tagRomanceAt Any Cost Ch. 03

At Any Cost Ch. 03

byAMY_Monaco©

Her new husband seemed to be unsociable the morning of their wedding. They invited the priest to dine with them and naturally, he accepted. But Derek barely said a word to the him, so it was up to Vivian to make the elderly man be at ease.

Sykes, quite happy to see his employer married served them with a flourish that was unlike his gruff exterior -- and made several mistakes. One served from the left and gathered from the right. The two footmen, Ham and Pete were nearby to offer assistance.

As the perfect hostess, Vivian walked the elderly man out at the end of the meal. When she returned, Derek was just leaving the dining room. She frowned at him, her hands on her hips.

"Was that really necessary?"

He arched an eyebrow and brushed past her. "Was what, my dear?"

"I seem to recall that you went through quite a lot of time reminding me why I should marry you. So the man who performed the ceremony could at least have had a warmer welcome from you. You hardly said anything to him."

He seemed distracted. He leaned over and placed a chaste kiss on her forehead. "I'll leave the niceties to you. It's a miracle he married us at all."

"What do you mean?"

As if he regretting that last statement, Derek's scowled. "I'll be out for most of the afternoon, Vivian. I told Sykes we're looking for female servants...hire anyone you need. As a bachelor, I didn't need much." He was already turning away at those last words and headed out the door without donning a hat.

Vivian was left to stand in the wide hallways, alone on her wedding day. Everything hardly seemed real to her. Her eyes took in all the details of décor around her, displayed to her in full daylight. There were priceless oil paintings, ormolu furniture and lush rugs. Everything was foreign.

A sense of loneliness settled over her.

"Milady?"

She jumped, whirled around to see Sykes standing there in his livery.

"Sykes!" She gasped. "You really mustn't sneak up on people like that." For such a large man, he moved with startling silence.

"I was wonderin' if'n you want to interview the servants yerself. A lady be waitin' below-stairs fer the housekeepin' position."

Vivian blinked. "The housekeeper position? But...I've only just arrived last night."

"Lordship likes things to run smoothly."

Yes, he would, she decided. But the admission only reminded her that she knew very little about her husband. She let out a breath and straightened herself.

"Yes, I'll interview her. Show her into the drawing room in fifteen minutes, please."

***

Mrs. Barts was a large woman with rosy cheeks and a severe expression. Her hair was still bright red and she dressed respectively in dark clothes. She curtsied before Vivian and took the seat Vivian indicated.

Having no experience in hiring servants, Vivian skimmed the references Mrs. Barts brought with her.

"Whoever I hire for the position will start immediately, you understand." Vivian began, uneasy because she didn't know exactly how much Derek was willing to pay for a housekeeper.

"I have no qualms about that, milady."

"Also, until very recently...this house was a a bachelor's residence. Therefore, there aren't any female servants. Any upstairs maids and kitchen help, I will require that you hire them."

"I've been looking after Mr. Roberts' -- he was my previous employer -- home for more than twenty years. But he's passed on -- bless his soul -- so I know the running of a good household, ma'am."

Mrs. Barts seemed well qualified for the job. But Vivian happened to look up and see Sykes standing at the open doorway, his profile in her view. Vivian had the most suspicious feeling of being guarded by that man.

She smiled at Mrs. Barts. "Very well, then Mrs. Barts. You have the job."

The rotund woman beamed. "Thank you, ma'am."

"I will have Sykes show you where you will be staying." She stood up, signaling the end of the interview. "Mrs. Barts, I do have to inform you that...this household houses male servants who are a bit...rough around the edges. So I implore you to exercise patience where they are concerned."

Mrs. Barts nodded, her red hair which was pinned up in a bun above her head moving slightly forward as she did so. "I shall not disappoint you, milady. Or his lordship."

"Excellent."

***

Derek arrived at the Runners' office by foot. Head of the office was Jacob Lerner, a man well into his forties who'd been a runner himself in his younger days. He sat at his desk, looking over some documents, probably of assignments that were completed.

"Came to pick up my assignments, Lerner." Derek said, walking into the office and seating himself in a chair across from his employer. Lerner slowly looked up from his documents, unfurling his face from the deep frown of concentration.

"Good morning, Trentham. And may I offer my congratulations?"

