs and out to where the valet went to bring the car around for them. He could tell by the way she was pressing herself against him, even more than his insistent hand on her hip would have deigned that she had but one thing on her mind. She might as well have been mewling for it. His fingers curled around her hip and she leaned back against him, pressing her form against him in any way he would let her.

The valet brought the car around and he handed her in, then got in and gunned the motor.

He could feel her eyes on him as he pulled out into black London streets.

He drove back to the Savoy and handed the keys over again.

“Mr. and Mrs. Shelby.” The doorman greeted them.

They went up the penthouse in the lift and Tommy tipped the elevator operator as they got out. He turned the key in the lock and they went into the dark entrance chamber. He took off her coat and his and hung them both up. She stood, watching him. She wanted to be touched by him and didn't much are what form it took.

And oh God did he want to give her satisfaction.

He turned the key in the lock of the penthouse and then pushed her to one wall of the entrance way. He pressed his mouth to hers, a brutal kiss that forced her head back, her mouth tilting open to his. One hand cupped her ass while the other gripped her hand, forcing it over her head. She arched against him, pleasing and pliant.

He pushed his cock against her, letting her feel how ready he was and she gasped. “You want a bit of rough sweetheart, a bit of Birmingham gangster to fill you up?”

“Please... anything. Take anything you like.”

He slid his hand down to her knees and hefted her up to his chest. She squeaked in surprise as he carried her to the expensive couch in the parlor, wide enough to the a bed. She gasped as he turned her onto her belly, reveling in the way she squirmed, helpless and vulnerable before him. He kicked her legs apart, flipped her skirt up and spread her sex wide. “I can take anything I like, eh sweetheart?”

“Please Tommy...” She wailed.

He slid his finger across her cunt and she writhed against it, already dripping down over his fingers. He kissed her cunt and she screamed, already too close for so much stimulation. He needed no further encouragement. He opened his trousers and hefted himself, penetrating her in a single, unheading thrust. She wailed, tilting her head back at the pain of it, but some part of her remained focused on his pleasure. She thrust back against him with abandon, unthinking and sobbing.

He slipped a finger around to touch the mound of flesh at the crux of her and she came instantly, a wailing moan of a sound as she still pushed back against him, pleading, sobbing begging for more.

Her words took him over the edge and he thrust forward, spilling into her.

The world tore apart again, as it always did with her: coherence and control shattering apart into pleasure that threatened to overwhelm him. When he had remastered himself he put himself away and pulled her skirt down, pulling her back against him against the couch. He kissed her deeply, rolling her hips over his until she straddled one of his legs and his mouth claimed hers entirely, tongue parting her lips to plunder her sweet, yielding mouth.

He took charge of her for a while, reminding her of what he could do to her, then relented, bringing her warm and pliable body up against his on the couch. He tucked her head against his shoulder and one hand went to caress her sweet, blond locks. The fire some maid had laid in the hearth crackled merrily as he looked on, caressing her head. She was still straddling his hips though his pants were zipped.

“Are you angry with me?” She asked quietly.

“About what?”

“About David Smythe.”

“You mean because he's in love with you?”

She shook her head. “He isn't anymore. He certainly used to be though and sometimes I think he forgets that neither of us are sixteen anymore.”

He didn't correct her. He'd seen this kind of wishful thinking before from both men and women and knew that there was no reasoning with it. She didn't want David Smythe to be in love with her and so she looked past the fact that he was, thinking of him instead in the way she had when she was a child, before, he didn't doubt, things had gotten more complicated between them.

He stroked her hair. “No sweetheart, I'm not jealous if that's what you mean.”

To his surprise he found it was true. The boy could want her all he liked, love her all he liked, but Tommy knew somehow to the very core of his being that he was no threat to whatever it was that went on between the two of them. If she had wanted a man like David Smythe she could have had a dozen before she met him. But he would never master her in the way she needed. Nothing about him was exactly sweet but neither was there anything of the iron will he knew she craved from him. She wanted to be fixed in time, pinned down and held in the grasp of something strong enough she could never imagine it breaking. Even the worst indulgences of his own psyche, all wrought from fear and pain and an agonizing desire for control, were sometimes barely enough to satisfy her.

She considered. “No I suppose you wouldn't be.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well I can't imagine you being jealous.”

He let his fingers curl delicately around one curl as if it were a cigarette. “I will not share you Eleanor, not with another man.” He said very softly. “That I would not tolerate.”

She shivered slightly at his words, fingers curling in the starched white material of his shirt. “No.” She agreed. “But that isn't the same as jealousy.”

“I am surprised Smythe never asked you to marry him.”

The way she went still in his arms told him the truth. For a moment he wondered if she would lie, or at least not come forth with it. Finally she said, “he did... once or twice.”

Tommy laughed. “Once or twice?”

“Don't be cruel. He's an old friend.” She admonished.

“You're parents didn't approve?”

“No, it was me who said no.”

“You didn't love him?”

“No... well I mean I didn't love him in that way. I'm very fond of him and his sister of course but David... I could never be his wife. He would want a wife who was more conventional than me, the kind of lady who liked arranging his dinner, his clothes, his social calendar and letting him make all the other decisions in the world.” She said softly. “I wouldn't want... that is I don't like to be constrained.”

She wouldn't want to be constrained. Perhaps an odd sentiment for a woman who he knew got wet the very second he put rope to flesh, at least on the surface of it's meaning. But in a way it made perfect sense to him. It was a very, very different thing to let the bit-o-rough lover you'd chosen for yourself get you on your knees with your hands lashed behind your back when you knew that after you'd both cum he'd cut the ties and take you for dinner. It was another kind of bondage entirely to let someone suitable, who knew your parents and had a house in your neighborhood, put a ring on your finger. He'd told Eleanor that she could stop at any time, was careful to make her feel that he meant it in a variety of small ways. Clearly some part of her knew that if she looked up at him with those blue eyes and said “no Tommy” instead of “yes Tommy” she could end whatever it was they were doing in a second.

What she wanted from him was what she feared most but play-acted, made safe and controllable. She wanted to feel the fear but without taking the risk, as if in some way the semblance of it was an inoculation against the fear of the real thing. Similar to him if he was honest. The domination she allowed him to act out in her body was a pretense of a reality he knew he could never attain. He desired power over others but there was a hollowness and a price to be paid for the control he accumulated. The cost of complete control was too high to be paid in the real world. The farce of it, bending her over a desk to hike up her skirt, was purely satisfying in a way more complex interactions could not be. Most of the people in his life, her in most of her life, he couldn't control to that degree. Having those concentrated moments of it was sweet like honey was sweet, rich, pure and unbelievably intense.

“You told me this the first night in the betting parlor.” He said, suddenly remembering. “You said you came to Birmingham because you didn't want to be married. That's what you meant isn't it? That you didn't want to be constrained?”

Was it wrong of him to be glad that, if he couldn't have her forever, at least no other man would?

“Yes.”

“But what we do, that constraint you like?”

“Yes.”

For a moment she was silent, then she said. “Am I... that is to say... do you see any other girls but me Tommy?”

He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised by the question but in truth he was. It hadn't occurred to him to see another woman since the first day he'd seen her. The way she had taken to him, bent before him, begging for all he had to give made the passionless, transactional interludes with Lizzie Strong or the others seem almost another act altogether. He'd paid them to spread their legs and they had but it had been more like meeting a need than something truly satisfying. In France they'd lived for months on stale bread and water, enough to keep them from starving and yet not truly nourishing. That's what sex had felt like before her: utilitarian and rote. Her lips, breasts, cunt were like manna, satisfying and glorifying.

“No sweetheart, only you.”

She pressed a soft kiss to his breast and he could feel her contented smile. “I am enough for you?” Her voice was a whisper, almost as if she didn't want him to hear the question.

He answered anyway. “Yes Eleanor, you are enough.”

 


TBC

 

Chapter Text

Eleanor stepped out of the door of the last mother of the day and frowned. It was later than she'd expected. One of the unexpected benefits of being known to be associated with Tommy Shelby was that she had suddenly found that many of her mothers were, contrary to what she might have expected, much more willing to talk to her. The liaison with him had somehow humanized her in the eyes of the women of Small Hath: Sure she might speak like the Queen but it was known she got on her back for a brummie lad after all so how posh could she really be after all? Even if it started out warning her what a bad egg Thomas Shelby had turned out to be, some rumor about what he'd done in the war or since it, or warning her not to bring any of the Peaky Blinder's business around with her she generally found that after the initial lecture they were much more candid than they had been.

But though she usually quite enjoyed the new openness of the mothers she worked with, now she was distressed that it had delayed her. She was supposed to meet Tommy at the Garrison at five and it was four-forty five now based on the watch she kept in her bag. She'd never make it even if she walked straight there, skipping returning to the convent to change her clothes.

And Tommy did not take well to tardiness.

One memorable evening he'd called her to the betting house quite early. She didn't doubt that someone kept track of her schedule for him for he always knew whens she would be available but one of her mothers had a cold and Eleanor had spent almost an extra hour with her. She'd come up the stairs just as the men were mostly filing out, only a few stragglers hanging on to finish up this or that book. She'd grown used to their looks as well, just as she'd grown used to Polly finding her in the morning.

She went up to find him, as usual, at his desk. She hung up her hat and coat on the little rack just inside the door and then stood, waiting for him.

“You're late.” His expression was it's habitual cool look but a little hardness at the line of the jaw gave him away as genuinely vexed. She shivered a little bit at the sight of that jaw.

“I came as soon as I could Tommy.”

“Don't argue sweetheart. Come here, bend over the desk and lift your skirt.”

She took off her coat quickly, slipped off her gloves and hat and came around to his side of the desk. He took her by the nape of the neck and bent her over unceremoniously. She rucked up her skirt and he pulled down her slip. She trembled a bit as he ran a hand down her slit. The position alone was enough to get her wet but the cold glint in his eyes that promised retribution made her sopping. He slapped one ass cheek, making her start and squeak. A little red bloom spread across her cheek.

The neck of her dress was rather wide and he pulled the shoulders down along with her brassiere to bare her breasts. He still had one hand at the scruff of her neck, holding her down against the rough wood.

“Cross you hands behind your back. Don't move them unless I tell you to.”

She obeyed and he landed another slap on her ass with the full force of his arm. “I'm sorry!” She squealed. She could feel the rings on his hand as they made contact with the plump flesh of her ass. “I'm sorry Tommy.”

He took her wrists in one large hand to incapacitate her as he delivered the rest of the blows. He never held back when he spanked her. If he was to deliver a blow he gave it the full strength of his arm. By the end of it her voice was raw and she had tears in her eyes. He stepped behind her and unzipped her pants. He hefted his cock in one hand, the other kneading her reddened flesh. “Am I going to find you wet Eleanor?”

He'd punctuated the question by sliding one long finger into her so there was no use lying. “Yes Tommy.”

“You like this then? Being bent over my desk like a whore? Or some secretary who can't keep her boss from fucking her in his office?” A second finger joined the first and she could feel the heavy gold signet ring at the base of it brush against her clitoris with every thrust.

“Yes Tommy.” Her voice was a breathy gasp.

“Spanked like some school girl who hasn't done well on her mid-terms?”

“Yes Tommy.”

“Would you like me to fuck you then?”
“Please Tommy.”

“Will you make it good for me? Push back on my cock in those heels? Arch your ass up and take what I give you?”

“Yes.... anything that pleases you I will do.” She could feel the hand at her wrists tighten at that, a sign he was pleased already with that.

“Beg me to fuck you.”

“Please Tommy... Jesus I'll do anything you want. Please just please fuck me. I want you to fuck me. I need your cock please... please fill me up. Anything... I'm here for your pleasure... just your pleasure.”

He smiled. She knew he liked to hear her beg, liked her to use filthy words in a genteel accent. She hadn't taken to it as easily as she'd taken to other things. In the continuum of sucking his cock (at which she excelled) and staying still during a beating (at which she routinely failed) it was more toward the beating end of things. But she was making real progress.

He let go of her wrists, moving his hands to grip her hips hard enough to bruise.“Remember sweetheart, arms behind you until I tell you otherwise.”

He nudged her thighs apart with his own and she complied, spreading her legs and sex, tilting her hips up in hopes of giving him a better angle. His hands gripped her reddened ass cheeks. The petals of her sex spreading vividly before him, beautiful as any flower he'd ever seen. He plunged in, thrusting into her pert little tunnel and making her arch up on the desk, head tilting back and an unrestrained groan escaping her lips. With each thrust he was careful to put pressure down, pushing her into the desk where she needed the pressure to cum and soon she was close, struggling beneath him to push herself both back into him and into the desk at the same time, the divided loyalty between his pleasure and her own fighting in her head.

“Push back on me sweetheart, focus on my cock within you.” He slapped her ass cheek again to regain her attention. With a sob she obeyed, pushing back against him as best she could.

“Tommy I'm so close... please I don't know... just let me... please let me cum. I'll do anything for you if you just let me cum.”

The feeling of her was incredible. He thrust into her, grinding her down on the desk. “Fuck. Yes. Cum for me Eleanor.”

In a moment she was sobbing, clenching on him with abandon and sending him over the edge. “Tommy... God... Jesus... oh Tommy thank you.”

When he regained coherence she was still bent before him. Obedient as ever, her ass was still presented for him, in her high heels she had enough height to push it off the desk a bit to give him a better angle, arms elegantly crossed at the wrists over the small of her back. It was quite the pleasing sight to say the least. He pulled her up by her wrists off the desk and guided her down until she was kneeling beneath the desk between his legs. He sat in the chair, cock still out.

“Time to thank me I think, for letting you cum.”

She nodded, almost eagerly. “Yes Tommy.”

He pushed down the front of her dress and brassiere a little more, baring her tits fully.

“Spread your knees between mine.” She obeyed.

“Open your mouth.” He moved her back until she was kneeling beneath the desk, then took out his cock and laid it just on the tip of her tongue. “Put your lips at the base of my cock and hold it there.”

She obeyed. He could feel her trying to please him with her tongue. “None of that sweetheart, no trying to speed this up for yourself. Just focus on my cock in your mouth and hold still until I tell you otherwise.”

He felt her swallow in response, head nodded a bit as her mouth was full, and his cock twitched.

Still it took him more than half an hour to even get slightly hard again as he'd come so recently. She knelt between his legs as he read the ledger books, answered a few phone calls, sent a few telegrams. If her attentions waned he brought it back with a tap of his hand on her cheek. Finally when he was hard enough that she was beginning to choke on him, forcing herself back down to keep her lips at the base of him but having to bob slightly to allow herself to breathe he turned his attention back to her.

He took her by the hair and began to pump her up and down. “Alright Eleanor, you may use your tongue sweetheart, like you know I like.”

She obeyed, sliding it along the base of his shaft as he pushed her down and then flickering it over the slit, swirling it around the little ridge at the base of the head when she was at the top. He pushed her all the way down and in a moment of near ecstatic triumph, felt her swallow him into her throat. She gagged once, twice but managed to keep him there. Her hands came up to his thighs, as if to push him away but only fluttered there. Again he thought of a little mouse's claws scrabbling beneath a cat's paw.

“Look at me Eleanor.”

Her eyes turned to him and he almost came right then. Her pupils were blown wide, little tears spilling down each cheek and lips red and bruised. The expression of mixed fear and desire nearly undid him. He pulled her back, let her take a gasping breath, then forced her back down on him. She met his gaze again. The gagging, swallowing motion she was making involuntarily was exquisite but it was how she endured it for him that really made him wild.

It took only two more pumps and then he was coming, thrusting up into her and arching his hips. The world came apart into light and noiseless pleasure, shattering him into fragments of himself. When he returned to his body she was still lapping slightly at his limp shaft. She'd swallowed what he'd given her and sat between his legs, breasts still bare, giving him little gentle kisses on his softening cock. She looked up at him and smiled almost dreamily. “I will never get tired of watching you cum Thomas.”

She put her head on his thigh and he could tell she didn't want to move from where she was. He leaned forward and got his cigarettes from the desk, lit one and took a drag, tilting his head back and wondering what in all his life he had done to deserve her.

“You look like who you're meant to be but also like you've just vanished as well somehow, gone completely out of this world for a moment. And you're so... pure almost. That must sound silly I know but God if it isn't the truth.”

He stroked her hair. “It doesn't sound silly.”

“I will never get tired of kneeling before you either.” She said. “When I'm here, on my knees between your legs I don't have to think about anything else. There are no decisions, no worries... nothing... because I'm only here. The only thing I have to do is obey. Do you think it's strange I find it peaceful?”

“No.” He said. “Before I was an NCO I felt the same way before battle. There was nothing to do but run when they told you to run, shoot when they told you to shoot and dig when they told you to dig. It wasn't exactly pleasure but I know there's tranquility in relinquishing control.”

“You don't... you don't miss it? You don't miss being told what to do?”

He ran a thumb over her plump bottom lip slowly, marveling at how pink and perfect it was, lush under the rough pad of his digit. “No sweetheart, I've had enough of that for one lifetime.”

He let her sit with her head against his thigh for a few moments more and then pulled her to her feet. He tucked himself away and then righted her dress, brushing it down to get out any wrinkles caused by her prolonged stay under the desk.

She wondered if she was risking a similar performance today as she was supposed to meet Tommy at the Garrison club by seven and there was no way she would be on time given the part of town she was in and that she had to pass by the convent to change out of her uniform. But there was nothing to do now. She squared her shoulders and stepped out into the street.

She'd made it no more than two steps before she was surprised by the sound of squealing tires on the road. It didn't make sense that someone would be driving so fast on such a deserted lane. Eleanor turned to see what the problem was and felt a large form collide with her back. “I beg your pard...” She began to say but one rough hand closed about her upper arm and another clapped over her face. She tried to pull back but the man behind her, and she knew it was a man from the acrid smell of his body, held her tight against his chest in a grip that felt like steel.

Eleanor had just enough time to recognize the pungent, sweet scent of chloroform and process the terrifying conclusion it indicated before darkness claimed her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the first half hour of waiting for Eleanor, Tommy Shelby was genuinely pleased that she was late. He didn't need an excuse to spank her, God only knows that he mostly didn't bother with finding a pretense for it. He'd bend her over his knee for the pleasure of it as easily as he'd push her to her knees or lie her back on the bed to spread them. But he couldn't deny he enjoyed teasing her when she knew it was coming. The way she blushed when he said what he intended to do in public, the little tremble of anticipation when he lead her up the stairs, one hand on her hip, gripped tight to let her feel that he could overpower her should he chose to. Besides he'd found a viscous little bamboo cane in an oddities shop in the Chinese district just that day that he knew she would hate. He couldn't wait to watch her endure it for him.

He'd ordered them both drinks. Her old-fashioned sat sweating on the bar.

But as the clock over the bar turned toward the forty-five minute mark and the old-fashioned became an unrecognizable clear color as the ice melted, it was with surprising rapidity that that good humor was transformed into something else entirely: a cold and gnawing fear that set up in his chest and seemed to eat away at the inside of him like a vile rodent feasting on the core of him. Where the fuck was she? She was almost never late, certainly never to this degree.

When an unexpected birth or a woman it trouble meant she couldn't meet him at all at the appointed hour she knew damn well to send word to let him know. Was it possible she'd forgotten the meeting? He liked that idea little enough with all the implications that came with it: her tiring of what they did, her moving on to something or someone else. But it was at least less chilling than some of the alternatives his morbid imagination was only too ready to supply.

“Arthur I'm going to find Eleanor at the convent. If she shows up here keep her here until I come back and send word to me, Poll, whoever you can think of.” He told his brother, currently manning the bar.

“Alright.”

He drove the route he thought her mostly likely to walk along and kept an eye out for that familiar blond flash beneath her cap, disappointed when he reached the gate of the convent without seeing it. He got out of the car and caught one of the girls walking in he thought he recognized as one of the girls who slept in the dormitory with her. “Go inside and fetch out Eleanor Arden. Tell her I'm waiting for her at the gate and not to fucking tarry.”

“Yes sir Mr. Shelby.”

The girl practically ran into the convent but was at a moment later with a frown. “I'm sorry sir, she's not in here.”

“Is she at a birth?”

“Not that any of us have heard Mr. Shelby. No one has seen her since she left this morning.”

Tommy fought the urge to swear. “And what time was that?”

“Around eleven sir.”

“What part of town was she working today?”

“South of the market sir.”

He got back into the car and turned on the engine but didn't pop the clutch. He stared at the wheel, unseeing.

There was something just at the edge of Tommy's consciousness. He could feel it, a great blackness stretching out, threatening to consume him. Fear. He was afraid for her as he hadn't been for himself since France. The dark thoughts rose up threatening to overwhelm his ability to think. What is she were already dead? Whoever had taken her might have already killed her, taken her from him forever before he even knew she was missing. The thought was anathema. If he had to lay that soft head in the dirt he was sure that whatever it was that seemed to be straining in his chest, something unfamiliar and tender and suddenly stretched far too tight, would break irreparably.

But there was no time for that.

“In the bleak midwinter.” He murmured. The words of that spell that never failed him. Fear receded from his mind like the tide drawing back from some shore, leaving him space to think, to plan, to act.

The strongest part of Thomas Shelby, the cold, cunning calculating machine of a man that had walked out of the fire of war, pushed back against that darkness. If she is dead, the part of him that was not quite human anymore reasoned, you will simply have to kill all that touched her before you will be able to sleep again. The familiar calm of a decision made settled over him like a cold but familiar hand on his shoulder.

He turned the car back onto the street, heading back to the Garrison.

 

 

 

Eleanor woke on a dirty blanket stretched over a pallet of straw in what was almost certainly an abattoir. She could tell by the smell of it—blood and animal feces. But no human or animal sounds could she detect in the building: an abandoned abattoir then. She was at one corner of a dim room with only a little bit of light filtering in from a single bare electric bulb in the corridor beyond. She had a shackle around one leg that was chained to a sturdy post in the middle of the room. These were the facts of her new reality and she took them in slowly, mind still foggy and churning as her stomach was.

She was freezing cold with only her thin uniform in the cold stone building. Her coat and satchel had been lost at some point. The material she was lying on appeared to be some sort of saddle blanket. She sniffed it once before giving in immediately and wrapping it around her shoulders. The damp hay below smelled of mold and mildew and she hated to sit directly on it but there was little enough choice.

She had a splitting headache but taking stock of the rest of her body didn't think she had been too roughly handled. Her hands had been tied at one point, and not as carefully as Tommy would have, she could tell from the bruising and chaffing of them but neither did any of the bones in her wrist seem to have been broken. Her stomach was heaving and her head felt worse than it had the day after the infamous whiskey episode with Tommy. Across from her in the dirty dark little room she could see there was a chamber pot of some kind and what looked like a jug of water. Not trusting herself to stand, she crawled to it and poured a little water into her hand, splashing it onto her face and then drinking a bit more from the jug. It didn't seem too foul and was the best she could do for her headache with no aspirin powder to be found. She didn't want to drink too much though, not knowing when the next time she would have visitors would be, so just took what she felt was prudent.

She slunk back to the straw pallet and tilted her head back against the cool stone, trying to think. She tried to spread out her senses and take in anything they were telling her. She didn't think there was anyone else in the building with her, there was no sounds of another human about. She'd called out a tentative “hello?” but gotten no response.

Something about the absence of noise and industry she could hear about her made her think she wasn't in Birmingham anymore. She wasn't underground and there was nowhere in the city where you couldn't hear the sound of machines or human voices, not as far as she knew. Besides she could almost believe she heard bird song every once in a while.

Kidnapped and taken to the countryside. But why? The obvious answer was that this must have something to do with Tommy but to what purpose? She knew nothing about his business or family affairs. She knew from the gossip mongers that there was a complicated arrangement with the Jewish and Italian mob bosses of London but this was common knowledge. Was he allied with the Italians against the Jews or was it the other way around? She had learned more from her mothers about Tommy's business dealings then the man himself. She had tried to remain willfully ignorant in fact, careful never to look at the papers on his desk or listen too closely when he and Poll spoke to each other at dinner.

She thought most people in Small Heath didn't think she was involved with the business. Perhaps a man might confide in a mistress, that was true enough, but maybe not one quite like her. Whatever inroads she'd made with the mothers she could tell that they still thought of her as wholly an outsider when it came to the realities of what it mean to forge ones way in Birmingham. No, she didn't think that anyone imagined that Tommy Shelby was lighting up a cigarette and telling her trade secrets after he was finished with her.

That left the rather scary conclusion that whoever had taken her simply wanted to leverage her to force Tommy to do something. To what end though and for what purpose though, who had taken her... she decided these questions did much matter. Whether it was the Jews or Italians or communists or some rival gang wouldn't change the fact that she didn't know enough about the affairs of the Peaky Blinders or the Shelby Company Limited to interest anyone. There was still a chain about her ankle. The door to the abattoir was still locked and she had no idea where she was. And with the way girls were in an out of the convent at all hours it would be perhaps days before anyone but Tommy Shelby realized that she was missing.

Would he come for her?

She'd never considered their relationship in such terms. It was one thing to take her on a picnic or bring her off with his mouth or to show her off in a pub after a fight or at the races, buy her pretty clothes and lingerie. It was quite another to come fetch her from this pallet of straw that smelled of mold and damp. None of what had come before had ever cost him anything. It had been her who had incurred all the risk so far, she'd made sure of that. She'd been so careful not to ask for anything, not to owe him anything, and hence she had no idea what, if anything, she meant to him.

He was fond of her, that much was clear simply by how often he called for her. But she wasn't blood, wasn't his wife, wasn't anything to him really. Just a girl who got on her knees for the asking. She was sure that to the common knowledge of Birmingham she was no better than his whore, too addle-brained even to get herself paid for her effort. A posh Londoner without enough sense to realize that the thrill of stepping out with a gangster came with a steep price tag.

Sweetheart, he called her. His property, for discrete periods of time.

And if he did come for her, what then? What would it mean to owe Thomas Shelby her life? The thought was, in some ways, as terrifying as the idea that he might not care at all that she'd been taken. With slipped off her shoes and tucked her feet under her bottom to warm them, cupped her hands over her face and blew to warm her fingers as if to stall her own thoughts with the movement. But whens he was settled again the thoughts came right back to where she'd let them. As unclear as it was how he felt about her, her own feelings these days were just as opaque.

She had never questioned what was so different about him, what made her want to kneel at his feet specifically. But the answer had come to her anyway, at first quietly in the night when she woke with her closed hand in the open circle of rays on his chest and she'd felt like she'd just been knocking. Looking down at him in the moonlight coming in from the window she'd felt something deep within her chest tighten painfully as she looked down at him: long lashes spread over those impossible cheekbones. He'd looked like a little boy in that moment, all soft innocence and she'd wondered what their child would look like before she could think better of the thought. It had come to her again a little more loudly a week later when she'd stubbed her toe against the side of the bed in Watery Lane and collapsed onto the covers, swearing and holding her foot. He'd laughed and admonished her that a future countess shouldn't use such language but he'd been in the bed with her at once, lying face to face, a larger hand over her own to hold the foot until it stopped aching. And again and again when he held her just so against his chest after he'd fucked her, listening to the dry sound of the burning of his cigarette and the smell of him filling her senses.

