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London Calling

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Anne’s mind started to wander as they drove back from Crow Nest. It wasn’t even the circles that Ann was absentmindedly drawing on her thigh as she stared out the window. She had woken with Ann wrapped around her waist in the same position that they must have finally fallen asleep. She had thought about going out for a brisk morning walk around the grounds since she didn’t have her running clothes with her, but those thoughts were soon dismissed when Ann had almost knowingly squeezed her tighter and nuzzled against her chest. She was completely trapped, except not, because there was nowhere else she wanted to be.

The last few days had helped her to realise how lonely she had been before Ann had come into her life. Not simply because she was never physically far from her, but because she had been keeping people at arm’s length for so long. With Ann, even if she held her arms up she would somehow manage to duck under them and wrap herself around Anne until she accepted that any attempt at resistance was futile. More than that, she wanted to spend her time with her, to let her know about all the moments that made up her day, and Ann wanted that too.

They had been able to spend an unparalleled amount of time with each other. She wasn’t sure she’d ever spent this much time being in someone’s company just talking and learning about one another. Even back in university Mariana had to compete with her studies. Her family had also welcomed Ann so openly, which had been a great help. She knew that they had known the Walker family for years, but the way they treated Ann was like they had been together just as long.

Not for the first time, Anne thought about what would happen once they returned to London and the reality of not having Ann there to wake up to. They had been back in each other’s lives for just over a month, in what she would probably consider a relationship for about three weeks. She hadn’t believed it was such a short space of time but as she had held Ann in her arms thinking about how much she had come to mean to her she had added it up. That was why she worried it was too soon to even consider asking Ann to move in with her, which is what she realised she wanted as the room had filled with her tiny snores that morning. She wanted that sound, that feeling of waking up with Ann next to her. All she needed now was a way of broaching the subject.

Perhaps she should try to bring it up casually. Technically they were engaged, that night at Samuel’s place with his ludicrous Daylight Rule, she’d asked her to marry her and she’d said yes. She was sure she could get Eliza to declare it legally binding. Maybe that could be a way to at least raise the idea of what she wanted for them in the longer term. She shook her head, she was getting too far ahead of herself. She had made that mistake before, repeatedly, asking too much from people who weren’t prepared to be more.

First, she should ask her if she wanted to stay at her place for a few nights a week. Then it could move onto her moving in, and then hopefully living happily ever after together. Again she chastised herself internally, it seemed no matter how much she tried to stop herself from thinking too far ahead that’s where her heart and mind leapt. She allowed a smile to play on her lips as she thought of a forever with her. She glanced over, Ann was humming contentedly as she leant back in her seat as she continued to gaze out onto the many fields. She looked so happy, she knew she would do all she could to make sure she always was.

For the first time Anne wished that the distance between Crow Nest and Shibden was greater. She needed more time to think. As the back of the Hall came into view she noticed an unfamiliar Land Rover parked there. Anne pulled in slowly as Ann sat up, “Whose car is that?”

“I’m not sure darling.” They both turned and looked at each other curiously before getting out of the car. Anne walked round to the back of her car as the boot slowly opened. She pulled out Ann’s suitcase, now half-filled with the two dresses she had chosen for York and a few other items she wanted to bring back to London. Ann reached for the case but Anne kept a firm hold of it, and instead offered her hand to her. Ann smiled as she took it and wrapped herself around her arm as they turned towards the Hall. Always the gentleman.

Anne looked down as she clung to her, just as she went to place a kiss on top of her head Ann moved her head and instead the kiss landed in the middle of her forehead. They both paused as they laughed lightly, Ann lifted her head asking silently for a kiss. Anne was only too willing to oblige as she pressed her lips firmly against hers.

“Get a room will you!” Anne groaned as she heard Tib’s familiar voice behind them. She regretfully pulled back from Ann before turning towards the Hall. There she stood, her best friend wearing a grin to rival the Cheshire Cat with outstretched arms, “Look at the two of you, basking in the glory of a well-earned shag.”

Try as they might, neither of the Annes could resist laughing at Tib’s accurate description of them. Anne begrudgingly accepted a hug from her before she turned to Ann, “Miss Walker, I want none of the details but I’m glad you’ve put a smile on this one’s face.”

“Good to see you Tib.” Ann blushed slightly as she greeted her.

“What are you doing here?” Tib placed her hands on her hips as she huffed, feigning anger at the impertinent question. “That’s a fine way to greet your favourite person!” Ann wrapped her arms around Anne’s waist and they both looked pointedly at her, “Alright, second favourite. I’ll let Ann take that spot.” Ann gave her a little nod thanking her for relinquishing the spot so easily. Anne rolled her shoulders as she waited impatiently for an explanation.

