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Propriety and Corsets

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The summer air was warm against her skin, even after the sun had set. Yet a chill ran through her as if they were in the late of winter. The room, the estate in general, lacked the warmth of a true home.  

She looked down at the small child in the bed. Her child had finally fallen asleep after claiming there to be monsters. Her eyes softened as a loving smile slowly spread on her face while she moved a stray hair out of her daughter’s face.

Such an interesting age when you are learning so many things.

Startled by a light rapping at the door to the bedroom that created a soft echo throughout the large room, she looked up.

In a low, but firm voice she addressed the person on the other side of the door. “Come in.”

The door creaked open slowly as the House Steward at the Aird Estates quietly entered the room to avoid waking the young Miss from her slumber. He was an older gentleman, just broke 60 years in age this year, a stalky man with a deep but comforting voice. He had served the Aird's for much of his life and was an exceptionally kind man.

“Lady Aird,” he addressed in a low whisper to the Lady of the estate.

In the most quiet voice that she could muster, the Lady of the grand estates and Aird family, Lady Carol Aird asked, “What is it Charles?” as she gestured for him to come closer so that they could hear each other better.

“Miss Daphne Bridgerton has sent word requesting your company for three days prior to the birthday celebrations of Young Miss Aird. If this is agreeable to you, we shall send a response to them immediately so that they may begin preparations for their travels.”

Carol gave the request a thought and by her calculations, that would bring Daphne to her the day after next. With a nod, Carol softly replied, “I am agreeable to her request, Charles. Please send word back to them.”

Charles nodded his understanding and began to turn to leave the Lady with her sleeping child.

Memories of herself, Daphne, and Abagail flood her mind from when they were younger and up to before she married into the Aird family.  This brought a happy smile to her face. One that had not adorned her features in recent years, other than of course when it came to her daughter, Nerinda, or Rindy as she was referred to by her parents. 

Abagail, or Abby for those close to her, and Daphne were cousins. Both women have a very close relationship as the Bridgertons and Gerhards would often spend time together growing up.  The Ross’s were close friends of the Gerhards and so their families would spend much time together as well.  This led to the three being virtually inseparable growing up, despite the fact that Daphne was a few years younger than the other two.

Both Daphne and Abagail were still unwed and lived about a days ride by carriage away from the Aird's estate.  

As an afterthought Carol called back Charles. “Charles…”  Charles paused in his steps and turned back to face Carol. 

Carol stood from her daughter’s side and made quiet strides towards Charles. “Please also include in our message to Miss Bridgerton that I am so looking forward to spending much time with her and will send word to her cousin, Miss Abagail Gerhard, to visit earlier as well. And then could you please send word to Miss Abagail Gerhand requesting her visit earlier as Miss Bridgerton would be here?”

“Yes, Lady Aird. I will do so first break at dawn.” Charles responded formally. 

“Thank you, Charles. That’ll be all.” Charles bowed and turned to leave.

Carol looked on as Charles exited her daughter’s room and closed the door behind him.  She turned back to her sleeping daughter. Carol has always been grateful to have Rindy.  It was because of the little girl that she had been able to have some form of fulfillment being part of the Aird family.

She married Lord Hargess Aird three years ago, almost immediately after her debut.  She was young and naive to the world and what would come with duties of being a wife.  Understandably, her duties compared to those of lesser means were nothing to complain of.  But she had often thought of those romances that are written in books and wished to feel the jolt of lightening that seemingly runs through ones body when joined to another.

She never felt that with Harge. He is a fine man and of course a gentleman, as one is taught to be of his stature. The night of their wedding was one of pain and discomfort. He tried to be gentle, but it was impossible for her not wince each time he had entered her. That night, was nothing of the sort she had imagined when reading the romance novels she was able to sneak out with the girls. They were not told how the joining of man and woman would happen and what occurred during such practice. The books only spoke of the feelings within one when it occurs.  She has never felt the feelings described in the books she read.

She had not seen either Abigail or Daphne since after Rindy’s birth.  This will be a wonderful opportunity for a reunion. She smiled happily at the thought as she walked back to her sleeping child, placed a kiss on her forehead before turning to leave for her own chambers. 

As she approached her chambers, one of her personal servants, her lady maid, was waiting for her outside.

“My Lady, would you like assistance with preparing for the night?” she asked.

“Light assistance will do for tonight, Diana.” Carol responded as Diana opened her chambers for her to enter.

Once inside, Carol turned her back to face Diana. “If you could please unlace me and lay my nightwear on the bed that will do for tonight.”

“Of course, my Lady.” Diana responded and approached Carol and began to unlace her dress and corset. She was always amazed at how gentle Diana performed the task compared to the nights that Harge and her had been intimate.  

These nights, Harge would either work until late that he would rest in his own chambers or entertain other women there. She felt happy that Harge had preferred the company of other women soon after Rindy’s birth and rarely visited her chambers. If she could be honest, she had never enjoyed the act.  Most men of his status would often seek the company of younger women to the chagrin of their wives, particularly after having children.

Carol enjoyed her time alone and was more than relieved when he slowly ceased sharing her chambers.  Of course when attending events and when receiving guests along with any official duties, they would appear together.  There was a level of respect between the two and love and care of family, particularly when it involved their lovely daughter.  

Lost in thought, she did not realize Diana had laid her nightgown on the bed until she heard the door shut leaving her alone to remove her dress and undergarments before placing the light-fabric nightgown on her body.

She walked out towards the balcony and opened the doors.  The summer breeze warms her as the light fabric of her nightgown allowed that very night air to brush the surface of her skin. She closed her eyes to take in a deep breath. Deeply enjoying the peacefulness of the night and the feeling of falling through clouds as the breeze moved about her.

Free.  How it feels so very freeing to have my blonde hair blowing about by the light breeze of this summer night.

The feeling reminded her of the summers that she spent with Abigail and Daphne.  

I am very excited at the prospect of their visit. 

Slowly she opened her eyes and turned to return to her chambers and turn in for the night. Once she was laid on her bed, she closed her eyes to let sleep overtake her. 

 

******************

 

Today Daphne is set to arrive.  Abigail will arrive tomorrow.

It was a truly enchanting day. The sky was a brilliant blue and there were no clouds to be seen.  There was the slightest of breeze and the air was incredibly warm. The most perfect day for a visit from an old friend. 

The day before, Carol and her servants were busy with preparations in expectation of receiving her guests.  When she mentioned to Harge this morning of Daphne’s impending arrival and Abigail’s arrival tomorrow, he nodded his acknowledgment, came over and kissed her on the cheek.  “That’s wonderful. I am glad to hear of your close friends visiting a few days before our celebrations of Rindy’s birthday. Enjoy your time with them, darling.”

As he started to walk out of the dining area and towards his work chambers, he turned back around. “I shall be quite busy reading reports in these next few days and unable to accompany your party for meals. Please extend my apologies to them, but I am certain you shall be a most gracious hostess to your friends. I shall see you all on the night of the event.”

“Of course, darling.” Carol nodded and smiled. “I shall pass along your regrets but assure them of your company on the day of Rindy’s ball.”

Harge made a couple long strides to his beloved daughter, and leaned in to kiss her head. He patted her on the back gently and softly said, “Be good, little one. I love you.”

“Bye Papa,” Rindy replied cheerfully.

Carol had much to do before Daphne was due to arrive. She slowly stood and went to Rindy. When she bent down, she cupped the child’s cheeks with both hands and kissed her on the head.

“Mama must make haste and prepare for the day,” she said to the little girl. Rindy reached out and pulled Carol in for a  tight hug. “No, mama!”

Carol wrapped her arms tighter around the little girl. “Oh, my little girl.” She leaned back and tapped the girl on the nose. “You shall not be long without mama.” 

The little girl pouted adorably and Carol sought to make her smile. “I shall see you for lunch…” And then she playfully lowered her voice, as if she were sharing a secret with the little girl. “And I have a friend for you to meet Sweet Pea.” 

Rindy was persuaded by that and had nodded enthusiastically, releasing her mother from her embrace.

Carol shifted her attention to the nurse. “Please take her through her usual routine this morning.  When Miss Bridgerton arrives, please have Rindy accompany us for lunch.”

“Yes, Lady Aird. I shall have the Young Miss join you and your guest for lunch.” The nurse nodded and remained with Rindy until she finished her breakfast, while Carol made her exit from the dining hall.

Carol soon arrived at the kitchen and spoke with the cook to ensure that the lunch and dinner would be prepared in accordance to Daphne's tastes. She then sought out Charles to ensure guest rooms preparations were complete along with the accommodations for Daphne’s lady maids who would inevitably be accompanying her as well.

Daphne’s and Abby’s guest rooms were located at the other wing of their estate while their lady maids would be housed in the guest wing of the servants’ corridor. 

It was not long before Charles came to advise her that “Miss Daphne Bridgerton has arrived.”  

Upon hearing this, she quickly strode past the multiple rooms in their guest wing before arriving at the front to greet her long time friend.

Carol saw her friend’s carriage come to a stop and the door had begun to open. She straightened down her pale blue dress that was likely ruffled from the day, particularly from her haste in arriving to greet her friend. She wore a pale blue summer dress. The dress had short sleeves with a puffed shoulder and a scooped neckline that helped to accentuate her breasts.

Daphne had emerged midway from the carriage and had begun her descent when Carol approached her.

“Miss Daphne Bridgerton. You grace us with your presence.  What brings you here?” Carol teased in a light voice.

Daphne gave a hearty laugh and playfully responded to her friend. “Lady Aird, it was very gracious of you to receive me a few days before the ball for your daughter’s third birthday. For that, I am greatly indebted.”

Finally, when her friend found herself on the ground and facing her, Carol took Daphne’s hands in her own and looked happily at her friend that she has not seen in over three years. “It has been much too long Daphne.”

Daphne returned Carol’s happy smile. “Carol. I am so pleased to see you. You have not changed my dear friend.” Hands still together, Daphne leaned back and appraised her friend. “You still look as magnificent as ever.” Carol offered a grateful smile to her friend for the compliment as she had not felt particularly attractive after she gave birth.

Carol pulled on her friend’s hands for a warm embrace before she released her and hooked their elbows together. Carol began to lead Daphne through the grounds of her estate. “Let us walk, Daphne.  There is much to talk about.”

Daphne smiled and nodded in agreement, “There is indeed, Carol.”

Carol began them on a slow and leisurely pace so as to enjoy each other’s company and the gardens of the estate.

Carol glanced sideways at her friend and decided to initiate their conversation. She had heard rumours of her friend’s love affair and suspected this to be the reason for the earlier visit. “There are whispers through various sources that you are linked to the Duke of Hastings.”

Daphne smiled and leaned in to whisper softly in Carol’s ear, “It is for show.”

Carol stopped abruptly and pulled back to regard her friend with wide eyes. She whispered back incredulously, “What ever do you mean? You cannot play that.” Then she pulled her friend close to her “You know there are consequences Daphne and it does not matter whether or not what happens between yourself and the Duke is real or not.”

Daphne smiled a soft grateful smile for Carol’s concern and patted her friend’s arm in comfort. “I understand the consequences.” Daphne paused for a bit as they continued their walk.  “However, that is what I was hoping to discuss with you. As a married woman, perhaps you could help me understand a few of these…feelings and thoughts that I am experiencing.”

Carol looked at her friend with genuine curiosity. “Well. Go ahead. What is plaguing the mind of our young Miss Daphne Bridgerton?”

Daphne laughed. “The Duke…he…” She cast her eyes down a slight and blushed. “He is a very handsome man.” 

Carol smirked and decided to tease her friend some. “Very handsome, is he now?” 

“Oh, very well. I find him very nice.” Carol and Daphne laughed at the admission.

“Good. Daphne. Please continue.” Carol continued to lead her friend through the gardens of the estate.

“At a ball that we attended, I found our conversation to be easy and amusing.”

Carol nodded her head expectantly. "And..."

With a comfortable chuckle Daphne continued. “We certainly enjoyed mocking those in attendance. So much so that when the Prince complimented my gown with the verbatim comment that which the Duke had quietly suggested the Prince had uttered to one of the women before me...”

Daphne started to laugh at the memory. When she finally calmed some she took a deep breath before continuing. “I ended up in such a state that I actually snorted!”

“You did no such thing!” Carol exclaimed in surprise and began to laugh herself. It was such an unladylike thing to do.

Daphne looked at her friend directly in her eyes and with much amusement confirmed, “I did!” 

They both broke out in laughter as they continued their stroll through the gardens. The gardener had tended to it earlier in the day and the garden provided a wonderful cloak of privacy for a free exchange between the women.

Daphne continued with her story as they arrived at a fountain on the grounds. “A new wing, at the Somerset House had opened.” Daphne pulled on Carol’s arm to walk towards the fountain.  When they arrived at the edge of the fountain Daphne closed her eyes and breathed in the misty wet air caused by the water from the fountain and the warm summer air.

Carol tugged on her friend’s arm to gain her attention and asked, “And?” Her love life was non-existent and lavished the opportunity to live vicariously through Daphne’s romance.   

“…He stood observing paintings donated by his estate.” Daphne continued.

Carol led her friend towards the bench by the fountain and guided her to sit. With a quick glance, Carol found that the sun had lighted the garden so beautifully. 

Once they both sat, Daphne once more proceeded with the story. “We happened upon a painting that was his mother’s favourite.”  Daphne’s gaze shifted away from Carol as she looked back to the running water in the fountain. “I expressed my feelings when viewing it. The painting had brought forth in me a feeling of intimacy and peacefulness. Reminiscent of waking up in the country.”

There was a pause in the story telling. Daphne seemed to have drifted off in her thoughts a bit. When she finally turned back to Carol, she lowered her voice and whispered, “…And that’s when it happened.”  

Carol leaned in close to her friend as she feared the breeze would carry away some of the words shared by her friends. When she came to an inch away from Daphne, Carol dropped her voice and whispered in return with slight frustration as Daphne had paused at such a pivotable point of the retelling. “Such the tease you are. Do share what happened.” 

Daphne looked down on her hands and then over at Carol’s. She let her fingers trail down Carol’s palm and laced their fingers, as it had happened between her and the Duke. “Our hands slowly drew together, hidden from view, while our fingers caressed each other's.”

“Oh my.” Carol responded in a playful seductive voice, fully indulging her friend’s method of story telling. 

Although a simple demonstrated act itself, it had caused a sense of longing in Carol. How she had longed for such an experience herself. With Daphne lost in her memory, Carol started to imagine the feeling of such shared intimacy and how wonderful that would be to have. It amazed Carol that such a simple act, holding of a hand, had brought forth such erotic and sensual feelings. She felt genuine happiness for her friend having experienced such intimacy. “That sounds very exciting Daphne.”

Daphne withdrew her hand and clutched her heart with both hands, eyes closed. “Yes. My heart literally fluttered in that moment.” 

Then her eyes snapped open with disappointment. “Unfortunately, there was a commotion and we both withdrew our hands before retreating to the room with the ruckus to investigate on what had occurred.”

Daphne’s account of the events and the progression of her relationship with the Duke appeared as if it had be lifted directly from a romance novel she had once read. 

Is this not how people fall in love? Is this not what is supposed to occur? The fluttering of the heart. The cause of Daphne’s swooning. 

This was what she was missing. The fluttering and the swooning with one’s husband.

Was Daphne’s experience what is to be expected or a rarity?

Perhaps it was her that was amiss. Daphne appeared to not notice that Carol was lost in her thoughts. When she continued with the story, Daphne's voice had broken through and pulled Carol from her mind. “Then, on another outing, while strolling along a beautiful garden accompanied by the Duke, he tells me there exist both physical and intangible elements to a marriage." Carol understood the physical elements of a marriage and perhaps even the intangible element as well. She could imagine the intangible element being their mutual respect of one another.

"I asked how is that possible when they are quite opposite." Daphne recounted and then pulled Carol closer. "What he tells me is…” Daphne dropped her tone down to  imitate that of a man’s as to mimic the Duke’s, “that what happens between a husband and wife is a natural continuation of what happens at night.”

Carol's confusion displayed on her face. “What did he mean?”

It was Daphne that now looked perplexed. “Dear Carol. You have wed for years now and also bore a child. Surely you must know what happens between a husband and wife.”

“Of course! I simply do not comprehend the reference to what happens at night when you are not yet wed.” Carol attempted to justify her confusion.

“My my. Shall I be the one to tell Lady Aird?” Daphne quirked an eyebrow and poked her friend playfully.

Carol swatted her good friend’s attempt swiftly away and laughed. “Well my courtship certainly was not as…shall we say exciting as what appears to be yours, Daphne” she responded with a teasing smirk.

Chuckling, Daphne agreed. “Yes. It certainly has been exciting…” And as if Daphne was imagining a moment, she added softly with a slight tremble in her voice, “In more ways than one.”

However, still curious, Carol inquired again for clarification. “So what is it that happens at night?”

“Well…” Daphne paused, seemingly as if she is attempting to recall a memory.

With another breath, she makes a second attempt to explain. “When you are alone….” She paused this second time to look around for confirmation that they were truly alone with no one else in their vicinity.

Daphne leans in so that she is just above Carol’s ear and dropped her voice down low to a whisper. “…When you touch yourself.”

Carol jolted back, but then leaned in close to Daphne’s ear and whispered in confirmation that she had heard her friend correctly. “Touch yourself?”   

Before Carol pulled back to let her friend answer, she decided it best to add in an even lower whisper, “Where?”

When Carol leaned back, Daphne looked at her, eyes darting around with slight discomfort before she continued their whispered conversation. “Anywhere on your body…" Carol nodded her understanding. "Anywhere that gives you pleasure…" Carol gave another sharp nod. "Especially your…How shall I put this.” Daphne darted her eyes towards the junction between Carol’s torso and legs, “between your legs.”  

Carol did not respond in words nor a nod to her friend's last point. Her eyes had responded by widening at the implication.

Daphne proceeded to further explain. “When you find a feeling of particular joy, you carry with that until you reach…a release shall we say.”

In confirmation and summary, Daphne looked pointedly at Carol and said firmly, “You touch those areas yourself at night until you reach a release.”

Carol gasped and rested her hand over her heart. “Scandalous!” This was the first time she had heard such actions. Mothers and daughters never discussed such matters and when Carol had married Harge, she had to learn on her own. But this “release”. It must be what Harge had experienced each time they were intimate as he always seemed to quite enjoy it. Although opposite could be said of her experience in the matter. 

Carol, now, very much intrigued in whether or not she could experience this feeling as well eyed friend with interest. “And…” Carol prompted, “…Did you?”

Daphne dipped her head down slightly. When she cast her eyes up again and met Carol’s there was a teasing glint along with a smirk. She responded slowly, “Yes.” Then the smirk grew to a wide grin, “It felt…magnificent.”  Carol observed her friend with envy. Daphne truly glowed in the sun when she had told her that it felt magnificent. 

Her friend must have saw Carol's envy as she paused a slight and asked curiously, “Have you?”

“Goodness no!” Carol laughed. “The only venture in that area was strictly from the act to achieve pregnancy with Harge.”

“How was it with Harge?” Daphne asked hesitantly.

Carol winced at the memory. “The first time was excruciatingly painful." She took in a deep breath and released it with much relief. "It then eventually became less painful.  However…” Carol begun to nervously bite her lip lightly and felt as if a cloud had descended upon them on this beautiful day. She was not sure how to say this to her friend. “It was never enjoyable for me…I never felt that release that you spoke of, though I am certain he always did.”

“That sounds God awful!” Daphne took her arm and patted it a few times to comfort her.

“Thankfully it has completely ceased after his seed had planted and I became pregnant with Rindy. He has found other more, shall we say receptive women since.”

“I am so sorry to hear that Carol.” Daphne pulled Carol into a warm embrace and tried to comfort her friend once more. "I always thought you were happy."

“No. Don’t be.” Carol pulled back and smiled at Daphne genuinely.  "I am happy and fortunate. Rindy is everything to me."

“I am actually happier now that I am not required to perform the act with him anymore. He has always been a gentleman about it. Perhaps he sensed my discomfort, I do not know. After I performed my duty as a wife and Rindy came to be, he had not sought after me in that manner.” With a pause, she considered what she use to read, the fluttering of hearts, the feeling of lightening running through your body, all of that.  She grew sad at the thought of never having that.

“Is this what will happen after I marry as well?” Daphne asked Carol with twinge of concern. “Do you think the Duke shares the same interest with me as I him? True interest, to truly wed. My brother advises he does not want marriage. He did not elaborate on why.”

It was Carol that pulled her friend into an embrace to provide her strength. “I would think so, Daphne. He is too brazen with you not to be truly interested.”  And remembering what Daphne had said about her and the Duke she added, “I feel it may be different for you. The beginning of your story is so much more invigorating than mine and Harge’s.”   

She took Daphne’s hands in hers. “When you describe of your interactions and discussions with the Duke…I can feel it and see it in you. It is something that I never had with Harge.”

Daphne looked at her hopefully. Then Carol thought she would change the direction of their conversation so it wouldn’t ruin their reunion.  “Let us return to what happens at night.  You simply performed the act and found your release?”

“Well…” Daphne took a slow stuttering breath before she continued. “I was thinking of the Duke.” She then closed her eyes as if to take her back to that night. “It was his voice that I heard. It was his hands that I imagined touching me.”

Carol brought herself forward towards her friend as a result of the intensity in which she was listening to her, wanting to know the magic of it all. 

When Daphne opened her eyes, she suggested, “You should try it, Carol.”

Carol laughed. “With how you are speaking of it, I certainly am open to considering this.”

Perhaps she can attempt this herself...on a warm night. Perhaps even tonight after a warm bath.

But who would I think of and imagine when I perform this act?

Carol looked up at the sky and saw that the sun was hanging directly overhead. She took Daphne’s hands and patted it a few times. “It is late. Let us return for our tea and a light meal. I want you to meet Rindy”

Daphne nodded her agreement and they stood. The joined elbows once again and started back to the estate. “I am excited to meet the little Miss Rindy Aird.”

“We have sleeping quarters prepared for your lady maids. How many did you travel with?” Carol asked.

“Only two.” Daphne nodded towards the carriage a few paces ahead of them as they approached the home.

Looking towards carriage she noticed the silhouette of a couple of women.  

There was one particular woman that caught her eye. She had begun towards the servants’ quarters. She wore a simple green dress cinched at her waist, with what looks like a white apron that adorned her front as most servant women would have, and her long delicate neck.

Carol had always found women attractive. Much more so than men. As was the case, she was not surprised when this woman had taken hostage of her attention.

The woman had her back to Carol though and she was not able to see the woman’s face, but from the back, she could envision a very feminine and slender figure lay beneath the dress.

She must be beautiful.

“Therese!” called out another woman, dressed a similar fashion as this "Therese", but her dress was yellow in colour.

When the woman in the green dress, Therese, turned around to look at the person addressing her, Carol’s breath caught. Carol was close enough that she can clearly see that Therese had eyes that were like that of the deep recesses of the forest. It was such a vibrant and deep green. 

Therese became rooted in place when their eyes locked. Therese's eyes pierced through Carol’s and neither could turn away. When the other servant woman caught up to Therese she had abruptly stopped as her friend stood unmoving. She followed Therese's gaze to where she saw Carol and Daphne approaching.

Therese still had not made any movements and the other woman in the yellow dress appeared to be about to apologize.  

“Oh do not worry yourselves Therese and Genevieve.”  Daphne waved her hand dismissively. “Carol and I are good friends and how you behave about me, you can do so about her.” Daphne continued.

However, Carol was still stunned by the beautiful woman called Therese and had not uttered a single word. 

When Daphne cleared her throat, Carol was shocked back to life. She smiled at Therese and then looked over to the other woman and smiled at her.  “Yes, please make yourselves comfortable and do not worry yourselves as Miss Bridgerton had suggested.”

Therese and the other woman gave a slight nod before turning and once more began towards the servants’ quarters. 

This was not before Carol felt the gaze of Therese traveling up her body, hidden in plain sight, as if simply a tail end of a nod. 

Her gaze had travelled from Carol’s feet up her body and lingered ever so briefly on the slight exposure of her breasts before meeting her eyes once more. There was something in the other woman’s eyes before she turned and went on her way. Carol knew she was flushed from the appraisal of the other woman and it certainly was not due to the heat or sun.

Carol had to resist the urge to clutch her chest as she was also certain it was her heart that felt a flutter. She could not understand how her heart would react in such a way by the gaze of this other woman, a lady maid at that.

When Carol turned to her friend and found a look of amusement with a hint of curiosity on her face, she gave an instinctive shrug, which she would never have done in the presence of anyone else, save perhaps Abigail.  

Daphne kept her eyebrows raised in question, as if wanting to ask Carol something.  However, perhaps thinking better of it, when she spoke, she simply stated, “I am glad to be able to spend a few nights here.”

Unable to help herself, Carol looked just past Daphne in the direction that Therese had disappeared off to. She moved her hand from Daphne’s and clasped her own wrists.

Perhaps…perhaps I should also heed the Duke’s suggestion as well tonight while taking heed of Daphne’s technique, picturing someone that sparked a fluttering of my heart.

Softly, and more to herself than to her friend, she agreed. “I am glad as well.”

Chapter Text

*Gallop* *Gallop* *Gallop*

Therese Belivet heard the hooves of the horseshoes that clipped against the ground in front of their carriage.

She peeked out the carriage to see that the sun was now rising and warming the land in its wake. 

They had woken early to prepare for their travels to the Airds’ estate this morning, before the break of dawn. As such, when they left the sky had not yet woken.  

Her eyes were now on the woman that she served. Eyes closed and fast asleep, Miss Daphne Bridgerton was certainly a wonderful sight for sore eyes. She was beautiful, held a healthy sense of humour, and was very much a generous soul. Still a young maiden and will debut shortly to, no doubt, an army of suitors. With a soft smile of how lucky she was to serve such a wonderful woman, she realized that time had indeed passed with haste as she has served the Bridgertons just shy of two years.

Suddenly, she felt a hand on her knee. She did not need to look at the hand to know that it belonged to Genevieve. Looking over to her friend, she offered a smile. 

She and Genevieve Cantrell had shared a close childhood and now adulthood, it would seem. Truly, a lifelong friend as their families were neighbours in their small town. It was “Gen” that had connected her to this marvellous opportunity of working for the Bridgerton family. She would only make reference to Genevieve as Gen when there were no others. 