He'd come so close to asking the question she dreaded the night of the races. What we do, that constraint you like? But he hasn't asked her why he was the exception. So very unlike him to miss such an obvious vulnerability.

All the things she thought she was risking whens he'd gone to the betting house that first time hadn't come to pass: her reputation and prospects outside of Small Heath were relatively unscathed, her parents were unaware that she'd fallen, she wasn't pregnant. But the idea that she might fall in love with him had never occurred to her. While she had been so vigilant against all she feared, the greater danger she hadn't anticipated had slipped past her guard, overtaken her without so much as a struggle.

Or was it her who was the hungry animal that had consumed her? The big bad wolf revealed to be Little Red Riding Hood all along. She had wanted to pretend, to herself as much to him, that it was the need for his domination that had kept her returning to him. On her knees, bent over his desk, legs splayed on his bed, arching into his mouth or cock it had been all to easy to ignore the other need he'd opened within her. Curled fingers around her upper arm on a lazy Sunday in bed, the reassuring warmth of him against her side in a pub she'd never have dreamed of going to without her, easy champagne at the races and the calming weight of him pressing her into the mattress: when had she grown to want all that from him so desperately?

She looked down at the shackle on her leg and almost felt like she might laugh as easily as she might cry. It was so enormous, so like a prop from a play. She might as well be ghost of Christmas Future in some terrible Ordinary level play. And what kind of literary device might it represent? The physical manifestation of all she felt for Tommy, her need to be bound by his will... it was all too cliché to be born.

“This is fucking ridiculous.” She said to the air. “Absolutely ridiculous.”

Her mother had called her less than a week ago, asking her to come back to the countryside for a party on this very day. If she'd said yes she would be sipping champagne and listening to her father prattle on about grouse or trout or Egypt or whatever new had caught his fancy. Instead she was alone in an abattoir considering if the fucking villain she loved cared enough to spare her life.

She tilted over onto the bare mattress and tried to burrow down into the straw a bit for extra warmth. Her hair was coming undone from it's pins but she didn't want to take it out. It would be tangled with straw as it was, never mind if she took it down. She tried not to let herself focus too much on her predicament. She thought instead about the warm bedroom above the betting house, whiskey and the smell of cigarettes and cool blue eyes that made her feel like she was drowning in pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She woke with a start several hours later when the door of her makeshift prison opened. She scrambled to her feet as two men entered and came up the corridor to the outside. It was beginning to grow dark outside she could see behind them as the door swung open. She had decided not to say anything cliché like 'I demand you release me' or even 'where am I?'. Instead she met their eyes with as much cool regard as she could muster.

The taller one had darker hair, the shorter one a light blond. Both were wearing rather drab coats on, both in dark olive green. The appearance of them was nothing like the sharp, city-clothes of the Peaky Blinders. These two instead had the look of only moderately successful farmers. They looked her up and down and then one remarked to the other in a language she didn't understand, prompting a mean-spirited laugh from the other.

Gypsies. She'd heard Tommy speak Romani only occasionally but she recognized the sound of it and these two looked enough like Tinkers to make her confident in her assessment. So it was something to do with some traveler dispute then that had landed her in this situation. She wasn't sure if that was good or bad news for her.

“Alfie here says you're not too hard on the eyes now are you?” The shorter man said in English.“It's no fucking wonder why Tommy Shelby took your gorger cunt to bed.”

She said nothing.

“It's a compliment you daft bitch, thank him for it.”

She said nothing.

“I thought these posh lots were supposed to have some fucking manners Mick.” The other said.

“She'll soften her fucking tune once she's hungry enough, won't you pretty?” From a bag he took what looked to be a loaf of bread and some milk and set it on the cold stone floor just outside of where her chain would let her reach them. “You want these now don't you?”

Eleanor had to admit she was hungry but she would be damned if she'd beg for milk and bread, not from these two. She thought she might rather starve. But her silence seemed to have enraged Mick. He stepped forward and grabbed her by the upper arm, hauling her forward. “What's wrong bitch, don't you speak?”

She tried to wrench her arm back but won herself only slap across the face, hard enough to make her head spine. Her head slammed to one side and she brought her palm up to her cheek reflexively. “Come on now, I want to hear that posh little accent. What is it you sound like when you're begging Tommy Shelby for his cock?”

“You've asked me no questions that I'll deign to answer sir.” She ground out through teeth gritted against the pain, trying not to let her mounting terror show through in her voice.

“You hear that Alfie. Sounds like the fucking queen doesn't she. I bet her fanny is something special too.” He turned to her and the smile made her stomach turn to ice. “The way Tommy Shelby is tearing the town apart looking for you, you'd think it was made of fucking gold. What say we find out girlie?”

She tried to kick out at him but he was too fast. He pulled her to one side, slamming her against the cold wall of the abattoir and making her head spin again. He landed a blow to her stomach that doubled her over, knocking the wind from her lungs. “Why all the fuss girl? There's no use denying you've a taste for gypsy cock and Alfie and I here have two of the best.”

He pushed her back onto the straw pallet and reached for the buttons at the top of her dress. Eleanor kicked out at him with both feet, thrashing wildly away. She landed a few kicks to the shins, managed to scratch his arm but he was too strong. He caught her wrists in one hand and pulled them to the side, trapping her legs with his own. He slammed her head down against the hay, cracking it against the stone beneath and making her ears ring. He reached down for the buttons again and pulled them open. Her mind was racing. This couldn't be happening, this couldn't, she wouldn't allow it, she wouldn't....She struggled, trashing wildly against him away with all her strength.

The man sprang back as if he'd burned his hand on her chest.

She scrambled back as far as her shackle would allow as soon as she was free, panting and still trembling with fear. But he was moving just as quickly away from her until he was out of the radius of where she could move with the shackle. “What the fuck is that then! Where did a swish fucking wench like you get that?” He sounded slightly panicked by it.

She held the front of her dress together with one hand, her ringing head with the other. Her fingers went to the skin around her eye and she could tell already from the tender, swollen feeling she would have a black eye by the morning. “Where did I get what?” She asked groggily.

“The fucking silver you daft bitch. Alfie, the gorger cunt's got a bit of gypsy silver round her filthy little neck.”

Eleanor's fingers loosened on her buttons and slipped beneath to the little beaten silver necklace that Tommy had given her. She'd almost forgotten about it. It was such a small thing that always lay beneath her clothes it was easy to forget about, like it was a part of her. She pulled it out so both men could see, grateful at least that they didn't seem like to attack her at the moment.

“Where did you get that eh? You gadjie whore.”

She wasn't sure whether or not she should lie, or simply refuse to tell him. Could Tommy get into some kind of trouble for having given it to her? Why had it never occurred to her to ask the significance of it? You were too intent on him letting you wrap your lips around his cock to ask any fucking questions, a cold, mocking little voice in her head answered. Who knows what gadjie means, but whore I might not be able to protest.

Mick, who seemed to have a little more of the brains of the two and recovered himself from the initial shock of whatever her necklace signified to him, blew out a long breath. “Well isn't it obvious how the little grubbing bitch got her hands on it? Thomas Fucking Shelby put it round her neck didn't he?”

Alfie spit on the ground before her and swore in Romanni. “You're a fucking gorger whore and you'll always be one you daft bitch. Don't think this changes anything.”

But despite his words and the threat within them it did seem to change something for them. For before Eleanor could think of what best to say the two of them turned on their heel and left.

 

Chapter Text

Eleanor had no idea what time it was by the time the men returned. She thought it was maybe mid morning of the second day she'd been in the abattoir but based on the light coming in but couldn't be sure. They'd left her the bread and milk which she'd eventually given up her pride and eaten many hours ago. Her hunger was a gnawing nuisance in an otherwise sea of monotonous thought. She amused herself with little acts, pressing a cold compress of the handkerchief she found in her pocket dipped in the tepid water against her burgeoning black eye, trying to determine what day of the week she thought it was, if the abbey had become aware that she was missing and what she would tell her parents if that were the case.

Truth be told she was almost glad when she heard the men approach. At least something was coming to break up the day, at least something would happen now. She couldn't be alone with her thoughts anymore. She felt like she was going a bit insane already. She stood and waited on her feet as they entered. It was the same men, Eddie and Mich, but another had come as well.

The three of them stood in the doorway, as if they were afraid to approach thought she was still chained to the floor of the room. They discussed her in Romani for a while, then the new man said in English. “Show us the silver then.”

She hesitated but decided as it had saved her being violated before would trust whatever power it had over these men. She fished it from her neckline and held it up for him to see. He spat on the ground and crossed himself.

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Mich turned to her. “You have no idea do you, what the fuck that means to hang it around your neck?”

Eleanor said nothing. Her mind was racing though. What in the hell did it mean though? What had Thomas Shelby hung around her neck all those months ago in the office that now these other Romani men seemed hesitant even to touch her? Gypsy silver Eddie had called it. But what the name of God and all his Angels or Thomas Shelby and all his Blinders was that?

Eddie laughed. “Oh it's plain from her face she hasn't got a fucking clue. Mich, tie the gorger bitch up.”

Mitch knelt before her with a rough stretch of rope. “Don't think I won't smack the lights out of you bitch if you think so much of wiggling away.”

“You're filth.” She said, looking him right in the eye. He slapped her a cracking blow across the face, hard enough to make her head turn and stars shoot across her vision.

“Don't mouth off neither.”

“It's 'don't mouth off either.'” She said, spitting out a bit of blood as she'd bit her tongue. “And Thomas Shelby is going to put a bullet through your eyes the next time he sees you.”

Mitch cinched the rope tighter across her wrists. “I very much doubt that love.”

The indignant rage she felt at being tied and gagged had rather worn off by the time she was loaded into the back of a van, leaving behind a dull, annoyed terror. Her arms hurt and her jaw did too, wedged open as it was with stinking cloth. She wanted more than anything to be allowed to stretch her arms back and stand rather than being forced to sit, crouched over as she was.

She was instead carried out and shoved rather unceremoniously into the boot of the car and a smelly blanket was thrown over her.

The drive was rather a long one, almost half an hour and she spent it mostly trying to find a way to brace her feet to prevent her from sliding into something hard enough to crack her head every time the car turned. Finally though the car pulled to a stop and she heard the engine cut off. The men got out and came around to the boot of the car.

She was taken out, blinking stupidly in the bright light, and the bonds between her ankles were cut so she could walk a few paces before she was forced down on her knees into wet grass. The long-suffering midwife's uniform soaked immediately from the grass and damp dirt. Her hands were re-tied behind her back. She thought briefly about running but didn't think it was worth it. Sore and cramped as her legs were she knew she'd never be able to outrun the two men lounging by the car with riffles drawn. Even if they didn't shoot her they would surely catch her before she could even get to her feet, unbalanced as she was without her hands to push her up.

Instead she stole a glance at her surroundings under the lids of her lashes. They were in a cemetery of some kind. She couldn't even see Birmingham from the little hill the tombstones she knelt among stood upon. All around her stretched little white tiles, either upright or flat in the ground.

Almost an hour passed with her knelt as she was. Eddie and Mich chain smoked cigarettes, speaking occasionally in Romani and passed a flask between the two of them. The air still had the damp of the morning and in just her ragged dress with soaked stockings on her legs she began to shiver.

The rumble of cars coming up the hill brought them to attention. The cars parked at the base of the hill and black coats got out. She could pick him out even at this distance. Something about the way he moved, like a shark through still waters, was unmistakable. Ridiculous though it was she tried to sit up a little bit straighter, to not look so beaten down and defeated as she felt. She'd been knelt with her knees together but she made sure that she sat up straight, trying to look unaffected by the bonds that held her wrists behind her back. She was quite sure she'd never felt so dirty and disheveled as she did just then. It didn't seem quite fair that he looked as he always did, handsome as sin in a crisp three-piece suit and black jacket.

He'd brought ten men with him in all she counted, dressed similarly to him, Blinders, of course, all dressed to the nines and armed to the teeth. John and Arthur she recognized and she'd surely seen the other faces before as well. He had a short-barreled shotgun slung over one shoulder as he came up the hill and looked almost as if he were on the verge of smiling. He looked like some school lad out for a romp with some friends, eager to show off his daring and without a care in the world. His expression changed only for a moment when he spotted her kneeling in the grass, the barrel of Mich's pistol at the back of her head—a fury on a magnitude she'd never seen before. This was nothing like the savagery that bent her over the desk when she was late, curled his fingers against her hips hard enough to bruise and held her hands behind her back so he could fuck her harder. This was the wrath within him that made the women she worked with in Small Heath flinch back at his name: a violent, killing anger that she'd never seen before.

The swaggering, easy affectation was back so quickly she wasn't sure that she hadn't imagined the flicker of the other emotion. Soft lips curved into an almost wide smile as he met her gaze for a moment, then winked. “Hello, Eleanor.”

His voice was low but carried somehow across the field and the sound of it seemed to fill her with a shivering warmth, like whiskey sliding down her throat. Relief cracked open in her chest, spreading out through her in a rippling tide. He had come for her and whatever her fears about the future, what he might think of a girl who couldn't keep herself out of trouble—the posh countess he had to get back from gunpoint and smelling like an abattoir-- she was just so fucking glad to see him. If anyone could get her out of this situation, back to Watery Lane for a large whiskey and the brutal fucking to calm her nerves, it was Thomas Fucking Shelby.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, maybe things like this happened to him all the time. For the expression on his face he certainly seemed comfortable right where they were. She would be more than happy to pay him back any ransom he had to make on her behalf, mitigate any detriment to the business, surely he knew that...

Mich called out to him in Romani, interrupting her train of thought. It must have been some kind of warning to stay back for the approaching men brought up short.

Tommy replied in the same language and for a moment they seemed to be having a discussion. Mich at one point leaned down and with the barrel of his pistol drew forth the little silver necklace from the neckline of her dress to show the other men.

One of the Blinders whose name she didn't know spit on the ground at the site of it and Arthur crossed himself but Tommy's expression didn't change an iota. The uncharacteristically open smile didn't lessen as Mich gestured to it heatedly. She caught the word gadje again and cunt in English but Tommy only replied to that with something that made Arthur snort with laughter, though no one else seemed willing to share the joke.

Finally though they seemed to reach an agreement. Tommy, looking nothing so much as cheerful, unslung the shotgun from where it rested jauntily across his shoulders and handed it to one of the other men. He took his hands and clasped them behind his head and smiling like a lad who is showing off for his mates with a lark, began to walk forward into the no-mans land between the two groups. He turned a few steps into the territory and said something in the unfamiliar language to the group of Blinders that made them laugh.

When he reached the halfway point between the groups, Mich pulled her to her feet by one arm and with a little shove pushed her toward the other group. “Alright gorger bitch, you're free to go.”

For a moment she didn't understand what was happening. Then she couldn't breath, the realization feeling like a physical blow to her chest, knocking the wind out of her. It wasn't money or racing pitches or horses they'd been discussing. He was taking her fucking place. She would have screamed too but gagged as she was she didn't want to give her captors the spectacle of the ineffective, incoherent noises it would produce.

She stumbled forward a few steps from Mich's rough push and stopped. Through eyes already blurring with tears she stared at the man strolling jauntily toward them. How dare he? How dare he? She didn't want her life traded for Tommy Shelby's on some cemetery hill in some gypsy war of which she couldn't even understand the language. And she didn't want to give Mich the satisfaction of telling her what to do. It occurred to her that now might be the exact right time to turn and kick the man as hard as she could.

But something of her thoughts must have shown on her face. “Eleanor.” She met his gaze. He was halfway across the field and the cheerful, laddish expression was gone entirely. His voice was been quiet, all the fun gone right out of it. It was the voice he used in the bedroom with her, right before he split her open. She met his cool blue gaze. “Walk.”

The tears spilled over then, coming out in uncontrollable sobs muffled by the gag and blinding her as she started across to the other group of men. It was a wonder she avoided tripping over the graves. She'd lost her shoes somewhere along the way between her kidnapping and rescue, so the rich green grass of the cemetery soaked into her stockings with every step. She stumbled into the group of waiting figures in black and one of the men stepped forward to catch her. “You're alright Miss Eleanor.” She recognized the voice of John Shelby. “Come on now, I'm to take you to the car then.”

He caught her by the shoulders, supporting her as she collapsed against him. One arm went around her head and undid her gag, pulling it free from her mouth as he started to pull her down the hill in the direction of the cars below.

“No.” She started to pull against his arm, digging in her heels to resist him. “No, no, no, no...”

He bent and put one shoulder under her waist and then hefting her up over it to carry her. With her hands still bound behind her and him much stronger, the little shivering struggle she made barely slowed his stride as he bundled her down the hill to the road where the cars were parked. Just as they reached the car an explosion of gunfire from the top of the hill sounded. Eleanor screamed. John opened the door and threw her in the back of the car without much ceremony and she reeled against the soft leather of the bench seat of the Bently as the car sped off down the lane.

Her sobbing had not subsided, but she had at least stopped struggling in vain in the backseat against her bonds, by the time he pulled into the familiar lane in the Birmingham street some undetermined amount of time later. She had fallen to one side in the seat and turned her face down into the leather of the seat. Her mouth was open in a silent wail, something in her throat closed painfully tight. She'd run out of tears themselves but the wracking, keening motion that produced them was unabated, a dry heave of misery. He pulled her out by her arm and hauled her up the steps of the house. He struggled for a moment to get the door open, one arm under her shoulders to support her weight. “Aunt Polly! Ada! Come here!”

Polly and Ada appeared at the top of the steps at once. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph! John Shelby what have you done to her?” Polly shouted as she hurried down the stairs, taking Eleanor's nearly limp form from him.

“Oh fucking hell! John, she's still bound!” Ada cried. “Fetcha fucking knife will you so we can get these fucking ropes off of her.”

Polly hugged the girl to her chest as the mewling noises of her became a wail. “There, there lass, that's alright. You cry just as much as you need too. You're alright now. It's all over now.” To the others she snapped. “Ada go boil some water for a fucking bath and we'll get her in as soon as it's hot. John go to the fucking chemist, she's going to need a goddman sedative the way you've treated her.”

“Is Tommy dead? Why is she wailing like this?” Ada asked John.

“Well how should I know? I was told to bring her back so I did, didn't hang around to ask many questions did I? Weren't Tommy's orders.”

“Hey, you're a brave one aren't you!”

“Fuck you Ada.”

“Fuck you!”

“Fuck you both if you don't help me calm her down before she fucking faints.”

She was unresisting, nearly limp as Polly and Ada drag her up the stairs with John's help. In the bathroom Ada stripped her and slid her into the tub they filled with steaming water. Polly insisted that they pour most of a bottle of whiskey and a sedative down her throat but she was only vaguely aware of swallowing as they held it to her lips. Under the steaming water she felt ice cold, numb. But the blurring kaleidoscopic feeling the world had taken on when she'd realized what Tommy had done, as if the ground and universe were being chopped apart and put back together at random began to fade away.

She was back on Watery Lane, in the bathroom of the Shelby house. She was in a tub full of water and Polly sat by her side. She had been kidnapped and held for ransom by two men she didn't know. Maybe Tommy Shelby was dead, killed in her place, maybe he wasn't. She hadn't eaten more than a crust of bread in three days but she didn't feel hungry. She'd drank more whiskey than she ever had but didn't feel particularly drunk. Tears were sliding down her cheeks almost at random, sometimes in a steady stream, sometimes only very infrequently. But her eyes, at least, seemed recently in focus. The roar of confusion that had overwhelmed her when Tommy had commanded her to cross to the other side of the clearing in the cemetery had abated enough to let rational thought begin to be heard again in her mind.

As a child Eleanor had been warned about flash floods, not to play in creeks in the spring for fear that a great torrent of water would come rushing from nowhere to sweep her away. She felt as if she knew now what it would be to experience that. The way that her senses had been tumbling, nonsensical, just a mass of darkness and confusion had receded like water sweeping finally past her. But what it had left her was swept away, bruised and shaking with emotions she could name (fear, anger, anguish) and some she couldn't yet.

Polly dipped a jug into the water and poured it over her face and head. She tilted her head back to let the water run over it. “There's a good girl,” Polly cooed. “There you are coming back from a shock.”

“What time is it Polly?” Her voice was hoarse from disuse. She hadn't spoken since she'd told Mich that Tommy would put a bullet through his head.

“About half three. Would you like some tea?”

She shook her head. “I think I'd be sick.”

“Maybe just broth and toast then when you're out of the bath.”

Polly rubbed some cream into her hair to soften the tangles and began to run through a comb, picking out little bits of hay and detritus as she went. She was gentle taking out the knots of so many days. Eleanor reached up between her breasts and touched the piece of silver. “Polly... what is this?”

In the long looking glass that stood before the tub she could see Polly hesitate for a moment, weighing how much and what to tell her. A gorger like you? All she'll tell you is what she thinks you want to hear... tall handsome men, plenty of money. Chapel bells and babies. Tommy had once told her about Poll. But the lines that appeared in the older woman's face, a tightening of the brow and lips, made her think that this was not something that Polly would play carnival tricks about.

Finally she said. “It's not something we talk much about with gorgers, meaning non-gypsies. But I suppose you have the right to know if he's given it to you.” She sighed. “It's gypsy silver. It means that.. that he'd give his blood in exchange for yours. Any gypsy that sees that would know he'd come for you, kill for you... take your place if needs were.”

A fat tear rolled down Eleanor's cheek. “Why would he give it to me?”

“Usually it's a gift between family. That silver was given Thomas's grandfather by his grandmother on my side on his wedding day. His mother gave it to him when he was a boy.”

“Why me though? I'm not Romani. I didn't even know what it was.”

“That is a question you'll have to ask Thomas.”

“That's...” her voice went dry. “That's how they knew he would come for me, exchange himself for me.”

“Aye.”

“Are you angry with me Pol?”

“Angry for what girl?”

“For endangering him.”

Poll smiled. “Duck down now under the water to rinse it out now, there's a good girl.” She plunged Eleanor under the water then brought her up again. She went and got a towel and began to pat the younger woman's hair dry. “I think that's another thing you deserve to know about Thomas Shelby after today: There is no keeping him out of danger. No force of nature in the world that could do it.”

“Good to know what you're telling her while you think I'm not around Pol.” The voice behind them was light but enough to make both women startle.

Pol stood. “Tommy!” She went to the door and hugged her nephew. “Welcome back then. Have their been many losses?”

“None Poll.”

She glanced over her shoulder at the girl in the tub, cowering now at one end as if she'd seen a ghost. “Well then I'll be betting they'll need a good supper after all the hard work. I'll go see to it then shall I?”

She didn't wait for an answer but shut the door behind her.

He was dressed in his shirtsleeves and vest. The normally immaculate white of his shirt was stained with dirt and sweat and an enormous spray of blood across the front. His face it looked as though he had wiped clean and his hands too but even she was in no doubt what work he'd been up to. Blood and dirt: a grave dug.

He came in and crouched by the tub, reaching out a hand as if she were a frightened animal he intended to lure closer. “Hello Eleanor.” Her mouth opened and closed but some force made it impossible to get words out. Tears welled again, splashing down over her tender cheek, the skin almost broken open and raw from all the crying, and making her wince. “Oh there's a good girl, don't cry. Come here.”

She crossed over to the other edge of the tub, close enough for him to reach. He stretched out to gently touch the bruised cheek. “We'll have to put some salve on that. I'm sorry I couldn't get to you in time. Please know that it will never happen again.”

She said nothing, tears still streaming down her face. The lump in her throat precluding speech as competing emotions, relief almost to vivid to be borne, fear that she as only dreaming, and the desperate need to have him close to her all fought to express themselves at once.

He swallowed. “They didn't hurt you … in any other way?”

Rage and tears won out at that and overwhelmed her. She pushed his hand away violently. Before she could think he'd turned his palm over and had her by the wrist, hauling her toward him in the tub with enough force to bring her to her knees and splash water over the side onto the floor. His grip on her slackened some, almost as if he hadn't intended to make the move and he opened his mouth. “Eleanor I'm sorry...” He began but stopped short when she shoved him hard enough in the chest almost to overbalance him.

“No they didn't rape me! They saw your stupid blood necklace and got a much better idea! You could have been killed you fucking idiot! I should fucking slap you! I could fucking kill you for thinking of it!” She shouted.

She blinked away the tears long enough to realize he was smiling. He still held her wrist with a loose grip, as if he didn't quite trust that she'd decided better about the slap, but he offered her the other one with an open palm.

“Come here, sweetheart.”

“Fuck you,Tommy.”

“Eleanor. Come here.”

She came forward, letting him take her by the arm and pull her flush against him. A bit of water splashed out over the side of the tub onto his shirt but he didn't seem to mind it, nor the way her wet body left an imprint on his shirt.

One hand went into her wet hair, tilting her hair back. He took no mercy on her despite the black eye and her aching body. He parted her lips with his tongue and plundered the warm cave of her mouth. His soft lips hardened against her as his need flared: a volcanic eruption that might have torn flesh from bone if she hadn't already been burning herself. Into the kiss he poured his fear, rage, longing and it was tonic of unimagined potency. The consuming need to claim her back, to mark her again as his was overwhelming and still not enough. Heat filled her body, the cold and terror of the past days, melting against the warmth of his body, his lips and the clenching, throbbing desire suddenly pouring forth from that endless well of it that resided somewhere deep within her. Her fingers tangled in his hair, pulling his lips to hers, as if the physical pressure could ever be enough to satisfy her.

The arm around the small of her back was gripping her hard enough to bruise and then lifting her suddenly, the other arm sweeping up her knees as they cleared the water. He pulled her bodily from the tub and carried her a few paces to set her on the wide, smooth marble counter of the vanity and sink, knocking some of Ada's cosmetics aside. He ripped her knees apart, fumbling with his belt and zipper. He needed no foreplay himself and gave her time for none. One hand he kept at her knee, keeping her spread for him, the other went to one round globe of her ass, digging in and pressing her forward.

Her need to be claimed met his need to claim like powder meets a spark. With a single brutal thrust he sheathed himself to the hilt within her. Her legs arched and she cried out at the unexpected fullness.

“Spread your legs for me, girl.”The command was nonsense. She was already arching toward him, canting her hips toward him.

“Please Tommy, please don't stop.” She gasped. “God...Tommy... please...just please...”

He slipped his fingers between them, rubbing at the little nub of pleasure at the crest of her folds until she was writhing. Her arms went around his neck and she struggled just to hold onto him as he thrust into her. She was sure to have bruises on the backs of her legs where the edge of the marble vanity was but he didn't care and she didn't seem to even notice.

Usually he was more deliberate, taking his time and building up speed slowly. He liked to torment her, dragging out their pleasure until she could bear it no more before letting her tumble over. But there was none of that in his demeanor that day. He thrust into her, racing toward their mutual pinnacle as fast as he could take them. One hand went to her head, tangling in her hair and the other at her hips kept her still as he pumped into her, spreading and penetrating her with abandon.

Her head arched back as he pulled her hair and her ragged breaths were enough the sweetest sound he swore he'd ever heard.

This could have been taken from him. The feeling of being sheathed within her was like nothing else in his life: uncomplicated, pure pleasure, comfort and warmth that surrounded him fully. And someone had dared think of taking her from him. His fingers in her hair and hips tightened and she moaned, arching.