Tib started to answer when another cry came from the door, “Annie!” They all turned as Catherine came running out, Ann immediately left her side to hug her cousin.

Tib gave Anne a nudge as they stood side to side looking on as the cousins started to catch up, “Why don’t you ever greet me like that?” Anne turned her head slowly and glared at her, Tib gave a half-shrug, “I’m just saying a little affection wouldn’t go amiss. We’re practically family.”

“And that’s why you just decided to pop in?”

“I’m here for the biggest wedding of the season!” The mock enthusiasm dripped from the strained grin on Tib’s face.

Anne scrunched up her nose, “I didn’t think you were invited.”

Tib smacked the back of her hand against Anne’s stomach, “Ha! I’m a Norcliffe. An envelope doesn’t get opened in Yorkshire without us being invited.” She had a point. Anne recalled in their younger days there wasn’t a party or occasion that they couldn’t get into, and many they should have avoided.

Catherine pulled her into a tight hug before she could say anything more, “Glad to hear you’ve been taking care of my cousin.” The double entendre was lost on none of them as Tib guffawed and Ann looked on shocked.

“Miss Rawson, it’s good to see you too.” Anne gave Ann a quick wink over her shoulder as she returned the hug. “I take it you’re Tib’s plus one.”

“Absolutely not. Rawson’s get invited to everything too.”

Of course Anne thought, between the two of them they had all of Yorkshire and more covered. It appeared that they would have their company at the wedding, she wasn’t sure she could call it a pleasure, but she found herself grateful at the idea. She hadn’t wanted to put Ann in Mariana’s crosshairs, but she had seemed eager to attend the wedding. It was comforting to know that Tib and Catherine would be there.

They all walked over to Tib’s Land Rover as the boot started to open. Anne could see their packed bags in the back of it. She recognised Tib’s solitary duffel, they were very much the same in that respect. Ann’s suitcase was still clearly the winner in terms of size but Catherine had certainly made a fine attempt at besting her cousin.

“All packed,” came Marian’s voice from behind them. Anne spun around and looked at her curiously as she stood there, overnight bag in hand. Marian answered before the question was asked, “I’m Tib’s plus one.” On cue Tib took the bag from her and placed it in the back alongside the others.

“Haven’t you got better things to do? Like running the estate? Weren’t you just in York?”

“Yes,” Marian huffed as Catherine and Tib both snickered, “But do you really want those two to be unsupervised?”

Anne shot them a fierce glance as they both straightened, trying to look innocent, “Hmm, you have a point.” She knew first hand what sort of trouble Tib could get into, and from the stories Ann had told her about their childhood the same could be said of Catherine. However, throwing her little sister into the mix might be more than she could handle. She remembered how they had reacted towards Mariana after Pride, and that was just two of the Three Musketeers. At full strength, as much as they would be there to support them, they could also be the source of any potential problems.

As she was weighing up the possible pros and cons of this situation Tib clapped her hands together loudly, rousing her from her thoughts, “Right, come on Lister. Where are your bags?”

Anne recoiled slightly at Tib’s question, “You don’t presume we’re all going in one car?”

“You’re right, I don’t presume. I know. You’ve been out voted.”

Anne’s mouth dropped open as she looked across at Ann who smiled innocently back at her, “I thought it would be fun.” She started to rub her temples, being with the three of them in York was one thing, being in a car with them was something else entirely. Ann wrapped her arms around her waist knowing this always helped with any argument she was trying to make, “Come on dearest, how bad could it be?” Anne looked over at the three of them huddled around a phone bickering as they tried to decide the best route, she was sure she didn’t want to know the answer to that question.

===

The journey had gotten off to a bad start before they had even left. Anne had wanted to drive but Tib had insisted she would since it was her SUV. If that was her only reasoning Anne suggested they take her car instead, but they soon realised there was no way they would be able to fit all of their luggage into the boot and Ann seemed set on them all travelling together. With Tib driving she knew that meant what should be an hour drive could take them all day since she never stuck to the simplest quickest route.

Anne wasn’t even able to take point as navigator since Ann had made it clear that one of the benefits of Tib driving was that she’d get to sit with her. She didn’t mind sitting in the back too much, she had to reluctantly concede that it was rather spacious and they’d all be much more comfortable than if they’d squeezed into her car. Ann was happy to take the middle seat as it meant she could lean back in Anne’s arms. Marian had been designated shotgun as Ann and Catherine wanted to spend more time catching-up on the events of the week although she was sure Ann had texted her every day.

