Andrew didn’t know how he looked when he reached the Mulligans’ estate but the footman did a double take when he opened the door and a maid offered Andrew a brandy before he’d even reached the drawing room.
Carey was alone, thank goodness, and she flew across the room to him immediately. “What is it?” she asked. “Whatever’s happened?” Her hands were firm on his shoulders, pushing him into the nearest chair where he sunk down gratefully.
“I’m getting married,” Andrew told her, looking up at her and hoping she saw how sorry he was.
Carey blinked. “Oh,” she said faintly and put a hand on the back of his chair to steady herself. “I’m sorry, I mean congratulations.”
Andrew shook his head quickly. “Don’t. I’m sorry.”
Carey paused for a moment, looking down at him. She closed her eyes for a moment and, when she opened them, there was something fragile in her eyes. “Like you said last night, we were never promised to each other. Not really.” She took a breath and her smile turned more genuine. “So, who is she?”
Andrew looked away. He couldn’t watch her try to be happy for him, not when he knew he was ruining all her plans, taking her away her chance to live the life she’d always wanted.
“It’s Jesse,” he said and watched her blink at him questioningly for a moment before understanding dawned.
“Oh,” she said again. She sat down beside him, still looking at him closely. Eventually, she said, “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” and it was Andrew’s turn to stare at her in shock.
“Of course you should be surprised,” he told her, jumping to his feet and pacing the room. “This isn’t the result of some childhood infatuation, Carey. I don’t have any choice!”
Carey frowned. “What do you mean?”
Andrew hesitated. He really hadn’t meant to tell her. Carey was practically family, but she wasn’t quite and you didn’t discuss money with anyone who wasn’t family, and preferably not even then.
He looked across the room at her and felt so much sadness that he didn’t know what to do with it all. “Everything’s such a mess,” he managed and then choked out a rough explanation, just edited highlights of his current situation.
Carey was standing right in front of him by the time he was finished, eyes shining with tears. Andrew hated that he’d upset her, hated even more how much she must pity him, but he couldn’t turn away from her.
She reached out, curling her hand around the back of his. “It is a sensible solution,” she said quietly.
Andrew tugged at his hair. “I know, I know,” he groaned, “but I wanted to marry you. We were going to have a good life together, weren’t we?”
Carey bit her lip. “We were never a love match, darling.”
Andrew sighed. “No, I know, but you could have carried on with your studies and we would have, it would have been nice to start a family one day, wouldn’t it?”
Andrew had had it all planned out: over long nights at war, he’d dreamt about coming home to Carey, to being cosy and comfortable and loved even if they weren’t in love. Andrew had never been in love; he thought he probably wouldn’t be very good at it, to be honest. He felt a lot, all the time, and from what he’d read about love, feeling that much would probably kill him.
“And Jesse?” Carey asked.
Andrew looked away. “I don’t think he likes me very much, he’s only doing this for Hallie.”
Carey rolled her eyes at him. “Don’t be silly. How can he possibly not like you? Everyone likes you. You’re breaking my heart and I still like you.”
Andrew’s head snapped up but Carey was smiling, just slightly. “How could you – That was a horrible thing to tease me about.”
She reached out and put her hand against his cheek. “I’m only partly teasing,” she assured him as though that was supposed to make him feel better.
Andrew closed his eyes. “I’m so sorry,” he said again. He felt like he’d be saying it to her forever, assuming she ever wanted to see him again after this – he wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t.
Her heard the soft rustle of fabric, felt her hand drop to his shoulder and then his eyes snapped open when she stood on tiptoes and pressed a light kiss to his mouth.
“Carey,” Andrew said, catching her around the waist and kissing her back automatically. They’d never done that before; like she said, they weren’t a love match.
“We would have had a good life,” Carey agreed, finally answering his question. She stepped back and patted him firmly on the arm. “Now, off you go. You have a wedding to organise and, if you leave it up to Hallie, there will definitely be ponies involved.”
Oh god, Andrew realised, she was right. Not just about the ponies, but about the whole thing. They were going to have to have a wedding and probably very soon, before his father’s creditors started banging on the door in person rather than just sending snippy letters.
“Andrew?” Carey asked, sounding more amused than Andrew thought she should. “Are you all right or shall I get you some more brandy?”
Andrew took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “No, thank you,” he said, squaring his shoulders and conjuring up a little dignity even though it was probably wasted on Carey. “I’m going to go home and I’m going to plan my wedding.” He was foolishly proud that his voice didn’t shake at all when he said that. Well, hardly at all. Not much, anyway.
Carey squeezed his shoulder one last time. “Good boy,” she said. “And don’t give a thought to me here, jilted and pining.”
“Carey,” Andrew protested, “that’s really not funny.” It wasn’t and he felt awful because he knew she wasn’t really joking, but just the fact that she could at least pretend to be did make him feel a little better. When he returned to the Priory, it was with a faint, tentative flush of hope that maybe everything was going to work out after all.
They were able to set the date of the wedding for two weeks’ time, since they’d managed to get a special licence. Andrew would have preferred for it to be even sooner, so that he could make a start on settling his father’s affairs, but his mother was worried about how that would look, and Hallie desperately wanted to plan everything, so he had to agree.
Jesse seemed equal parts terrified and entertained by the whole thing, watching the preparations from the sidelines and only stepping in occasionally to veto things like white doves in the church and, as predicted, pony rides to the reception.
“Doves,” Jesse said, shaking his head and walking across the gardens away from Hallie and toward Andrew. “Can you believe that girl?” he asked, pitching his voice so Hallie could definitely hear him. “I’m ashamed to be related to her.”
Andrew grinned at Hallie’s indignant squeal. “Oh, she’s not all bad,” he said, moving a pile of papers off the grass so that Jesse could sit beside him. “At least she isn’t trying to make us wear matching taffeta jackets or anything.”
Jesse shuddered. “Don’t say that so loud,” he hissed. He contemplated the ground for a moment then folded down next to Andrew, shooting him a quick smile before fixing his eyes on Hallie and Andrew’s mother again.