Derek's eyes narrowed. "Who told you?"

"This is the Bow Street Runners' office. There is nothing we don't know." Chuckled Lerner. His gray speckled beard lifted in a smile. "Now what the hell are you doing here on your wedding day?"

"A man has to work to support his wife." Lerner snorted. "You don't. You're rich as Croesus." He leaned back into his chair, causing it to screech faintly. "You should be with your wife."

At the moment, being with his wife was the last thing Derek wanted. He fought the impatience that triggered every nerve in his body, the restlessness that seemed to haunt him every waking moment. Derek Trentham, loving husband and doting father. He couldn't be that person, not yet. He wanted the thrill of the chase, to bring down hardcore criminals with the threat of danger and bloodshed. He wanted that feeling of having nothing to lose...the possibility of dying...

"Are you going to give me my assignment or not, Lerner?"

Lerner made a big show of thinking this over, turning the stylus in his hand slowly.

"There comes a time in every man's life, Trentham, when he should focus his attention on the more important things in life. A career as a runner is taxing, on both the man and his wife and the children they have."

Derek's eyes narrowed. "Spit it out, Lerner."

"You've just got married. You've got a woman to consider now. What will happen if you injure yourself on assignment, or worse?"

"You just said I was rich as Croesus. Vivian will be taken care of."

Lerner put the stylus down, folded his hands on the desk. "Vivian, a lovely name."

"I didn't come here to talk about my wife's name -- "

"I'm giving this next assignment to Nathan. As of this morning, Trentham, you are dismissed from the runners, in all honor."

"What the devil?"

"I'm doing this as a favor. Consider your wife, she deserves a husband who will be there for her, not running around for months on end chasing a lead that may not exist."

Derek's eyes darkened. "You're doing me a favor." He repeated quietly. How many favors Lerner had done for him these past few years...the major one being his approach to Derek in prison, offering him a job to catch the very men he used to associate with.

"You bloody bastard." Derek muttered, standing up. Lerner took no offense from this, as he'd been called worse in his line of work. He shuffled papers around and picked up the stylus.

"I'll have my wife call on yours soon. Mary's always looking for new blood."

New blood, indeed. Was this what his life was going to be reduced to, Derek wondered. To formal dinners where his wife would gossip and he to cast out charming anecdotes at port and cigars? Derek shuddered at the thought.

How easily he had started to view Vivian as his wife. She'd be there to run his household and warm his bed at night.

His cock stirred at the very thought of her soft and willing in his arms.

He entered the street and headed in the direction toward home, since he had nowhere else to go. Then he thought better of it and turned in the direction of his club. If he was going to fully immerse himself as an 'idle gentleman' than he might as well make use of the very expensive membership at White's.

Unlike in the rest of society, he was only just acceptable, thanks to his father and several loyal friends. Derek hardly found a reason to spend time there, sitting about reading the newspaper or playing cards. He believed a man could do better things with his time than waste away in a room full of cigar smoke and leather. Yet that very idea seemed more appealing than going home to his beautiful new wife.

***

Interview housekeeping position. Make a list of things and rooms to clean. Read off said list to the footman and new housekeeper. Have lunch. Inform the gardener -- an ex-con -- that dandelions are not flowers. Write some letters and then have dinner.

Vivian never thought she'd spend her wedding day alone. She occupied her day with a list of things to do. Dinner had come and gone, a feast prepared by Cook, a man who used to cook for a French count before the Revolution. However her husband managed to find this odd array of servants, she would never know. Yet they all seemed to be reformed and completely loyal and devoted to Derek.

As she readied for bed, with the help of Mrs. Barts, Vivian tried not to think of where Derek might have been all day. Had he gone off to drink, to spend time at his clubs? Was he even a member of any clubs? Then she wondered if he went back to Francesca's brothel...the thought tore at her in some horrid way.

They didn't love each other and certainly men of his rank often visited such places or kept a mistress, yet she would have thought he'd at least delay because it was their wedding night. Obviously such an event would hardly interrupt his routine.

Vivian settled into bed. She'd taken the room connected to Derek's where the wife was supposed to be. Decorated in pale rose and green with miniature portraits of the ladies who used to occupy the room, it was the very place of femininity.