“Beg me Eleanor.” The command was a rough growl.

“Oh please... Tommy... please... please Tommy... God...Jesus please Tommy.”

“Beg me to fuck you.”

“Oh Tommy please fuck me... God and Christ and just... oh Tommy please fuck me...”

She came, trembling against him and he came a moment later with a roar. He was sure the rest of the house could probably hear them, the mirror rattling behind her alone was enough noise to be sure, never mind the noises she was making and his own rough commands. But they were welcome to listen. He needed to have her back, to reclaim her from those who had taken her from him. The more publicly the better. The men who had seen this woman with another man's gun pointed at her head needed to know that now she spread her legs for him. She belonged to him and no other.

She slumped against him, panting and shuddering uncontrollably. He held her against his chest, relishing the feel of the slender little torso against his, back where it belonged. Her hands fluttered through his hair, over his ears, down his neck and along his arms, running light fingers over the muscles beneath his shirt.

He knew what she was looking for. “The blood isn't mine sweetheart.”

“You're not hurt then?”

“No Eleanor, barely a scratch.”

“The others?”

“Good sport for us today. None of the lads were seriously hurt.”

“I thought I would die of fright when I saw you on the hill and you gave up your gun. What the fuck were you thinking Tommy?”

“I suppose I was thinking that if I didn't get you back on the right side of the cemetery by some means I'd never get to feel this again.” He ran a hand up her thigh, caressing the wet slit at the crux of it, making her moan.

His jaw clenched and suddenly his expression was much less playful. She knew him well enough by now to recognize some emotions, subtle though they were, but she didn't think she'd seen pain and fury so clearly before. “God Eleanor but you can't know what I thought seeing you like that.”

“I thought you liked to see me tied up.” She tried for a weak smile.

“Not like that Eleanor.”

She shivered. “I know what you mean.”

“Don't think of it sweetheart.”

He lifted her again and put her back in the still-steaming tub. He knelt at the side and rolled up one sleeve. He slipped his hand beneath the water and let it roam the curves of her body, cupping each breast and flicking his fingers across the tip, delving between her legs again. It was as if he needed to touch each part of her body to reassure himself that all of her was there, intact, just where and what she should be. He touched the silver necklace that hung between her breasts, then lifted his fingers and trailed them over her brows, eyelids. He bent forward and kissed her brow gently, gazing at her as if he were attempting to memorize her features.

“No one will ever hit you in anger ever again Eleanor. No one will ever have your body but that you ask them to.” He promised. “I swear on my life.”

The tears were back, big fat rolling ones down either cheek. “And if they had raped me Tommy, would you have thought me unpure? Would you not have wanted to touch me afterward?”

He shook his head. “Jesus, no, Eleanor. What kind of fucking question is that?”

“You wouldn't have thought me tainted...wouldn't have been disgusted by me?”

He kissed her lips tenderly, clutching at her hair as if to anchor her to him. “There's nothing another man can do to you Eleanor that would make me want you less. If some day you do not wish to come to me that's another thing. But no one in the world can choose that but you.”

She ran slender fingers over the blood stain on one sleeve, over his bruised knuckles. Did you kill them Thomas? That she both did and did not want to ask the question were clear on her face. As was the fact that she already knew the answer.

“Yes Eleanor.” He said, meeting her eyes. “I killed them.”

Another kind of woman, one more like Polly, he would have brought her them alive, let her pull the trigger herself. Ada he would have shown the bodies. Any gypsy woman he would have taken one of the large, distinctive rings from Mich's fingers to give to her as proof. Eleanor though—Eleanor who only wanted to know how many blows were coming, who wanted to be tied but not married, wanted to be fucked and beaten but not reminded of unpleasant memories—to her he offered only words. The truth, knowledge, was what she wanted more than rings or bloody memories. He knew her well enough to know that with certainty.

She shivered in the warm water. Then, to his surprise, slid her hand down to his knuckles, split open against Micheal Lee's jaw that afternoon, and brought it to her lips. Eddie he'd shot in the head but Mick he'd beaten to death. Aruthur had pulled him off of the corpse only when the other man's face was an unrecognizable ruin. She pressed a soft kiss to the bruised skin. She didn't say anything but let him run his fingers over her lips, her throat, collarbones.

The water had gone mostly cold by the time Ada knocked. She took a look at the vanity, her cosmetics on the floor beside it, and rolled her eyes. “Jesus Tom, you're a fucking animal. You couldn't give her a moment's peace after what she's been through?” She held out a dress, which she hung on the hook behind the door. She put some small things on the vanity. “I've brought this for you, Eleanor. Polly's making dinner and sent me to fetch you. No one else dared come up here I think after the racket you two made.”

Tommy smiled. “Tell Poll we'll be down shortly, not to worry.”

“You look a state yourself Tommy. I've run you a bath in the downstairs bathroom too. Now come along and give the poor girl a bit of tranquility will you?”

He seemed to see the sense in this but gave her a lingering kiss. “I'm right downstairs Eleanor. Between you and the door.”

Ada helped her dry her hair with a newfangled contraption that blew hot air on it and pinned it back. She helped Eleanor use some of the cosmetics he'd pushed aside to darken her lashes and try to conceal the bruise blooming on her cheek but there was no hiding it. Like Polly, Ada was clearly treating her with kid gloves, as if she'd shatter into pieces with any rough handling. Part of her wanted to laugh that the brother of the family fucked her senseless into the vanity while the sisters treated her like a Faberge egg. She helped Eleanor into the dress as if she was a child. Truth be told she was still shaking slightly from fear and shock, wobbling a bit on her feet as she stood. The dress was a little long for her, Ada being almost a head taller and big in the shoulders but it felt nice to wear something clean. Besides she liked the lovely blue knit which felt warm to her still trembling body, and when she cinched the belt closed it almost looked like it fit her properly.

She was surprised at how many people were in the house when she came down the stairs. The parlor was full of men, all Peaky Blinders, drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes. Tommy was waiting for her though at the foot of the stairs. He had bathed the blood and dirt off and changed into a fresh, sharp suit. He had a whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She could tell somehow from the awkward way he was holding the cigarette that his fingers were beginning to swell from the blows he'd administered.

She took his hand in hers and pressed a reverent kiss to the bruises over his knuckles. Behind him in the living room her eyes focused for the first time well enough to notice that over every surface not occupied by a man or a glass of whiskey was spread enough munitions and weapons. Her father owned a fair few riffles for hunting in the country or shooting clays, which she had a bit of experience with, but these were not guns for sport. Her eyes widened at the hundred or so pistols crowded almost to falling off the ends of the coffee table, the modified shotguns and other guns she couldn't even guess at the name of.

He followed her gaze and then shook his head. “Never you mind that Eleanor. Go into the kitchen and help Poll and the others with the food.”

“The others? Who is in the kitchen?”

“Blinder women. Gypsy women. Since you threatened to slap me upstairs I'm sure you'll fit right in.”

She blushed. “I didn't...”

He brushed a fond kiss against her lips, one strong arm going around her waist and pulling her against him. “If I need an apology from the countess you can be sure I'll let you fucking know, Eleanor. But the next time you think to slap me, don't hold back.”

“Fairs turnabout? Or you just want the excuse to take revenge on me?” She quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Well you won't know until you try, will you sweetheart?”

“You won't take revenge on me?”

“I didn't say that.”

In the kitchen there were almost as many women. Eleanor recognized Esme, John's wife and a few others but not most of them. Poll waved her over and gave her a whiskey and some left over tea sandwich with cream of celery and carrots. “Let me know if that won't tide you over till the food's ready. It won't be another hour or more until those men are done toasting each other and making up stories about what they did today and are ready to sit down to the table. When you're finished with those you can help Ada cut the potatoes.”

Ada rolled her eyes and winked at Eleanor. “If she can hold a knife that is. Never learned to cook our Eleanor has I'll wager. Never been far enough down in the servants quarters to see how things get chopped.”

A little hysterical burble of laughter came out of her at that. Partially she found it so funny because it was true. She had never cut vegetables until she was grown and even making her own sandwiches had been a real struggle when she'd been studying. Now here she was being set to the task of cutting potatoes and it felt like it was an exotic experience.

Esme said something in Romani that made the other women laugh. Eleanor looked at the other woman questioningly but no one bothered to explain. Poll and Ada were preoccupied with other things and to the other woman she would always be an outsider, gorger, stranger.

For a moment she had the intense sensation that she must be dreaming. How had she come to be where she was? Black eye, cutting potatoes with a bunch of gypsy women who only took her seriously because she was fucking a mob boss and ignoring the fact that there was a huge cache of undoubtably illegal guns in the front room. She couldn't have imagined herself here a year ago, couldn't have imagined this scene at all. But in the moment she was only grateful when Esme and the others switched back to English to include her in the conversation.

When the men were properly drunk and the food had been ready for more than an hour they sat down at the long table in the dinning room. Extra tables had been set up in the parlor and in the foyer to accommodate so many and every seat was filled. How Polly had managed it was a real feat but she had explained that after a day such as the day had been it was expected that the Shelby family thank those who had risked their lives. Risked their lives to retrieve her, she realized with a shudder.

Tommy sat at the head of the table and Polly at the other end. The men sat toward Tommy and the women toward Polly. When they were all seated a man at the middle of the table stood. “A Peaky Blinder never runs from a fight.” He said, raising his glass to the room. The rest of the room repeated it back to him with conviction.

Another man stood. “A Peaky Blinder never lets down his brothers.”

It was a revolving toast she realized as man after man stood and offered forth another promulgation as to what the Peaky Blinders were. It was Tommy's turn last and he considered for a moment before standing. “A Peaky Blinder takes what is his.”

The bawdy chorus of whoops that met with this statement were enough to make her blush, realizing that it was clearly meant as a direct reference to her as the company turned to her to gauge her reaction to this. She wanted to look away from him and hide her face, thinking that most of the men at the table must have heard her being taken in the upstairs bathroom. But she met his gaze and the heat in those blue eyes was enough to make her feel warm in an entirely different part of her anatomy.

God but she was sunk wasn't she? She'd said she would give him whatever he asked for but he had never asked for her to want him the way she did, to feel the way she did. So why did her heart turn over at the idea of being his forever. Sentimental fool. Romantic idiot. She could scold herself as much as she liked but it changed nothing.

After dinner the party turned wilder. Arthur set up lines of cocaine on the glass coffee table. Polly opened a crate of bottles of whiskey and passed them around. Ada put on some jazz music and John and Esme set to dancing. Tommy sat at one end of the party with her beside him and one by one throughout the night each man who had come to take her from the cemetery that afternoon approached to tell her they were glad to have her back. Tommy clasped each of their hands. thanking the man, while Eleanor blushed, not knowing what to say.

When finally, near dawn, Tommy took her hand and led her up the stairs she thought she was near fainting from fatigue. She could tell though that he was nowhere near finished with her. The men whose lives he had risked to save her had built in him an irrepressible need to take her again. There was something in the Peaky Blinders that had laid claim to her that afternoon that she didn't quite fathom, wasn't sure Tommy understood much better.

He kissed her as soon as they were within the shadows of the stairwell, a rough, claiming, brutal kiss. He tilted her head back to plunder her mouth, paying no attention to her split lip or bruised cheek. He pushed her skirt over her waist and pushed her up against the wall, gripping her thighs and lifting her until she locked her thighs around his waist and he was supporting her with her hands clasped around his neck. He carried her thus up the stairs and threw her unceremoniously on the bed.

“Strip Eleanor.”

She pulled the dress over her head, pushing down her bloomers and stockings and shucking her brassiere with a desperate speed. He was at a disadvantage in his stylish three-piece suit and it took a moment before he was fully naked in bed with her. She was on him in a moment, writhing against him, desperate for contact. He pulled her flush against him and then rolled her on top of him. Her hands went to his chest and stomach as his went to her hips. He kept a brutal pace, thrusting her down on him until she spasmed around him, tipping off into near unconsciousness.

Near his own pinnacle he rolled suddenly, trapping her beneath him. He pushed on knee up until she moaned, the sudden change in angle driving him too deep within her at once. His hand gripped her hair, tiling her head back brutally. He'd pressed his teeth to the softest part of her neck, just above where the carotid pulse was, and whispered. “You are mine, Eleanor.” Before he filled her with his seed.

 

 

Chapter Text

After the affair with the Lee brothers Tommy was reluctant to let her stay at the convent. “There's nothing stopping anyone from wandering onto those grounds to snatch you. If you stayed here you'd have the protection of the Blinders day and night.”

She laughed. “Tommy I can't move in here! We're not married, what would people say!”

He looked down at her incredulously. She was naked as the day she was born and currently spread across his chest. Her lips were pink and puffy from a rather long and enthusiastic blow job she'd given him. “Oh you know what I mean!” She said. “It's different!”

“In what way?”

“It's one thing to be your... to go out with you to restaurants and the like, stay here every other night. People can pretend that we aren't... having relations. If I were to move in here it would be obvious.”

“People know I'm fucking you from the way that I look at you Eleanor.”

“It's not the same to sleep in your house every night.”

“In what way?”

Her voice was soft. “I'd be your whore Thomas.”

“Among other things Eleanor, you are my whore.”

“That's not a very nice thing to say.”

“I disagree.”

But he hadn't insisted, hadn't commanded.

Instead he'd set a man to watch the convent at night and another to walk with her when she went out on her errands. At first she had thought to protest, that she didn't need protection, that she felt awkward going to see him while one of his men waited outside for him to finish with her. But in the end she hadn't bothered to protest much. She'd had little enough hope that it would do much good.

What Tommy or perhaps Poll on his behalf, had told the convent about her disappearance was never fully elucidated to her but when she'd hesitated outside the gate the morning he had deposited her back there he'd just shaken his head once. “No one will ask you any questions about where you've been Eleanor, no need to worry about that.”

She'd tried for a smile. “Like it never happened then... once the bruises fade.”

His lips had quirked down into a frown. “No, sweetheart, not like that.”

“It occurs to me that I haven't thanked you.” She said quietly.

“For what?”

“For... for coming to get me... for making sure that the convent didn't tell my parents I was missing... for...” she bit her lip, not liking to conjure the image, much less say the words. “For taking my place.” Was as close as she could come to saying risking your life to save mine.

He took her in his arms lightly and brushed a kiss across her lips. He didn't say what he was thinking, that it occurred to him that he hadn't apologized to her either, for her life being put in danger. In the tumult days he'd spent looking for her it hadn't occurred to him that she might not want to see him after such an event, that she might choose not to put herself at risk of it again. He'd thought of it only after, on the drive back to Birmingham when his hand had started to shake on the steering wheel, the adrenaline of the fight receding like a tide to leave him feeling hollow and numb. If she had decided to go back to Kent or even just to cut ties with him who could blame her? And there would be nothing he could do: no one to kill or bribe, no power or influence he could leverage.

That she still obeyed his commands, came to his hand when he told her, tilted her head back for his kiss, spread her legs and arched against him had seemed miraculous. And now she thought to thank him for that little bit of nonsense on the hilltop? Thank him for getting her out of the danger he'd put her in? He would have laughed except somehow he thought this joke of Fortuna's he hadn't quite heard the punchline of yet, wasn't sure it wasn't as his own expense.

Instead he said. “You don't have to thank me Eleanor, not for that, not ever.”

“I owe you my life Thomas.” She spoke quietly, not meeting his eyes.

He touched the necklace through her dress lightly. “No sweetheart, you don't.”

He'd gone down to the kitchen after he'd left her in the bath with Ada the afternoon after the cemetery and found Poll, outside in the garden, peeling potatoes in a tub. He'd lit a cigarette and passed it to her, waiting for her to dry her hands on a towel before lighting his own. “What did you tell her Poll?” He'd asked in Romani.

She hadn't needed to ask to know he meant about the necklace but she answered in English. “The truth. Part of it anyway. She knows it means you'd change your blood for hers. She's smart enough but she's no traveler, it's not as if she'll work out the rest. You'll have to tell her yourself. That in the eyes of any Roma she's your blood... your fucking wife. ”

He said nothing.

“You don't intend to tell her, do you?” Poll's voice was accusing.

“She's not a Gypsy Poll, like you said. She won't understand.”

“She's a fucking woman, Tommy. She'll understand what it means when a man tells her he loves her.”

“I don't love her Poll.” He said with a sigh. “I want to fucking own her.”

Poll took a deep drag on her cigarette and smiled. “For you Thomas, what is the fucking difference?”

Having nothing to say to that, he'd gone back inside to the bath that Ada had run for him.

At the gate to the convent he gave her another brief kiss and then let her walk back through the crisp morning air to the doors of the convent. It was a weekend morning so the other girls were still in, having a lazy morning. Rosie was sprawled out over her bed with a gossip rag and Imelda and Tessa were refreshing Tessa's hair dye. Rosie looked up and her mouth opened slightly at the sight of the bruised cheek. Then she seemed to regain her composure and folded up the magazine with precision. “Eleanor, thank goodness you're back. Come have a card game with me will you? The others won't and I'm dying for a hand of gin rummy.”

She took off her coat, hat and shoes, all borrowed from Ada. “Alright then, scoot over.”

The other girl took cards out of her bedside table and began to deal the hand over the bedspread, scooting towards the head to make room for her at the foot.

For a while it seemed that life would return to normal after the kidnapping.

It was not exactly that Tommy made no consideration of what had happened to her while she'd been kidnapped. It did not escape her notice that he wouldn't hit her until the last of her bruises from Mich had faded. She felt he didn't want to mark her over the other marks, almost as if doing so would make them permanent. The first time he'd gotten out his belt after the incident too he'd been... the only word for it was careful. Not just his usual deliberate patience but an unexpectedly intense attentiveness that she would have called caution in another man.

He'd considered her for a long moment when she stepped in the door of the betting house bedroom that evening. It was his habit to issue a command when she stood there, letting her know how much of her clothes he wanted off. Instead this time he stood and crossed the room to her. He took off her hat and clothes, hung them and then began to unzip her dress himself. He folded the dress neatly over the back of one of the comfortable chair and then returned to her. He led her to stand in front of the long mirror at the vanity, still facing away from him.

In the reflection he could see him standing behind her, dressed in his vest and shirtsleeves. His expression, as ever, was unreadable, blank and calm as he met her gaze in the mirror. “Eleanor I'm going to tie you and take my belt to you tonight.” He said, voice even. “Do you understand that?”

“Yes Tommy.” Long fingers ghosted over her shoulders, making her shiver, before finding the clasp at the back of her brassiere and undoing it. He let it fall the floor beside him. One strong arm went around her waist, trailing over the tip of a breast before gliding down over the taught plains of her abdomen and dipping down to part the folds below. She hadn't worn bloomers, hopeful as ever.

“Spread your legs.”

She complied and he stroked her slowly until she was panting and slick beneath his fingers, arching against him. She could feel he was hard against the small of her back already. He brought her close to the edge of release and kept her there for a torturous moment, letting her gasp and beg, then stepped back.

“Hands and knees here.” He indicated the small ottoman, just long enough for her to kneel on comfortably.

Once she was knelt on it she realized that he'd moved it into line with the mirror. She could see him move behind her, one broad hand coming to rest between her shoulder blades, pushing down to drop her to her elbows, the effect being to exaggerate the lordotic curve of her spine, opening her sex and presenting him with a better view of her ass. But she didn't think the mirror was for her benefit. He wants to see my face, she realized as she watched him carefully study her, wants to see my expression. Wants to make sure that I want this.

“Wrists and elbows together.”

He fetched the rope he always used out of his desk and knelt before her. Cold blue eyes, long lashes were so close to her own as he tied her at the wrists and elbows, then lashed her wrists to the feet of the ottoman itself.

Very, very slowly he unbuckled his belt and drew it off. He folded it over in his hand carefully and then paused. With his free hand he ran his thumb over one of the globes of her ass, then sunk his thumb casually into her warm and dripping depths, making her groan. “You've done nothing wrong Eleanor.” He told her as he teased her. “I only intend to please myself. Do you understand that?”

“Yes Tommy.”

“I'll give you ten at least, more if you're not crying. I intend to see you in tears before I take you.”

“Yes Tommy.”

She tried to hold out, to try to make him give her fifteen but she must have forgotten the power in his arm. The first crack of the belt left her breathless. She slumped forward, elbows almost sliding off the front of the ottoman but, dazed as she was, she scrambled back into place.

“Head up Eleanor. Look at me.” His voice was whip crack of a command as her head has slumped forward. She raised her face to let him see it in the mirror and found his own expression was hard, some new tense emotion mixed in with the lust that was there. But it softened instantly when he saw her lips were parted and the large dark pupils, blown wide with desire.

She was sobbing long before he got to the fifth blow but he didn't speed up or reduce the power behind the last five blows. When he was done though he let the belt fall. Usually he took her from behind after such a beating, liking the way that the pressure of his thighs against her tender flesh made her moan and squirm. He ran a cool hand over her tender flesh, then gripped one hip and tilted her into an angle that would make penetrating her an intense feeling. “Good girl sweetheart, you did so well, took the belt so well.”

He slid in a finger, making her groan and shiver. She tried to arch against the angle, lessening the feeling of fullness from even just his finger but he only gripped her hips harder, rewarding her with a slap across her ass that made her let out another gasping sob. “Hold your hips where I want them Eleanor. I'll not hesitate to pick the belt back up. Say 'yes Tommy' to that.”

“Yes Tommy.” Her voice trembled slightly with the tears but

He always let himself slide over her slit once before pushing in, like rolling a cigarette over his bottom lip before he lit it. It was a reassuring gesture, letting him gauge the wet, needy desire of her. Now he did it repeatedly, teasing them both as he stroked her with his hand.

“Beg me, girl.” He ground out through gritted teeth.

“Please Tommy... anything you want... I'll do anything you want if you only just fuck me. Please just split me open and fuck me... I promise I'll be good, hold my hips as you like, anything, fuck me as hard as you want... beat me again, only please just take me, please let me please you.”

The needy look he could see in the mirror was enough to make him groan aloud as he pushed into that hot, inviting cave. The feeling of her was incredible: heat and warmth and languid desire. If she hadn't been so dripping wet it would have been impossible for her to take him at that angle. God for all the practice he gave her sometimes it still seemed a mystery how she managed to fit him into that tight, perfect slit. His hands tightened on her hips, trying not to spill himself too soon. “Your fucking cunt, Eleanor.” He managed. “Like paradise. All warm and wet and spread before me. You never say no, never fucking fail to satisfy.

He went as slow as he could, drawing out the intense feeling of filling her. With his hands he began to move her hips, showing her how he wanted her to push back against him, canting her hips back to push against him and opening her sex against him. She met each thrust eagerly despite the bruised flesh of the backs of her thighs. He slipped one hand between her legs and began to caress her. “God you please me well.” He murmured to her. “No thought for yourself, only fucking me back just the way I want it.”

The slow pace began to increase and suddenly he was fucking her hard and fast, pounding into her and she was wailing, half from the intensity of the angle and half from the orgasm that was building within her. When they came apart it was impossible to tell who went first, both tipping over in that warm and inviting expanse of darkness and light and pleasure. When they had both recovered he tucked himself a way, then came to kneel in front of the ottoman. He tilted her chin up with his finger and seemed to search her expression for something for a long moment. Then nodded, seeming satisfied, and brushed a light kiss across her lips.

That first week he'd kept her close too, calling for her every day after her work was finished to the betting parlor just to have her kneel between his legs as he finished up the ledger. She'd told him once she found the act peaceful and she thought he now found it reassuring. With her cheek pressed to his thigh both of them it seemed felt as if nothing bad in the world could possibly happen.

When he finished with his work the first day he'd taken a bottle of whiskey from one desk drawer and lit himself a cigarette. “Alright then Eleanor, make it good for me.” He said leaning back in his chair.

She unbuckled his belt and undid his zip, thinking back to the first time she'd seen him in his shirtsleeves and blushed at the sight of something so intimate. Now she felt a similar shyness at reaching into his trousers. She'd had his cock in her mouth before but he almost always took himself out for her, and she always felt shy when he had her do it herself. Strange what she still counted as intimate when it came to him.

She found the smooth, soft feel of it beneath her hand was enthralling. Slowly she'd leaned down and pressed soft kisses across the head, the bottom of the shaft, already feeling it twitch to life a bit in her palm. She took him into her mouth, sliding her tongue along the seam at the bottom. “Eyes to me sweetheart.” His own pupils were already dilating and she could feel that his pulse was racing as she slid her tongue down the artery at the seam of him again. He took a long sip of his whiskey. “Fuck girl but you don't know how you look, on your knees and pleasing me.”

He put the whiskey on the desk, head tilting back, the free hand tangling in her hair. He didn't push her down though, nor encourage her to move any faster, only seeming to enjoy the soft curls beneath his fingers.

Emboldened she knelt up a bit, pumping her head a little faster. She twisted a bit with her hand and was rewarded with a groan of pure pleasure. She slowed down, wanting to extend his pleasure, taking it slow and drawing it out until he could hold out no longer. With a final moan she felt his finger tighten in her hair, his cock harden in her mouth and then her tongue was flooded with the warm, salty taste of him. She held him in her mouth until he softened, then came off slowly, licking at the tip and making him groan again. He let her sit in the easy silence of their intimacy as he finished his whiskey and cigarette, one hand caressing a curl, the curve of her chin or breast absentmindedly.

After that performance he ended every day that week with her mouth around his cock.

“A man could get used to this.” He told her on Friday as she bobbed up and down on his shaft. “I could cum down your throat every day for the rest of my life and never tire of it I think.”

She slid off of him long enough to say. “You can if you want you know.”

“Oh fuck me sweetheart. Don't tempt me.”

He'd come quickly that day, using her mouth a little bit brutally, pushing her head down and arching up into her throat. When he was satisfied though he'd lifted her onto his desk, lying her back so her head tilted off the far end, tilting back so she couldn't see him. He'd rucked up her skirts, lifting her knees until they fell over each shoulder and then bent and returned the favor in full kindness, fucking her with his fingers and tongue until she arched, that telltale tightening of her muscles contracting on his finger.

He helped her up to a sitting position on the desk but knelt for a moment longer, caressing her bare thighs. Now he had to look up at her on the desk, her legs falling to either side of his shoulders as he stroked them. She brought up a hand to run it through his quiff, gently stroking the longer locks on the top.

He bent and kissed each of her knees. “I have something for you Eleanor.”

“Oh?”

He opened the drawer of the desk and took out a small, snub-nosed pistol and put it beside her. “I want you to carry this in your satchel.”

She frowned. “And if I'm stopped by the police? You yourself once asked me if you'd find a pistol in my satchel when you suspected me of something? You don't think others will find it suspicious?”

He shook his head. “Suspicious perhaps but not illegal. I registered it in your name. You have the right to carry it with you.”

She frowned. “I don't even know how to shoot it Tommy.”

He took her to the roof where he chalked out a target on the little shed she'd once thought to loose her virginity against. He spend a while teaching her to load, cock and aim the pistol until she felt comfortably doing it in a short amount of time. In her youth her father had held out hope that she and Gabriel might share his love of hunting and trained them both quite extensively with any number of the variations of shotguns and rifles he used. She hadn't been a bad shot, though she'd never been able to bring herself to pull the trigger at anything other than a clay pigeon. But she was out of practice and had never held a pistol before in her life.