Andrew shuffled his papers together and tried to think of something else to say that would keep Jesse talking to him. They kept cycling between companionable commiseration over the wedding plans and intense awkwardness when they remembered exactly whose wedding was being organised.
“Have you sent out your invitations?” he asked, thinking of his own sorry pile of letters, which had gone out in the post that morning. They weren’t having a big wedding, naturally, and Andrew had been away for some long that he wasn’t expecting many acceptances. Still, he hoped that a few of his friends might drag themselves to Surrey for the occasion.
“Yes,” Jesse said, nodding. “Though I’m not sure if the Post Office will be able to handle the extra volume.”
Andrew looked up, frowning. “How many people have you invited?” he asked, then felt guilty. Jesse was paying for the wedding – he could invite as many people as he wanted, of course.
Jesse picked up two blades of grass and started to twist them together. “Oh, well. A friend or two from Cambridge. Justin Bartha. I contemplated inviting Old Mrs Mills who lives in the village but her arthritis does play up in the mornings.”
“Justin Bartha?” Andrew asked. Justin was the squire’s son but Andrew wasn’t sure he’d ever spoken to him.
Jesse’s chin came up. “He’s my best friend,” he said, looking at Andrew like he thought Andrew might have some sort of objection to that. Andrew had no idea why he’d think that since Andrew’s best friend (other than Carey) was the eccentric second son of a Duke who always slept in until noon and regularly forgot to put on clothes before going out into the street.
Andrew missed Matt.
“Well, I hope he comes then,” Andrew told him sincerely and frowned a little when Jesse blinked at him. “What? Did you think I was a terrible snob or something?” He’d be incredibly upset if Jesse really did think that.
“No,” Jesse said quickly then hesitated. “Well, not exactly? I thought you didn’t really like anyone except your particular friends, that’s all.” He bit his lip and made a sorry face, except Andrew didn’t think he was really sorry, Andrew thought he might mean it.
“I like everyone,” Andrew protested, genuinely concerned that Jesse might think otherwise.
“All right,” Jesse said, holding up his hands. “Sorry. Just, when we were younger, you never, um. I mean you never…” He made a face at himself. “No, forget it. It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it does,” Andrew protested, twisting around so fast that his papers spilled off his lap.
He flapped a hand at Jesse when he started collecting them up again but Jesse didn’t stop, carefully matching corners together while he said, “When we were children you only wanted to spend time with your own friends, that’s all. Nothing terrible.”
Andrew wanted to tell him that no, that was terrible, and also to protest that that wasn’t how he remembered things at all – he’d tried to be Jesse’s friend but Jesse hadn’t been interested. At least, Andrew had thought he wasn’t.
“Jesse,” he started, but Jesse shushed him, looking like he wished he hadn’t mentioned anything.
“What are these?” Jesse asked, looking down at the papers in his hand in a clear grasp at a distraction. He obviously noticed the figures scrawled across them because he blushed and tried to hand them back. “Sorry, they’re none of my business, are they?”
“They will be this time next week,” Andrew said, letting Jesse keep hold of them. “I’m just trying to get my head around the rents my tenants pay. Everyone seems to pay different amounts and at different times during the year; it’s all Greek to me, I’m afraid.”
“I speak Greek,” Jesse said distractedly, scanning his eyes over the top sheet.
He was quiet for a moment while Andrew tipped his head up to the sun, trying not to feel too embarrassed that his miserable time at Eton hadn’t equipped him for this kind of life.
“Oh, I see,” Jesse murmured after a moment and then shoved the papers back across to Andrew. “It looks like the system’s based on yield. You see here where it lists productivity by acre?”
“If you say so,” Andrew agreed but leant in, forcing himself to pay attention while Jesse painstakingly uncomplicated it all for him.
By the time the sun had set, Andrew had a (slightly) better understanding of how his land worked and Jesse had a bright pink line of sunburn running down his nose.
“Oh no,” Andrew said, worried. “I’m sorry, I should have noticed.” He automatically reached up to touch it the way he would with any of his friends, but dropped his hand just shy of Jesse’s skin when Jesse’s cheeks pinked to match his nose.
“That’s okay,” Jesse said quietly, leaning back on his hands. It might have been a casual, accidental move but it also happened to put his face far out of touching distance. “I burn when I so much as think about the sun, so it’s not your fault. I should probably get myself a parasol like a pretty Continental lady.”
Andrew tried to picture it and smiled to himself. “You would look lovely,” he decided. Then he thought about how the sunlight had made Jesse’s curls glow and found himself saying, “Although it would be tragic if people couldn’t see your face,” before he’d thought about it.
Jesse just stared at him, eyes unblinking and almost silver in the sunlight for a really long few seconds before he looked away. “You shouldn’t say things like that,” he said lightly, “people might talk.”
Andrew laughed, relieved that the weird tension had been broken. “Then it’s a good job we’re making honest men of each other soon, isn’t it?” It was easier to joke about that right now although it still made him feel more flustered than it probably should.
Jesse hesitated for a moment then, “Yes, I suppose it is,” he agreed and very carefully bumped his boot against the side of Andrew’s.
The morning of the wedding dawned bright and sunny, much warmer than a late November day should be.
Andrew ate breakfast in his bedroom and tried to keep out of everyone’s way. They’d decided against holding the ceremony at St George’s, Hanover Square, even though that was the place to marry these days. It was questionable enough whether Andrew’s mother should really be breaking her mourning to attend the service; it would definitely have been frowned upon if she’d travelled into London for it.
Ford knocked politely just before nine, casting his eyes over Andrew as though it was appalling that Andrew was still in bed.
“Are you ready to dress, My Lord?” he asked, holding out his arm which was carefully draped with Andrew’s clothes.
“Oh,” Andrew said, surprised. He’d been mostly dressing himself since he got home because it had turned out that his elusive valet was nearly seventy years old, and needed to have a nap every morning after exerting himself carrying water for Andrew’s basin up the stairs. “Thank you.”