She must have lain there for an hour or so, just thinking, when suddenly she heard fumbling in the room next door. Her eyes darted to the connecting door, and she heard a lot of cursing and then a loud bump, followed by another string of oaths. She sat up in bed just as the noise drew closer. The connecting door swung open and Derek stood there, filling the frame with his large form.

"What the devil are you doing here?" He demanded, none too quietly.

She was happy to see him, even relieved. And she desperately wanted to ask where he'd been all night. Instead, she said, "I'm trying to sleep."

He came to the foot of the bed. His jacket and vest were gone, and his shirt was left half unbuttoned. He looked a mess. Shyly, she held the blankets up to her chest. He pointed in the direction of his room.

"Then why aren't you in bed?"

She looked at him, bemused. "I am in bed." Was he foxed? Oh dear, had she married a drunk? But this fault paled against those of Lord Garner's, she told herself.

"My bed -- our bed. Why aren't you in our bed?" He said a little more loudly.

"Married couples don't sleep in the same bed. It's just not the thing..."

He came around to her side and pulled at the covers. He faltered when she instinctively jerked them back. There was a bit of a tug-of-war when finally he yanked them from her.

"I don't care what is 'the thing' or not. Damn it all. You're my wife and you will sleep where I sleep." He gazed at her intently. "I think it's ridic...ridiculous that wives sleep apart from their husbands..."

He leaned over to pull her up from bed and now she could smell the liquor on him. He wrapped an arm around her and then without a word, he lifted her into his arms. She feared being dropped, as he was obviously drunk.

"Put me down, Derek." She said, clasping her hands around his neck for support. He walked slowly to his room.

"I won't drop you, Vivian." He murmured. So far, he'd walked pretty steadily, but when he looked down at her, he stumbled forward. Vivian clung for dear life, but Derek managed to catch himself and set her gently on the bed. He himself didn't move so gracefully and collapsed onto the bed next to her.

She sat up, trying to make sense of it all. Derek was finding comfort in the bed, crawling up toward his pillow to bury his face into it.

"Dismissed." He mumbled.

"Dismissed? What are you talking about, Derek?" She pushed him onto his back and he dazedly rolled his head to the side and smirked.

"From the runners. Bow Street."

"You were a runner?"

"Don't worry. I'm still rich...you married a rich man...smart lady."

It felt like another jab at her. First he had called her innocent and naïve, and now he thought she cared only about money.

"I didn't marry you for your money." She answered quietly.

"'Course you didn't..." His eyes were closed and his voice grew quiet. "You didn't marry me for anythin'...got nothing but money...shouldn't have married a criminal..."

His voice had taken on a note of sadness. His hand blindly reached out for hers and he brought it to rest on his chest.

She couldn't help but brush away a lock of hair that fell over his forehead, as if he were a lost little boy.

"Are you a criminal, Derek?" She asked.

"The very worst." He mumbled. "Shouldn't-a married me."

He slipped into the deep sleep of drink. Vivian glanced around the master bedroom, warmed by the great fireplace. Sighing, she settled into bed, keeping her hand within his grasp. It made her feel closer to him somehow. She had a feeling he would slip back into that guarded, temperamental persona in the morning, so if she could at least bond with him briefly, it would be enough for now.

"What's made you so angry?" She whispered, staring at his beautiful profile in the darkness. "I hope one day you will tell me, Derek."

***

Vivian felt a great weight over her waist when she woke up. As she shifted in bed, she realized it was Derek's arm anchoring her down. For a fleeting moment, she realized that such a feeling of being held was comforting and it made something in her stomach flutter. But she quickly pushed these feelings aside and slipped out of bed quietly.

She padded back to her room -- her former room -- and rang for Mrs. Barts. She would have to serve as lady's maid until one could be hired. But it was Pete who knocked on the door.

"Where is Mrs. Barts?" She asked.

"Below stars, milady. Seeing to hiring upstairs maids, she is. Seeing one now. Mrs. Barts says to the girl to seek a job somewhere else, and the girl started crying."

"Why is she crying?"

He shrugged. "I only heard what Ham told me and he also told me to come get you. Said you ought to see to the girl..."

Vivian sighed. Twenty minutes later, she started below stairs. Mrs. Barts bobbed her.

"Good morning, my lady." She spoke in a hushed voice. "It's the girl, she won't leave. I told her we have no place for her, but she just won't budge."

