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The Countess

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It was only after the major-domo announced her that Lady Dana Scully gave any thought to the state of her dress. The entire ballroom had turned to get a look at the newest Lady debuting into Society, and the dress she was wearing -- borrowed from her sister -- wouldn’t do at all. For one thing, it was cut entirely too low. The color was a rich cerulean blue and complemented both her eyes and her coloring, but the looks she was getting -- raised eyebrows from the ladies and downright leers from the men -- were enough to make her want to sink into her shoes: also borrowed, also too low. By the time she reached the bottom of the steps, the looks from Society hadn’t stopped, but she was too short to see anything

“Lady Dana!” she heard from somewhere in the crowd, and from her left -- shoving through the amassed crowd like the prow of a ship through water -- came her brother-in-law, Sir Michael Willoughby and his wife, her sister Melissa, who would be her chaperones for the evening until her mother arrived later. 

“Michael, Missy!” 

Michael nodded to her and Missy swept her up into a tight hug. 

“You look radiant!” Missy said, holding out her hands so she could get a look at her in the borrowed dress.

“I’m showing entirely too much décolletage,” Dana muttered, looking about her at the feathered and bejeweled masses of polite London Society. She wished she’d been permitted a fichu, but alas, her mother had helped her dress and insisted she go without. She brought a hand to her coiffure self-consciously and wondered if anyone could tell that her family no longer employed a lady’s maid. 

“Nonsense,” Melissa said, “why we’ll have you betrothed to a Duke by midnight!” 

Melissa had of course only been trying to make her feel better, and what was a ball if not a market where young ladies were on display for the careful selection of the gathered unmarried men, but at mention of the word “duke,” Dana’s stomach lurched and she could feel the color rising to her cheeks. She snapped out her fan and began waving it in front of her face to cover it.

“My dear, you look flushed,” said Michael kindly. “Can I get you some lemonade?” 

“Please,” Dana said, and when Michael turned away to get refreshments, she said,  “I’ll go with you!” Anything to get away from the constant quizzical glares of hundreds of eyes in the ballroom. 

Melissa grabbed her arm and they followed Michael to a room just off the main hall that held refreshments of every kind, and more food -- all of it decadent and rich -- than Dana had seen in one place in years. 

“Where’s Mother?” Melissa said quietly into her ear, still holding onto Dana’s arm tightly as they each sipped lemonade. 

“She’ll be along,” Dana said, “she insisted I come early, no doubt to meet as many eligible gentlemen as possible.”

“You’d think she’d want to be by your side, introducing you to as many and more,” Melissa murmured. 

Dana would have laughed if the situation weren’t as serious as it was. 

“She got a letter from Father as we were leaving,” Dana said, looking at her sister earnestly. “She sent me along in the carriage and ran into the house to read it.”

Melissa’s face looked pained. 

Their family was in trouble. Their father, William Scully, the Marquess of Sunderland, had made several bad investments since his retirement from the Royal Navy, and the debtors had all come calling at once. Their fortune had been all but spent when it came time for Dana’s debut into society, and the last of the family’s money had been used to purchase her older brother Bill’s commission into the Navy.

Initially, their mother and father had thought that perhaps an advantageous marriage for Melissa might save them, but Missy, impetuous as always, had run off to Gretna Green to elope with their childhood friend Michael (a gentleman himself, but a poor one with only a small estate in Cumberland -- what little income he had could not be spared to help save his new in-laws), and so now all of the family’s hope was resting on Dana’s shoulders. Their father was only months away from losing his estate, and the family’s reputation along with it. If Dana didn’t marry well -- and soon -- they would all be ruined. 

Melissa downed the rest of her lemonade and gave her glass to a passing waiter. 

“Dana-” she started to say. 

“Do not apologize, again,” Dana said, “not one more word. You married for love and I do not begrudge you your happiness.”

In truth, she did begrudge her sister. At least a little. And then felt all the more guilty for it. She would not tell her sister that her mother had spoken -- on more than one occasion -- with the Duke of Ashbury, and she knew she was the subject of their discussion. The Duke was old -- somewhere in his sixties -- and fat. And ugly. And from what little interaction Dana had had with him, she had also found him to be unkind, dismissive and a bigot. His wife had died a little more than a year ago and left him childless. He was in want of a new Duchess and an heir and was richer than Croesus. On paper, it seemed a perfect match.

But as much as Dana wanted to save her family, the thought of becoming that man’s wife, of… of laying with him and mothering his children, filled her with dread. Even the promise of years of being a wealthy widow (how the man had not keeled over dead already was a mystery to her) and a Duchess to boot held very little appeal. 

Dana wanted what Melissa had. Love. A husband whom she cared for, who cared for her. One she could talk with, read with, discuss science and literature, someone she looked at fondly who would look fondly at her in return. She wanted a great love. 

Instead she would get a Duke.

XxXxXxXxXxX

She saw the black and blue feathered plume of her mother’s fascinator long before she caught sight of the woman wearing it. It bobbed and weaved through the mass of society, pausing every now and then to speak to gathered groups. 

When her mother had finally broken free and was walking toward them, it was on the arm of her elder brother, who was looking exceedingly handsome in his new naval uniform. 

“Oh Dana, darling, I do hope you’re not being a wallflower,” her mother said to her as she leaned in to kiss her cheek.

“She has danced twice already, Mother,” Melissa said, leaning in for her own kiss. She winked at Dana as she did so.

“Good, good,” the Marchioness said, a little breathless, and then turned to her eldest son. “Look what I found on the doorstep.”

“Bill!” Dana said, wrapping her arms around her brother, “we were not expecting you!”

“It was meant to be a surprise,” he said, placing a kiss on her hairline.

Bill leaned in to exchange greetings with Melissa,then stepped off to the side to talk with Michael. The Marchioness stood next to Dana and turned to look at the crowd. 

“Have you seen the Duke?” she said quietly, looking at the gathering intently. 

“Which Duke?” Melissa said quickly, shooting a glance at Dana before peering curiously at their mother. 

“Ashbury,” their mother said, not taking her eyes off the mass of people. 

“And why should Dana be looking for the Duke of Ashbury?” Melissa asked cautiously.

The Marchioness gave Melissa a long look and then leaned in a conspiratorial way. 

“He plans to court Dana,” she said in a whisper. 

Melissa looked aghast. 

“But he’s old!” she all but shouted, “and by all accounts ghastly!”

“Hush, Melissa,” their mother hissed and looked around to see if they’d been overheard. “He’s also rich and in need of a wife,” she went on. 

Melissa threw a horrified look at Dana, who stared at her shoes. It wouldn’t do to start crying in the middle of a ball in Westminster, and if Melissa even showed her an ounce of sympathy right now, she knew she’d start tearing up immediately. 

Oh, how she wished she were at home in Cumberland with her books. She’d always found books to be far better company than people. 

Just then, a hush seemed to fall over the gathering as the major-domo declared another arrival. Dana couldn’t hear who’d been announced. After a moment of hushed whispers, the noise level seemed to return to normal. 

“Is it the Duke?” the Marchioness said hopefully, craning her neck to see over the crowd. Dana hoped not. 

“An Earl, I think,” said Michael distractedly from a few feet away, wiping the crumbs of a macaron from his ascot.

A moment later a man walked through the crowd toward and then past them, a full head taller than nearly everyone else. Everyone glanced curiously in his direction as he passed, as though a cloud of intrigue wafted in the air around him. 