“Your attire should be impeccable for your wedding day,” Ford said seriously, with just enough edge to imply that he thought Andrew’s clothes usually were not impeccable.
“That’s very thoughtful,” Andrew said, sliding out of bed and rinsing jam from his fingers in the washbasin. Ford’s sniff showed his opinion on that.
It took nearly an hour until Andrew was dressed to Ford’s standard and Andrew had to admit that he did feel much more like his old self now that he was properly attired. His Hessian boots were gleaming, his cravat was perfect, and Ford had even managed to do something to his hair so it no long stood up in thick, awkward clumps.
“What do you think?” Andrew asked, turning from side to side in front of the mirror. He felt a little embarrassed to be worried, but if Jesse was going to marry him, the least Andrew could do was make an effort.
“Impeccable, My Lord,” Ford declared with a nod of self-satisfaction which Andrew definitely couldn’t begrudge. Then Andrew remembered that he wasn’t the only one who needed to dress that morning and felt guilty for not thinking of it sooner.
“Has anyone seen to Mr Eisenberg?” he asked, hopefully.
“Mr Eisenberg declined any offer of help,” Ford told him flatly. “He assured me that he and Mr Bartha were more than capable of the task.”
“Mr Bartha?” Andrew asked, surprised. “Did he stay the night, then?” Justin had come to the Priory for dinner last night and he and Jesse had still been up talking quietly and intensely when Andrew went to bed, but Andrew hadn’t realised he was going to be here all night.
He wondered what they’d been talking about that was so important – probably what a mistake Jesse was making settling for Andrew, Andrew thought, then shook his head, appalled at himself for such uncharitable thoughts.
“Apparently so, My Lord,” Ford said, expressionlessly.
Andrew tried to catch his eye in the mirror, wondering if there was something Ford was trying to tacitly tell him but, if there was, Andrew couldn’t deduce it. And, well, he probably didn’t want to know.
“How long until I need to leave for the church?” he asked instead.
Ford glanced out of the window – of course he could tell the time by the sun, of course he could – and pursed his lips. “Imminently, My Lord,” he said and Andrew felt a sudden spike of fear, which he ruthlessly shoved down. Imminently was… well, imminently was soon. Andrew was going to be married soon.
“Well,” he said, as brightly as he could. “I supposed I’d better be heading downstairs then.”
“Quite, sir,” Ford agreed and tactfully looked away when Andrew’s knees wobbled the first time he tried to stand up.
Hallie was travelling to the church with Jesse and Justin, so Andrew and his mother shared the other coach. It was only a short journey to St Dunstan’s Church in Cheam but today the coach seemed to simply eat up the miles and they were passing the ruins of the old palace, nearly there, before Andrew could so much as blink.
I hope we lose a wheel, he thought wildly then made a face at himself. Of course he didn’t hope that. He just needed one more moment to compose himself, that was all.
“Are you nervous?” his mother asked, squeezing his knee.
“No,” Andrew told her quickly. “No, of course not.” He tried to smile, but she didn’t look reassured. “It’s not as if it’s difficult, is it? I can hardly muck it up.”
Mama shook her head. “Of course not,” she said patiently, “and you wouldn’t anyway. But that wasn’t what I was asking and you know it.”
Andrew ducked his head. “Sorry,” he muttered. He should know better than to try to convince his mother he was all right when he wasn’t; she really did know him far too well.
Mama twisted around in her seat, her cumbersome black dress rustling loudly. “You can still change your mind,” she said, serious and low. “We’ll find another solution, one which doesn’t involve you throwing away your future.”
“I’m hardly doing that,” Andrew protested. “It’s not as if I’m marrying some lecherous old man or even someone who will make me move miles away from home. It’s only Jesse, Mama.”
“Yes,” Mama agreed, sounding like that wasn’t the point. “I’m very fond of Jesse, but are you?”
“Of course,” Andrew said quickly, just as they pulled up in front of the church. He was fond of Jesse; he wasn’t sure it was possible to spend time with him and not be. “He’s lovely.” He squeezed her hand. “Mama, don’t worry, it’s going to be fine.”
The driver was opening the door and the vicar was hurrying to meet them so his mother couldn’t reply. She didn’t look convinced though, so Andrew decided he was just going to have to be certain enough for both of them.
They’d let Hallie out of her mourning clothes for the morning since it was her brother’s wedding day and since the late Earl hadn’t actually been her father, but Jesse and Andrew were both still sporting their black armbands as a mark of respect.
The absence of Andrew’s father was just another thing that Andrew wasn’t really thinking about. Like the wedding, like what was going to happen after the wedding, like the fact that none of his friends had been able to attend and it looked like their wedding party was going to consist of just the five of them.
“Hello,” he said, stepping up next to Jesse just in front of the door.
“Hello,” Jesse echoed, eyes skimming quickly over Andrew before he looked away. “You, um, you look.”
“You too,” Andrew said. “You look very handsome.” That at least was true; Jesse had clearly been hiding a secretly fashionable side – or he’d given in and let Hallie take him shopping – because he was wearing a very stylish blue coat which matched his eyes and a pair of pale pantaloons which clung to his thighs and made Andrew blink and look away.
“Really?” Jesse asked, raising his eyebrows. “Because I was thinking of changing into a hair shirt – it would have to be more comfortable than the collar points on this one.”
Andrew laughed, trying to do so quietly when his mother and the vicar both turned to look at him. “It’s fashionable, Jesse.”
“Eugh, fashion,” Jesse said feelingly but he smiled when Andrew laughed again.
“Thank you,” Andrew said just before they started to follow the others into the church.
“What for?” Jesse whispered. It was cool inside the church, slightly musty-smelling the way churches always were.
“Making me laugh,” Andrew told him honestly. “I feel less like I’m going to die of nerves now.”
“Oh,” Jesse said, sounding surprised but pleased. “I’m, um. Good. I mean, I still feel like my own hysterical collapse is imminent but maybe you can catch me?”
