Marriage Training Ch. 14byGoldeniangel©
Author's Note: This is part of a series which is definitely meant to be read in order, if you haven't read the previous chapters it's recommended that you do so.
To Vivian's surprise she was not allowed to choose her own dress on Friday. The maid came in with a new one that had been made especially for her and sent by Mrs. Banks. It was a gorgeous creation of mint green and ivory with tiny accents of gold; the exact colors which set off her coloring beautifully and made other murmur that, in the case of Miss Stafford, perhaps red hair wasn't always an affliction. And for those who actually appreciated the unusual coppery red tresses, it raised her to the level of a goddess.
She had no idea that Lord Cranborne had commissioned the dress especially, with the measurements provided by the school, from one of the most well-known and in-demand modistes in London. The soft fabric slithered over her skin, caressing her body, and Vivian shivered with the sensual pleasure of it. The dress was easily the most beautiful thing she'd ever worn, with delicate beading around the neck and bodice, it was cut to accentuate her hourglass figure in an elegant way. There was nothing overtly sexual about the dress, in fact it was quite modest, but it was extremely enticing.
Admiring herself in the mirror, Vivian couldn't help but smile. The dress gave her that extra little boost of confidence that she needed, especially since at the tea she was going to be meeting her future parents-in-law. While she had confidence in her manners, she had to admit that this was better than she'd hoped to look when meeting them. Not that any of her dresses had been shabby since she'd begun attending Mrs. Cunningham's Finishing School, but none of them compared to this either.
Finishing off the toast that had been provided for her breakfast, Vivian hurried from her room and to the school's entrance. The other young ladies were gathered there, all of them were early and chattering excitedly. While they were aware that today's tea was a test, they were also in high spirits and feeling fairly confident - exactly how their training was supposed to make them feel. They were also all dressed in their finest day dresses, looking rather splendid as a group. The companions looked on with the smug satisfaction of teachers who had every confidence in their students, bolstering the moral of the young ladies even further.
It quickly became apparent that the gentlemen escorting the ladies who had been invited for tea were not their husbands. The revelation sent the young misses into even further heights of tension, although they were all too well-schooled to show it. Several of the young men had already attached themselves to one of the students, others were looking bored as if they desired to be anywhere but where they were although they were too mannered to say so, and several did a kind of round-robin between the young misses in an effort to speak with each of them. They were spread out on a patio beside the gardens of the house, as the weather was cooperating beautifully, and it gave them a good bit of room to host a section of the party.
All in all the tea was going very well, although Vivian was still on pins and needles waiting for Lady Salisbury to arrive. Would she bring the Marquess, her husband, or would she bring the Earl, her step-son and Vivian's future groom?
Despite the attentions of several young gentlemen who had arrayed themselves in the group around her settee, Vivian's eyes were constantly flicking to the doorway as her tension ratcheted upwards with every passing moment. Several of the grande dames of the ton inserted themselves into her group, silencing the young men who waited for the delightful Miss Stafford's attention again. Vivian acted was quite natural and sweet, her manner unaffected, and the grands dames found themselves delighted by her, despite the hoydenish color of her hair. Obviously, going by the gentlemen who were waiting eagerly for their turn to speak with her again, the bright color wasn't a complete set-off and her manners spoke for themselves. And, of course, they all knew that she was already affianced to an Earl and that spoke well for the girl, even if her father was a mere Baron.
Satisfied, the ladies smiled and uprooted themselves to move onto the next student. As they did so the men naturally scooted closer to the delightful Miss Stafford, each making the effort to be the one to gain her attention now that it was free again, and it was this sight which greeted the Earl of Cranborne when he walked into the room with his step-mother on his arm.
Before he was even announced his eyes had sought out his bride, easily found with that bright hair and the dress that he'd commissioned for her. She looked mouth-wateringly beautiful, vulnerably innocent, and entirely enticing. When he'd commissioned the dress he'd only thought about the effect that it would have on him, not on the other swains that would be attending the tea. Their engagement would only make her more interesting to them - when one man was willing to commit himself to a woman, it made the others want to discover why.
