How Long Can You Resist Ch. 05byoohsexypenguin©
Author's note: This chapter is full of plot development (a little reward for those of you who have been patiently waiting), and hopefully you find it as entertaining to read as it was for me to write.
"I want you to pack your things tonight, Gerard. It is time for us to go home."
Mrs. St. Claire was standing in the doorway of Gerard's room, looking somber. Gerard was preparing to meet Elizabeth at market that morning, and at the sound of his mother's voice he popped a button off his crisp white shirt.
"What?" he said irritatedly, turning around to face her. "What do you mean?"
"Darling," Mrs. St. Claire said, "when we first came here we only intended to stay for a week, remember? I do think it's time for us to get back to London." She fiddled with the lace on the sleeves of her dress, and without looking at her son added, "There are a few suitable young ladies there I've arranged for you to meet..."
She got no further before Gerard angrily cut her off. "Mother, I cannot believe your gall," he spat. He ripped off his now ruined shirt, leaving his upper body bare, much to his mother's chagrin. Striding to the armoire to retrieve a new one, he said, "You only wish to leave now because I have met a girl that you deem as inappropriate."
"Well, Gerard, you can hardly blame me," Mrs. St. Claire replied, feeling her own anger rising to the surface. Gerard may have received his looks from his father, but he most certainly had inherited his volatile temperament from his mother. "You gallivant around like some sort of country boy, and you take up with a farmer's daughter!"
"Do you realize how condescending you sound, Mother?" Gerard said in disbelief. Having put on another shirt, he sat on the edge of the bed and pulled on a pair of black riding boots. "You speak like people from the country are simple minded and uncultured." Standing, he strode over to his mother and looked her in the eye. "And I would thank you to not speak unkindly of Elizabeth in my presence. You don't even know her."
Mrs. St. Claire stared up at her son, refusing to back down. "And how would I know her?" she asked. "I've never met her!"
Gerard squinted and cocked his head, as if in thought. "You know, Mother, you are right," he said finally. "I think you should meet her. It's only proper that you get to know the woman I am courting."
His mother went a bit pale. "Courting?" she asked, reaching for the doorknob to steady herself.
"Yes, courting," Gerard answered. "I really do like her, Mother." Taking one of her small hands in his larger ones, he met his mother's eyes and said, "It would mean the world to me if I could bring her to dinner tonight and have you give her a chance."
Mrs. St. Claire sighed, unable to deny her son when he asked her so sincerely. "Alright, Gerard," she acquiesced after a few moments of thought. "She may come for dinner."
"Thank you, Mother," Gerard said, stooping to kiss her on the cheek. "I appreciate it." And with that he moved past her and down the stairs, eager to see Elizabeth once again.
Mrs. St. Claire watched as her son walked out the front door. She shook her head and frowned. "I hope you know what you're doing, son," she murmured.
"You look far too fancy to be selling wool, Lizzie," Theodore said, grinning teasingly at his sister.
They were sitting on their usual stools, at their usual table, at their usual place at market. Elizabeth elbowed her brother, blushing even as she smiled. She had taken extra care in dressing that morning, knowing that Gerard intended to pay a visit. She had chosen a red gown that was fairly new, and it fit her perfectly. The color was the perfect contrast to her creamy pale skin. The neckline plunged just low enough to show a decent amount of cleavage, without being too scandalous. There was a matching red ribbon holding her hair back, which tumbled in shiny dark curls down her back. She was drawing the attention of many men (and the jealous stares of a few women), but she failed to notice.
"I guess it's for that Gerard fellow, isn't it?" Theodore continued, grinning even more widely. Elizabeth couldn't help but laugh now. "You really are obnoxious, Teddy, you know that?" she said.
"Yes, I know," Theodore said. "But it's fun."
Elizabeth laughed again. She was in a very good mood, the best mood she'd been in for a long time. She found that the mere thought of Gerard was enough to put her in better spirits. I do believe the man is growing on me, she thought.
"So are you going to marry him?" Theodore asked, interrupting her thoughts.
Startled, Elizabeth frowned. "I have no idea, Teddy," she said. "And what business is that of yours, anyway?"
Theodore shrugged. "Well, as much as Mama and Papa talk about it, I figure it's everyone's business."
Elizabeth sighed. "I suppose you have a point." She used a hand to shield her eyes from the sunlight and scanned the crowd. They had been there for an hour, and still no sight of Gerard.
"I don't think I ever want to get married," Theodore said suddenly, catching Elizabeth off guard.
