Marriage Training Ch. 18byGoldeniangel©
Author's note: This chapter is not meant to be read as a standalone, but in sequence with the ones that came before it. Enjoy!
Friday was the final day of the Practicum for the students of Mrs. Cunningham's Finishing School. In the morning they were informed that a celebratory dinner would be held that evening at the house, with their family members in attendance. Vivian's heart leapt she hadn't seen her family in ages it seemed like, and then it sank again just as quickly. How would this affect her evening with Gabriel? Had he known that this evening would be different? Why hadn't he told her?
At that moment, Gabriel was just as disgruntled as Vivian could have hoped. He'd just received a note from Mrs. Cunningham informing him that Vivian's parents had requested to take their daughter with them that evening after the dinner, rather than waiting for the next day as had initially been planned. Of course he wouldn't deny Vivian time with her parents, nor such a small request on their part, but he'd been looking forward to one last night alone with her.
And since his father didn't expect Gabriel's presence in his house this evening, he wouldn't see Vivian at all after the dinner.
He felt distinctly thwarted. Which was not at all a nice feeling, nor was he used to it.
At least there was only a little over a week before he and Vivian would be man and wife and then she would be in his house, in his bed every night. The servants were already setting up the household in anticipation of their new mistress. He'd caught them preparing the adjoining room for her. Deciding that she should have her own space, he'd allowed it, although he'd forbid them from adding a bed to the room. Propriety be damned, he was perfectly willing to be unfashionable and sleep every night with his life and he didn't care who knew it.
Vivian's reunion with her parents was everything she could have hoped for. Unfortunately her siblings were not attending the dinner; she wouldn't see them until the wedding celebrations the following weekend. But it had been so wonderful to see her parents, to throw herself in their arms. Her mother had wept unashamedly and even her father had become gruffly teary-eyed.
They'd arrived several hours before the dinner and Vivian had been given permission to take her leave of Mrs. Banks and walk the grounds freely with her parents. It had felt rather odd, like a rite of passage, to have Mrs. Banks see her off with her parents. Then again, after tomorrow, Mrs. Banks would no longer be the constant companion of her life.
Conversation flowed easily. Vivian was eager to hear about home and her brother and sisters, and her parents were eager to hear about her schooling. It very quickly became apparent to Vivian that they had no idea that her lessons continued on into the evening, which rather relieved her.
As her mother was admiring some of the roses in the garden, her father pulled her slightly aside and just out of ear shot.
"Are you happy, sweetheart? I know you met the Earl earlier this week... He has a bit of a... a reputation and I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing, but we needed... we needed..." He flushed heavily and Vivian took pity on her poor, dear father.
"I'm very happy," she said, smiling at him to show the truth of her words. "He's very kind to me. And I met his step-mother and his sisters and they've all been perfectly lovely to me as well."
Her father brightened. "Yes, the Marchesse is extremely kind and generous. As is the Marquess. We're staying with them, you know, until the wedding next week. They've been quite gracious." There was a touch of awe in his voice that such important personages, quite a bit above a mere Baron, would be so welcoming to him and his family. Indeed, the Baron was still unsure what had prompted the unusual proposal by the Earl for Vivian and even more unsure about the school that she had been sent to. He'd heard rumors... but he could see for himself that his daughter was quite healthy and seemed very happy.
Indeed, she practically glowed in the afternoon light when she spoke of the Earl. Even out on their estate, he and his wife had heard some snippets of rumors about how the Earl had fallen prey to the whims of love. Friends from in town had written of the love match. To his credit, although he would have used the Earl's desire for Vivian for the betterment of their family either way, the Baron truly did want the best for his daughter and was relieved that she appeared to be more than content with the situation. He did not know what he would have done had she been unhappy, and was relieved that he did not have to face that dilemma.
That evening Vivian's two worlds collided, with a surprising amount of harmony, although she couldn't help but blush constantly whenever Gabriel looked at her in her parents' presence. Mostly because whenever she looked at him she was immediately aroused, wondering whether or not he would come to her room that evening, and to be in such a state while having a conversation with her family was incredibly uncomfortable.
