It was a small affair. No one had the stomach for a large ceremony. It had not even been placed in London, where the baronet lived and worked. Instead it occurred in her village chapel with only a small handful of both families' closest relatives. His family looked around the church with disdain, eyes raking over the simple northern gentry with unconcealed contempt. His mother knew what he had done, he had admitted as much, and yet she looked on the whole affair as unfortunate and the wedding unnecessary. She stood on the right side of the church with her nose in the air and lips pinched into a crumple of lines. If his father was still alive, one could hear her tell her sister, this wedding could never be occurring.
She clearly did not know the extent of her son's feelings. The event had been chalked up by the Darby family as boys will be boys. If she had not went off with him alone, if she had not been drinking the wine, if she had not removed her shawl in such a provocative manner… these were the things they had said to the Winchesters when the private meeting was held to prevent any damage coming to either families' reputations. Mrs. Darby had been shocked when her son agreed to the terms the little trollop's father had offered, was yet further shocked by the speed in which he had agreed, but when she tried to reason with her son he had promptly quieted her with a sharp glare and a harsh word.
The Winchesters in contrast to the Darbys looked grim. The girl's mother was weeping softly against her son, who held her with a single arm, standing stiffly and glaring at the altar before them. His face was flushed as he looked past his future brother-in-law and his jaw was set in stone. For those in the church who did not know the circumstances of this union they would see only a mother crying of joy and a brother not yet ready to let his sister leave the household. On the other side was a family displeased with the condescension their son had taken in order to marry the pretty girl he had fallen in love with at a country ball. They chattered on in the back pews excitedly to see the pretty bride.
When the doors open eyes turned backward to see her smiling face and misty eyed father. Instead they would find only two grim pale faces. patted his daughter's hand when she began to tremble and she rolled her lips inward and pressed them together to keep her tears from falling. Enough time had passed that the bruises had faded from her face and longer still since the red handprint had vanished from her throat. She was in a word magnificent. Even grim faced, trembling, and fresh for tears Sir Henry Darby looked at his new bride coming toward him with excitement and a sense of victory. She could not meet his eyes and looked down at the floor as they approached.
She offered a quick glance to her mother but could not look at her either. There was a stab to her chest, a twisting of her stomach and her throat turned dry. She wanted to cry out to her mother, to beg her to take her away from this church and never make her leave the safety of her bedroom again. To be given to such a man, after all that had transpired, seemed like the worst kind of hell to her. Waking up beside him, laying in his bed at night, bearing his children for him and carrying on his line. It was a cruel twist of fate considering it all, and she wished she had never laid eyes on him.
She was handed to him by her father as the first tear fell. His large hand, warm and soft, one meant to protect not hurt, engulfed her own, his fingers gently caressing her knuckles. She looked to the priest and pleaded with him silently, but no help would come from him either. She saw hurt flash in his eyes, then pity, but it passed. It was to him she had fled too, crying, dress torn, blood dripping down her thighs. She thought she would find support and protection. Instead they handed her over to him like it was owed.
It is for the best, her father told her when he informed her of their union, Sir Henry is trying to do right. She could have laughed if she had not felt so numb. Sir Henry was trying to prevent a scandal. Sir Henry was trying to stay out of jail. She thought for a moment that of all the other girls at that party it had to be her. What kind of horrible sin had she committed in a past life that warranted such punishment in this one? Her eyes flickered over to her fiancé, soon to be husband, and she felt the walls close in around her.
His brown eyes were swimming with thoughts and emotions too but she could not discern what they were. She had no way of knowing that with each word the priest said he grew more anxious, more afraid that the wedding would be called off and she would slip from his grasp. He looked at her face with affection and triumph swelling up in his chest and he could scarcely belief how lucky he was. Just four months ago she had tried to refuse him and now she was vowing herself to him before god. To love, to cherish and to obey would be the words she would speak and though she could not see it, he was terrified they would not be said.
As he spoke his vows and slid the ring onto her finger her hand trembled terribly. When it was her turn the shaking was so terrible he had to steady her hand and held guide the ring onto his own finger. She could not look at him, she could not look at her mother, and she could not look at the priest, and so she looked at the center of Sir Henry's chest feeling the weight of the world surround her and crush her.
When all the words were said and he took her arm she flinched, a little cry leaving her mouth, but he recovered well enough for both of them. He laughed, looked around at both families and cracked a joke about her nervousness. The guests ignorant of the truth all laughed in response and he placed a soft kiss to the crown of her head. As he did so, leaning over her with his full height to place the tender kiss she closed her eyes. She remembered the weight of him on top of her, crushing her, knocking the wind out of her. Another tear escaped her and she quickly wiped it away.