At least Ann had made herself comfortable. Anne was at a slight angle so that Ann could lean almost fully against her chest. She’d pulled Anne’s right arm that had been resting on the back seat so that it was wrapped around the top of her chest, almost like a blanket, and had held it there the entire journey as Anne looked out the window. She would never want to encourage Tib to make the journey any longer, but she would happily have them drive for hours if she got to hold Ann like this.

She caught snippets of the conversations going on around her, Marian and Tib deciding what radio station they wanted to listen to. Marian insisted on 80’s pop classics from Whitney Houston and Kylie Minogue whilst Tib was insistent on showing how current her tastes were by playing something from BTS or Dua Lipa. Anne only knew that they were actually musicians because Eliza had tried to show her a music video the last time she was at the Washington house.

“What did you think of Crow Nest?” Anne hadn’t realised that Catherine’s question was directed at her until she felt Ann’s gentle fingers tapping her forearm. “Hmm?” She blinked her eyes, trying to focus.

“Crow Nest. You haven’t visited in a while?”

“If you had you might’ve recognised your neighbour when you swept her off her feet!” Tib laughed at her own joke from the front seat. Anne met her gaze with a hard glare as she looked at them in the rearview mirror.

“It was lovely, thank you Catherine. Just as I remembered.”

Her brow furrowed at her answer, “I didn’t think you remembered it.”

“I didn’t at first,” Anne felt Ann shift slightly in her arms. “But how could I forget this slip of a girl chasing me down on the Lightcliffe Road.” Ann turned her head up, the corners of her mouth turning up in a shy smile as Anne looked lovingly down at her. “I remembered how animated you looked when you asked me to tea even though you were grieving.” A small crease formed in Ann’s brow as she tilted her head back down. “And I thought to myself, there’s something special within this young woman that she’s able to project so much light, even at the darkest time.”

She paused as she waited to see if there would be any response. Without turning to look at her again, Ann pulled her hand up to her lips and kissed the back of it and Anne knew she was alright. “I told you that I’d come back for lunch, and your eyes sparkled. It was intoxicating.” She let out a light chortle, “But you were much too young for me at the time. I knew one day though someone was going to be very lucky to have you look at them that way.” She rested her cheek on the top of her head, “I never should’ve taken so long.”

“So long for what?”

“To come back for lunch darling.” She let out a tiny yelp as Ann playfully gave her hand a little nip before kissing the same spot. “I’m sure James didn’t mind.” Anne hummed as Ann continued to play with her fingers, “I’ve been meaning to ask actually, why is Cordingley, just Cordingley? Why not Mrs Cordingley like Mrs Hughes in Downton?”

“You didn’t watch that too did you?” Marian turned excitedly at the mention of one of her favourite shows.

Ann dropped Anne’s hand down to her lap as she turned to face her, “Of course I did! Poor Edith!”

“I know! But they all ended up having to curtsey to her in the end!” Anne ignored the brief glance her sister gave her. She had had to sit through hours of Marian and Aunt Anne watching Downton Abbey whenever she had been up visiting. They always seemed to save the Christmas Special for the exact moment they knew she had managed to settle in comfortably and didn’t want to get up again and she’d have to suffer through the trials and tribulations of the Crawley family.

“I couldn’t take Molesley seriously after watching Scott and Bailey though.”

Anne winced as Marian squealed loudly, “Geoff Hastings!”

“Yes!” Ann reached up and smacked each other’s hands in a high-five. Anne fought back a slight chuckle. Ann was definitely Marian’s favourite of the women she’d had in her life. She did have an unfair advantage since they had already been quite friendly before they started seeing each other, but even without it she was certain she would have easily won her over.

“Rachel Bailey though.” Marian held her hand up again and received another high-five.

“Seriously, she can arrest me anytime.” Anne laughed at the little frustrated huff that Ann let out. She tilted her head back and beamed up at her, “You’re the only one I’d chase down the Lightcliffe Road though.” Anne leant forward, placing a gentle kiss against her lips.

===

Anne had told her to take her time getting ready as there were a few things she needed to do before dinner and she didn’t want her to have to rush. As predicted, the hour-long drive had somehow taken them almost four hours between Tib’s detours and the leisurely lunch she insisted they had at a small pub they’d found. It meant that they weren’t able to do any of the things Anne had planned but she had remained in a good mood throughout the drive, no doubt helped by Ann’s constant presence by her side.

The hotel Anne had booked them was exquisite. It was an 11th century Grade I listed building that had been converted into a luxury hotel with only a dozen rooms, all uniquely decorated. The room she had chosen for them had magnificent views over the garden and the Roman city walls that enclosed them. She had heard the bells from York Minster ringing when the hour struck so they were in the centre of the city, but it felt like they were at a secluded country retreat.

Ann inhaled deeply as she walked back into their room, the scent of Anne still lingered in the room. Sandalwood and citrus. Every time the smell filled her lungs she could feel the warmth of the sun on her skin and Anne’s gentle touch as she cradled her head in her lap on the bridge that day. How much her life had changed since then. The plush bathrobe encased her and she was worried if she sat on the bed she’d fall asleep. She took another deep breath before she settled herself in the chair next to the large bay windows instead. 

Her damp hair sat on her shoulders. The walk-in monsoon shower had felt like a thousand hands giving her a much needed massage. She hadn’t realised how sore the activities of the last few days and nights had made her. It was a mixture of fatigue and having Anne wrapped around her that had ensured her the best sleep she’d had in years. The free-standing bathtub had looked particularly inviting but she wanted to save that for when Anne was back, perhaps she could persuade her to leave the drinks early with the promise of a good back scrub.

She knew it had been her decision that they go to the wedding but had she known they could’ve spent their weekend enjoying the opulence of this room wrapped up in each other she might have decided otherwise. Despite some initial hesitation Anne seemed eager to attend, especially now that Marian, Catherine, and Tib would be joining them, although she would never tell them that. She couldn’t deny that she was relieved too when they had said they’d all be going.

This would be the first time they would be out as a couple, not just with friends or family, but other people that Anne knew and admired. Of course Anne would do everything she could to make her comfortable, but she was glad to know that there would be a few more familiar friendly faces there, especially since she was sure there would be at least one unfriendly face amongst the crowd. Anne had tried to reassure her that Mariana would be civil, appearance was still everything to her, and she wouldn’t want to cause a scene. Catherine, Tib, and Marian had been less sure. Still, safety in numbers. She would be on Anne’s arm tonight and tomorrow, and she couldn’t think of anywhere better, except maybe the large antique bed, but there was plenty of time for that later.

She stood up and walked over to the large wardrobe that Anne had insisted on unpacking their clothes into even though they were only there for two nights. Thankfully she’d missed a few pieces of clothing that Ann had wanted to keep as a surprise. She pulled out the crimson tie waist silk dress that she had settled on and hung it from the wardrobe door. She had mostly chosen it because Anne had had to pick her jaw up from the floor when she had suggested it as a possibility. Her fingers lingered along the silky material, she loved the feel of the dress. She had only worn it once to one of the family’s summer parties. She had been too conscious of her bare shoulders that she’d refused to remove her shawl the entire time despite how warm it had been. She had brought one with her but hoped she wouldn’t have need of it.

She supposed she had better start to get ready, she still had to dry her hair and do her makeup. She wanted to look just as beautiful as Anne was handsome, even though she wasn’t sure that was possible. As her thoughts were starting to wander to how good Anne must look in her suit she heard her key in the door. She turned to greet her but as she opened her mouth to speak all of her words were lost to her. She stood open-mouthed as she stared at Anne.

“Darling?” Anne had burst into the room hoping to catch Ann in a state of undress but hadn’t expected the look of pure shock that greeted her. She quickly closed the space between them and placed her hands gently on her shoulders. “Ann, what’s wrong?”

“N-nothing.” Ann continued to stare wide eyed at her, “Is that what you’re wearing?” Anne let go of her shoulders and took a step back. She took a step to the side so that she stood in front of the full length mirror so she could take a proper look at her chosen ensemble. Her black brogues had been polished to a fine shine, black cigar trousers freshly pressed, black blazer with the satin lapels to compliment Ann’s silk dress, and the black mock turtleneck beneath that. She smoothed down the front of her blazer and turned to Ann, her brow knit with concern, “Will I do?”

Ann raked her eyes up the length of Anne’s body as the tip of her top ran slowly along her bottom lip. When her eyes finally reached Anne’s she was sure they were dark with desire, “You’ll definitely do.” Anne wanted to laugh but she had no time as Ann stepped forward, crashing their lips together. Anne took a step back to steady them as Ann wrapped her arms around her neck, her damp hair clinging to her face as the kiss deepened.

Her hands found the front of the robe, she gave one pull of the belt and it fell open. She reached inside the robe, her hands travelling down Ann’s hips before she suddenly pulled back when she realised she hadn’t put on any underwear yet. Ann opened her eyes, her mouth hung open as she realised Anne had stopped. Anne watched as her chest rose and fell beneath the robe with her heavy breaths. “We need to stop or else we’re going to be late meeting the others for dinner.”