Two days before, both her and Genevieve had ventured into the fields on a day much like this day, sunny and warm.  They both laid on their backs, basking in the warmth of the sun with eyes closed, when Therese felt warm and soft lips on hers. Before she could open her eyes, the lips were gone from the chaste kiss. Genevieve had looked away shyly when she was able to focus her sight after opening her eyes to the sun. They had not gone beyond that single innocent kiss that day as they were required to promptly return to  Miss Bridgerton for an event that evening.  Since then, they have not had another moment either. Nevertheless, Therese often found the eyes of Genevieve stealing glances towards her or there would be small attempts of initiating contact, much like she had done in the carriage moments before.

Years before, Therese was asked her hand by that of an official suitor, Richard Simcoe. He was a decent man from a decent family. Her parents had wanted them to wed; however, she was not inclined. Fortunately for her, the opportunity to work as a lady maid for Daphne had arisen and her family was easily convinced to agree to forego this marriage proposal to Richard Simcoe in favour of her working for the Bridgerton family.  As a lady’s maid she would then be able to avoid marriage to a man in favour of her loyalty to her mistress. 

Therese recalled the feeling of Genevieve's lips on hers. It was pleasant. She imagined it was more pleasant than had the kiss been with Richard. Her hand had absently reached up to touch her lips when Genevieve’s hand squeezed her knee slightly, which caused her to look over to find eyes filled with hope staring back. For some reason, Therese had to look at away, almost ashamed. She felt undeserving of such…attention, one that deep down she knew she could not reciprocate.

With perhaps what could be described as remorse, she shifted away from Genevieve’s touch. She could sense the hurt from the other woman.  Always having found her eye landing on an attractive woman rather than a man, she had a sense of her proclivities. However, it was only through Genevieve that Therese had confirmed where her interests truly laid.

Fortunately, a moment later, Daphne started to stir which helped to dissipate the discomfort of their situation.  As her eyes began to open, the distance between Therese and Genevieve had grown and they both straightened up to greet their mistress.

Although those in power may prove difficult to work for, her mistress was wonderfully kind and gentle. Daphne truly approached both Therese and Genevieve with such respect that she knew she could remain in service forever.

“Are we almost there?” Daphne asked with her sleep induced voice.

“The estate is a short distance away.” Genevieve confirmed for her.

“Please help me freshen up prior to my descent from the carriage.” Daphne remarked as she started to move some stray hairs out of her face that had fallen while she slept.

“Of course, Miss Bridgerton.” Both Therese and Genevieve replied with a slight nod of their heads.

“Ladies. I have requested on many occasions that you please refer to me as Daphne. Particularly when we are not accompanied by others. You have seen me in my most intimate moments, I would assume we are bonded enough for use of our given names.” Daphne smiled teasingly.

Therese and Genevieve always shared a sense of unease when the topic arises, but as always, they appeased their mistress temporarily until the next time.

“Of course.” They both responded to Daphne.

Therese looked out of the carriage as it slowed to a stop. The carriage stopped before a wonderfully large estate with a spectacular garden opposite the home. 

Therese and Genevieve began to straighten Daphne’s dress and readjusted bows and knots that became crumpled during their travels as well as the strands of hair which had come loose. 

Once they had ensured their mistress was proper for presentation, Therese descended from the carriage first, followed by Genevieve and immediately began to sort through items carried with them for transport to their quarters for the duration of their visit.  

As all of this was occurring, Daphne began her descent out of the carriage. 

“Miss Daphne Bridgerton. You grace us with your presence.  What brings you here?” 

Therese immediately melted from the voice. It carried a wonderfully deep, yet powerful, tone laced with a teasing quality.

“Lady Aird, it was very gracious of you to receive me a few days before the ball for your daughter’s third birthday. For that, I am greatly indebted.” 

Lady Aird…

“It has been much too long Daphne.”

That wonderful, agreeable, and…sultry voice belongs to Lady Aird.

“Carol. I am so pleased to see you. You have not changed my dear friend…You still look as magnificent as ever.”

“Carol…” Therese whispered softly to herself. She wanted to test the name on her lips.

Miss Bridgerton must be very familiar with Lady Aird to be able to converse in this manner with her.

Daphne had claimed Lady Aird to be “magnificent”, Therese felt a growing want to sneak around the carriage for a quick glance. Unfortunately, she was only able to observe the receding form of Lady Aird, Carol, as she led Daphne away towards the garden.  

“Let us walk, Daphne.  There is much to talk about.” This was the last comment she was able to overhear.

From behind, Therese could ascertain that Lady Aird had a beautiful figure. Her shoulders were gently spread, waist cinched narrow, long slender neck and the same could be said of her legs. She was also taken by Carol’s stunning blonde hair that shone wondrously. Even from afar, Therese could see that her hair was golden blonde, particularly when kissed by the sun.

“Therese, we must set two outfits for Miss Bridgerton to select from to accompany Lady Aird for the evening meal.” Genevieve instructed, as she was of more seniority than Therese. They were working, and Genevieve was the epitome of duty and responsibility. Therese nodded her agreement and they began to walk in silence into the large estate following one of the servants to direct them to Daphne’s guest chambers.

Once arrived, Genevieve and Therese began to rummage through Daphne’s luggage, being sure to account for the ball, which was the main event.

As Genevieve pulled out a dress, she made a brief glance over to Therese and began, “Therese. Your appearance is exceptionally radiant today.” 

Therese turned away, purposefully avoiding eye contact with her friend in feigned attempt to locate jewelry options to accompany the dress Genevieve had chosen. 

“Therese.” Genevieve tried again to no avail.  Therese had continued her avoidance of Genevieve. 

With a sigh, Genevieve proceeded once more with her selection of a second option for Daphne.  After a few moments, she had made  her decision for their mistress. 

Without another task to occupy them, Genevieve confirmed that they were alone before she approached Therese slowly. Standing in front of Therese now, she took aim once more. “Therese.” Genevieve tilted her head to the side to better her eye contact with Therese as she  had casted them down and away at present, in order to avoid her friend’s probing gaze.

“Please. We should talk.” Genevieve requested with sincerity.

“What ever are we to discuss?” Therese sought to deflect.

“I am certain that you are aware of my feelings and what I hope for. You should know where my heart lies.” Genevieve reached out and held her hands. "I enjoyed our…interaction.” With a long pause Genevieve continued. “I had thought you felt the same.”

Unable to avoid the matter any further, she bowed her head and slowly withdrew her hands from Genevieve’s grasps, feeling ashamed to have avoided her friend like this.  “I…I  apologize Gen…for my behaviour.” 

“Therese.” Genevieve sought her shoulder, yet she avoided the touch. “Your apology…that is not my purpose in this vein of discussion. I merely want to know your feelings.” 

With a deep breath, she mustered the courage to meet her friend’s gaze. “Gen. We are best friends. We have known each other since our childhood.” 

Her eyes softened as she continued. “I have love for you…” 

After a brief pause and deep sigh, her eyes became apologetic. “…but not the way you desire me. I realized quite quickly my feelings for you are that of friends and not of lovers.”

Genevieve slid her hands from her grasps and uttered softly “I thought you had felt the same. You reciprocated.”

“I know. I was taken by surprise.” Therese took in a breath and with a sheepish smile strived to explain, “A most nice kiss which I enjoyed, and so instinctively reciprocated.” 

“I did not want to hurt your feelings and took the approach to avoid you.” She admitted apologetically. “I am sorry if that was not what you had wanted to hear.”

Genevieve turned away from her. “I…You’re my best friend. But I shall need time.” Genevieve proceeded to leave the room and said over her shoulder, “I must check the carriage once more before we can have our mid-afternoon meal and retire to our chambers for rest.”

“I understand,” she acknowledged "I will see to it that Miss Bridgerton’s chambers is well kept before I take my leave.”

With a nod, still facing away from Therese, Genevieve left the room.

Therese took a deep breath and slowly released it. There was a part of her that was glad Genevieve had forced her to talk about their kiss and feelings. Had this occurred later, perhaps more damage could be had with their friendship.

She started to order Daphne’s chambers once more as it had come to a slight disarray during the process of selecting the dress options for the evening meal. Once completed with her task of tidying, she proceeded towards the front to inquire about the servants’ quarters.  When she arrived at the front of the estate once more, she found Genevieve and a gentleman speaking and approached them.

“Good day sir.” Then she turned to Genevieve and gave her a smile and nod in greeting. Genevieve returned the gesture politely. 

“Charles here has just pointed out the servants quarters.” Genevieve pointed towards the area. 

Therese desired to be useful and allow  Genevieve her requested space, offered, “Excellent. I shall go now. Genevieve, I am happy to assist with your items as well if you would like to keep company with Charles.”

As she started towards the servants’ quarters, suddenly she heard Genevieve’s voice. “Therese!”

She turned around at the sound of Genevieve’s voice and was about to respond when her breath caught and her eyes locked with the other woman’s.

Before her was Lady Carol Aird, whom she had tried to steal a glance at earlier. Therese knew that this was her because of her attire, her frame, and her hair.  Now facing this woman, she was truly breathtaking. 

Her eyes were that of the sky. A blue so light that it would pierce through even the darkest days. Her blue dress only served to enhance her eyes. Her cheekbones were prominent, nose was high, and lips soft. She truly looked as if she was chiseled out of marble by a well-known artist. 

Lady Aird was indeed absolutely magnificent.

“Oh do not worry yourselves Therese and Genevieve.” The sound of Daphne’s voice snapped Therese out of her daze, but her eyes did not leave Carol’s.

She saw that Carol blinked a couple of times. She then smiled brightly at Therese. Her eyes had lit up from the smile while looking at Therese and then she turned to look at Genevieve before she said, “Yes, please make yourselves comfortable and do not worry yourselves as Miss Bridgerton had suggested.”

Therese was not so inclined to divert her gaze from Carol’s, but decided a polite and courteous nod was apt. She offered a nod, and thought to take full advantage of her position.  As she lifted her head back up from the nod, she took in Carol’s legs, her feminine hips, small waist, ample breasts, and slender neck. By the time Therese’s eyes returned to Carol’s, she noticed that there was a flush on Carol’s skin that was not previously present. Carol clearly noticed and was affected by her appraisal.

With not much else she could do, she turned and left for the servants’ quarters for their mid-afternoon meal.

During the meal, she was not able to do away with the image of Carol from her mind and decided on a stroll through the garden. She would aim to return before being required to assist with Daphne’s attire for the evening meal.

Stepping out from the dim dining hall and into the fresh summer air was refreshing. The sun was still high and the light breeze wrapped around her like a blanket as she walked.

She was fairly deep into the garden when she closed her eyes to simply feel the peacefulness of the nature around her.  Quite suddenly, she was jolted to open her eyes as she felt someone small run into her.  When she looked down, it was a young little girl.  She crouched down to eye level with the little girl. The blue in the little girl’s eyes were unmistakable.  There were just the same as…

“Rindy!” yelled Carol.  

Therese looked up instinctively at the call. She saw Carol come towards them as she slightly lifted up her dress to run after the child.  

“Apologies…” Carol started but then paused. Therese saw the slight tilt of Carol’s head and squint of her eyes, as if trying to recall something. “Therese was it?”

Therese nodded, still crouched. She finally started to stand. “Yes. That is correct, Lady Aird.”

Carol cast her eyes down to the ground at the mention of her name. Her formal name. She looked almost upset to be called that.  Therese, for some reason, could not stand the sight of Carol’s discomfort marring her features.

Therese tried again, “Lady Ai…”

But Carol cut her off abruptly.  “Please,” she whispered. “When we are not in the presence of others, you may call me Carol.”

“My lady. I cannot do such a disrespectful thing.” Therese countered.

“Is it so disrespectful if I am to implore you to do so?” Carol questioned with an eyebrow quirked.

Therese peered into Carol’s eyes in an attempt for any semblance of trickery to perhaps get her into trouble.  She did not see any malice, but simply sincerity. Perhaps Carol was hoping to shed her status for a short time.

“As you wish, my lady.” Carol arched her eyebrow at Therese and she amended her response. “As you wish…Carol.” 

The smile on Carol’s face was brighter than that of the sun that was currently shining down on the gardens before she responded with satisfaction, “Much better.”

Although Therese felt as if she already knew, nonetheless she desired to confirm her suspicions. “This little angel…is she your daughter?”

Carol’s eyes casted down to the little girl at the mention of angel. “Yes, she is.”

Therese’s eyes went between mother and daughter, taking in the similarities. The little girl’s hair was a shade darker than that of Carol’s, yet her eyes were unmistakably Carol’s. “She looks like you.”

Carol’s eyes glanced up at her.

“Around the eyes.” Therese opined vocally. 

Carol looked at her little girl again, taking her little hand in hers, and asked softly. “You think so?”

Therese nodded, even though Carol remained focused on her daughter. Therese responded to Carol’s question. “Magnificent blue.”

The blush that covered Carol’s checks when she looked back at Therese made her bold statement worth it, even if she had overstepped in her compliment.  Although, within her inner depths, she truly felt the comment would not be an overstep.

Carol then returned her attention to the little girl. “Sweet Pea…” Therese could not help but smile at the tenderness Carol exhibited for her daughter and the pet name. “What shall we say when we accidentally bump into another?”

“Apo-gies!”

Carol smiled indulgently at her daughter. “Very well.  Would you please say that to Therese?”

The little girl turned to Therese. “Apo-gies Ter-rez” Therese smiled at the girl’s efforts, crouched down once more to be eye level with her and responded, “You are forgiven, Miss Rindy.” 

“Would you care to join us for our stroll in the garden?” Came the question from Carol.  

Therese’s heart fluttered at the invitation. Carol had wanted to spend more time together, lest they could have ended their interaction there and each be on their way. “Yes. Yes, I would.”

She was gifted another brilliant smile from Carol before being asked, “I wonder if you could help me find a flower for my daughter. It is a beautiful blue flower and possesses a wonderful floral fragrance.”

“You are in search of the blue hyacinth.” Therese responded locking eyes with Carol. She looked deep into Carol’s eyes before her next comment. “A magnificent blue colour.”

With a twinge of regretfulness in her voice, she then advised the mother and daughter dual, “Unfortunately we missed the full bloom and they should have been picked by now. The bloom happens mid-spring.”

Carol let out a soft regretful sigh. “I am afraid that I have left it too long.” Carol said disappointed as she led the little girl further into the garden with Therese next to them.

“There are plenty of other flowers.” Therese stated while waving her arm in a wide gesture across the beautiful garden in an attempt to erase the disappointment.

With a shake of her head Carol explained. “I always found the smell so inviting, like that of the spring season, and desired to show Rindy. Perhaps next year then.”

They continued on their walk with Rindy holding Carol’s hand on one side and Therese walking next to Carol on the other.

“The blue hyacinth is a fragrant flower indeed.” Therese confirmed.

Carol glanced at Therese quickly and asked, “What is your favourite flower?”

“Me? I never... Not many, to be honest.” Therese stuttered. She was never interested in flowers like most girls. Her interest laid in lesser feminine activities.  Questions around her interest in feminine hobbies had always made Therese uncomfortable. As if she were irregular, not like the other girls.  

Carol looked at her with intense scrutiny as her eyes narrowed with interest. “So what attracts you?”

Therese could not be certain but the scrutiny of Carol’s eyes on her, the lowering and almost raspy quality of her voice had stirred something within Therese. This ran much deeper and felt more raw than the simple chaste kiss she had shared with Genevieve. Yet…her and Carol had not even touched.

“Horses.” Therese replied simply.

Carol was surprised as she paused in her steps to turn and fully look at Therese. “Really?” 

Therese stopped in her steps as well when she realized Carol had stopped. Carol released Rindy’s hand to allow her to run and play in the open ground as there was no one in sight and Rindy would be free to play as a child should be, without the scrutiny and judgment of all those around her.

“That is a surprise. Do you know much about horses?” Carol inquired.

“I have had the fortune to tend for few in the past. How free they are in some ways compared to humans.” Therese closed her eyes recalling how she was lucky enough to have been allowed to ride one, astride.  She can still feel the wind in her hair and how she felt as if she were floating.  She took in a deep breath through her nostrils, lifting her chest and when she released it, her eyes opened to the sight of Carol looking at her with such admiration in her eyes. 

“Have you ever rode?” She asked Carol. 

Carol nodded and was about to elaborate when Therese interrupted with another question. “Astride?” 

Carol’s eyes lit up at the suggestion and shook her head gently.  There was interest in the topic and perhaps another element behind her lit eyes.

Therese, finding a boldness she did not know that she possessed, began to describe the feeling of riding astride. She knew that many women did not ride in this manner, particularly those of Carol’s upbringing, as it was seen as unbecoming of a lady. 

“It is both a powerful and freeing feeling…” With a bit of hesitation, uncertain if she should continue, she asked Carol, “Shall I describe it for you?” 

In a soft whisper, Carol confirmed, face adorned with a smile. “Yes. If you will, I would be but grateful.” Carol looked to see that Rindy was safe and happy and then she closed her eyes possibly to imagine it herself. 

Therese began. “If you can imagine…a powerful animal between your legs, at your disposal, at your control.” 

Carol’s breathing became deep and long. Therese could not help by notice the rise and fall of the swell of Carol’s breasts with each breath she took. 

“You can push it to propel you forward with a squeeze of your legs or stop it with a pull of your hands.” Therese paused to allow Carol time to imagine the sensation.

Carol’s lips began to tug at the corners, the beginning of a smile on her mouth. Therese found ease in that smile, neither tight nor forced. She mirrored the growing smile on Carol visage.

“When you ride at full speed…” Therese closed her own eyes for a moment to recall that very feeling of riding full speed. She took in a full breath of air, held it for a slight bit and released it opening her eyes slowly. “You feel as if you are floating on a cloud with the wind rushing through your hair and caressing your body.”

Still with her eyes closed, Carol lifted her arms and spread them out. The light breeze blowing at the fabric. Therese could not help by stare at the figure before her. The wind had blown with sufficient strength so that her skirt wrapped around her legs and Therese could imagine strong yet lean legs lay beneath.

“And to ride together…with another…” Therese licked her drying lips.

Carol opened her eyes and Therese’s emerald eyes were there to greet Carol’s piercing blues. 

Therese tried to swallow, but the dryness in her mouth made it difficult.  Carol was the first to pull her gaze away and took a couple steps towards Rindy. Therese followed.

“What is the feeling of riding with another?” Carol spoke softly as she abruptly stopped and turned to face Therese while Therese was mid-step. The abruptness had Therese complete her step with little space to spare between their bodies. They were standing so close, as if they had created their own space.  Their breaths intermingling.

Therese recalled the one time she had rode together with Genevieve, they were young and she had not thought much of it at the time. Yet imagining riding with Carol, whether in front or behind her, the intimacy to be shared in that caused a flush to rise from her neck to her cheeks.

Trying to find her voice in her dry mouth, her voice came out raspy. “It is a shared intimacy…” She started to imagine Carol sitting behind her as they rode together since Carol was taller.

“The arms of the person behind…” Therese’s gaze landed on Carol’s arms and then flitted over to Carol’s narrow waist before continuing. “…holding tightly onto the waist of the person in front…” 

Carol closed her eyes slowly once more as she moved her arms to wrap around her own waist. As Carol lifted her arms, she felt Carol’s fingers barely brushing past hers. Therese could not determine if it was by accident or on purpose. The faintest touch sparked a light, as if struck by lightening and being ignited by desire. Therese’s breath caught from the sensation coupled with her imaginings. 

Her voice barely squeaked out the next description. “Bodies flush against each other…” She continued to talk as her eyes followed Carol’s blush from her cheeks down her neck. “So much so that you may feel the heart beat of one another from the contact…”

Therese’s eyes moved further down to Carol’s chest rising and falling in rapid successions now, finding the crest of her breasts had been spotted with blush. She could now feel the shallowness of her own breathing.

Unknowingly, or perhaps she had wanted to be closer to Carol, but when Carol opened her eyes, Therese found herself barely an inch away, eyes locked on each others. “Your bodies develop a rhythm as you rock back and forth, riding along…”

Carol’s breath hitched and her eyes took on a darker hue. Therese was certain her green eyes mirrored what she saw in Carol’s.

“Mama!” Rindy called out and effectively having pulled them out of their fantasy.  Carol’s eyes cut away and looked over in the direction of her daughter’s voice.

“I…”  Carol began and stopped to take a couple of deep breaths. She cleared her throat and tried again. “The sun appears to be quite warm today…” She licked her lips and clearly swallowed. "I do believe I am in need of some water,” she rasped out hoarsely. 

“Yes. Let us return to the estate.” Therese agreed breathlessly.

Carol went to take her daughters hand in hers once more and led her back down the path that they had come from. Therese followed closely, noticing how Carol had seemingly gotten closer to her, or perhaps it was Therese that was walking too closely. Their hands continued to lightly brush against each others on their return. Each brush was like two rocks chipping against each other and sparking.  Therese wondered if the sparks would amount to a lit fire.

They walked in mostly silence other than Carol pointing out different birds, flowers or plants as they passed to her daughter. 

Therese was left to her own mind. She now recalled witnessing, along side Genevieve, the night that Daphne had returned from the park…after having seen the Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset. They had loitered in the hallways a bit in case Daphne needed them. Usually they waited until they were certain that she had fallen asleep before retiring to their own chambers for rest. 

However, that night, they heard sounds soon after excusing themselves from her chambers. It was, initially a loud gasp and then some moans. They had slowly cracked the door open a bit to check in case their mistress was in distress, but not wanting to disturb the woman in case they had mis-heard. From what they were able to discern, what they found was one of her hands was most definitely under her dress and between her legs, clearly applying pressure, while her other hand had entered her night gown through the top and clearly applying pressure to her breasts.

Therese could not help but wonder if Carol also participates in such activities once the sun has set. 

“While you are here, you are free to use our horses.” Carol’s voice had broken through to her and she looked over, certain she was flushed from the memory. 

“I apologize.” She stammered as Carol's eyes held a certain amusement. “Perhaps I am a bit thirsty myself.”  Finding herself now at the front of the Aird home, she gave a slight bow and then said “Thank you Lady Aird for your hospitality. Should timing permit, I would thank you in advance for your permissions to use your horses.”

Carol offered a slight nod and started to lead Rindy back to the house while Therese stood to watch them leave before she began towards the servants quarters.

Before they arrived at the entrance of the house, Carol paused and turned back to Therese. Carol’s eyes clearly tracing the length of Therese. “I like your dress,” she said with a lilt in her voice and a smirk.

Carol turned away once more, her smile still visible as she and her daughter entered the home. 

Therese took a deep and long breath through her nostrils and breathed it slowly out in an attempt to calm her rapidly pulsing heart. She then turned and started towards the servants quarters, heart still trying to be calmed.

Chapter Text

Diana tied the last knot to secure Carol’s dress for her meal with Daphne.  “Lady Aird, shall we move to the vanity for your hair and to apply a light powder?” 

Carol nodded and moved toward the vanity where she sat in front of the mirror ready for Diana to continue. As Diana brushed through her hair, Carol’s eyes glazed over as she stared ahead, through the opened balcony doors where the sun was beginning to set. Carol’s mind drifted into the earlier parts of the day. This caused the sides of her lips to spread and a smile to form effortlessly.

She had been thrilled to receive Daphne. Much time had passed since they were in each other’s company that the girl had matured and grown so significantly into a magnificent young woman.

She shook her head and released a slight chuckle. This had earned her a stern look from Diana. Carol smiled apologetically for the movement before stilling herself once more so Diana could complete her final tasks.

With her eyes closed for Diana to dust light powder over her face and add colour to her lips, she thought about what Daphne had suggested. How she had done it herself. Touched herself in such a way. It was so bold, much more so than Carol had ever been or done.

“When you are alone…When you touch yourself…Anywhere on your body…Anywhere that gives you pleasure…between your legs.”

Daphne’s words had played through Carol’s mind as she puckered her lips for Diana to paint her lips red.

It is not as if I have a Duke that my mind can conjure, nor is my husband a suitable candidate.

She scoffed internally at the mere idea of even attempting to conjure a person to fantasize.  

“Lady Aird, I do believe you are now presentable for dinner with Miss Bridgerton.”  Diana’s voice had startled her out of her musings. 

Carol slowly opened her eyes and focused on the older woman before her. “Why thank you, Diana. I always appreciate the effort and work that you afford me when my company is requested by others.” She smiled at the older woman before taking the woman’s hands in hers. “I will miss you much when you leave me.”  

Carol’s eyes had started to water as Diana had been so very generous with her when she first arrived at the Aird house a few years ago after being wedded to Harge. She had shown Carol such kindness when she explained about the various characters that worked both inside and outside of the house and how to please them all. She explained to her of the expectations placed on the Lady of the House. For that, Carol was grateful. 

Diana and Charles were married. Their eldest was with child, so Diana had requested leave when she informed Carol of the wonderful news. Carol was happy for their family, wishing them well and offering a generous gift for when Diana would leave.  Charles, however, would continue to his work at the house.

“Lady Aird.” Diana squeezed Carol’s hands. “I have seen you grow into the Lady of the Aird house so effortlessly.”

Carol tugged on her hand a slightly. “With your help, Diana.  I could not have garnered the favour of those that serve this household, as well as those of this household, without your guidance.”

Diana shook her head in disagreement. “My lady, it is you that would have gained favour of all those around you, even in my absence. You must understand, that kindness and generosity breeds the same. You have been so kind to me and so generous to both Charles and I. We have nothing but gratitude.”

Carol pulled Diana towards her and wrapped her arms around the older woman for a hug, eliciting a gasp from Diana at the unexpected gesture of affection. 

Carol whispered in her ear, “You have been like a mother to me. I felt safe and cared for by you.” When she pulled back, in still a quiet voice she added, “If you shall ever require anything, absolutely anything, you must promise to see me.”

Diana smiled gratefully and nodded her assent. “Lady Aird, trust when I say that I will always look back on my time with you with fond memories.” Diana patted Carol’s hand with smile, “We still have several months before my departure, let us not preemptively weep.”

Carol smiled back at her. “You are correct, Diana.” Carol looked at herself in the mirror and stood while she ran her hand down her dress to smooth any wrinkles from being seated. "I shall go now.” She began to walk out of the room. 

Carol walked at a brisk pace so as not to arrive later than her guest. As she passed above the the courtyard, something, or rather, someone had caught her attention. It was the shadow of a woman. She stopped to look down and found Therese walking through at a leisurely pace.

She was indeed a vision and remained dressed in the same attire as when Carol had left her presence after their return from the gardens. The sun had began to set and she found the lighting to have accentuated the younger woman’s figure through the maid’s dress that she wore.

Carol was not able to see her eyes, but she could imagine the glow of green from the setting sun. 

“Therese!” Genevieve’s voice pierced through and Carol snapped her head in the approaching woman’s direction.

