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Hi loves! For some reason I found this chapter a real struggle, I have no idea why! But here it is, with a slightly ‘dun dun dun’ ending, if you don’t mind 😉 Thanks all for the Happy Birthday wishes via PM on FF and on tumblr etc, it was very sweet! I had a great weekend and will embrace being a year older…soon. Enjoy and as always I love to hear what you think! xox

SPOV:

I walked the all too familiar path to the kitchen, with Mrs Fortenberry at my side, dictating as usual.

“You’ll be sharing with Dawn, Sookie.”

“May I ask why?”

“Your replacement has taken your room, and her contract has another two weeks on it, until then, you’re with Dawn. I trust that’s not a problem, is it?”

“No, of course not.”

It wasn’t just a problem, it was a huge problem. Nosy Dawn was the last person I wanted to share a room with. I left my luggage under the bed, and found a uniform in my size and began to wash and change. There was to be no rest, I was back, and being back in the big house meant big work. I sighed sadly, working for Pam had been a breeze compared to here. But, I was nothing if not an honorable woman, and I had a contract to see through, even if Eric disagreed with me.

Squeezing into the uniform wasn’t exactly easy, I realised I indulged a little too much when in Paris. All that amazing bread was now having an effect on my waistline. I pushed my tired feet into my work shoes, and tied my crisp white apron on over my black uniform dress.

Dinner was in a half an hour.

I went upstairs to the dining room to finish setting the table, when I found Amelia. She grinned wide and happy upon seeing me.

“I’m so happy you’re back! I want to hear all about it later!”

“I’m sharing a room with Dawn.” I admitted sadly, thankfully I had not seen Dawn since we arrived.

“Oh, no. That’s not good. Not good at all.”

“No, its not, but we best finish here or I’ll be in trouble. Don’t want that on my first evening back now do we?” I shook my head, hurrying along with the candelabras and the napkins.

When I finally entered the kitchen, the staff all stopped to look at me. The silent judgement seemed to last forever, before Malcolm, one of the cooks finally spoke.

“Welcome back, Lass.”

I smiled. Relieved.

“Aye, welcome back, Sookie.” Mr Dearborn spoke from the back door.

“Thank you, Mr Dearborn. It’s … lovely to see everyone again.”

I noted Dawn’s eyeroll before I was addressed again.

“Right, make yourself useful girl, go and ask his Lordship where he’d like to dine this evening.” Mrs Fortenberry ordered, leaving me confused.

“Why did we set up the -”

“Because,” she cut me off sharply, “he isn’t well as I’m sure you know. If he isn’t up to dining with the doctors and Mr Northman then he will dine in his room. There have been a great many changes here, Ms Stackhouse, since you left.”

I braced myself as I took the stairs on Lord Niall’s wing of the house, wishing desperately with every step that I could turn around run elsewhere. But, I was a big girl, and he was just a man after all. Just a frail, old, terrifying man.

“Ma’ Lord, if you’ll excuse me.” I said entering the room where he laid in bed, the fire roaring high next to him. At least his room was warm, the cold wouldn’t aid in making him any healthier.

“Oh, it’s you.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Pamela treat you well then?”

“She did Sir. Very well.”

“I’d wager you’re sorry to be back here then, all things considered.”

“All things considered I have a contract you have not yet terminated, I honor my commitments, Ma’ Lord.”

He looked surprised that I spoke up, and I don’t even know why I surprised myself with it, but I did.

“Mrs Fortenberry asks if you wish to dine in your room or -”

“Why on earth would I want to dine in my room? I have guests.”

“I… well yes, Sir.”

He shook his head. “Bloody Maxine, always fussing. Tell them to send up the Valet. I’ll be dressed and ready in fifteen minutes, hold dinner until I arrive.”

“Of course Ma’ Lord.” I curtsied and motioned to leave.

“Oh and Miss Stackhouse?”

I turned as I reached the door.

“Yes Sir?”

“I trust things were professional, in Paris. I know Pam doesn’t keep to traditional standards, but I would hope Mr Northman would know better than to… indulge in her pointless little fantasies.”

I swallowed hard, nodding a hurried ‘yes’, before I bolted for the door.

This was never going to work!

EPOV:

“THOR! Hey boy… aw look at you…” I said greeting my old friend with glee. He was just as happy to see me too, at least one soul on this estate was. I had missed him, and from the rapid wags of his tail, he missed me just as much. “We don’t have time for a walk now, boy. But first thing tomorrow, it’s you me and as many wild rabbits as you can find…” I promised kneeling to pet him more. I looked around at the damp yard, it never seemed to stop raining here, and when it did, it just stopped to snow. I looked back, the light from the kitchen illuminating the yard a little, I thought of Sookie in there, and now nonsensical the whole thing was. I wanted nothing more than to march in there and confess all to Niall. Tell him to stuff his money, his titles, and leave with Sookie safely with me. I had enough money to provide us with a decent life, I was sure we would make each other happy, but she couldn’t be my wife until she divorced Bill. Finding this Bill had turned out to be harder than I thought it would be. I had my lawyers, and a detective scouring London for him, but he seemed to be a slippery rat, and had thus far evaded me. But I would find him, and if the men I had hired in London didn’t scare him right, I wouldn’t mind in the slightest doing so myself. Sookie had danced around any real details on her time with this William Compton, but, I knew by the look in her eyes that the majority of it had not been pleasant.

I hated that he had hurt her, she had tried to escape him more than once, and for Sookie…Susannah, whatever she wanted to be called, to do that, must have taken serious guts. I love that about her though, that she wasn’t just another pampered social climber, she had lived life, she had fought to live and came through it a better person.

“We need to talk, Eric. Before the doctors decide to dine with us.” Nial commented as I took my seat next to him at the table.

“What of?”

“My will.”

“Oh, Niall, seriously now. The doctors tell me the attack was brought on by stress, if you take it easy – no more travelling for example… your heart should be fine.”

“My heart is old and tired, Eric. My brain on the other hand knows it still has things to settle. I want to know, if you met anyone…. suitable while in Paris.”

I sighed.

“Don’t sigh at me, Boy.”

“Don’t call me, Boy.” I snapped and he looked taken aback.

“I’m sorry, it’s just been a long trip that’s all, I really don’t want any more set ups, Niall.”

It was his turn then to sigh.

“Then what am I to do?”

“Whatever you like, you know I think of it as a honor that you’d want to pass everything to me, but you also know it’s not something I really want either.”

“But you did agree.” He added.

“I did, I did but that was before the parade of woman and expectations came in the form of strings. Can’t you trust me? I married Sophie didn’t I? Can’t you trust I wouldn’t marry someone simply in it for the money?”

“I should, but I just worry. You’ve been at such a loose end since her passing. A series of dalliances with the help notwithstanding, you’ve refused every woman that has come near you.”

I bristled and he noticed.

“I’m sorry, Eric. Let’s drop it for tonight. Your first night back, I should just be happy you’re home.” He nodded, smiling slightly as the two doctors living at the estate full time now, entered the room. A Doctor Celia Ludwig, a petite woman in her early thirties if I had to guess, she had a sharp air about her and a very thick Scottish accent to go with it. Her associate was a Doctor McDougal, her partner in practice, and by all accounts in everything else too. His accent was thicker than hers, and despite living in the country for some time, even I had trouble making out what they were saying from time to time. It was an entertaining distraction though, as I tried my best to ignore Sookie as she came around the table with the wine. I didn’t want Niall to know just yet, but ignoring her when she came to my side was harder than I ever expected. I wanted to touch her, to kiss her, to take her in my arms and never let her go. But, I could not. Instead I thanked her without making eye contact, pretending to be engrossed by the topic of conversation at the table. I only prayed no one asked me my opinion as I hadn’t the first clue what they were actually saying.

That night I slept very little. How could I sleep alone now when I had gotten so very used to having her in my bed, even innocently sleeping next to me. I missed her and she was only mere steps away. By sun up, I was pacing the floors for no other reason that to give myself something to do. I had also cleared out the fireplace, in the hopes that if Sookie was tasked with morning chores, it would buy us a little more time together before they became suspicious. With just my luck, it was Amelia that came around the door at six thirty. She must have seen the look of disappointment on my face, because she silently left her things by the fireplace and turned to leave.

“Why are you -”

“I… forgot… Sookie is meant to do this today, Sir.” She said with a cute smile, all knowing and just fine with what she knew. I wanted to hug her. Instead, I smiled back.

“Thank you, Amelia.”

She nodded and five minutes later a flustered Sookie came around the door.

“She just yanked me from the kitchen, literally, yanked. I hadn’t even got time to straighten up my apron or -”

Before she finished I had her up against the door, my lips on hers. I missed her, all of her, all of her and her kisses. When I pulled back her eyes were still closed but she had a smile on her face.

“Good morning to you too,” she said before she kissed me again.

“Good morning, Miss Stackhouse.” I added before I placed a kiss on her forehead. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too, which is insanity since I’m only downstairs, but it feels like a world away.”

“It does. Sookie we could fix this.”

She sighed at my words. I knew it was a losing battle but I still intended to fight it.

“Eric, I can’t. We’ve talked about this.”

And we had, extensively.

“I can’t be your mistress.”

“You’re not. You’re my… fiancee if you’ll have me, I just want to take care of -”

“And it’s a lovely thought, and one I had wanted to agree to all day yesterday, and last night without you. But the small but real truth is, I will be nothing to anyone but your whore if we do this. Even when we are wed’, it won’t matter, the seed will be planted. That, and I honor my contracts, and this one hasn’t expired yet.”

“Stubborn woman.” I sighed but she just grinned before wrapping her arms around my neck and I hugged her close.

“We can do this, we just have to… bide our time.”

It wasn’t something I was happy about, but I knew deep down she was right. We could bide our time, and for the next week it was exactly what we did. We bided our time until the others left, or were busy, or I needed ‘help’ with something or other, I always requested Sookie. I knew Amelia suspected heavily if not flat out knew what was going on, but, she said nothing. Dawn on the other hand had nothing but attitude and eye rolling when both she and Sookie were in my presence. If she knew she wasn’t saying anything, but it was clear she wasn’t a happy woman in any regard. Sookie and I snuck our moments where we could. I requested a lot of tea that week for one thing.

“I have to go.” She said as she buttoned up her dress, we had been kissing up a storm in my room one afternoon, we hadn’t had time for much else in the week we’d been sneaking around, but it was all cherished nonetheless.

“Stay…” I urged.

She just shook her head, a knowing smile on her now rather swollen lips. My God she was beautiful.

“I have work to do, Sir. Doesn’t Thor need walking? Something to distract yourself with perhaps.”

“I’d rather you distract me, you distract me so easily…” I added kissing her again, and for a few seconds she let me, falling into my embrace again.

“Nope. No. They’ll get suspicious.”

“Sod them.” I pouted.

“Yes. I know…” She patted my hand. “I’m going into town after lunch today, I have to pick up some altered suits for his Lordship…”

“I may have to take a drive after lunch then, shall I?” I grinned.

“Maybe you should. And maybe, just maybe you and I bump into each other on the way… Wouldn’t that be something.”

Something indeed. With a little plan in place, I let her go, not that I had much choice in the matter. For that week I had gotten up earlier than her, and lit the fire in my bedroom, allowing us that little window of time together. It wasn’t much, but it was a lot in the scheme of things.

By lunchtime I was too excited about the prospect of having time for a conversation with her, maybe we could stop for a drink somewhere, I wonder if she’d let me buy her something in town? I wagered with myself that she would probably protest, but like all things where she was concerned, I would always try.

I spotted her walking by the side of the road, her old winter coat had seen better days, but she was on her merry way, as I pulled up beside her.

“What a surprise to see you here, Miss Stackhouse.”

She smiled.

“Yes, just in case the cows and sheep learn to speak and out us to Lord Niall, what a surprise to see you here too, Sir.” She rolled her eyes more at herself than anything as she climbed into the motorcar.

“I have to go to O’Neills to collect Niall’s suits and his coat he had cleaned, and I have to stop off at the market for the makings of a large stew for tomorrows lunch.”

“They expect you to carry all that back on foot?” I asked, shocked.

She just chuckled.

“Oh my sweet Love… They expect us to do it all.”

An hour or so later we had ran her errands together, receiving many a strange look from the townspeople as we did so too, but if it was something that bothered Sookie, she didn’t let it show.

“Do you like that?” I asked as we passed one of the ladies shops, the fashions were forever changing, but it was a coat that seemed pleasing to me at least.

“It’s lovely, but it wouldn’t do much good come winter, there’s not lining, see?” She nodded and simply walked on. Note to self : A good coat includes good lining.

“Do you feel hungry?” I wondered.

She shrugged.

“We ate…before. Did you?”

“I did. Amelia brought me my lunch, I had a lot of work to do for the estate this morning. With Niall ill, more ill than he wants to admit, I had to take over his chores. Pay cheques, the rota for the staff, ordering new uniforms for winter, that sort of thing. And I spent half the morning on the phone with London, trying to get a tag on Compton.”

Her face perked up at that.

“And?”

“Nothing. It’s as if he’s a ghost.”

She shook her head.

“Maybe he is, at this stage I’m beginning to wonder if I saw him at all.”

As we past a jewelers I eyed a necklace that I thought would look lovely on her, I looked to it and back to her.

“Don’t even think about it, Northman.”

“But why?”

“Where on earth would I wear that thing? To clean the fireplace?” She chuckled, but it just made me sad. I wanted to spoil her, so desperately, as she deserved. Even more so that she wasn’t the kind of woman that expected it.

“Please?”

“Nope.”

We walked on and I reverted to our previous conversation.

“He’s out there, why he’s taken this long to be uncovered I cannot tell you. But we will find him and sort things so things with us will be as they should be.”

“And how is that?” She smiled bumping into me gently as we walked.

“Where we can go anywhere we want together and I can hold your hand, and where I can buy you things I think you could make more beautiful and not ask you.”

She rolled her eyes, but a smile appeared as she did so. I rather enjoyed teasing her, afterall.

“Oh is that what you think it means?”

“Well that, and getting to do all the other things we’ve been unable to do since Paris.”

She gasped, false shock on her face.

Baking?”

With that it was my turn to roll my eyes with a smile. We were almost at the car, I was holding the boxes filled with Niall’s clothing, and she held the basket full of food. How anyone expected a tiny woman to carry these over a mile to home, I had no idea. I bumped into a gentleman in an overcoat and a hat covering the majority of his face.

“Terribly sorry.” I said as he nodded in acceptance of my apology, and I carried on to the car where Sookie waited for me to unlock it and we made our way back to the estate. What I didn’t know then, what I could not have known then, was that the gentleman I had bumped into was in fact not a gentleman at all, he was Bill Compton.

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