It was a man Dana had never seen before. He had dark hair, thick and just growing over the sharp edge of his pristinely pressed collar. His shirt was billowy and brilliantly white, and his trousers clung to muscular legs that disappeared into expensive looking Hessians. He had a fine face, a chiseled jaw, and full lips. His eyes shone forest green over a strong nose and caught Dana’s own for a moment as he passed. She felt as though her head had been rung like a bell just looking at him. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

“He has a lot of nerve, showing himself here,” Bill practically spat from his position next to Michael. 

Dana shook her head to clear it. 

“Here?” she asked. 

“In polite society,” Bill clarified, his eyes following the man, his look withering. 

“He’s the richest Earl in the kingdom, Bill,” their mother said dismissively, “he can show himself in any society he wants.” With that she snapped out her fan and continued scanning the ballroom.

“Who is he?” Dana asked her sister quietly, so as not to let Bill overhear. 

“William Mulder,” she said on a whisper back, “the Ninth Earl of Wexford.”

“But I heard he’s-”

“A rake and a scoundrel?” Missy said into her ear, smiling, “That’s what they say. I even overheard the Viscountess Smith call him ‘The Fox.’”

“Whatever for?” Dana asked, 

“They say he keeps a fallen woman in a lavish apartment in Mayfair,” Missy said, “for his own personal use.”

“Missy!” she admonished, but her sister merely grabbed champagne from a passing waiter and smiled into the glass. 

“Come Dana,” her mother said, grabbing her elbow and pulling her along after her, “I think I see the Duke.”

XxXxXxXxXxX

The Duke of Ashbury was even older, fatter and more unpleasant than Dana remembered. He prattled on and on about his wealth and estates and her mother practically simpered over every word he said, which turned Dana’s stomach even more. And the way he looked at her -- as though she were a pastry to be eaten -- her distaste for the man only grew.

When he finally asked her for a dance (lacking all conceivable charm and saying “Well, I suppose we should get on with it, let us go, my dear,”) Dana was so off-put that she couldn’t find any words at all. The next dance was a waltz, and the thought of the Duke’s rotund belly pressing into her own filled her with such revulsion that she then stammered:

“I -- I can’t. I’ve promised the next dance to someone else.”

“You have?” the Duke said, his face looking as though he were sucking a lemon, “...to whom ?”

Dana’s mother was glaring at her, anger and embarrassment turning her cheeks scarlet. 

“To me, your grace,” said a deep, droll voice from over her shoulder. She turned to see the Earl of Wexford standing close to her, his hand held out politely. “Shall we?”

“I -- yes,” Dana said shortly and put her hand in the Earl’s before she dug herself into any further trouble. She quickly curtsied to the Duke, and avoiding her mother’s eye, let the Earl lead her to the dance floor. 

He was even taller up close, and when he placed his hand behind her for the dance, it almost spanned the whole of her back. She held in a shiver as he pulled her close. 

“I thank you, Lord Wexford,” she said, as the orchestra began to play, “for the-” she wasn’t sure what to say. 

“Quick escape?” he filled in politely, then smiled down at her. “Ashbury may be rich, but he’s an utter clod on the dance floor. I would save any Lady’s poor feet given the opportunity. Particularly one so beautiful as yourself,” he added as almost an afterthought, looking anywhere but her eyes, as if embarrassed he’d said it. 

Dana could feel herself blush and looked down, then heard the sharp words of her dance tutor in her head and snapped her eyes back up. 

The Earl was once again looking at her. 

“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” he said and she squinted at him in question. “You know my name, but I’m afraid I don’t know yours.”

“I am Dana Scully,” she said. “My father is -”

“The Marquess of Sunderland,” he finished for her once again, “I had the honor of meeting your father at Court several years ago. He seems a decent man, and from what I hear, was a fine sailor.”

Dana was touched at his kind words. Everyone in London knew of her father’s bad investments and impending ruin. It had been a long time since anyone had spoken of him without sparing a pitying look toward his daughter. Dana felt grateful. 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lady Dana,” he said, as they approached a corner of the dance floor. He turned her expertly, and pulled her in a bit closer. 

“We’re being watched quite closely,” Dana observed, finally noticing all the looks they were getting as they moved dreamily along. 

“All wondering how I managed to secure a dance with the most beautiful woman at the ball, no doubt,” he said easily. 

Dana smiled, charmed. 

“And here I thought it was because of your reputation.”

“Reputation?” he said, “I have a reputation?”

Dana laughed. 

“If I have learned anything in my twenty four years,” he went on, “it is that people are rarely exactly as their reputation describes them.”

“Oh?” Dana said, hoping he would go on. His voice wasn’t what one would call melodic, but it had a soothing quality to it and his words seemed intelligently selected. But rather than expanding on his statement, he instead chose to peer at her enigmatically and Dana felt a bit like a bug under one of those microscopes she coveted so much. 

“All that said,” he said a moment later, “I’d hate for my reputation to color yours. Is there anyone I can escort you back to after the dance has concluded? Another friend or chaperone? I’d hate to deliver you to the arms of the Duke, as I suspect it’s the last place you wish to be?”

Dana sighed. 

“You’re right on that front. But he’s meant to be courting me, and I suppose… I should let him.”

“It doesn’t seem a happy prospect,” he said, his eyes searching hers. 

“But the only one afforded me as a lady,” she replied sadly. 

“Do you wish to marry the man?” he asked. 

“I wish to keep my family from ruin,” she said, “and as our society stipulates that I may not work to amass a fortune, my only option left is to marry for one.”

“A practice I’ve always found to be cruel and outdated,” he muttered. 

“I heartily agree,” she said. 

“Is there no one else?” he asked, “But that... poltroon?”

Dana laughed at the word. 

“I’m afraid not, and I don’t have the time to find one, Lord Wexford.”

He gave her a queer look. 

“I-” he began to say, but the music had ended and neither of them had noticed. Dana jumped back from his arms and began clapping politely in the direction of the orchestra. 

Lord Wexford pulled himself up straight and did the same, and then offered her his arm. 

“To the Duke?” he asked her quietly. 

“To the Duke,” she said sadly. 

The heat of his arm under his coat almost burned her.



Chapter Text

She did one country dance with the Duke before dinner was called, and she was forced to sit next to him during the meal. Food and spittle came out of his mouth at regular intervals as he spoke, and when she tried to converse with him of books and science in an effort to find a shared interest, he informed her that he thought women had no place reading, much less discussing topics like science.

She grew more and more depressed as the meal wore on, and when Missy tried to catch her eye from across the room, she couldn’t take it anymore and excused herself awkwardly, rushing off down the nearest hallway, just needing to get away from him .  

She rounded a corner into an empty corridor and leaned back against the wall, taking large, heaving breaths, her breasts practically spilling out of the top of her dress as she did so. She hated this dress. She hated this place. She hated the Duke and her father and all the choices made in the world that led to her current situation. 

After a few deep breaths, she began to calm a bit and felt cool air on her face coming from further down the corridor. 

She knew she shouldn’t be on her own anywhere in the house without a chaperone -- the very last thing she needed was to ruin her reputation and thereby her chances of an advantageous marriage if she were discovered. In London Society all it took was a word in one person’s ear and any woman’s prospects could be shattered. Her family would be ruined and so would she. Nevertheless, she welcomed the feeling of the cool air on her hot skin, and rather thought a breath of fresh air might help her to center herself so she could return to the party. 

She rounded the corner and found a door that led to the garden. She stepped through it gratefully. 