“Always,” Andrew agreed automatically. He stepped to the side slightly to avoid a poorly placed pew cushion, and his sleeve brushed Jesse’s, the back of Jesse’s hand cool against Andrew’s. They were nearly at the altar.
“Gentleman,” the vicar said, smiling between them as if he were unaware of how rushed and unconventional this marriage was. “Shall we begin?”
Andrew glanced at Jesse, only to find Jesse already looking back at him. “Yes,” Jesse said firmly and Andrew took a deep breath. They could do this.
It took a lot less time to get married than Andrew had always supposed. There was no overt religion in the ceremony because the church was still trying to decide its stance on same-sex marriage and because Jesse had been born Jewish, so thirty minutes after they started, Andrew was saying, “I will.”
It felt… it didn’t feel like anything really. Andrew kept looking at Jesse, repeating this is my husband over and over in his head, but he just felt like he was playing a game with himself, not like this was real life.
“You may kiss,” the vicar said, almost questioningly, and Andrew felt his eyes widen with something that wasn’t quite horror.
“Um,” he said and flicked his eyes up to Jesse’s face.
Jesse was staring resolutely at their joined hands. His eyelashes were casting shadows on his cheeks and kissing him didn’t seem too terrifying an idea. Maybe.
“Shall we?” Andrew whispered.
Jesse didn’t say anything, but he did wet his lips reflexively so Andrew leant in quickly, just aiming for a quick kiss to seal the marriage. But at the very last second, Jesse turned his head and Andrew’s lips skimmed his cheek instead.
“Sorry,” Jesse mumbled, so quiet that Andrew almost didn’t hear him even though his mouth was close to Andrew’s ear.
Andrew straightened up, embarrassed and flustered all over again. “No,” he said softly, “that’s fine.” It was fine; it was stupid to feel sad that Jesse didn’t want to kiss him. Andrew didn’t want to kiss Jesse either, of course, not really.
So that was that. They were married. Andrew waited to feel different but it didn’t come.
“Congratulations,” said the vicar, fading back into the vestry and Hallie jumped out of her seat, throwing herself at Andrew and Jesse, one arm across each of their chests.
“That was amazing,” she cried, squeezing them both. “I know it’s all, you know, weird and awkward and things, but watching my brothers get married was amazing.”
“When you put it like that, it just sounds incestuous,” Jesse said dryly and disentangled himself, accepting a hug from Andrew’s mother with a, “Really, Aunt Susan, anyone would think you liked me.”
Andrew tried not to watch him, but failed.
“Are you all right?” Hallie asked, leaning against his shoulder. “Does it feel weird being married?”
“Yes,” Andrew told her grandly, “I feel like a man now. I can cast aside my short trousers and take my place at the adult table.”
Hallie rolled her eyes. “You’re weird. Also, you and Jesse should go and say hello to Mr Cumberbatch since he came all the way down here for your wedding.”
Andrew looked up, surprised, and sure enough, Cumberbatch was standing in the aisle, next to a tall, broad man in an ill-fitting Sunday suit.
“Jesse,” Andrew said, catching Jesse’s sleeve and giving it a little tug. Jesse slid away from Andrew’s mother and fell into step beside Andrew surprisingly easily.
“Mr Cumberbatch, thank you for coming,” Andrew said, holding out his hand to Cumberbatch who shook it firmly.
“Congratulations to you,” Cumberbatch said with a smile that took in them both. He put his hand on the arm of the man standing next to him. “This is Thomas Hardy, my husband.”
Andrew blinked. If same-sex marriages were uncommon for the upper classes, they was almost unheard of amongst the middle class.
“Good to meet you,” Jesse said, and Andrew jerked back into his manners.
“Yes,” he said quickly. “Thank you so much for coming.”
Hardy shrugged, flashing Andrew a small, twinkling smile. “Heard this was all Benedict’s fault, so I thought we should at least show our faces.”
“Tom,” Cumberbatch hissed while Hardy widened his eyes innocently.
Jesse laughed quietly, like he wasn’t sure he was supposed to. “Are you staying for lunch?” he asked, glancing over at Andrew. “We’re having a, um, a wedding brunch, I suppose.”
“Thank you but we can’t,” Cumberbatch said, and Hardy, who’d been opening his mouth to respond, closed it again with a snap, smirking at the back of Cumberbatch’s head.
“Lunch with the mother-in-law,” he murmured conspiratorially. Cumberbatch elbowed him in the stomach and his breath rushed out noisily on a rusty laugh.
“Good day to you,” Cumberbatch said, walking Hardy away from them. “And congratulations again.”
“Thank you,” Andrew called after him, then glanced over at Jesse, surprised to see him watching Cumberbatch and Hardy leave with something wistful, almost sad, on his face. “Did you know Mr Cumberbatch was married to a man?”
“No,” Jesse said. He glanced at Andrew quickly. “That doesn’t bother you though, does it?”
Andrew frowned. “Of course not,” he said slowly. “I mean.” He waved a hand awkwardly between them. “It can’t really, can it?”
“Oh, but.” Jesse very obviously wasn’t meeting his eye, but Andrew didn’t understand why. “I know that this doesn’t mean, that you aren’t really…” He trailed off. “Oh look, I think Hallie’s calling us.”
She wasn’t. The lie was entirely obvious but Andrew couldn’t work out what Jesse had been trying not to say to him. He couldn’t force him to explain right now though because Jesse was striding away from him and now Hallie had noticed them and was waving them both over.
To say that the rest of their wedding day passed awkwardly would definitely be an understatement.
The wedding brunch was exquisitely uncomfortable with Jesse apparently unable to look directly at Andrew and Justin shooting Andrew unreadable, unimpressed looks every couple of minutes.
Andrew tried to carry the conversation, because he couldn’t stand situations where people weren’t getting on well with each other and especially not when people weren’t getting on with him but apparently Justin was immune to all his efforts.
