Anyone But Me

By Free the Dancing Llamas

Chapter eight: The Pond Kiss

There was rustling and a loud crash that startled me. I woke up, my heart pounding within my chest as if it was begging to escape from its confines. I searched my surroundings, trying to see in the dark. The pale moon only provided a small amount of light. I realised then that I was completely alone in the room. The window, which had previously been shut tight just before bed, was open letting the chilly air inside.

I wondered where on earth Armand had gone off to, and why he had left the window open. Slowly I got out of the bed and crept towards the open window, almost scared that the loud crash might have been some terrible creature.

I gazed out of the window and was dumbstruck by the image near the pond. It had to be Armand, and he was standing, jacketless, near the edge of the water. I watched him for at least half an hour to see what he did. But he did not move.

I wondered why on earth he was outside in the cold air, and not in bed where I had previously said goodnight to him. It was unusual, and against my better judgement, I began to worry about him. Perhaps he was ill, or hurt in some sort of way. Whatever the reason, I found myself unable to turn away from him, and ignored my mind that told me to go back to bed. Instead I grabbed my dressing gown and found myself walking down to the water to investigate. It was as if the moon possessed me, for I had no will of my own.

When I got down to the pond, I found Armand waist deep in the water, facing away from me. I called to him, and after a few minutes, his head turned to me, eyes black as the night, skin and hair as pale as the moon and stars. He was a body of contrasts, and I could not help but stare at the creature of utmost beauty. My mind was screaming for me to go back to the room, to bed, his eyes had become animalistic, unusually dark and haunted. And yet, I continued to walk towards him.

Reaching the edge of the pond, Armand still watching, I shrugged off my dressing gown, feeling the cold sting of the wind seep through the thin material of my night gown. When the chilled water touched my feet, I suddenly gained the strength to talk.

"Armand," I whispered, "What are you doing?"

"Swimming, kitten. Swimming." The deep roughness of his voice surprised me, cutting through the night air.

"Come back inside," I whispered louder, urging for him to come back to our room. It was far to risky to be walking alone in an unfamiliar place. For all I knew, Lady Vache was waiting around a corner to kill me, I mused.

"No. But if you are too frightened to go back to the room, join me." And with that he submerged himself into the water. I growled in frustration, wondering why Armand was acting so strange, and as I thought about it, why I was too. I found myself walking into the freezing water, cursing the cold nights which plagued this season.

"If I catch a cold, I'll kill you," I huffed angrily at Armand, watching as he resurfaced.

He did not reply, instead choosing to watch me intently, his black eyes shining more fiercely than before. By the time I reached Armand, my whole gown had been soaked through. Armand seemed to have also noticed this, his eyes occupied on the sheer chest of my night gown. I tried to turn in embarrassment, but our proximity made it difficult to do so without stepping away from him. Instead all I could do was watch him and take in every single detail which seemed to imprint itself in my mind. Armand met my eyes, and I felt an intense heat twist and turn throughout my body.

The moon caressed his features, and I felt more drawn to him than I had ever felt before. The cool wind touched my face, tangling itself in my hair. I glanced at his chest through the now see through shirt, which hung off of him tracing the muscles in both his arms and chest. I felt something stick to the back of my throat as my stomach did flips around. I wanted to reach out and touch him, touch him with my hands and my body.

The water began boiling as I felt his gaze on me. It swept over me, as if taking in my senses. He placed my hands upon his chest, and gently pulled me towards me. Covering my mouth with his warm one. I felt tingles erupt all over my body as he pressed his mouth more firmly to mine. I brought my hands up from his chest, to bury into the nape of his neck. I felt myself respond to him hungrily, almost in desperation. I pressed myself against him as tightly as I could. I wanted us to join together. I felt him cup my face in his hands, and stroke my cheek as he nibbled my lips.

I gasped as he pulled away, leaning down to kiss my jaw and then my neck. I felt his hands go from my face, trailing down slowly down through the water to my bottom, lazily kneading the flesh there. I should have ripped away, but I couldn't. I became too wrapped up in the sensations.

"Celia." Armand whispered huskily against my skin, placing a kiss on my collar bone. I pulled his lips back to mine. I felt Armand and myself freeze as we heard a gasp. I pulled away, my lips swollen, Armand's hands still on my bottom.

"Who was that?" I whispered to Armand, feeling the sudden chill of the water take over the pleasure I had been feeling.

"I don't know." He replied, his voice coming out even deeper than before, if that were possible. I could feel my cheeks stain red as he glanced at me.

"It's getting cold, we'd better get out." I murmured pulling away from Armand, and dragging myself out of the water.

The next day we woke up an hour late, and in a hurry rushed down to breakfast. I forgot my gloves and bonnet, and Armand; his hat and watch. As we Rushed into the dinning room, one and a half hours later, with Armand's dishevelled hair and my rather glowing, intense expression they must have assumed, as we walked hand in hand, that we were up to what young newlyweds were usually up to. Except for the fact that we weren't newlyweds. And we were not doing anything of the sort. But of course, try convincing people that.

"You two are rather late." Lord Vache smiled.

"We slept in." Armand replied softly, as he helped me to my seat. Not that I needed any help, but I was far too out of breath to argue, so I just let him.

"I'm sure you did." Lord Vache chuckled, and winking said; "Perhaps you should try to 'sleep in' earlier." My face must have looked like one of absolute horror. "Ah you are very right, Celia, we should not be talking of such things in front of our dear Miss Adaire."

Armand just shook his head as he took a seat next to mine. And so resumed breakfast.

At ten we part ways, the men went to the library and the women went out into the gardens. I begrudgingly followed Lady Vache and her Sister out into the gardens for some 'pleasant conversation'.