The garden smelled of roses and jasmine and was blessedly deserted. She stepped under an arbor dripping with wisteria and found a bench in front of a small fountain. She sat. 

She wanted nothing more than to loosen her corset and fling it away, but she leaned back instead, trying to take as deep breaths as she could. It was hopeless. Everything was hopeless. She felt the sharp sting of tears at the corner of her eyes and finally let them fall. 

She wept for what felt like an hour but was probably only a matter of minutes, before she heard what she thought was a footfall from the doorway through which she’d come. If her mother found her out here, she’d be furious, and Dana had no doubts that she’d noticed the empty chair next to the Duke and would come looking for her. She needed to get back to the dinner -- and the Duke. There had to be another way back into the house. 

She stepped around the fountain and under another arbor, and when she turned the corner, there sat the Earl of Wexford, sitting on a twin of the bench she had just been occupying. 

They both started at the presence of the other and then the Earl shook himself and stood politely. 

“Lady Dana,” he said, squinting at her, no doubt seeing the tracks of tears on her cheeks, “are you all right?”

Dana quickly wiped at her cheeks then smoothed her dress. Finally she raised her eyes back to the Earl. 

“I’m fine, thank you.”

He nodded once and reached into the inside pocket of his coat, pulling out a crisp white handkerchief that he handed her without a word. 

She looked at it for a long moment before accepting it with all the dignity she could muster, wiping it delicately under her eyes and nose. She handed it back with a small smile. 

“Can I escort you back inside?” he asked kindly, “it wouldn’t do to be caught out here alone together. I’m afraid I do have a bit of a reputation -- earned or otherwise -- and being out here with me is sure to get you one, too.”

She knew he was right but didn’t want to go inside just yet. The open sky and the fresh air lent her a feeling of freedom she knew she should revel in while she still could. She sat on the bench. He looked at her for a long minute then sat gingerly down beside her, giving her as much room as was possible on the small seat. 

“Your reputation isn’t earned?” she asked him boldly. He leaned back and smiled at the ground in front of him. 

“I suppose that depends,” he said.

“On what?”

“On what you’ve heard,” he looked back at her and she hoped he couldn’t see the blush she could feel blooming on her cheeks in the dark.

“I’ve heard you keep a fallen woman in a luxurious apartment in Mayfair,” she said, surprising both of them with her boldness. “Is it not true?”

He looked at her -- his eyebrows still up -- and then back to the ground. 

“It is true,” he finally said. 

Dana was shocked. She barely knew him, but he seemed a decent man and had treated her with dignity and respect. He didn’t seem the kind of man who would keep a whore.

“And you keep her there for your…” she wasn’t sure how to demurely ask it, but something inside of her really wanted to know, “...personal use?”

He threw his head back and laughed once, mirthlessly. 

“That part is not true.”

“It’s… not?”

“She is a friend,” he said simply. 

Dana didn’t want to pry further, but couldn’t keep the interest from her face. 

He rested his elbows on his knees and looked at the flowers surrounding them. 

“She is an old friend,” he went on, “who was met with an unfortunate series of events in her life. We were childhood friends. When I found out what became of her, I… did what I could for her.” 

“So she now lives comfortably in Mayfair?” Dana asked, realising only after she said it how rude it sounded. 

“Yes, and she no longer has to prostitute herself to do so,” he said curtly. 

Dana felt the sharpness of the words in her chest. 

“What is her name?” she asked quietly, and his posture softened. He turned to look at her. 

“I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that,” he said. “It’s kind of you.”

She waited for an answer and finally he gave it. 

“Her name is Diana.”

“Then I shall tell all who will listen that your reputation is unearned,” she said, sitting up smartly. “When I’m a Duchess, they’ll have to listen.”

“I pity the person who doesn’t listen to you,” he said softly. “Duchess or no.”

She felt tears well in her eyes for his kindness. 

“I do hope we can be friends,” she said, standing and then holding out her hand for a shake, “after I’m married.”

He stood as well and clasped her hand warmly, giving it a firm shake. The hair on her arms stood on end from the contact. He let go after a moment. 

“It is my hope as well,” he said, “though it would require your Narcissus of a future husband to permit you.”

“He had better,” Dana said, laughing a bit now with gallows humor, “for it sounds like he won’t permit me to discuss anything more exciting than the weather... I shall need someone to discuss Evanston with.”

Lord Wexford’s eyebrows rose. 

“You read Evanston?”

“Evanston and a good deal more,” she said, proudly. 

He smiled at her, impressed. 

“I look forward to discussing his newest prose with you --  I admit I have a hard time picturing those elegant words emitting from the Duke’s flexuous lips.”

“Ugh,” Dana shuddered, thinking of the food that had flown out of the Duke’s mouth not an hour ago, “do not speak to me of his lips! And to think -- my first kiss will be to those .”

A look came over his face with her words. 

“You have never been kissed?” he said, his voice taking on a rough quality. His eyes drifted from her eyes to settle on her lips and then flitted briefly, for the first time, to her bosom. 

“I have not,” she said primly, for the first time feeling a bit nervous about being alone with a man in an empty garden.

He seemed to sense her change in comfort and put his hands behind his back as if to reassure her. 

“Would you like to be?” he asked quietly. 

“Would I like to be what?” she said dumbly, both hoping and not hoping that he meant what she thought he did. 

“Kissed,” he said simply, and unconsciously licked his lips slowly, drawing her attention to his mouth, to his plump lower lip. 

She felt something low in her gut, and before she realized she had said it, the word sat there in the air between them:

“Yes.”

He said nothing but took a slow step toward her, allowing her time to turn and run away if she had any second thoughts. 

She was surprised to find that she didn’t. Not one. In fact the only thing she wanted in the world right now was to feel this man’s lips upon her own. 

When he got close, as close as he had been when they had been waltzing, he reached his hands up to lightly touch her face, and her breath hitched in her throat. 

“You will permit me?” he said as he leaned down slowly to bring his lips level with her own. She nodded once and her eyes slid closed. 

She felt the light fan of his breath on her face, smelling a hint of honey and something else more sharply masculine. And then his lips were upon her own. 

His first touch was gentle and light, the briefest whisper, like the touch of a butterfly’s wings. His second was more firm, the press of him becoming more insistent. She found herself kissing him back, leaning into his lips as he pressed into her. She felt one arm come around her waist to pull her body into his own, and she felt a thrill -- a frisson of energy running from her toes up to the top of her head and then settling, like the fizz of champagne, where their lips met. 

When her body pressed into his further, she heard the lightest of moans from him and her heart thrilled at the power she felt -- like Aphrodite holding the golden apple. She tentatively put a hand around his waist and pressed gently. 

It was all the encouragement he seemed to need, and she suddenly felt his tongue gently insisting on entry passed her lips. Surprised, she opened her mouth, and his tongue plunged inside, rubbing against her own. She felt her womb contract up into her body and a heavy feeling she’d never felt before settle between her legs. 

She released a moan of her own and he moved his head slightly more to the side so that he could more thoroughly plumb the depths of her mouth with his tongue. Feeling a bit like a fencer, she parried with her own and he breathed in once deeply through his nose, moving his other hand into her hair.

She had never felt anything like this. Not once in all of her 20 years. All she wanted was to kiss this man for the rest of her life and never stop, not for sustenance, not for air.

Then in the haze of her desire and the ringing in her ears, she heard a noise and a sharp intake of breath from behind her. 

She pulled her lips from the Earl’s as if in slow motion and turned just in time to see both her brother and her mother standing behind them, shocked looks upon their faces. Her brother’s face slowly turned to outrage. 