“Jesse,” Andrew said, stopping him with a slight brush of fingers against Jesse’s arm. They were both standing at the refreshment bar, a little way removed from where Andrew’s mother was attempting to drown her worries in coffee and Hallie was clearly charming Justin with some diverting story or other.
“Would you like some tea?” Jesse asked, indicating the pot steeping on the table.
Andrew did but he decided that if he let Jesse near the teapot, he’d probably use it as a defensive weapon to prevent Andrew talking to him, so Andrew shook his head. “Is there, uh. Does Mr Bartha hate me?” Andrew asked then winced. He definitely hadn’t meant to ask it like that.
Jesse blinked. “Only slightly,” he said, which did nothing to make Andrew feel better.
“But why?” Andrew asked. He glanced back at the table and saw that Justin was watching them again, eyes narrowed. Then Andrew thought back to what Ford had told him this morning and couldn’t stop himself from whispering, “Were you courting him?” He turned away from the table in case Justin could read lips.
He felt like a complete fool for not having wondered about that before. Jesse had been the one to make the offer to him so Andrew had just assumed that Jesse was unattached.
Jesse glanced down at the teapot and then back up at Andrew. “No,” he said, “No, not at all. Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing. Justin’s just protective, that’s all.”
“Protective of - ?” Andrew started to ask but Jesse was turning away, heading back to the table. “Wait.” Andrew scrambled to catch up with him. “Why does he think you need to be protected? I’m not going to hurt you.”
Andrew would never hurt anyone, and definitely not Jesse.
Jesse smiled with absolutely no humour at all. “Of course not,” he said quickly and slipped back into his chair, jostling Justin’s arm so he turned immediately to drag Jesse into the conversation.
Andrew stood for another moment, feeling confused and out of place in the middle of his own dining room.
Justin left in the early evening, still without Andrew having managed to convince him they should be friends. He dragged Jesse to the door with him, and Jesse returned looking flushed and flustered a little while later, which did nothing to quell Andrew’s suspicions about their relationship.
“I think I’ll retire to my sitting room,” Mama said, once Jesse was perched on the end of the settee again, looking more uncomfortable now that Justin was gone. “Hallie?”
Jesse and Andrew both stood when she did but Hallie just frowned up at them all. “Why?” she asked slowly. “It’s early.”
“Andrew and Jesse have important matters to discuss,” Mama said pointedly. It took Andrew a moment to realise what she meant, and it was only Jesse’s face flushing a sudden, brilliant red and then blanching white that made him realise that ‘discussing’ really wasn’t the term she was looking for at all.
“Mama,” he croaked but she shot him a look and swept out of the room with a firm, “Come on, Hallie.”
“Fine,” Hallie sighed, picking up her book. She was still grumbling, “I still don’t see what they can’t discuss in front of us,” when the door closed behind her.
Jesse was still incredibly pale when Andrew managed to look at him again and Andrew found himself saying, desperately, “Maybe she really did mean that we have things to discuss.”
Jesse shook his head desperately. “No, she meant we need to fu- .” He coughed over the end of the word like Andrew wasn’t, hadn’t been, a soldier and heard much worse. “She meant we need to consummate our, um, our thing.”
Andrew laughed a little hysterically. “Our thing?” he echoed.
“Don’t?” Jesse asked, pleadingly and Andrew’s unsuccessful attempt at levity skittered to a stop. “I’m sorry, I know you’re teasing but, god, I can’t right now.”
“Jesse,” Andrew said softly, feeling his insides all clench up together. “We don’t have to.”
Jesse glanced up at him. “We really do though,” he said. “I mean, assuming you don’t want… Unless you want to give up and opt for an annulment? I know I haven’t exactly done a sparkling job as a husband so far.”
Andrew thought of Jesse shyly avoiding him all day but still being right by Andrew’s side every time Andrew looked for him. “It’s been one day,” Andrew told him. “I don’t want an annulment.” A horrible thought occurred to him. “Unless you do?”
Jesse was quiet for so long that Andrew mentally started to conjure up arguments for why Jesse shouldn’t leave him, how he could definitely try to be a better husband from now on.
“No,” Jesse said eventually and Andrew could breathe again. “Let’s, um. Let’s.” He flashed Andrew an unreadable, probably terrified, smile. “Let’s go consummate, I suppose.”
Andrew wanted to make a quip there about romance and that proposition’s lack of it, but he found he couldn’t swallow, let alone speak. Besides, Jesse had asked him not to tease him and Andrew found that he’d do anything not to make Jesse sound so pained again.
“All right,” Andrew said and reached out, hesitating for just a second before taking Jesse’s hand.
Jesse’s fingers were cold but he gripped Andrew’s hand back hard, tipping his chin up and looking so ridiculously brave that Andrew couldn’t do anything but walk with him out of the room and up the stairs.
“Is this all right?” Andrew asked helplessly when they were in his bedroom, staring at each other from opposite sides of the bed.
It was dark in the room, lit only by the candles which they’d carried with them from downstairs and set on Andrew’s writing desk. Someone had aired out the room and there were freshly cut flowers on the windowsill.
Andrew felt a hot flush of embarrassment that someone had clearly tried to make the room nice for his wedding night. He wondered if it was Lily and then couldn’t decide if it would be better or worse if it were one of the other maids.
“It’s… nice?” Jesse said uncertainly.
“I didn’t ask them to do it,” Andrew assured him quickly because the last thing he wanted was for Jesse to think that he’d had designs on him from the beginning.
“Of course not,” Jesse said, sticking his hands in his pockets and looking down. “I didn’t think you had.” He cleared his throat. “Do you. Should we. Let’s, um. Should we sit down?”
“Yes,” Andrew agreed, clinging onto that and sitting on the edge of the bed. Jesse sat down beside him and then sat on his hands, probably because they were shaking, Andrew thought, not because he was trying to resist touching Andrew.
Andrew wouldn’t have minded being touched, actually. Anything to get the ball rolling – so to speak – would have been appreciated just then.
“Jesse,” Andrew said, putting his hand on the bed between them and turning to face him. He wanted to lean in and start this off with a kiss, but he didn’t like the idea of Jesse turning away from him again so he hesitated.