Although Gabriel was quite sure that none of them would discern his reasons.
Still, he was more than a bit irked to see that Viscount Marchland was one of the men seated beside his betrothed. While the others hovering about her were younger and less threatening to a man of Gabriel's stature, the Viscount was beginning to garner a reputation as a rake. He was younger than Gabriel, but that just meant that he was closer to Vivian in age. Seeing him seated beside her had Gabriel's chest clenching with the possessive demand to go and claim his wife - never mind that they hadn't had the ceremony yet.
"Relax, Gabriel," his step-mother murmured, tapping her fan on the arm that her hand rested on. Obviously she'd felt the tensing of his muscles. "One would think you're unhappy to be here."
No, he was quite happy to be there, if only to immediately chase off all the young puppies that were dancing attendance on his bride. Especially Marchland. He didn't see Audrey's lips curve as her words had no effect on her step-son; his entire being was focused on the enchanting young woman in green.
Vivian was far too anxious to be frightened. When she'd heard the Earl of Cranborne announced, she'd immediately looked to the door and had her gaze caught by the darkest, hardest eyes she'd ever seen, belonging to what might be the most beautiful man she'd ever seen. He truly was like something out of a dream. Slightly older than the young men who were gathered around her, he made them look like unfinished clay next to his polished and confident demeanor. Everything about his attire was impeccable, from the unrelieved black of his outer garments against the crisp white shirt and intricately tied cravat. Dark hair waved back from a face that looked like it had come straight from one of the gothic romances that she liked to read - a more melodramatic woman might say that it was carved by angels.
She was so caught up in his glittering gaze that she almost forgot to breath, although her lungs felt so constricted that air seemed like an unnecessary commodity anyway. Self-doubt seized her. What on earth could this supremely confident and attractive man want with her? Why would he have chosen someone like her?
While she felt that she could often look quite pretty, especially today in her new dress, she fell far short of the alluring perfection of the vision in front of her. How could she possibly be a fit wife for him? He needed a Diamond of the First Water. Vivian wasn't anywhere close to that title.
Beside her, one of the men was saying something, but she couldn't hear a single word coming from his mouth. All of her attention was on keeping herself from panicking and running. Heat rose in her face as the Earl began to make his way towards them and the desire to flee intensified.
She was so distracted by his mere presence that she almost didn't notice the woman on his arm until they were nearly to her area. This was his step-mother? The Marchesse was a stunning beauty, looking of an age to the Earl rather than old enough to be his mother. She had thick chestnut hair with coppery highlights that glinted in the sunlight, bright hazel eyes and a classically beautiful face with creamy ivory skin. The beautiful violet dress she was wearing set off her well-endowed figure wonderfully. Vivian was aware that more than one of the young gentlemen that had been paying court to her were now eyeing the other woman with blatant appreciation.
The Earl should be with someone who looked like his step-mother, Vivian thought rather despairingly. Not someone like her with her unfashionable hair, skinny figure and plain features. Plain compared to the Marchesse, that is.
Rising at their approach, Vivian managed a beautiful curtsy to the Marchesse and the Earl, murmuring a polite greeting. When she looked up again, her future husband was looking at her with a hard expression that she didn't recognize, whereas her future mother-in-law seemed delighted.
"It's wonderful to finally meet you, Miss Stafford," the Marchesse said, stepping forward and taking Vivian's hands in her own. "I'm very much looking forward to welcoming you to the family."
"I'm very honored," Vivian said, feeling as though she might faint. It was all she could think of to say, and she could barely get the words out. The Earl was still looking angry, although he'd transferred his gaze Lord Marchland. At least he wasn't looking at her like that, not that it helped settle her stomach at all that his dark gaze wasn't directed at her. The Marchesse was smiling warmly at her, which helped to bolster her spirits.
Noticing what Vivian was looking at, the Marchesse sighed. "Gabriel, why don't you take your intended for a walk in the garden?" She smiled at Vivian. "I'll remain here and entertain these young men for you."