“What is the meaning of this?!” he shouted, and took a menacing step forward. 



Chapter Text

“Bill!” she said sharply, her blood running cold. 

“How dare you lay your hands upon my sister!” Bill shouted, and took another step toward the Earl, who seemed momentarily in a daze. Dana whipped her hand out and pushed against her brother’s chest as William Mulder shook his head and came back to himself. 

“I-” he started to say. 

“I had my hands upon him, too,” Dana said quietly, and her mother’s open mouth finally snapped shut. 

“Dana, what on earth were you doing?” the Marchioness said, looking sharply at her daughter. 

“I think it’s fairly obvious what we were doing,” she mumbled. 

“Sir, I assure you...” Wexford stepped forward with a conciliatory hand up, trying to calm the situation. 

Bill Scully was having none of it and took a swing at Wexford over Dana’s head. The Earl ducked quickly out of the way. 

“No!” Dana shouted, pushing again at her brother’s chest.

“Why you-” Bill started to say, his face red, spittle gathering on his lips.

“Quiet, all of you!” The Marchioness hissed with such force that the three people before her stopped in their tracks and looked to her. 

“Sir,” she said to the Earl, “my daughter is being courted by the Duke of Ashbury. Your lips upon her do you no credit.”

“Lady Sunderland,” he started to respond, when the Marchioness held up a hand. 

“If you would speak of this to no one, the three of us shan’t either. We can return to the ball as though nothing had ever happened.”

Dana’s heart fell. She didn’t want to forget that this had happened. She wanted to go back and live in the moment forever. 

“But something has happened, Mother,” Bill spat, slapping the glove he had pulled off (no doubt to smack the Earl across the face with) across his knee and then pointing it at Wexford for emphasis, “and he has to pay for it.”

William ,” Lady Sunderland hissed, her tolerance for his antics reaching its capacity, “if you would like to retain your estate, we need your sister to marry the Duke of Ashbury, and he will not marry her if she is ruined!”

Ruined . It felt like such a wildly inaccurate  word for what had happened to her. She felt fulfilled. Uplifted. Saved

“Lady Dana needn’t marry the Duke of Ashbury,” Wexford said quietly, and all eyes turned to him. “She can marry me.”

XxXxXxXxXxX

“You?” Dana said, in shock.

“You?” The Marchioness and Bill and parroted back. 

“If it is merely a marriage you require to help your family save their estate, then a marriage to me would suffice,” he said. “I am the one who has ruined your daughter,” with this he looked in apology to Dana, “and I will do the honorable thing as a gentleman.”

“But, but…” her mother stuttered, “she has no dowry to speak of. Nothing to offer but herself.”

“A gift greater than any dowry, I think,” he said quietly, still looking at Dana, whose mind had begun to spin. “Unless she wishes to marry the Duke?” he asked. “On my honor I would not stand in the way.”

All eyes then swung to Dana and she was so overwhelmed that she promptly sat down on the bench beside them and began taking deep breaths to calm herself. 

“Dana?” her mother asked after a long moment, her voice concerned, but steady, “Do you wish to marry the Earl? Or the Duke?”

“I-” she began, and swung her eyes to look at Wexford, who was looking at her with such tenderness that her heart felt as though it would melt in her chest. 

“The Earl,” she finally said, “I wish to marry the Earl.”

The Marchioness clapped her hands together, a smile blossoming on her face. 

“Very well,” she said to Wexford, “come by the house tomorrow at noon. My husband will be home. We will draw up the agreement.” 

Wexford nodded at her and looked back to Dana. 

“I will go back inside and attempt to smooth things over with Ashbury,” the Marchioness continued, “I know many fine young ladies, I will distract him with one.” With that she swung back toward the house, her skirts whirling behind her. “Bill!” She shouted over her shoulder, “Come along!”

Bill stood stock still, and then, with one more withering look at both Dana and the Earl, he turned smartly on his heel and followed his mother back into the house. 

After a moment, Wexford lowered himself slowly onto the bench beside Dana.

“Are you all right?” he asked her gently.

She nodded mutely. 

“I must apologize to you,” he said, “I should have never been so brash or so forward as to kiss you. I fear I may have ruined what you saw as your future life.”

Finally she turned to him. 

“But you have saved it,” she said. “Ten minutes ago I saw no future at all. Now, at least I have one in which I’ll be permitted to read Evanston.”

He smiled at her, reached out a tentative hand and put it on her shoulder. 

“Is your family’s financial situation dire and immediate?” he asked kindly. 

She nodded.

“The direst. Even now I wear a borrowed dress.”

“Then I shall obtain a special license,” he said, “and bring it and a minister with me tomorrow. We shall be married in the afternoon.”

She turned to look at him, her eyes searching his. Her mind continued to spin like a top. He reached out and ran a finger lightly over the material of her dress. 

“I have only one request. You must keep this dress,” he said, “I shall pay its owner a small fortune to retain it.”

XxXxXxXxXxX

She sat in the garden with the Earl discussing books and science and all manner of things for over an hour before she fled the ball. She had not wanted to run into the Duke or see the looks of the other amassed ladies, whispering behind their fans and gossiping about where she’d run off to during dinner. 

She fell into bed still dressed, the emotion of the last few hours catching up with her. 

She awoke the next morning with her corset digging painfully into her side, and her sister flopping down onto the bed beside her. 

“Dana!” Melissa hissed, and Dana roused to consciousness with a jolt and a wince. 

“Missy,” she said, bringing her hand to her side, “do help me with this corset.”

Melissa helped her out of the dress and stays and Dana sunk back onto the bed in her shift, avoiding Melissa’s eye. 

“You fled dinner,” Missy said, sinking down next to her, “and then you fled you the ball. And then mother was parading a group of eligible ladies in front of Ashbury for the remainder of the night. And then I got a letter this morning at dawn saying there was to be a wedding here today and would I mind bringing over some flowers from the hothouse and my best dress! Dana, what happened last night?!”

“It was the Duke,” she finally said. “Oh Missy, dinner was so awful. I couldn’t abide sitting at that table with him for one more minute.”

“And now you will be marrying him, today?!” 

“Oh, it’s not him I’m marrying,” Dana said, and off her sister’s puzzled look, she explained all that had happened in the garden the prior evening. 

When she had finished, Missy’s hand flew to her mouth. 

“The Earl of Wexford!” she said, surprised and delighted, “Dana, you’re marrying The Fox!”

Dana nodded dumbly. She still wasn’t sure it wasn’t all some dream.

“Melissa, he’s not what you think,” she said, and told her about the childhood friend he had helped and how the rumors weren’t true. 

“Oh, I am glad to hear it,” Melissa said, “but I admit that a man who keeps an experienced courtesan in a manse of her own is sure to be an accomplished lover, and oh, how I wanted that for you.”

“Missy!”

“Don’t go being chaste with me, Dana, your wedding night is in a matter of hours and we will be talking about sexual congress. You need to be prepared.”

To be truthful, she hadn’t even thought of that. She remembered the kiss she had shared with the Earl and her toes curled into the carpet. 

“Don’t worry, little sister,” Melissa said, squeezing her knee, and lowering her voice, “laying with a man is more wonderful than you could hope to dream.”