Luckily, Jesse seemed to find a bit of confidence from somewhere because he reached up and rested his fingers against Andrew’s collar.
“Take your cravat off?” he asked. He was only touching the fabric of Andrew’s shirt but Andrew could still feel the heat of his skin seeping through.
“Take if off for me?” Andrew asked, just a little bit provocatively. He didn’t want to treat this just as a business transaction but he would if Jesse wanted him to.
Jesse smiled slightly and Andrew smiled back, pleased. “I was going to,” Jesse confessed. “But won’t you get angry if I crumple it?”
“No,” Andrew assured him, “Of course not. Go on.”
Jesse bit his lip then tugged on Andrew’s cravat, wrinkling it in his hand before dropping it on the bed.
It pained Andrew a little, but he was making a point and that point was that he’d never be angry with Jesse, so it was worth it. He did feel a little better when Jesse used the absence of the cravat to start working on the buttons on Andrew’s shirt.
Andrew exhaled slowly, trying to feel something other than terrified. He’d done this before, of course, or something like it at least. But that had been fast, drunk and rough, not this slow, shaky thing that was building between him and Jesse.
“All right?” he asked when he realised that Jesse’s fingers hadn’t moved beyond the third button.
“I’m sorry,” Jesse said, dropping his hands. “I can’t.” He rushed on before Andrew could reassure him. “I mean, I can, but I can’t, um. My hands are shaking too much to undress you. Sorry.”
“That’s fine,” Andrew said quickly, because hearing Jesse say undress you had made him feel hot all over for just a second. He sat back, trying to smile encouragingly. “Shall we undress ourselves for now?”
“Yes,” Jesse nodded and then stood up, hands on his jacket. “Don’t watch.”
Andrew laughed but obediently turned away. “I won’t,” he promised.
It was only a little easier to get himself naked than it had been to sit still while Jesse tried to do it for him. Now it was Andrew’s hands that were shaking and he probably couldn’t have looked at Jesse right now even if he had been allowed to.
“Andrew?” Jesse said eventually, just as Andrew was dropping his britches. “I’m, um. You can.” He laughed shakily. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Fuck, Andrew thought, straightening up. Was he ready? He was certainly naked. All right, he thought, and turned around.
Jesse was sitting up in Andrew’s bed, the blankets pulled up and held against his chest by his folded arms.
Andrew felt suddenly very naked. Jesse’s eyes dipped to somewhere definitely below Andrew’s belt and then snapped up against very quickly, cheeks staining red.
“Is, is there room for me in there too?” Andrew asked, completely unable to do anything about the shake in his voice.
Jesse nodded quickly. “Sure,” he agreed and shifted to one side, still clutching his blanket toga tightly.
Andrew’s knees felt wobbly but he made it to the bed, kneeling next to Jesse and wishing there was some blanket left over to lay across his lap.
They watched each other, just staring and blushing together for so long that Andrew started to wonder if they were ever going to manage to get any further. In the end, he decided to be brave. He was an officer of the British Army, he could have sex with his husband for heaven’s sake.
“Let’s just,” he said and reached out and caught one of Jesse’s hands, tugging it down from across his chest.
Jesse seemed to unfold, like he’d just been waiting for Andrew to say it was allowed. “Yes,” he said hoarsely and pulled his hand out of Andrew’s grip, putting it on his shoulder instead and pulling him closer.
Andrew thought for a second that Jesse was going to kiss him, but he didn’t, just let his blanket fall to his waist and slid his hand down Andrew’s chest, raising goosebumps with his fingertips.
“Jesse,” Andrew breathed, pressing into his hands before he could stop himself. It had been so long since anyone had touched him and it hadn’t ever… it had never been someone whose company he enjoyed as much as he was growing to enjoy Jesse’s.
“Have you done this before?” Jesse asked, sounding curious rather than jealous or flirty.
“Yes,” Andrew said because what was the point of lying? “Have – ” He lost the end of that sentence because Jesse had apparently decided that beating around the bush wasn’t for him and his hand had dropped to Andrew’s lap.
“Sorry?” Jesse asked, biting his lip but not moving his hand. “Too quick?”
“N-no,” Andrew breathed, putting his hand over Jesse’s and trying to will his penis to grow interested in the fact that a very attractive boy wanted to touch it.
Nothing happened and Jesse started to pull his hand away, looking down and away.
“Don’t,” Andrew said, “please. I’m sorry. God, it’s not, it’s not you. I just.” He tried to smile, probably hitting something nearer mortified. “I’m just really nervous.”
Jesse bit his lip harder. He should keep doing that, Andrew thought wildly, as his cock twitched with interested. “Do you think I’m not?” he asked.
He stroked his palm across Andrew’s belly, down over Andrew’s inner thighs and his balls. Things were definitely happening now and Andrew could have cried with relief.
“There you are,” Jesse breathed. “I was worried the sight of me with no clothes on had turned you to stone.”
“I – ” Andrew gasped, half hard now and growing more so with Jesse’s hand around him. “I haven’t actually seen you with no clothes on yet.”
“True,” Jesse hummed but didn’t rush to do anything about it. He worked his hand slowly, thoughtfully, his other hand in the centre of Andrew’s back, holding lightly. “Do you think this counts as consummating?” he asked a couple of minutes later when Andrew was starting to feel shaky, sweat prickling his skin, trying so hard not to just shove rudely up into Jesse’s fist.
“I, maybe, I don’t.” Andrew groaned. “I don’t know. I’m sorry, I can’t think.”
Jesse pulled him closer and Andrew curled against his side immediately. He felt like he should be embarrassed – Jesse was so composed still and Andrew so very… wasn’t, but he was too close to be embarrassed, too close to feel anything but a building need to come.
“Hang on,” Jesse murmured and tightened his grip. He hesitated for a second and then suddenly the comforting warmth of his face near Andrew’s was gone and he was leaning down instead.