"Oh..." Vivian floundered, looking towards the wall where she'd last seen Mrs. Banks standing in hope of receiving some guidance. Several of the men had stiffened upon hearing Vivian openly referred to as Cranbourne's intended, but Vivian didn't even notice them as she searched for, and failed to find, her companion. The students weren't supposed to leave their designated areas, but how could she deny a Marchesse?
Then her future husband stepped forward, proffering his arm, and her decision was made for her. "Come along, my dear."
Since the Earl was the one who had arranged and paid for her presence at the school, she didn't feel as though she could deny his request. Tentatively she placed her hand on his arm and he immediately covered it with his own, pulling her away from the group with one last dark look for Lord Marchland. When he turned his gaze back to hers, it was distinctly milder although still intense. The kind of intensity had changed however; before he'd looked angry, now the way he was looking at her made her feel rather warm inside.
He didn't speak until they were down the steps leading into the gardens. "You look beautiful in that dress."
Coming from a man who looked the way he did, the compliment seemed even greater. Vivian blushed with pleasure, a little tingle going through her belly.
"Thank you, my lord."
The look that she got in return was rather sardonic. "Call me Gabriel, please. As we're to be married in a short matter of time, it seems only appropriate."
"Oh... yes. I just... it seems so intimate when we don't really know each other," she said quietly. "I know more about you than you might realize," he said, but he didn't seem insulted. Instead she had the feeling that he was studying her. "And I'd be happy to tell you whatever you'd like to know about me."
"Why me?' she blurted out. Of all the things she had wondered about him, all the things she wanted to know about him, that was the most pressing. Especially now that she'd seen him. Surely this man could have had any bride that he desired, he was far too attractive, too masculine, too virile, to have to settle for an impoverished Baron's daughter.
They had moved deeper into the gardens. Although she didn't realize it, Gabriel had been maneuvering them towards the higher plants and bushes since they'd entered them, wanting a few minutes of privacy with his fiance before he had to return to the party and share her with others. Although he didn't intend to share her very much.
"What do you mean?" he asked, taking her further along the path, one eye on the patio that they'd just left so that he would know when they're out of sight.
A delightful blush spread across her cheeks. "Why did you choose me for... for your bride when... I mean... surely you could have any woman you wanted."
Gabriel admired her perseverance. She was obviously embarrassed and intimidated, but she still asked the question that was most dear to her heart. Even more so, his jaded cynicism appreciated that she didn't immediately ask about his houses or lands, or anything financial or grasping, the way some women might have. Indeed, her question only reassured him that he'd made the absolutely right choice in his bride.
"Perhaps not any woman," he murmured, turning towards her now that they were just out of sight - but still within earshot - of the tea party. "I'd say the Princess is a bit above my touch." Perhaps it was cruel to tease her, but he had to admit that he rather liked seeing her a bit riled, rather than so palely composed as she had been when she'd greeted him and his step-mother.
"And you're far above mine," she said, shrinking in on herself a little, her emerald green eyes falling away from his.
Now that was unacceptable. Gabriel cupped his hand under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. Vivian sucked in a breath as their gazes clashed, he'd gone from being almost friendly and teasing, now that they were alone, back to looking quite irritated. What had she said, she wondered a little despairingly, to spark such a look of condemnation from him?
"Vivian," he said, the very sound of her name being uttered in that deep, gravelly voice sending a shudder of pleasure through her. "I did have my choice of any woman that I wanted, and I chose you, because you are what I want. And if you run yourself down in my hearing again, I will put you over my knee and spank you immediately."
Now it felt as though her lungs might actually collapse in on themselves. She didn't know it, but her pupils dilated, making her green eyes look almost black. The hand on her chin was firm but gentle, he'd both complimented her and threatened her, and the most astonishing wave of tingling need had gone through her at his words. Her fantasies of being put over a male knee and spanked had never featured such a man like this; so careful of her and yet so demanding.
Dark eyes bored into hers, demanding a response.