“Gen, what is the matter?” Therese asked steadily, although there was a note of panic in her tone.

Carol watched the interaction between the two women, surprised at the familiarity between them.

“I require your assistance with Miss Bridgerton’s dinner attire. Lady Aird is due to arrive shortly for their meal and we cannot have Miss Bridgerton tardy.”

Carol took note at the proximity in which Genevieve stood to Therese. She had placed her hand on the small of Therese’s back as she was urging the girl towards the guest corridors. Carol could feel her face warm and her eyes narrowing at “Gen.”

The women left quickly, leaving Carol as she stared down on the empty courtyard in contemplation.  Why had she reacted in such a way while observing the two women’s interaction? It truly has no consequence to her how familiar the women were with one another.

“Gen,” Carol repeated to herself quietly.

She felt it. A pang of something that resided in her. A reaction that she was not able to place. 

Perhaps it was a reaction to such affectionate display in public.

Carol attempted to rationalize for herself. Yet, she, herself had displayed even more overt affection to both Abby and Daphne in past, clinging onto their arms. That light touch was much more intimate than holding another’s arm. The intimacy of the touch was what had gnawed at her.

But why am I bothered by that? Whatever exists between the two women is none of my business.

Her thoughts became firm as she set her jaw and released a long breath. She shook her head to rid herself of the ridiculousness of it all. 

“Dinner!” She exclaimed loudly.  She had been so consumed to understand her reaction that she would now be late to supper.  Carol began a brisk pace towards the dining room. 

As she was about to enter, she heard a loud “Mama!” from her left. Rindy had appeared and ran straight into her, wrapping her arms around her leg as best she could through Carol’s skirt. Carol unhooked the little arms and bent down to give her girl a kiss on top of her head. 

“Sweet Pea.” Carol smiled at Rindy. “ Are you hungry? We have a feast waiting in there for you.” Rindy nodded profusely.

Carol leaned back, stood back up, ran a quick hand through her skirt again to smooth any potential wrinkles. Once content with her appearance, she took Rindy’s little hand in hers and they strode into the dining room. When they entered, Carol immediately noticed Daphne by the window with her gaze directed at the garden they had visited earlier in the day. 

“Daphne. We apologize for our tardiness.” Carol used her most mock distinguished voice.

Daphne laughed a hearty laugh. “Oh Lady Aird.” Daphne teased with a lilt in her voice at Carol’s title. If they were to be formal, Carol should have referred to her by Miss Bridgerton. “I am certain we both know that habits are much difficult to alter. And my friend…” Daphne paused before she dramatically wagged her finger at Carol, “…You have always been the Queen of Tardy.”

Carol dropped her head back and laughed heartily. With her free hand that was not holding onto Rindy’s, she gestured to their seats. “Please, my dear. Take a seat to your liking. We shall begin dinner shortly after we are seated.”

Daphne moved to sit in the seat opposite that of Rindy’s and adjacent to the head of the table, where Carol had perched herself.

“Miss Rindy, it is so nice to make your acquaintance again.” Daphne nodded towards the little girl.  

“Miss Bridge Ton,” Rindy slowly tried to say as she continued to have trouble with certain syllables.

Daphne winked at Rindy and offered playfully, “I like how you say my name Miss Rindy. I shall endeavour to have others begin to refer to me as such.”

Carol watched the exchange between Daphne and her daughter. It warmed her to see how Daphne put in so much effort to gain her little girl’s favour. For as long as she had known Daphne, the girl had always wanted to have children of her own. The smile that adorned her face as Daphne banters with Rindy was truly heartwarming. She hoped the rumour of the Duke was not true. It would break her heart to see Daphne childless.

The first course had arrived.

“Please help yourself Daphne.” Carol said before she turned to Rindy and began to feed her the soup. Carol had always insisted that she feed Rindy. She wanted to perform duties typical of a mother with her child and she felt bonded to Rindy whenever she did. 

Daphne shook head with a smile as she watched Carol feed her daughter. “Carol, you were always so very nurturing to me, where Abby would tease me.  It seems to have carried through to motherhood. I am happy for you.”

“Thank you. Rindy is my everything.” Carol smiled at the child as she continued to feed her. “Speaking of child rearing. Have you thoughts on the matter? I know you have always wanted to be a mother.”

“That has not changed.” Daphne looked at Rindy and smiled.

Carol took a deep breath to ready herself to tell her dear friend what she had heard. “I know it not my place,” she started slowly and turned to face Daphne. “But I care so very much for you Daphne…and your happiness”.

Daphne’s eyes grew concerned and uncertain, particularly as Carol’s tone had taken on something more grave than it had been just moments ago. Daphne nodded her assent for Carol to proceed. 

Carol sucked in a breath. “The rumour that I have heard...is that the Duke of Hastings cannot sire an heir.” Daphne gasped and leaned back on her chair. 

“No. That…” Daphne stuttered. “That cannot be.” Daphne started to shake her head in disagreement. “You must have heard incorrect, Carol. How can that be?” She asked in disbelief. “The Duke is strong and he is healthy,” she continued to justify. “It is impossible.”

Carol dropped the spoon in her hand and took Daphne’s hand in comfort. “My dear Daphne. I hope it is merely rumours as well. I only said anything at all as I know how important motherhood is for you.” Carol squeezed her friend’s hand to offer her support. “Perhaps it is something to discuss with the Duke. It may be simply that…a rumour.” Carol tried to offer a helpful note. 

Carol continued in her somber tone. “I thought it prudent to inform you of what I had heard. So that you may make an informed decision.” With a pat on Daphne’s hand, Carol returned to feeding Rindy.

“I much appreciate your information, Carol. I shall take this up with the Duke on our next meeting. I certainly hope it is nothing but a rumour.” Daphne clutched her heart with one hand and her other hand strayed over her stomach. “But I must admit, my heart breaks a little at the thought, if in fact he truly cannot sire an heir.”

Carol looked sympathetically at her friend. "Mine as well."

The dishes were cleared and the main course was served next. Carol handed Rindy a spoon to feed herself. However, as expected, for a child her age, she mostly entertained herself by dropping food on the floor.

Daphne took a bite of her of her food and when she finished she asked, “Now, enough about me. Tell me, do you plan on bearing more children?” 

“Not particularly.” Carol replied immediately and honestly. “The process is not quite enjoyable even if the result…” Carol looked down at Rindy and smiled. “…Is a gift that I will forever be grateful.” 

Daphne placed her hand on Carol’s with eyes that had gathered some tears. “I am so very glad you have found joy in motherhood, my dear Carol.”

Carol offered a small nod with a slight bittersweet smile.

“Abigail will join our party tomorrow, is that true?” Daphne asked Carol in a cheerful voice and effectively changed the topic to something more joyful.

“Yes. Our trio is once more united. It will be quite nostalgic, Daphne. This will be the first time I have had her company since my wedding.” Carol smirked, “I do often contemplate if she continues to find herself in the company of…” 

With Carol’s voice trailing off, Daphne released a loud chuckle, unable to contain her mirth. “We still correspond and she advises that she remains an admirer of beauty.”

Carol now laughed heartily at the thought of Abby. After Abby’s parents had passed, and without siblings, she became the sole heir of the Gerhard estate.  Without the watchful eyes of her mother, she was free to indulge in her proclivities for beautiful women.

Beautiful women.

“Have you thought much about marriage?” Carol asked curiously.

Daphne chuckled. “Of course. I would not have debuted if that was not playing on my mind.”

“Will you take any of the Bridgerton servants with you to your married house?” 

Daphne began eying her friend with curiosity for the line of questioning as Carol busied herself with wiping Rindy’s mouth of food. “Why yes…of course,” she responded slowly.

Carol continued to avoid eye contact while she held a fork of food to her lips and asked easily, “You have two maids. Do you intend to keep both in service after you wed?” She took a quick bite before she returned her attention to Rindy.

Daphne donned a knowing smile. She leaned forward and placed her hand on Carol’s. For the first time since this line of conversation began, Carol was forced to look at Daphne. With a raised eyebrow, Daphne questioned teasingly, “Are you interested in…obtaining…one of my ladies?”

“My dear Daphne, I am only but curious.” Carol narrowed her eyes playfully at her friend. “As you know, I did not come with anyone when I married here. It would be helpful to have alliances.”

“Carol, you should bestow more credit on your friend.” Daphne leaned back and scoffed with disappointment and offence. “You are most definitely not in idle thought.”   

Carol averted her eyes in shame of her deception of her friend along with the desirous thoughts that have plagued her mind throughout the day.

Daphne leaned forward again and replaced her soft hand on Carol’s arm now. “I took note of your gaze. When you caught sight of…”

Carol looked at Daphne and her eyes begged her to not complete that thought.

Daphne smiled gently at her friend and responded to Carol’s original question. “My wonderfully proper Carol, I do intend to only keep one of my maids after I wed.”

Carol nodded her acknowledgement.

“That would leave one lady for the taking.  If there are no takers, she may find herself out of work.” Daphne lightly teases.

Carol cleared her throat before she offered a strangled, “I see.” 

“Let us visit another topic for the evening, shall we? When shall you grace me with your company at my home? My family often asks of you.” Then more playfully, she adds with a wink, “Particularly my brother, Anthony.” 

Carol blushed shaking her head. The Bridgerton brothers, particularly Anthony, and even Colin, had always paid her attention.  However, her family insisted that she be married into the Aird family as they held grand titles in the court, whereas the Bridgerton’s were only wealthy. Perhaps she could have been happier with one of them. They were handsome and wonderful men.

Then again, so is Harge. 

“They always fancied you, Carol…more than any other woman. It is a shame we were not granted the opportunity to be one family.” Daphne added regretfully.

Carol squeezed her friend’s arm. “We are. You will forever be a sister of mine.” 

“And I shall visit. Perhaps a few days before your wedding to the Duke so that I may learn more of your courtship.” Carol teasingly added to the delight of Daphne.

They soon finished their meal. With Rindy yawning, Carol excused herself and her daughter from the table and bid her friend farewell for the evening. They will reunite with another member of their sisterhood tomorrow morning.

Carol insisted on carrying her daughter without assistance to Rindy’s room to lay her down for the night.  She preferred these small moments of motherhood. She often envied the peasants for their simplicity and their intimacy with one another. Within her family, and most wealthy families, there was a lack of intimacy. 

With the exception of the Bridgerton’s.

She chuckled softly at the thought, not wanting to wake her daughter, but also finding the thought amusing. Perhaps that was the draw when she was younger, to spend time with them and Abby. They had what she sought.

Once the soft and even breathing from her daughter commenced, she moved to cover the little girl in a light sheet for the warm night ahead. She leaned in and placed a tender kiss on the child’s forehead. 

“Pleasant dreams, Sweet Pea,” she whispered.

Walking gingerly to the door, she exited the room quietly to the sound of her daughter’s soft breathing. As Carol approached her bed chambers, Diana, as always, was present and greeted her. “Lady Aird, I have laid out a summer nightgown for you on your bed.” 

“Thank you, Diana.” Carol smiled at Diana. “I will only need assistance to unlace. I shall undress myself tonight.”

Diana closed the door to the chambers and then approached Carol’s form from behind. As she did the night before, she unlaced the dress and corset before stepping back to announce, “I shall take my leave for the night My Lady.”

Carol looked over her shoulder and responded, “Enjoy the rest of your night Diana” 

Carol returned her gaze forward, out to her balcony and into the dark skies above. When she heard the large doors to her chamber close after Diana’s exit, she shrugged her dress off her shoulders and allowed the dress to fall to the floor. She slowly reached behind her back to loosen the corset further before she pulled it down her body and then unclasped her bra, letting both items land on the floor on top of the dress. In just her panties, she brought the discarded items to the chair before the mirror. She removed the pins and ties in her hair and shook her head to let her hair fall before moving back to her bed towards the nightgown that Diana had selected for her.

She picked up the article and ran her fingers through the fabric. It was soft and light, perfect for the summer night. She smiled before she pulled the nightgown over her head and let it fall down her body.

The soft and cool fabric felt wonderful as it caressed her body in its descent.

With the balcony doors open and the air of the summer night warming her chambers, she decided to step out once again tonight, as she had done last night, to be wrapped in that warmth.

As soon as she stepped out, she wrapped her arms around her torso and looked up to the dark skies and stars. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. This was her time of peace.

She had stood there for some time before a rustling below stirred her from her peace and she opened her eyes. There was a figure, but she could not clearly make out the woman. But a woman she was certain from the flow of her dress.

Finally the figure stepped into the moonlight.

*gasps*

It was Therese. Carol had gasped loud enough in the silent night to be heard by Therese as the woman below tiled her head towards the balcony to see Carol.

Therese remained in her day attire, except she had removed her apron. Without the additional article, she looked even more beautiful as the white fabric no longer distracted her observer or placed her of a lower class. She held an elegance that not many in her station displayed.

Carol could feel the breeze through the thin fabric of her nightgown and the moon has now moved slightly behind her. She could see her shadow before her and knew that, from below, any observer would have little doubt as to her figure under the nightgown. 

It was most definitely difficult to see into each other’s eyes in the dark, but Carol knew with certainty that when she looked down at Therese, their eyes had locked.

At that moment, the wind blew through and tousled Carol’s hair. She leaned back and rolled her head to move the hair from her face. When she refocused her gaze down on Therese, she could see that her chest was heaving. 

Neither diverting their gaze, Carol drew her fingers up and played with the string of her nightgown. It was instinctive. She paid no thought as to what she was doing. All she could feel was the thudding of her heart against her chest and the desire for her fingers to be occupied.

She let her instincts reign, letting the string fall through her fingers while pulling lightly on it. A gust of wind blew past once more and this time had loosened her nightgown so much that the left shoulder had dropped, revealing her bare shoulder. 

Knowing Therese’s eyes were still on her and seeing the shadow of Therese’s hand move to her stomach, Carol brought her hand up to slowly glide it up her arm and slide the shoulder piece back to place. Her pulse quickened and she could feel the heat of her blood coursing through her body, pooling at her core. She could feel herself throbbing from just the knowledge of Therese’s eyes on her and most probably following the path of her fingers.

Unintentionally, she slide her tongue out and licked her lips. She could see Therese’s lips pucker in the moonlight and this had caused her chest to rise and fall more rapidly. 

She leaned over the railing with a playful smile. As she leaned in, she felt the pull of her nightgown against the railing, taut against her body and her nipples pebbled against the fabric. She had nothing under her nightgown, and under the moonlight, it was almost certain that Therese had noticed this because she could have sworn she hard a small gasp from below. 

Perhaps I should ask her to…

Before she could finish her thought or admonished herself for potentially entertaining an idea that should not be permitted to form in the first place…

“Therese!” Came a very harsh but loud whisper. This broke the spell between them and Therese reluctantly turned to face the approaching woman.

“Miss Bridgerton is turning in now and we are needed to assist her with wardrobe and hair.”  The woman said with an urgency.

“Yes.” Carol heard Therese’s immediate response before she began to follow Genevieve towards the guest wing of the house.

“Therese.” Carol breathed. 

Therese glanced back up to meet her eyes as she walked away, almost as if she had heard Carol. With a slight nod and soft smile on her face, Carol watched her receding form. Once Therese disappeared from view, Carol remained staring in that direction. 

She intrigues me.

She took her hands and smoothed out the ruffles in her night gown from the warm breeze and leaning against the railing. As she trailed her hand down her nightgown to her stomach, her breathing became long and deep. Daphne’s words played again for the second time that evening.

“When you are alone…When you touch yourself…Anywhere on your body…Anywhere that gives you pleasure…”

Her hand trailed down further, until she reached just a touch above the apex of her legs and torso.

“…between your legs,” Daphne’s words rang in her ears.

She gasped at the thought and feeling.

"No! I cannot think that. I am married." Carol reprimanded herself.

Deeply inhaling the warm night air, she made a quick turn and entered her chambers again as she closed the balcony doors behind her. Carol walked to her bed and threw down her covers. She sat for a brief moment at the edge of her bed.

“When you are alone,” Daphne’s words repeated in her mind once more, but slower this time, as if to guide her in this journey.

She reached one hand back to touch the top of her neck. 

Maybe I should lend credence to Daphne’s suggestion. It is only me in this room after all and not as if I will act upon my obvious desires.

She was of sound enough mind to accept that she in fact desired Therese. The tips of her finger drummed the back of her neck gently before she planted them down firmly.  Her breath had started to come out in hot puffs. She slid her hand down her neck and then traced her fingers along her collarbone before closing her eyes slowly and  feathering her fingers down lightly between her breasts as she moved to lay down. Her breathing had become a touch more laboured. She rested her head on her pillow as she pulled her legs up onto her bed, letting them fall naturally to the side.

“When you touch yourself…” Daphne’s voice instructed her further.

Even through the thin fabric of her nightgown, Carol could feel her body warm with each syllable that had come from Daphne earlier in the day. 

Her nipples were erect from earlier in the balcony and she could feel its strain.  She moved her hand to untie her nightgown, allowing it to loosen around her.

“Anywhere on your body…”  

Her hand moved over her nightgown to touch her hardened nipple. She cupped her breasts and could feel its peak poking at the centre of palm. She lightly trailed her hand down the front of her nightgown, feeling the rise and fall of her stomach, until she arrived once again above the apex of her thighs. Her fingers lazily drew patterns a touch above where all her blood had pooled and had begun to pulse. She closed her eyes, trying to fight the urge to continue. Yet her hand ceased drawing and had moved to assist her in lifting her gown to above her waist.

“Anywhere that gives you pleasure…”

Her nipples. That had given her pleasure when she touched it. She took her left hand to enter her nightgown from the top, which was now loosened. She felt her warm skin against her hand as she moved her hand back to cup her breast. With her nipples hard, her fingertips brushed lightly against the one, feeling the tautness of it. She tweaked her hardened nipple.

"Ohhh..." she moaned.

Yes. That certainly felt good.

Her eyes closed and she began to roll her nipple between her fingers. Her breath became more shallow as her ministrations continued on her own body.

“…between your legs.” Daphne’s voice continued.

At the memory of those words, Carol slowly opened her eyes. With her left hand, she continued to massage her breast and her fingers continued to roll her nipple, while her right hand slid from her trembling stomach down further. She found her entrance, now slick and warm. 

She took in a breath and brushed her hand over her engorged bundle of nerves. 

*gasp*

Her body spasmed from the jolt of the light touch.

Oh God! That felt magnificent!

The feeling was so wonderful that she repeated it a several more times.

“I was thinking of the Duke.” Daphne had told her.

Immediately, Carol’s mind moved to thoughts of Therese as her fingers brushed over her entrance.

“If you can imagine…a powerful animal between your legs, at your disposal, at your control.” 

Therese’s voice entered her mind now and she could picture the young woman between her legs. With her eyes closed she spread her legs wider and slipped a single finger into herself.

“Ugh…” Carol let out an audible groan at the entry of her finger. 

After the initial sensation of her own finger, she began to thrust. Her hips moved with the rhythm she has created.

“You can push it to propel you forward with a squeeze of your legs or stop it with a pull of your hands.”  

Therese’s voice continued to coax her to be bolder as she was dripping now and needed more. She added another finger on her next thrust.

“Ahhh….” Carol let out as her back arched up to meet her thrust. Her fingers felt her folds, felt her warmth, and felt the tightness of her body from years of inactivity.

“When you ride at full speed…” 

Carol began to thrust her fingers now with vigor. Her hips moving quickly against her fingers. Her body was heated up to the point that she could feel a light film of sweat on her skin.

“The arms of the person behind…” 

At that memory, Carol was reminded of her hand at her breast and started to massage her breasts, imaging that it was Therese’s hands that were on her…that was massaging her from behind. Her breathing had become hard and shallow.

“Your bodies develop a rhythm as you rock back and forth, riding along…”

She was rocking hard now and could feel the slight shifting of the bed beneath her. She felt her laboured breathing, as if she was gasping for air.

“You feel as if you are floating on a cloud with the wind rushing through your hair and caressing your body.”

She imagined Therese leaning close to her ear and whispering this hotly against her skin. 

That was when Carol removed her hand from her breast and grabbed a pillow to put over her mouth as she could feel the pressure building within her and did not want to be heard by anyone. Carol’s body began to spasm as she muffled her loud groan into the pillow she had brought up. 

The hand between her legs was now wet from her release and her body limp from the exertion. 

As her breathing began to regulate, she lifted her hand that had entered her only moments ago. She closed her eyes and thought how it was Therese that she had imagined while bringing herself ecstasy.  

Perhaps I will speak with Abby tomorrow.

That was her last thought before she drew her nightgown back over her body and sleep claimed her.

Chapter Text

The sun had begun to slowly descend as the temperature cooled from the day.

Where could Daphne’s necklace be? I was certain I placed it by the vanity this morning after she had left for breakfast with Carol.

Therese internally chastised herself for referring to the woman as Carol, even in her thoughts. 

It had been a busy day. Therese and Genevieve had assisted with Daphne’s attire, make-up, and hair for breakfast and then later for lunch.  They were setting out a dress for dinner with accompanying jewelry. Therese searched the room, examining the many luggages that accompanied them on this trip.

“There it is!” Therese exclaimed. Genevieve snapped her head over to her.  Therese held up the necklace from one of the three jewelry boxes that they brought with them. She laid the last item on the vanity table before she joined Genevieve on the other side of the room.

“Are we sufficiently prepared for Miss Bridgerton’s return?” Therese asked.

Genevieve nodded her head and opened her mouth to respond but she was interrupted by the hustle of people moving towards their room. A few servants had rushed by their room towards another one down the hall.  

“She is very dashing.” Therese overhead one of the young women say as they rushed by the door.

“Dashing? Is that not how you would describe a man?” Another woman asked.

The woman giggled. “Well she is certainly dressed as a proper lady should…but there is something in her gaze...in her tone. She is most certainly charming and…dashing.”

“They must be speaking of Miss Gerhard.” Genevieve explained with a smirk.

Therese looked back at Genevieve with curious eyes. Genevieve simply chucked before trying to further explain her previous comment. “You will see should you have the great good fortune of meeting Miss Abigail Gerhard.”

Therese had not the opportunity to meet Abby yet. The last time Daphne was in the company of her cousin occurred immediately before Therese began at the Bridgerton estate.

Genevieve and Therese looked at each other when they heard voices filtering through the hallway. It was most definitely Daphne’s voice that she heard. There was another woman’s voice that was unrecognizable yet had a playfulness to it.  And then of course Carol’s, a sultry voice with a hint of amusement. Perhaps it was from something said because all three could be heard laughing.

“Well, ladies. This is my chambers.”  Daphne said as she stalled before the doors leading into her room.

“Shall we enter to assess and critique the great Lady Aird on her hospitality efforts?” This third voice must be Abby’s. That was the first thought that entered Therese's mind because Abby had been due to arrive in the afternoon.

When the women stepped in, Genevieve and Therese were ready to greet them.  

Therese’s eyes immediately landed on Carol but she made haste to bow her head in a quick greeting.  As she did, her eyes scanned Carol from head to toe, taking in as much details as possible.

Today, Carol had worn beautiful pale green dress and adorning her neck was a stunning pendant that brought attention to the centre of her chest as it hung just above the swells of her breasts.

Therese's mind immediately carried her back to the night before, when she had looked upon a balcony and was struck by the beauty that looked back at her.

The moonlight had beautifully framed Carol in a way that was both incredibly elegant and at the same time, with great allure. She remembered the feeling of awe that overcame her. The feeling was then replaced by shock when she found Carol’s gaze directly on her. She was not able to clearly see her eyes as they were too far apart and it was much too dark, but she knew Carol’s eyes were on her. She warmed instantly as she felt the eyes trace down her body. As she felt Carol's gaze and saw Carol's hand move over her own body on that balcony, desire was soon the only feeling that coursed through her.  The moonlight that lit Carol left little to Therese’s imagination.  Therese had felt her own laboured breathing witnessing what was before her. The heat that had started at her cheeks had moved down her neck, her chest, her stomach and settled stubbornly at the apex of her legs, as her eyes followed Carol’s hands. She remembered the weakness that she felt resulting in a shuddering breath that she tried to quell with a hand on her stomach. However, any calmness or steadiness that had manifested was immediately halted as Carol leaned towards the railing and she could swear that she saw Carol’s nipples straining against the nightgown, and the sight had caused Therese to gasp. At that moment, fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Genevieve had called her to return to help with Daphne’s nightgown.  

These memories from last night flooded Therese’s mind as soon as she laid eyes on Carol and she could feel the heat from her blood rise and the pink spread on her cheeks. By the time she lifted her head, she caught Carol’s gaze on her. Carol had one of her perfectly scalped eyebrow slightly lifted in amusement.  This caused Therese’s blush to deepen. 

“Genevieve," the voice brought Therese's attention to the woman that she was unfamiliar with. "So good to see you again.” The woman said in perhaps one of the most seductive tone that Therese had ever heard.  Therese glanced at Genevieve and witnessed her friend was deeply flushed. 

Genevieve cleared her throat before she began. “It is wonderful to make your acquaintance again Miss Gerhard.” 

Ah, this is the infamously charming and dashing Abigail Gerhard. I can see the reason behind Gen's words as well as the other women that had passed by earlier.

However, seeing how Genevieve had blushed so brightly, Therese briefly wondered if something had transpired between the two women. Although Therese was no expert, the simple kiss from Genevieve she had received prior to this visit had not felt as if it was her first. 

After greeting Genevieve, Abby turned to Therese and she could feel the heat from Abby’s gaze. “Enchanté.” Abby started and had clearly moved on to flirt with Therese. She reached out her hand, about to take Therese's when Carol cleared her throat, which abruptly halted any further advancements from Abby and the woman retracted her hand.

“Shall we move to the balcony?” Carol inquired and guided Abby past Therese towards the balcony.  

Abby laughed, "My my Lady Aird, I did not realize your strength. It must be from carrying around your daughter.  You did not possess this level of strength the last time we were in each other's company."

Daphne followed behind the two women towards the balcony. However, as she passed Therese, she gave her a curious look that caused Therese to feel another wave of a blush settling once more on her face. She was uncertain of the reason her body was reacting in such a way. Perhaps it was from Abby's unabashed attention or the curious eyes from Daphne. However, more than likely, it was from Carol’s ushering of Abby away from her and towards the balcony with such force.

“This is truly a stunning view, Carol. Does my chambers offer such a view as well?” Therese heard Abby commenting.

Carol’s laughter rang through and warmed Therese’s heart immediately.  “Of course. I could not play favourites amongst my two best friends,” came the amused reply.