Andrew genuinely had no idea what he was about to do but then warm, wet lips wrapped around the head of Andrew’s cock and Andrew swore loudly.
“Sorry,” he gasped and, “You don’t have to do that. Jesse, fuck, you don’t – ”
Jesse pulled off, which was the last thing Andrew wanted but, well, he had just told him that he should. “Why?” Jesse asked, looking genuinely puzzled. “Doesn’t it feel good?”
“Of course,” Andrew told him, which seemed to be all Jesse needed to know because he went right back to what he’d been doing.
It was really all too much. Today had been overwhelming and Jesse’s mouth felt fantastic and it was all Andrew could do to choke out a warning before his orgasm rolled through him, leaving him dazed and a little lightheaded.
He flopped backward onto the bed, boneless and warm. “Oh,” he managed, staring up at the ceiling. He could get used to being married if it always felt like that.
Completely unable to stop his smile right now, he rolled onto his side, reaching for Jesse who was running his tongue around his teeth with an interested expression on his face. The sight made Andrew’s spent and sensitive cock twitch.
“Thank you,” Andrew said, not sure what else to say. He reached up and tried to tug blankets from Jesse’s waist. “Come here now?”
“What? No, it’s, no. No, that’s all right.” Jesse slapped Andrew’s hands away, seeming to draw in on himself all over again, the confidence that he’d just shown fading away into something uncertain.
“Well, that’s hardly fair,” Andrew said, pushing himself up on orgasm-rubbery arms. He tugged on the blanket again, not trying to remove it if Jesse really didn’t want him to, just wanting Jesse to know that Andrew did want to.
“Andrew,” Jesse said firmly. “We both know that the only reason that you married me today was for my money.” He held up a silencing hand to stop Andrew arguing. Andrew didn’t actually want to argue. Well, he did, but it was hard to since that was true. “I’m not expecting services in kind.”
Andrew blinked at him then laughed. He didn’t mean to, it just sort of burst out of him. “Jesse,” he said cajolingly, still punch-drunk from the very nice sex. “I promise I don’t think you think I’m a whore. I just want to have sex with my husband on our wedding night.”
Jesse didn’t look at all convinced so Andrew decided to try an honest confession and hope Jesse didn’t laugh him out of bed: “And I’ve wanted to kiss you since we were standing at the altar.”
Jesse blinked. “Why?” he asked, sounding confused.
Because you ask questions like that, Andrew thought, surprising himself with how fast the answer came. “Why not?” he countered. “You have lovely lips.”
Jesse huffed, rolling his eyes but he smiled just slightly, just enough to give an impression of dimples.
He’s going to let me kiss him, Andrew thought and leant in quickly before Jesse could change his mind. He wasn’t sure why it was so important to him but it definitely was.
Jesse didn’t seem inclined to change his mind, even tipping his face down to meet Andrew’s. It was just a dry, tentative brush of lips but it settled something in Andrew that had been restless since they walked into this room.
“Jesse,” he urged, tugging on Jesse’s arm.
Jesse let himself be pulled down onto the bed beside Andrew and didn’t make any more effort to hold the blanket in place when Andrew pulled it away.
Andrew really, really didn’t mean to but he just had to stop and stare at Jesse’s nakedness for a moment. Jesse’s smooth chest was flushed pink, there was sweat sheening his belly and thighs and his cock was definitely interested, flushed red and leaking at the tip.
Andrew felt a fresh wave of inadequacy for how slow his own body had been to catch on and for how fantastic Jesse looked like this.
“Don’t,” Jesse gritted out and Andrew looked up, surprised. Jesse was looking resolutely away.
“It’s all right,” Andrew said quickly, realising what must be bothering him. “There’s no shame in having enjoyed… I mean, if you liked.” He made a hand gesture which hopefully conveyed putting your mouth on me.
“Right,” Jesse said quickly. “That’s what – ” He stopped.
“Can I touch you?” Andrew asked, some part of him thinking that he should cover Jesse up again before he got cold.
“I suppose if you really want to,” Jesse said uncertainly, “But you don’t have to.”
“I do,” Andrew promised him. “I do want to.” He did. It was only fair, after all. He pulled Jesse closer, fingers slipping over the surprisingly sweaty skin at the small of Jesse’s back.
Andrew wasn’t sure what to do next. He didn’t want to copy what Jesse had done to him. Even though that had felt wonderful, he wanted to do something different for Jesse. While was thinking about it, he kissed Jesse again.
Jesse kissed back willingly, pushing his hips forward once before stopping himself. He must really like using his mouth, Andrew thought wonderingly.
“Like this?” Andrew asked carefully, pressing against Jesse’s back just firmly enough to get him moving against Andrew.
His erection was blood hot and solid, hard enough that Andrew felt a little bruised and a little breathless when it pressed into his hip. Andrew had a sudden sense memory of one drunken night with another captain in his regiment, hands and thighs and not much else. Experimentally, he pressed a leg between Jesse’s, smiling into Jesse’s mouth when Jesse shook all over, making a soft, keening noise.
Andrew mentally increased the cause of Jesse’s arousal to really, really liking using his mouth.
“Andrew,” Jesse whispered, like he was apologising for being hot and sweaty and a little bit desperate in Andrew’s arms. Andrew would have to be a completely different person to ever object to that. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t going to – ”
“Wasn’t going to what?” Andrew asked, kissing Jesse again and pulling him closer, urging him to grind down against Andrew’s leg.
Jesse didn’t answer, moans turning wordless and barely audible.
“You look amazing,” Andrew muttered into Jesse’s skin because everyone liked to know that, didn’t they?
Jesse apparently really did because he made one harsh, grunting sound that went straight to Andrew’s chest and started to come, splashing Andrew’s skin for a second before he fumbled a hand between them and caught the rest, apologising even as he was shaken by a couple of jerky, uneven aftershocks.
There was really nothing Andrew could do than to push him fully onto his back and kiss him hard. Jesse’s hands landed on Andrew’s back, one curled into a sticky fist, the other sliding up into Andrew’s hair for a kiss that turned unexpectedly wet and messy and full of tongue, before Jesse pushed him away, laughing awkwardly and sitting up just enough to grab his shirt and wipe his hands.