"I'm sorry," she whispered thickly, although at the moment she could barely remember what she was sorry for. Her mind was still questioning why he would have chosen her; her body couldn't have cared less why, only that he had.
Unconsciously she leaned towards him, an innocent's response to her attraction and the fact that they were already touching. A gentleman would have - should have - gently dissuaded her. Gabriel, after seeing her surrounded by other men, had been angling for this as soon as Audrey had suggested that he take his future bride for a private walk. He'd seen her being trained, knew that she was slowly being prepared for him, but he found himself wanting something more than that.
A completely private moment, untouched by Mrs. Cunningham's Finishing School, unwatched and uninfluenced by Mrs. Banks, a moment outside of the training he'd commissioned for his bride. One that none of those other men could ever hope to have with her. Gabriel slanted his lips over hers, his free arm wrapping around to cage her body the way that his other hand had caged her face.
Warmth bloomed in Vivian's loins as his lips pressed down on hers, her hands coming up automatically to press against his chest. The arm that was wrapped around her body was unyielding, pressing her into him. Everything about him was hard and muscular against her softness, except his lips which were so wonderfully soft and inviting. The arm around her back tightened and she gasped... and when her lips parted his tongue thrust into her mouth.
It was shocking and exciting, and so similar to having Mrs. Banks push her fingers between Vivian's lips that she immediately, innocently, suckled on his questing tongue. Gabriel groaned and hauled her closer, delving deeper into her sweet mouth and memorizing the taste and feel of her. Vivian felt giddy as he moved his tongue against hers and taught her how to kiss, so very similar but so very different from what she had been doing with Mrs. Banks. Was this what Mrs. Banks had been training her for with her fingers?
The thought seemed faraway in her mind as her body came to life against the Earl's. Her fingers curved inwards, around the fabric of his jacket, as she moaned and shuddered against him. Tingling awareness filled her, sizzled along her skin, as her breasts grew heavy and full and the area between her legs became swollen and wet. Hunger flared between them, he took possession of her mouth and she let him, feeling as though some need she'd been unaware of during her training was finally being met.
When the kiss slowed, shallowed, and then ended, she whimpered. The Earl placed his lips gently, almost reverently against hers.
Someone, one of the other female students, had a high-pitched laugh which had impinged on his senses, the only thing that had kept him from pulling Vivian deeper into the garden and exploring her further. Although some liberties would be allowed because of their impending nuptials, such a blatant indiscretion would never be excused. Which meant that he had to get himself under control, and exert that control over her.
Because it was obvious that she was all too willing to follow where he led.
His reaction to her submissive passion had been more intense than he could have anticipated. The fantasies that she had fueled in him, for months now, were so close to culmination that it was agony to wait for the actual event. At least he could console himself with the thought that on Monday he would be participating in her training and he would gain some measure of relief. Not to mention that he would finally be able to put his hands all over her in the way that he desired.
For the rest of the afternoon, the Earl was a perfect gentleman. He danced attendance on Vivian, fetching her a new cup of tea or a new plate of sweets whenever she looked to be in need, charming her with anecdotes about his lands and his family - his sisters sounded delightful - and behaving with such elegant aplomb that she could hardly credit his threat to spank her. Or that he was the man who had her undergoing such rigorous and occasionally painful training.
Although, she could see that while he obviously enjoyed catering to her needs, that he had the same kind of arrogant confidence as did Lord Marchland. In both of them that arrogance was well-merited. Any woman below the age of sixty, and possibly some above, would feel at least a faint flutter of the heart when under the gaze of either man.
Everything about the Earl's demeanor was possessive; indeed, by the time they had returned from their walk in the garden, Lord Marchland had already quit her area and was sitting with her friend Emily and her entourage. Vivian was rather glad of it, because the Earl (she couldn't quite think of him as Gabriel yet) seemed much more relaxed once he saw that Lord Marchland had changed his seat. Several of the other young men remained, chatting with both her and the Countess (and some of them watching the Countess with worshipful puppy-dog eyes), but none of them seem to provoke the Earl's ire the way Lord Marchland had.