“I had quite appreciated the magnificent moonlit scenery before us and the wonderful peaceful quality of the night when I stepped out last night.” Daphne admitted before she continued, “You shall enjoy it too, cousin.” 

“I shall…” Abby’s voice had trailed off.  “It would be more pleasant with some company, I presume.” Abby’s voice was suggestive.

“Abigail, you will behave while in my home.” Carol offered a teasing remark in faux reprimand.

Carol leaned her back against the railing, her gaze landed squarely on Therese. Their eyes locked briefly as Carol commented softly, “I agree. The view is truly magnificent.” Both women broke eye contact immediately after the words were uttered and Carol looked up toward the sky attempting to relieve the tension that had occurred a mere moment before.

Therese moved onto busying herself in Daphne’s room but was attempting to focus on the women's conversation outside.

“Abigail…” Carol began hesitantly before she took in a breath and continued. "How do you find…” Carol trailed off for a brief moment again before finally completing her thought. "...your company these days?”

Therese thought that the pauses were quite odd and decided to peer in the women's direction discretely to better observe the conversation.

“And why is it that Lady Aird has taken an interest in ‘my company’ of late?” Abby teased.

All three women laugh at that. 

“I do believe our companion may be entertaining thoughts of similar company,” Daphne supplied.  Immediately Abby’s eyes snapped back towards Carol’s. 

“Are you not Carol?” Daphne prompted. Abby’s gaze then fell on Therese. She was uncertain if it was by chance or not. When she realized this, she quickly diverted her attention away from the women as to not appear suspicious. When she broke eye contact with Abby, the woman had released an amused chuckle before she heard her ask, “Carol, it would not be someone of this chambers, now would it?”

Therese was much too frightened to look at the women in that moment, and busied herself tidying up the room even though everything was in its place. Unfortunately, she could not hear anything after the posed question, until Abby spoke again. “I think everyone should at least experience it once.” 

Abby's voice had caused Therese to return her eyes to the trio, when she caught Carol's eyes on her again. 

*Ahem* Abby cleared her throat loudly, which startled Therese and she turned away from Carol.

“Carol, I will need to freshen up a bit. Let us leave Daphne to prepare, as should we, for dinner.” Abby suggested.

"Yes. Let us leave." Carol agreed and led the women back into the room. As Carol walked by her to leave, she held Therese’s gaze briefly before it was much too difficult to do so without drawing any attention. When Therese was finally able to pull her eyes from the doorway that Carol had exited only moments ago, she turned to find Daphne looking curiously at her once more.

“Shall we begin to prepare?” Daphne asked. Both Therese and Genevieve nodded and began their work.

As they were fitting Daphne with a new corset for her evening dress, Daphne began to speak. “As you both know, I have recently debuted and in short time will likely marry.”  The women nodded their understanding as they continued to tie the laces of the corset on Daphne.

“I intend to have one of you accompany me to my new home when this occurs.” She turned to face Therese and Genevieve. “Are there any concerns with accompanying me? I understand fully if you are unable to due to various commitments.” 

However, before both women could respond, Daphne added, “The one that does not accompany me, I have spoken to some of my friends who could take you.” For some reason, Therese noticed that Daphne was looking in her direction, as if her comment had been made specifically for Therese. They both nodded and Daphne smiled at the acknowledgement.

“Let us discuss this further when we are back home.” Then she winked at Therese, “Perhaps decisions can be made by the time we leave Carol Aird’s home.”

Therese could feel Genevieve's eyes on her as well now and the insinuation of the statement was clearly not lost on her. Therese immediately flushed.

“Now, shall we make haste with my preparations for dinner? I do not want to be tardy meeting with the Lady of the Manor.” At that comment, the women moved quickly to finish their task.

After Daphne had departed for her evening supper with Carol and Abby, Therese and Genevieve proceeded towards the hall to have their dinners with the other servants.

“Had something transpired between yourself and Miss Gerhard?” Therese asked Genevieve as they walked towards the dining hall.  Therese was genuinely curious as her friend's interaction with Abby spoke of some level of familiarity.

Genevieve blushed. “Yes.” 

Therese eyed her friend to press her to continue. Genevieve started, “We met before you came to work for the Bridgerton family.”

Genevieve continued with her volume significantly dropped, “I was in the courtyard observing the flowers in bloom when Miss Gerhard had approached me.  I was not aware of her visit and her company in the courtyard came as a surprise. It happened that she had come for an unexpected visit that afternoon.”

“She had kissed me ever so briefly.” Genevieve blushed such a deep red at the admission that Therese had to smile at how affected her friend was by this kiss. 

“Was it that magnificent to cause such a reaction, Gen?” Therese teased and nudged her shoulder playfully into Genevieve as they neared the dining hall.

“She was very flirty…is very flirty.” Genevieve replied. Then a smirk curved on her lips as she glanced to catch Therese’s eye “And a very good kisser indeed.” Therese chuckled softly as they entered the hall and took a seat at one of the tables.

“Good evening ladies,” Diana greeted them both and sat down next to Therese, opposite to Genevieve.

“Good evening,” they greeted Diana in unison.

“How are you ladies finding the estate?  Are you enjoying your visit here?” she asked.

“It is quite beautiful and everyone is so lovely,” Genevieve smiled at one the many servants that had gone out of their way to be so gracious in hosting them.

Diana gave a genuine smile at Genevieve's comment. “Thank you for your kind words. I am glad to hear that. Everyone here is indeed a generous and kind soul. You do not find that in a lot of places. Trust me.” 

They were soon served their meals. Before taking her bite, Diana began to speak again. “I understand that Miss Bridgerton may marry soon. Do either of you intend to follow her?”

Therese and Genevieve looked at each other, uncertain of how to respond.  Therese found it quite interesting how they had a similar conversation with Daphne moments ago as well. Perhaps one of these “friends” that Daphne alluded to upstairs could be Carol.

Diana smiled kindly. “I only ask because I am preparing for my leave from the Aird estate and found you two ladies to be a pleasure to have around and utterly respectful. Should Miss Bridgerton not take either of you, it would be a pleasure to name you for when I leave, to be maid to Lady Aird.”

Therese was able to hear her heart beating in her ears as the words from Diana filtered through her mind. 

A maid to Lady Aird.

That would include helping her in her chambers with her attire…with her bathing. She could feel the heat rising to her cheeks and likely colouring it a nice shade of pink. She had to train her head down to her lap in hopes that she could control her reaction. 

“I believe Miss Bridgerton would be taking only one of us with her. However, your offer is so very generous. That certainly would be wonderful as everyone here has been so lovely. It would be an honour to serve Lady Aird.” Genevieve responded in kind. 

Therese was thankful for Genevieve’s response. It had given her some additional time to force those images of Carol out of her mind and to subdue the physical reaction that she had from it. When Therese finally looked up, she found Diana’s gaze on her and so she offered her sentiments as well.

“Yes, it would be lovely to join in the Aird household and serve Lady Aird.” Therese stated as neutrally as her voice would allow. She could feel that her cheeks had cooled significantly and was likely only tinted a touch of pink.

“Wonderful to hear.” Diana smiled happily. Perhaps she was happy because she felt that she had found a suitable replacement in either Therese or Genevieve. 

Diana continued, “Should you need anything, please let me know. I am more than happy to guide and direct you around our grounds.”

At that moment, Therese remembered that Carol had given her permission to visit the stables. She had been quite flustered from hearing of opportunities to work for Carol that she needed some time to reflect and think. Horses had always been a source of calming for her. “May I ask where the stables are located?” she asked Diana.

Diana looked at her curiously. “Would you like to visit?”

“Lady Aird had granted me permissions yesterday to visit the horses during our stay.” Therese turned away from Diana, somehow feeling a bit embarrassed by this admission. She felt her cheeks colour again.

“I see.” Diana responded and smiled warmly at her. “Well, it is merely past the garden, towards the entrance of the estate.  I do not think you can miss it.”

Therese met Diana’s eyes and gave her genuine thanks. “Thank you.” 

They finished their meals with comfortable chatter and decided to retire to their room until needed to assist Daphne for the night. Therese laid on her bed in the shared room with Genevieve.  

“Therese, does the prospect of working as a maid to Lady Aird interest you?” Genevieve sat up from her bed and asked.

Unable to respond and knowing that her friend would be able to read her thoughts, she tried to avoid eye contact with Genevieve. After a brief pause, Genevieve continued slowly, “I merely want to caution…” 

Her head snapped up at the word caution to see where Genevieve was going with this line of thought.

“…Lady Aird is different than Miss Gerhard. She is married…With a child.”  Therese looked on and nodded for Genevieve to continue.

“Relations with such a Lady may be…problematic. It is very different than relations with Miss Gerhard." Genevieve gently concluded.

“What are you implying Gen?” Therese asked carefully.

“Therese. We have been friends since we were children. I can see that you have an interest with Lady Aird and so I want to make you aware of…”

Therese shot Genevieve a reproachful look. “Gen. I understand the repercussions.  There is nothing between us.” 

“Not yet…” Genevieve went on to correct Therese's response. After a brief pause, Genevieve released a breath. “I simply want you to be careful.”

Therese released a sigh and offered her friend an apologetic look. “I apologize Gen, for my reaction. I understand where your heart is and I appreciate your concern. I will be mindful of what you have alluded to.” 

Genevieve walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “That is all I ask.”

Therese patted her hand. “I think I will visit the stables on the grounds.” She did not plan to ride, as it was much too late.  However, she loved horses and simply wanted the comforts afforded by them.

“You have always been interested in horses.” Genevieve offered a slight chuckle. “Perhaps you should try being more interested in humans.” She gave Therese a wink and then yawned. "I think I will rest for a bit before Miss Bridgerton requires our assistance.”

Therese stood and began to leave. “I will return shortly.”

When she stepped outside, the warm night’s air wrapped around her. She closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and took in a deep breath of fresh air before releasing it slowly and opening her eyes to the sky above.

She began walking through the garden. As she passed the area that her and Carol walked by the day before, she could not help but remember how beautiful Carol had stood there, eyes closed, as she described the thrill of riding a horse. The memory heated her cheeks for an unknown amount of time today and she could feel herself flush under the moonlight as she continued walking towards the stables.

When she finally arrived at the stables and entered, immediately, one of the horses stood out to her. It had the most striking blonde hair and such a beautiful mane. It looked over at her and neighed softly, nodding its head, encouraging her to touch it and greet it.

“Hello.” Therese arrived before it and reached out to run her fingers through the horse’s mane.  Normally the mane is much more coarse, but on this horse, it is somehow still quite soft to the touch. The horse nuzzled into her hand its greeting.  She moved her hand to its body and started to pet it. Its coat was incredibly soft and felt so luxurious when she ran her fingers through.  She moved both hands back to the horse’s head and cradled it.

“And what is your name? Hmm? You are absolutely stunning.” Therese beamed at the horse.

“Her name is Carolyn,” came the smooth low timbre of the voice that came from the entrance of the stable.

Therese did not need to look to know that it was Carol. 

“Lady Aird.” Therese gave a slight nod as a greeting in Carol's direction. “I apologize for not being aware you had arrived.” She took note of how the moonlight had enveloped Carol’s body, giving her an ethereal quality that made her shine even more brightly.

“Oh that is quite alright Therese. Further, it is only us two here.  You need not refer to me as Lady Aird.  Carol will suffice.”

Carol offered her a beautifully arresting smile. Therese blushed and looked away. She began to stroke Carolyn again, while strenuously attempting to remove the image of Carol running her hand down her body in the moonlight the previous night from her mind. 

“Why are you here so late, Therese?” Carol asked with a lilt in her voice as she began towards her.

When she saw Carol’s caring eyes on her, she was unable to hold it as it had felt too much for her. So, she moved her gaze back to Carolyn and continued to stroke her magnificent coat. Therese closed her eyes and was brought to a peaceful place in her mind. “It is just…I find peace and calm in the stables with the horses at night. When the night air is cooler and all is quiet. I apologize. I should have asked.” 

“Do not apologize. You are welcome here at anytime of the day.” Carol confirmed.

At Carol’s voice, Therese opened her eyes and smiled at Carol. As if the calming effect of the horses had worked, without breaking eye contact with Carol this time, she began, “I have been attempting to... A friend of mine told me that I should be more interested in humans.”

Carol threw her head back and chuckled wholeheartedly before she asked, “And how are you finding that?”

Therese gazed deeply into Carol’s eyes and replied softly, “Well actually.”

Carol smiled at her and acknowledged just as softly, “I’m glad.”

Therese returned to her focus to the horse. Her fingers threaded through her coat, feeling the softness of the hairs slide between her fingers.

That was when she felt the hairs on her body stand as Carol had moved directly behind her. Carol stood with barely an inch between their bodies, which caused hers to stiffen at the proximity. Therese was suddenly hyperaware of the air around them, crackling with possibility. Therese continued to stroke through Carolyn’s shiny blonde coat when she felt Carol’s fingers trace over hers before covering hand completely. Therese’s throat became dry and she gulped, attempting to swallow.

“That’s beautiful.” Carol commented. Therese was not certain if she was referring to Carolyn’s coat or something else. Regardless of the uncertainty, her pulse quickened as Carol continued to guide her hand through the silky coat on Carolyn as the horse neighed her approval for each stroke.

“Is that what you want to do? Take care of horses?” Carol asked as she slid her fingers in-between Therese’s while applying steady pressure on her hand to guide it along the horse’s body.

“I - I think so. If I - I have the opportunity.” Therese stammered through from the flustered frenzy she had been worked into from Carol’s proximity. “Unfortunately, it is a man’s job.” Therese relented. 

Carol leaned into her, with her lips just barely touching Therese’s ear and causing a tremble through Therese’s body. Carol’s hot breath caressed her ear as she spoke softly, “Is that not something other people can allow you to do? All you can do is keep asking. You have to do what feels right and throw away the rest.”

Therese’s knees went weak when Carol took an unexpected step closer to her and effectively removing any space between their bodies. Carol’s body was flush against Therese’s. It was fortunate for Therese that Carol was taller and perhaps stronger because she wrapped her free arm around Therese’s waist to steady her. 

Still with her lips close to Therese’s ear, she asked, “Will you show me how to ride?”

Therese’s breath hitched as she nodded once and replied, “Sure.” She felt powerless against Carol and finally relented. She leaned back into Carol’s body and heard a  breath release next to her ear as their bodies rested against each other.

Letting out a shaky breath, Therese continued, “I mean, it has been awhile. I do not have one nor access to one in recent years. Nevertheless, I am confident that I could show you how to ride.” 

She leaned further into Carol’s body, “Demonstrate and guide you.”

She felt Carol’s hand on her waist grip her a touch tighter and pulled a bit closer at those words.

“Lady Aird! Lady Aird!” Charles’ voice came booming from afar. The two women jumped back, although Carol kept her hand still on Therese’s hand that remained on the horse. Therese turned her head to face Carol. Both were flushed and their chests were heaving. 

Carol went to remove her hand from Therese’s slowly as her finger tips ghosted across Therese’s hand. 

Carol looked towards the entrance of the stables as Charles approached.

“Miss Rindy has awoken from a dream in a fairly distressed state and would like your company,” Charles advised Carol upon his entrance.

“Thank you Charles.”  Carol started to walk towards Charles to exit the stables when she abruptly turned back. Her eyes looked directly into Therese’s, unwavering, as she addressed Charles. “Miss Therese Belivet, here, is granted unrestricted access to the stables, horses and any of our riding equipment.  Please ensure she can ride as she pleases while Miss Bridgerton is visiting us.”

“Noted, Lady Aird. I will ensure that Miss Belivet has all she needs to go riding at her will.” Charles nodded his acknowledgement.

“Let us begin back to see Rindy, Charles.  Please make haste your return and I shall follow shortly.” Carol stated and effectively ushered him out.

Immediately after Charles left, Carol turned back to Therese.

“Thank you, Lady Aird, for your hospitality. I shall hope that there will be an opportunity to ride during this visit.” Therese nodded.

“Should that happen, I expect an invitation to join you Miss Belivet.” Carol winked at her.  And with that Carol turned to leave.  Therese felt the heat build within her once again tonight, the flush of her cheeks in the wake of her exchange with Carol, and the throbbing at her centre from their intimate contact.  

Control yourself. You cannot act like an animal in heat. Especially not towards the Lady of the House.

Therese thought to herself as she watched Carol’s retreating form.

“Not yet.” Genevieve’s words rang in her ear. 

It is a shame that the guest chambers for the servants are shared.  This will be another difficult night to get through without release. Perhaps it is the lack of release that had caused all the tension building between herself and Carol. That must be it she attempted to justify weakly.

The pull to Carol was undeniable. There was certainly a force that was pulling them together. Therese's head was powerless to stop her heart. 

She released a long shuddering breath and shook her head in resignation before she ran her fingers through Carolyn’s mane one last time. “I hope to see you again soon, Carolyn. Perhaps I shall take you and the Lady for a ride.”

With that, she left the stables and returned to the house for the night. Tomorrow will be another busy day, if not the busiest. It will be Miss Rindy Aird’s ball. No doubt a lot to prepare for in order to properly have Daphne presentable. 

She would need sleep tonight and the hot summer air was doing nothing to cool the heat building within her each time she crossed paths with Carol.

I am curious to see what Carol shall be wearing tomorrow for the ball. She will no doubt look exquisite.

Chapter Text

“Should that happen, I expect an invitation to join you, Miss Belivet.”

She had winked. She had flirted. And that was the first thought that entered Carol’s mind when she woke the next morning.

The memories and sensations from the night before of the exchange played in her mind as Diana helped her dress for the morning to meet with Daphne and Abby.  She would enjoy her morning meal with her friends before preparing herself to greet the guests as they arrive for Rindy’s ball.

“Does my eyes deceive me?” Abby said as she clutched her chest dramatically when Carol entered the dining hall. “The Lady is in fact quite tardy this morning.” 

“Abigail, please. I was not able to sleep well last night and would appreciate some sympathy from those I call, friend.” Carol retorted playfully.

Daphne chuckled. “Alright, enough the both of you. Let us enjoy our morning meal before Carol is whisked away to attend to her guests as they arrive and I am tasked with keeping my cousin out of trouble.” Daphne narrowed her eyes at Abby.

“Do not turn this on me, little cousin. I do believe you owe me a story about the one and only Duke of Hastings, which I may add that Lady Aird here has already been privy to.  I had thought blood was thicker than water.” Abby chided.

“Are you suggesting that I am not family?” Carol feigned hurt.

“You know that is not what I meant.” Abby rolled her eyes.

“Of course not.” Carol laughed easily.

Daphne laughed and patted Abby’s arm. “Enough, we do not have sufficient time to spend together let alone waste such precious time on nonsense. We can banter when things settle.”

Daphne addressed her cousin, “Abigail, I shall recount on my…encounters and discussions with the Duke after we depart from Carol’s company.” Daphne then turned her focus to Carol. “Until then, I believe Lady Aird may have some items to share.  Do you not?”

Their breakfast was brought in for them. Daphne and Abby began to eat.

Carol lifted her fork to her mouth, but before consuming the food, she attempted to divert the question. “Heavens, what are you referring to Daphne?”

Daphne raised a questioning eyebrow at her friend. “You do not recall that the room you have me situated has the balcony facing the stables?”

Carol winced as she now recalled the particular location of the stable in respect to Daphne’s balcony. She had not considered that anyone would notice her, or anyone really, visiting the stables last night.

Both Abby and Daphne looked at her expectantly.

“Yes. I craved the night’s quiet and peace and found my way to the stable last night.” Carol admitted off-handedly before taking a bite of food.

“You must have saw Therese there.” Daphne stated slowly and carefully.  

The scrutiny from Daphne made Carol blush. 

“I did.” Carol admitted and averted her eyes from Daphne, “We had a brief chat before we parted ways.”

Once again, Abby and Daphne waited patiently for Carol to continue but she had no desire to disclose the specific happenings that had occurred within the stable.

Daphne released a resigned sigh before she offered gently, “Carol, I want you to consider what I had offered. I have noticed the manner in which she appraises you as well. It is no difference than what I had witnessed from you to her. If…”

Carol quickly interrupted her, “I…” She paused and then sighed herself, as she knew her friend was only attempting to provide aid. “Daphne, I appreciate your offer. I sincerely do.  However, I have not yet given much thought on Diana’s replacement.” 

Carol placed her hand over Daphne’s to convey her appreciation. “I assure you that I shall truly ponder on this suggestion. I am grateful for your friendship, my dear Daphne.”

Daphne offered her smile and nodded, essentially bringing that thread of conversation to an end as they moved onto less serious topics while finishing up their meals.

Abby finished her last bite and looked at her friends. “I shall need a change of attire before visiting the gardens with Daphne.  Shall we begin towards our chambers?”

Daphne nodded, “I as well. Let us make haste so that we are not late in our return to Miss Rindy’s ball.”

Carol smiled at her friends, “I shall accompany you both back to your rooms to further extend our time together.”

“That sounds delightful.” Daphne beamed as they began to stand to leave.

As they made their way to Daphne’s and Abby’s guest quarters, Carol spotted Therese through the open door of Daphne’s room, setting out Daphne’s dresses and undergarments for the day.

For the briefest of moments, their eyes locked as Carol stood by the door to bid Daphne farewell. Flitting thoughts entered Carol’s mind as to whether she should prolong her time at Daphne’s or if she should return to her own chambers to change herself.  However, in her peripheral vision, she had caught sight of Daphne’s and Abby’s curious eyes on her and she quickly decided to part ways immediately.  

With a quick turn, she inadvertently ran into one of the servants that was delivering the laundered articles from the previous day.  The articles fell from her hands and the servant quickly offered their apologies.

“A…Apologies Lady Aird.  I will immediately gather the items off the floor,” the servant says hastily as she began to bend to pick up the dropped articles.

“It is quite alright, Catherine. The fault was mine as I was not paying mind to my surroundings.” Carol offered the girl a soft smile. “Take your time. I shall take my leave now.”

Carol turned away from the guest corridor and began her return to her chambers as Catherine quickly gathered items in her arms and rushed away from the scene. 

After she arrived to her room, Carol immediately laid on her bed and closed her eyes. She rested until she heard a rapping at the door. 

“Come in,” she invited from her bed. 

It was Diana.  She had not realized how long she had laid in bed until she saw Diana enter.  It must have been later in the afternoon.

Diana arrived at Carol’s side to assist her in putting her hair up in a bun before she was to enter the bath that was being set out for her. Carol began to strip of her day attire with Diana’s assistance in loosening any laces for ease of removal.  She discarded each item on the floor until she was completely naked and stepped into the bath, lowering herself slowly to soak. 

Diana began to help her wash. “Lady Aird, I have laid out the undergarments, dress and jewelry for the evening.  Are you agreeable to the selection?”

“I am certain your choices are most agreeable to me, Diana.” Carol smiled with her eyes closed  as she relaxed into the water.  “Nevertheless, I appreciate the thought that you have always placed in your preparations to make me presentable.  I shall see the items after the bath.” 

Carol slowly opened her eyes to look at her maid.  “Thank you. As always.”

“It is truly my pleasure, Lady Aird.” Diana responded in kind before she continued, “Have you given much thought as to your next Lady Maid?”

“Do you have a suggestion?” Carol asked.

“I understand that Miss Bridgerton shall soon wed and only intends to have one of her maids accompany her.  That would leave the other young lady without a job and potentially home.” Diana said with a note sympathy.  Carol’s thoughts immediately went to Therese and her conversations with Daphne during her visit thus far.

Diana continued with her train of thought, “Both young women are exceptional, holding a level of decorum, yet still maintaining the ability to work cohesively and collegially with others. I would like to suggest that one of the two could come assist you.”

Despite feeling her heart pulse as if it will pound a hole through the cavity of her chest, she smiled warmly with minimal evidence of stress. “Miss Bridgerton had also suggested that I do this.  I shall give it further thought.”

Diana smiled as she finished helping Carol wash and draped the washcloth over the side of the bath. “They are wonderful women and I am certain they will provide magnificent assistance to you.”

Carol smiled and patted Diana’s hand feeling grateful to have someone who so genuinely cared about her wellbeing. She slowly stood from the bath and stepped out into Diana’s towel held out for her.  Once Carol was dried, Diana then began to assist her with the undergarments that she would wear for the evening. Carol’s eyes roamed over the dress, jewelry, and accessories laid out for her. 

“Diana, what gloves shall I don for tonight?” Carol looked around in case she had missed the gloves on her initial scan of the attire for the evening. “Have those been laid out?”

Diana looked over to the outfit laid before them and shook her head. “Oh dear. I thought I had it out. Apologies, my lady. The gloves I had planned for your outfit were to be laundered.  This morning they were lost. There are several searching for them at this moment as it is likely to have slipped from the laundered items.  If we are unable to locate the gloves before this evening, I have another pair of gloves that would also be suitable for your evening attire.”

“I am certain your selection will be divine.” Carol beamed.

*knock* *knock* *knock*

“Come in.” Carol instructed loudly so that the person could hear through the closed door.

“Diana, we are in need of your assistance.  Are you available to accompany me?” Catherine sped through trying to catch her breath.

“Diana, you should go with them to assist in whatever it is that they require.  I can rest a bit until your return. I still have much time before I am required to appear,” Carol urged.

“Yes, my lady.  In that case, I shall take my leave,” Diana responded and turned to follow Catherine out of the room.

Carol stood in her underwear hovering above the corset laid out for her. It was beautifully stitched. Her fingers brushed against the material, feeling the soft silk slide along her fingertips. She moved her fingers towards the lace and let it slip through her fingers. 

Maybe I can put this on without Diana’s assistance.

She picked up the material, laid the front against her body, and began to connect the hooks adorning the busk along the front.

*knock* *knock* *knock*

“Come in,” she said while still working on her third hook from the top of the corset when she heard the door slowly open. She thought it would be Diana and had not bothered to look up at her visitor.

“Hello, Lady Aird…” the voice began to greet her from the door.

Carol snapped her head up to find herself facing Therese as her voice trailed off and Carol caught Therese’s eyes roaming her body almost unconsciously.

Carol immediately flushed a red as she was only in her undergarments.

“Therese,” she breathed.

Therese snapped out of her gaze at the sound of Carol’s voice and moved to look Carol in the eyes. “Apologies, Lady Aird. My presence may have startled you as it is quite unexpected.” Therese then pulled out a pair of gloves from behind her. “I believe these belong to you, my lady.”

Carol looked at her bewildered. “How did you know?”

Therese held the gloves in one hand and ran the gloves through her grasp in her other as she replied. “The softness of the material…” she paused, letting the silk gloves glide through her fingers. This gesture had brought Carol’s attention to Therese’s hand.