Afterwards, the ladies retreated to the drawing room and while the men stayed in the dining room for their port. It was wonderful to have her mother to herself for a bit. She introduced her friends and the atmosphere was quite festive. That was when Vivian learned that she would be leaving that evening, by special request of her parents. The Marquess' London house was close enough for her to return for the graduation ceremony on the morrow, and her parents desperately wanted as much time with her as possible. The Earl and the school had granted the request.
Vivian didn't know whether or not to feel disappointed. Of course she wanted time with her family, especially as she would soon be married to Gabriel and would not be returning to her childhood home, but she'd also been looking forward to the Earl's nightly visit. Should she feel grateful that he'd approved her parents' request, or worried that his interest in her was already waning?
When the gentlemen rejoined them, Vivian knew her doubts were invalid. The way Gabriel looked at her, the hunger in his eyes, he definitely still wanted her.
Before the evening came to a close, he drew her aside by one of the windows. They were still within the full view of the room of course, but separate, and as long as they spoke in low voices, no one would be able to hear what was said.
"I'd hoped for one more night with you this evening," Gabriel said, his voice low and intimate. She shivered and stepped a little closer to him. Almost too close for propriety really, but she had such an urge to reach out and touch him that she couldn't help it. The green flecks in his eyes flashed brighter.
"I too," she said softly, tilting her head back to look up at him directly. "But I'm also glad to spend more time with my family. Thank you for that."
"Oh sweetheart... you'll be showing your gratitude later, never worry." The wicked, rakish grin that he gave her made her knees feel weak. Or maybe that was just the impulse to drop to her knees and do wicked things to him with her mouth. After all, that had become her normal activity for this time in the evening.
"Will you be staying at your parents' house too?"
"No. But I'll be visiting quite often. And I expect you to be on your best behavior." Gabriel shifted his weight, partially blocking her from the room. His hand came up, cupping her breast. Vivian gasped, her eyes darting towards the rest of the guests, before she realized that Gabriel's broad shoulders effectively hid her from them and them from her. The way he'd positioned himself also kept any of them from being able to see that he was fondling her so inappropriately.
Of course, anyone could come over at any second and catch them. Her pulse sped even faster.
Gabriel nearly groaned with the unfairness of it all. His bride-to-be was staring up at him with hot, welcoming emerald eyes, not even protesting his manhandling of her. The amount of trust that she showed in him was overwhelming. And incredibly arousing.
"I'm going to miss you tonight, sweet. I'll see as much as possible of you over the next week." Finding the tiny, erect bud of her nipple, Gabriel pinched it between his fingers and enjoyed her shocked gasp. He tugged it, his eyes boring into hers as she bit down on her lip to suppress a moan. "You will be good, or you will pay for it later." With every word, he increased the pressure on her tender bud, pinching it tighter and tighter in erotic warning. "You may touch yourself as much as you want, but you may not climax. I'll know if you do and you will regret it."
The color bleached from her face as she remembered the last time she'd touched herself to orgasm and the penalty she'd gained from it. Then her face flushed again as he lessened the pressure on her nipple and rolled it between his fingers. He would have been willing to bet his title that she was soaking wet right now.
And he would have won that bet, if he'd been able to slip his fingers between her thighs and check. Vivian was achingly aware of how aroused she'd become from his fondling and threat, from the little bit of pain he'd induced in her nipple and from the remembered pain of her punishments. She had to bite her lip again to keep from whimpering as he released her nipple and shifted away. The little bud ached from the rough handling, and the other pulsed with envy that it remained untouched.
He'd given her permission to touch herself... she wanted to sneak off and pinch her other nipple so that the slightly painful ache would at least be the same on both sides.
Instead she followed meekly along, her hand resting delicately on his arm, as they finished out the evening. It thrilled that deep, secret side of her to know that Gabriel could touch her so intimately, rouse her so passionately, and that none of these people in the room need know. Of course, being returned to her parents' care dampened the thrill a bit, but only a very little bit.