Andrew hummed, turning over onto his stomach and touching Jesse’s belly curiously. There was a white smear of someone’s come there and Andrew was surprised by the sudden urge that came over him to lick it away.
Before he could decide if he was going to, he realised that Jesse was watching him and blushed, offering Jesse a lopsided smile instead.
Jesse smiled back for a moment then hesitated, pulling back and sitting up more purposefully.
“Mm, no,” Andrew mumbled. He felt half-asleep so it was easy to reach out, curling a hand around his elbow. “Stay?” he asked, fingers loose around Jesse’s arm in case he really did want to leave.
Jesse didn’t move for a long time, while Andrew struggled to keep his eyes open and not to hope too hard that Jesse would stay. Then, “All right,” he said, scooting back down. “I hope you don’t snore.”
“I don’t,” Andrew said confidently then frowned. “But you can poke me if I do.”
“Oh, I will,” Jesse assured him even though Andrew was fairly certain that he wouldn’t.
It was a large bed with plenty of room for them both to lie down without touching, but Andrew had no interested in that. It would be rude to invite Jesse into his bed and then ignore him, so he threw an arm gently across Jesse’s chest, checking that Jesse didn’t object before sliding closer and sealing his lips to the top of Jesse’s arm, comfortable.
“Thank you,” he said quietly.
Jesse frowned. “I’m not sure I did anything particularly amazing,” he said, “you must have had better in the army.”
Andrew tipped his head back to look up at Jesse. “I meant for everything,” he said. “Although the, uh. Although tonight was rather lovely, but. Thank you for marrying me; I know you didn’t have to.”
Jesse looked resolutely up at the ceiling. “Of course I did,” he said firmly. “I’m getting a title out of it and an estate. I - ”
Andrew interrupted him with a disbelieving hum. “You already lived here,” he said, “and you don’t give a fuck about having a title.” He immediately felt bad when Jesse tensed. Apparently sex made him impolite; he was going to have to work on that. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to... Did I... It’s been a long, strange day, you shouldn’t pay any attention to me.”
Jesse breathed slowly for a couple of minutes and Andrew found himself counting along, hoping that Jesse wasn’t about to get offended and leave.
“Maybe we should go to sleep,” Jesse said eventually. Andrew wondered if he’d ruined everything by questioning it, if he should give Jesse some more space but Jesse grabbed his hand before he could withdraw his arm. After a moment, Andrew tangled his fingers with Jesse’s and closed his eyes.
“Good night, Jesse,” Andrew said. He thought about it carefully and then kissed Jesse’s cheek.
Jesse turned his head, catching the corner of Andrew’s mouth in a kiss before returning his, “Good night,” and then, softer, “Andrew.”
Andrew settled back down beside him, leaving Jesse to snuff out the candle in the lamp before sliding back down into bed, closing their eyes against the total darkness. The room was quiet, Jesse’s breathing soft and his body warm against Andrew’s.
It was almost like being properly married, Andrew mused, and fell asleep on that thought.
Andrew woke up alone, which he wasn’t surprised about, not really. There were pink fingerprints on the back of his hand like Jesse had held onto him all night but the other side of the bed was cold.
He’d slept in late and the sun was high in the sky. He yawned and felt warm, cosy and more relaxed than he’d felt in over a month, so he sat up in a flurry of arms, determined to claw back some of his old energy. He was tired of being this person who worried all the time.
His muscles felt pleasantly achy even though they hadn’t really had the most energetic of sex and he made sure to stretch just a little bit more than he needed to while getting dressed, just so he could feel it.
“Good morning,” he said cheerfully, swinging into the breakfast room a little while later.
Hallie was sitting alone, eating toast one-handed while trying to write a letter with the other hand but she looked up when Andrew came in.
“I’m writing to Carey,” she announced. “She sent me a note asking about the wedding.”
“Did she?” Andrew asked levelly, refusing to be brought down by the reminder that Carey’s parents hadn’t let her attend. “What are you telling her?”
Hallie shrugged. “That it was sort of boring but you and Jesse looked nice. And now I’m telling her you banished me to Aunt Susan’s sitting room in the evening so you could talk secrets,” she added pointedly.
Andrew choked on the piece of bread he’d just tried to swallow. “For goodness sake don’t tell her that,” he wheezed because Hallie might have somehow not twigged what it was that married couples did in secret on their wedding night but Carey certainly would.
“Why?” Hallie asked innocently, raising her eyebrows.
Andrew coughed some more to buy himself some time. He poured some coffee, kept coughing, took a sip and then couldn’t put it off any longer. “Well, because. Because some things are private and only for, for families and she, uh. Not that she’s not, but she’s not exactly - ” He broke off. Hallie was giggling into her sleeve. “Oh my god, you’re a wicked child.”
Hallie bit her lip, blushing but still giggling. “Sorry,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “But Aunt Susan gave me a talk on the ‘conjugal obligations of a married woman’ last night which was all your fault so I thought you should be properly punished.”
Andrew laughed helplessly, covering his face. “I’m so sorry,” he groaned. “Are you mentally scared? Shall I ask the doctor to bring the leeches?”
Hallie stuck her tongue out at him, which was probably the sort of behaviour that he shouldn’t encourage, not in a young lady about to make her debut, but Andrew had honestly never cared about that sort of thing.
“Andrew?” Hallie asked after a moment. She sounded serious so Andrew put down his coffee cup and looked up. “You and Jesse, you are happy, aren’t you?”
“I, uh. Yes,” Andrew assured her. She didn’t look convinced so he hurried on. “It’s a little strange, obviously, but Jesse’s very, he’s… He’s very easy to be married to. So far, anyway.”
Hallie smiled, going back to her letter looking satisfied. Andrew didn’t even try to interrupt her, the way he usually would have, too lost in thought because even he hadn’t been able to tell if he were lying or not.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven