Contessa Von Buhren sat at her vanity in her intimates, idly pawing through her jewelry.

She twisted her favorite pearls around her fingers and pouted. “A rose for a... Would thorn be appropriate, do you think?” She gasped and whirled around, her hand to her heart, only to see her husband leaning against the doorway, twirling a rose in his fingers, looking at it with a mocking smile. “You brute!” she cried. “You scared me,” she said, crossing her arms and turning her head away, glaring at the wall. Arturo’s mocking smile never changed as he walked over to her and grasped her hair, forcing her head back up towards his. “Oh, I highly doubt that’s even possible, Gianetta. What is it they say about witches? If you prick them with a needle...” He trailed off, amused as she began to beat at him with the hand still gripping the pearls. He grabbed it, using it and her hair to drag her upwards, the nails of her free hand digging into the wrist of the hand he used to grab her head. “Ruffian!” she cried, wildly trying to kick his shins. “Lout! Beast!” “That will be quite enough of that,” he said, shoving his mouth roughly against hers and dragging her body against his. She shoved him back away, knocking over her stool and holding the vanity tight for support, breathing hard and staring at him dumbly. After a long moment, she rushed back at him, kissing him hard and passionately. His arms wrapped around her, lifting her up to support her as she twined her legs around him. She held on tightly to his shoulders, digging her fingernails in as deeply as she could, then slowly dragging them down his back as he carried her over to her bed, dropping her hard. She stared at him, then reached up to tear at his shirt. He helped her to drag it off, then dropped on top of her, biting her shoulder as he pulled down her shift. She shrieked, both of her hands gripping his hair. An hour later she lay on his chest, still breathing heavily, her sweat-streaked hair sticking to her face and neck, her hand idly tracing over his firm stomach as he slept. It took her a long time to join him in slumber, though she would have sworn on a Bible that she lacked for cares completely.

“Don’t be nervous, Alessia, I’m sure everyone will just love your new dress,” Heart said absentmindedly as she looked out the carriage window. “It looks completely unlikely to rain, so you should be worry-free!” Alessia sighed under her breath. While her sister was well meaning, she had been far too preoccupied with the idea of this picnic for too many days to notice her sister’s unusual apprehensiveness. For once, Alessia was happy to hide something from her sister, since she didn’t know what exactly it was she was feeling anyway. Something about Lord Kensington at once both frightened and attracted her, and it was nothing she could explain to her twin, who seemed to be obsessed with something Alessia didn’t understand, either. As they arrived at the park and the coachman came around to help them dismount, she was careful not to meet her sister’s eyes, pretending to rearrange her skirts. Unfortunately, while she was focusing on her dress, she missed once again the arrival of Lord Kensington and his companion. “Ladies Alessia. Heart. I am so pleased you were able to join us this afternoon.” Alessia let out a small gasp of surprise, completely different from the quick intake of breath her sister was currently making. She turned to see her sister frozen to the spot, eyes glued upon the man accompanying Lord Kensington, who was currently making introductions. “And Lady Heart, I promised to introduce you to my cousin, the infamous Sean Kensington who so terribly disrupted your first London ball last week, now currently safe and sound.” Sean Kensington was bowing over Heart’s hand, making a very gracious apology. “I am so sorry to have frightened you so, milady. I was touched to hear of your concern for me.” Heart was blushing as red as could be, making appropriate murmurs as he took her arm and walked her towards the park. All the while, somehow Lord Brooks had managed to circle behind Alessia. “How charming,” he drawled, grinning wickedly. “I thought you didn’t have any cousins,” was all she could think to blurt, then covered her mouth. Of all the things to say!

Lord Kensington laughed at her. “Well, I don’t,” he replied. “How-“ Alessia began, then decided she’d rather not put her foot in her mouth again and fell silent. Lord Kensington watched Heart and Sean walk away for a moment, leaving Alessia’s words hanging in the air. “He’s actually my second cousin, but since we both have so few relatives, we must be close to the ones we have. Shall we join them?” he asked, proffering his arm. He grinned that wicked grin again. “My word that you reach the picnic intact.” “Ah, but how do I know that I can trust your word?” Alessia asked flippantly, then bit her tongue. Lord Brooks laughed. “Oh, you can trust my word, Lady, I promise I will warn you before I do anything that you might construe as... dangerous. So what do you think?” Alessia hesitated for one more brief moment, then placed her hand in his. “I suppose I have no other choice.” “No, I would guess you wouldn’t,” was Lord Kensington’s not reassuring reply.

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