“Alright then, try firing it.” He said.

“Tommy we're in downtown Birmingham, is it really such a good idea to be firing off shots in broad daylight?” She asked.

He lit a cigarette and made that unique expression of his that was a smile with none of the usual facial movements. “Sweetheart if you think someone will come to investigate, here, you and me, the sound of a pistol firing,” he said evenly, “then don't fire the gun.”

Fair enough, she thought begrudgingly, turning back to the little shed and squeezing the trigger.

She turned back to him for approval but he only fished a box of shells out of his pocket and set them firmly on the ledge wall at the edge of the roof beside her. “You're wide to the left by a foot Eleanor. Try again until you land one.”

When she had managed to finally shoot reliably into the target he'd taken her back down to the bedroom and made slow, careful love to her. He was never exactly tender with her but the thoroughness had something as near gentle as to be nearly shocking coming from him. Afterward she lay across the bedspread, panting and lazy with contentment as he slipped back into his trousers and went to the desk, the habitual cigarette already in one hand and already looking through a sheaf of papers.

“Do you really think I would be able to shoot someone?” She asked, looking up at the rough beams of the ceiling above her.

“Eh?”

“I mean, do you think I would be able to pull the trigger if I was looking at a human instead of that chalk outline.” She was completely naked and she tucked her knees together a little bit demurely, knowing he must be looking at her, one hand crossed over her stomach, but didn't turn her head to meet his gaze.

“You won't know that until you have to do it Eleanor.”

“Do you think I would though?” She turned over onto her stomach to look at him. As ever his expression was calm, unreadable.

“What do you think?”

She almost said no before she considered it but then, unexpectedly, she thought of the moment when Mich had pushed her to the floor of the abattoir to rape her and her mind had gone utterly blank. She would have fought him until she was either unconscious or he had finished the job, of that she was sure. And if she'd had a gun? Would she have pulled the trigger? She shivered at the thought.

“I'm not sure.” She said finally.

He came and knelt beside the bed, running a fond hand over her head, cupping her chin. “That's why I'm not counting on it sweetheart. That's what I'm here for, what Eddie is for.”

“You don't trust me to do it?”

“I don't want you to have to.”

“That's almost... sweet Thomas.”

A rare genuine, open smile, crossed his lips. “Is it?”

She leaned forward to press her lips tog his quickly, almost as if to taste the smile before it was gone again. “Yes, it is.”

For some reason she couldn't quite fathom being kidnapped and held for random, rescued by their brother at great personal risk to himself, had somehow elevated her in the esteem of Ada and Polly as well. Though neither had ever been cold toward her now there seemed to be as if a veil had lifted between her and the other women. The first time Poll had neglected to obscure the name of a cross street near a warehouse where the Blinders stored illegal gin Eleanor had almost wanted to protest that she didn't want to know that kind of information. Much the way she had when Ada finally told her the whole story of what had happened to Freddie Thorne after he'd been dragged from the house that fateful morning all those months ago.

But despite those happy, peaceful days all she felt, seeing Arthur Shelby standing outside the convent door one fine morning, was a sense of inevitable dread. The blow she had been waiting for since the day she'd seen Tommy step into the bathroom of Watery Lane, hale and smiling, after the shootout on the cemetery hill, had finally fallen.

She walked forward as if in a trance. “Is he dead?” She managed to ask, voice trembling.

“Missing. He went out this morning and the car was found abandoned an hour ago.”

“No body then?”

He didn't answer her. “You'll come stay at the house until we know what's happening, Polly's orders.”

She didn't bother to argue. “I'll need to bring some things along then if it might be a few days.”

“I'll be waiting here. Don't take too long girl.”

She went back inside and put clothes in a satchel with mechanical movements. She felt as if her eyes didn't see what she was doing and her limbs moved without real direction from any sentient part of her. She put the satchel over her arm and wrote a note to the Mother Superior explaining she had been called away for a family emergency for a few days. Then she went back out to where Arthur was waiting.

“About time.” He grouched.

She said nothing but simply slid into the front seat of the car beside him.

Once she was inside the house she was mostly forgotten about. She sat in the parlor off to one corner on a comfortable couch while the men came and went. Poll brought her a sandwich and cup of tea but she did not feel like partaking of either. She didn't dare go up to Tommy's room to lie down. On another day she might have found comfort in the familiar sheets, the smell of him. But she felt that if she thought about him too directly just then she would simply fly into pieces, shattering forth into oblivion. Dusk fell and then night but no one seemed to much want to go to bed, least of all Eleanor.

So she was downstairs when he was brought it. Brought in, rather than came in.

He was supported on long piece of thick tarp, like the cloth that might cover things stored in a warehouse, a makeshift stretcher that two men carried on either side. The door seemed to fly open with them, unannounced, filling the house with buzzing energy and noise and panic. Polly came running down from the upstairs as he was laid out on the coffee table.

“What the fuck happened to him then Arthur?” Polly demanded when she saw him. “Where did you find him?”

Eleanor fought the urge to cringe back from the sight of him: blood ran from one corner of his mouth, set in a pale face as far as any pallor could be discerned. The knuckles of his left hand, his dominant hand, were a bloody ruin. Whoever had done this to him hadn't taken the time to blacken his eyes or split his lip. They had intended to kill him clearly and wasted no time with the cosmetics of the matter but the ominous slackness of his features hinted that real damage had been done to him. She was on her feet in a moment though, the nurse winning out among the chorus of voices in her head that screamed out for dominance in that moment. She pushed back the men who had carried him and pulled at the jacket, vest, shirt. She opened his shirt and nearly gasped. A bandage on his abdomen that looked like it was made from a man's large handkerchief was soaked with blood. He'd been beaten badly too. She could tell immediately that ribs were broken on both sides, the purple bruises that ran along the inferior edges of both were unmistakable, as was the shallow, gasping breath he was taking.

At least he was breathing. Whatever force that drove the internal machinery of Thomas Shelby turned still with the same power it always had. She put her ear to his chest. The pounding heartbeat was far too rapid, a thrumming almost too fast to make out individual beats and overlaid with that the wet, rasping noise of his breathing. She felt his abdomen and there at least was good news. He had taken blows to it to be sure but the bruising seemed superficial and whatever had penetrated his abdomen did not seem to have touched anything his spleen or intestines. There was no sign of the ominous central bruising or to either flank, nor the rigid abdominal muscles that might indicate that something vital had ruptured within.

“He needs a doctor.” She said, looking up at Polly. “He has bruising to his lungs at least, and something in his abdomen that might still be ruptured.” A slow leak into the abdomen over days could be just as fatal as something frankly bleeding. Just because for now his heart seemed to be compensating for whatever blood he had lost and he didn't appear to be loosing much more fast didn't mean that it there wasn't something slowly bleeding within. She'd seen many men in the war whose mortal wound had taken days to kill them, a slower and more painful death.

Arthur ignored her. “We found him in the fucking warehouse Poll, laid out over the whiskey bottles and bleeding on them. Fucking rat bastards who shot him clearly thought he was already dead when they left him there. When they find out he's not they're like as not to come try to finish the job. They left this on his chest.”

Arthur pulled something out of the pocket of his long coat and showed it to Poll who swore in Romani and crossed herself. “Fucking bastards!”

“What is it?” On her knees next to Tommy she couldn't see what he was showing Poll. Arthur ignored her but Polly took it from his hands and showed it to her.

It was a large card, almost like from a poker deck but larger, too big to fit easily even in Arthur's large hands. It was smeared slightly with blood on one corner but the image was still clear. It was beautifully drawn and colored but the scene was like something from a nightmare. A man lay face down on a field, his back pierced with swords, blood staining the ground around him. In the background a yellow sky with black clouds seemed to complete the ominous picture and at the top was a simple X.

“What is it Poll?” She asked quietly.

“The Ten of Swords. From a fortune teller's deck. It means revenge. One of the Lee brothers hasn't accepted the truce we made after you were taken.”

“What do you mean?”

“What she means, you stupid whore, is that whoever left this won't stop until Tommy's dead, as vengeance for the men he had to fucking kill to get you back doesn't it?” Arthur snarled at her. “It means that they beat him near to death and put a fucking bullet in him on account of your posh cunt doesn't it?”

“Arthur!” Polly's voice was as hard as steel. “Tommy makes his own choices. There's no call to threaten Eleanor for things she can't control.”

“He needs a doctor.” Eleanor said again quietly.

Arthur whirled back to her. “Haven't you done enough yet? If we call a doctor to this house it will be as good as telling the Lees where he is and that there's a job they need to finish and fast before he recovers. Do you want them to come in here with the full force of all their family to gun him down? Is that what you fucking want?”

To hers, as much as anyone else's surprise , what came back was an answering shout. “Do you want him to bleed to death slowly here on your coffee table?” She snapped. “He's breathing now but he won't be for long if someone doesn't see to him! You can't simply ignore the fact that he needs tending because it isn't convenient! He's your fucking brother!”

Quick as a snake Arthur grabbed her by the wrist, hauling her to him so they were almost nose to nose. “If you ever raise your voice to me you...”

She didn't wait to hear what he had to say, wrenching her arm back from him with all her force. His grip didn't break but he clearly wasn't expecting her to fight back because he stumbled forward for a moment so it almost seemed as if it were she who was staring him down suddenly. “I am telling you that I am taking Tommy to a doctor Arthur. I'm not asking.”

His free hand went to her throat. “You fucking...”

“Stop it both of you!” Polly voice was like a thunderclap. She put her hands on each of their arms to keep them from each other. Slowly Arthur let go of her throat, then her wrist, letting it drop between them like a gauntlet. Both turned to the older woman. “We don't have fucking time for this. We have to think this through fucking logically, like Tommy would.”

She pushed them back from each other and both obeyed, Eleanor going back to kneel by Tommy's side, Arthur stepping back to the sideboard and pouring himself a whiskey. Polly lit a cigarette and considered the man on the coffee table. She took a few long drags, contemplating him and their conundrum. “He needs to get out of the city.” She said finally. “You said the Lees thought he was dead. Well let them continue to think so for now. It'll give us time to think, time to act. He can go to a doctor wherever he goes as well.” She nodded to Eleanor.

Arthur nodded. “We can put him on a boat and send him down the cut to London. I'll take him myself tonight.”

Poll shook her head. “The gypsies on the waterways are all more than half Lees themselves, we can't be sure who ever agrees to take you won't send word of where you're dropped and that Tommy is alive. We'll send him to London by car. Alfie Solomons can hide him easily enough for a few weeks somewhere in Camden.”

“You want to trust a fucking Jew with him? Solomons is alright as long as he's protecting his interest but it's not likely to go over his head that having Tommy weak enough to kill is a rare fine fucking opportunity for him.”

“It's a better bet than the waterways. Solomons has enough patience for the long game and we're in deep with the Camden Jews. He'll understand that it's in his best interest long term to keep him safe... what a debt we'll owe him afterward.”

“I can take him out of Birmingham.” Eleanor said.

“You want to put Tommy in debt to that fucking motherless bastard?”

“I can take him out of Birmingham.”

“Better to be alive and breathing in debt then fucking finished off at the bottom of some canal.”

“I can take him out of fucking Birmingham!” Eleanor almost shouted it this time.

Both looked down at her where she knelt, one hand fisted tightly in the fabric of Tommy's trousers as if she were holding onto it for dear life. “What do you mean?” Poll asked.

“I can take him somewhere safe. Somewhere no one will think to look for him.”

“Where's that then?”

She swallowed, trembling. “It's better if I don't say right?” She said, glancing between the two of them. “It's better if no one knows where he's gone, not even you, who could find him? Put him in the back of the car and I'll drive out of Birmingham tonight and where he'll go... I can make sure that he's taken care of, that a doctor sees him first thing when he arrives.”

“No fucking way.” Arthur said. “No fucking way I'm trusting the life of my brother to a fucking posh London, gadjie cunt!”

Poll considered for a long moment. “Alright then.”

“Fuck Poll surely you're not stupid enough to consider that!”

“She's got a good fucking point Arthur. If you or I were to take him someone would suspect he was still alive and go looking for him. No one will notice that she's left and if they do they'll assume she ran off back to London somewhere to cower with her family. They'll not think she bloody took him with her.”

“Poll she's a fucking outsider! What the fuck does she know about the family fucking business!”

“Arthur it's his best chance.” Polly said quietly.

“Fuck!” Arthur swore. He lit a cigarette and considered the girl kneeling beside his brother. He pointed at her with the hand that held the cigarette. “You'd better know what you're doing girl. There are fucking consequences to the game you're playing now.”

“I think she fucking knows that Arthur.” Poll said sharply. “She's had a fucking gun to her head already hasn't she and she hasn't left our Thomas yet. She's not fucking asking to take him because it's the easiest thing for her to do. If she really did run back to London that would be the sensible thing to do wouldn't it?”

Eleanor stood and brushed off her skirt. “I'll leave directly then. I'll take all the petrol that can fit in the trunk if you have it. It's a long drive and I don't fancy looking for a petrol station along the way with a bleeding man in the back if I don't have to.”

Arthur helped the other men put Tommy in the back of the car and cover him with a blanket while Poll made her some quick sandwiches and a thermos of coffee. Eleanor tied up her hair in a scarf to keep out the wind and put on her coat and gloves. She got into the drivers seat and turned the ignition. The engine turned over with a roar that seemed far too loud in the still night air. Her heart was pounding in her chest as Poll came and put the sandwiches in the seat beside her. From the pocket of her housecoat the other woman took out a pistol and showed it to Eleanor before she folded it into a handkerchief and put it in the glove-box. “Just in case.” She said. Eleanor nodded, her heart hammering.

Polly came around to the other side of the car and leaned in through the window. She kissed her on both cheeks and held her face for a moment. “Don't send word. And don't let him come back before he's recovered.”

Eleanor nodded. “I will try.” She said with a wan smile.

Arthur opened the garage door for her and she shifted the car into first gear, easing out onto the deserted street. The fog was so thick coming off the cut that she was barely able to go faster than a walking pace, the headlights of the car illuminating only a few feet ahead. The gray world outside looked underwater and she felt as lonely as she ever had before in her life. The only sound that seemed to exist in the world was the labored breathing behind her.

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor drove all night. She stopped once to consult the map from the glove box and drink the thermos of coffee Polly had sent with her (the sandwiches she had no appetite for). She kept off the main roads and so she mostly saw no one as she drove through the country lanes. Once she was out of the city the fog cleared and seemed to be driving through the very blackness of the sky itself, only the little dots of light from the stars and the occasional house marring the dark tapestry before her. The headlights of the car spread out in front of her like two little flickering beams in the picture show, flashing forth a monotonous movie of dark trees and country hedges.

Once she saw a deer in the road that froze for a moment in her path before bounding off. As dawn rose there were a few farmers on the road, perhaps taking a load of produce to town or to some local market. Both waved hello to her as she passed, surprised to find a motorist on the road so early she was sure. The sun was just beginning to really rise, the gray light reflected by the clouds giving way to the true glowing warmth of the sun when she made the last familiar turn.

There was a break in the long row of hedges and at the corner of the road was a massive stone carved in the style of an Egyptian obelisk, nearly twice as tall as a large man. Eleanor's father, much to the despair of Eleanor's mother, had commissioned it after they had returned from a trip to Egypt where he had fallen quite in love with the history of the pharaohs. He had even gone so far as to commission an specialist on Egypt in London to translate the family motto (armé de foi hardi) into ancient runes which were what was carved into the side of it. Or so he said at least, no one in the family had bothered to double check the mans work. It was her father's pride and joy and the horror of the rest of the family.

Still, Eleanor wasn't sure that she had ever been so glad to see anything in her life as she was then.

She turned the car up the winding country road that led to her family estate. The hedges turned and the road dropped and finally they rattled over the top of a charming little stone bridge built in the roman era (or so her father claimed to anyone who would listen) and finally the hedges fell away so she could see their destination at last.

The house was built in the classic Carolean style with a long facade and tall, square windows in every room that marked it clearly as having been built before the advent of electricity. The wide lawn leading up to it had a broad circular driveway that led up to the grand steps leading to the entrance way and contrasted with the severe, rectangular appearance of the house itself.

She pulled the car up to the front steps, rather than passing through the gate underneath the clock tower where the family rooms were kept. She could see that her parent's window was still closed, meaning that her mother at least was not awake. She had clearly been spotted coming up the driveway however because a young man was coming up the drive from the stable quickly to greet her.

She got out and came around the side of the car just as he reached it. “Hello Miss can I... Oh Miss Eleanor!” He said in surprise.

She recognized him as one of the grooms, the son of one of the gardeners. “Hello Eddie, I'm glad to see you're up. I've brought a friend with me from Birmingham whose quite sick. I'll need your help to get him into the house at once. Could you fetch one of the other lads to help as well? Bring a sheet to carry him on, like a stretcher.”

The young man's look of surprise lasted only a moment before he nodded and disappeared into the house. Eleanor opened the backdoor of the car and pulled the blanket down off of Tommy's face. He was still unconscious, the firm lines of his face unusually lax. “You're alright now Tommy, you're alright.” She whispered to him, hoping it was true.

The lad came back rather quickly, carrying a sheet and with a friend. She stepped aside and Eddie almost recoiled from the sight in the backseat. “He's been beaten miss.”

“Yes.” She said. “Careful with him now, his ribs are likely broken.”

She had them lay out the blanket on the rough white gravel of the driveway and then carefully pull Tommy out of the car and onto it. The two men hoisted him at the two corners and Eleanor walked beside the makeshift stretcher as they mounted the steps. She reached into the little basket the blanket made and found Tommy's hand, slipping hers into it.

“Where are we going Miss?”

“We'll take him to Gabriel's room.” She said firmly. It was the closest bedroom and had a descent fireplace if he took a chill.

They turned left out of the grand entrance way and walked toward the family suite of bedrooms. They found the room, facing the garden and laid Tommy carefully in the large, ornately carved fourposter. “One of you start a fire and wake up Martha if she isn't up already. Tell her to bring some hot water, washcloths and bandages. The other can go for Doctor Reynolds. Take the car in the drive and fetch him directly, don't stop for anything.”

“Yes Miss.”

She sat on the bed beside him and ran a hand over his forehead. The normally neat, slicked-back hair had fallen forward, stuck to his forehead with dirt and dried blood. She pushed it back from his eyes and cupped the strong jaw with one hand. Heedless of the other man in the room she leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his brow.

Time seemed to accelerate around Eleanor and all she could focus on was Tommy's face. Martha came in with a girl who nearly fainted at the sight of him. The housekeeper though was made of sterner stuff and she asked no questions as she set the girl to boiling more water. They had fetched up hot water from the kitchens and Martha herself helped Eleanor wipe the blood and dirt away from Tommy's face. She helped her strip him of his clothes as well. They cut off the expensive stylish suit, now ruined beyond all repair. They redressed him in some of Gabriel's smallclothes. Tommy was rather taller than her brother had been but the pants fit alright. Martha helped her pull the sheet over him and arrange him on the pillows.

“I'll bring you some breakfast Miss then shall I? While you wait for the doctor.” She said, though it wasn't really a question and when Eleanor didn't answer she stepped out of the room and disappeared. Eleanor sat, holding Tommy's hand and for the first time in a long time, she slid down off the bed and knelt. She went to church mostly out of habit, because it was expected but she hadn't prayed since Gabriel had died. She clasped her hands together in front of her and struggled to remember the words of some useful prayer.

Mary, she decided. The sympathy and grace of another woman, was what she needed now. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners...

“Ellie?” Her mother's voice at the door made her raise her head. Patricia Granthorne Arden stood in the doorway, one hand still tying the sash of her housecoat and looking sleepy. She was a tall woman, in her mid-fifties with warm, kind eyes and a well-preserved figure. “Ellie is that you? Martha had said you had come but she wasn't...” She stepped forward into the room and then stumbled back, almost as if she'd seen a ghost when she saw the man in the bed.

Eleanor knew who she thought the dark-haired man in her son's bed had been for just a moment. Her mother had seen Gabriel's body of course, buried him too, but Eleanor sometimes thought she saw her brothers face in strangers passing on the street, heard his voice sometimes in crowded rooms and turned, startled and heart leaping in hope for just a moment. She knew how the mind could forget what it didn't wish to remember. She stood, looking for all the world like some guardian angel hovering over the sickbed. “Mother, this is Thomas Shelby.”

 

Chapter Text

Tommy woke in the dimness of the room knowing he had been sick for some time. His body felt weak, the usual strength of his limbs and faculties was diminished. If he lay completely still, he could almost imagine he was hale and whole but any exertion made his muscles and bruises scream in protest. Even a deep inhalation felt like work, pain. He must have been unconscious for some time and he could tell a fever had broken recently from the aching, pounding feeling in his head.

The room was unfamiliar, both in general features and in specifics. He had not been in this room, nor in one quite like it before. It was clearly a man's bedroom, all dark oak and colors, but through it was threaded a feminine influence that could not be denied: a little bit of lace peaking over the edge of the writing desk, fresh new curtains at the window and the warm smell of orange blossoms and rose. And she had been here recently. The smell of her perfume, soap and the little subtle hint of musk beneath that was wholly and uniquely her own told him that in a trice.

Ignoring his aching limbs he stood and went to the dresser. His body had been washed recently but he still had a sheen of sweat about him, a remnant of the fever that still had not broken entirely. Someone had shaved his face while he was unconscious for he had no more than a day's growth of stubble on his cheeks. The quiff had grown out a bit but still looked acceptable overall.

He opened the door of the dresser and surveyed the suits within. All were of very good quality but five or more years out of style and he could tell at a glance a bit short for him but he didn't have much choice. He stripped out of the damp shirt and breaches he was wearing and dressed himself in a dark gray suit. As he had suspected the suit exposed wrists and ankles, but of fine quality and he didn't mind it too much. He didn't bother with the tie, nor with any of the drurys, chathams or skimmers in the dresser. Instead he took some pomade, almost dry beyond use, and slicked his hair back. His left hand was still swollen from where he had struck bone time and time again and protested as he raked back his locks. His own wallet, watch, rings and cufflink were laid out on the top of the dresser carefully as were his cigarettes, lighter and comb. The ring that had been on his left hand had been cut away, probably due to the swelling but he put the ones from the right back on and arranged the rest of his accouterments in their normal places. He counted the number of cigarettes and regretted that he hadn't bought a fresh pack. From the floor to ceiling windows that ran one side of the room all he could see was rolling hills for miles. No where that looked ready to sell a Birmingham boy a pack of smokes.

Thus dressed he pushed open the door of the room and made his way along the corridor, following the sound of noise and voices. The scene of the patio and the meadow and pasture beyond appeared to him as if at the end of a tunnel. The dimness of the hall opened onto an English summer day the likes of which could not be surpassed.

Tommy recognized the sensation that rose in his chest as he moved towards it: like coming out of the tunnels in France it felt. The miraculous lifting of the claustrophobia, crushing dark and pressure that had seemed to consume him moved, almost too suddenly, into a tableau of normalcy. The threat of death, pain, suffering lifted so quickly it was as if the lack of pressure itself was an almost physical pain. He had heard of a strange disease that afflicted me when undertook diving bells if they ascended too quickly to the surface, a horrible affliction that ripped joints apart and could kill an uncareful man.

He felt as if his joints and body might be ripped asunder as he stepped out into the brilliant summer day beyond the patio. His eyes felt unused to the brightness of day and he had to raise a hand for a moment to shield them as he looked out.

When his sight had finally adjusted what it took in felt strange somehow, so idyllic that it looked almost as if it were a scene from the pictures but rendered in color so saturated it hurt his eyes. The garden was a classic style, hedges and flower beds laid out geometrically around a central fountain with wide paths to walk in between. Out on one triangle of the lawn had been laid a table with a crisp white tablecloth and a fine tea-spread laid out. An older woman dressed in a brilliant white dress and wide summer hat sat at the table and on the lawn two children, a boy and a girl who looked to be about ten, were playing a game of horseshoes. Perhaps it was the linger effects of his fever but there was something about the scene that was dreamlike to him, the green of the grass too green, the white of her dress and table too white to be believed.

The woman was facing away from him but the children noticed him right away as he stepped out. The girl pointed over the woman's shoulder. “He's awake!” She cried out. “Nana, he's awake!”

The woman turned over her shoulder and Tommy could tell, even from the distance, that this was Eleanor's mother. The lines of her face had been softened somewhat in her daughter, the chin rounder and the lips fuller but the heart shaped face, pointed chin and wide blue eyes were unmistakable. She smiled at Tommy and he thought she'd given that expression to her daughter too—the unabashed look of joy. The Countess of Carnebrook waved, “oh hello Mr. Shelby!” She called. “You've come around! What a pleasant surprise! Do come sit down at once and take some tea!”

Feeling as if he might still be dreaming, Tommy crossed the lawn to the table. He moved rather more slowly than he might but he didn't allow himself to limp or show any sign that his ribs and body hurt with every step. He bowed and she nodded her head in acknowledgment, though a little smile twisted her lips. She clearly hadn't expected him to make the courtesy. He pulled out the chair she indicated and lowered himself into it carefully.

She turned over the teacup in front of him and poured him a cup from the pot. “I would offer you something to eat but Ellie and the doctor both said we should be careful what we feed you when you woke up and not to let you eat much of anything or you'll be sick. I know that sounds rather madness, surely we should feed you up after you've had nothing for days but they were both ever so insistent. Ellie said it could do you real damage to eat too much too soon, they were both so insistent.” She said, then glanced sadly at the sandwiches that were laid out on the table. “I wouldn't have put these out if I'd known you were going to join us of course Mr. Shelby. I could have some broth brought as well though, for you to take with your tea if you like.”

So Eleanor had told her family his name. By her expression though it didn't seem to mean much to her. Why would she have any reason to know the name of a Birmingham gangster though, after all. Except... except he would have investigated any man his own daughter brought to his door, known everything about him before the sun set, even if he hadn't been brought in unconscious and beaten.

“Think nothing of it Lady Arden.” His voice was rough with so many days of disuse.

“You would like some broth then?”

“Just the tea for now I think.”

“Ellie will be so glad you're awake when she wakes up Mr. Shelby, but so sorry that she wasn't there when you did. She's been hardly out of that room for days now and it took quite a bit of convincing by the doctor that you were surely out of the woods for her agree to take some rest. He had to threaten her with a sedative.”

Tommy said nothing to that. His mind recoiled from the invitation to imagine her sitting by his bedside. It wasn't so much that she'd been put to trouble for him. He thought nothing of tying her to the bed for an hour or more for the pleasure of seeing her exposed, or for having her kneel at his feet, mouth on his cock while he balanced the book at the end of the day. An easy silence descended over them in those vulnerable, intimate moments, blocking out the rest of the world. The idea of her worried, scared, and him unable to soothe her was abhorrent. The doctor had to threaten her with a sedative.

It was easy to take what he wanted when he was able to give her what she desired in return. He should have been there for her. He knew he was able to settle her if he put his mind to it: a word, a caress, the right amount of his body against hers and she just went fucking limp. At the bar the night that Billy Kimber had offered him money to fuck her she'd trembled, then gentled under his touch like a nervous filly. All she would have needed was for him to take her by the hip and run a thumb over her cheek, put her on her knees for a moment or give her a command and she would have felt better.