XxXxXxXxXxX

She looked around the room as the minister droned on about the tenets of matrimony, taking in the faces of her gathered family members: her little brother Charles smiling from beneath a shock of ginger hair, his gangly arms disappearing into sleeves that were a bit too short, Melissa, holding the arm of her husband and smiling at her encouragingly. On the other side of the room she saw her mother, who looked as pleased as ever, while her father appeared a bit shell-shocked. Bill, standing next to him, had the look of a man who had smelled something foul. She felt a squeeze of her hands and turned to her Groom, who was looking down at her with a smile and expectant expression.

The minister was looking at her as well. She shook herself. 

“I do!” she ventured, and to her mild relief, before she knew it, Wexford was sliding a ring over her finger and kissing her sweetly, and there were cheers of “Huzzah!” ringing throughout the room. 

The wedding breakfast (or rather supper) went by in a blur, Cook putting forth such a feast as the family had not seen in years. At the end of the evening, Wexford handed her into his carriage and then settled in next her -- the first time they had been alone together since their time in the garden the night before. 

“Lord Wexford,” she said, planning to thank him for everything he had done, when he interrupted her.

“Please,” he said, “call me ‘Mulder.’”

She smiled self-consciously. Of course she shouldn’t be addressing her husband so formally. 

“Not William?” she asked. 

“I know close to fifty Williams,” he said, “and am now related to two more. I would be turning my head on every street corner if I were to answer to my Christian name.”

“Then you should call me ‘Scully,’” she said.

“Indeed?” he said, showing her a smile full of teeth.”But you are a Mulder now.”

“Consider it a pet name,” she said. “While other husbands and wives are muttering ‘darlings’ and ‘dears,’ we shall be laughing behind our hands at our own inside joke.”

“Scully it is,” he said. 

Scully . She liked the way it sounded coming from his lips. 

“Scully,” he said one more time, and then grabbed her hand, bringing her knuckles to his lips for a kiss. 

Her stomach dropped low and she remembered the words and instructions of her sister, telling her what it was like to lay naked with a man, and her warnings that the first time was likely to be unpleasant, but that it would grow much more than pleasant the more they did it.

“Is your house far?” she said, to cover for her nerves, peering to look out the window of the carriage.

“Not far, no,” he said, his eyes looking at her so acutely that she would not have been surprised had her dress started smoking on the spot.

When the carriage pulled up in front of the house -- one of the largest Scully had ever seen in London -- the butler (a Mr. Bixby) was waiting for them at the door, his back straight and his livery impeccable. When he showed them into the house, he turned to Scully. 

“Would you care to meet the staff tonight or in the morning, Lady Wexford?”

It took Scully a moment to realize that he was addressing her. 

“Oh!” she said, and turned to see the servants waiting patiently in a line along the wall of the foyer. “Now would be just fine.”

And so she and Mr. Bixby made their way slowly down the line of servants whose names she was sure not to remember by morning. Mulder walked patiently behind her with his hands clasped behind his back, shooting her the occasional reassuring smile. When at last they got to Housekeeper and Cook, Scully’s head was spinning. 

“And this,” he said, pointing to a young blonde woman who gave Scully a tentative smile, “is Prudence. She’ll be your lady’s maid until you’re able to interview and hire your own.”

“I’m sure she’ll do splendidly,” Scully said and the young woman curtsied. 

“Can I show you to your private chambers, Lady Wexford?” Prudence asked tentatively, “or will Lord Wexford be wanting to do that himself?”

Both women looked to Mulder who smiled and made a hand gesture which meant “by all means go ahead,” and she followed Prudence up the steps and down corridors and hallways, thoroughly and abjectly lost by the time they reached the set of rich double doors that led into her personal chambers. 

Mulder had been following quietly behind them and now leaned in and gave Scully a gentle kiss on the cheek. 

“I’ll be by in a little bit?” he said and then walked backwards away from her for several steps before turning and making his way down the hallway.

Scully followed Prudence into the room. 

‘Room’ did not do the space justice. It seemed as big as an opera hall to Scully, opulently decorated in greens and pinks, the furniture all a rich mahogany.

“I’ll have someone bring up your things,” Prudence said, and then hesitated a moment before going on. “Do you have a trousseau that needs to be brought up right away?”

Scully shook her head, a bit embarrassed, and Prudence smiled at her kindly. 

“I brought in some things I thought you might use,” she said, “they’re in the wardrobe.”

“Thank you Prudence,” she said. 

“Of course, your Ladyship,” Prudence said, then took a hesitant step toward Scully. “Shall I help you undress? We’ve gone ahead and brought you up a bath if you’d like a wash.”

“Oh that would be heavenly, thank you,” she said. 

With that the girl led Scully through a small door to an opulently appointed chamber that she hadn’t realized was there, where there was a large tub full of steaming water. 

Prudence assisted her in pulling all the pins from her hair and then helped her out of her gown and corset, curtsied and backed out of the room, assuring Scully that she should ring for her should she need anything at all. 

Scully stepped into the bath that had been scented with lavender and tried to process all that the day had held for her, and all that was still to come. 

Chapter Text

After she’d exited the bath, she’d found a new chemise and silk robe that Prudence had hung up for her in the wardrobe and donned them quickly, then settled onto a settee, wondering just how long “a little bit” would be; when Mulder would come for her. 

She had nodded off for a short time when a door off to the side of her chamber opened and he popped his head through, looking about the room anxiously. 

“Scully?” he said quietly.

“I’m here,” she said, and stood, stretching her neck a bit, “do come in.”

He came into the room and closed the door behind him. He was still wearing the trousers and white shirt he’d worn for their wedding, but was barefoot and without ascot or coat.

Scully looked curiously from the main entrance to her chamber and back to Mulder, who had entered from another door. 

“That doorway leads to my own personal chambers,” he said, pointing to where he’d just come from, “you should feel free to use it whenever you like.”

Scully smiled at him and he took a minute to look around the room.

“Is the room to your liking?” he asked, peering at her as though trying to gauge her partiality, “It has remained unchanged since it belonged to my mother. You may decorate it however you see fit -- talk to Mrs. Paxton in the morning and she will arrange it all.”

“It is incredible,” Scully said, “I have never slept in a room so fine.” 

He smiled. 

“Nor a bed so big,” she added and they both looked to the canopied bed, a behemoth taking up nearly a full wall on the east end of the room. At that his smile turned to a grin. Then he seemed to remember himself and cleared his throat. 

“I realize this has all happened to you very quickly,” he said, “and I would understand if you wish to wait to uh… consummate the marriage.”

It was Scully’s turn to grin, though she blushed just the same. 

“My sister was kind enough to walk me through the finer points of the act, Mulder,” she said, “I need not wait if you don’t wish to.”

He took a step toward her and she turned to face him in full, remembering their kiss from the night before.

“I don’t wish to,” he said, his voice almost a whisper. 

He stepped toward her once more, his bare feet making no noise on the plush carpet of the room. He stopped when his toes were inches from her. She had to crane her neck to look up at him. 

“May I touch you?” he asked softly. 

“I believe the act requires it,” she said, and then they both laughed, the awkward tension that had hovered in the air around them replaced with tension of a different kind. 

He leaned forward and kissed her gently. Her lips remembered the feel of him from the night before and she melted under his touch, her mouth opening. Their tongues reached for each other as her hands found his waist and she sunk into the warm feeling of him, the taste of him, heady and addicting. 

After several long minutes of kissing, he finally pulled back to look at her. 

“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered, and she smiled shyly at him. 