“…And I recalled your hands,” she opened her palm and laid the palm of the glove over her own. 

“Further, it laid in the location of the fallen articles from earlier today outside of Miss Bridgerton’s chambers,” Therese continued.

Unconsciously, Carol released her fingers from hooks on the corset to clasp her hands together, which kept her fingers busy.

“I thought I would bring them to you to confirm,” Therese concluded. 

“These are in fact mine.” Carol breathed as she moved her eyes away from Therese’s hand to connect with Therese’s eyes. “Thank you,” Carol whispered. 

Therese smiled but then her gaze had moved over Carol’s half done corset and once again caused heat to rise to her cheeks.

“You’re welcome” Therese responded demurely.

Therese nodded her head towards the undone corset. “I can help you with that, Lady Aird…That is if you would allow me.” 

Carol’s desire to have Therese close and touching her was much too overwhelming and tempting to pass on, and so Carol nodded her assent for Therese to assist her.

With their eyes locked, Therese made slow steps towards Carol. When she arrived in front of Carol, standing no more than a couple inches apart, she dropped the gloves in her hands on to the vanity table. 

Hands freed, Therese slid her forefingers slowly down both sides of the ribs on the front of the corset.

Carol tried to control her breathing, but it was a failed attempt since all she could feel was her heart racing. She knew that she had to focus, otherwise even her breathing would become a very laboured task.

Therese began to unhook the first hook that Carol had attached at the top of the corset. “When hooking the coset together from the front…” Therese began to explain as Carol closed her eyes.

Breathe in.

Carol attempted to guide herself as Therese’s fingers slid down to the next hook and snapped it open. “It is best to start from the middle…”

Breathe out.

Therese finished by unhooking the last hook on Carol’s corset. “And to work outwards from there.” 

*gasp*

Carol gasped at the touch, as she felt the pressure from Therese’s finger through her thin chemise that she wore beneath the corset. Therese trailed one finger down the open centre now, as the corset laid open. Carol’s skin tingled and ignited as the finger made its way down the centre of her torso.

As Therese’s finger moved down Carol, it paused at the middle hook and lingered. “Let us begin from the centre, now shall we?”

Therese began to connect the middle hook on the corset and worked her way outwards.

As she began to link the hooks above and below the centre, the sensations were becoming much too overwhelming for Carol, even with her closed eyes. Her attempt to control her breathing were becoming increasingly difficult as deft fingers made slow work of the hooks. Every briefest of touch caused the heat in her to rise. Carol was not certain of her level of self control that she possessed if these actions from Therese continued.

“Done.” Therese offered gently as she looked at the connected hooks on Carol.

At Therese’s exclamation, Carol slowly opened her eyes to find Therese’s gazing into hers. Carol could clearly see a note of desire in the gaze and was certain that hers reflected the same. She could see the rise and fall of Therese’s chest and knew that their interaction was affecting the young woman greatly as well.

Therese broke eye contact with Carol while she trailed her hand along Carol’s ribs as she walked slowly behind her. “Now, we will need to lace the corset.” 

When Therese stood directly behind her, she placed both hands on Carol’s waist and leaned up to whisper in Carol’s ear, “You may need to brace yourself.”

The hot breath that caressed her ears and the insinuation caused Carol to take in a sharp breath as she stood facing her vanity with her hands on her front and ready to brace herself against the table, if needed.

Before Carol could prepare herself further, Therese slid both hands along her waist back towards the lace before lifting her touch to take hold of the lacing at the bottom. With a firm tug on the lace, Therese began to cinch Carol at the waist. The jolt from the tug set Carol slightly off balance and she had slightly brushed against Therese’s body. This shock reverberated to her core with an ever slight twitch. 

Therese moved up to the next rung with the laces, but before she pulled this time, she ran her finger down the opening on Carol’s back that would soon be sealed after the next tug. Carol could feel Therese securing her grip before she leaned up from behind Carol and began to whisper slowly, “Let me know…”. 

*tug*

Therese gave a strong tug of the lace before continuing, “If it is too tight, Lady Aird.” 

Unable to control herself, Carol released a soft moan and quickly bit her lip, inhaling through her flared nostrils. The light twitch from before has now built to a steady pulse between her legs.

The next tug had Carol release a gentle grunt.  Then the next was another soft moan. As Therese continued to lace her way up the corset, each tug had Carol reeling.  She was no longer able to control her physical reactions. By the time Therese arrived near the top, on the last tug, Carol collapsed forward, hinging at the hips and bracing herself against the table of her vanity. Her legs were weak and her core was most certainly moist from desire. Her chest was rising and falling in rapid succession and she was unable to control her breathing or her heart rate.

The past couple of days had held such tension whenever Therese was in her vicinity that this simple donning of a corset has caused such a reaction in her.  

Therese finally completed her task and securely tied the lace of her corset tight. 

“Will you allow me to assist with your garter, Lady Aird?” Therese asked from behind her as Carol began to straighten and stand upright again.

Carol bit her bottom lip and all she could do was nod her assent.  She knew she should have declined. She knew that this was dangerous now. However, she was unable to quell her need and that need drove her to agree to whatever it was the Therese offered.

Therese moved to stand in front of Carol and slowly began to descend into a crouched position, with her hands gliding down Carol’s right leg with the garter strap running through her fingers. As Therese moved to settle around the height of where Carol’s legs met her body, she could feel the heat and moisture continue to build from the younger woman’s delicate, yet provocative  touch. 

Therese’s fingers brushed over her thigh as she finished tying the strap to Carol’s stocking.

“There. Now the other,” Therese said as she lightly trailed her fingertips back up the leg. She paused as she approached the apex of Carol’s legs. The pause and intensity of Therese’s gaze at her core caused a flood to be released from Carol along with a guttural moan. She could feel that she was filled with exceeding want in that moment. 

However, with some deliberation, the woman continued her ascent. Therese trailed her fingers across her stomach and then down the other leg. She began to tie the other strap in the same manner.

When Therese was done, she looked up at Carol and slowly stood to make her way behind her again. Once behind her, they both looked into the mirror in front of them as Therese placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, to which Carol slowly reached up to take.  

The feel of Therese’s hand in hers felt so very soft and inviting...and natural.  She did not want to let go. 

*creak*

The sound of the door opening to her chambers made her quickly release Therese’s hand and the young woman had stepped back a couple of paces. 

It was Diana entering and she eyed Therese curiously when she caught sight of her in the room with Carol. Therese offered immediately, “I had found Lady Aird’s gloves and went to return them to her.  However, when I had arrived she was having trouble with her corset and I offered to help.”

“Lady Aird, are you well?” Diana asked with concern. 

At the question, Carol immediately felt the heat on her face and realized how flushed she must be. “Yes, Diana.  Do not be concerned over me.  Perhaps the lacing was a bit overwhelming, but Therese had assisted on that front and I feel much better.”

“Very well, Lady Aird.” Diana acquiesced.

“I shall take my leave then.” Therese announced looking at Carol, to which she simply nodded.  Therese then turned to exit the room.

After the door closed, Diana approached Carol slow, “Lady Aird?” 

“Yes, Diana?” Carol asked without facing her maid.

Diana paused for a brief moment before she asked, “Is anything the matter?”

Carol shook her head and croaked out, “No.”

Diana placed her hand gently on Carol’s shoulder from behind. “If I may, my lady.” 

Carol nodded and so Diana continued. “When there is a strong connection with someone, perhaps that is something worth exploring.” Carol snapped her head back to at Diana, almost frightened.

Diana offered her a kind smile. “You will have a need for a maid.  Perhaps, it may be worthwhile to suggest a potential pick with Miss Bridgerton prior to her departure tomorrow morning.”

Carol, reached up to touched Diana’s hand, much in a similar fashion as what she had done with Therese earlier, except that this gesture was bathed in nurture and comfort whereas with Therese, it was laced with desire. “Thank you, Diana.” 

“Let us make haste to prepare you for the ball.” Diana quickly helped Carol into her dress and began working on her hair and make-up.

Once done, Carol left her chambers and began straight to the ballroom. Upon entry, she saw Rindy, who had come running straight towards her. “Mama.” 

“Sweet Pea! You look magnificent.” She beamed at her daughter.  She took Rindy’s hand and guided the little girl along with her. “Let us greet our guests that have come to wish you well.” 

Soon after Carol’s arrival, Harge entered the room and joined them. The evening passed by in similar fashion to their wedding when the newlyweds had greeted all the guests that had made their way to attend the event. 

When the sun began to set, Carol excused herself to lay Rindy to sleep before returning once more to the ballroom to host the remaining guests of the evening. 

As she approached the ballroom, she caught a glimpse of a figure below the courtyard. Without having a good look, she knew who it was.  It was Therese. She paused in her steps to regard the younger woman. Therese was truly beautiful, particularly under the moonlight.

“You want to tell me about her?” She was startled by Abby’s voice.

“Therese? She returned my gloves.” Carol shrugged.

“And…” Abby attempted to prompt.

“And, if we do not make our way back to the ballroom soon, I will not have to worry about being a mindful host because the remaining guests would have all left.” Carol attempted to deflect in humour. 

As they continued towards the ballroom, Carol paused briefly to turn to her best friend. “I am certain that I do not need to voice anything to you my dear Abigail. I believe you know my mind.” 

Abby placed a gentle hand on Carol’s forearm, “And heart. We have shared much my dear friend.  You are family and I will always be with you.”

Carol patted Abby’s hand and smiled at her.

When they entered the ballroom, Carol found Harge with a group of people, standing particularly close to a fairly young woman with his hand hovered near the small of her back.  Carol knew that this woman would likely accompany her husband tonight.  It did not bother her like it did the other wives. She did not particularly take pleasure in providing him with the carnal pleasures of marriage and was in fact glad that he was able to seek that elsewhere. Harge had treated her well and she was grateful.  They seemed to have an understanding.

Abby started to pull on Carol’s arm and before she knew it, she was in front of Daphne.  “How are you enjoying the ball Daphne?” Carol asked.

“Carol, darling, I am enjoying the ball just fine.” Daphne responded with much playful exaggeration.

“You appear to be bored, cousin. You should have invited the Duke of Hastings to join you on this trip.” Abby retorted  suggestively.

“But as what? Surely there is not a valid rationale for him to have followed me here.” Daphne countered.

However, even with the playfulness of the cousins, Carol was distracted and her eyes focused on her gloves. She swallowed hard before she spoke. 

“Your maids…” Carol looked around before she continued, “You are only intending to take one of your two with you after you wed. Is that still accurate?”

The question appeared to have caught Daphne off guard. Perhaps it was quite surprising to discuss such matters in this moment. “Of course…” Daphne eyed Carol curiously while she avoided eye contact with Daphne and began to wring her hands.  

Daphne continued casually, “I only intend to bring with me Genevieve and she has accepted. If you could provide a good home for Therese, I can discuss that with her upon our return to my family’s estate.”

The sides of Carol’s lips began to spread and a look of gratitude came over her as she regarded her friend. “Why, yes. If that is a possibility.”

Daphne nodded. “I shall make it happen.”

Abby looked around to see only a handful of people left. “I am quite tired. I will be turning in for the night. I look forward to visiting you both tomorrow before we part ways once more.” 

Daphne also turned to Carol to bid her farewell. “Yes. I shall retire as well.  I will see you tomorrow morning Carol.”

As her best friends left for the night, there was only the woman who was clearly waiting for Harge at the end of the hall.  

Harge started to approach her. “Carol, I will retire now.  Have a good night, darling.” Harge leaned in and gave Carol a chaste kiss on the lips in farewell.

Carol reciprocated the kiss. “You as well, Harge. Good night."

Carol returned to her chambers and with Diana’s help changed into her nightgown. As she fell asleep, thoughts of Therese filtered through her mind and the possibilities for what could be if Therese was agreeable of the arrangement, to be Carol’s maid. She did not want to have her hopes high, but nevertheless she felt an excitement that she had never felt before along with a dread of the potential consequences should matters continue to escalate between them.

Chapter Text

“Would you be agreeable to join the Aird’s as Carol’s maid after I am wed?”  

Daphne had casually asked as soon as they had returned to the Bridgerton residence. Therese remembered that she had, with haste, accepted upon the completion of the inquiry from Daphne. 

The thought of accompanying Carol back to her home both frightened and excited Therese. She was anxious. She understood her place in the Bridgerton household. Despite the thrill of working so closely…intimately with Carol, there exists numerous unknowns. Therese was nervous about the others that worked the residence and their dynamic. Although everyone was lovely when they had visited previously, to reside permanently in the household is much different.

These thoughts continued to move through Therese’s mind as she gripped the lace on the last rung of the corset and pulled it closed, tying it at the top.

“Thank you, Therese,” Daphne looked over her shoulder at her and smiled.

At that moment, Genevieve brought the white wedding dress from the dresser and walked it towards them. The dress was held before Daphne as she ran her fingers along the embroidered dress.  

“I dare not believe this day has at last arrived,” Daphne whispered out loud to herself. Her fingers made its way to the last of the embroidery when she looked up at the other two women. 

A slow grin began to spread. “I will marry the Duke of Hastings today,” she said with conviction.

Therese and Genevieve each took a hand of Daphne’s in theirs and gave it a congratulatory squeeze.

Therese felt a warm smile start to spread as scenes of her time at the Bridgerton residence played through her mind. Daphne was not only her employer, she had also become a friend of sorts. Often, Daphne would converse with Genevieve and herself about her experiences, her thoughts, and her dreams. Perhaps her and Genevieve were not threatening as they were her servants and not of importance if they knew of intimate details about her.  However, what was more likely was that Daphne considered them her friends. 

“Let us begin. I trust you will transform me into a beautiful bride today,” Daphne teased.

The women laughed as Therese took one side of the dress and Genevieve held the other side, both flanking Daphne, as they slide the dress onto Daphne’s body. Once on, Genevieve began to secure the dress close while Therese straightened the dress and dusted any particles which clung to the material.

*knock* *knock* *knock*

“Please enter,” Daphne called out.

The door creaked open and when Therese saw the beginnings of blonde hair, she could feel her eyes focus with greater intensity towards the doorway and her heart began to beat faster in anticipation that it was…

“Carol!” Daphne called out when Carol’s head had fully peeked through the now opened door.

“Daphne, this will be the final time that I will be in the company of one Miss Daphne Bridgerton. Henceforth, you should be the Duchess of Hastings and more formality must be had between us.” Carol teased. 

“My dear friend, you shall never adopt such formalities with me. Promise me,” Daphne demanded.

As Carol approached the bride, she locked eyes with Therese and held her gaze for a moment before she nodded and Therese returned the acknowledgement. Carol quickly blinked and turned her attention to Genevieve where she gave Genevieve a quick nod as well in greeting.

Genevieve and Therese stepped back as Daphne stepped forward with outstretched hands to welcome Carol.

“Carol.” Daphne smiled and pulled her friend into tight hug.  “How lovely to see you.  Abby should be arriving shortly.”

“Wonderful. We shall keep the other out of trouble as you wed your charming Duke,” Carol teased.

Daphne chuckled, “Has he discussed the dull artwork that his family donated?”

Carol’s eyes twinkled as she shook her head in the negative, “No. He greeted us on arrival and we conversed quickly about your visit and our friendship before he was whisked away to attend to official duties. The Duke is indeed a wonderfully charming gentleman.” 

Carol took Daphne’s hands in hers, “You will be happy. I am certain.” 

Daphne’s eyes took on a distant, slight sorrowful gaze, as tears brimmed her eyes and she looked up to the ceiling before responding to Carol. “He is unable to sire a child. He confirmed as much.” Daphne released a sigh. 

Carol looked at her friend and shook her head before letting out a pained but soft whisper, “Oh. Daphne.”

She turned back to Carol,“I love him. And for him, I am willing to be barren.” 

Carol pulled her younger friend close for a hug and asked softly, “Will you be happy? I know your strong desire of motherhood.”

Daphne gave a slight nod against Carol’s shoulder, “I still have that desire. Yet I love him more more. So long as I am with him, I know I will be happy.”

Carol leaned back and smiled. “Then that is all that matters.” She released Daphne and looked just slightly over her shoulder. She caught Therese’s eyes and held her gaze for a moment. 

*ahem*

Daphne cleared her throat, which broke their momentary trance. Carol returned her attention to her friend, “I shall take my leave so that you can continue with preparations.”  

Daphne nodded and Carol released her friend, turned around, and walked towards the door to exit.

Therese watched as Carol exited the room, simply mesmerized at how her body glided gracefully towards the door.

“Are you ready to leave with her this afternoon?” Genevieve whispered softly to Therese. 

Therese nodded slowly and whispered back, “Yes.” 

“Therese.” Daphne interrupted their quiet conversation. “Shall we walk a bit?” Daphne asked as her eyes held the slightest of apprehension.

“We need to help you prepare, Miss Bridgerton.  Our time is quite limited.” Therese responded.

“That can be done in a bit. I dare say we have as much time as I desire.” Daphne gave a mischievous smile, “They cannot proceed with the wedding in the absence of my presence, my dear.”

Daphne placed a soft hand on her forearm and smiled. “I want to stroll the grounds quickly with you as this may be the last time we converse, as you will accompany Lady Aird back to her residence later today. Once the wedding begins, we are unlikely to have the opportunity again.”

She smiled in return, “Then yes, my lady. Let us stroll for a moment.”

“I shall display the items as you walk Miss Bridgerton.” Genevieve added with a smile.

“That would be wonderful, Genevieve. Thank you,” Daphne replied.

Daphne returned her gaze to Therese and asked, “Shall we?” 

Therese responded with a nod, “Yes.”  

They started out the door and into the courtyard.  The day was simply stunning. The sun shone brightly as if to greet the soon-to-be newlyweds.  There was a freshness to the air while the birds flew about. Therese was admiring and taking in the beauty before her.

“Are you ready to leave Therese?” Daphne asked, her eyes trained ahead as they strolled through the back of the home and away from where guests were arriving.

“When is one ever ready to leave what has been home for so long, my Lady?” Therese smiled. The Bridgerton’s home had truly been that for her. 

Daphne reached out and grabbed her arm to halt her. When Therese paused and took in her surroundings, she found that they were indeed far from the home and any other human. “That is very kind of you to say, Therese. It has been such a pleasure to have you work for me.”    

Therese remembered how Daphne had welcomed her wholeheartedly when she first arrived. She truly would miss her and her best friend Genevieve, who would be accompanying Daphne to the Duke’s residence. “My belongings are prepared for travel to the Aird’s later today.”

“I know we talked about your working for Carol and I have no doubt that you will be happy there,” Daphne started.

Therese could not help but smile at the mention of Carol’s name. “I am fortunate that you have found me another home, Miss Bridgerton.” 

Daphne shook her head with a grin of her own. “You must know I would have found a new home for you, even if not for Carol.”

Therese looked at her employer with wide eyes full of gratitude for their time together and how Daphne had treated her and cared for her. “I know. And it is much appreciated. I am touched. Truly.”

Daphne knitted her brows in thought and began slowly, “My dear friend…Carol…”. She took a deep breath and appeared to contemplate on how to continue as Therese looked on expectantly.

“…She may seem without a care in the world or possess the mental fortitude of a General in an army, but I assure you, she is fragile,” Daphne continued.

Daphne took one of Therese’s hands into both hers and held it for a moment before she patted her hand a few times and looked up at Therese, “I do hope that you can bring her some happiness and companionship.”

“Miss Bridgerton…” Therese began.

“Therese.” Daphne interrupted firmly. “Do not think that I have not noticed your interactions with Carol,” she continued. 

“My lady, I assure you…” Therese tried again to explain herself when Daphne tugged on her hand and looked at her, eyes encouraging.

Therese closed her eyes and took a deep breath before releasing it and opening her eyes to look directly at Daphne. There was no use in denying it. “I…I understand,” she acknowledged. 

“Therese. At the end of the day, Carol is my family. Further, I dare say, that I have also seen her pay close attention to you…”  

At this comment, Therese’s eyes opened wider in shock.

“Please do not seem so surprised. I am certain you must have ascertained some inclination of Carol’s interest,” Daphne continued.

Therese averted her eyes towards the ground and acknowledged softly, “I…I do have a sense that perhaps my feelings could have been reciprocated.”

“All I ask is that you make her happy,” Daphne implored. 

Therese tried to assure her. “I will do my best. Please believe me.”

Daphne looked at her earnestly before she simply stated, “I do.” Then she smiled and began to guide Therese back to the house. “Now, let us return. There is much to do.”

“Yes, Miss Bridgerton,” Therese responded. 

The rest of the morning continued with much hustle and bustle as they finished with the rest of Daphne’s wedding attire, accessories, and makeup.  Once ready, they walked Daphne to the chapel where the ceremony would take place. When they arrived at the entrance, Anthony Bridgerton, Daphne’s brother, was currently waiting. 

Genevieve and Therese left Daphne with her brother before taking their leave. However, they did not return to their rooms immediately, they had wanted to see Daphne wed her charming Duke and so they swiftly, but quietly, made their way to the side of the Chapel where they could view the procession through a window. 

As Anthony and Daphne began to make their way down the aisle, Daphne had a wonderful smile as she held onto her brother’s arm. Anthony had been chosen to give her away as their father had passed. Anthony’s chest was puffed and head held high. A truly dashing and charming man that was clearly happy for his sister. As they continued to walk, Therese took in the sight of Daphne, as they were too busy with their task at hand earlier to admire Daphne dressed in her entire ensemble.

Daphne was in a gorgeous white silk dress with white embroidered flowers and a long silk tulle veil, complete with a diamond tiara. She truly was the embodiment of innocent beauty.  

Therese tracked Daphne’s approach to the front when she passed the pew that sat Carol. Seated next to Carol was a man that Therese recognized as her husband, Harge, and on the other side of Carol was Abby. It appeared that their daughter did not accompany them to this event. With Carol seated, it was difficult to appraise her blue gown, although it was evident that she had changed from when she visited Daphne in her chambers earlier. Regardless, the blue had brought out the brilliant blue in her eyes.

Carol had caught her eye in that instant as her attention was in the general direction of the window. Theirs eyes locked momentarily and Therese could feel her heart begin to speed.

“Dearly beloved…” The head of the church began. 

The boom of his voice had effectively snapped both Carol’s and Therese’s attention to the front. However, before she was able to direct her attention to the front, Therese had caught Harge’s narrowed eyes.  In that quick moment, he had reached over to place his hand on Carol’s and gripped it, causing her to pull her attention to him and smile, patting him on the hand before returning her focus to the front of the alter where Daphne was being married.

When the ceremony completed, both Therese and Genevieve began their return to their respective chambers to complete their packing as that afternoon both would depart from the Bridgerton residence and proceed to their new homes, Genevieve with Daphne and the Duke of Hastings, while Therese was to accompany the Aird’s.

Therese was mostly complete when she arrived at her room. She had began the process one week prior and had only needed to verify that she had in fact packed all her belongings. Once satisfied, she left her room to visit with Genevieve. She softly knocked on Genevieve’s door. 

“Please enter,” came Genevieve’s voice from inside.

Therese opened the door and entered as Genevieve continued to move quickly around her space. “Gen, have you competed your packing? I would like to walk the grounds a final time before leaving later today. Would you like to join?”

“I am afraid that I cannot accompany you. I have much more to pack and will likely spend the remaining time doing so.” Genevieve said as she came to a halt in front of Therese after hustling around the room for items. 

“I will miss you, my dear friend.” Genevieve pulled Therese into a fierce hug. 

“And I you.” Therese reciprocated. “I shall take my leave so you can complete your tasks.”

“You must write, Therese.” Genevieve said as they began to move away from their embrace.

Therese chuckled as she approached Genevieve’s door to leave, “Yes. I promise, Gen. I am certain with Lady Aird’s and the Duchess’s relationship that we shall have opportunities to visit one another as well.” 

Genevieve nodded in agreement. “I am of the same thought as well my friend. I wish you a safe journey to your new home.”

“And I wish the same for you, Gen. Farewell,” Therese said as she exited the room and began to walk the grounds of the Bridgerton residence one last time. 

As Therese walked by the building currently holding the reception, she could hear the music being played from the inside.  Immediately her eyes were drawn to the blue hyacinth. The flower was a brilliant blue and she thought of Carol on that day when they walked the gardens at the Aird residence. She walked up to the pot with the beautiful flower and leaned in to smell it. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply the fragrance. It was truly divine.

When she opened her eyes, she peeked in and could see that Carol and Harge were standing at the other end of the room in discussion with other guests, including Abby. Carol and Harge stood about an arms length from each other while engaging in discussions with different groups of people. The other couples in the surrounding area stood much closer to their spouse, practically touching them. When Harge approached Carol and Abby to place his hand on Carol's back, Therese decided that that was enough of the reception. There was still much of the grounds to visit in the remaining time she had in this home.

Therese left the reception area and continued her walk through the grounds for the last time.  Upon her return, Therese found Carol standing outside as the reception began to wane. Standing next to the blue hyacinth flowers, Therese was immediately drawn to Carol's beautiful light blue dress that hung perfectly on her figure. The dress outlined Carol’s silhouette beautifully as Carol leaned over the pot to smell the flowers. 

Therese began her approach.  At events such as these, someone of Theres’s status, unless serving the party, should not interact with someone of Carol’s status, yet she felt compelled to move towards the older woman. 

“That is the blue hyacinth. It is especially beautiful this year.” She said as drew closer to Carol.

Carol startled and looked up, catching Therese’s gaze. Carol’s lips slowly spread into a smile once she realized that Therese was the person approaching her.

“Hello, Lady Aird,” Therese softly said as she arrived next to the older woman.

“Good day to you as well, Therese.” Carol drawled as she straightened. 

“Lady Aird, what finds you out here partaking in admiration of the blue hyacinth rather than in deep conversation and dance with other party guests?” Therese asked as she reached out to brush her fingers along the petals of the blue flower lightly.

“I desired…” Carol closed her eyes while leaning her head back and inhaled through her nostrils. 

Therese took another step so that she would be standing directly in front of Carol. 

When Carol slowly released her breath, she straightened her posture once more while slowly opening her eyes and continued, “…to take in the fresh air for a moment.” 

Eyes still locked, Therese commented softly, “The blue is truly stunning.” 

Therese was about to reach to touch Carol’s arm, when she noticed Harge's eyes on her…on them from inside. His eyes narrowed as he moved his eyes between her and Carol.

Immediately, Therese dropped her arms to her side. When Harge began to walk towards them, Therese took an extra step back from Carol.  