The walk down the aisle was long and she simultaneously felt as if it would never end and that it would end too soon. The end of this journey was a carriage ride and a dinner party, but it was what came afterward that so frightened her. She knew as she felt his arm tighten slightly, pressed her arm more strongly to his side, that he was not a man to forgo his wedding night, no matter the bride's distress. Another fat tear rolled down her cheeks as the church doors opened once again. With quivering insides and trembling limbs he helped her into the carriage, and for the first time since that horrible night, they were alone.
He yanked the curtains to the side before moving over to her. She cried out and pushed on his chest as his lips found her jaw, but her strength was no match. She continued to push until her efforts became an annoyance and he removed his lips from her neck long enough to grab her chin and give her a heated look.
"You are my wife now," he said curtly and she fell quiet.
She trembled as his lips moved over the soft skin of her neck. Ghosting over tenderly the placed he had to viciously held before. How he could be the same man baffled her. She remembered his handsome shy smile as he had approached her, the tender way he held her as they danced and the sheepish grin he gave as he handed her wine glass after wine glass. It was how timid he had behaved that convinced her a walk to the library and back would do no harm. It was the distance he had kept during their walk that informed her stepping into the room to show him a book would be of no consequence. And it was when he voiced her inner thoughts about the wretched heat that she thought it perfectly proper to remove her shawl. That this was invitation enough for him still confused her, but when her father agreed with the harsh words of Mrs. Darby, she had began to believe them.
Now he was still not the sheepish young man she thought she had met, but nor was he the vicious monster he had turned into. The anger, the snarling, the way his hand squeezed her throat so tightly she thought she might die, seemed incapable of the man before her. And yet as he pressed closer to her, his hand scurrying up her side, that was all she could see. She cried in earnest but tried to muffle the sound so the driver could not hear. His hand closed around a breast and she shuddered, causing him to pull back and look at her.
"No tears," he whispered, wiping her face gently. "This is a happy day."
She only looked at him, eyes disbelieving, before he leaned in and inhaled against her hair deeply. The carriage did not stop soon enough but once it did his hands left her body and his lips her skin. He glanced over at her as they felt the rocking of the driver jumping down from the carriage and frowned deeply. She buried her face in her hands, unable to control it anymore, and could not bear to look at him. She heard the door beginning to open but his hand darted out, grabbing it and waiting.
"Pull yourself together," he told her sharply. "We have appearances to maintain. You are a Darby now."
It only had her crying harder. She yelped when he grabbed her wrists, forcing her hands from her face, and wiped her tears away roughly. The touches hurt but she knew it would not stop until she was presentable and did her best to cease her crying. He looked at her with disgust as he saw the remnants of the trail of her tears but said nothing, and opening the carriage door himself.
"You will be happy today," he told her roughly. "You are my wife now and you will be glad of it."
She only nodded as he hurried her into the house before the other guests could arrive. He handed her off to a servant with a scowl.
"Clean her up," he said dismissively and went to wait for his guests. She was dragged away crying.
She tried to smile at dinner but the longer it lasted the harder it became. She spoke mainly to a cousin and her attempts at blocking out everything else passed by well enough, but as her husband continued to drink the wine poured for him by his close friend from law school, his hand began to slip under the table for longer amounts of time. His hand rested on her knee, squeezing gently, but as more and more wine entered his system his hand moved up higher and higher. She felt her breathing quicken ever so slightly as she spoke to her cousin and she tried to move his hand from her leg under the table. Once her hand touched his wrist his grip tightened and she bit down on her bottom lip hard to keep from flinching at the pain.
"Husband," she whispered as he laughed loudly a joke his friend made. He looked over at her, eyes still smiling and raised his eyebrows. She slowly beckoned for him to lean in closer and he did. "I am feeling unwell. May I retire?"
In stark contrast to her own feelings her husband was a mixture of warmth and happiness beside her. The engagement was one that never would have occurred had the girl not gone off and cried rape. It was no doubt a means of trapping him by her parents, but he could find little fault with his pretty young bride. Her innocence boarded on ignorance, and it was because of this he believed she thought she had been wronged. He was the slighted party if there was one. How a girl of her age thought walking off alone with a man and removing her shawl as she had was not enough of an invitation he did not know and he was not a man to be teased. Her parents should have educated her better if they hoped to avoid such a situation.
"It is only seven," he answered and stroked her cheek gently. "Come now, darling. All is well."
Slowly she nodded and looked back to her cousin to find him engaged in a conversation with her husband's old college friend. He picked up her hand where it lay in her lap and brought it to her his lips to kiss. She stared off into space the rest of the night listening to her husband's loud, boisterous laughter.
