How Long Can You Resist Ch. 04byoohsexypenguin©
Author's note: I apologize for taking so long to get this story to you. As a college student (approaching graduation!), life tends to get in the way of leisurely writing. Please bear with me. I am working fastidiously on chapter 5.
"And so the young master returns."
Gerard started, looking over his shoulder at Henry. He had just returned home and was busying himself setting Lucifer up for the night. "Yes, Henry," he answered. "And you are quite stealthy for an old man."
Henry chuckled, holding a black coat for Gerard to slip into as the men exited the stable. The sky had yet again torn asunder, and fat droplets of rain splashed them as the quickened their pace toward the house. "I trust you found the girl, sir?" Henry asked, stealing a glance at Gerard as they stomped the mud off their shoes at the back door.
"Hmm?" Gerard said absentmindedly. "Er, yes, Henry. I found her." He couldn't stop the grin from forming across his face. The entire ride back to his great aunt's house, Gerard's mind had been consumed with Elizabeth. Her sapphire eyes, her flaring temper, her smile, and, most importantly, her lush lips that parted so pliantly beneath his. Gerard stifled a groan as he remembered. No wonder he couldn't think of anything else.
"Well, sir, you need say nothing more," Henry said, winking and giving Gerard a knowing smile. "I was young once, myself."
Gerard chuckled, clapping the old man on the back. "I trust I haven't missed dinner, then?" he asked.
"No, sir," Henry answered, ushering the younger man into the hallway. "In fact, they were henpecking me as to your whereabouts all afternoon, and simply refused to dine without you."
"Fabulous," Gerard muttered, unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice. Henry bit back a laugh, knowing full well how much of a handful the women could be.
"Gerard?" Mrs. St. Claire's voice trickled from the dining room. "Gerard, dear, is that you?"
Strolling through the doorway and toward his seat at the end of the ornate dining table, Gerard bowed his head in greeting to his great aunt and dropped a kiss on his mother's cheek. "Yes, Mother, I have returned." Seated, he picked up his knife and fork, saying, "So where are the victuals?"
"Tosh, my dear boy," Maybelle scolded, wrinkling her nose in her already well-wrinkled face. "You are gone all day without a word to us about where you are going or what you are doing, and you return at this ungodly hour and expect to be fed?" Raising her finger and wagging it at her great nephew, she said, "Not a bite to eat until you tell us everything!"
Gerard smirked, admiring the spunk the old woman still had in her. She reminded him of Elizabeth, and he found himself wondering if she would be anything like Maybelle when she was that age.
"My dear, kind, beautiful aunt," he said, attempting to placate her so he could finally eat. "I promise I will tell you and Mother all there is to know." Pausing until she lowered her finger, he then said, "But first I need to fill my stomach, else I not have the strength to divulge my secrets."
Maybelle clucked her tongue while Mrs. St. Claire narrowed her eyes at her son. Gerard had always been rather closed off to her, always having been his father's son. How she wished he would be more open with her, especially since that cherished father was now gone. "Of course, darling," she said, gesturing to the butler to bring in the first course. "Eat to your heart's content, then, please! Share with us what had you running out of here so quickly this morning."
When Elizabeth and Teddy arrived back to the farmhouse that evening, she had foregone dinner in favor of escaping to her room. She couldn't bear the idea of sitting once again under her parents' scrutiny.
She threw herself on her bed, not bothering to change out of her still damp dress. Sighing, her mind tumbled over the events of the day. What was it that got into me? she asked herself, toying with a tangled curl of hair. No doubt she'd enjoyed very much that kiss with Gerard. Much more, in fact, than she'd enjoyed any other kiss. This had not been a stolen kiss behind the barn – no, this had been the kiss of two adults who clearly had an attraction to each other.
But does that excuse me to act so... immodest? Elizabeth wondered. Torn between a feeling of propriety and a confusing yet strong urge to see (and kiss) Gerard again, she simply hoped that she'd never have to see him again. Maybe that way she could move past this, and her parents would stop bothering her with their wishes.
A soft knock came at her door. "Elizabeth?" Mrs. Winshaw said. "Elizabeth? Dear, are you alright?"
"Come in, Mama," Elizabeth said, sitting up on her bed and smoothing her dress. The door opened and Mrs. Winshaw stepped inside gingerly. She was still a remarkably good looking woman, one whom Elizabeth bore a striking resemblance to. Her dark hair had become streaked with gray in the last few years, and there were smile lines around her blue eyes. But all in all she looked warm and beautiful. Though farm life was hard, it was clear that she was happy. Oh Mama, Elizabeth thought, how I wish I could be more like you.