“Dear, are you out here for fresh air,” Harge asked, eyes challenging Therese as he placed his hand on the small of Carol’s back. She noticed how Carol had stiffened at the contact.

“Yes. It was terribly warm inside,” Carol responded with a slightly agitated voice as she turned her attention away from Therese to look at Harge. “Let us bid farewell to the others so that we can begin our journey home Harge,” Carol said as she tried to lead Harge back in, but he stood firm.

Without breaking eye contact from Therese, he asked, “How do you know my wife?”

“Harge, please…” Carol said with much exasperation.

“I…” Therese started and paused to find the right words. “…am a maid…To Miss Daphne Bridgerton and I will be…”

Before Therese could finish, Carol interrupted, “I lost my gloves when Daphne visited. She returned them. I thanked her.”

Carol opened her mouth to continue to speak when suddenly Genevieve approached them with great haste and yelled, “Therese!” 

Harge was taken aback at the name and a look of realization washed over him. It was clearly that he understood that she would accompany them to their home. More importantly at the way his eyes narrowed at her and then moved to look Carol dead in the eyes, he had also realized that she would be the new maid to Carol.

“That’s bold.” Harge grounded out in a low whisper to Carol that had Therese not paid apt attention, she would not have heard the comment.

He released a forced breath as if to calm himself before he forced a smile back upon his lips and looked at Carol dead in the eyes.  “Darling, shall we return to the reception to bid our friends farewell? We have very little time before we must take our leave to return to Rindy. I am certain Therese can chat with you in the carriage on the way back.” 

“Very well,” Carol responded stiffly.

Therese watched them enter to meet Abby and another couple that Therese did not recognize. Harge placed his hand firmly on the small of Carol’s back, and gripped Carol’s hand. When he found Therese’s gaze on them, he tightened his hold on Carol’s hand. 

It was clear to Therese. He had marked his territory and that territory was Carol.  

Therese gave him a slight courteous nod before turning to meet Genevieve. 

“Miss Bridgerton was hoping to say farewell before we leave,” Genevieve said in a rush.

“Let us make haste!” Therese said as they began to walk away from the reception together.

Chapter Text

One month had passed from when Therese returned with Carol to the Aird’s residence. 

Diana had remained on staff for Therese’s first month to guide her through routines and duties of being Carol’s maid. Today was the first day it would only be Therese. 

For the entire day, as opportunities to be with Therese presented itself, Carol could feel her body tingle and her pulse quicken, yet nothing had occurred. 

The morning had Therese help her into her corset and dress. The contrast in the intensity of how it felt when they were in the same situation before Rindy’s birthday and this morning was apparent. Carol surmised it may be associated with the anxiety of performing her duties for the first time without Diana’s assistance. 

Carol had spent most of the day reading and in discussion with Charles to ensure that all of Diana’s duties were adequately reassigned. As such, the opportunity to be in Therese’s company was little to none. 

However, the time has arrived for her bath. The bathing area is connected to Carol’s chambers. In the past, Diana would prepare the bath water and provide her with everything needed for her bath before taking her leave. She would later return at the end of Carol’s bath to help with washing Carol’s back before assisting Carol to exit the bath and with her nighttime attire.

Carol’s eyes started to twinkle with mischief and a smirk slowly spread on her face at thoughts of the past month. Carol would often find Therese’s eyes on her every time they were in the same room, particularly when it came time for her bath. Diana would show her how to run the bath water and as they exited her bathing area, she could feel Therese’s eyes on her until the very last moment before they exit the room. The memory alone sent shivers down Carol’s body.

*knock* *knock* *knock* 

"Therese is that you?” she called out.

Therese answered from behind the door, “Yes.”

Therese started to open the door. When she entered, Carol asked, “Would you be a sweetie and fetch my blue nightgown? It’s in the wardrobe.”

“Yes, my lady,” Therese responded as she entered the room with the others to prepare the bath for Carol.

Therese reached the wardrobe and pulled the blue nightgown out. She placed it on Carol’s bed, ready for her after her bath.

Therese then entered the bathing area. Once the water was at a good level and temperature, she placed the wash cloth on the edge of the bath.

“Your bath is almost ready,” Therese said as she goes to stand and lifts her head to face Carol’s for the first time since the morning.

Carol began her approach to Therese. Each step, each sway of her hips, was purposeful. She felt Therese’s eyes on her as she moved closer. Therese’s face was clearly flushed. Carol could not determine if it was from her proximity to the heated water or if it was due to another matter. 

She stopped an inch away from Therese and turned to display her back. She lifted her hair to expose her neck and drawstring to her dress. She could feel the air shift as Therese reached up to untie the drawstring to her dress and began to untie her corset. She could feel Therese's fingers slide down between the lacing and the corset to loosen it for her.

“Lady Aird, your bath is ready. I will take my leave now. Please let me know when you require my assistance,” Therese stated formally.

“Yes. If you could please gather some blue hyacinth for the room, that would be greatly appreciated. You may take your leave,” Carol responded.

Before Therese had turned around complete, she proceeded to remove her clothing. Carol purposefully dropped the last article of her clothing, effectively being completely naked at the final moment Therese’s eyes moved towards the exit of her chambers.

When Therese had left, Carol stepped into the bath and slowly lowered herself into it. She grabbed the wash cloth and dipped it into the water. Pulling it out, she placed the cloth soaked with warm water on her neck and dragged it down to her chest. 

“Ahh…” she sighed.

It had been a long day since it was the first day without Diana. 

She let her hand drop with the wash cloth to capture some more warm water. She pulled the dripping wash cloth back up and rested it against her sternum and pushed the cloth up to the other side of her neck, letting the warm water roll off her body. 

Carol continued to bathe herself.

As she began to conclude her bath, she remembered that Diana use to help her with her back. Another smirk began to grow as she contemplated having Therese assist with her back.

“Therese.” Carol called from the bath.

Carol continued to wash herself as she waited for Therese to return. It had been several moments before she saw the door creek open and Therese slowly enter. 

“Hi, slowpoke…” Carol teased while keeping her eyes trained on Therese.

“I found the blue hyacinth…” Therese’s voice trailed off as she brought the flowers in and caught Carol’s eyes from the bath.  

Carol could see Therese gulp while exiting the bathing area to take the flowers to her dresser and place it carefully on the table. She could see the rise and fall of Therese’s chest as the young woman slowly turned around to return to the bathing area. Carol could see the blush begin to slowly spread up Therese’s neck and colour her cheeks.

“Everything all right?” Carol asked with a raised eye brow. 

Therese locked eyes on Carol’s and spoke slowly, “Yes. I am suddenly starving.”

Carol could not help the clinching of her thighs and the hitch of her breath at Therese’s comment. Simply, she was overwhelmed with desire. Her mind was unable to process much else as she held out her hand with the washcloth. “Care to assist me with my back?” 

Therese paused just before reaching the bath to take the washcloth from Carol. “It will only be a minute,” Carol added with her hand outstretched, holding onto the washcloth for Therese to receive.

With that, Therese continued to make her way towards the bath. Carol did not take her eyes off of Therese as she approached. Carol could feel the thumping of her heart through her chest grow louder with each step Therese took. 

When Therese arrived next to Carol, the slight brush of Therese’s fingers against hers as the washcloth transferred hands caused her fingers to tingle at the site of contact. 

“Allow me,” Therese said in a low, raspy voice. 

Carol turned her back towards Therese. She could feel the cloth touch her back followed by the tips of Therese’s fingers as they glided against her wet skin. Therese made slow vertical movements, strokes, as she moved the cloth along her back. 

*gasps*

Expecting to receive the cloth back from Therese since her back was done, she was caught off guard when Therese slid the warm wet cloth from her shoulder blade over her shoulder and down her collarbone. 

Therese continued to move the cloth further down to the swell of her breast. Just as the cloth was about to touch Carol’s nipple, the cloth retreated. 

Carol closed her eyes and took in a deep slow breath as she leaned back to rest on the edge behind her while lifting both her hands to grip the sides of bath as Therese dragged the wet cloth back to her shoulder and moved it across to the other side to do the same. As Therese moved the cloth over the swell of her other breast, once again retreating just before touching her nipple, she could feel her nipples pebble and harden at the anticipation. 

Carol then felt hot breath approach her ear. “Would you like some assistance with your front?”

“Mmmhmm.” Carol hummed. 

She felt Therese, from behind, move to lean over her as she moved the cloth down between Carol’s breasts. 

The water rolled down her skin, between her breasts and down her navel.  The water was followed by Therese’s hand. Then suddenly, Therese’s hand paused just above her navel and Carol’s breath hitched.

Therese’s hand continued to slowly move lower when…

*knock* *knock* *knock*

Therese dropped the washcloth from her hand and leaned back, breathing heavily. Carol’s chest was heaving as well.

“Come in.” Carol summoned as she tried to control her breathing.

The door pushed open to reveal Charles. “Lady Aird. Your company is requested with the Duke and Duchess of Kent tomorrow evening. They will be visiting the residence on their journey home.”

“Thank you, Charles. I will be certain to be present for tomorrow evening. You can take your leave.” 

Charles nodded and closed the door after him.

Once the door closed, Therese held a towel out for Carol from behind. “Lady Aird, I believe we are done with your bath.”

As Carol stood, the water rolled off her skin, chilling her body as the air hit her. Soon after, she felt the towel in Therese’s hands wrap around her. 

Carol reached up as Therese held the towel around her and held  Therese’s hand still as she said, “I’m going away for a while.”

Carol felt Therese stiffen behind her as Therese asked, “When?” There was a pregnant pause before Therese quietly followed up with, “Where?”

“Wherever my horse will take me,” she shrugged. Carol took a deep breath and looked up thinking of riding out into freedom. 

“West,” she continued and then closed her eyes before she added, “Soon.”   

With her hand still on Therese’s, she opened her eyes again and manoeuvred to turn around to face Therese. “And I thought...perhaps you would like to come with me.”

With imploring eyes, Carol asked softly, “Would you?”

Therese returned her gaze and with a soft gentle voice agreed, “Yes. Yes, I would.”

“Let us prepare and leave in two days,” Carol suggested as she released Therese's hand.

Therese nodded as she moved to retrieve Carol's blue nightgown from her bed and returned. “Yes. I shall prepare for the trip.”

“Thank you,” Carol smiled as she stepped into the nightgown presented to her by Therese.

“Will Miss Rindy accompany you?” Therese inquired as she slowly pulled the clothing article up and began to tie the strings to close the nightgown.

“No…” Carol could feel the heat rise to her face and her cheeks flush a red as she responded.

“I will be going alone," Carol advised as she trend to face Therese.

“I see,” Therese responded with some surprise and was began to blush. 

Therese stood for a moment, her gaze unwavering from Carol's, before clearing her throat. “I shall take my leave now.”

Carol nodded and watched as Therese started to move towards the door to exit her chambers. 

As Therese placed her hand on the handle to open the door, Carol’s mind flashed to Therese’s description of riding a horse, in particular, riding with another person and the feel of the other person’s body pressed against your own in the most intimate of ways. The thought had caused Carol’s legs to go weak.

“And…” Carol quickly called out before Therese turned the handle.

Carol hesitated a beat. She felt her blood heat and course through her veins, while her cheeks began to flush. “…we can share one horse.”  

Therese turned back and caught Carol’s gaze, with flushed cheeks. She nodded and confirmed, “I will ready one horse for the trip, Lady Aird.” 

With that, Therese exited.

Chapter Text

Therese walked out to meet Charles. “Good morning, Charles.”

“Good morning, Therese,” Charles responded with a smile.

Charles pulled on the reins of the horse next to him. “This is Waterloo.” The horse nodded and lifted her head up.

“She is beautiful,” Therese admired as she reached out and ran her hand through Waterloo’s hair.  It felt like silk, smoothly caressing her fingers. 

She will be wonderful to ride. 

A slow smile began to spread as another thought entered her mind. 

I cannot wait to ride her with Carol today.

Therese turned back to face Charles. “Thank you, Charles.” 

“Good morning, Charles. Thank you for readying Waterloo for my trip today,” Carol addressed from the door to the residence.

“It is my pleasure, my lady,” Charles acknowledged with a slight nod. Therese looked up to see Carol in a beautiful red riding dress. It cinched at her hips and beautifully displayed her figure with the soft flow of fabric blowing slightly. 

The skies may have begun to grey and there may be a slight chance of rain, but the weather was a nice one to ride in. 

Even if we get rained on, it is worth it.

Therese smiled at the thought as Carol descended the steps towards them.

“Lady Aird!” A voice called out from inside the residence.

Carol turned back towards the residence’s entrance, “Thomas?”

“Lord Aird would like to confirm if you shall be back for the evening meal and if Miss Rindy will be accompanying you on this trip.”

Carol’s brow arched slightly before she responded, “I shall have a late dinner. Charles is aware of my evening plans and will arrange for the evening meal for Rindy as she will not be accompanying me.” 

“I shall report back to Lord Aird. Thank you, my lady.” Thomas bowed and retreated back into the residence.

Therese turned her attention away from Thomas’ retreating form to Carol and found Carol’s eyes on her.

“Shall we, Therese?” Carol asked with a smile. 

She nodded and climbed up onto the saddle. Therese pulled the bottom of her dress up slightly and swung one of her legs over the saddle and straddled the horse. Once settled on the saddle, Therese extended her hand down to Carol. 

Carol looked up at her with a smile.  Although skies were grey, but Carol’s smile was the absent sun for Therese. It was bright and welcoming. When Carol reached up and grabbed her hand, immediately, she felt the warmth and comfort of the soft hand. 

Therese helped to pull Carol up while Charles readied the steps for Carol to step up closer to the saddle.

Carol settled into the saddle behind Therese; however, Carol remained seated side saddle. At the first touch of Carol’s fingers, Therese stiffened. She then felt Carol slide her hands along her ribs, eventually intertwining those fingers and settling her arms around Therese’s waist tightly. 

Therese could hear her heart beating loudly in her ears. She took in a breath through her nostrils as she tried to calm her nerves. 

Carol then addressed Charles, “We shall return later this evening, Charles. Please ensure that Rindy is fed and readied for the night. I shall return in time to help her to sleep.”

Charles nodded.

Carol wrapped her arms around her a touch tighter and whispered in her ear, “Let us depart.” 

Her face flashed at the hot breath against her ear. Therese was not able to trust the stability of her voice with Carol’s arms around her and her breath against her ear. All she could manage was a simple nod as she tapped her heels into Waterloo and they began to ride off.

This was her day with Carol and she could finally show Carol the freedom that can be felt with riding.  However, she needed to locate the perfect area for such demonstration.

They galloped far enough where they had lost sight of the residence long ago when Therese decided that they were in a suitable location to stop. She pulled on Waterloo’s reins to halt their friend. When Waterloo slowed to a stop, Carol asked softly against her ear, “Why are we stopping? We have not traveled far enough west.”

Therese leaned back slightly in Carol’s arms and said, “I want you to feel the freedom and power of riding astride. We should try here.”

Carol pulled Therese a little closer, where her nose grazed Therese’s temple and lips touched her ear. “Alright,” Carol agreed softly, sending shivers down Therese’s spine.

Carol released her hold on the waist and slid her hands to each side of Therese’s hips to brace herself before she released the one hand to pull her dress high enough for her to swing one of her legs to the other side of the horse. 

Therese felt Carol shift about behind her before Carol slid into a position that placed her completely flushed against Therese’s back. Placing both hands firmly on Therese’s hips, Carol leaned in and asked, “Are you comfortable?”

Therese could feel the swell of Carol’s breast as Carol wrapped her arms around her waist again. She nodded, “Yes. I am very much comfortable.” 

“Take me to freedom,” Carol’s hot breath tickled Therese’s ear.

She released one hand briefly from the reins to place over Carol’s arm and ran her fingers along  it before bring it back to take hold of the reins. “Hold on tight,” she responded.

As Carol tightened her grip, Therese jolted Waterloo to life. Waterloo galloped at a high speed into the fields before them.  

They rode through the open fields at a speed that allowed the wind to rush by and carry them, as if they were flying high in the clouds. 

The wind always made Therese feel like she was flying and free. Now, as Carol held onto her, she felt a warmth that she had not previously felt in the past. There was a sense of safety in the arms of Carol. 

She could hear Carol’s breathing. They were long and deep breaths. She knew the feeling well as your body took in the freeing wind and nature that rushed by.  

She could hear Carol’s excited voice behind her as they flew through the vast open fields.

“I love the feeling of the wind.”

“This is so freeing.”

Carol repeated these as they rode.

They had been riding quite a distance when they left the open fields and began to approach a forest ahead. Therese had to slow them down as it was more dangerous to go at high speeds into a forest due to the many obstacles. 

“I can see why you said this felt like flying…how it feels freeing,” Carol stated in a calmer voice as they slowed.

As Waterloo slowed, her gallops had caused them to bounce a tad more and with how tight Carol had held her, their bodies were touching in a rhythmic and intimate manner. Therese’s breath became uneven as she felt and heard Carol’s breath hitched a few times from behind her each time their bodies made contact.

Therese was not certain where Carol wanted to go and they were likely as far as they should be before needing to turn back so that Carol could to put Rindy to bed. As such, Therese had slowed Waterloo down to a stop and leaned back to pass the reins on Waterloo to Carol.

“If there was a specific place that you had wanted to visit, perhaps you should take the reins and direct us there,” Therese suggested.

“There is a location that I wanted to visit,” Carol replied as she grabbed the reins and shifted her body up while Therese leaned back, settling against Carol’s front.

Carol took them on a slow gallop about mid-way through the forest before pulling on the reins to stop them.  Therese looked around. 

“We are here,” Carol said from behind her and swung her one leg over to gracefully dismount Waterloo. “Let us walk around a bit.”

Therese immediately felt the warmth vanish without Carol behind her and quickly dismounted as well. Once on the ground, she saw Carol moving around the area in search of something. She took Waterloo to tie her up before joining Carol.

“Where are we? What are we looking for?” Therese asked curiously.

“Here they are,” Carol pointed at a red flower.  Therese knew the flowers immediately.

“That is the Carol peony,” Therese stated as her gaze shifted from the flowers to Carol. This caused Carol to look up.

“It represents love,” she added after a beat with an intensity that she knew would not be mistaken with their eyes locked on each other.

Carol smiled at her, “Yes, it does.  I was named after this flower as it was my mother’s favourite.”

“It is very fitting…” Therese began when a smile started to form on her lips as another thought crossed her mind.

“In fact…” Therese began again slowly, “ …it is likely that the flower was named after you.” Therese walked up to one of the flowers and picked up one to examine it closely. When she returned her gaze to Carol, she added, “Your lips are a more vibrant red and you are much more beautiful.”

She could see Carol’s cheeks flush a pretty pink. 

“Have you been in love?” Carol asked as she tilted her head to the side slightly in curiosity. 

Therese suddenly felt a slight embarrassment at the scrutiny and handed Carol the flower while diverting her gaze to the skies. "I am a romantic,” she started with a wistful smile. 

After a brief pause to gather her thoughts in response to this probing question, she continued, “I once imagined a great love. I had dreamt of it everyday…but it is not for me. I do not think it is possible to experience it. Even if I did, it would likely come to an end.” She shook her head of the thoughts and concluded, “No matter how much I want it. It is not in my destiny.”

“You should not think that way.” Carol’s voice brought her out of her thoughts. 

Carol continued, “You are still so young. There is still a lot of life left to live and likely more love to be found and potentially lost before you find your one.” 

Therese turned to Carol with a disappointment that she cannot bare to leave with Carol, but she felt compelled to state regardless, “My love…is not one that is agreeable to many. As such, it is better for all if I do not love at all.”

“What existence is that? I would rather to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all,” Carol countered gently. 

“Will it not be more painful? To realize that love and then have that taken away? To know there will be an end?” Therese questioned rhetorically. 

“There will always be an end. Would you deny love simply because it will end, whether due to life itself ending or an end due to some other cause?” Carol inquired with the young woman.

The clouds began to gather and the skies darkened. Therese felt a drop of water hit her hand.

“I do not wish to suffer through the heartache if I know that there could never be a favourable outcome. I would rather avoid it altogether…” Therese sadly stated. 

“And how is that working for you?” Carol asked gently as she stepped closer to Therese.

“It is…quite difficult.” Therese admitted looking away from Carol.

“Avoidance of heartache is painful in and of itself, is it not?” Carol implored as she stepped even closer to Therese. 

The rain had begun to come down, but they were mildly shielded by the surrounding trees. Nevertheless, their hair and clothing were slowly absorbing the droplets that landed on them.

“Why then suffer through this pain from fear?” Carol takes another step closer to Therese.

“The pain that you wish to avoid may not even occur at all. Yet, this self-inflicted pain due to your fears is all but guaranteed.” Carol reasoned as their hair began to dampen and their dresses began to cling to their bodies from the rain water.

“Lady…” Therese began.

“Carol. Please.” Carol begged as she took Therese’s hands in hers.

“I cannot offer you anything. I have nothing to give.” Therese looked at their touching hands.

“I am not asking for anything other than yourself,” Carol whispered softly.

The rain came down hard as Carol took another step to stand an inch away from Therese. She lifted a hand to caress Therese’s wet cheek.

Therese turned her head slightly away from the touch, feeling the burden of the consequences for Carol if they were discovered.  Infidelity with married men was acceptable, but promiscuous wives could be divorced. A divorce would be the loss of Rindy, which would devastate Carol and leave her with nothing. Therese could not be the cause of that. 

“You must understand the consequences.” Therese took a step back and began to remove her hand from Carol’s. The water from the rain now dripping from her hair down her face.

Carol held her hand tighter and removed the distance between them with a step and pulled her back close. “I understand…And I still choose this.” With that, Carol leaned in and kissed her.

The kiss was soft, slow, and new. It was so different than the one she had experienced with Genevieve before. It held a passion and desire that she immediately felt as the urgency built. 

Carol’s tongue had licked her lips and requested entry. When Therese opened her lips in invitation she felt Carol’s tongue enter and the taste of Carol’s mouth mixed with the droplets of rain water was magnificent.

The rain beat down on them relentlessly and they were completely soaked. Therese reached up and behind Carol to work through the buttons on Carol’s dress as Carol did the same with hers, pulling each other closer in the process.

Once the buttons were released, their fingers reached to untie the corset and loosen the laces.  They worked on the laces as their fronts were pressed against each other. Therese had pulled away from Carol’s lips and trailed her kisses along Carol’s jaw, down her neck. She could see the pellets of rain rolling off of Carol’s skin on contact. When she kissed her, she could taste the light sweat from their day on Carol along with the rain. 

Therese began to peel the dress down from Carol’s shoulders, down her arm and then her torso so that she could step out of it. Carol had done the same to to her. They then removed each other’s corsets. Their fingers worked through the laces and allowed the corsets to the drop to the ground. Carol untied the drawstring to Therese’s undergarments and peeled the wet material off her body. She trailed a finger down Therese’s wet back arriving at her bra and released it. 

As the ground beneath them was now cloaked with their dresses, undergarments, and corsets, Carol leaned in for another heart-stopping kiss. She guided Therese to lay down beneath her. 

“I never looked like that,” Carol said with awe as she looked at Therese’s naked form and trailed her finger from Therese’s collarbone, down her sternum to her navel. Therese felt the rain water make way for Carol’s travelling finger. 

Therese ran her fingers up Carol’s arm, to her shoulder, and then to her neck to thread her fingers in her hair as she looked up at Carol.

“You are trembling,” Carol said as she gently swiped some of Therese’s wet hair off of her face and trailed her fingers down her cheek. 

The rain on her body was certainly chilling, but she was also excited and full of anticipation for what was to come. 

As Carol hovered over her and began to lean in for another kiss, Therese caught sight of something in the trees. It looked almost like the silhouette of a man. She could not be sure. It could also have been anything especially with all the rain, animals and plants in the area.

Chapter Text

She is perfect.

Carol thought as she leaned down towards Therese. She closed her eyes as their lips connected to simply feel the sensation.

They had danced around this.

The undeniable attraction.

The continuing fantasies. 

The unrelenting magnetism.

It was inevitable that they were led to this moment. In her fantasies and dreams, Carol had envisioned that they would ravage each other at the first opportunity.

Yet now, all she wanted was to savour this moment…to feel every sensation…to imprint this moment, this woman, in her mind.

While trailing her finger down Therese’s torso earlier, she did so slowly to allow her eyes to linger on every detail of perfection and imperfection. The few freckles that sprinkled on her flat stomach or the tiniest of scars to the side of her third rib. What she came into this world naturally carrying and what she had brought with her along her journey so far. All this was on her body, in her words, and demonstrated through how she carried herself. 

Exquisite.  

The word that continually cycled through her mind as their kiss continued. It was slow and exploring. Her tongue had slowly parted Therese’s lips, not in a fight for dominance, but a slow sensual dance. She lavished on the feel, the texture, the taste, the movements. There was so much to explore and they had only just begun.

She was by no means experienced in physical intimacy. Yes, she had Rindy, but it was out of obligation. Any instance of physical gratification previously was had by her own hands, literally and figuratively. However, she knew she could use her instincts. 

She would allow the auditory, visual, and physical cues from Therese guide her.

Carol leaned back ever so slightly and opened her eyes. This broke their kiss. She heard a whimper of disappointment come from Therese.

“Darling…” Carol moved her lips to barely touch Therese’s ear lobe to whisper, “…I plan to return for another serving, but I am ravenous to explore…”

Carol moved her right hand from Therese’s hips down to her thighs.

“…the rest of you.”

Carol bit her earlobe lightly, pulled it ever so slightly with her teeth before she released it.

“Patience is a virtue, my dear,” she finished and then began her descent on Therese’s body.

Carol kissed Therese just under her ear and she could see the goosebumps spread from the point of contact. She trailed light kisses to warm Therese’s cold skin from the rain down her neck before stopping for a light bite on the junction of neck and shoulder. She continued to kiss along her collarbone to just under her jaw, and then down to the dip of her neck, where she licked some of the rain water that had collected.

“Ahhh….” she heard Therese sigh.

This caused Carol to smile against her neck, finding satisfaction that Therese was enjoying this. As she kissed down Therese’s chest, her hand that rested on Therese’s thigh lifted and she allowed a finger to trail up and down along her thigh, slowly moving its way to Therese’s inner thigh as she moved her lips over to kiss the swell of Therese’s breast and eventually capturing it in her mouth.

She heard another moan from Therese, urging her on.

Her tongue lapped around Therese’s now erect nipple slowly while her fingers were drawing patterns on Therese’s inner thigh.  

“Ahh..Carol…” Therese sighed as her chest lifted up slightly from her breathing and her hips lifted as well.