He reached out and skimmed the backs of his fingers along the edge of her chemise. The sheer fabric rose, her every breath pushing the tops of her bosom up and down. Up and down. He finally dipped a finger under the fabric and lowered it gently, then leaned in and pressed a single kiss to the skin he’d just exposed. She felt his fingers shaking a bit, and she felt comforted that he was perhaps just as nervous as she. 

“I’d like to see more of you,” he said, “may I?”

She gulped but nodded, and he reached down and slowly undid the tie holding her robe closed. With nothing holding it together, it slithered off her shoulders and to the floor on a whisper. He reached behind his head with both hands and tugged up on his shirt, pulling it up and over his head easily and tossing it to the floor. 

She raked her eyes over his exposed torso -- the tufted hair in the middle of his expansive chest, the lines of his muscles, which rippled when he moved. Her eyes lingered on his broad, flat nipples which were the same color as his lips --  lips that his tongue darted out to lick.

As if drawn by a force as strong as gravity, she rose up on her toes to kiss him. He wound a hand behind her back and pulled her close. 

As they kissed, his whiskers -- freshly shorn this morning, but growing slowly back -- scraped the skin of her chin and lips. She wondered vaguely what it would feel like on other parts of her body. She would soon find out. 

He dragged his lips slowly, so slowly, along the skin of her jaw and down the plane of her neck, his tongue running along her tendons. She had never felt anything quite so exquisite. Until his hand found her breast. 

She sucked in a breath as he cupped a hand over one breast, his fingers gently squeezing her puckered nipple, and she moaned. 

He moved both his hands to her waist, and she very nearly vocally protested the loss of contact between his hand and her breast until she realized that he was moving them toward the bed. When her body bumped into it, his body bumped into hers and she could feel all the hard planes and contours press into her soft flesh. It took everything she had to hold in another moan — worried her new husband might start thinking he’d married some wanton. Then she looked up at his face and thought perhaps he wouldn’t mind if he had. 

She reached her hands behind her to feel for the bedding, but was met with what seemed a solid wall of wood. It startled her so much, she craned her neck back to double check that that’s what it was. 

“This bed is monstrously tall,” she said, “like you.”

He grinned at her and then reached around behind her to lift her up high and deposit her easily atop the mattress. He then put a foot onto a hidden rung on the frame and swung up himself, his strength and agility on full display. 

“Am I supposed to be impressed?” she asked, and as she’d hoped, he smiled at her light barb. 

“Are you?” he said leaning toward her. 

“Very,” she said, and he kissed her soundly. He leaned back and started crawling toward the pillows at the head of the bed which seemed yards away to Scully, who was not used to anything so large. 

“Follow me,” he said, “It is an expedition.”

She grinned and did follow him, and when he finally flopped his head down upon one of the pillows, she followed suit, laying herself down more tentatively on the pillow next to him. They faced each other.  

“I know it was rather impulsive,” he said, sweetly, “but I think I made the right choice when I selected you to be my wife.”

“Isn’t it about twenty minutes too early to tell?” Scully said cheekily. 

“Twenty minutes?” he asked.

“According to my sister,” she said. 

He threw his head back and laughed, then scooched himself closer to her. 

“I have allotted twenty minutes merely for kissing you,” he said, leaning his face towards hers, “all other explorations will take twice as long at least.”

The second the last word was out of his mouth, he captured her lips again with his, moving until he was leaning over her, his hand once again finding her breast through her shift. Their kiss deepened by degrees, slowly growing more prurient the longer he kneaded the tender flesh of her bosom. She felt an ache at her center and slowly undulated her hips into the air, driven by instinct. 

Mulder noticed this, and moved slowly on top of her, coaxing one knee in between her legs and settling himself there without ever removing his lips from hers. The heavy weight of him felt delicious, a sensation she wasn’t expecting, and she once again lifted herself up incrementally off the mattress and into his hips. 

She felt her pulse pounding everywhere: her wrist, her neck, her fingertips. The cleft between her legs. Her breathing grew uneven and she felt flushed and ripe. She tipped her hips up once more and she finally felt it: the hot ridge of his arousal as it rubbed against her sex, the only things between them the flap of his trousers and the thin, diaphonous material of her chemise.  

Taking a cue from her, he ground his hips against her body in an almost crude manner, as delicious as it was indecent. She smiled into his kiss. So this is what it feels like to be wanted , she thought. It was a heady, powerful thought. Even more powerful was the thought that she wanted him back. 

The ache between her legs was growing more pressing with each kiss, and she felt almost disappointed when Mulder began kissing his way down her neck until his mouth was over the shift that covered her breasts. He gently took one into his mouth, the fabric becoming quickly soaked as he moved his mouth over her. She could feel her nipple as it pebbled into a tight peak, and she almost vaulted off the bed when the cool air hit the wet fabric at the same time that Mulder scraped his teeth over it. She looked down to find him smiling into her, as he moved his mouth to lavish the same attention on her other breast. 

Wanting to do something other than lie there (a technique Melissa assured her was favored by many women of the ton ), she reached her hands out and ran them lightly through Mulder’s thick hair, letting the silky strands play through her fingers as his tongue did clever, licentious things to her bosom. 

“Mulder,” she whispered, not knowing why. She didn’t know what she wanted, she knew only one word: “More.”

At the word from her, he began to move his body slowly down her own. She could feel his hand reach down and grab the hem of her shift just as his face became level with her navel. He raised his eyes to hers for permission. She could feel her heart start to pound in her chest, but she nodded at him even so and he slowly, ever so slowly, began dragging the skirt of her shift up her legs, baring them to the cool air of her chamber. He leaned back on his haunches and lowered his head to her body, peppering gentle kisses on every inch of leg that he exposed. Before she knew quite what was happening, his kisses reached the apex of her thighs and his mouth was only inches from where the pulse pounded in her sex. 

Melissa had mentioned that this was a possibility -- that some men (and nearly always their wives) found it very enjoyable, but Scully had only ever seen coupling between animals on her father’s country estate, and this was not something she had ever seen horses do. At the time Melissa had told her, she had inwardly scoffed, but now wished she’d been more attentive.

Mulder’s eyes searched for hers as his mouth slowly descended on her, and he maintained eye contact (which she found incredibly arousing) as his tongue finally darted out to light an electrical storm at her center. Her hips bucked off the bed of their own volition just as her eyes rolled back into her head. She heard him give an approving moan. 

He explored her with his mouth, licking her gently and then plunging his tongue into her depths, and finally he began gently laving the tight bud at the top of her cleft. The moist heat of his mouth mingled with the seep of her arousal and she felt as though the top of her head might pop off and float away. 

Gradually, she began to feel a tight quickening in her center, building in intensity until it burst quite suddenly, rocketing through her body in wave after wave of soul-shaking climax. She heard herself hoarsely cry out and found she didn’t care. 

She fell back limply onto the pillows, sweat beading her brow. Her legs were bent and laid wide like a strumpet, her sex exposed to the air. She found she didn’t care about that either. Mulder had sat up on his knees and was watching her, his eyes hooded with lust. 

“Was that what you were expecting?” he said, his voice low. 

“Certainly not,” she said, her arm resting upon her brow, “it was far better.”

“Good,” he said, and began crawling slowly up her body, planting chaste kisses here and there on his way. When he reached her face, he kissed her slowly and pulled back. 

“I wanted to make you feel good before…” he hesitated, “I’ve heard the first time isn’t always pleasant for brides.”

“Thank you,” she said, and ran fingers lightly through the hair of his brow. “I’ve heard the same.” 

“I shall have to send your sister a bouquet of flowers for the education,” he said, and leaned down to kiss her again, the kiss once again turning more sensuous by the moment. 