He let her leave just after ten o'clock but not without forcing her to kiss him in front of the entire wedding party. Everyone cheered and clapped but no one had a larger grin on his face than Sir Henry. He had truly downgraded in his choice of bride, and his mother had left early out of protest, but he seemed to everyone watching, quite pleased. If it was an act it was a damn good one, her father said as he watched Sir Henry gaze down at her after the kiss and stroke her cheek.
Sir Henry had seen Henrietta Winchester three times before that fateful ball and had wanted her from the first. First, he had seen her in London during her first season. He had still been in law school then, but when he asked about her he was met with the unfortunate news that she was of a minor gentry family at best. Little money would be made from her and, with his father still alive, it was an unlikely match at best. The second time he had been visiting his cousin, a friend of Henrietta Winchester's brother. She had been walking the garden as they rode in from a hunt and she had smiled so sweetly at her brother that he began considering courting her regardless of her families lack of social standing. They knew the right people, and that might have been enough to get his father on board. The third time was two months before the dinner party and she was calling friends in London. He had been in the sitting room she was brought into. They were connected by degrees of separation, and though only three meetings had occurred, meetings in which they did not once speak directly to each other, these meetings had done him in.
That night at the ball he had gone to her with the intent of opening a courtship but his desire had raged inside of him. She encouraged him and though he knew she had not meant to, toyed with him. She giggled at his jokes, touched his arm and danced with him, asked him about scandalous poetry and chewed on her full red lips, drawing his gaze more than once that night. She had taken the wine he handed her, accepted an invitation to steal away from the party alone with him, and sat down on the couch, alone in the dimly lit library. When he commented on the heat, hoping to explain away the thick sheen of perspiration on his forehead, and she had agreed, slipping the shawl from her shoulders and letting it drop to the couch he did what any man would do.
Sitting down beside her he touched her jaw drawing a little gasp of surprise, but that was to be expected. Someone as innocent and pure as Henrietta would be frightened, but she so clearly wanted it to happen. He thought he had imagined the little push to his chest but when she bit his lip and cried out he pulled back in surprise. Months of yearning, the burning desire that raged inside of him so close to being fulfilled, brought him to his tipping point. He remembered very little of the act. Blinding passion and unending ecstasy. She had squirmed beneath him and he struggled to subdue her but after gripping her throat with his hand did not work he pressed down on her neck with his forearm and it silenced her.
Once finished he straightened his clothing and wiped his forehead. He left her there to cry, certain she would realize her error and be composed in the morning. That she went and cried rape when she was far from the innocent victim shocked him. However, it got her in his bed for many years to come and he had accepted despite his mother's protestations. When he stumbled into her bedroom after the guests had gone home or retired he found her seated on the side of the bed, face buried in her hands, weeping alone. He closed the door slowly before stepping towards her.
"No need to cry," he breathed as he sat down beside her. "Most brides must worry on their maidenhead," he smiled and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "We have already done the hard part."
He placed an arm around her and pulled her closer. He ran his finger tips along her jaw and looked down at her pretty young face.
"Just relax and you will enjoy it," he told her and kissed her on the mouth softly. She could taste the wine on his tongue. He pushed her back onto the bed and crawled over her, hands moving to her breasts, gliding down over the soft curves. She felt his body press down atop hers and she squeezed her eyes shut. She was suddenly not in her bedroom but in that library. She was pressed into that couch, his hands on her throat. She whimpered as he pushed her nightgown up around her hips and tears fell from her eyes.
"You pretty little fool," he breathed in her ear as his hands moved up her thighs.
"Please do not make me," she whispered and his response was a chuckle in her ear.
"Pretty fool," he breathed and kissed her again. He leaned back and tried to remove her nightgown gently, but when all she did was lay there and cry he growled, forcing the nightgown up over her head. She lay there naked before him, hands down by her sides, and crying. She felt his hands run over her and her crying intensified. His mouth touched her, his hands groped at her, and she could do nothing but lay there and let it happen. Images continued to flash in her eyes and it had her trembling further. She felt hatred and anger fill her but not for him. He was only keeping with his monstrous character. It was her parents that had betrayed her. She could still remember the look in her father's eyes when Sir Henry explained what had happened and remembered the crushing devastation when her father conceded that while he should not have forced himself on her she had made poor decisions that understandably lead Sir Henry to his course of action.
He groaned in her ear as he invaded her. It hurt, but the pain was nothing like it had been before. She vaguely wondered as he grunted against her, if she was going to bleed this time.