“How many days have I been here?”

“Today is the fifth day. Your fever broke just last night though.”

“And where am I exactly, if you don't mind me asking?”

“Oh yes of course not! I should have explained straight away. I'd forgotten you probably didn't remember being driven up from Birmingham. You're at Belton House, our country home in county Kent. The nearest town is Maidstone but we're almost fifty miles from that. There's a village nearby called Greenhithe that isn't too far however and there are a few houses in the neighborhood as well of course. My husband Charles has gone over to see the Guston's just this afternoon to see about a litter of pups his hunting hound has just had.”

“I see.”

“He'll be back this afternoon though if you're worried about lacking male companionship. Ellie says you've lived in Birmingham you're whole life so you might find the countryside a little bit boring I'm afraid. We've grown used to it of course but I dare say it's not as exciting as the city.”

Tommy didn't get the sense that the woman was daft, nor blind to what he was. The healing cuts on his knuckles, the cut on one cheek gave away what had brought him to the house. Even if she'd only seen his face and not the kicked-in ribs when he had arrived at her doorstep eight days ago surely even the gentlest bred lady in the country could have understood that someone had tried to kill him with their fists firsts, then a gun.

Why then she was treating him as if he were one of Eleanor's school friends come up to visit the countryside on the holidays? He considered for a moment before finally concluding that she simply didn't have any other choice. There was nothing in her social repertoire that was suited for sitting down to tea with the gangster who was fucking her daughter. Neither she nor the generations of well-bred ladies before her had ever conceived of what etiquette might be suitable for that and so she'd adapted the nearest thing she thought might be a suitable approximation.

If anything Tommy was impressed with her stoicism. She genuinely did not appear to be put off by having to make conversation with him. Rather the contrary, she looked almost eager for him to make some sign that he was enjoying the tea, the weather, the countryside. Perhaps the unusual boldness was another trait her daughter had inherited.

“I'm sure the countryside has much to offer Lady Arden.”

“We certainly like to think so. Do you like hunting Mr. Shelby? Or perhaps fishing? Charles keeps the lake stocked and he's always ready for a gambol to shoot some quail if anyone can be persuaded to get up with him so early in the morning. Ellie says you work with horses, do you ride as well?”

“I can ride a horse, yes. I've never been hunting or fishing though.”

“Perhaps fishing then. It looks rather easy from what I've seen.”

Tommy didn't know if he could hoist a shotgun to his shoulder just then, his arms felt weak and he would dread the recoil of it against his ribs. “Perhaps fishing then.” He agreed.

The two children had finished their game of horseshoes and wandered back to the table. The girl came quickly but the boy held back a little shyly to approach the stranger. She was a pretty little thing with blond hair and dressed in white as well with a wide blue sash about her waist. She came on stockinged feet that had taken the grass stains rather magnificently as she seemed to have lost her shoes at some point, no doubt slipped off covertly as they hindered her running about. She stood almost at Tommy's elbow, regarding him with real curiosity.

“Annabelle, Micheal, this is Mr. Shelby. He's the man that Eleanor has been tending in the front bedroom.”

The boy bowed and the girl curtsied. Tommy inclined his head in acknowledgment.

“Are you a pirate then?” Annabelle asked after a moment of consideration. She had her head cocked onto one hand, staring up at him with the unabashed interest of a child with a new toy to consider. “I've been reading Treasure Island and you look like one of the men of the Hispaniola if only you had a gold tooth or an earring.”

“No, not a pirate. I'm a gypsy.” Tommy replied.

“What is a gypsy?” The boy asked.

“We're God's chosen, blessed with a second sight and a special magic.”

“What kind of magic?” The girl pipped up.

“Power over animals... fortune telling... and the ability to see who has a special gift hidden about their person.” With one hand he covered the girl's, barely the size of his palm her fist was, to distract her while with the other he slipped a hand behind her ear, producing a pound coin that he had palmed from his pocket and brought in front of her face. “You for example, Princess, had this little treasure behind your ear the whole time.”

The girl gasped at him, batting at both her ears with her free hand, looking for another coin. “I never!” She whispered. “I washed behind them just this morning!”

“Have I got any special gifts about me?” The boy asked, face turned up to Tommy with real anticipation.

Tommy pretended to examine him for a moment from top to toe. “Yours I think is a subtler magic. I shall have to do a test to be sure. Hold out your hand boy.” Obediently the boy put out his hand and Tommy covered it with his. “Now imagine what you want appearing before your very eyes.”

He tapped twice on the hand, once on the head, another on each shoulder and then when the boy was watching his free hand, slipped in the second pound coin into the boy's closed fist. “Now open your fist and see how strong your magic is.”

The boy squealed with delight as he saw what was contained. “Bellie look what I've made!” He said.

The girl was too busy thought tapping the pockets of her white dress and checking behind her knees and elbows for coins to pay her brother any mind. Tommy looked up and met the mother's eyes. Her expression was unreadable. “It would seem that you have a knack for making friends with my children and grandchildren Mr. Shelby.”

Tommy returned her gaze with his habitual cool stare. “So it seems.”

“Ellie always had trouble making friends. She isn't shy in the usual sense of the word but there is something in her that resists what she feels is the scrutiny of the world.” She spoke in the same cheery tone she'd used to discuss the prospect of fishing with her husband but her eyes were suddenly slightly sharper, as if she was paying much more attention to his response.

“She is her own woman Lady Arden, that can never be taken from her.” He said evenly. And he should know. He had seen her knelt before the end of a pistol, had himself beaten her until she cried plenty of times, pushed her to her knees and choked her on his cock, spread her legs and licked her pussy until she was wild and yet... he had never seen her reduced. Debased, debauched, unbalanced and unhinged he'd seen her more times than he had count but nothing had come close to quenching the burning flame at the core of her.

“Not even by you?” She asked lightly.

“Particularly not by me.”

The incandescence of her was what made him want to try to tame her. She submitted easily, wanting to give him what he wanted, but it was the juxtaposition of that with her own inherent will that drove him wild. It wasn't just the fact that she knelt when he told her, took him when he told her, stripped when he told her. It was the fact that she remained who she was throughout. It would have been easy enough to pay a prostitute to endure what she had, spankings and all. Easy, but unsatisfying. He needed to know that she took the choice of her own free will. Eleanor Arden could have walked away from him at any time. There was nothing holding her to the sexual games he dreamed up for them in the bedroom on top of the betting parlor. He wanted her to submit but most of all he wanted her to chose to submit.

Somehow that had never been more clear to him then now, taking tea with her mother.

The little ones, bored with this grown-up talk, returned to their game.

Lady Arden smiled wider at that, almost as if she was pleased with his answer. She pour a little more tea into his cup, though ti was practically overflowing and then sat back on the wicker chair. Nearly in her fifties she was a spry, lively thing, still with a good figure and complexion despite the years. She cupped her jaw in one hand and considered him for a long moment before saying. “I'm glad you are recovering well Mr. Shelby.”

“I shall be gone as soon as I am able Lady Arden.”

But he must have mistook her meaning. “Oh I hope not Mr. Shelby!” She cried, sounding truly distressed at the idea. “You've only just arrived after all and I'm so happy that you've got Ellie to come visit for a moment. Don't take her away from us again sir, I beg you.”

He frowned. “Eleanor... Miss Arden, doesn't visit often?”

Lady Arden's brow furrowed. “Mr. Shelby, she hadn't been here in more than two years. Did she not tell you? I rather thought she might never consent to set foot on these grounds again. You don't know what a happy occasion her return is for us.” She seemed to relent at that, embarrassed, because she changed the subject immediately. “You must be quite tired Mr. Shelby, I should have one of the girls take you back to your room for some broth. We mustn't tire you out so.”

“I think the sunlight and the conversation are doing me more good than any broth Lady Arden.” He said honestly.

The older woman smiled. “Oh you shall like my husband, or rather he shall like you with that attitude. Charles thinks there's nothing fresh air and a good attitude can't cure.”

“It sounds like he tries to keep active.”

“Oh yes he does.”

“Do you ride often Mr. Shelby?”

“There is not much opportunity in the city.”

“No I would rather imagine not.”

They were saved from the conversation, which was obviously growing rather thin, by a shout from the steps of the house. “Tommy!” Eleanor was running almost pell-mell across the lawn toward them.

“Eleanor, there's no cause to run in such an un...” Her mother began but broke off.

Tommy stood and Eleanor crashed into his arms, only remembering at the very last moment to be mindful of his broken ribs. Her fingers fluttered over his face, his shoulders, arms, torso. “Tommy you're awake!” She was crying. “Oh my God when I didn't find you in Gabriel's bedroom I thought...”

He pulled her to him and let her cry into his collar. He stroked the back of her head, trying not to imagine the expression on her mother's face behind him at such a scene. “I'm fine, sweetheart, just fine.” He murmured, knowing that her mother could hear him but deciding he didn't care. “I'll fix it all, I swear.” He let her sob for a while against his shoulder but when she quieted down he tipped her chin back to meet her gaze. “I will take care of it all Eleanor, I promise.”

She nodded weakly, tears still trickling. But she let him wipe them away and more didn't come. They turned to face her mother who was looking decidedly in a different direction. The twins on the other hand had come over, interested in the unusual goings-on.

“Eleanor, perhaps you'd like a cup of tea.” Her mother said very gently.

Eleanor allowed Tommy to guide her into the chair closest to him by the hand on her hip. She didn't let go of his hand though and he decided to let her continue to hold it. He liked the soft, reassuring feeling of it in his larger one. And her mother seemed determined not to notice so what was the harm.

“Ellie why are you crying?” Anabella asked.

Lady Arden supplied the answer as she poured out tea for her daughter. “She's not crying dear. She's only happy to see her friend had recovered from his illness enough to join us.”

“She is crying though, Nana. Can people cry when they're happy?”

“I was only scared Anabella when I didn't find him in his room. But yes I'm very happy to see Tommy.”

“Why were you scared?”

“I was just telling Mr. Shelby about all the delightful diversions of the country.” Lady Arden cut in to end this line of questioning. “I think he'll find all we have to offer most engaging and pleasant. Your father can take him fishing and I hear he rides as well. I'm not sure he should be trusted on one of the horses just yet but once he's feeling in fit form I'm sure he'd love to try that new mare your father bought just last summer.”

Eleanor swallowed. “I'm not sure that Tommy will be staying long enough to enjoy all of that.”

“Oh don't be ridiculous, he'll need weeks here to recover!” She said.

Eleanor looked at him. He considered. “I'll leave tomorrow, the day after at the latest.”

The wince from Eleanor did not escape him though it was her mother who spoke. “Don't be ridiculous Mr. Shelby! You cannot make the drive back to Birmingham in the condition you are in. I really must insist that you stay, I would be mortified to send you away like this!”

“I'm afraid I haven't got a choice Lady Arden. The businesses I run, I cannot be away from them for more time than I already have been.”

“But Eleanor says you have brothers, a family that manages the business with you. Surely one of them can be trusted to take over in your absence.”

He shook his head. “I cannot lay the burden on them for more days then I have.”

Arthur and Poll were fine enough at the day-to-day stuff but if there was to be all-out war with the Lees (and he did not doubt that there would be), he would need to be back in Birmingham for it. He couldn't ask either of them to shoulder that burden.

She considered. “Well you must stay for tomorrow at least. The Smythes are having a little get-together at their place. It's a rather informal party I think but the whole neighborhood has been looking forward to it for months. You'll be needed to escort Ellie.” She said firmly.

“I can stay for a day, no more than that.”

“Terrible of you to come and go so suddenly Mr. Shelby. Never mind that you are so ill but it is rather terrible manners, if you don't mind me saying so. You shall have to make it up to us by coming back when you can and staying for at least a few weeks.”

“If you will have me, Lady Arden, I will come when I can.”

“And you will bring Ellie with you?”

“Eleanor won't be returning with me to Birmingham.”

Lady Arden seemed surprised, for the first time in the conversation, unsure of herself. “No?”

“No.” Tommy said firmly.

“Is that true Ellie?”
The girl shook her head, looking as if she might cry again. But she pushed back the tears. “Yes.” Lady Arden let the matter resolve there, sipping her own tea and looking away from her daughter, giving her time to regain herself.

When Eleanor had drunk her tea she said. “I'd like to show Tommy your rose garden if that's alright with you mama. I'm sure he'll love to see it.”

Tommy got the idea that this was rather a diplomatic strategy for Lady Arden beamed at the thought of it. “Well it's nothing extravagant of course but I am a little proud of my blooms this year, I admit. If you insist dear. Only don't tire him out whatever you do! He's only just recovering you know.”

“I'll be careful.” Her daughter promised.

She led him farther back into the garden and away from the house and it didn't take a man of Tommy's cunning to guess why she had picked the rose garden to choose to show him. They walked through a little maze of hedges that rose high enough to divide them from sight of the house and the main lawn. Almost as soon as they were around the first corner she turned and was in his arms again. She tilted her head up for a kiss and he didn't deny her. He leaned down and kissed her thoroughly, dragging that warm, familiar little body against his aching frame. Her head fell back and her lips parted, inviting him in and he took all that she offered. She tasted as sweet as he remembered and he felt as if he were drinking for the first time fresh cool water after weeks of thirst.

She was breathless when he finally broke this kiss. “I can't believe you're awake Tommy, I can't believe you're really awake. Jesus I was so afraid that you would... that is that something would happen.” She was babbling.

But he had more practical matters on his mind. “How did I get here Eleanor?”

Her face went pale at that. “They found you Tommy, shot in one of the warehouses. Dr. Reynolds said the bullet missed your spleen by less than a finger's breath.” She shivered at the thought.

“I remember that part.”

“Arthur fetched me from the convent and brought me to Watery Lane when they realized you were missing so I was there when they brought you in.” She shivered in his arms at the memory of it.

“Eleanor,” his voice was low, like the grinding of two rocks together. “How did I end up here?”

“Arthur wanted to send you up river with the gypsies and Polly wanted to send you to London with the Jews but I said that I'd just take you somewhere where no one would think to look for you at all.” She explained. “We put you in a car and I drove you here. With the Lees thinking you're dead, Polly and Arthur and Ada and the others won't be in danger until you get back.”

“Jesus Christ. I'm going to kill Poll. Arthur hasn't got enough sense to know better but she does. Sending me to recover at your parents country house. What the fuck was she thinking?”

“It was my idea.” She said.

“Of course it fucking was your idea. Poll should know better though.”

“You'll get no apology from me.”

Her mouth, normally all soft, pliable, welcoming warmth, firmed into a little intransigent line. This, it seemed, was not a topic on which she welcomed his usual dominance over her. Fair enough, he thought. An apology he could do without but he intended to show her the full extent of the frustration he felt when he thought of what could have happened to her.

What did she think he meant all those time he'd fucked her when he'd pulled her head back as he came? You are mine, Eleanor. He'd bitten back the words he really wanted to say, I love you, Eleanor, replacing them with something she wanted to hear. Poll had been right, curse her. What was the fucking difference between love and ownership? A gypsy woman would have known, seen it in her tea leaves if not in his eyes or the way he couldn't help but linger in her for a long moment once he was spent, holding her against him and listening to her breath. The countess, for all her charms and intelligence, might never fathom it. What in her life would account for a man who bent her over his desk to show her what she meant to him.

“No need for one sweetheart.” He assured her, taking a deep drag and taking the smoke all the way into his lungs. “When we get back to Birmingham I'll beat your ass every night for a week for it whether you say the words or not.”

He could see the effect it had on her. Even after all that happened, the little flush across her cheeks, the racing pulse, the slight dilation in her eyes. And then a sly little smile broke out over the corner of one lip and the tears broke into a unhinged little giggle. “Is that a promise Thomas Shelby?”

His glaring expression slipped, despite his best effort, letting out a rare genuine smile. “Christ and all his saints, Eleanor, we're in your mother's rose garden and you're talking like that?”

She laughed. “Oh we're not in the rose garden yet, but come, it is actually rather nice.”

She took his hand and led him forward into a little field of blooms. A little maze of roses of every color and description led to a single fountain. She led him to the fountain and sat down on the edge of it.

He could tell he'd lost a lot of blood from the wound. Just the short walk from the garden had left him out of breath and lightheaded. He leaned back and took a drag, closing his eyes against the sudden vertigo. “It was a mistake to bring me here Eleanor. Whatever you do to justify it to yourself, it was a mistake.”

“Why?”

He didn't answer though. What was he supposed to say to that? That her parents were never likely to have taken to him anyway but now she'd only gone and made damn sure they knew exactly the kind of violent, dangerous man she was fucking. He'd never really imagined he would meet Eleanor's parents at all but if he had, arriving on their doorstep unconscious from a beating was certainly not the way he would have chosen for it to happen. It was bad enough having her involved, having her posh family brought into the mix was too much for his Birmingham pride to take.

There was nothing to do about it now of course and Tommy wasn't a man to dwell overmuch on things he couldn't change. But he'd make sure that from now on he had a tight enough leash on his dealings with the gypsy clans and other business rivals that he was damn sure it didn't spill over onto her family.

“Well, I wouldn't do it again if I had to.” She said finally.

“You won't have to. I should never have struck a truce with the Lees after you were taken. It's not a mistake I'll make twice.”

“It was the safest thing for you Tommy.”

“Not exactly the safest thing for you though was it, eh, sweetheart?”

“Why shouldn't I come here though, bring you with me? This is the exact reason you never told anyone I was a countess after all, isn't it?” She said, almost an accusation. She pressed her lips together and he was surprised to find that her normally warm blue eyes could get so cold.

He said nothing.

“Well? Isn't it?” Her voice was a little hysterical. “All these months I thought it was strange that you never told anyone my title. I would have thought that you would have wanted everyone to know that not only was the girl you were fucking wasn't just posh but nobility to boot, daughter of an Earl. But no one at all seemed to know...not even Poll or Ada. And I never understood why until I thought to bring you here.”

He said nothing.

“You wanted everyone to keep thinking I was from London. Just the daughter of some merchant with money. So that I'd always have a place to run to if things ever got out of control: back to the countryside estate with mummy and daddy, a place no one in Birmingham even knew existed.”

“Well, I didn't fucking think you'd take me with you. Did I, eh?” His voice was low and dangerous, as close as he ever got to shouting.

She met his eyes though without flinching. “I would not have left without you Thomas.”

He fished his cigarettes out of his vest pocket and lit one. “Do you know what could have happened to you if someone had caught you coming out of London with me in the backseat? The police, or worse the Lees?” He asked softly. “Do you have any idea what could have happened to you?”

“But I wasn't.”

Unable to help himself he found that his finger clenched tight on her hand, all he could to to keep himself from taking her by the throat, shaking her by the shoulders, bending her over the side of the fountain and beating her until she was sobbing, swearing not to risk herself for him again. Didn't she know he wasn't worth it? What could he do to impress it on her?

“You have no fucking idea what you are talking about.”

For the first time she let go of his hand. Slim fingers went around her neck and she undid the clasp there. She took off the silver necklace and held it out. “I can't Tommy... I can't wear this anymore. Not after what happened.”

“What happened was not your fault.” It had of course been revenge from the family of Micheal and Edward Lee for the fact that they had been killed but that too had hardly been her fault.

“I know it was related to the men who took me. Poll showed me the card they left on your chest, a fortune teller's card.” She put the necklace in his fingers with trembling hands. “I know what happened, happened because... because of me. Because of what you had to do to get me back.”

He took it but shook his head. “It doesn't work that way Eleanor.”

Her hands were shaking. “I won't... I won't be responsible for your death Thomas. I can't...”

“You cannot give back gypsy silver Eleanor. If you wear it or not, if you throw it in the Cut or keep it, that trinket around your neck or in my pocket makes no difference. I would spill blood, my own if necessary, to keep you safe.” He told her.

“Is it a curse then Thomas?”

“In a way, yes.”

She was crying in earnest then as he took the silver from her shaking hands and passed it again around her neck. But she didn't try to to stop him. “You can give it away to someone else, your children perhaps and I would give them the same protection. But there is no force that can undo the fact that I have given this to you.”

This time he offered her no comfort. He hated the sound of her crying but didn't try to muffle it. He simply sat next to her, finishing his cigarette as she mastered herself again. “If it means your death, I wish you hadn't given it to me.” She said softly, turning to him.

“I know sweetheart.” He said, giving her a soft kiss. “But I don't care.”

He didn't say what he was thinking, that the necklace really meant very little. He was glad he'd given it to her as it had saved her from trouble when she'd been taken. But the fact that he would spill blood for her had never been a matter of a physical object. The real spell had been woven in the bedroom above the betting parlor, spelled out in gasps and body fluids and strikes of his belt. She could go on believing that if he'd never lay the little silver chain about her neck things might have been different, but he knew better.

They walked back through the hedges to the lawn and found that the tea table had been cleared. “I'm afraid I promised to take the children to the pictures this afternoon before I knew you would be awake Mr. Shelby.” Lady Arden said. “Eleanor do make sure you're guest is comfortable for the afternoon. I've asked for broth and bread and a bath to be sent to your room Mr. Shelby, I'm sure you won't mind a quiet afternoon to yourself before we get back.”

“Not at all Lady Arden.”

He took some of the broth and bread. Someone, he thought perhaps Lady Arden and not Eleanor, had thought to send a bottle of whiskey as well and he poured himself a glass before getting into the steaming hot tub waiting for him in the bathroom. It was almost so hot as to be uncomfortable and he eased his stiff body into it with a wince. But lying back in the large sloping angle of the claw footed tub he felt his muscles relax a bit, the tense knot of tight flesh where he'd been shoot loosening a bit. He took a sip of the whiskey and titled his head back, letting himself enjoy the steam and warmth of the water.

He couldn't say he was surprised when he heard the bathroom door click quietly open. He opened his eyes and there she stood, the thin little summery dress swishing around her knees. Without a word she raised her hands to the shoulders, pushed them off and let it slide to the floor beneath her in a puddle. The sweet swell of her breasts under the brassiere, the little tapering of her waist and all that creamy skin, he felt himself respond despite the fatigue and

“Not a chance Eleanor.” He said. “We're in your father's house. I'd not disrespect him so.”

She stepped forward. “It doesn't matter to me.”

“It matters to me.”

“If I begged?”

“It wouldn't change my mind.”

“Can I just lie with you at least? Just for a moment? I need to feel you Tommy, please.”

The little wobble of tears was too much to resist. He relented. “Alright then.”

She stripped off her bra, stockings, slip and garter belt. At the sight of her naked body he felt himself stir slightly beneath the water as she stepped into the tub and sank down. He let her nestle herself in his arms, back against his check, head lolling back almost instantly against his shoulder. Her hand slid up one thigh toward the stiff feeling of him pressed into her buttocks.

He pinched the tender flesh of her inner thigh to make her relent. “I said, 'not a chance'.” She made a mewling sound of protest but relented. “Just lie still like a good girl Eleanor.”

She breathed against his neck. “I was so worried Tommy. I thought I would die with fear when I saw you. I thought you were dead. I thought I had lost you.” He felt a warm trickle against his collarbone and realized she was crying. He said nothing though, letting her whisper out her fears in the warm room.

God he hated when she cried. It made his already painful ribs feel far too tight.

When she ran out of things to say she simply sobbed for a while, hot tears leaking down onto his skin and mingling with the bath water. Right fucking bastard he was, wasn't he? “It's alright Eleanor, I'm here with you.” He murmured. “I'm here with you sweetheart. Right here.” He slid his hand along the soft skin of her hip, her waist, the supple curve of her ribs, curling tight around her and pulling her to him. He could feel her heart pounding beneath his palm and his own seemed to contract painfully within him.

“I don't want you to go Tommy, why can't you just stay here? Just for a little while?”

“I am here.”

“Then stay.”

“I will... for as long as I can.”

When the bathwater began to grow cold they got out. She put on her dress and he put on his trousers. He had a bit of stubble from the days of unconsciousness so he mixed a lather of shaving soap in the small bowl by the sink and she sat on the side of the tub, watching him. When he winced slightly, raising the razor to his face, the movement of lifting his arms was painful as it put strain on his bruised ribs, she came and gently took the razor from him. She guided him to sit on the side of the tub and then stood beside him. Very, very carefully she drew the razor across his cheek and wiped it across the warm towel she put around his shoulders.

She took her time sweeping the blade across his face, the corner of his jaw and neck. He leaned his head back and took another sip of whiskey, giving himself over to the pleasure of being cared for. This woman had always said she wanted to please him, had given him succor with her body more times than he could count, now slid the razor ever so gently across his upper lip, chin, the corners of his ears until his skin was as smooth newly sensitive beneath her fingers. She ran her fingers over his eyebrows, cheekbones and lips, leaning in to kiss each in turn almost like a benediction. She put her hand over his heart, little palm resting just within the regimen tattoo that rested there. She put her head against his chest, feeling his heartbeat beneath her palm for a moment. He could see her lips moving and knew she was praying.

He didn't protest, only held her arms in his larger hands. He pressed a soft kiss to the crown of her head and let himself breath in the scent of her, honey and roses and orange blossoms.

Whens he was done with the prayer she went and got a pair of clippers from the drawer of the sink and neatened up the shorter part of his quiff, grown a little long in his days of sickness, with equal care. When she was done he didn't protest when she knelt, putting her head against his thigh. He cupped her cheek, running a hand along her cheek, her neck, her collarbone gently.

They sat like that in silence, each taking pleasure and relief in the familiar posture.

I love you. The words were so clear in his mind that for a moment he thought he'd said finally them aloud.

Eventually though dusk began to creep in and he raised her back up. They dressed and went out together onto the back lawn. Eleanor rang for drinks and Tommy lit a cigarette as they waited for her mother to return from the movies.

“Eleanor, why do you not come here more often?” He asked once it was nearly full dark.

“What do you mean?”

“Your mother says you haven't been here in two years.”

She swallowed and took a drink of her whiskey as if for courage. Still her voice didn't waver whens he spoke. “My brother Gabriel died two years ago. I haven't been able to face the place since.”

“That's why you came to Birmingham.”

“Yes. I mean I spent a year in London at school to be a midwife first, then another six months in Sussex but eventually landed on Birmingham after that but it is why I left.”

“It's his room I'm sleeping in, isn't it?”

“Yes.”

“He died in France?”

“No. He fought, bravely, but lived. He died shortly after in fact. It was an accident.”

“I'm sorry Eleanor.”

“It isn't your fault.”

“It's isn't anyone's fault.”

To that she said nothing.

“Too many memories?” He asked lightly.

She sighed. “Yes and no. Obviously I don't like to be reminded of him but it's more than that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Gabe was what made this place bearable. All these people here—my mother and the Smythes, all the neighborhood dames and granddames—they all mean well but all of them want so much... so much that I just don't want to give. When they touch my arm, invite me to these parties I don't want... it feels like they're tearing me apart... tearing little pieces away from me. I want to scream.

“Gabe used to make me feel better, he knew how to make me laugh, make me see it wasn't going to overwhelm me.” She smiled almost shyly. “Now the only thing that makes it bearable is you Tommy... what we do.”