"Why didn't you have supper with us?" Mrs. Winshaw said, concern evident in her face as she sat down beside Elizabeth.
"I am just tired, Mama," Elizabeth fibbed. Well, it was partly true. But the full truth was something her mother just wouldn't understand.
"Did you see that young man again today?" Mrs. Winshaw asked, seemingly reading her daughter's mind. Looking up, Elizabeth saw that her mother looked hopeful.
Irritated, she managed to answer calmly, "Yes, he took me for a horseback ride."
"Oh, how lovely!" Mrs. Winshaw squealed, clasping her hands together under her chin. "That sounds so romantic, dear!"
"Yes, Mama," Elizabeth snapped. "I know what you think. I know what you have to say. But what if I don't want to hear it?"
Offended, Mrs. Winshaw said, "What is wrong with you, girl? Mr. St. Claire seems to have taken a great liking to you, and you are resisting him at every turn! What of your duty to this family?"
"How can I think of my duty to this family when I can't even figure out what I feel about him?" Elizabeth shouted, standing up and glaring at her mother. Tears sprung to her eyes, but she didn't want to cry in front of her mother.
Mrs. Winshaw sighed and stood up, placing her hands on her softly swelled hips. "There's no excuse to raise your voice to me, girl," she said sternly. Then she placed her hands on either side of Elizabeth's face, forcing her daughter to meet her eye. "I know what's wrong with you, love," she said. "You are scared."
The tears Elizabeth had been fighting finally won the battle as they streamed down her pale cheeks. "I'm sorry, Mama, but I do not know what he wants of me," she said softly, allowing her mother to place her arms around her in at attempt to comfort. "I'm so... confused... I do not know what I feel about him, I barely know him."
"Oh darling," Mrs. Winshaw said, her heart rending at the sight of her oldest baby in such turmoil. "Alright, here's us a deal, then."
She pulled away to wipe the tears from Elizabeth's eyes. "You know full well what your father and I feel about the subject. You know we wish you to be married, not only so you will be taken care of, but also so you can help take care of us." Waiting until Elizabeth had collected herself, she then said, "I promise you this: your father and I will stop harping on you about getting married, if you promise to give this man a good, honest chance."
Elizabeth said nothing for a moment, considering her mother's words. It seemed reasonable, and both parties would be getting what they wanted. "And what if I decide I don't want to marry Gerard?" she asked.
"Well, then," Mrs. Winshaw sighed, "I guess you'll just be hanging 'bout the farm a few more years, won't you?"
Elizabeth smiled, then stuck out her hand to shake on it. "Deal."
"Alright, son," Mrs. St. Claire said as the kitchen staff cleared the table. "Time to let us in on your little secret."
Gerard felt a little trepidation at the prospect of telling his mother and great aunt exactly what he'd been doing all afternoon. After all, it wasn't common for him to relay private details of his life, particularly those that pertained to women.
"Fair is fair, I suppose," he began, warily watching the expressions on the ladies' faces. "If you must know, I met a girl at market last week..."
Before he could finish his story, Mrs. St. Claire had jumped out of her chair and clapped her hands in joy. "Oh, this is wonderful news, my boy!" she said, smiling at Gerard. "It is about time for you to take a wife and give me some grandchildren!"
Gerard glanced at Maybelle and saw that even she was smiling. Given this encouragement, he went on less nervously. "She is beautiful, Mother," he said, his eyes lighting up as he thought about her. "And she is quick witted and tempestuous and... and I like her very, very much." He blushed at his own honesty; he'd never admitted to himself just how much he'd been taken in by this girl, and here he was spouting her praise in front of his family.
"Well that's splendid, Gerard," Maybelle said. "You say you met her at market? What was she doing there?"
"Selling wool from her parents' farm," Gerard answered. "She and her family live in Brackley, and they make their living off their sheep, and today I went to visit her and..."
He trailed off, noticing how his mother had sunk back down into her chair and how the smiles had vanished from both women's faces.
"What?" he asked, wondering what he'd said to kill the jovial mood.
"She's a farmer's daughter?" Mrs. St. Claire asked, cocking her head in apparent confusion. "Whatever are you doing with a farmer's daughter?"