Over the weekend Vivian spent most of her time with her family. The graduation ceremony was short and they didn't stay long at the tea that followed. There were too many things to do. Her mother was thrilled to be able to go about London with her, shopping for the various things they would need for her wedding next Saturday. She was fitted for her engagement ball dress and her wedding dress, which was done in the latest style, gorgeous frothy layers of silver and white, and they shopped for all the items she would need for a trousseau. Lady Audrey, as Vivian called her soon to be mother-in-law, accompanied them for some of the trips, always adroitly and tactfully adding her suggestions.
Vivian could tell that both of her parents felt somewhat awed and uncomfortable when in the presence of Lady Audrey or the Marquess. He had told Vivian to call him by his title, Salisbury, since she couldn't seem to manage his name - the teasing look in his bright green eyes had caught her by surprise. The Marquess was much less intimidating and much easier to talk to than his son was; he smiled, teased and cajoled both Vivian and her parents into a semblance of ease at every meal. Yet she didn't mind that Gabriel was much more serious; it made the times when he was playful or openly affectionate all that much more special.
Sisters were the root of all evil in the world.
It was Wednesday, the day of his engagement ball, and Gabriel hadn't managed a private moment with his fiancé since his last night with her at Mrs. Cunningham's Finishing School. All because of his sisters. Apparently bored with their own lives, they'd taken it upon themselves to interfere with his. During the day, Vivian was busy with her mother and Audrey, putting together the necessary preparations for their wedding. In the evenings, Hazel and Daphne came over for dinner every night, attaching themselves to Vivian like limpets.
When he'd suggested to them that they must miss spending time with their husbands, they'd just laughed and retorted that they had the rest of their lives to spend with their husbands and they wanted to get to know their new sister. If it hadn't put such a look of surprised pleasure on Vivian's face, he might have asked his father to intervene, but he wasn't going to deny Vivian such a simple joy. It was obviously important to her to get along with his family and to have them approve of her, even if he didn't care whether or not they approved. So he gritted his teeth and continued his useless attempts to get her alone enough to steal a kiss. And his sisters continued to thwart him. When he'd obliquely suggested to his father that he spend the night there, his father had just given him an amused look and said to ask Audrey. Gabriel didn't bother.
Tonight he'd better be able to have a private moment with her though. Gabriel wanted to feel the silky softness of her skin, smell her sweet scent, and taste her lips, even if it was only for a fleeting moment. While balls often provided plenty of opportunity for clandestine meetings, he knew his father and Audrey would be displeased with him if he stole Vivian away for any real length of time. Much as he might want to.
Standing in front of his valet, he let the man fuss over his cravat. His mind was already churning, wondering where he might be able to sneak Vivian off to where none of his family members would be able to find him, in a house that they all knew like the back of their hands.
Arriving at his parents' house, he was less than pleased when the first person he ran into was Daphne. She smirked at him, ignoring his glare, and chattering at him about the decorations. He had to admit, Audrey had outdone herself. The entire main floor of the house was lit with glittering candles; the dining room was elegantly outfitted in deep forest green and ivory, colors that would set off both Gabriel and Vivian's looks despite their very different coloring.
When he finally set eyes on his fiancé, Gabriel's breath caught in his throat. She was riveting, in a gown the color of lilacs, her hair done in an elegant coiffure, and that smooth, unadorned throat that he wanted to run his lips over. The gown would stand out among the forest green of the decor, while still heightening the effect of her creamy skin and bright hair.
"Stop looking at her like that, it's not at all civilized," Daphne said, nudging her elbow into his side none too gently.
"Like she's a particularly tasty éclair and you're going to skip all the other courses and get straight to dessert."
"I recall saying much the same to Anthony when he first met you," Gabriel said dryly, and had the pleasure of seeing his sister blush.
"Really?" The delight in her voice was obvious.
"Ah, not so uncivilized now is it?"
Daphne gave him a look and flounced over to Vivian to greet her, forcing Gabriel to follow behind. She hovered while he kissed the back of Vivian's hand, all very correct and boring. There were so many other places on his bride's body that he'd like to put his lips.