“I'm not your brother Eleanor.”

She laughed. “I certainly know that. I only mean that when you... when you tell me what you want or take what you want, let me please you or kneel with my head against your thigh I feel... restored. Like a slate wiped clean of all the things people have asked for.”

“People asking you to dinner parties feels like torture but me beating you with a belt is restorative?” He couldn't help but ask, half teasing, half interested to know the answer.

She waved her whiskey glass. “I know that doesn't make much sense.”

“Your mother seems very nice. They certainly all seem to want the best for you.”

She shrugged. “They just want things I don't want to give. I want to want to give them... I just don't.”

“And what I ask for... you want to give. Is that it?”

She took the cigarette from his fingers and took a drag. “Yes Thomas, what you ask for, I want to give”

For how long? That was the question with her. It wasn't how much she was willing to give but for how long. How long would she continue to want to play the little game they'd set up for themselves? Sometimes the betting parlor bedroom felt, in some perverse way, like the game children play of husband and wife. Within those confines they were as intimate as two people could be. He had seen her come apart into pieces from pain and joy both. She had held him within her body, his head on her lap, his chest in sleep. At first it had seemed overly private to let her see his nightmares but eventually it seemed infinitely more so to sleep peacefully in her arms. Did she make the connection between sleeping with him and the dissipation of his nightly sojourn back to the tunnels? Did she know that the only nightmares he could now remember had happened when she was taken?

When her little form was in his arms the only thing that waited for him when he closed his eyes was profound dark: a restorative silence that he hadn't known since he was a child.

He didn't think so and yet... When his door opened past midnight he wasn't surprised. She pulled back the covers and slid in beside him without a word. He opened his arms and she came to him eager, pressing little kisses to his chest as if she were nervous he might change his mind and send her away. He gathered her to his chest, settling her against him.

“Peace Elanor, just lie still sweetheart.”

 

 

TBC

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Tommy just as the gray light of dawn was starting to creep in through the window feeling a strange compulsion to be out under the open sky. He disentangled himself from Eleanor's slender limbs. In her sleep she'd clung to him, one arm across his chest and one leg thrown between his. She made a small sound of protest but didn't awaken as he carefully slid from the bed. He pulled trousers on over his naked form and opened the door. The hallway was dark the gray light beyond was bright enough that he could navigate it after giving himself a moment to adjust to the darkness.

He went out onto the back porch area and stood, looking out on the mist and the garden. A few deer were in the garden, nibbling at the grass. One looked up at him for a moment, then returned to their feeding. He lit a cigarette and watched them for a while, thinking about what he would need to do when he returned to Birmingham. It wasn't clear to him what he would need to do when he returned but he knew it would involve a lot of hard work, a few bodies at least. Polly he was sure would have gathered more information but the nagging worry of the unknown battle plan was difficult to tolerate.

He finished the cigarette and lit another one.

When dawn had truly come and he could hear the first stirrings within the house he went back into the bedroom. Eleanor had gone from his bed in the meantime. He slept for another hour or two and when he woke and came down to breakfast found that he was just in time for a rather lazy, late breakfast.

As ever her father had gone out early that morning, probably before even Tommy had awoken. Eleanor's mother had opened a bottle of champagne and she and Eleanor became rather tipsy on the strong mimosas being poured. The twins were initially excited to be served the extravagant breakfast but quite quickly became bored and begged to be let out to play on the lawn.

After the meal it was time to get dressed for the party which was an afternoon garden party. Tommy picked out the suit he liked best in the closet, a dark three-piece that, though a little old-fashioned ,was the closest approximation of his usual style. He went down to the parlor to wait for the women and was highly gratified when Eleanor came in a few moments later. She was dressed in a way he'd never seen her before, a long lavender dress that was clearly expensive enough to be a cocktail dress but somehow had an air of naivete that would have made it stand out in the city. There was a little too much ruffle in the sash and the neckline to be worn in Birmingham, let alone London. She had a set of long pearls on, which matched the large pearl and gold earrings and gold bracelet on one arm. Her hair she wore long, not fashionably pinned up short like she did in the city. She'd compromised to the fashion of the day with a little lavender ribbon that supported a delicately spray of flowers.

“Don't laugh.” She said, as if anticipating his thoughts. “This is how they dress in the country.”

“You look beautiful. You always do.”

He was standing by the window, looking out at the lawn and the sloping driveway up to the house. He'd helped himself to a whiskey from the sidebar and had been thinking in a round about what would need to be done when he got back to Birmingham.

He was more than glad to let her slip under one arm, one small arm going under his jacket to wrap around his waist. She had been doing that more than usual, since he'd woken up. He fucking hated the idea of her clinging to him because she was scared he would slip away again, back to illness or Birmingham. When he found the men responsible for making her afraid on his behalf he did not intend for the resulting carnage to be subtle or quick. No, this would need to be a rather public lesson for anyone who thought to do something similar in the future. She and the rest of Birmingham would need to know what he did.

Perhaps this time he would bring her some ring or token from the men he killed for her. She had surprised him after all with how easily she'd accepted the necessity of what he'd done to get her back when she'd been kidnapped. Instead of flinching back in fear, tears or hysterics, she'd brushed a soft kiss over his bruised knuckles and taken her back between her legs and into her bed without so much as blinking.

But in the meantime he wouldn't deny her. And besides, nothing could diminish the pleasure of the small body in his arms. The smell of her perfume, her body was like a shot of whiskey, a warmth that spread from his belly to his brain and radiated in waves down to his fingertips. She tilted her head up for a kiss and he obliged. He kissed her thoroughly but methodically, nothing that promised any escalation. He explored her mouth gently, parting her lips and drinking deeply from her.

Since they were alone he let himself indulge, tangling one hand in her long hair and tightening his fingers in it until she felt the familiar control and melted against him, limp under his authority. As ever, something within him thrilled at the way her muscles slackened, ready to be moved however he chose, her will submitting to his the second he asked. Her lips parted and she came easily as he drew her roughly back by the hair. If they'd been in the betting parlor he would have opened his pants and with the faintest downward pressure, let her sink to her knees before him. He would have been inside her throat in less than a moment and the expression in her wide blue eyes—hunger and anticipation—let him know she knew that all too clearly. Since they were instead in her mothers sitting room he tilted her head up, bending to kiss her exposed throat once. She shivered and he let her go, loosening his fingers in her hair.

She hesitated for a moment, waiting for more, then with a sigh, pillowed her head against his shoulder.

“The long hair at least has obvious benefits.” He told her quietly. “It would make an excellent handle.”

“Thomas Shelby, please go fuck yourself.” She murmured quietly.

He didn't restrain his smile. “Are you wet Eleanor? From that alone? Frustrated perhaps, from lack of use?”

She pressed her lips together and said nothing.

“Answer me sweetheart, don't make me insist.”

“I've been wet since I got up this morning you fucking ass hole.” She hissed. “Since I got into the tub with you yesterday. Since you woke the fuck up in fact.”

“Don't swear, you're in your mother's house. All you'll get is a beating and no joy if you misbehave.”

She glanced up, hopefully. “You'd spank me here?” She asked.

He shook his head and gave her a soft kiss. “I'll make sure you don't like it sweetheart, you know I can.”

She weighed that for a moment, wondering if the contact alone would be worth the pain. If he brought her to tears he wouldn't be able to help himself from running a calming hand over her ass and flanks afterward, might even pull her up in his lap, the familiar length of his erection digging into her ass... but the glint in his eyes she knew meant he was serious about making sure she wouldn't like it. Thomas Shelby had never once struck her with a blow without all the power of his arm and his inhuman attention behind it. He could be cruel, even to her, in the right mood.

She shook her head, deciding she liked this indulgent, pleased mood better than frustrated retribution, no matter how much she knew a beating would clear her head. She could put aside her own needs, if that's what he needed her to do. She pressed her lips together and slid one hand up to curl in the lapel of his vest, gazing up at him.

“No Thomas, I will be good.” She promised.

He felt his cock stir in his pants at her words. I will be good. Obedient, pleasing little thing, he had no doubt in his mind that he'd fuck her raw when they got back to Birmingham. Maybe he'd tie her to the bed for a couple of days, wrists to either bedpost but with just enough slack that he could flip her onto hands and knees to take her from behind or get her on her knees, bent forward to fuck her mouth. As sore as she'd been the day he'd taken her virginity, that's how he intended to make her feel.

He let himself slide a thumb along her bottom lip, his signal to her he wanted her mouth open. Obligingly those soft lips parted and let him slide in a digit to rest against her tongue. She kept the tongue soft, as he liked her to start when he put his cock in the same place, just letting it rest there until he chose to move it. “You always are a good girl, aren't you sweetheart? Eager, obedient. You let me do exactly what I fucking please.”

She nodded, unable to speak.

If he could have he would have rewarded her by letting her kneel for a bit, something to calm her down, relax her. It wouldn't do for them to be discovered like that though so instead he took her by the hips and turned her against the bookshelf beside them. Her hands went up as he pushed her against it, grasping the ledge on either side of her head and in an instant his own hands were over hers, his long strong fingers interlacing hers, trapping them. He trapped her body against the wide dividing post, pushing her forward until her forehead touched wood. He leaned the weight of himself against her, letting her small frame feel how much larger and more powerful his was, how easy it would be for him to take her despite any struggle. He flexed his fingers in hers and nestled his cock into the warm inviting cleft of her ass, letting her feel it was half hard. With the knee that was between her thighs he parted her legs, giving him better access to her and making her gasp.

He pressed the weight of himself against her and brought one hand up to brush the hair from the back of her neck before returning to trap her again. He leaned forward and kissed the prominent vertebrae just at the base of her neck, letting her feel his hot breath ghosting over her skin like some great predator just behind her.

Her body went limp, head falling forward to expose more of her vulnerable neck.

Eleanor couldn't believe the effect the position had on her, better than any whiskey, better than any sedative. His breath against her neck, his body against hers. She felt helpless, held. And delicious, clenching, familiar heat pooled in her abdomen. She wanted to stay like this forever, trapped beneath his body, safe from everything in the world and at the same time completely at his mercy. Tommy pressed gentle kisses to the back of her neck and began to whisper something low and soothing to her in Romani, the tone one might use to gentle a frightened animal. Please, please let me stay like this for as long as you can, she thought, please don't pull back from me Thomas, hold me as long as you can.

Only when he heard the sounds of her mother and the twins coming down the stairs into the entrance hall did he step back. He adjusted his pants into a more comfortable position. She stayed there a moment longer, as if she almost hoped he would come back to hold her. But when he took her by the hand, she came obligingly. He went to where he'd left his whiskey and tossed it back, then tucked her arm in his.

“Come now, let's not keep your mother waiting.”

“Thank you.” She said earnestly. “Thank you for that Tommy.”

Oh sweetheart, it's never for you. He opened his mouth to say it but then closed it again. It was a lie, it had been for her. He'd wanted to calm her, gentle her, even if it meant that he was now uncomfortably hard. And he lied to her so very rarely.

Instead he said nothing, but led her out into the entrance hall.

Their destination was another great house only a few miles away, not the nearest neighbor but close to it. The lad who was driving them pulled up the wide circular driveway and they went up the stairs and then through the house to the rather gay party happening on the lawn behind it.

Eleanor had not been wrong about the style of dress at the party. She looked completely camouflaged in the forest of other young ladies dressed in varying pastel shades and long pearls. They fluttered around the wide lawn like flower petals drifting on the wind, ferried between groups on the arms of young men in dark suits. Waiters passed around canapes and drinks and from the sound of conversation there was quite a bit of imbibing going on for the party was quite loud, despite having more than enough space to disperse.

They were greeted by their hosts. Abigail and her mother shook his hand warmly. They were wearing the same wrist-length lace gloves that Eleanor was. David Smythe approached them too with a waiter who offered them champagne.

“Glad to see that something finally tempted you out of the house Ellie. It has been so frustrating to have you back in the neighborhood and not coming to any party at all, no matter what the temptation.” He tossed a pointed look at Tommy at that.

She laughed. “Sorry David, be sure that it wasn't meant to insult anyone.”

“Not at all, of course, we understand but I, for one, am just glad you've finally seen the light and come out to socialize.”

“David, you remember my friend Mr. Shelby from Birmingham. You two met at the races in London a month or so back I think.”

“Ah yes, the glorified gambler.”

Tommy took a sip of his champagne, wishing it were whiskey, wishing he could just punch the other man and have done with it. Lord give me the strength to endure the aristocracy. The younger man was clearly spoiling for a fight of some kind, hoping to provoke Tommy in some way, but though he was annoyed at the attempt at flirtation he didn't really feel threatened. He considered pulling Eleanor against him for a kiss but decided not to embarrass her. Even in this garden party, out of his usual element and at the other man's home, he couldn't take David Smythe seriously.

They mingled throughout the party for a while. Tommy didn't particularly care to remember the names of all he was introduced to, a litany of names and titles that seemed unending. Finally though they found themselves at the edge of the party and cut free from any conversation.

Eleanor put her half-finished glass of champagne down on one of the tables covered with a pristine white tablecloth. “This house has quite remarkable grounds Tommy, you wouldn't care to see them would you?” She offered.

He felt he'd rather do almost anything rather than listen to more of the insipid conversation around them so he offered her his arm and they strolled into the gardens. He couldn't help but feel that she had a destination in mind as the two of them wound deeper into the gardens. She was chatting away idly about the history of the house and the grounds but he was quite sure that it wasn't him who chose which direction they turned down the paths. She took them quite far away from the party, down to the banks of a fresh and wide stream that was likely contiguous with the one that cut through her family's own lands.

The path ended in a small dock, two little jets of wooden planks that jetted out into the stream. Between them had been built a little boathouse with a number of charming little crafts within, hung from the rafters to keep their bottoms clean. She took his hand and pulled him toward the little building, dropping the pretense of his arm and taking him by the hand. The second they were around the edge of the building she was in his arms, reaching up on tiptoe to press her lips desperately to his. He caught her hands in his as they reached for the front of his trousers. “Eleanor...” he began.

“We're not at my father's house.” She said firmly. “We're not on his lands. You can take me here.”

She was looking up at him and her pupils were blown wide with lust. He licked his lips, considering. “I'll not be gentle.” He warned her. It had been too long since he'd had her and seeing David Smythe at the stupid party had riled him up, much though he hated to admit it.

“Please, don't be.”

“You'll have to be quiet with the party so close.”

She nodded eagerly. “Anything you want Tommy.”

“Kneel.”

She knew how she liked it when she used the tricks she'd learned at finishing school to make it pretty for him. She sunk to her knees as gracefully as a ballerina, spreading her legs an pulling her skirts up over her thighs to give him a glimpse of her garter. He regarded her for a moment as she looked up at him standing over her. He slipped a thumb into her mouth and she opened it for him, letting him rest the digit on the soft expanse of her tongue.

“You would do anything that I ask you now.”

“Yes Tommy.”

“I could deny you your pleasure and take my own and you would thank me for it.”

“Yes Tommy.”

“Slip your gown off your shoulders and push your bra down.”

She wriggled obediently out of her top, pulling down the thin sleeves and her brassiere to bare her breasts to him.

He opened his pants and pushed into her mouth. She accepted him eagerly, swirling her head around the sensitive crown of his cock before pushing down farther, tongue skimming along the seam at the bottom. His head fell back and he groaned in pleasure. He tangled both hands into her hair and let himself handle her roughly, smearing the careful lipstick as he thrust into her mouth. She gagged slightly as he thrust but he paid no attention, pushing her all the way to the base of him. She didn't struggle though, she never did. He held her to the base of his cock for a moment, looking down to meet her eyes, still turned up to him. He knew she couldn't breath with his cock so deep down her throat and yet she didn't look panicked. Despite everything in the world, despite what had happened, Eleanor Arden still trusted him. Still wanted to please him even at the price of her own breath.

David Smythe would never see her like this. On her knees, debauched and well fucked she was at her most beautiful. And he would never see her so. No other man in the world would, not if Thomas Shelby still drew breath.

He drew her back and jerked her roughly to her feet by her upper arm. She came easily and let him push her several steps back to the back of the boathouse. He turned her to face one of the rough and cheerily painted beams, pushing her against it until she was flat to it, crushed between his body and the hard wood. With one hand he caught both her wrists, jerking them back behind her so she was completely helpless. He kicked her legs apart roughly and with the other hand pushed up her skirt. He almost groaned when he saw she wore nothing beneath the long, conservative skirt but the garter belt. So she'd been planning this since she'd gotten dressed this morning at least. Beautiful, little whore, he thought gratefully.

He hadn't given her any time to prepare but when he thrust into her, driving deep and heedless of her comfort he found her already wet and willing. Still she had to stifle a muffled moan. He was still quite big for her. No matter how much training he gave her, no matter how willing she was, she found him difficult to accept even under the best of circumstances. At this angle and with little preparation he knew the feeling would be intense. “Tommy...” She whispered, voice edged with a plea.

He paid her no mind though. He pulled her arms up, forcing her more tightly against the wood and drove his hips into hers at an angle he knew would push her sensitive little clit against the beam whenever he pushed into her. “Tommy...oh Jesus, please have mercy Tommy, please, please... oh God.”

She was panting as his speed picked up and then with a little whimpering cry she was cumming. She started to wail and he clamped one hand over her mouth to silence her. It was his last coherent act. The feeling of her contracting on him was enough to put him over the edge. With a final thrust forward he pushed his body to hers, thrusting up into her and pressing the length of him against her back, crushing her between his chest and the beam. His still bruised ribs screamed out in pain but the how of it was lost in the explosion of pleasure as he spilled into her.

When he returned to his senses he found himself still sheathed within her. She was limp, held up by the weight of his body against the beam. He reached around to the front of her and found the little pleasure button. It was the work of less than a minute until he brought her body to another shuddering little orgasm, her muscles spasming around his now soft length. Whens he was finished he slid out and let go of her hands. She braced herself against the beam as she stepped back, zipping up his pants.

“You can turn around.” He informed her. “I've finished with you for now.”

She turned to face him, almost shyly. “Thank you...” She said. “For not denying me.”

He winked. “Almost always an idle threat with me. The only one I ever make I think.”

She smiled. “I think I would have cum just from you fucking my mouth truth be told. I can hardly think of anything else these last few days.”

He lit a cigarette, trying not to smile to broadly at the thought of her walking around the garden party thinking about sucking him off in the boathouse. “Fix your face Eleanor, if you don't want to announce it to the world.”

She laughed and dug in her purse for her compact and makeup. It was the work of a moment to restore her lipstick and powder. If you looked closely you could tell her lips were perhaps slightly more swollen then they had been but the color was hidden beneath the dark lipstick and he doubted anyone at the party would suspect what was behind the difference.

“We best get back to the party then.” He said.

David Smythe was waiting for them almost at the edge of the party when they returned. “Ellie, I've been looking for you all over. I had mother open some of that champagne you always took so partially too. I told her that you're so rarely in the country we better spoil you now if we ever want you back.” He said. “Come have a glass with me.”

David held out his arm. Eleanor shot him a questioning look though before she took the other man's arm. Tommy smiled benevolently. “I think you'd better try it.” He told her.

He met the other man's eyes. David looked rather angry that Eleanor had asked his permission before accepting his arm but Tommy smiled back with real good humor. “No need to hurry her back to me, Mr. Smythe. She always comes when I call.”

The other man's tone was icy. “Right then.”

No sooner had the two broken off form him then Abigail Smythe waved him over. “Yoo hoo! Mr. Shelby! Oh Mr. Shelby! Do come over here to be introduced.”

She was standing in a circle of women roughly her own age, all dressed in what seemed to be the uniform of the party for the unmarried: the same kind of soft pastel taffeta or silk dress that fell modestly to the knees. “This is Mr. Shelby, a friend of Ellie's from Birmingham.”

Tommy had the distinct sense that Abigail had rather told the girls a little bit about him before he had arrived for they all looked at him with a shy nervousness. “Mr. Shelby is a gambling man. Isn't that right Mr. Shelby?” She said with a wink.

In the car on the ride home Eleanor put her head against his shoulder and nodded off against it as he wound up the long, quiet country road. Mrs. Arden had taken the twins home early in the evening but sent the car back for them so he let the girl sleep, enjoying the quiet moment of just the two of them. She was still asleep when he pulled into the driveway so he left the car there instead of taking it to the carriage house. He went around to the front steps and knelt. He slipped an arm under her knees and shoulders, ignoring the protest of his own ribs and the wound and lifted her. Her dress spilled out over his arms like a waterfall of crinoline and lace. Warm light spilled out of all the windows of the house as he mounted the steps with her. A servant pulled open the door for him and he carried her to her room.

He placed her gently on the bed. She stirred slightly in her sleep as he took off her hat, shoes and stockings then pulled back the sheets on the other side, lifted her again and slid her beneath. He bent an placed a soft kiss on her lips, when he rose he found her mother was at her door, looking in at them.

He pulled the covers over her daughter and then stepped out into the hall.

“You wouldn't care for a drink, would you Mr. Shelby?” She said.

“I would.”

He followed her to the parlor where she took out a decanter and poured two glasses of an amber liquor. She handed one to him and then went to sit on the edge of one of the sofas facing the fire. He chose a seat across from her and sat as well. “Charles has gone to bed already, he intends to be up in the morning quite early. I'm afraid I'm more of the night owl of the two of us.”

“So I see.”

She considered him for a long moment and then opened the drawer of the small table beside her. “I've been trying to think of a way of giving these back to you without causing a fuss and I simply can't think of it.” She drew out a small handkerchief and leaned forward to hand it to him. Tommy put out a hand and she placed it in, leaning quickly back.

Tommy opened the handkerchief and inside found the set of sturdy brass knuckles he sometimes kept on his watch chain and the little snub-nosed pistol he'd had in his pocket the night he'd been shot. Someone had taken the larger one from his hostler clearly but had missed the small gun in his pocket.

“I didn't want to put them with your other things in case any of the servants found them.” She said, by way of explanation. She hesitated. “They are your, are they not Mr. Shelby?”

“Yes.”

This time there was a longer hesitation before she managed to get her question out. “You are... a man of violence then?”

In truth Tommy didn't use the brass knuckles much. He found mostly that if he wanted to turn another man's face into pulp he wanted to do so in a way where he could feel the man's bones break against his own. But he didn't feel that would be an appropriate answer to Eleanor's mother's question.

“Yes.”

She nodded and took a sip of whiskey. “I thought so.” She sighed. “David Smythe says you're some kind of gangster. That you run a criminal family in Birmingham. He told me that I should ask Ellie not to speak to you. That I should tell her its a matter of her inheritance if she doesn't break the association.”

“Do you intend to?”

Lady Arden considered him for a long moment and then shook her head. “No.” She watched his expression carefully and then, to his surprise, laughed. “Are you shocked Mr. Shelby?”

He decided that if they were to have this conversation, if she'd found the revolver and been told more or less what he was, it hardly mattered if Lady Arden knew that he smoked. It could only go better if he could sooth his nerves.

“I am surprised.” He admitted, fishing the cigarettes and lighter from his coat pocket.

She pressed her lips together. “She loves you. You know that don't you?”

“Yes.”

What did it matter to split hairs with her mother on whether or not she loved him or if what she felt for him was something more sinister? Tommy had seen enough alcoholics in his days to know that she'd taken to him like an alcoholic to whiskey. Only a few hours ago she'd let him use her on her knees in a boathouse with her social peers close enough to hear if she'd screamed as she'd really wanted to. That she wanted him, wanted what he did to her body, was clear enough to see. She'd risked damn near enough to prove that to him and the world, coming back to him after she'd been kidnapped had been proof enough but taking him back to her family's estate... The girl clearly had no sense when it came to him.

If her mother wanted to call that love he was not going to correct her.

“Do you love her?”

“Yes.”

That at least was an easier question for him to answer. Perhaps he hadn't always loved her. When he'd given her the silver necklace he'd thought his feelings had been more primal, a desire to own her more than love her. The moment she'd put the silver around her neck she'd been bound to him in the eyes of any gypsy, bound to him by blood, a spell that could not be broken. Traditionally he should have slashed palms and mingled their blood together to bind the spell of the silver but he'd decided to count the virgin blood he'd spilled from her as that part of the ritual.

But Polly had been right, as she always ways. He hadn't been able to tell the difference in the end between possession and love. Somewhere along the way though the desire, the need to control and consume, had become much more than he intended. She had wormed his way into his heart, right in there next to Arthur and Ada and Poll, John and Finn there she now stood, another piece of his family out vulnerable in the world. Eleanor, who wanted to be tied and beaten but not married. Eleanor whose parents called her Ellie, who didn't want to talk about her dead brother, the countess who kissed him in her mother's rose garden and the whore who bent over his desk whenever he asked-- he wanted all of it. Not just the fucking and spanking but the stupid parties in the countryside, her hand in his at the races, the way she took his arm in the movies or spread her legs for him on a picnic basked to let him feast on her. God but he was a fool. The bruised ribs and stab wound were a cheap lesson indeed. He would have thought he knew better.

He mother took a sip of her whiskey and said, very quietly and looking into the fire, “she's pregnant.”

Tommy's heart turned over in his chest. He felt as if he were walking down a flight of stairs and suddenly found the next step twice as far down as he had expected, a sudden giving away of expectation that left him stunned. He thought of her in the boathouse when he'd turned her to the beam. When he'd finished with her he'd run his hands down her belly and flanks to bring her off with his hands. Had there been some subtle swell he had missed in his haze of lust? He could almost feel her smooth skin under his palms, the fine hair over a very fine curve that had certainly not been there a few months ago. And then every muscle in his body seemed to harden at the thought of it. His knuckles on his whiskey glass suddenly pale and the fine line of his jaw stood out to even more prominence.

When had they stopped being careful? He racked his brains, trying to think. Had they ever talked about when they had stopped using the capotes? But he wasn't even sure he had been fully conscious of the change. It was after he'd brought her back from the cemetery and the abattoir he realized with a start. That afternoon, against the vanity, he had taken her without one, needed to claim her with nothing between them and done so without consideration of either the consequences or the significance of the act. It hadn't even really felt like a decision as he'd never stopped to ask himself the question of if he should. Afterward there had been no part of him that thought to reach for one. The instinct to do so had simply vanished from his mind.

Was it possible that some part of him had wanted this to happen? Wanted to get a child on her? Yes. No sooner had he asked himself the question than he knew the answer. He loved her didn't he? Wanted to keep her with him, against all probability and sense. What better way to tie her to him forever than a baby-- a literal piece of him planted within her. Better than the cords to lash her to the bed, better than catching her wrists at the small of her back. Even if he hadn't made the decision consciously he knew some part of him had done this on purpose.

And more shameful still came another thought, an even less worthy one. The idea of her pregnant with his child was enough to make him rock hard. The posh girl who got on her knees for him, now he'd knocked her up as well. He'd had the last of her virtue. There would no pretending to another man or the world that she hadn't first been his. She'd come to him an innocent, a virgin, and he'd had every last bit of her honor now. He wanted to go back to the room where he'd left her and slide into bed beside her. Warm and sleepy he'd part her legs and thrust in, waking her with a gasp, then thrust in until he spilled himself deep within her, onto the fertile soil of her womb.