Gerard felt his temper rise to the surface at his mother's questions. Had his mother known her son better, she would have seen the warning flash in his gray eyes and not further pressed her luck. But she continued.
"Darling, I do believe you can do better than that. I am sure there are plenty of more qualified young ladies in London..."
"Mother, that's enough!" Gerard bellowed, slamming his fist on the oak table. Mrs. St. Claire jumped, taken aback at her son's display of anger.
"Gerard St. Claire, you do not raise your voice to your mother!" Maybelle said, pinning her fierce glare toward him. "And what's more, she has a point. A man of your status does not belong with someone below it."
Gerard stood, aghast at their reaction to his news. "I will have the both of you know that I think more of Elizabeth than I ever have of any other 'qualified young ladies.' And what I choose to do with my life is, quite frankly, none of your concern, and as a full grown man I do not need your permission to do anything."
With that he turned on his heel and stormed out of the dining room. "Henry!" he thundered, sweeping into the servants' quarters without bothering to knock.
"Yes, sir?" Henry asked, shuffling out of a washroom in the midst of scuttling maids. He had never seen Gerard so infuriated.
"I wish you to go into town tomorrow and find out where the Winshaws live, exactly," Gerard demanded. "I think I will pay Elizabeth a little visit."
"Yes, sir," Henry assented, watching Gerard stalk out of the room and up the stairs.
"Elizabeth, would you be a dear and bring lunch out to your Papa?" Mrs. Winshaw asked.
Elizabeth, sitting in the windowsill with a blanket wrapped around her, nodded and left her comfortable seat. She'd caught a bit of a chill after her drench in the rain yesterday, but she was well enough to hobble around the house and do a few chores here and there.
"And do eat something, girl," Mrs. Winshaw scolded. "We can't have you wasting away."
Scooping up the plate full of bread and cheese, Elizabeth ignored her mother and stepped out into the yard. I don't feel like eating, so I won't eat, she thought to herself, her stubborn streak making itself known. She looked wan and tired, no doubt from both the soak and all the time she'd spent thinking about Gerard.
Get a grip, Lizzie, she told herself, approaching her father and watching him mend the sheep's pen. You'll probably never see him again anyway. Though she would never admit it, deep down inside she felt a pang of disappointment at the prospect of never looking into those enchanting gray eyes again.
"Thank you, daughter," Mr. Winshaw said, accepting the plate that she held out to him. "Have you eaten anything?"
"No," she said, "I haven't much of an appetite, Papa."
Mr. Winshaw shook his head at his daughter. "Well then, care to keep an old man company?" Elizabeth grinned took a seat on the ground next to her father.
"Where is Teddy?" she asked, looking around the yard and not seeing him. "Oh, he's around here somewhere," Mr. Winshaw answered. "I can never keep my eye on him for too long, he's too young and quick."
They shared a laugh, then sat in silence for a while. Mr. Winshaw could tell Elizabeth was bothered, but he didn't know how to approach the subject. Finally he decided to just be out with it.
"I know about the deal your mother made with you, and I want you to know that I'm fine with it."
Elizabeth nodded. "I know, Papa," she said. "I will keep up my end of the bargain if you do." She paused, then said, "Although I do not know how I can make good on my word if it isn't sure that I will even see him again."
At that moment a noise in the near distance caught their attention, and they both turned to see a carriage come to a stop just outside their fence. Puzzled, they did nothing as they watched the driver disembark and go to open the carriage door. Out stepped Gerard St. Claire.
"Oh God," Elizabeth murmured, her breath catching in her throat.
"Don't take the Lord's name in vain, girl," Mr. Winshaw said.
Gerard looked even more handsome than he had the last two times Elizabeth had seen him. Today he was dressed in dark pants and a dark coat, wearing another white shirt that was unbuttoned at the top. His hair had been combed into place, and what little sunshine there was made the ebony of it gleam.
"May I help you, sir?" Mr. Winshaw called, walking towards the gate to let the man in.
"Yes, sir, for one you may call me Gerard," Gerard said, extending his hand. "I take it that you are Mr. Winshaw?"
"Why yes, I am," Mr. Winshaw answered, shaking the young man's hand and appreciating the young man's manners. "And I take it you are here to see Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth had not moved, unable to as she watched her father and Gerard interact. Why is he here? she thought frantically, the panic evident on her face.