Unfortunately he was given no chance. They were seated too far away from each other at dinner, which consisted of a select group of friends and family numbering about fifty. Dinner was superb but Gabriel couldn't enjoy it because all of his attention was on Vivian as she charmed her dining partners. Fortunately he was seated next to his elderly Aunt Clara, who was deaf as a post, and Audrey, who seemed amused by his distraction, so there was no heavy need for him to attempt conversation.
The waiting was becoming interminable.
It wasn't until he and Vivian opened the evening with their first dance, celebrating their upcoming nuptials, that he was able to hold her in his arms and speak semi-privately with his bride. The most he'd managed to touch and talk with her in days.
"Are you well, my Lord?"
Gabriel's silver eyes glittered and Vivian almost wished that she'd held her tongue. But she was nervous; he'd looked so dark and brooding every time she'd seen him for the past few days that she was beginning to worry that he regretted his decision to wed her. Or that she'd somehow done something wrong, but she hadn't had the opportunity to question him. While she adored Daphne and Hazel, they had been very adamant about not giving their brother any opportunity to 'ruin' Vivian. When Hazel had whispered that to her, Vivian had wondered what the other women would do if she told them she was pretty sure that she was at least a little ruined already.
"I believe I told you what would happen if you called me that when we're in private," Gabriel said, his voice low and disturbing. All of her senses tingled as he held her closer, much too close for propriety even during a dance as scandalous as the waltz. It had become quite a fashionable dance, but Vivian had never danced it quite like this when she'd been practicing with the other young ladies at the school.
"But we're not in private," she protested.
"Closest we've come all week."
He sounded rather disgruntled and Vivian looked up at him in surprise.
"I thought we weren't supposed to be alone before our wedding. Hazel said..." Her voice trickled off as Gabriel growled.
"My sisters are a plague."
But the dance ended before he could fully explain why he took issue with his sisters and the Marquess came up to claim Vivian's hand for the next dance, a quadrille. After him, she danced with her father, then Daphne's husband, then Hazel's, and then the other guests began to fill in the rest of her dance card. She insisted on saving the waltzes for Gabriel, but the rest of the slots were quite quickly filled.
Unaware of the way her joy in motion and her unassuming beauty had riveted the attention of the men in attendance, Vivian assumed they were being kind to her since it was her engagement ball or that they were Gabriel's friends. She didn't realize that many of them were curious about the kind of woman who had tamed the Earl of Cranborne or that they were attracted to her in their own right. Gabriel did, but as he did his turns with Audrey, his sisters and Vivian's mother, he made sure to stay close to wherever Vivian was dancing.
More than one man received the unspoken message that the Earl was quite possessive over his fiancé. Hazel twitted him about grinding his teeth, although that was in part because when he was dancing with her, Vivian was dancing with Lord Marchland.
And he didn't realize that Vivian's attention rarely strayed from him. She was truly enjoying this ball, as she'd never had a come out or a Season. Content with that, she was still thrilled by the attention and the glittering ton. The men were utterly charming so that at first she barely noticed how her feet hurt or how stifling the ballroom had become.
It wasn't until she stumbled while she was dancing a simple country dance with Viscount Rawlings that she realized how out of breath she'd become.
"Careful, Miss Stafford," said the Viscount, looking worried as he assisted her over to the sidelines of the dance floor. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm so sorry," she said, fanning her face with her hand. "I don't know what came over me... is this what they call a 'crush'?"
The Viscount laughed, his boyishly handsome face coming alight. "It is indeed, in fact I'm quite sure that your engagement ball is going to be proclaimed one of the highlights of the Season."
"Are you sure you're alright, Miss Stafford? Perhaps we should step out onto the terrace to get you some air."
"Oh yes, please, that sounds lovely." Vivian felt almost pathetically grateful as Rawlings escorted her from the dance floor and over to the doors leading to the terrace. The gardens of Salisbury House in London were not extensive although they were quite beautiful and she knew that they were open for the guests to wander if they wished.