Carol trailed her finger up to Therese’s stomach and applied pressure as her teeth caught lightly on her nipple to pull it with the rain water slightly splashing off with the release of her teeth.

“I will address that area soon.” Carol smiled.

She wanted to take her time, despite her need to completely possess the young woman beneath her.

She continued to trail her kisses from the breast down Therese’s stomach towards her navel as her palm slid down from Therese’s stomach to her inner thigh. Carol moved down to continue to trail her kisses down Therese’s body. She kissed the junction between her torso and leg and then moved her kisses to the inner thigh of the other leg. 

She circled her arms under  both of Therese’s thighs to lift her hips slightly as she turned her attention to Therese’s other thigh.

Her hands reached up to apply pressure on Therese’s hips as she arched up.

Carol paused for a beat.  As the rain pelted down on them, the scent of Therese and the rain mixed. She took it in.  She never thought it would be this intoxicating, this natural…this right.

“Please, Carol…” Therese’s voice brought her back from her thoughts.

She looked up to be greeted with Therese’s eyes, full of adoration and anticipation.

With that, she leaned in and kissed Therese’s glistening pearl ever so lightly. She allowed her tongue to explore along the pulsating core that was heated despite the cold rain water.

She allowed her instincts control as her tongue followed the valleys and the peaks. 

She desired everything that Therese had to offer. She craved to taste everything that was Therese. 

She felt Therese’s hands intertwine in her hair and gripped at her. It felt as if Therese was overwhelmed with desire with every arch of her hips at particular points where Carol touched. This encouraged Carol to focus on those points with her tongue.

As her tongue focused on the increasingly warm and pulsating point of Therese’s bundle of nerves, Carol felt and tasted more of Therese’s essence. She slid her right hand firmly against Therese’s inner thigh, allowing her finger to rest directly above her entrance. She heard the hitche in Therese’s breath.

She allowed her fingers to slide along the crease of her opening to her back and then returned and felt the tremble in Therese’s body from the action. When she felt more of a flow from Therese, she allowed one of her fingers to slip into her.

“Ahhh…Carol…” Therese arched her hips up to meet her initial thrust.

Carol was certain that Therese had never been with a man, or woman for that matter, and knew she had to be gentle, so as not to hurt her.

They had found a good rhythm when Carol felt she could add another finger. She began to kiss Therese’s inner thigh while meeting Therese’s thrust with her fingers and circling on Therese’s engorged bud with her thumb.

It was only a few more thrusts when she felt Therese constrict around her fingers and with her hips in the air and her hand pulling down on Carol’s head.

On release of the grip from her hair and her fingers, Carol held her hand and fingers steady for a few moments to allow Therese to relax before slowly sliding her fingers out of Therese. She licked the reminisce of Therese before the rain had the opportunity to wash away everything.

Carol moved back up to Therese and kissed her firmly on the lips. 

“You are magnificent, darling.” She kissed Therese again.

“Truly magnificent.” Carol repeated.

Therese’s breathing finally began to regulate and she her body had come down from the high. The rain had lessened but they were still soaked as a slight mist of light rain still surrounded them.

“Carol…,” Therese breathed out.

“Yes, darling?” Carol inquired.

“That was…” Therese blushed. “I have never done nor felt that before…Thank you.” Therese pulled her head down for a slow and sensual kiss that left Carol dizzy.

Therese pulled away slightly and Carol could feel a slight smirk on her young lover’s lips. “Now, it is my turn.”

Therese pulled back and Carol could feel herself warm at the intensity that the younger woman was using to take in her form. Therese took her finger to run it lightly up her arm, from Carol’s palm to her shoulder.

“You are so beautiful, Carol.” Therese said absentmindedly as she trailed that same finger along Carol’s shoulder.

Carol could not help by admire the green in Therese’s eyes. It darkened, yet glowed of desire. The sensation of her gaze following along side her finger was overwhelming Carol’s senses.

“I am pleased to finally have my turn,” Therese leaned in as her fingers tracked down between Carol’s breasts, to her naval and finally rested on her thigh.

She could hear the rustling of the leaves and the splattering of the raindrops around them as a shiver ran down her spine with Therese’s lips caressing her neck. She wanted to feel and hear everything. To live in this moment. She had never felt so ignited from the touch of another.

Therese then trailed kisses down her neck to her torso, as Carol closed her eyes. 

She felt the encompassing warmth of Therese’s mouth followed by the cool that was felt immediately after Therese tongue left her nipple.

Her pulse quickened and she could feel the heat of her blood coursing through her body, despite the chill in the air and cold rain water.

The tingling of sensation on her thigh from Therese’s fingers followed by the tensing of her muscles when Therese applied pressure as her palm slid up and down her inner thigh.

She released a moan and felt Therese’s mouth form a smile on her skin along with a hum of satisfaction.

Her hips arched at the contact when Therese’s mouth and tongue finally touched her where she needed it most.

It had dissolved any resolve that she held and decorum that she learned. Her sighs, moans, and utterance of Therese’s name was all she could manage as Therese worked her into absolute bliss.

She could not recall exactly what Therese was doing but she felt herself being pushed over the edge to complete release.

It was not until she had come down from her heaven that she found Therese lying in her arms, with her arm draped over her stomach.  Carol’s eyes were still closed as she felt her heart rate drop and no longer hammering against her ear and chest. That was when she could hear the wind rustling the leaves around them and the movement of the forest animals about them again.

It felt perfect. Perfect despite the discomfort of making love on the hard ground.  Perfect despite their different standing in society. Perfect despite all the obstacles that likely awaited them. 

For now, Carol decided to simply bask in the perfectness of their union and to hold onto this moment before they must return to reality.

Therese was drawing mindless patterns on Carol’s naked stomach before she said, “We should begin our journey back.”

Carol let out a disappointed breath.

“We need to get cleaned up and have some food before you put Rindy to bed.” Therese continued.

“I understand.” Carol agreed, but made no movement. Then she pulled Therese closer to hold.  “Give us another moment to enjoy this.”

Therese smiled against Carol’s chest.

After what felt like a second, Carol decided it was in fact time to return and released her hold on Therese. 

They began to dress and mount Waterloo once again. This time, Carol immediately leaned in and rested her head on Therese’s back as they galloped east, back to the Aird’s estate.

She smiled against Therese’s back as the wind rushed past her body with the speed at which Therese rode their horse. It was chilly from the wind on her wet clothing and skin, but being so close to Therese and leaning into her, kept Carol warm.  She squeezed a little tighter.

As they neared the residence, Carol leaned back from Therese.

“Therese. Please stop a bit so that I may move into a side saddle position,” Carol requested.

Therese nodded and pulled Waterloo to a stop.

Carol quickly swung her leg over so both were now on the same side of Waterloo.

“I am ready. Let us continue,” Carol confirmed for them to begin riding once more.

“Of course” Therese acknowledged with a nod and clipped her heels into Waterloo.

Upon their entrance into the residence grounds, Charles had come out of the house to greet them.

“Lady Aird.  Welcome home.” Charles greeted.

For some reason, Carol stiffened and could not fully smile at the greeting like she once had. It felt as if now they had to hide themselves in what was considered “home.” 

Carol knew that all of their interactions previously could have only led up to their love making earlier.  There was no denying the initial draw to each other. 

Then the past while when Therese lived with her, their attraction only grew more.

Carol noticed the little things, such as Therese’s propensity to paint when she had time, her thoughtfulness from gifts of flowers, her nurturing instincts from the snacks she would offer Rindy, and simply her care of Carol herself. Various flowers, plants and foods would be brought in at a time when she needed the items most.  She may not have realized she was upset until the flowers appeared and she felt happy, or that she was hungry until the food would appear.

She knew she was falling in love. She had never felt this before, but she was certain this was what it felt like. The anxiety in her stomach from each interaction, yet there was still comfort in it.

Now that they are “home” she would need to control her desires and interactions with Therese appropriately. No one could know. 

“Thank you, Charles.” Carol said as she forced a smile to Charles and slid off of Waterloo onto the steps that Charles placed before her.

As Charles helped Therese off the horse, Carol added, “How is Rindy? Has she had her meal?”

“Yes, my lady. She is currently playing in her room with her nursemaid,” Charles responded.

“Wonderful. Thank you, Charles.”  Then she looked down at herself and shook her head at how disheveled she looked.

“Please assist with Therese in setting up a bath for me. We rode through a downpour and now I will need a bath,” Carol requested of Charles.

“Yes, my lady. I shall assist to prepare that,” Charles answered.

Carol caught Therese’s eye. She then looked at Therese’s dress that was both dirty and wet, similar to hers. “Therese, please go ahead and change before arriving at my bathing chambers to assist with my bath tonight."

Therese nodded. “Yes, my lady. I shall not be long,” she replied and then turned to leave for her quarters to change. 

Carol watched Therese’s receding form before she turned to enter her area of the residence.

 

****************

 

Carol was rested in a seat near by as the last of the hot water was filled in the bath by one of the servants who left and closed the door behind him. 

Upon return to her chambers after leaving Therese, Carol had immediately changed into a clean and dry casual dress so that she could visit Rindy and put her to bed. It was getting quite late and she could not imagine doing so after her bath.  The little girl had been waiting in bed for her and Carol’s heart simply ached.  She was glad to be the last person that Rindy saw each night before bed. She kissed the little girl on the head goodnight and lulled her to sleep. Once it was certain that Rindy was fast asleep, Carol slipped out of the room and returned to hers to find Therese and the rest of the staff preparing her bath.

Therese had returned cleaned and donning a new dry dress with her wet hair pulled back.  She had also brought with her dinner for Carol when she arrived with the assistance of the kitchen staff.

“You should join me in my bath.” Carol could not resist the urge to tease as she walked up to Therese and turned around to reveal the drawstring on her dress.  It was now only the two of them in the room.

Therese reached up to release the tie on Carol’s dress and helped her out of it.  She then made quick progress with her fingers to unlace the wet corset from Carol’s body.

“I thought it best that I clean up first so that I can solely focus my attention on you when I returned to you,” Therese responded. After a beat, Therese countered teasingly, “Need I remind the lady, that it was her who suggested I clean up before returning to her?”

Carol chuckled as she heard and felt the wet corset drop to the floor with the last of the lace loosened.

“Thank you for having dinner brought to me tonight, darling. I am much too tired to make my way to the dining hall, yet I am famished and likely would not have made it to the dining hall at all,” Carol mused.

Therese helped Carol out of her undergarments and immediately the chill hit her skin.  It had been both a relief and shock to her body as she was finally rid of the wet garments.

“I am glad that you enjoyed the items that I selected,” Therese smiled.

Carol leaned over to Therese and kissed her firmly on the lips, which she felt the younger woman reciprocate immediately.

“Have you eaten?” Carol asked softly when she finally pulled away and they began to move towards the warm bath.

“I have. While your meal was being prepared, I ate in the kitchen with the staff,” Therese confirmed.

When they arrived at the bath, Therese held out a hand to assist Carol to step into it.

“Thank you, darling. And I apologize. You should have brought more and enjoyed your meal with me.” Carol said as she settled herself into the bath. 

“It is quite alright, Carol. I do enjoy the company of the staff and it would have not appeared proper had I eaten with you with the staff about.” Therese responded as she crouched down near Carol began assisting her with her bath.  

Therese pulled the wet cloth along Carol’s skin.

“Mmm…” Carol hummed with much content. “You are being prudent. We must keep our distance."

“I wish we did not.” Therese said with much disappointment as she continued to wash Carol.

She made haste with the wash cloth before dropping it to the side of the bath. “Let me help with your hair."

Carol pouted. “That was much too quick with my bath today, darling.” She looked over at Therese before she continued, “I thought you would have wanted to take your time.” She finished suggestively.

Therese’s cheek glowed pink before she responded. “We have been out all day in the rain. I thought it best that we get you out of the water as soon as possible.”

Carol’s heart warmed at the thoughtful words. She reached up and cupped Therese’s now pink cheeks and brought her in for a gentle kiss, then leaned her forehead to rest on Therese’s.

“Yes. That is very thoughtful of you, my dear. Let us make haste so that I can dry and keep warm.”

With that, Therese assisted Carol in washing her hair clean of the dirt and debris from the day. 

After Therese assisted in helping her dry from her bath and don her nightgown, she felt Therese’s arms wrap around her waist from behind and her face pressed against her back.  

They simply stood like that for a while. 

*knock* *knock* *knock*

Therese’s hand immediately dropped to her side as she stepped back away from Carol.

“Lady Aird. You have message that has arrived.” Charles’ voice came from behind the door.

“Come in, Charles.” Carol instructed.

“It is sealed with ‘Confidential’ and addressed to yourself.  As such I did not open it to read.” Charles confirmed as he entered the room and handed her the message.

“Thank you, Charles,” Carol said as she received the message from him. 

“You may leave now. Have a good night and send my regards to Diana.” She smiled.

Charles smiled and nodded before turning to leave.

When Carol opened the message, her face immediately dropped. She looked over at Therese with anxiety and handed her the message to read.

It simply read:

Beware of Thomas. You are being watched. I request your company immediately. Abby

Chapter Text

Therese had been anxious ever since receiving Abby’s message. Carol had discussed with Therese of her desire to immediately prepare for a trip to visit with Abby.  Therese had made the arrangements, but unfortunately, the earliest they could arrange for the trip was several weeks after receipt of the message.

Carol had told Therese that they would meet Abby at Daphne’s home, as it would be the perfect unsuspecting location for them to meet and discuss the matters of Abby’s note.  For one, Daphne was pregnant and the rationale for the visit would be well-received. Two, in the message to Daphne that informed her of Carol’s intention to visit, she asked that Daphne send word to Abby to request her company at the same time.  Further, it would be unbecoming to have someone follow them into Hastings, where the Duke of Hastings ruled and Thomas would have no business being in Hastings.

From the time they received Abby’s message, Carol and her had little to no interaction, other than when absolutely necessary for Therese to perform her duties.

As Therese was preparing the carriage, her eyes found Carol’s as Carol entered the carriage. She was excited for the ride to Hastings, as well as their actual visit in Hastings. The anxiety of having their every movement watched and reported would be greatly lessened on this trip.

After she completed her tasks and entered the carriage along side Carol, the older woman had her sights set outside the window of the carriage, away from where Therese would be seated. Therese had sat with her sight set outside of the window closest to her, away from Carol, as well. After some time had past and the Aird residence was far from view, Therese felt Carol’s hand on hers.

Still with her eyes locked outside her window, Therese whispered, “I miss you. I miss you.”

All Carol did was squeeze her hand a little harder and nodded.

They rode the rest of the way, hand in hand, to the Hastings’ estate.

 

************

 

The carriage pulled to a stop in front of the Hastings’ residence and jolted Therese awake. Her head was rested on something. Only when she opened her eyes did she see her hands being held by Carol’s and found that her head had been resting on Carol’s shoulder. 

As she began to move, Carol started to stir as well.  Therese looked on as Carol's eyes slowly focused and then locked with hers.  Therese warmed immediately at the smile that grew on Carol’s face. She returned the smile and patted Carol’s hand before removing it from Carol’s grasp. 

Soon after, their carriage door opened and Carol exited first with the help with one of the Hastings’ servants.  After Carol had descended, Therese followed closely behind with the assistance of the same gentleman and Therese nodded her gratitude.

“Carol!” Daphne exclaimed as she rushed out to greet her friend.

“You must be careful, Daphne! You are with child now.” Carol reprimanded the approaching woman.

“Do not worry about me, my friend. I am well aware of my surroundings.” Daphne reassured. She then leaned in close and whispered, “I have taken a few tumbles as well to know when it is about to happen in order to avoid it.” She released a chuckle has Carol gave her a reproachful look before she smiled and pulled her friend in close to her side as they walked.

Therese enjoyed witnessing the easy banter and comfort between the close friends.

“Therese. I am greatly pleased that you have returned on this visit. I hope you have been well.” Daphne said over her shoulder.

“Yes, indeed. I am well. Thank you so much for your thoughtful inquiry, Duchess.” Therese replied.

Daphne returned her gaze to Carol. “Abby is anxiously awaiting our company in the dining hall where we shall have some tea and biscuits as we discuss some matters at hand."

“Of course, my dear friend.” Carol gave her a tired smile.  “Thank you so much for hosting all of us. I hope it has not caused you great trouble.”

Daphne smiled warmly at her friend, “It is never any trouble to host my friends.”

As they approached the dining hall, Carol asked, “Has your pregnancy been well?  Have you encountered any ailments in the early part of the day?  I had to endure numerous discomforts during my pregnancy with Rindy.”

“Oh no. The pregnancy itself has been splendid…” There was a pensiveness in Daphne’s voice as her voice trailed off and her brows creased ever so slightly.

“Dear Daphne,” Carol paused in their steps and turned to look at her friend. “Is anything the matter?”

Daphne gave a slight sigh. “The Duke had not been honest. It was not that he could not bring seed to bear children, but rather he did not want to.”

Carol gave a disbelieving look and Therese’s heart simply fell for her previous lady.  She had known of the great desires that Daphne possessed for children, yet she was willing to relinquish all for the Duke when she thought he was unable to…yet the case was that he did not want to despite his knowledge of her desires.

“How then…” Carol began slowly but was unable to finish her question.

“I…forced it.” Daphne shook her head as she looked away from her friend. “I forced his seed in me that one time…” Daphne breathed with regret.  “Our relations have been strained since.” Then she looked back at Carol. “My desire to know was much too great…I understand that I should have held discussions with him about the matter that I suspected, rather than act on my own accord.”

Carol pulled Daphne in for a hug. Therese could see the warmth and compassion from the gesture.  

“You will work through this, my dear. The Duke loves you,” Carol whispered in her ear. She then pulled back to look Daphne in the eyes before she took her hand and reiterated, “You will work through this.”

Daphne offered a grateful yet tired smile. “I hope so too, my friend.  I hope so too.”

They made the last few steps before they arrived at the dining hall to meet Abby.

As soon as the doors opened, they saw Abby seated.  

“Please all enter. We do not have much time and must make haste to let the staff serve us so that we can begin to discuss the matter at hand,” Abby waved the group in with urgency.

Daphne requested the servants to bring out their high noon tea and biscuits. After their food was laid before them and the servants had left, Abby looked about the room to ensure they were in fact free to talk openly. 

With the room secured, Abby began, “Carol, during my visit for Rindy’s birthday ball, I took notice of a gentleman conversing with Harge, but was not able to place him. After some thought upon my return home, I had realized who he was.”

Therese held her breath and noticed that Carol’s focus on Abby intensified with confusion as she inquired further, “Who is he? He has worked for Harge for the past several years.”

“My recollection of him is primarily during that of my parents’ life. They were curious of my proclivities and had sent a servant of theirs to trail me.  He was much younger then.  Later, when I became the sole head of the Gerhards, I had released all staff that did not settle well with me. He was amongst those that I had relieved from their duties.  Our encounters were very brief when he worked for us and my sighting of him was slight as well when I visited your home.” Abby revealed.

Abby lowered her voice before she continued, “When realization of his previous tasks was upon me, I sent one of my most trusted men to follow him. When my employ realized that Thomas had followed you into the forest the day that I sent for your the company, I knew I had to warn you immediately.”

Therese was shocked and appalled, but also devastated. Their most intimate moment was tarnished by that man. She closed her eyes tightly to wish away Abby’s words when she felt warm hands take hers.

Abby took a biscuit, spread the clotted cream, and then added a dab of jam above it.  She took a bite and washed it down with tea before she responded. 

“A man could divorce his wife for adultery.” Abby stated.

“Lord Aird also commits adultery.” Therese stated.

“Yes; however, a woman cannot do the same,” Abby stated.  

Abby began to explain. “She could only divorce him in extreme circumstances and adultery alone, without any aggravating factors, would not be enough. As such, Harge possesses much more power. Also, men in Harge’s position do not wish that it is known that their wives are bedded by another, particularly another woman. This would affect the man’s reputation and standing in his community. Effectively, this would have him appear impotent.”

“What are the consequences if Harge divorces Carol? What are the ramifications?” Daphne inquired after she finished her tea.

Neither Carol nor Therese had eaten any of the offerings. For Therese, her anxiety prevented her from indulging and she imagined it be the same for Carol. Both had only sipped their tea.

Carol’s face appeared visibly tired from the travel and the stress as she asked, “What of Rindy?”

Abby looked on thoughtfully. “I inquired with a barrister and he advised that the 1839 Custody of Infants Act would grant mothers custody of children under the age of seven and access to children under the age of sixteen. If Harge requested divorce, seeing as how Rindy is only three, the barrister suggested that Carol would maintain custody of Rindy.”

Carol finally smiled for the first time since their conversation began. “This is the most relief I have been granted since your note, Abigail. I very much appreciate that you have inquired on my behalf as word may travel if I had done so of my own accord.”

"However..." Abby began slowly. "His divorce claim is from you committing adultery with another woman. I simply fear that this may affect the decision regarding custody."

“What are you thinking?” Came Carol’s soothing voice towards her.

Therese thought that perhaps this was a nightmare and had shaken her head a couple of times to awaken. “I am sorry." When she did not wake up, she realized this was in fact real and this terrible fact of their most intimate and sacred moment had occurred. "What am I thinking?” She took a deep breath and looked at Carol’s hand on hers and softly began, “I am thinking that I am utterly selfish. And I…”

Carol gripped her hand tightly, which made her pause in her thoughts, and firmly stated, “Do not do this. You had no idea. How could you have known?”

“I…I should have said no to you…” Therese whispered these words as she recalled when Carol had leaned in to kiss her. 

“…But I never say no,” Therese sighed in resignation.

“It is selfish of me because I take everything, yet I do not know anything…” Therese began once more with more frustration that she could not assist Carol in any way with this issue. 

Carol once again interrupted her with her voice, “I…” 

Carol pulled Therese into a firm hug before she finished her thought, “…Took what you gave willingly.” 

When Carol pulled back, Therese felt a finger under her chin that lifted her head up. When she looked into Carol’s eyes, Carol continued softly, “It is not your fault, Therese. Are we clear?”

Therese shook her head in disagreement. It was her existence, her appearing in Carol’s perfect life that had turned Carol’s stable life on its head.  She truly felt guilty. “This is my fault,” Therese reiterated.

“Nonsense!” interjected Abby.  “There was no way to know. Frankly, your relationship is quite common amongst aristocrats.  It is simply that no one discusses it, but it is considered an open secret,” Abby explained.

“What shall we do?” Therese looked to Carol and asked.

“I will need some time to contemplate on this matter further.” Carol responded.  “For now, let us enjoy each other’s company before our departure later this afternoon,” Carol smiled at the ladies in the room. 

They continued on with their chatter, as friends would do after a long separation. Before they realized, the afternoon was slowly moving into the early evening and it was time for their departure.

“I do believe it is time that we begin our journey back,” Carol said regretfully. 

Carol turned to her, “Therese, would you please prepare for our departure?”

“Of course,” she responded immediately and began to leave the dining hall. 

“It is unfortunate that you will not be able to spend the night here, Carol. We have not had much time on this trip,” she heard Daphne lament as she was departing. 

“We shall in the near future. I must meet your little one after the birth,” Carol responded with a smile in her voice.

“Of course,” came Daphne’s reply as Therese closed the dining hall doors behind her.

Once Therese arrived at the front, she cooperated with the gentleman that assisted them upon arrival with their preparations for departure. The assistance was greatly appreciated and her preparations had completed the moment that she heard Carol approach with her friends.

"Oh, you know, shattered, sickened,” she heard Carol say.

When she caught sight of Carol, she saw Carol pull Abby into a tight hug. “And thank you.” She could not hear what Abby whispered to Carol; however, she heard Carol respond with a tired smile, “I will. Goodbye.” 

She heard Abby chuckle and respond loudly, “I shall walk you to your carriage too, my dear Carol…If the one with child can walk you to the carriage, so too, can I.”

Carol then turned to Daphne and laughed. They all walked together towards the carriage when she heard Carol say, “I will need to determine the most opportune time to hold this discussion with Harge upon our return. However, from what Abagail had suggested earlier, it is my thought that the circumstances are likely not in our favour.”

Now that they were closer, Therese could hear Abby better, “How will you support Rindy, Therese, and yourself?  It is difficult to do so without money and your parents will most certainly not be receptive of you, as your departure from the Aird’s would be by a divorce to live with another woman. If that were to ever get out…”

She heard Carol respond with, “I must try to appeal to Harge’s decency as a man. He has always been reasonable with me.”

It was Abby that countered, “This matter is different, Carol. This affects his standing in society and the optics of it would not be well received.” There was a pause and then a sudden drop in volume, “Will you speak to Therese about this?” Abby asked quietly, yet Therese was able to hear her whispered words.

“No…” Carol responded and Therese could see out of the corner of her eye that Carol shook her head.  “Perhaps we should have waited. Perhaps I should have asked her to wait for me. Wait for me to have a plan before we pressed forward with…this.”

The conversation ended as the group approached the carriage where Therese waited for their arrival.

Her eyes locked with Carol’s as she informed, “We are ready to depart, my lady.”

Abby gave Carol a hug and then turned to Therese, “Have a safe trip.” 

Therese nodded and responded, “Thank you. You as well.”

Daphne pulled Carol in for a hug goodbye before Therese helped Carol into the carriage. 

When Therese turned her attention to Daphne, she was surprised as Daphne pulled her in for a hug as well and whispered, “Farewell Therese. Safe journey home. Please promise to take care of my friend.”

“I promise,” she whispered back before adding, “I wish you and your growing family much health and happiness.” 

Daphne smiled at that and released her to re-enter her residence where her cousin was waiting for her, while Therese entered the carriage.

Before long, the carriage began to move and they were on their trip back to the Aird’s residence.

Their journey back was similar to that of their carriage ride earlier to the Hastings, with little to no chatter while they held hands.

When Therese felt the carriage come to a stop, she saw that they had arrived back at the Aird’s residence.

She quickly straightened herself and removed her hands from Carol’s. This caused Carol to stir and soon she was awake as well with a slight frown on her face. 

Charles opened the carriage door for them and helped Carol from the carriage. “Welcome back, my lady.”  

“Thank you, Charles.” Carol responded.

Therese exited the carriage as well with Charles' help. “Thank you, Charles.” Therese said gratefully.

“Of course, Therese.” Charles responded with a smile.

Therese walked with Carol back to her chambers. Once the door was closed, Carol sat on the edge of her bed while Therese retrieved her night attire from the dresser.

She felt her lady's eyes follow her as she moved about the room until she arrived before the Carol.