He pushed the image away. Tempting though it was, it was not immediately practical. And more to the point her mother was now peering at him with a curious look. He wondered how much of his thoughts had shown on his face and fought not to look away. “How far along is she?”

“I'm not sure. Early days I think. She hasn't told me but her bedroom is close to mine and I can hear her in the morning when she's sick. All the women in my family have horrible morning sickness, particularly when we carry boys. I had to be hospitalized with Gabe.”

“I see.”

The countess took a small sip of her drink. “You do not... you do not doubt that it is yours then? Do not... deny it?”

“It's mine.”

Lady Arden adjusted the hem of her skirt and then said, “there are always options of course. There's a convent nearby that takes girls... a doctor a few counties over that I've heard of...”

“That will not be necessary.” Even to himself Tommy's voice sounded sharp, too loud for the quiet hour of the evening. The white knuckles on the glass tightened even more at the suggestion.

For a long moment they regarded each other. Lady Arden cleared her throat gently. “You'll come with a ring then?”

“Yes.”

Lady Arden pressed her lips together. “I suppose... I suppose that Eleanor had mentioned to you that she never intended to be married. She likes to tell people that, but she never likes to talk about why. I don't suppose she told you, did she?”

“No, she didn't.” He admitted.

“Not one for hard truths our Ellie, and never about Gabe. For her, well, he hung the stars.” She sighed. “But you deserve to know the truth I think, why she doesn't want to be married, if you are to ask her for her hand.”

She took a long sip of her drink and then met Tommy's eyes without reservation. In her expression he saw a familiar sadness, the longing and pain that was in Eleanor's eyes when she spoke of her brother. In Poll's eyes when she thought about the babes she had lost.

“He killed himself. He fell in love with his wife very young, they married young too. He thought she was the love of his life she was less content, less serious about him. When he found out his wife was unfaithful for the second time, he couldn't bear it. Eleanor always admired him, looked up to him. She took it the hardest of us all, in her own way, and she blamed Frances, his wife, for the loss of him. I'm not sure she got over it, none of us did of course but Ellie... I had to take her to hospital a fair number of times in those first months, when she wouldn't eat or drink. I thought I'd loose both my children to grief.

“It was like a miracle when she decided she wanted to study to be a midwife, like that thought brought back the animus to the corpse that had been lying in her bed for a month or more.”

She had said nothing when he'd said that it had been no one's fault that her brother had died. An accident she had called it, not exactly a lie but not exactly the truth either. Eleanor never liked to talk about unpleasant things. She only wanted not to think, to feel peaceful, to focus her mind on a single task, to kneel and obey.

Lady Arden passed a hand over her face, looking tired and, for the first time, as old as she was. “I don't mean to burden you Mr. Shelby, with a bit of sad old family history. But you deserve to know why she feels the way she does, even if she won't tell you herself. It's only... she's quite a headstrong girl in her way. I really do believe her when she says she doesn't intend to marry.”

“To me she will say yes.”

Eleanor's mother considered him for a long moment before saying, “you're sure?”

“I do not intend to die with any bastards Lady Arden, not by your daughter.”

It wasn't so much confidence in her willingness that made him so sure, but rather in his own determination.

The lady hesitated, then raised her glass to him. “I would drink to that Mr. Shelby. Let me ring for one of Charles' nicer bottles so we can celebrate properly. You prefer whiskey to champagne I think?” She raised the little silver bell at her side once. When the girl from the hall came in she said, “The Macallen eighty-six from the cellar Claire, please. You'll need to ask Edward for the key to the locked case.”

“Right away Lady Arden.”

“I'm surprised you're in the mood to celebrate Lady Arden.” He said when the girl had left.

“My daughter is to be engaged. Why shouldn't I be?” She asked. The words were formula, reflexive good manners meant to smooth over the moment of unseemly honestly but her expression wasn't horrified, quite the contrary she looked at him with real interest.

“Gypsy from Birmingham. No title. Can't have been who you were imagining for a son-in-law.” He didn't add a man who she knew had been in at least one fight with mortal intention, a man with brass knuckles and a pistol in his pocket.

She considered that for a long moment, then said very quietly. “I've lost one child to melancholy Mr. Shelby, I'll not lose another. Frances was everything in the world that was proper and respectable and because of that I think... well, I wonder if I didn't overlook some of the things that I could have warned him about. And you, Thomas, well she looks like the little girl I remember when she looks at you.

“I thought about asking Charles to look into your business, your history, your family and suitability but none of that would change the way Ellie looks at you, would it? She's here. She can stand to look at the twins, listen to her father and take tea with her mother. She can bear to walk the halls her brother walked again for the first time in years. As for the rest...” she brushed her hand over the couch next to her as if to clear away some dust. “It's not something anyone will remember in a generation or two.”

Not something that anyone will remember in a generation or two. This was how these people thought, these rooted, settled, entitled people. People who built houses that lasted hundreds of years and accumulated wealth that lasted nearly as long, who had whiskey from their grandparents and didn't think twice before ringing for a girl at this hour to bring it. All that easy power, generations of men and women who had never gone to bed hungry or fought for their place in the world: men who were officers not sappers and foot soldiers and women who knew how to hold their shoulders and pour a glass of tea—it added up to a confidence in their place in the world that couldn't be shaken by a daughter who took up with a scoundrel.

“You think she came back here because of me?”

That at least explained why her mother seemed to like him so much. If she thought he'd brought her daughter back to the family estate, thought he'd marry her when there was little hope she would be married otherwise, it made a little more sense why Lady Arden seemed so unnaturally predisposed to like him.

“I know she did.”

“She shouldn't have.”

“There's never been a use in telling Ellie that she shouldn't do something she's set her mind to. Skinned knees... broken collar bone...a horse that's five hands to big for her... or you Mr. Shelby, when it comes down to it.”

He leaned forward onto his knees and met her gaze directly, pleased when she didn't shy away from the bluntness of his regard. “When she is my wife, I'll take better care of her then that.”

Her mothers eyes widened. “I hope so Mr. Shelby, I certainly hope so.”

He raised his glass and to his surprise she finished her glass of whiskey in a single drink. He tilted his own back.

The girl came in with the new bottle, no doubt an exceptional vintage and decanted it. She put out two fresh glasses for both of them and made her respects before slipping back out. Lady Arden leaned forward and poured them both a generous portion, handing one to him. When she she leaned back on the couch, skirts carefully arranged around her she spoke again. “Now that's settled, I suppose we should speak specifically then. Her dowry is not enormous but it's a sizable sum. Charles will have the exact number in his head. He can go through it with you tomorrow before you go, and the estate and rents and so on as well. I suppose it's not to early to start thinking of the crest, if you'll want to change it I mean when the land passes to your name. Charles would be so flattered of course if you would consider keeping the words and the seal of course but... that will be your choice.”

“What do you mean?”

Her eyebrows rose. “Eleanor is to inherit. If you are her husband it will be your name that the lands will pass to in reality. Did you not know that?”

He frowned. “The estate will not pass to the twins?”

Lady Arden shook her head. “The twins were not Gabriel's, not by blood. He raised them as if they were but it was always clear that... that the estate could not be theirs. Their mother made that clear enough to all of us.” She frowned. “You didn't know that she was to inherit then? You thought her only to have her dowry?”

Tommy's head was swimming. The estate did complicate matters. He'd not have it said that he married her for her money, or the title. There would be scandal enough with the match, compounding that with the math people were surely to do on the number of months between the marriage and birth was inevitable. He would spare her the whispers that she'd been trapped for her title if he could.

“The estate will remain in her name.” He said firmly. “She can manage it how she wishes. When it passes to our children though they will be Shelbys of course but in the meantime I will not intervene. And as for the dowry, there will be none.”

Lady Arden's frowned deepened. “If you're worried...”

“Gypsies have no concept of a dowry. Rather the contrary, we pay a bride price.”

“A bride price?”

“Paid to the family of the girl.” He did not mentioned that it was specifically to the father of the girl and meant to compensate him for bringing a virgin girl to the alter. Nor that he meant to compensate Lord Charles Arden double for the pleasure of having had his daughter well before her wedding night.

“I don't think Charles or I would quite know what to do with that.” Lady Arden said with a little nervous laugh.

“I would never dishonor you daughter by not paying it.”

“Charles might protest.”

“It will not change my mind.”

He intended for hers to be rather extravagant in fact. It might mortify Eleanor if she ever found out the exact sum he had calculated but it would serve a dual purpose. He was not sure how much Lord and Lady Arden knew of him or his business but he intended to show them that he was both not in need of their help financially and in some way... that he was not a man to be taken lightly. Paying a shocking bride price would signal to her parents that he was not just some gangster who had knocked up their daughter but someone who had the means and intention to take care of her afterward. Then there was the simple fact that as leader of the Peaky Blinders he would be expected to show his wealth and power with an extraordinary price. Whatever he paid would only serve to increase his power in the eyes of other gypsies.

“You'll want to marry her in a Catholic church I presume?”

“Yes.”

She laughed, drumming her fingers on her chin. “With another man I think I might see if you would compromise. But from the way this conversation is going I'm not sure that will do me much good. Perhaps if she weren't pregnant and I could have asked Charles to do the negotiating it might have gone better.”

“We can be married by an Anglican priest as well, I have no objection to it. But she'll need to have a Catholic ceremony as well or she will never see her as truly my wife.”

“Is that important?”

“Yes.”

For her and their children's safety it would make all the difference. It was one thing to grab Tommy Shelby's favorite piece of snatch off the street but he intended to surround her and their children with such a threat of retaliation that the streets of Small Heath would be the safest imaginable place for them. Starting with legitimizing her status as his wife was the first step.

All of that though would have to start once he'd righted his own fortunes in Birmingham.

 

TBC

 

 

Chapter Text

Eleanor woke the next morning, having slept through the night for the first time since coming to her parents house. She would have slept better with Tommy beside her but the romp in the boathouse it seemed had been enough to allow her enough peace to fall asleep. She was still in her party clothes and felt rather rumpled so she had a bath and dried her hair, only then did she go down to breakfast quite late. Her father had left on his hunting trip and her mother and the twins were likely out on some long walk at this time in the morning. She took some toast from the breakfast spread on the sideboard in the dinning room and poured herself a cup of tea from the place laid out for her at the table and carried both out to the back lawn.

Tommy was standing, looking out at where Eddie was putting one of the horses through her paces, the eternal cigarette dangling between two graceful fingers, a cup of coffee on the table beside him. He looked up when she came out onto the little gravel lawn closest to the house. The look he gave her was enough to freeze her in her tracks. She put down the toast and tea on the table beside her. “You're leaving.” She said. It was not a question.

She'd known he would and yet, somehow she'd managed to not quite believe it.

“I wanted to wait until you were awake.” He said.

He'd wanted to see her. More than that, he wanted not to feel like he was sneaking out of the window while she slept. It was one thing to talk about rings and babies with her mother as if she had already agreed, it was another to leave her without a word of reassurance.

He'd sat up long after her mother had retired from the study thinking about strategy. The situation in Birmingham he knew not enough of to ponder much on that; besides he had decided his general strategy there: no prisoners, only burning ground beneath his feet. The question of Eleanor though, of the baby, of his path there he was less certain. He'd decided, in the end, not to confront her with the knowledge of the pregnancy with her before he left. Now wasn't the time. With the turmoil of him leaving, the fight that waited for him in Birmingham, the state of mind she was clearly in was not one in which he wanted to ask her to marry him.

No, when he asked her he intended to have a a clear conscience, a ring and enough fucking time to argue with the surprisingly intransigent will beneath the pliable, submissive girl who knelt at his feet, eager and open-mouthed. He was a more than observant enough man to have noticed the little moments of rebellion that were not to be solved with a belt or a bit of rough fucking. You'll get no apology from me. The way she'd looked just before she'd started to walk, to cross the cemetery to safety as if... for a moment she thought of disobeying his command. He did not want this to be the issue on which all that soft, supple willingness opened up onto the steel he could sometimes feel beneath.

He could feel his knuckles tighten on the railing of the porch and forced himself to relax. Another benefit of waiting would be to give himself time to let his own hot-headed feelings wane a bit. Going back home to Birmingham, putting a bullet or a fist into the skulls of whoever had caused this mess, letting a little bit of time pass, all of it could only serve as a bit of time to allow himself to develop a tactical, rational distance from his current emotions.

It would not be strategic to let her see the part of him that wanted, more than anything, to either fuck or beat a truthful answer to the question of how long she'd known she was pregnant out of her. So help him if she'd known when she'd taken him in the car from Birmingham, if she'd risked not just herself but his child... he pushed that thought back. Not the time for that now, Thomas, he reminded himself. You'll have the rest of your life to make sure it never happens again.

“I'm taking the car back to Birmingham within the hour.”

She bit her lip. “Are you sure I can't come with you?”

“No sweetheart.” He said. “Birmingham won't be safe for the time being.”

“When can I come back?”

“I'll fetch you”

She swallowed and went to him. She stood on her tiptoes and snaked an arm around his neck, pulling him down to kiss her. He obliged, parting her lips and exploring her mouth with his but only tenderly. He put one arm around her waist, pulling her flush against him, on to her toes and arching her a bit against him so she was just slightly off balance. He allowed himself to indulge the desire to run a hand up the side of her, letting his thumb trail over her stomach, memorizing the very subtle little swell beneath her frock. He kissed her top lip, then her lower lip and then broke it off. “I don't want you to go.” She whispered, pressing herself inside his jacket, hands wrapping around his waist beneath it. He could feel her hot breath through his vest, just over his pound heart.

“I know you don't.”

She looked up at him. “You could be killed.”

“I don't intend to be.” He took her again in his arms and held her there until the shaking subsided.

“Promise me you won't be.”

“I promise.” He loosened his grip and tilted her face to his and then pressed a slow, warm kiss to her red lips, then to each red eye.

She shook her head, tears still leaking. “Just stay Thomas, please. I am begging you to stay.”

“I would, if I could.”

She let out a tearful little laugh. “Liar. You hate it here.”

He smiled. “I will admit I'm a bit out of my element. A brummie boy like me never dreamed of rubbing elbows with the likes of your neighbors. I'm sorry if I've ruined your reputation sweetheart.”

She laughed. “I don't think my neighbors ever imagined that I was ever capable of a liaison, much less with a genuine Birmingham gangster. I'm sure I'll be the talk of the neighborhood for a generation.”

He cupped her ass under her skirt. “Surprised to find you liked a bit of rough were your friends?”

“No more than I was, I think.”

“I'm learning a lot about you this trip the countryside as well though.” He mused. “Perhaps I really should take your mother up on the opportunity to come back, eh, Ellie?”

She blushed, looking furious. “Oh Jesus, don't call me that please, it sounds even worse when you say it.”

He laughed. “What, you expected me not to notice that no one in the world calls you Eleanor here?”

She shook her head. “I can't stop my mother or David and Abigail from calling me that but you're not allowed Thomas Shelby.”

He gripped her ass a bit more firmly and tilted her chin up to meet his gaze. “And how, Eleanor, Arden, do you propose to stop me, eh?”

“If you call me that in Birmingham, in front of Polly, it will be a cold day in hell before I ever suck your cock again.”

That got a rare, genuine smile from him. “An obvious bluff is a liability, sweetheart. Empty threats only make you seem weak.” He told her fondly, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

She didn't protest his leaving again but neither did she let him stray to far from her. It was as if, knowing he would soon be gone, she needed him at arms length from her in the meantime. She asked the cook to make him sandwiches and coffee for the road, and to bring them both tea on the lawn. Her mother and the twins returned just as they were finishing tea.

“Oh I'll be sorry to see you go Mr. Shelby.” Lady Arden said, helping herself to tea. “As will the neighborhood I'm sure. You've been a real breath of fresh air.”

“Where are you going?” Annabelle asked.

“Back to Birmingham.”

“Is it nice there?”

“Sometimes.”

“As nice as here?”

“Not usually.”

“Then why go back?”

“I have some business there that needs finishing.”

“Can I come visit you in Birmingham?”

“Not just now.”

“Will you come back again?”

“I'm not sure. Your gran would have to invite me.”

“Oh I'm sure she would.” She turned to Lady Arden. “Wouldn't you nana?”

“Yes dear, of course Mr. Shelby would be welcome any time.”

“Are you going to kiss Ellie before you go?”

“Do you think I should?”

“Yes.”

“Well alright then.” He obliged with a rather chaste kiss for Eleanor across her knuckles.

“Not like that...” She began but her grandmother put her hand across the child's mouth.

“Mr. Shelby we've had a wonderful time having you. I do hope you'll come back anytime Birmingham can spare you.”

He got into the car and turned gunned the engine. In the rear view mirror he could see Annabelle run after the car for a few paces. Behind her Eleanor faded into the distance. She stood beside her mother and both watched as he disappeared down the driveway, back to the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The country days were an unimagined hell to Eleanor.

She sat in the garden, watching the ice in her squash juice melt and felt as though the slow trickle of condensation down the glass was like the sands of time running far to slow through an hourglass that had no end. At first she had tried to keep busy, filling her days with her old country routine: garden parties, riding, calling and walking. She'd tried exhausting herself and her mother with a flurry of activity. But none of it had helped.

It didn't matter how weary she was when she crawled into bed. Sleep didn't come for hours and when it did it was full of horrible things. She was back in the abattoir only now Tommy hung from one of the meat hooks, dangling limp and pale but still dripping his lifeblood onto the floor. She stared at the ten of sword's card in Polly's hand but now the man turned his face to her and she could see that it was Tommy. And always, always, always in the dream she looked down to find that her legs were soaked in blood. That usually was what woke her up, the shock of the blood down her skirt. She woke in a cold sweat always and several times had to run to the restroom, throwing up whatever little morsel of food she'd had for dinner at the images that came to her.

In the end she'd simply given up trying to sleep or dull the pain of not knowing if he was dead or alive.

She remembered the feeling of moving through the house like a wraith. In the days after the death of Gabriel, she ate and bathed if her mother reminded her. She went where she was invited but all of it seemed as if she was sleep walking. She might have fallen into a similar pattern again except... except for the the little thing, a secret source of strength, growing within her. The baby. Her baby. His baby. With Tommy gone it was somehow easier, or perhaps just more important, for her to cling to the little bit of him growing within her. At night she curled around it protectively when she missed him the most profoundly. In the day the smug, secretive feeling it gave her made the rest of what she had to endure bearable. She ate without prompting, took the twins on a walk when her mother asked, all with a feeling of detachment, exhaustion. At various times during the day some small effort, lifting spoon to mouth during the soup course of dinner, running herself a bath, she would be suddenly gripped with a fatigue so profound that she wondered if she would be able to complete the task instead of sinking down where she stood.

The only time the weary feeling lifted was when she let herself slip into daydreams. Blue eyes with long lashes, a dark head of hair, soft little legs and tiny, perfect fingers and toes... those were the thoughts that galvanized her to eat, smile, maintain the facade.

By all reason she should have felt terrified to be pregnant and unmarried and yet all she felt was something akin to the emotion she'd felt the first night she'd gone to the betting house: detachment and fear, depersonalization and elation, terror and anticipation. Despite all the complications it would bring she couldn't wait to begin to show a bit more. Already she loved to run her hand over the small swell where she knew it resided. What would it be like when the baby began to kick, to move within her. And when the baby came, that she longed for even more.

She was conscious that the neighborhood was already whispering about her but found she cared very little. This was no longer her real life, not like Birmingham. Where once she would have been devastated to know that the grand dames whispered behind their fans that she'd whored herself out a man who made his money on horse racing and worse, now she found that it mattered less to her than what the old matron's of Small Heath had said behind cupped hands. She'd just grown used to being Tommy Shelby's whore in the eyes of the world.

She'd grown to like it.

David and Abigail made a valiant attempt to cheer her up. David most of all invited her on nearly constant walks, rides, trips to the village. She went around to the Smythe house almost every evening for dinner.

The night before she'd stayed late playing a hand of whist with the siblings and their mother. When David had offered to drive her home as she had walked over for the exercise she'd taken him up gratefully. They'd driven with the windows open at her request, the night air being rather fresh and her feeling as if she might nod off at any second.

When he'd stopped the car just over the old bridge that led to Belton house she'd turned to him. “Has the car...” She began but was cut short when he leaned across the seat and pressed a kiss to her lips.

She reeled back, shoving her off him. “David, stop that!”

He leaned back slightly but didn't put the car back into gear. “Ellie,” he said quietly. “Be reasonable.”

“What exactly do you mean by that?” She snapped.

“You know how fond I've always been of you. I'm trying to tell you that I still feel the same way... the way that I did when I asked for you to marry me.”

“David...I'm fond of you too. But my feelings as well have not changed.”

There was something a little cold in his voice when he said, “your feelings may change in time. It is your circumstances however that have prompted me.”

“My circumstances? What of them?” Her voice matched his in coldness.

“I'm offering you a chance to start over. Surely you must know the damage you've done to yourself.” He said in a softer tone, ignoring her question. “I want to help you.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about David and I sincerely hope you're drunk. I'd thank you very kindly to drive on and let me down at my own house without saying anything else foolish that we'll both regret in the morning.”

“I want to marry you Ellie.”

“Don't be ridiculous.”

“I don't mind that he's had you. You won't have to pretend with me as you will with another man. You made a mistake but I forgive you. You'll want nothing as my wife, I'll take care of you.”

“I would thank you not to continue with this conversation.”

“I'm offering you a chance to save yourself.” He hesitated. “Ellie... I would raise the baby as my own.”

She had been staring straight ahead, refusing to meet his gaze. But at that her eyes flashed back to him, blazing with anger. “What the fuck do you think...”

“It's not hard to guess why you're skipping cocktails these days.” He interrupted softly. “Abbey's stopped even offering you one.”

She blinked, unable to refute him but unsure what else to say.

“I wouldn't fault you for it. If you're worried that I would hold it against you, I wouldn't.” He reached for her hand again. “I know that you were vulnerable in Birmingham, alone and still reeling from the loss of your brother. Your parents never should have allowed you to go, I told them as much. He must have told you all that you wanted to hear, must have been convincing...”

“David, please stop talking like this.”

“I love you Ellie, I'll always love you.” He said. “I forgive you.”

Her mouth pressed together into a line. “I don't need your forgiveness David.”

“Think of the baby Ellie. Do you think it would be better off without a father? Or with a father like that? A fucking mobster.”

“I'm not talking to you about this David.”

“Has he threatened you? Are you worried about your safety, the baby's? I can protect you, surely you know that. I could take you to Spain or Germany for a few years, even America if you like, to let the whole thing blow over if that's what you're worried about...”

“Tommy would never hurt me.”

He blew out a disbelieving noise. “He would never hurt you? That man? He already has! The damage he's done to your reputation here, if you don't accept me, it will be permanent. No one in their right mind will allow their son to offer for you with a bastard child on your hip. Even if you came to your senses and took care of it, there will always be rumors enough to make sure you'll never be acceptable to any worthy man.”

“Don't talk about what you don't understand, David.”

She opened the passenger door and got out onto the bridge. She started walked toward the manor. She heard his door open and close behind her and wasn't surprised when he caught her wrist, whirling her to him.

“You would be his whore then?” He snarled. “Rather than be my wife?” He pulled her back violently against him, spinning her around.

She put both hands to his chest and shoved him as hard as she could, wrenching her arm back. He didn't let go but she did manage to put some distance between the two of them. “I will be his whore until the day that I die David! No matter what else happens to me.” She hissed at him. “Now get your fucking hands off me.”

“And if he never comes back from Birmingham?”

“He will.”

“If he doesn't? If he's shot dead by another gangster? Or moved on to another whore? What will you do Eleanor, if he makes a ruined woman of you?”

“I will be a ruined woman.”

“You're out of your mind!”

“Let go of my arm David. Right now.”

He looked down at her for a long moment and then, to her relief, let go of her arm. “When you change your mind let me know. I will find some way to take care of you.”

She spun on her heel and walked off down the road, listening with real fear for the sound of the crunch of footsteps following her. To her relief though she only heard the car roar to life, turn on the bridge, and head back down the road away from Belton house.

Back in the back garden she watched the condensation roll slowly down the glass and fought the urge to scream at it to hurry up. Didn't it know that every second that passed here without news of if Tommy was dead or alive was a torment? Didn't it know that even in the bright sunshine she felt as if the world was full of storm clouds and rain?

She heard boots on the gravel and turned to face the man coming up the path. “Hello papa.” She greeted him.

Lord Arden was a short man, almost squat, with a ruddy red face and mustache from two decades prior. He had the eternal look of the colonel he had once been in the army, a man ready, at any time, to scramble forth to muster. He was dressed for hunting, a long shotgun dangling, broken in two at his side. The score of pheasants slung over one arm announced that his trip had been a success.

“Ring for some sandwiches Ellie, there's a good girl.” He commanded, sitting down in the chair opposite her.

She smiled and obeyed. When the serving maid came to see what they needed Lord Arden passed off the gun and quail to her, though the girl looked as though she rather preferred not to handle the bloody carcasses of the birds. “Some sandwiches, please, Nell, and maybe some sherry I think.”

“Good sport Ellie, good sport.” Her father said encouragingly.

“Seems you've won over the kingdom of beasts today papa.”

“I should say so. It as a good show. You should come tomorrow, I'm returning there to see if there's any left to be cleaned out.”

“I can't be bothered to get up that early papa. Annabelle is a better bet I'm afraid.”

“The spirit is willing but she can barely hoist the gun. She'll be a good shot someday but those spindly little arms, your mother should feed her up.”

Nell brought them the required sandwiches and sherry and retreated back. Lord Arden tucked into the sandwiches while his daughter poured him a sherry. “Where's your mother got off to then?” He asked.

“She took the twins into the village to see the tailor. She says they need new outfits for the London season.”

“Oh good lord. Glad I was out and not available to be chauffeur. How did you manage to avoid the task then?”

She shrugged. “I slept in. I was at the Smythe house late.”

“The Smythe's again? You go there almost every night!” Her father frowned. “I don't like that David Smythe Ellie and I don't mind telling you either. He was a fine little boy but he's grown up to be a right blighter, if you'll pardon my language.”

Eleanor couldn't help stifle a laugh. Strange that her father would bring that up, given what had passed between them the night before. But she had been surprised by her father's intuition before. For all he appeared to care for nothing but hunting and riding in the day, and sherry and military history at night, she had seen moments where he had acted with instinct that bordered on clairvoyance. It was him who had gone to fetch Annabelle and Micheal from Frances and Gabriel just two days before Gabriel had shot himself. Whenever she was almost out of money on holiday or in Birmingham, having frittered her allowance away on something on an impulse, the phone would surely ring or a telegraph would arrive with a message from her father and a few extra pounds on some flimsy pretense.

“You think he's grown up to be a blighter papa?”

“Well he has! Has he not?”

She took a sip of her sherry. “I suppose he has. It's only...”

“It's only what?”

“I'm surprised to hear you say it.”

“Why ever so Ellie? You know he's a coward through and through, probably better than I do. He never signed up for the war, after all, never even as an officer.”

“I think he had a medical dispensation papa.”