Ann’s shoulders dropped, she knew that she was right. She would have already done the maths in her head of how long it would take before Ann was screaming her name and the time needed to get ready for dinner. If Anne said they would be late, she knew they would be. The thought of having to get through dinner and then drinks felt like torture, especailly given how striking Anne looked tonight. There was no way she would survive.

She turned her head slowly towards Anne, a small smile tugging on her lips as she eyed her challengingly. Anne looked at her curiously as she wondered what was going on behind those deep blue eyes. Ann raised her chin and shrugged her shoulders, the robe dropping to the floor leaving her completely naked in front of her. Anne’s eyes widened as a hungry grin spread across her face as she took in every perfect curve. She felt her mouth go dry as Ann raised an eyebrow, “We’re going to be late.”

Anne stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Ann’s waist and pulling her tight against her, “Very late.”

===

They had finally managed to tear themselves apart in time to meet the others for drinks. Anne had offered an excuse but there was nothing either of them could say that would convince them that they hadn’t been doing exactly what they had accused them of doing. They should have probably tried to grab something quick to eat but they had been fueled by the high they were still riding from their evening activities.

After one glass of champagne Ann was already starting to feel lightheaded as she clung tightly to Anne who appeared to be faring much better. It had been some time since Ann had seen Anne in full-on charm mode. She always captivated anyone in her vicinity during the Christmas parties her family had, but being on her arm was a different kind of magic. Standing side by side with her as she moved effortlessly through the room, talking easily to everyone who sought her out, being caught in the aura of Anne Lister was exhilarating.

It didn’t hurt that every stolen moment that they had alone Anne would find a reason to place a kiss on her bare shoulders before dipping her head close to Ann’s ear and whisper in that maddening low timbre exactly what she wanted to do once they got back to their room. More than once Anne’s fingers had come dangerously close to pulling the belt that held Ann’s dress together when she thought no one was around them. For her part Ann’s arm had reached up underneath Anne’s blazer to rub small circles along the bottom of her back as she whispered how wet she was imagining Anne’s fingers doing exactly that between her legs. It was a dangerous game they were playing as they teased each other incessantly throughout the night.

Between the taunting they managed to turn their attention to the continual stream of people that came over to talk to them. Ann noted how taller Anne seemed, her shoulders pulled back and her chest puffed out as she stood proudly as she introduced Ann to all of the people there. Ann too felt a little taller, it was the first time she’d been the other half of the dashing couple that everyone wanted to talk to. Despite feeling a little giddy, she didn’t miss the disappointed looks they received from some of the women once she was presented as her girlfriend. She wondered how many of those were dismayed at an opportunity missed or regret at being foolish enough to let her go.

As Anne chatted animatedly she revelled in how truly brilliant she was. They had spoken with so many different people - doctors, a priest, a local politician, she was unphased by all of them. It would have been easy for her to dominate the conversation and use Ann as a pretty adornment to her already glowing persona, but instead she brought her into the conversation. Most of the time, it was Ann that actually Anne talked about.

She spoke to them about her art, how beautiful Crow Nest was and how well managed the estate was, and what an accomplished horsewoman she was. Where Ann had only shrank into the background before, with Anne by her side she felt seen. It didn’t matter to her who Anne was talking to, that she thought and believed these things she was telling them meant everything.

Across the room Christopher Rawson had watched as he sipped his drink. The familiar rancour filling his gut at everyone took their turn talking to the remarkable Anne Lister, and how much more now that she appeared to have captured the equally elusive very beautiful, and wealthy, Ann Walker. He downed the last of his drink, before turning and slamming it down on the bar, demanding another.

“You may want to draw less attention to yourself Christopher,” the slick voice from behind him came.

He turned and offered a strained smile at Mariana, “Simply enjoying your family’s hospitality.” He didn’t try to mask the lascivious look he gave her as he took in the low cut dress she was wearing. She knew exactly how to entice any man in a room, but he knew her too well to get tangled in her spider’s web. She leant with her back against the bar as she looked across at the same sight he had not been enjoying. “They really do make a dazzling couple, don’t they?”

Christopher sneered as he glanced over his shoulder, “They do.”

“That dress your cousin’s wearing looks like it was made for her,”

“It probably was,” he said dismissively. More of the family money wasted. He lifted his glass to make a start on his next drink when he saw out of the corner of his eye her lip curl into a snarl. It was a look he was all too familiar with, and it meant no good for the person it was directed to. He turned his head more fully and saw her focused intently on the golden couple, “And what are you going to do about it?”

She reached over and took his drink from his hand and finished it in one gulp smiling slyly, “You’ll see.”