Carol stood and turned to display her back to Therese, so that she could help her out of her clothes and into her nightgown.  

Therese settled into her familiarity, where upon completing her duties, which was to assist with Carol’s nightgown, she would leave once. As such, after she tied the drawstring on Carol’s nightgown, she began to leave.

“You do not have to sleep over there,” Carol’s voice softly reached Therese as she reached for the door to leave.

She turned around and found that the woman was right behind her.  Carol pulled her into an embrace, and Therese’s arms wrapped around the beautiful woman's waist.  They remained embraced in each other’s arms for a few moments.

Being in Carol’s embrace, she realized that they had only been living in the same home for a couple of months.  They had been intimate with each other only a couple of times. Prior to living in the same home they had only seen each other a couple of times, as well.

The timing was not long at all. 

Is all this trouble worth it?

“Carol…” Therese started as she thought about what Carol could lose. “…We must not do this. We should end it. I am not worth all you will lose,” Therese tried to reason.

“Darling,” Carol responded with such warmth in her voice.   “To me, you are,” she concluded softy.

“You will only walk away broken…you will lose everything,” Therese shook her head as tears began to pool.

“At least before I am broken, please let me be whole,” Carol responded with a pleading note in her voice that Therese had not heard before. "I have never felt this love in my lifetime. Please gift me this."

“What ever shall we do?” Therese asked gently.

“Let us not concern ourselves with that tonight. We should rest and enjoy our time together.” Carol responded and held her even tighter.

She was unable to counter that statement and simply nodded her agreement.

Finally Carol released her and moved towards the bed. As she began to lay down, while on her side, she held her hand out in invitation for Therese.

Therese took Carol’s hand and climbed into bed next to her. They lay facing each other with their eyes closed.

Carol pulled her in tighter as she feel asleep.

The breath on her neck, the arms around her waist, and the heart beat that she could feel against her. 

Therese's thoughts drifted to only moments ago when she had objected to proceed any plan other than to end what they had barely even begun. Carol would stand to lose so much and they had not shared much time nor events together in order to justify such a grave loss.

When she continued to ponder more on their relationship, she admitted to herself of the instant attraction with Carol, which led to the opportunity to work for the Aird’s. Living in the same home and working so intimately with Carol, their level of comfort and connection had increased and it made sense due to their substantial interaction on a daily basis.

Yet, logic was not at issue. Love is a feeling and defies most, if not all, logic and rational thinking. Perhaps it was the feeling of anxiety and adrenaline, which caused her pulse to race when she in Carol's vicinity. Perhaps it was the feeling of her stomach turned around when Carol spoke to her. This simply felt right regardless of what would be lost. She felt she belonged in the embrace of Carol’s arms. 

She pushed into Carol’s body further and moved to return Carol’s hold around her waist before she closed her eyes and allowed sleep to take her.

Chapter Text

Summer had turned to autumn and Carol could feel the chill of the breeze as the nights grew longer. Her hands on the doors to the balcony, she gazed into the open sky. 

So many stars.

As she thought this, she saw a particular one twinkle. Almost coming out of nowhere, it stood out in the black sky. She closed her eyes, placed her hand on her heart. 

Therese. 

Her lips gradually spread into a smile as her eyes opened slowly. 

*creeeeeak* 

Carol closed the door to the balcony before she turned around to face the door and greet the visitor. She could feel the anxiety grow within her. 

When her eyes landed on Therese as she entered the room, Carol sighed in relief and offered her young lover a warm smile. 

“I was uncertain if you would accept my invitation to take company with me. It is nice of you to accommodate me.” She spoke slowly, softly as Therese quickly approached her.

A month had passed since their visit with Daphne. When they had returned to the Aird residence, they were cautious of their interactions with one another, knowing that they were surveilled. Yet Carol required time to determine the most prudent course of action.  As a result, they would only see each other when Carol required a change of her dress, for her bath, and to prepare her for the day and sleep. Unfortunately, this limited their opportunities for intimacy…to make love.

*slam*

The closing of her door rung through the room and drew Carol from her thoughts. 

Returning to the present. 

Returning to Therese. 

Her young lover rushed to her and took her in her arms, held her firmly before responding to Carol’s earlier comment. “Do not say that,” Therese reassured softly against her ear.

She felt goosebumps rise from the skin on her neck. Her eyes closed again as she returned the embrace, wanting the warmth around her. She was much too fearful that if she released her hold the smallest amount, Therese would disappear. 

“Therese. How are you still here holding me?” She asked, hushed and in wonderment. The disbelief and relief she felt every time Therese was within her arms.  Along side this constant yearning remains an overwhelming sense of guilt that they would forever be unable to display their love publicly. 

“Carol,” Therese responded just as gently as Carol felt the arms around her tighten. 

“I can never release this. I can never release you.” Therese continued, her head on Carol’s shoulder. 

Therese leaned back slightly and Carol was able to see her beautiful green eyes. “You must understand, that if I could be assured of your happiness, I shall not hesitate to…” Therese began to state unequivocally. 

“My heart would bleed should you ever leave me.” Carol quickly interrupted her. Happiness would not be attainable to her.  

“Happiness could never find me should you not be by my side,” Carol confirmed.

Carol leaned in and kissed the young woman in her arms softly on the lips. She trailed her finger from Therese’s shoulder down her arm as she turned away and took Therese’s hand in hers.

She began to lead Therese towards her bed when Therese stalled.  She glanced over her shoulder and tilted her head inquisitively.

“Allow me to help you with your nightgown first before we turn in,” Therese explained.

Carol released a sigh that she did not know she was withholding. 

“Yes. Let us change,” Carol agreed.

Therese released her hand from Carol’s hold and moved towards the dresser to select a nightgown for Carol.  

Carol observed her now empty hand and could not help feeling the emptiness in her heart. It was as if a rare gem, within her grasp, had been taken from her. She knew that this would be how she should feel if Therese were to ever leave her side.

Not wanting to lose any second of precious time to experience the closeness of her young lover, she moved quickly behind Therese as she was reaching for the selected nightgown, a simple, below the knee, white laced gown.

She placed her hand over Therese’s as she took hold of the hanger and helped Therese’s hand grasp the hanger to bring it down. Her other arm wrapped around Therese’s waist.

“Let me help you with this tonight, darling,” Carol softly spoke against Therese’s ear.

In that moment, she felt Therese lean back into her, flush against her front.  She could feel Therese turn to face her, in her arms as she released the nightgown to Therese’s hold.

When her young lover had fully turned around to face her, she took a step back and turned so her back was facing Therese.

“Perhaps you could loosen the ties and knots for me?” Carol inquired with a seductive drawl.

There was no response from Therese, but she felt the warmth of air shift towards her and a moment later felt deft fingers releasing the ties. 

When the fingers disappeared, she moved a couple of steps forward before she turned to face Therese again. Without breaking eye contact, she slowly reached behind herself to pull her dress down.  She could see Therese’s eyes following her dress as it made its slow descent on her body.

Her face flushed with colour. Never had she felt so bold, but with Therese, it felt natural…right.  

With her dress pooled at her feet, she reached behind once again to remove her corset.

“No,” Therese stated, looking straight into Carol’s eyes.

“Allow me,” Therese continued and took the few steps forward to stand almost flush against her. 

Carol released her hands from behind and pulled both forward, resting her arms on Therese’s shoulders with her fingers locked behind the young woman's neck.

She felt Therese’s hands glide against her sides to her back and trail up to the top of the corset. As the corset loosened further until it dropped, Carol took in a deep breath. Finally able to breath properly at the end of the day, after the release of these restrictions.

Then she felt Therese’s hand slide up her back and release the drawstring of her undergarment before sliding her arms away from Carol and taking a step back.

Carol released her hands from behind Therese’s neck and began to pull on her undergarments, letting it fall to the floor beneath her.

She felt the coolness of the night air in her chambers briefly before she felt her nightgown being placed on her body. Immediately warming her. Therese had helped Carol into her nightgown. 

“Shall we retire for the night?” Carol asked.  

Therese nodded.

“I will not permit daytime wear in bed, darling,” Carol chided teasingly with a smirk well formed on her lips.

Therese smiled and removed her outer dress and corset herself, placing it to the side. Her body now only donning her undergarments. Yet, her beauty shone, regardless of the simpleness of her attire. Carol was in awe of her beauty.

Her scrutiny must not have gone unnoticed by Therese as she began to blush.  It continued to bewilder her how she could have such an effect on her lover.

“Come, darling.” Carol reached for Therese’s hand and led them to bed.

Each step, she was reminded that she could no longer turn back.

Each step, she felt that her life was forever changed.

Each step, she understood that Therese was forever in her heart and she hoped would be forever in her arms.

They arrived at the bed together and Carol climbed in first and made room for Therese.  When Therese settled in, with her back against Carol’s front, Carol wrapped an arm around Therese and pulled her in.

“I could stay like this forever,” Carol thought out loud.

“I, as well,” came the soft reply and Carol felt Therese’s hand on hers, pulling her arm tighter around the small frame.

They took great care to maintain a secretive relationship. So even in this blissful moment, the guilt rested heavily on Carol's mind that she could never provide Therese with a normal relationship. 

“Do you hate me, Therese?”

Therese turned in her embrace to face Carol and reached up to caress her cheek. Therese’s hand cupped her cheek before bringing her down for a soft kiss on the lips, “No. How could I hate you?”

Carol had placed her hand over Therese’s and had leaned into the touch. She felt the warmth and the love. She closed her eyes and moved to rest her head against Therese’s. 

“My desire for you has complicated your life,” Carol responded with a deep sigh.  She pulled her young lover closer and could feel Therese do the same.

“You deserve the world, my love. All I am able to afford are these fleeting moments…hidden from sight.” She felt exceptionally poor that their relationship had to be hidden in such a way. There was no way to express the level of guilt she felt and yet it was impossible to release. 

“I simply desire you, Carol,” Therese reassured her. 

Therese casted her eyes away briefly before she continued, "It is I that have complicated your life."

“No, darling," Carol leaned in to kiss Therese.

"There is nothing complicated in my love for you. I love you, darling.” Carol whispered.

“I love you too, Carol,” Therese’s soft response came.  

“I have come to decide how to approach Harge. I shall discuss with Harge of our relationship tomorrow.”

Therese nodded with a small smile.  The exhaustion of hiding their relationship had finally caught up with the both of them and they had fallen asleep like that, in each other’s arms.

When Carol woke in the morning from the sun shining through the windows, she found a beautiful Carol peony on her vanity.   

Carol examined the flower before her now and smiled at the tenderness, compassion, and love that Therese had offered her last night of simply holding her.  And then once more, this morning with the simple gift of this flower. Never one to ask her for anything in return.

She was use to waking without her lover in her arms. 

Use to the cold of the bed, laying alone.

Her smile turned to a frown with her brows knitting.

Before passing the time of propriety, Therese would take her leave to return to the servants quarters and spend the remainder of the night there, so as not to raise any suspicions.  This occurred on a nightly basis.

I cannot allow this to continue.

Carol recalled their conversation with Abby. There was a sense of confidence and ease from the conversation with Abby regarding custody of Rindy. Carol felt a bit more confident as the fear of losing her daughter appeared to be minimal.  Nevertheless, this was a grave matter that should not be taken lightly. As such, she had been contemplating her approach with Harge.

Carol was making her way to see Harge, when she took notice Thomas leaving Harge's cabinet. He offered her a courteous bow of his head and turned to leave. If she did not want to hold decorum, she would have slapped him.  However, she did not and only casually nodded before she entered Harge’s cabinet.

“Carol. I was hoping to request your presence. I am glad that you came to see me,” Harge said while being seated at his desk.

“What was it that you were wanting to request my company?” Carol inquired as she moved towards Harge.

The cabinet was set in very dark tones of oak, with a large desk on the far side.  The walls on the sides were lined with shelves containing rows and rows of books.  

“I will not mince words with you,” came Harge’s booming voice.

*click* *click* *click*

Carol’s shoes made her approach apparent, along with her eyebrows raised in question as to what he intended to disclose.

“Therese.” Harge narrowed his eyes in scrutiny at Carol.

She was surprised and uncertain of the direction he planned to move the conversion. As such, she treaded carefully. “Therese is my maid…”

“Thomas…” Harge interrupted her. 

“…Observed your…activities…in the forest,” he finished, clearly making his point known to her.

A sudden chill ran down her spine.  She had known from Abby’s message, yet Harge’s confirmation drew blood, nonetheless. The room suddenly felt incredibly cold despite the sun shining through the window.

“Harge…you engage in the same activities,” Carol tried to reason.  

“That is absurd, Carol.” Harge cut in quickly and slammed his hands on his desk.  

Carol was startled and jumped from the sudden outburst.  She had never seen Harge lose his temper in such a manner.

He cast his eyes down and with a heavy sigh as he continued with a touch of tenderness in his voice, “And you know this.”

Harge got up from his seat and began to walk around his desk. 

“Carol, you must understand that it is different for me,” he continued gently. 

He proceeded in his approach until he made his way in front of Carol. He placed his hand lightly on her shoulder.

“You must end this with Therese, or we shall need to request for her leave and seek another maid for you,” he concluded firmly.

Carol snapped her head up to look at Harge incredulously and stepped away from his touch. 

“Does it scare you so much that others shall speak ill of you?” She pressed.

“Of course!” Harge exclaimed.

“This is adultery! I can divorce you from that charge and take Rindy.” Harge’s voice rose with each statement.

“You are wrong. I would be granted custody of Rindy.” Carol retorted.

“What do you mean?” Harge asked frustrated.

“She is under the age of 7.  Custody would be granted to the mother of the child.” Carol stated firmly, fully believing in what Abby had told them.

“Are you proposing that the courts would grant custody in favour of the mother should it be known that the mother had committed adultery with her maid?” Harge challenged.

“You do not spend much time with her. Is it your intention to keep her only to have her spend her time with the nursemaid rather than her mother?” Carol countered.

“Carol…” Harge began. 

“Harge…” Carol swiftly interrupted him. 

Her eyes brimmed with tears as the words spoken and most importantly the actions taken by the man before her did not match the gentle and loving man that she had married. She knew that deep down, Harge was a good man. The past few years, after Rindy’s birth, they ceased to be intimate. He had understood that she did not love him as a lover, but they still shared a love between each other.  

She took a deep breath to calm herself, remembering the man that she had known over the last several years. 

Carol softened her gaze on Harge and firmly stated, “I want you to be happy.” 

She reached out for his hand and took it in both of hers. “I am of mind to know that I did not give you that.” 

She looked away from him with guilt. “I failed you…”

Rindy’s face filtered through her mind. She could feel her heart warm and a smile spread. She returned her gaze to Harge with hopefulness, the same hope that filled them both when Rindy entered their lives. “But we gave each other Rindy, and that is the most breathtaking, the most generous of gifts.”

She wanted to appeal to his reasonable mind and kind heart. “Harge, why must we keep Rindy from each other…and why can we not both find happiness?”

“Carol, I cannot allow this to happen. My standing with the public would…” Harge pleaded.

Carol held up her hand to stop Harge from continuing. “Your family matters less than the public?”

Harge bowed his head down and dropped his hands to his sides.

With another sigh, she continued, “What happened with Therese, I wanted it. I want it. I will not deny it or…But I do regret…I grieve the mess we are about to make of our child’s life if we cannot find a compromise for us both to find our happiness.”

Carol felt she needed to appeal to Harge’s compassion and love for his daughter in that moment, to do what was right for her. 

“Harge.” She pleaded. “We are both responsible. We must both live here together, with our lovers and with Rindy.”

“What a preposterous…” Harge began. 

Carol interrupted him again. “If we part ways, you must understand that we cannot both be in Rindy’s life. She needs both you and I, Harge.  Please see if we can compromise.”

"...We have done so...compromised, for a time now. Why are we unable to further find common ground?" Carol sincerely inquired of Harge.

Harge began to walk away from her, back to his desk and sat. Carol followed him and now, it was her who placed her hand on his shoulder gently. 

“You do understand that we do not make each other happy as normal marital couples and that we have found our own happiness in a different sort of companionship.” Carol continued as she gave her shoulder a light squeeze.

“You must know of my love for you, Carol.” He said with more emotion than she had ever witnessed.

“Of course, Harge. And you know I cannot reciprocate that love for you. That is why we have had our…arrangement. We have had it for quite some time because I felt you needed it.”

He placed his hand over hers and squeezed it lightly.

“I would like a similar arrangement as well. I know you care about me, which is why you had never forced yourself on me.” Carol leaned in and kissed him on the top of his head.

Harge released a long breath and asked, “What will people say?”

“You must know that our staff is trustworthy and have always maintained the highest form of discretion.” Carol was confident of the staff’s ability to not discuss their private matters with others. Further, only a select few that often interacted with them would be in a position to even be suspicious, and those, such as Charles, are highly trustworthy.

She turned him to face her. “It only affects us if it is ever revealed and I trust our staff greatly,” she reaffirmed. 

“Carol…I am hesitant to trust…” Harge began slowly again.

“You know that if a dispute enters the public sphere, the people will have a greater point of a discussion.   It is in our favour to have this hidden and handled within our home,” Carol explained.

“You have much faith in our staff.” Harge stated, yet the statement had the hint of uncertainty…a question.

“The staff may suspect, yet to obtain evidence or to confirm said suspicion would prove most difficult,” Carol offered. 

“Further, most have worked for the Aird family for several generations. They are very trustworthy.” Carol was certain of their loyalties as she was more familiar with them being the lady of the house.

Carol removed her hand from his shoulder. “That is the deal."

She began to move around his desk to leave. “Take it or leave it. I cannot…I will not negotiate.”

She continued to walk towards the door as she spoke. “If you leave it, this is certain to become public knowledge.”

Her hand reached the door handle and she gripped it tightly. 

“If it becomes public, it will get ugly,” she stated firmly. 

Before she opened the door, she turned back to face Harge. She wanted to plead once more to him and appeal to his innate generous and kind heart.  

“Please,” she pleaded with tears collecting in her eyes. “We are not ugly people, Harge.”

She opened the door and exited his cabinet, the door closed behind her as she left him.

Chapter Text

Carol shuffles past a number of people to squeeze through the doors.

As soon as she enters the tight cubical of an enclosed spaced filled with others, she can feel the sweat starting to build underneath her warm fur coat.  A knee-length, golden coat that she dons in order to survive the cold weather.

How is it that every year, people always wait until the last minute to do this. 

Immediately after this thought crosses her mind, she reprimands herself for also being a procrastinator.

*ding*

The bell chimes and the doors open, releasing all those it contained.

“Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me,” Carol passes each person with her apologies as she shimmies through the other parents and children…mostly parents.

“Where is it?” she asks herself.

Her blue eyes scans the area as she starts to walk around.

She pauses when she spots a train.

*whoosh* *whoosh* *whoosh*

The train zooms by.

She removes her brown leather gloves and holds it in her hand as she moves closer to the train.

All of a sudden the train stops.

What did I do?

Carol thinks this as she looks around to see what could have happen to cause the train to stop so abruptly.

I will need to find help.

She looks up and sees young woman. The woman is dressed in a green long sleeved shirt with a black dress over top and decorating her head is a cute Santa's hat.

Those green eyes.  

Carol tilts her head slightly to the side.  

She feels familiar.

An image flashes through her mind.

A carriage from what appears to be Victorian times. The young woman in a simple green dress cinched at her waist and a white apron that covered her front, below the waist, who has just turned around to reveal the deepest and most mesmerizing forest green eyes.

The image of that woman by the carriage somehow reminds me of this young woman behind the counter.

Carol carries this thought as she squints her eyes a touch, hoping this would afford her more clarity to recognize where she could have possibly met this woman and why there is this familiarity.

Another image flashes through her mind.

She sees intertwined fingers as two hands, together, glide down the body of a horse in a stable. She could feel a smaller woman before her. Body flushed against her as her arms wound around the waist of the smaller woman.

As the image dissipates, Carol pulls the leather gloves through her fingers, feeling the softness of the leather, as the young woman before her returns her gaze. 

The feeling of the soft gloves sliding through her fingers felt similar to what she imagined the feel of the fur of the horse and the hand that was beneath hers in the image that had only moments ago flashed through her mind.

Suddenly, a feeling of closeness struck her.  Not was not an image this time, but a feeling. It was as if she was on a horse, on a slow gallop, with someone else. 

A woman. She could feel it. This was the same woman as the one in the images that flashed through her mind moments ago.

It was a feeling of intimacy. Rhythmic intimacy that felt right, good, and very sensual.

Carol’s breath catches from the intensity of the feeling.  She continues to look on as an entire scene plays out in her mind.

She is sitting at a large dining table with a handsome man and small child. The man rises to leave after his last bite and kisses both the child and Carol on the head.  The man begins to walk towards the exit.  When the door opens, Carol sees another woman on the other side of the door.  As the door closes, Carol can see that the man takes the woman’s hand and begins to walk off.

Suddenly she sees a room and a tall blonde woman and a smaller brunette woman, the same one by the carriage with stunning green eyes.

The brunette helps the blonde change into a night gown. 

“How was Rindy and Harge this evening?” Carol hears the brunette ask the blonde.

“Rindy is thrilled her birthday is two moons away. And Harge is meeting another woman tonight,” the blonde woman responds before pulling the other into a long and slow kiss.

The shorter woman pulls away and leans her forehead against the blonde’s whispering, “I am so relieved that Harge agreed to this arrangement.”

The taller woman closes her eyes, showing creases of years of worry and thought, “I am only apologetic that I cannot offer you a name, title, or station.” 

“I do not seek that.” The brunette responds defiantly. She pulls the blonde in for a lingering kiss. When they break, the woman speaks again. “This…This is what I need and want. I cannot be more happy,” she says as she lays her head on the taller woman's shoulder.

“Now…” the blonde starts as she begins to undress her lover.

“Should I not change into my night attire too?” The younger woman playfully asks.

“Why should we bother if it will only be discarded moments later?” the older woman seductively responds as she leans in to kiss the other.

“Lady Aird, what are you implying?” the brunette smirks.

“I am not implying anything…I am blatantly saying, we will be making love and there is no need for a nightgown.” With that comment, the blonde pushes her lover onto the bed before straddling her.

“Shall we begin then?” the young woman asks as she leans back onto the bed, draping her arms loosely around the blonde’s neck and pulling her down with her as she lays back.

“Yes, we shall,” the older woman responds and leans in for a kiss before they begin to make love.

“I love you,” the brunette whispers softly against the blonde’s ear.

Carol jolts out of the images that had just played in her mind, when a woman carrying a crying child comes into view and breaks the intense gaze that she and the young woman at the toy counter was sharing.

Her breathing is hard and ragged, as if she had just run a marathon.

“What happened?” She says out loud as she clasps her hands holding her brown leather gloves to her heart.

Aimlessly and in a daze, she leaves the train set and begins to wander the store.  

A shiver runs down Carol’s spine and her breath hitches as she feels the ghost of fingers trail down her shoulder, lips on her neck, and what almost feels like rain water come down on her...as if she were being intimate with someone in the forest under the rain.

Her cheeks flush at the feeling and she continues to walk until she bumps into a counter. 

She looks around and finds that she has bumped into the counter in the doll section.  When she drops her gaze down, she finds that she is towering over the young woman that has occupied her mind ever since she looked up from the train set moments ago. 

Carol's eyes softens and a smile tenderly appears on her face as she observes the adorable green-eyed woman who is currently crouched down reading a book. 

She had somehow found herself at this counter.  Luckily for her, it happens to be the doll counter and she is shopping for a doll.  Carol closes her eyes and takes in a breath to calm the butterflies in her stomach and the hammering in her heart. 

Sliding her gloves through her fingers once more, she drops the gloves on the counter loudly to  call attention to the young woman.

The woman startles, looks up, and blushes red before slowly standing as she closes the book currently in her hands without breaking eye contact.

“I wonder if you might help me find this doll for my daughter,” Carol asks casually as she hands a piece of paper over to the woman.

The woman reads the the words on the piece of paper she just received. “Bright Betsy. She cries and wets herself.”

She looks apologetically at Carol, “But we are out of stock.”

The woman continues to offer suggestions with every effort to help.  Carol can sense the desperateness in the woman standing before her to find something for Carol, yet there seems to be a discomfort for the young lady in this doll section.

“So what did you want when you were that age?” Carol asks curiously when it was clear the woman was not interested in dolls.

"A train set,” the woman responds enthusiastically with her dimpled smile.

“Really.” Carol wonders out loud, taking in the stunning smile she is gifted.

She is very surprising.

“Do you know much about train sets?” Carol asks. Although not particularly interested in trains, she simply wants to bask in the enthusiasm of the intriguing woman before her.

The woman begins to describe the train set with a zest that she lacked when searching for an alternative to the doll Carol was seeking.

Why does this feel familiar? A woman having an interest in a topic that is far removed from the interest of other women.

“Well, that’s that. Sold.” Carol confirms, fully aware that she is willing to purchase anything this young woman was selling her.

Carol looks on as the woman begins to complete the form.

“I love you."

Carol hears a whisper as she observes the woman, who in the moment looks up at her.

Their gaze locks for a few moments when the woman blushes again.

“We’ll need your account details, your shipping address,” the woman says as she slides the order form across to Carol.

Carol shakes out of her daze before she mumbles from embarrassment since she was caught staring at the woman, “Of course.”

As she fills out her address and other details for the order, they make comfortable small talk.  

“Done,” Carol exclaims pushing the order form gently back to the young woman and handing her the pen.

“Where’d you learn so much about train sets, anyway?” Carol asks, not wanting their interaction to end now that she has completed her purpose for this brief meeting.

“I read...Too much, probably,” the young lady shrugs shyly. 

“It’s refreshing. Thank you.” She smiles brightly at the pretty girl.  

“Merry Christmas,” Carol says somewhat reluctantly as she hesitates a split second before releasing a resigned breath, knowing that she must depart.

“Merry Christmas,” the woman responds while leaning forward, almost as if not wanting her to leave either.

Without any reason to remain at the counter, she spins away gracefully and begins to walk away. With each step taken away from the woman at the counter, there is a magnetic force that she feels provoking her instincts to turn back for another look.

Giving in, Carol pauses and turns around to face the young, intriguing, attractive woman again. She finds the woman had been watching her intently.

“I like the hat,” she comments teasingly with a glimmer in her eyes.  She could not help but be flirty with the woman.

The young woman grants her a brilliant smile with bright eyes as she blushes once more. 

Carol returns a seductive smirk as she returns to her path, walking towards the elevator. As the elevator door closes, her lips curl up into a smile that reaches her eyes.

I feel as if our paths will cross again.