"So Celia," Lady Vache began, eyeing my bonnet-less and glove-less state with distaste. "Are you rooms to your liking." I swallow, remembering what Armand had told me the previous evening. I would be civil. I had to be, I was going to be in the woman's company for the whole weekend. And I did not exactly want to displease Armand, or disappoint him.

"They are lovely." I had to spit out. I tried not to frown or glare.

"Did you sleep well last night?" Miss Adaire asked, sipping some tea.

"Indeed, it seems she slept very well. Both yesterday evening and this morning." Lady Vache remarked, tittering as she stared pointedly at me. I wanted more than anything to reach over the table and poor scalding hot tea all over her smug little face. I wondered briefly if she had been the person that had interrupted Armand and myself in the lake the previous evening.

"Indeed." I remarked rather civilly.

"Oh I found your dressing gown by the lake, so I took the liberty of giving it to the servants to wash it." Lady Vache replied.

"Ah yes! My dressing gown, I lost it yesterday, It flew out of our bedroom window." I replied.

"All the way to the lake?" Lady Vache smirked, one eyebrow raised.

I nodded; "Incredible," Miss Adaire replied as her and Lady Vache exchanged glances. "The winds must have been rough last night."

"Oh look!" Lady Vache suddenly announced, "We have company!" And there as I slowly turned around was the horror of all horrors; the Rachet twins and Lady Christine Demark. The Rachet twins were two rather rat-faced simpletons who, like Lady Vache, loved to gossip. Lady Demark was a wealthy, pretty woman with a penchant for opium and gambling, along with an excess of bad taste. Unfortunately both Adele and I had been her gossip targets more than once. They were not my favourite company. I could barely handle them with Adele and I knew that tea was going to be hell by myself. I tried not to groan in frustration. I hoped that they were only staying for tea and not for the weekend.

"Celia, Darling!" Peach Rachet exclaimed.

"Don't you look positively….well that's is uh- a nice gown." Pear Rachet giggled, they turned to lady Vache; "Oh Marianne, you look absolutely glowing! What a beauty! And you Miss Adaire. Why the perfect picture."

"I dare say, what excellent form you two are in today." Lady Cristine Demark smirked, "And of course, you look…nice, Ceil."

Oh, what had I gotten myself into?

"Thankyou Christian." I tried not to spit. .

"Christine," Lady Demark corrected.

"So sorry."

"Oh my, Celia!" Peach suddenly gasped as the ladies all took a seat at the table, "Why did you not tell us?"

"Tell what?" I asked in confusion.

"Why," Pear laughed, twirling a blond lock of hair in her fingers, "You are pregnant!" I looked down at my stomach before I could stop myself. Ah, I realised, they had baited me.

"I am not pregnant." I replied as straight-faced as I could. I tried to tell myself that I did not want to smash their pug-like faces against the wall.

"Oh…well." Was all Peach could say, as Lady Vache and Miss Adaire exchanged sniggers.

"Do not worry, darling." Lady Demark replied, giving me a yellow toothed grin, "Some men find women with weight endearing."

I knew I was not fat, but there it was, they had planted the seed of doubt and were now fertilising it with copious amounts of fodder.

"Thankyou Christian."


"So sorry."

It had been three hours and I was still trapped with the evil little trolls. I had become their favourite toy and spent the better part of the day being subtly insulted every two seconds. I felt like I was going mad, I felt like screaming and punching them all. But mostly I felt rather like crying. It was ridiculous. Worse things had happened and I had never cried. But suddenly it was like everything was ten times sharper, and I, ten times softer. Every remark, every snide, cruel comment hit directly into my heart and travelled to the base of my stomach where it stewed into an uncomfortable, nervous mess.

I felt relief wash over me, as Armand and Lord Vache came to the table and greeted us. The two men pulled up some chairs and sat with us.

"What is wrong?" Armand whispered in my ear as mindless chatter milled around us. I reached under the table and upon finding his hand, wrapped mine around it.

"Nothing I cannot handle," I replied, trying to give him my best smile. Armand, however remained unconvinced.

"Kitten. I'm not a fool. I can feel your discomfort in the pit of my stomach." Armand said, giving my hand a gentle squeeze.

"I am fine."

"Alright then." Armand replied, he then leaned closer, inappropriate, of course and I knew that they were all watching us at the corner of their eyes as they pretended to chatter away. "You are beautiful." Warm shivers travelled up and down my body, as his breath licked my ear. I almost cried then and there. I damned him to hell. I hated these emotions. He looked at me, "You are the most beautiful woman I've ever met, and I wish my mother and sisters would have been able to meet you. They would have loved you. You remind me of them."

I swallowed hard. Why was he being so nice? I looked at him reverently, wishing that we were back in the pond by ourselves. I did not care if he knew that I liked him. I did like him, possibly more than like him. And at that moment I wanted him to know.

"Thankyou," I replied, my voice so soft I could barely hear it. I felt so drawn to him, I almost wanted to reach out and touch him, kiss him. The moon must have put some sort of spell on me last night, for since then I wished many things to happen between us.

"Now I must know what you two are so cosily talking about." Lady Vache suddenly demanded, making me drag my gaze away from Armand's to hers.

"Something I am sure you have absolutely no interest in." Armand smiled. "Ah, my good friend," Armand exclaimed turning to Lord Vache, "I believe I would like to show Celia the rest of this exquisite estate."

Lord Vache laughed; "You pay me too many compliments, Armand. Of course, of course."

And with that, Armand swept me away from the dreadful trolls and towards the gardens.

A/N: THEY'RE MAKING PROGRESS! So much progress! Will it last? What happens next in the gardens? I'm sorry THIS TOOK SO LONG. Not the best thing in the world, but I felt like I had to upload something.