Soon, he leaned back slightly. 

“Are you ready?” he asked breathlessly, and she nodded at him. He quickly undid the fastenings on the front of his trousers and kicked them down and off his body, settling once again between her legs. What skin she could feel on her own sent little ripples of pleasure through her and she impulsively reached down and grabbed the hem of her shift where it had bunched just under her navel. 

“Can you…” she asked him, and he eagerly sat up to help her, pulling the chemise up and over her head. When she laid back down on the pillows, she was fully exposed for the first time to anyone but a lady’s maid and she had to resist the urge to pull the blankets up and around her naked flesh. 

When she moved her eyes to Mulder he was looking at her with reverence. 

“Beautiful,” he said softly. 

She finally glanced down in curiosity and felt her eyes go wide. That was supposed to fit up inside of her? She found she couldn’t swallow without difficulty. Mulder’s eyes followed her line of sight and he reached a hand up to her face, cupping it until she looked at him. 

“I’ll go slowly, I promise,” he said. Then, “Are you ready?”

In answer, she lifted her head off the pillows and kissed him. 

He reached down and wedged his erection at her entrance, and then thrust himself gently against her, teasing up and down her seam. The head of his member was like steel covered in velvet and she felt another frisson of pleasure. He leaned down and kissed her eyelid sweetly before nudging into her heat, just an inch or so. 

His breathing became ragged and he closed his eyes, resting his forehead against her own. 

“Is that it?” she asked, and he opened his eyes and laughed mirthlessly. 

“No,” he said, and then pushed into her a little bit more, watching her face for any sign of discomfort.

She felt her muscles stretch to accommodate him, and he eased his way in a little more. 

She felt a mix of fear and anxiety, but also a feeling of trust, and tried to focus on that as he inched himself incrementally up into her. His eyes were clenched and his arms were shaking with effort, and finally she reached up and brushed her hand along his cheek until he opened his eyes to look at her. 

When his gaze finally met hers, she nodded at him and he breathed out once then gave one last thrust and buried himself to the hilt. She felt a keen shock of pain and gasped. 

Concern clouded his face. 

“Is the pain dreadful?” he asked, and she had to take several breaths before she felt as though she could answer him. 

“The pain is temporary, or so I’m told,” she finally said, and he huffed a small breath and tucked a piece of hair tenderly behind her ear. 

He pulled back and slowly pushed in again, and the pain was so great she felt tears come to her eyes unbidden. He pulled back and pushed in again. And again. And gradually the pain became less and less. 

Finally she said, “It’s better,” and the look of relief on his face was so profound that she leaned up to kiss him. He returned the kiss with intensity and surged up into her, and she was surprised that she began to feel pleasure again. Tentatively, she started meeting him with thrusts of her own, which seemed to excite him so much that she began to do it faster and with more urgency, encouraged by his enthusiasm. She felt as though she were running a race and could see the finish line up ahead and so put on one last burst of speed. 

He reached down and grabbed one of her legs, pulling it up and over his hip and the new angle caught her so off guard that when another climax came suddenly upon her, she cried out without thinking. He followed her into her the abyss with a cry of his own and thrust up into her once, twice more before he slumped to his elbows and slid down next her, his quick breath fanning her face. 

“Are you well?” he asked her after a moment, and she licked her lips and smiled at him impishly, a look which he returned. 

After another few moments, he sat up and rolled to the side of the bed, hopping down to the floor. Her stomach dropped in her gut when she thought that perhaps he was leaving to go back to his own chambers. For all her shameless bravery of the past several minutes, she suddenly felt shy and vulnerable, and reached for a pillow to bring to her chest. But then he bent over to retrieve his shirt from the floor and hopped back up onto the bed, walking towards her on his knees until he was sitting at her hip. She looked at him, sun-kissed and lightly sweating, his penis laying thickly along his thigh. He reached forward with the shirt and began to tenderly clean her aching flesh, and when she opened her mouth to protest, he gave a gentle “Shh.”

When he was finished, he tossed the shirt to the floor and reached for the coverings on the bed. She felt a wash of relief.

“Will you stay here tonight?” she asked, and he paused what he was doing. 

“Would you find that agreeable?”

“I would,” she said with a shy smile, which he returned. He peeled the coverings back and helped her to get underneath them and then tucked himself up tightly behind her, fitting around her like a spoon. She felt him sigh heavily into her hair. 

She felt the pull of sleep calling to her, but turned her head to ask him one last question. 

“Do you still believe you made the right choice in selecting a wife?” she asked. 

She felt rather than heard him chuckle behind her, then press a cool kiss to the skin beneath her ear. 

“I know I did,” he rumbled sleepily. 

One thought struck her as she drifted into the warm fog of dreamland. The man beside her was as kind as he was handsome, and she felt something blossoming within her that was more than what she had dreamed. It hadn’t all played out exactly as she thought it would, but: she had married for love after all.

Chapter Text

Prudence came to her not long after she had finished her breakfast in her room and dressed. 

“Lord Wexford wishes to see you in his study, my lady,” she said. 

Scully smiled at her and followed obediently through the maze of hallways and stairs of Wexford House. It would take her ages to learn her way around. When Mulder had told her of the scope and grandeur of Henwick Priory, the family estate in Sussex, she knew she’d be lucky to memorize Wexford House by Season’s end, and that it would take her years to learn her way around “the Priory,” as Mulder called it. 

Her skirts swished rhythmically around her legs as she walked -- the frock she was wearing one of ten new ready-to-wear dresses that she’d bought the day before while on a whirlwind shopping trip through London with the Earl. He’d insisted on these in addition to the order for twenty more that were in with the best modiste in London -- the finest silks and satins in the most fashionable colors. He had told her he wanted her to be the finest dressed woman in Europe, and she had no doubt after all of these purchases she would be at the top of the list. It had been so odd to hear whispers in all the shops of “ the Countess of Wexford ” and know that they had been referring to her

Prudence finally stopped in front of a large oak door, stained in a dark reddish brown, and curtsied. 

When Scully pushed her way inside, Mulder was standing behind an imposing mahogany desk, speaking with Mr. Bixby, who stood -- as ever -- as ramrod straight as the most obedient soldier. 

“...and please see that we are not, under any circumstances, disturbed,” Mulder said. 

“Yes, my lord,” said Bixby who turned on his heel and closed the door behind him. 

The smile that blossomed across Mulder’s face when he saw his wife walk in past the butler made her stomach do a flop. 

“Scully,” he said, “thank you for coming.”

He stepped from around the desk and met her half-way into the room, leaning down to press a gentle kiss to her cheek. 

“Was there something you wanted?” she asked, taking a brief moment to savor the smell of him -- clover and soap, and a tangy, masculine scent that was just indefinably him . She was meant to be meeting with Mrs. Paxton, the housekeeper, in less than an hour in an effort to take over some of the duties normally overseen by the countess. 

He lowered himself onto the arm of the sofa that sat in the center of the room and looked at her a moment before answering. 

“I just wanted to see you,” he said, smiling at her sheepishly. She softened inside. Everything he did seemed affectionately calculated to bring her to her knees, and yet she knew he was just being himself. 

She walked up to where he sat, his eyes level with hers from his perch, and ruffled a hand briefly through his hair. 

“What have I done to deserve you?” she asked.

“I have asked myself the same question once an hour for the last two days,” he said. 

She smiled at him and shook her head, regarding him thoughtfully. 

“How are you so perfect?” she asked, and he tilted his head at her in question.