"What makes you say that?" she asked, confused. "And why are you even thinking of marriage? You're only twelve!"
Theodore shrugged again, toying with a pile of wool. "I don't know," he said. "If you find the idea of marriage so bad, it can't be that good."
Elizabeth stared at her brother, contemplating what he was saying. He was a young man now, tanned from spending most of the day in the sun. His hair was dark like her own, and curled down to the nape of his neck. His brown eyes were serious at the moment, and it was evident that when he grew up he was going to be a striking gentleman. "Oh Teddy," she said. "You shouldn't let what I think and say affect you so."
"I suppose," Theodore said.
"Look at me, Teddy," Elizabeth said sternly, waiting until her brother met her eyes. "You will make some lucky woman incredibly happy one day. Don't listen to your fussy hen of a sister. You live your own life the way you want to live it, do you hear me?"
Theodore smiled, then said, "You know what, Lizzie? For a hen, you're not too bad."
Elizabeth smirked. "And for an obnoxious little brother, you're not too bad yourself."
Gerard tied Lucifer to a post and delved into the crowd at market. He chided himself for being so late; he had overslept that morning, and with his mother springing on him earlier his day had not gotten off to a good start. He perked up as he spotted Elizabeth, and he sped up as he headed toward her table.
His heart sped up as well as he took in the vision that was before him. She was captivating -- she looked good enough to devour in her red dress, and he gulped as he tried to wipe away the dirty thoughts that immediately came to his mind.
Gerard then noticed that she and her brother appeared to be deep in conversation. He neared the table cautiously, then cleared his throat.
"Oh!" Elizabeth yelped, looking up to see Gerard chuckling. "You startled me, you cad!"
Gerard laughed even harder at her indignation. "You are absolutely beautiful when you are mad, you know that?" he said, reaching out and tweaking her nose.
Elizabeth continued to frown, but there was humor in her eyes as she stared back at Gerard's smiling face. He looked rather dashing today, but then again, when didn't he? she thought. His hair was hanging rakishly, curling at the ends, and the corners of his eyes were wrinkled from smiling. It looked as if he hadn't shaved in a few days, leaving him with the slightest hint of dark stubble along his jawline. And, as they were wont to do, his gray eyes bored into her, making her feel almost sinfully exposed. Elizabeth grew warm as she tried to compose herself.
"Theodore, do you mind if I stay here a while and bother your sister?" Gerard said, winking at the younger Winshaw.
"Not at all," Theodore said, winking back and causing Elizabeth to roll her eyes in mock annoyance. "And you can call me Teddy, everyone else does."
Gerard chuckled. "Alright, Teddy. Why don't you run along and amuse yourself? I'll keep an eye on Elizabeth."
"I beg your pardon!" Elizabeth interjected, catching her brother by his sleeve as he attempted to oblige Gerard. "I can look after myself just fine, despite what you might think!"
Gerard stifled a smile at the sparks of anger that had lit in her midnight eyes. By God, what a woman, he thought. "My apologies, dear one," he said, bowing his head. "I merely wish to keep you company. I've missed you these last few days."
Elizabeth felt her face turn red. "Well, if you must know, I missed you, as well," she said demurely, letting go of Theodore's sleeve. Turning to him, she said, "Be careful, Teddy, and be back here in time to pack up and leave."
She watched as he ran off, feeling Gerard's eyes on her and noticing his brilliant smile in the corner of her eye. You shouldn't have admitted that, she scolded herself. Now he has the upper hand.
"You missed me too, did you?" Gerard asked, hoping she wouldn't take it back. It warmed his heart to know that in their time apart she had thought of him too.
"I did," Elizabeth sighed, finally meeting his eyes. "In spite of your odious personality, I found I could not think of anyone else."
She laughed at the offended look that came to Gerard's face, then squealed as he launched at her and wrapped her in his arms. "Gerard!" she cried, looking around frantically as the scene they were creating drew attention. "Mind yourself!"
He kissed her forehead, staring down into her lovely face. "You know as well as I do that you prefer it when I don't mind myself," he murmured softly, the left side of his mouth curling up in a grin.
Elizabeth blushed and swatted at his chest with her hand. "You arrogant oaf, you let me go this second!" Though she protested, she felt a warmth go through her, and it settled in the pit of her stomach and made her ache in a way she didn't understand.
"I love when you call me pet names, little one." Gerard kissed her forehead once again, then let her go. Not because she'd made a fuss, but because the close contact had caused quite the conspicuous bulge in his pants. Whoa, boy, he said to himself.
Smoothing the front of her dress, Elizabeth said, "I shall keep that in mind and call you 'oaf' more often."
Laughing, Gerard reached out and brushed a tendril of hair from her flushed cheek. It was a rather tender gesture, and one that sobered the moment. Their eyes locked, and Gerard let his hand rest against her soft skin. Almost unconsciously Elizabeth closed her eyes and rested her face in the palm of his hand, enjoying the feel of him and the sense of calm that had come over her.
Gerard barely managed to suppress a groan at the sight of her relaxing at his touch. He found himself wondering how she would respond to more of his touches, in more intimate places than her cheek. Shaking the thought away, he decided to change the subject. "So, is it alright if I help sell wool today?" he asked, removing his hand and leaving Elizabeth slightly bleary eyed.
"Hmm?" she asked, then said, "Oh. Erm, yes, it's alright." She was embarrassed by her body's reaction to him. Trying to lighten the mood, she added, "Although I doubt you can do as well as Teddy. He's quite the salesman."
Gerard cocked an eyebrow, smirking. "Is that a challenge, minx?"
Elizabeth also cocked an eyebrow. "Would that be you accepting, oaf?"
In answer, Gerard turned from her, cupped his hands on either side of his mouth, and called out, "Wool! Wool for sale!"
Later that afternoon, Elizabeth was silently marveling at Gerard. He had managed to sell nine bundles of wool, and all the the buyers had been women. She had to admit, she was a bit jealous watching Gerard charm them into their purchases. He had smiled and flirted, and the women had plunked down their money. Maybe he should come to market every weekend with us, she mused, observing the latest transaction.
"Enjoy your wool, madame!" Gerard said, waving goodbye to a stout older woman who was walking away giggling like a school girl. He turned to Elizabeth and smiled smugly. "So, who is the better salesman now?"
Elizabeth scowled. "You may be the better salesman," she said begrudgingly, "but Teddy is by far less vexing than you."
Gerard's smile widened. "You had better stop with the compliments, my sweet," he said, taking a seat next to her. "You might accidentally boost my ego."
"Oh, I wouldn't dream of it," Elizabeth said, pretending to be horrified at the notion.
Gerard laughed, then his face grew serious as he fixed his eyes on her. Oh no, she thought, growing worried. I know that look, and it is never good.
"I have something to ask of you, Elizabeth," he said, taking her hand in his. Nervous now, Elizabeth attempted to smile. "I thought I had boosted your ego enough for today," she tried to joke.
Gerard grinned half-heartedly, then once again resumed his earnest stare. "I was wondering if you would like to have dinner at my aunt's house this evening," he said in a rush, his heart pounding in his chest.
Elizabeth froze, and the blood drained from her face. "Di...dinner?" she stammered, staring at Gerard as if he'd grown a second head. "With your family?"
"Yes," he said, brushing his thumb back and forth over the back of her hand in an attempt to calm her down. "My mother would love to meet you," he fibbed, hoping to reassure her.
"Your mother?" Elizabeth said, frowning even more. "Your mother knows about me?"
"Of course," Gerard said. "I talk about you all the time."
Elizabeth felt a surge of joy go through her at his admission, but then quickly reverted to panic. "Er, um... I do not know about this, Gerard..."
"Please, Elizabeth," Gerard asked, grasping her hand tightly. "I would be so honored if you would accept my invitation."
Elizabeth sighed, gazing at Gerard's handsome and sincere face. "What about Teddy?"
"He's a big boy now, can't he make his way home himself?" Gerard asked.
Before Elizabeth could answer, Theodore appeared suddenly, as if conjured by the speaking of his name. "What's this about me going home by myself?" he said.
"I am in charge of him," Elizabeth said to Gerard, ignoring her brother. "What if we send him off alone, and something happens to him?"
"Oh, come on, Lizzie," Theodore said, scowling. "Nothing will happen, I know the way home like I know the back of my hand."
Gerard tightened his grip on Elizabeth's hand. "The decision is completely up to you, darling," he said. "But I must say I support your brother."
Elizabeth paused, considering the situation. Looking first at Gerard, then at Theodore, she made up her mind. "Alright, then," she said, standing and pushing her hair out of her face. "I shall accept your invitation," she said to Gerard. He smiled broadly and released a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.
"And as for you, Teddy," she said, turning to her brother and grasping him by the shoulders. "You be very careful, do you understand?"
Rolling his eyes, Theodore nodded. "I know, I know, Lizzie," he said. "You needn't worry about me."
"If we want to be on time for dinner, we should leave now," Gerard said, touching Elizabeth's shoulder.
Hugging her brother, Elizabeth turned and took the arm Gerard offered to her. "Then let us go," she said. Heaven help me, she prayed silently.
"Mother, this is Miss Elizabeth Winshaw."
Gerard had escorted Elizabeth into his great aunt's enormous (and intimidating) house and into the parlor. There she was greeted by the sight of two older women sitting in brocade armchairs. They blended in well with the ornate surroundings; the furniture was wooden and gilded, and uncomfortably stiff looking.
Elizabeth dropped a curtsy, noticing the slight grimace on Mrs. St. Claire's face. Gerard's mother was a cold looking woman, but handsome nonetheless. Her son looked nothing like her, but it was clear that the St. Claires were a good looking family.
"Elizabeth, this is my mother, Edith St. Claire," Gerard continued with the introductions. "And this is my great aunt Maybelle Horton." He gestured to the shriveled woman sitting near the fireplace, and who amazingly looked even more dour than Mrs. St. Claire.
"How do you do," Elizabeth said as she curtsied again. Maybelle narrowed her eyes and bowed her head slightly, but said nothing. Silence ensued, as they all stared at each other.
This is ridiculous, Gerard thought, beginning to feel irritated. "I helped Elizabeth sell wool today, Mother," he began, trying to make conversation.
"Did you, son," Edith said, continuing to scrutinize Elizabeth.
"Yes," Gerard said, his jaw clenching as he saw how ill-at-ease Elizabeth was in the presence of his family. "We had a very lovely day together."
"That's nice, darling," his mother said, smiling thinly. "Where is it you said you were from again, dear?" she asked, piercing Elizabeth with her gaze.
"Syresham, ma'am," Elizabeth said, clasping her hands in front of her and twiddling her thumbs. It was a nervous habit.
"That is quite far out in the country, isn't it, girl?" Maybelle said, jumping into the discussion.
"Not really, ma'am," Elizabeth said, turning her attention to the older woman. "It is only few hours away from Brackley."
"Just the other day you were teasing me that it was a whole two hours away," Gerard said, smiling down at her and trying to relax her. It worked a bit -- she gave him a small smile.
"Is that where you went, Gerard?" Edith interrupted, now pinning her stare on her son. "You went all the way out there to visit her?"
Gerard bristled at his mother's tone. "That I did, Mother," he answered. His voice took on a tone of its own.
Feeling the palpable strain between mother and son, Elizabeth attempted to defuse the tension. "Whatever it is that is being prepared for dinner smells heavenly, Mrs. St. Claire," she said.
Edith pursed her lips, exhaling a frustrated breath. "That it does, my dear," she said. Then she stood, calling out, "Henry!"
Henry peeked his head into the parlor, smiling slightly at Elizabeth as she nodded her head in recognition. "Yes, madame," he said. "Dinner is served."
"Well then," Edith said, sweeping out her arm and gesturing toward the hall. "Let us eat!"
The dinner proved to be awkward; there had been many silences, though Gerard had been a dear and held Elizabeth's hand underneath the table.
"Gerard tells us your family sells... wool, is it?" Maybelle asked afterwards, as they had all once again gathered in the parlor for some coffee.
Elizabeth nodded, carefully setting down her delicately painted china teacup. "Yes, ma'am," she said. "Wool and sheep is how the Winshaws have made their living for the last 150 years."
"How quaint," Edith murmured under her breath, irking Gerard as he set his own teacup down roughly.
"Mother, may I have a word with you?" he asked through clenched teeth. "You too, Maybelle?"
At this Elizabeth shot out of her chair. "I do believe I'll pay a visit to the washroom..." she muttered as she scurried out of the parlor, Now, if she could only find it...
Waiting until Elizabeth was safely out of the room, Gerard stood to his full height and released the rage that he had been keeping reined in all evening. "What is the matter with you?" he spat at his mother. "For someone who prides herself on 'status,' you can barely manage to be civil!"
"Do not take that tone with me, young man," Edith said, also standing and at this point quite angry. "She is not right for you, and you know it!"
"Your mother is right, boy," Maybelle said. When Gerard turned his incredulous stare to her, she continued. "It is obvious in every way that she would not make a proper wife for you."
"And what do you know about who would make a proper wife for me?" Gerard asked. "You hardly know me at all, it seems!"