Gerard stole a glance at the girl and almost laughed outright. She looks so stricken, he thought, and, as usual, absolutely divine. Elizabeth was wearing a cream colored dress today, and it clung to her curves in an entirely flattering (and arousing) way. Her dark tresses were loose and tumbled about her shoulders, and despite her pale complexion she looked just as fiery as ever.
"I am, sir," he answered Mr. Winshaw. "I was wondering if it would be alright if I took her for a ride in my carriage?" Noticing the hesitation in the older man's face, he added, "You need not worry, I will protect her with my life, and we will be well chaperoned." He gestured to the driver, who bowed his head in their direction.
"Why don't you ask her yourself, Gerard?" Mr. Winshaw said, winking at the boy and then turning to walk back towards the house. He saw that Mrs. Winshaw was standing at the kitchen window, transfixed by what was transpiring in the yard.
"Your father makes a good point," Gerard said as he walked through the gate and up to Elizabeth, who had yet to move. "Is it alright if I take you on a carriage ride?" He leaned in closer, and whispered, "I promise I'll behave myself this time."
Elizabeth blushed furiously, tilting her head back and looking Gerard squarely in the eye. "Well, I expect nothing less of you," she fired back. "The next time you pull a stunt like that I shall give you a black eye."
Gerard laughed heartily, tickled by Elizabeth's vivacity. "And I will deserve it. Come, please accompany me?" Offering his hand, he said a silent prayer that she wouldn't reject him.
About to say no, Elizabeth stopped herself as she remembered her promise to her mother. I said I would give him a chance, she reminded herself. Resigned, she nodded. Taking his hand, she said, "I would love to go on a carriage ride with you, Gerard."
Gerard's heart filled with joy at the touch of her hand in his. Smiling, he said softly, "Thank you, Elizabeth. You look absolutely beautiful this morning."
Elizabeth flushed again, and, forcing herself to take the compliment, she simply said, "Thank you, as well."
After helping her into the carriage, Gerard instructed the driver to take them on a leisurely ride through the country. Then, taking his seat next to Elizabeth, he assumed the position of the perfect gentleman.
"What possessed you to come all the way out here?" Elizabeth asked. "It is a good hour and half drive from Brackley."
"I woke up early," Gerard answered, smiling down at Elizabeth. He smiled even wider at her blush. She is so adorable, he thought.
"You drove all the way out here to go on a drive through the country?" Elizabeth pressed. She felt a need to get past all the flattery and have him state the truth.
"Well, yes and no," he answered, his eyes becoming serious as he gazed into her face. "I also came to see you. I wanted to see you, very badly."
Elizabeth bit back a smile. Finally, she thought, he's stopped being coy. "And why did you want to see me?"
Gerard grinned, then assumed a sober expression as he turned to look out the window of the carriage. "Because," he said. "I find that I've never enjoyed myself more than when I'm out in the middle of nowhere with you."
He sounded so serious that Elizabeth had no choice but to believe him. "That is the sweetest, most sincere thing anyone has ever said to me, Gerard," she said quietly, placing her hand on his elbow.
Turning from the window, Gerard looked at Elizabeth and found she was staring at him. There was no doubt in her eyes, and it was a pleasant change. "That is nice to hear, Elizabeth," he said, smiling warmly once again. "But why do you choose now to believe me?"
Elizabeth sighed, looking at her feet and removing her hand much to Gerard's chagrin. "Because," she said, echoing his earlier phrasing. "Most of the time you seem to be merely trying to flirt with me." She met his eyes again, then said, "I much prefer it when you are just yourself."
Gerard was silent a moment as he contemplated her words. Yes, he supposed, he did have a flirtatious nature. It was what worked on the London scene. But Elizabeth was different; she didn't need the flattery or the words of wooing. She simply needed the truth.
"I have a question, Elizabeth," he blurted before his thoughts had fully formed.
"Hmm?" she asked distractedly, having turned her attention to the countryside passing in the window.
"I want to know, is it alright with you if I... if I... were to, um, see you?"
Elizabeth turned towards him, confused by his awkward question. "You are seeing me now, aren't you?" she asked.
"Yes, but... oh, you know what I mean," Gerard stammered, frustrated at his apparent inability to form a simple question. What is it about her that flusters me? he thought irritatedly.
"I do not," Elizabeth answered, although he thought he detected faintly a trace of humor in her eyes.
"What I am trying to say," he said, taking her hand in both of his and startling her in the process, "is that I would like to know if it's alright with you if I court you."