Vivian looked past Mrs. Barts to the crying girl sitting on the bench. She was hunched over, wearing a somewhat daring dress. Though the dress had an Empire waist, it couldn't hide the growing belly of hers.

"A respectable household cannot have a girl who's increasing, my lady." Mrs. Barts added. "It's just not done."

Remembering her husband's words last night, Vivian looked back at her housekeeper. "Has the girl no family?"

"She's from...a brothel, my lady. No family." The girl looked like she was the same age as Vivian and her cheeks and eyes were red from crying. She hated to see someone helpless, as until recently, Vivian had been in the same circumstance.

Vivian walked up to the girl, who looked up. Upon seeing that this was the lady of the house, the girl quickly got up and curtsied.

"Good morning, my lady." She tried for a smile, but her lips quivered. "I heard that you were hiring, my lady. I know I haven't much to recommend myself...but I'm quick to learn and I'm clever with hair and doing it all fancy, my lady. Or I can help in the kitchen."

"Mrs. Barts tells me you used to work in a brothel." She saw the way the girl winced at the mention of it. "Is that how you got pregnant?"

The girl nodded silently, wiping another tear from her cheek. "I don't want to go back. I won't bother the men here, my lady, if that's what you're worried about. I just want honest work...and to keep my baby. Please, my lady, I will work hard."

"What's your name?"

"Annie Hamill, my lady."

What was one prostitute to the household filled of ex-criminals? The girl seemed genuine in her want to work, so Vivian nodded.

"I will have Pete go fetch your things and move you upstairs. We'll get you your own room so that you and the baby will have privacy."

The girl's mouth quivered, this time in happiness and she smiled. "Oh, thank you. Bless you, my lady. You will not regret this."

Mrs. Barts was pinch-lipped, but she said nothing. As Vivian turned around, she stopped when she saw Derek. His expression was unreadable, but his eyes regarded her with approval. He held their gaze a little longer, then let it go to the girl being led away by Mrs. Barts and Pete, who couldn't seem to take his eyes off the girl.

Derek was once again impeccably dressed, his hair slightly damp from his morning bath. He tilted his head at the girl who just left the hall.

"Your new lady's maid?" He asked.

"Yes. Do you disapprove my choice?"

He regarded her silently, then said, "No. I think it was admirable of you." He said nothing else and walked up the stairs to the main floor of the house. It sounded like a compliment, yet she couldn't take it that way.

Sykes, of course, was waiting at the top of the stairs. He thrust forward a silver salver containing several letters.

"The post, milady."

Feeling exasperated, Vivian took them. "A butler presents the morning post at the breakfast table, Sykes.

"I'll be rememberin' that."

She took the letters to the breakfast room and after settling down with her plate, she opened them. Her fork paused in mid-air when she scanned the elegantly written words. Derek walked in just then, a frown still on his face.

"Barty's a bit of a bat, isn't she?"

Confused, Vivian looked up. "I beg your pardon?"

"Barty -- that housekeeper you hired."

"Her name is Mrs. Barts and I ask that you treat her respectfully, as she's not one of your ex-criminals."

Derek shrugged, piling his plate high with food. "She spoke to me after you gave orders for the girl to be hired. The old bat asked that I reconsider the girl, hoping I would see the wrong and send the girl packing. She's supposed to be taking household orders from you." His frown deepened. "Did you explain to her that this is not an average household?"

"She isn't used to it yet. Just give her time."

"Everyone who works for me is loyal. I won't have a housekeeper who's tight-lipped and looking down her nose at those who are trying to make a better life than what they had."

Vivian put the invitation down, realizing this bit of information was another facet to her husband. "I'll speak to her about it." She answered quietly.

"Good." Derek answered gruffly. The headache he suffered at the moment was pounding and making him more irritable than called for. He could barely recall last night's events. All he knew was that he spent a good amount of time at his club, drinking with several friends.

He opened his own mail as he ate, trying to ignore the headache as he did so. Invitations, all of them. If they didn't know he was married by now, they must have drawn the same conclusion when he sent out word he was looking for female servants. A man like him wouldn't need any unless he married. If only he could keep his personal life private. He could care less of who was caught in bed with whom and which duke was hosting the grandest ball of the season.

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