Her father let out a grunt that made it clear what he thought of that. He took a healthy draft of the sherry and set to the last of the soggy offerings meant to accompany tea. Eleanor rang the bell again to ask for a healthy slice of the game pie from the night before, knowing that getting out in front of his appetite with something more substantial was imperative.

“Well what did you think of Thomas Shelby then?”

“That bloke who came in on a stretcher?” Her father frowned. “A bit your swain wasn't he?”

“I'm not sure. Did you think he was my swain?.”

Lord Arden grimaced. “A girl shouldn't ask her father for his opinion of nor advice on her suitors Eleanor, you know that.” He was quiet for a moment longer then added, “now there's a man who fought in the war.”

“Did mama tell you he did?”

“No, she didn't need to.”

“What do you mean?”

“I've never a met a man who didn't fear death who hadn't seen hard combat.”

She glanced up. “How do you know he doesn't fear death?”
But Lord Arden's patience for the philosophical had run out. He was watching the girl cross the lawn with what looked to be a healthy forth of the game pie. “Good lass, good lass.” He encouraged her as she approached. “Set it down gently.” To Eleanor he said. “I've got a sudden hunger for those rather fine scones your mother always has lurking about somewhere. Ellie, tell this girl to fetch us some at once!”

She knew better than to try to get an answer from her father that he didn't want to give so she asked for the scones and some more sherry as well. Her father took to the pie with his usual enthusiasm, making quick work of it. When the pie was gone he stretched out in his seat, contented for the moment in the knowledge that the scones were on their way. He took a cigar from the pocket of his vest and lit it contentedly.

Eleanor watched the smoke curl up into the blue summer sky and poured herself another glass of tea, wishing it was whiskey, wishing the smoke was from the end of a Sweet Afton.

What will you do if he doesn't come back from Birmingham? Trust David Smythe to say exactly what she herself was asking herself almost constantly. At first she'd thought about leaving the countryside, not sure she could bear to stay. She could go to London but Tommy wouldn't be looking for her there and she thought it was not such a good idea to call or send a telegram. If he wanted to send her news he would have done so, the fact he had not meant he did not want her to contact him presently.

She touched the little fleck of silver that hung beneath her dress just between her breasts and let herself run her hand over her abdomen. In another month or so the little flicker of life within would begin to show underneath her dresses. What would David Smythe say to her then? What would she say to her mother? Her father? To Polly and Ada?

What would she say to Tommy?

She knew him well enough not to worry that he would oppose her keeping the baby if that's what she wanted. He wasn't a man to shirk his responsibility, nor deny that he'd had equal part to her in what had happened. She didn't think he would be angry at her either, he was too rational for that. There would be no horrible scene, no accusations or questions of paternity. That was not her worse-case scenario, at least not in the rational light of day. If she had to guess she would have bet he would offer her some kind of arrangement, an allowance and a small house, something more than generous. But would he come see her again? Fuck her again? Would he take her as she wanted him to? Or would one mistake be enough for him? Now that he knew she would keep his mistakes, would he want to risk another?

Sitting on the floor of the abattoir she'd mourned the fact that she hadn't owed him anything. It had been fine to owe him her life she had learned, tolerable. He had not, as she had feared, changed his bearing toward her in the slightest. It had felt miraculous, like she'd spun some great gambling wheel and come home with all her winnings.

But how would it be to owe him a second life?

 

 

TBC

 

Chapter Text

Eleanor was hot and tired. She'd sweated right through the airy little blue summer dress she'd worn, not to mention stained it beyond all repair and ripped it in a few places. She'd agreed to take the twins blueberry picking without really remember what that entailed and had paid the price for it. She felt cranky and put upon as she trailed the two of them up to the manor again. But when she saw the car in the driveway, all her poisonous bad mood melted away as she broke into a run.

She took the steps two at a time and came running into the grand entrance room. She almost went to her knees when she saw him, coat off and standing with her mother on the back porch. He was smoking a cigarette as her mother poured them both tea. If she'd been coherent she might have thought better of greeting him as she was dressed, a thin country frock, torn on a bramble and stained with blueberry juice and moccasins, but, as it was, she couldn't help careening out onto the porch. “Tommy!”

She folded herself up into his arms, pressing her thin, lithe body against his hard lean one. His hand went around, and pulling her flush against him. She pressed onto her toes, reaching for a kiss but he held her back.

“Eh, I'm alright Eleanor. I'm alright.” He told her as her hands slid down his chest, as if looking for damage. She could feel his heart beating beneath the fashionable suit. The familiar strong arms went about her waist pulling her into a tight embrace. He let the improper contact linger only for a moment and then broke it. She tried to regain his hold but he simply shifted her to his side, one hand still possessively clutched at her hip but at least some fig leave of decency preserved.

“Eleanor you look a fright! I'm sure you'll want to change to greet your guest properly for tea.” Lady Arden said firmly, still pointedly not looking at the two of them. “I'll set out the tea in the garden and you can join us when you've bathed and changed into something decent.”

“Mama I don't want...” she began but trailed off at the firm sudden pressure at her hip. “Alright.” She relented.

They took tea and played a few games of pétanque in the garden. When dusk fell they retired to the main house for a rather elaborate dinner of three courses of a rather decadent meal taken at the large dinning table. Lord Arden joined them, back from his usual exploits, and then, at the rather pointed insistence of Lady Arden, the two men retired to the main parlor to take a sip of brandy together while Eleanor and her mother went to the drawing room.

Lord Arden poured him a rather excessive amount of brandy, took an equal measure for himself and then went to sit by the fire. Tommy joined him, sitting across a low table from the other man. “Patricia says you're to marry our Ellie then.” He said bluntly.

“I intend to.”

“Have you asked her then?”

“Not yet. I intend to ask with your permission sir.”

The ruddy older man frowned. “My permission?”

“Yes.”

“Her mother also says that you've taken the rather strange notion to pay us for it.”

“Yes sir.”

“I'm not to keen on being paid for my daughter. She isn't for sale after all.”

“To my people, taking her without a price would be damaging to her virtue.”

“And who are your people then? I've never heard of such a thing.”

“Gypsies.”

“Tinkerers you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Like I said, I don't like it and I don't hold with it. Patricia has made up her mind of course and I won't pretend I have the will it would take to overrule her but neither will I pretend I feel otherwise.”

Tommy took an envelope from his pocket and put it on the table between them. “I am not buying her from you sir, only paying respect to her virtue.”

The older man made no move to reach for the envelope. “I don't think I have to tell you that it makes no difference what we say. If Ellie has made up her mind on something, neither Patricia nor I ever had any sway over her. She never was an obedient daughter, for all her other virtues.”

“Me, she will obey.”

“Patricia at least thinks that's true. But she's never been any good at guessing what our Eleanor is thinking, no more than I am. Gabriel was the only one who could see into that thicket clear enough to hit the mark. And yet knowing all that, I have reservations.”

“What reservations.”

“Her safety.”

“Then we share a concern.”

“You'll keep her safe then will you?” He said. “I don't have to tell you why I ask.”

“At the cost of everything else, no harm will come to your daughter sir.”

Her father tilted his drink back. “I suppose there's nothing left for me to say then.”

“I have your permission then?”

Lord Arden took a sip of his whiskey. “If Ellie gives you her permission, you can assume you have mine. I'll not pretend that I'll stand in her way.”

“Thank you sir.”

 

 

 

 

They left the next morning after breakfast.

She could tell he was hard even as they pulled out of the driveway. She could see the outline of him through his pants. Even in the rather loose cut of the fashionable trousers he couldn't be fully concealed when he was erect. She was already wet beneath the light cotton summer dress. She'd picked this one for the drive in anticipation for just this moment as the skirt was short, almost scandalously so, and loose. There were no petticoats or extra fabric, just a single airy layer of material between her and the outside world as she'd worn no bloomers. The rumbling of the engine wasn't doing her any favors either. She was practically writing in her seat from anticipating, nipples straining against her brassiere.

They drove for a while in silence, through the village and then a little farther on until they were well into the countryside again. Without remark Tommy turned down a deserted little country lane and then pulled the car to a stop. He turned and considered her for a long moment before he slid one hand into the loose top to caress her breast. She arched against him invitingly though he didn't roll the tips between his fingers or press them as he did when he was trying to arouse her. He knew she was already aroused enough.

“You're hoping that I'll pull you across the seat and let you straddle me, is that it Eleanor?” He asked, pushing down the sleeves of her dress until her breasts were exposed.

“Yes, Tommy”

“I'd wager all the money I've ever won on a horse race you've got nothing beneath that skirt but your garter.”

She said nothing.

“Well you needn't have bothered, not on my account.”

He opened his trousers and pulled himself out. He slid one hand around her neck and thrilled at the way her body relaxed, letting him guide her. God it had been too long since he'd felt that, the way she just went soft and pliable under his hand, ready to be guided and controlled. He pulled her down to his cock and groaned as she enveloped him with her soft lips. He released her neck and let her move under her own speed. “Make it good for me sweetheart, but not to fast. I want to take my time enjoying you.”

She had missed him. She was desperate to please him. She softened her mouth on him, sweeping his tongue around the head and then slowly sinking down to envelop him. She worked to push past the muscles of her throat, swallowing down until she had that pert little nose right up against the wiry hair at the base of his abdomen. She didn't go too fast though, letting him stretch out his pleasure though soon her mouth and jaw were aching.

He could see she was pressing her legs together, desperate for some friction just where she needed it. Her ankles crossed, little patent leather shoes writhing on her feet as she tried to press her thighs together tight enough to give her relief. He flipped up the little joke of a skirt and was pleased to see that he wouldn't have lost a dime betting on her that day. He cracked her a smart slap across the ass.

“None of that sweetheart, legs apart.”

She made a little mewling noise of protest. He cracked her another slap across the ass. “I'm serious Eleanor, don't make me take off my belt.”

She parted her legs and tilted her hips up, clearly hopeful that he might favor her with a caress or maybe another swat but she was to be disappointed. Her talented lips he had trained just how he liked it and he let her work. “God but you have a pleasing mouth.” He told her, stroking her hair with one hand. “Such a pleasing fucking mouth.”

Her head bobbed dutifully, the tongue never stopping. Eventually it was too much however and the slow stroke of her tongue pushed him over the edge. He gripped her hair and began to speed up her pace, pumping into her at an increasing rate until finally with a roar, he spilled over into her mouth, flooding her with the taste of him. She didn't need to be told to swallow, nor to keep her mouth on him until he tapped her cheek once to indicate he was ready for her to come off. He could see her wetness almost drooling down onto the leather seat where her ass was tilted up.

He looked into her face, pupils nearly black and lips red and raw and gave her a soft, gentle kiss. He pulled up her dress to cover her breasts and then settled her back into her seat. He tucked himself back into his trousers, turned on the engine of the car and put his arm around the back of her seat, twisting in his own so he could see behind him as he backed the car out of the little country lane and back onto the main road.

She said nothing as they bounced along the lane but he noticed that her thighs were pressed together again. “None of that Eleanor.” He said, parting her knees with the hand off the gear shift. “Don't think I can't find a way of spanking you without making you cum.”

She let her head fall back in frustration. “Someone should fucking take care of this road.” She moaned. “I don't remember it being so bouncy on the way here.”

He laughed. “Best to take it up with the local magistrate I think.”

He took his time on the drive back. He stopped for lunch at a cafe in one of the villages they passed where he ordered them oysters, endive salad and a steak for her, bangers and mash for him. She looked a little bit desperate when he ordered her sorbet and coffee from them both. He took her hand and led her up the street to the village square where the waiter had told them there was a lovely church and fountain that people often stopped to see.

“Is this your idea of trying to be romantic then?” She asked as he stopped to buy apples that looked particularly good from a street vendor. He bought something as well from a little shops along the lane in a paper bag.

“Yes.”

“Well I fucking hate it.” She whispered.

He laughed and gave her a long kiss. “I have some idea of how you'll come to forgive me.”

“I can't go into that church Tommy, not with the thoughts I have. I'll burst into flames.” She pleaded, a little desperate and hysterical giggle flavoring her words.

“Shall I buy you some roses do you think?”

“Oh Jesus please God no.”

But at least when they reached Birmingham he didn't take the streets to the convent, nor to Watery Lane but instead turned toward the betting parlor without remark. She was surprised to see how little it had changed. She wasn't sure what she had expected—bullet holes or a dead body—but it looked the same as it ever did, the familiar desk and bed just where she remembered them. The bedspread just as neat and tidy as it ever was.

He went to the desk and poured himself a whiskey that he set on the top. “Come here Eleanor and sit on the desk.”

She obeyed, sitting where he indicated.

He kissed her slowly, stoking the fire that was already so close to the surface with care not to let it blaze too hot too quickly. He tilted back her head, parting her lips and sampling each thoroughly. Her head fell back and he kissed her throat, little nips and kisses that made her arch against him.

“Spread your legs.”

He slid a hand up one thigh, the other still at the base of her neck, keeping her head tilted back. The muscles under his fingers trembled slightly as he raised his fingers to the crux of her and slide one long finger in. She arched against him beautifully. He nudged her legs apart with his own and then knelt before her. He pushed the skirt back, hands gripping her buttocks to spread her open farther.

Her head fell back, knuckles white on the edge of the desk.

“Jesus Tommy, please.”

It was agonizingly slow going. She was so close, so responsive he could barely touch her but he nibbled and nipped, keeping her at the edge for almost a half hour. She was sweating, arching, wide eyes and dripping onto the desk by the time he finally let her orgasm crash over her life a wave. Her body jerked, almost as if in pain, arching up against him as she came on his tongue. Her fingers twisted in his hair and she had breath only for a single word, “Thomas!” Like a curse and a plea all at once.

He let her come back, taking one long lick for good measure when she was finished, making her gasp as he touched the overly sensitive flesh. He stood and kissed her lips again, slowly. “Satisfied sweetheart?”

She nodded dreamily.

Forgetting herself for a moment she reached for the whiskey glass beside her and was surprised when his hand closed over the top of hers, preventing her from picking it up. She glanced up, surprised that he would deny her, and her face froze. His expression was compressed but firm, brooking no argument. He didn't want her to drink hard alcohol.

She swallowed deep in her throat. He'd ordered her beer with lunch. It had paired with the food but still, he usually didn't drink the stuff, nor order it for her. “How long have you known then?” She asked, fighting not to let the strain of her voice crack.

He didn't try to pretend he didn't know what she meant. “Your mother told me, the night before I left Belton House to go back to Birmingham.”

Almost before she'd known. Fuck.

She licked her lips, mouth suddenly dry. “I don't have any expectations Tommy, surely you know that.”

He left her where she was, perched on the side of the desk with her skirt around her hips and went back to where his jacket was hanging by the door. He took something out of the pocket and returned a moment later, placing it carefully on the desk beside her. It was a jewelry box, the kind that held a ring.

She looked up at him, wide eyes. “I told you I didn't want to be married. I don't expect you to do this.”

He shook his head. “You said you didn't want to be constrained. Not that you didn't want to belong to me.” Her eyes widened still farther at that. Oh yes sweetheart, I do listen when you're talking, not just when you're fucking moaning beneath me. “I don't expect you to plan dinner parties or pick out my suits, give up your work or fix me a fucking drink at night or do anything at all, except exactly what I tell you to do. And that Eleanor? Well you already do that don't you?”

He could see the pulse racing at her throat.

To Eleanor it seemed as if the world had turned into a confusing kaleidoscope the moment Tommy had taken the ring box from his coat pocket. Marry her? Of all the possibilities she'd considered over the last weeks why had she never considered this one? It was impossible, absurd. And then, for a moment, she let herself imagine it.

A thousand images of what their life together could be filled her mind: sleeping next to him every night at the Watery Lane house instead of him dropping her off at the convent, waiting for him with a book in the parlor or naked in his bed, helping Ada with Karl and Poll with dinner. As his wife could bring him lunch in the middle of the day whenever she wanted, shut the door and take off her coat and press her lips together hopefully. She could buy belts for him, lingerie for her, soft cords or scarves that she could leave for him to find in the bedside table, his glovebox, the pocket of his suit. They could spend weekends at her parents house, a place he'd made tolerable again for her. She could introduce him to her friends, take him out riding. He was a Birmingham boy but a gypsy too wasn't he? He might like to explore the fields and forests of her youth with her again. He was right that it didn't feel like constraint, didn't feel at all like what she'd felt when David Smythe had asked her, like two shackles closing about her wrists.

And then there was the baby. Eleanor could already imagine it so vividly: perfect blue eyes, just like his father's, tiny fingers and soft skin. A little piece of Thomas Shelby that she could love without reservation, without trying to hide it or hold back from showing her feelings too fully.

That thought brought her up short.

It was one thing to want all those things but it was another to want them at the cost of having trapped him. He'd given her enough hadn't he? Risked his life for her, twice really, embroiled his family and business in a dispute that had started with her kidnapping, given her a baby. She couldn't take more.

“Whatever my mother said to you, this isn't... that is to say there will be no repercussions for you. I'll make sure of it.” She was speaking quickly now, desperate for him to understand this hadn't been her intention. “You can be as much in the baby's life as you wish but I'll not insist on anything.”

“I'll not have a bastard by you Eleanor. All your babes will have my name and my protection.”

“You don't have to do this. Not for my sake.”

“I'm not doing it for your sake sweetheart.”

“You're under no obligation.”

“Obligation is not the issue.” It's ownership.

She shook her head. “I wouldn't do that to you. We can go on, just as we are. We can go on as before... I know... I know you don't love me and I wouldn't force you into this. The baby doesn't have to change anything.”

This close his eyes seemed to fill her vision, blue and endless depths that made her dizzy. Her heart was beating a tattoo against her chest and she couldn't think. The soft lips were perfectly still, long lashes unblinking. “The baby changes everything Eleanor.” He said, voice like some great stone rolling down a hill. “But I loved you long before I knew you were pregnant, if that is your question.”

Whatever she had been expecting him to say it clearly wasn't that for her own eyes widened at that pronouncement. His eyes flicked down to her lips as she swallowed. “You love me?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I love you.”

“For how long?”

His smile was that rare warm, genuine one, amused and pleased. “'How long?' 'How much would I make as a whore?' 'What do you see in my palm?' 'Will you not command me?'” He let out a small laugh. “You have the most unusual questions of any woman I've ever known.”

He stepped back and fished his cigarettes out of his vest pocket, fighting not to let his hands tremble with relief. Whatever bent this conversation could take that he'd most feared-- the nightmare he'd lived over and over in the past few weeks of what she might say when he told her he intended to keep her for good--at least this did not seem to be going down that path. He lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply to give himself time to think. She hadn't said no, not yet. She hadn't said she was taking the baby back to the countryside, that once it was born she didn't want to see him anymore or any of the thousand other things he'd thought about in the nights they'd spend apart when the nightmares came back full force without her.

“Since the Lee brothers took you at least, before that probably. I noticed it more once you were gone.” He said, surprising himself with his own honesty.

Her frown deepened. “You like that... that I submit to you, that I do what you tell me to.”

“I do.”

“That's not the same as love.”

“No, it's not.” He paused. “Does it surprise you that much eh? That I love you in addition to that.” Surprise you that I'm capable of it.

“How will I know though? How will I know that you're telling the truth?” Her expression was one of somber inquisition.

“Telling the truth about what?”

“How can I tell that you aren't just saying...what you think I want to hear so I'll agree to marry you.”

Of all the things he might have expected she might say in this conversation this was not one of them. Sometime he forgot how incredibly young she was. Not just in years but in experience. At her age he'd been a sapper, digging in the bloody mud of France. He wasn't sure if he'd ever had hands as soft as hers. Those wide blue eyes, talking to him about the truth made him feel tired and ever so jaded. Prove to her that he loved her? Had it not all been proof? The way he touched her, looked at her, caressed her, took her. Hell the way he beat her. It all gave him away, hadn't it? So often in the past months he'd felt the words rise up in his throat when he took her, mouth pressed against her throat, teeth clenched to keep them back.

“If you don't know by now sweetheart, there's nothing I can say to you that will convince you.”

She frowned. “I suppose you did risk your life for me. Before you knew about the baby.”

“That thing with the Lees you mean?”

“Yes.”

“That was not the measure of my love for you.”

“No?"

“If that... if that is how you want to fucking measure my love...” He met her gaze levelly for a moment, fighting the impulse to take her by the shoulders and shake. “You don't know the half of what I'm capable of Eleanor, nor a quarter measure of what I would do to protect you, to protect that baby. You're surprised I'd walk across some fucking field without a gun to get you back from the Lees?” He took a deep ragged breath that he disguised with the cigarette. “You told me once that when you kneel at my feet you don't have to think, that you only have to focus on pleasing me. That it's peaceful. When I'm buried in you, when you're in my arms or over my desk or at my feet I don't have to fucking think either. I don't have to worry or try to persuade you. I don't have to strategize or think what comes next. I take what I like and you give it to me.

“And that, Eleanor, that is fucking peace. Or as near to it as a man like me can come.”

Her eyes were wide as he came forward and stood between her legs but she tipped her head up to him, already parting her lips to accept his kiss. He brushed only a very light one across her lips. “Do you have any idea what that's worth to me? What I would do to keep you?”

She raised her hand to his chest and for a sickening moment he thought she was going to push him away but instead her fingers curled over his vest, just where the tattoo was beneath the expensive cloth. “You want to keep me?” Her voice was very soft, unsure.

“I want much more than that Eleanor: on your knees in my study, legs spread on the desk, bent over and fucked on the vanity. I want you to give me children, sleep beside me, make a Shelby of you, buy you dresses and the biggest fucking diamond you've ever seen. I want to be the only man to ever know how beautiful you are when you come, when you wrap your lips around my cock or take a blow from my hand.”

She shivered at his words but he kept going, needing her to hear them. “I want to take everything that you'll give me. Until you ask me to stop. I'll love you. Until you ask me to stop.”

He picked her up from the desk and carried her bridal style to the bed. She let him unbutton her dress and push it off her shoulders. He stripped her to the core and then started on his own clothes, not rushing as he did. He spread her legs and climbed between then, pushing her knees apart and slipping into her. He covered her body with hers and took her in slow, powerful thrusts until they both shuddered over the edge together.

He looked down at her for a long moment when she had come back, his expression unreadable before he slid off the bed and fetched the ring from the desk. He sat on the edge of the bed, watching her through hooded eyes. He opened the case and took it out, a clearly costly but tasteful diamond with sapphires on either side. He rolled the ring in his fingers for a moment as if it were a cigarette, as if he were considering how likely it was that she would accept it.

“Give me your hand Eleanor.”

She didn't hesitate, holding out her left hand. He took the slender fingers in his own, feeling something unexpectedly warm swell in his chest. He slid the ring onto her finger. He felt suddenly as if he could breathe freely for the first time in... God how long had it been? Since he'd found out she was pregnant, since she'd been taken, since before the war? He couldn't remember.

He swung his legs back into bed and pulled her into her usual attitude: one arm across his chest and half sprawled across his chest. He lit a cigarette and then cupped her ass with his free hand. The ring looked good. It was big enough to make her fingers look small, ostentatious enough to impress her friends, but not gaudy, not too nouveau riche. Lady Arden would approve. And he liked the way the sapphires looked with her eyes, making them look even bluer and brighter by comparison. Tomorrow Poll would need to take her take her to London. He wondered if it were better to wait for the Banns to be read or if they should skip it for the sake she not be showing on the day...

“You never asked me, you know.” She said quietly.

He smiled indulgently, feeling that nothing could spoil his good mood. If she wanted him to get down on one knee in front of Ada or her family or a restaurant full of strangers he was happy to do it. “How would you like me to? Genuflecting before your convent sisters I suppose.”

She laughed. “No I don't mean you never asked me to marry you. Of course I'll marry you. You never... you never asked me if I love you.”

The cigarette paused on the way to his lips. She'd turned her head to look up at him, chin on his chest. He cleared his throat, then spoke. “And do you?”

“Yes.”

He fought the urge to grip her harder against him for fear she would slip away, an insane, strange need to press her close. Something about that piece of information made him feel as if a dark cloud had passed over him, the elation and joy of the moment draining away to a pit of fear in his stomach. Wasn't it enough that she was in his arms, carrying his child and agreeing to be his wife. Whatever her reasons for saying yes to him he would accept them. It didn't have to be perfect. He didn't expect it to be. He was a dead man after all, a gangster, a fighting man, a gypsy. This was not the ending he was intended for.

She let out a little tinkling laugh. “Does that make you nervous Thomas?”

“Eh?”

“You tensed when I said it. I can feel it in your arms and under my hand on your chest, like you're getting ready for a fight when I said that I love you.” She reached up, very hesitantly to trail a finger over his lips. “Are you not pleased that I love you?”

“I am pleased.” He took a long drag on his cigarette. She said nothing but her look told him she expected a further explanation. He took a moment before organizing his thoughts then said. “I've done nothing to deserve you Eleanor, nothing in my past makes me think I'm destined to be happy. If we were in the kind of story that my mother used to tell me in the kitchen to amuse me this would be about the moment where the earth opened up to swallow you down to hell or worse.”

What a fucking thing to tell a woman with his baby within her, his ring on her finger. But she'd asked and she usually didn't ask for unpleasant truths. He wouldn't deny her such an unusual request.

She considered that for a moment. Then smiled. “Perhaps you're only wrong about the kind of story that we're in. Maybe we're in the kind of story that my mother used to tell me instead. They always end just like this, a handsome prince and a wedding.”

He didn't take the bait. She knew well enough what kind of fucking prince he was.

She pressed a soft kiss to his chest. “What makes you think that the story is about you eh? Maybe it's my luck Thomas.” She said softly between kisses. She began to slide lower, shifting onto her knees above him so she could press soft kisses in line down his chest, the flat planes of his abdomen, then lower. “Maybe I'm the one destined to be happy.” She murmured.

He could feel the world sliding away, the familiar silence of their intimacy enclosing around them. Her obedience, submission, the simplicity of the bond that held them to each other washed over him as powerful as any drug. Her eager mouth closed around him and he groaned, canting his hips up into her throat and she stroked him with her tongue.

But then she looked up, wide blue eyes meeting his, lips stretched around his cock and the halo of her hair warm about her face. He slid a fond hair through the curls and she slid back down, sliding her tongue along the base of him. Are you not pleased that I love you? He could read the question in her eyes.

“Yes Eleanor, I'm pleased.”

She was going to take her time, he could tell. The slow stroking pace she'd set would drag his pleasure out for an hour or more if he could only master himself not to be impatient, not take her by the hair and guide her faster. Her throat would be raw by the end of it, lips puffy and bruised, but he had no doubt that she intended to endure it for him. He took the cigarettes from the bedside table and lit one, hoping to occupy his hands with that, hoping the nicotine might bring him a little control back from the brink. He inhaled deeply, tilting his head back and closing his eyes against the image of her though it seemed to be seared into his brain. With his free hand he couldn't help but run his fingers through her soft hair, the measure of the bobbing motion of it almost soothing. He could feel her hands on him, one splayed up his abdomen, running gentle fingers over his ribs, the other gripping his hip to steady herself. He could feel the ring on her finger skimming over the surface of his skin. His wife and she loved him. Maybe we're in a different kind of story, the kind that ends with a kiss and a wedding.

But for a moment, he could almost believe her.