“You seem perfect,” she went on. “A perfect gentleman. A perfect host. A perfect…”

“Lover, I hope?” he said, his voice gravely and quiet. He stood and brought a hand to her hip and she felt the initial thrum of lust.

“That too,” she said, and he grinned at her and rubbed his thumb along her hip bone. “But what I mean is,” she went on, “I have yet to find a fault.”

“Ah,” he said, tipping his head back, “my faults are legion. But at present only one seems glaringly apparent: the fact that I should, as we speak, be meeting with my steward and attending to my business.”

“And yet you’re here with me,” she said, and he moved his other hand to her other hip.

“I’m here with you,” he said. “I have business to attend to, but I find all I want to do is bed my wife.”

“I cannot speak for your steward, but your wife would not categorize that as a fault.”

“And what would she categorize it as?” he asked, leaning down until his lips grazed her neck.

He was making it very hard to think. 

“Dutiful lust is not something that can be categorized or easily referenced, I should think,” she said, her voice lowering an octave and taking on a breathy quality. 

Dutiful lust is it?” he said, his voice muffled by her skin.

He had grabbed handfuls of her skirts and was hiking them slowly up off the floor.

“Dutiful,” she repeated, having to think very hard in order to construct even a simple sentence. “You have expressed some interest in siring an heir, if I am not mistaken. Is that not a duty?”

By now his lips had migrated to the tops of her breasts, nosing her fichu aside to expose as much skin as possible. 

“An important one,” he mumbled, then darted out his tongue to lick at her flesh. She felt the sweep of desire pool in her center. 

“Then I find,” she had to pause to suppress a moan, “your single-minded application to its achievement... faultless.” 

The time for talking had ended. He had managed to pull her skirts more than halfway up her legs without having to bend over - no small feat - and moved his hands to her behind, gripping her firmly and lifting her up easily in order to sit her on the surface of his desk. She heard papers slide to the ground at their feet as he moved his hands up to the bodice of her dress and yanked it down sharply. She heard the popping of a few seams and briefly lamented the damage to her newest frock until it was forgotten altogether with the feel of his lips and hands on her newly bared breasts. 

She worried briefly that a servant might walk into his study but then remembered his words to Mr. Bixby as she had entered the room; he’d been planning this seduction all the while. 

His hands dropped from her bosom (though his mouth did not) and she heard him temporarily struggling with the flap at the front of his trousers. Then she felt cool air on the tops of her thighs as he flung her skirts up, and before she could compose another thought, he had his manhood in his hand which he rubbed once then twice up the drenched seam of her sex, before pushing into her heat with a throaty groan. 

God, it was heaven. The heat of him - the fullness - was it really only three days ago that he’d taken her for the first time and it had felt like he was splitting her in two? This hadn’t the hint of the pain from her wedding night, nor the awkward fumbling of the next day. This? This was rapture. 

Mulder brought one hand to her chin, his massive grip seeming to span the length of her skull, then swept his thumb up and into her mouth. 

She tasted the tang of ink, the dry bitterness of paper, the faintest sapor of male skin; unclean and rich as marzipan. She sucked the digit into her mouth as he had done to hers the night before and he groaned and closed his eyes, pumping into her with renewed strength. She felt the massive behemoth of the desk under her begin to move slightly and heard the crack of the ink pot tipping over. Inspired, she squeezed her inner muscles around him and his eyes snapped shut. 

“Scuh-“ he hissed.

He pulled his thumb suddenly from her mouth with a pop and smeared her saliva onto the aching bud of her center; she saw stars pop in her vision. She tipped her head forward and leaned it against his chest, his skin hot under the starchy rough of his shirt. He was pumping into her almost frantically now — his thighs smacking into the desk with every deep, penetrating thrust — she grabbed onto his shoulders and held on for dear life. 

Items and papers were falling off the desk unabated and she gave them no more than a passing thought, her attention now solely focused on the frenzied rubbing of his thumb and the hot steel shaft driving relentlessly up into her. Her breasts bounced and swayed with his movements and she began to sense a shift in his rhythm: he was close to his climax. She listened to his ragged breaths and focused on the keen feeling at her center. It was as though there were a mass of ribbons floating in the breeze - as from the top of a May Pole - and all she had to do was grab on to the right one and hold on tight and it would carry her away toward her ecstasy. Ah! Just there -- the feeling she was just starting to recognize -- she held onto it and in a flash she was carried away to a place beyond thought. She felt Mulder follow quickly after her. 

After a moment, she came back to herself, the heavy weight of Mulder’s head resting on her shoulder. The air in the study was thick with the musk of sex and spilled ink, and was silent but for the soft ticking of a mantle clock over the fireplace and their own breathing.

“Have I killed you, husband?” she asked quietly and he chuckled and lifted his head off of her, pressing a long kiss to the point where her jaw met her neck.

“No,” he said, “but when the time comes, that’s how I wish to go.”

She felt him slide out of her, and he tucked himself gingerly back into his trousers, buttoning the flap with a few efficient flicks of his fingers. He then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a now-familiar handkerchief, which he handed her without a word. After cleaning herself up, she handed it back with a shy look, and slid off the desk and to the floor, her skirts falling back into place. She pulled her dress back over her breasts and tucked in her fichu, determining the damage to her dress was not as bad as she had feared.

She turned and surveyed the wreckage of his desk. Mulder ran a hand through his hair and sighed. 

“I would ring for a maid, but I feel as though we should clean up our own mess. What do you think?”

“I heartily agree,” she said, and then knelt to the floor, sweeping together the fallen parchment into more manageable stacks. 

“I do hope these weren’t in any sort of order,” she said, and he laughed. 

That I will leave to my steward,” he said. 

She rose with the pile of papers and turned to deposit them on the desk when a thick envelope fell out of the stack and onto the floor. She reached down to retrieve it and saw that the envelope had no name or address written upon it, just a large, thick, black ‘X’ scratched across the front. 

When she stood, Mulder glanced at the parcel and a look she couldn’t identify washed briefly over his face. 

“Here,” he said quickly, “I'll take that.”

She handed it over without a word and he crossed behind her to the desk and dropped it into a drawer, locking it in with the twist of a key that he then dropped into his pocket. 

“What shall we do about the ink?” she said, and he heaved a sigh and then smiled at her. 

“I think we shall have to ring for a maid afterall.”

Scully took it upon herself to walk over to the wall and gave the cord one swift pull. Just then, there was a light knock at the door. Mulder strode to it and opened it, revealing the impassable face of Mr. Bixby. 

“Apologies, my lord,” Bixby said, “but there is a gentleman here who says he has urgent business with you and would not leave until he saw you.”

Mulder nodded slowly. 

“Did he give his name?”

With that, Bixby handed over a calling card. Mulder glanced down at it and Scully saw his posture change and his jaw clench. 

“See him in,” Mulder said brusquely. 

A moment later, Bixby stepped back and a gentleman Scully had never seen before walked into the room as though he owned it. He was an older gentleman, tall and thin with a sharply cut suit and a craggy face. The sharp tang of tobacco smoke wafted in with him, and Scully crinkled her nose and started to walk back toward her husband. 

Her movement caught the gentleman’s eye and he swung his gaze toward her, looking at her with an intensity that sent a shiver up her spine. When she reached Mulder’s side, he reached down and slid his warm hand into hers, squeezing it, never taking his eyes off the visiting gentleman. 

“Lady Wexford, I presume,” the man said, his voice like the hiss of a snake.