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Battle of Britain--Chapter 20
longer, dominic
rogoblue
Real life has taken over. Hard drive failure and the end of the school year. So sorry.

Rating: R (language and sexual situations)


Author: morgan72uk and rogoblue


Summary: Judith gets married and Adelle explains a bit about the plans she has for her money.





“All four of us plus Mason, sir,” Adams said, not deterred by Dominic’s frown and crossed arms. “It’s the only way we can cover you both without drawing undue attention and Her Highness doesn’t want that.”


“Nor do I,” Dominic muttered, wondering when Adelle had found the time to discuss security arrangements and when she might emerge from the bedroom of the hotel suite. “Judith’s a friend. I don’t want a cloud of possible, yet highly unlikely, violence to darken her wedding day.”


“Understood. Will Her Highness be as glittering and glamorous as last night?” Adams asked. “She looked like a movie star.”


“How do you—?”


“I peeked in the window. Hell, we all did, Dom. None of us have ever been to a private party at a fancy house like that.”


“The diamonds are back in her uncle’s safe, so she won’t be as glittering. I can’t speak to glamorous, but I know her dress won’t be like the one she wore last night.” Picturing the clinging silver ensemble that had left her back virtually bare, Dominic smiled. “Judith would poison her champagne.”


“She wore the bracelet you gave her.”


“Mason is an observant man,” Dominic said, mildly embarrassed that his men took any interest in the Christmas gift and secure in the knowledge that his discomfort would rocket past mild if they had any inkling about the book she’d given him.


Adams leaned forward and lowered his voice. “I think Mr. Mason approves of you for his charge.” He glanced over Dominic’s shoulder and his posture straightened with alacrity. “Good afternoon, ma’am. I’ve apprised the Colonel of our discreet security arrangements for your excursion.” He turned back to Dominic. “Driscoll and Park have had a look at the inn where you’ll stay tonight. There won’t be any surprises or much delay in getting you settled in, whenever you’ve had enough of the reception.”


Dominic dragged his eyes from Adelle and nodded to Adams. “Sounds like you’ve covered all of the bases, Sergeant. We’ll be out in a few minutes.”


Obviously fighting a smile, Adams saluted and retreated almost before Dominic could return it. Adelle’s deep blue dress called attention to her pale skin, the cut revealing a tantalizing hint of the tops of her breasts.


“I have another Christmas present for you, Laurence,” Adelle said, tone vibrant and secretive. Dominic swooped in and pressed his mouth to the exposed flesh of her right breast. Her sharp gasp made him smile.


“What is it?” he asked, shifting his lips to her earlobe and then to the sensitive skin beneath. Adelle’s shudder of desire recalled their lovemaking of the previous evening. She’d wanted to lose control and he relished taking it from her.


“Hmmm?” she whispered before pulling him in for a kiss.


“What is my other present?” Dominic stared into her eyes as he eased her dress up and out of his way and unfastened his belt and trousers.


“I’m wearing it.” She made a small helpless sound when he offered her a condom.


“You bought me a blue dress?” he asked, admiring her concentration as she sheathed him and lifting her onto the small desk. “I’m not sure about the fit in the shoulders, Adelle.”


“I refer to what I’m wearing beneath it.”


“Did you buy them in Paris?” he asked. His breath came faster in response to her deft strokes.”


“I did.” She wrapped her legs around him.


“Let’s save the unveiling for after the wedding,” he said. Dominic moved her underwear aside and drove into Adelle.


“Judith’s?” she asked, tightening around him, forcing a groan.


“Oh, yes,” he panted both in reply and as encouragement. The time for talking had passed and they focused on driving each other to climax.


Both having been spectacularly successful, they eyed each other while setting their clothes to right. “Adams is going to wonder what happened to us,” Adelle murmured. He smiled as she buckled his belt.


“No, he isn’t,” Dominic said. “I have to fake feeling far less good or he’ll be tempted to murder me in my sleep.”


“Fortunately, you won’t sleep again until Judith has seen you, so I’m in no danger of having to shop for a last minute wedding gift.”


He followed her to the small vanity and watched her touch up her makeup. “I might need a catnap in the car after that bout of exercise.”


“I’ll see that you remain awake and alert.” Adelle smiled and Dominic sighed.


“I’d like being married to you, I think,” he said, as he helped her into her coat.


“Why is that, Colonel?”


He caught Adelle’s hands and waited for her to look him in the eye. Suddenly nervous, he said, “I’m not sure how this is going to sound to you, but I can’t think of another way to phrase it.”


“Go on,” she suggested. “I’ll endeavor to keep an open mind.”


“Knowing you’d allowed me to stake a claim to you would eclipse all of my accomplishments to date and I’d constantly be reminded of what’s really important in life.” He shrugged, trying to make light. “I can’t imagine anything better.”


* * *


The car drew up outside a rather lovely, rambling manor house on the outskirts of a quintessential English village. Their drive from London hadn’t been truly challenged by the weather. The hedges and grass edged with frost made the countryside sparkle. Despite the cold, Adelle hoped it would stay this magical all day.

She’d used the journey to recover. She preferred to attribute her shakiness after leaving Claridges to the way Laurence had made love to her rather than what he’d said. She wouldn’t admit to being moved almost to tears by his declaration, because she feared she couldn’t match his eloquence, despite sharing the desire for closeness that had prompted him.

“It’s a shame you can’t see it in summer,” she said, watching Laurence look about with interest. “It’s particularly quaint.” She’d heard a lot of stories about the mischief Judith and her sisters had made. “Apparently, there is a duck pond in the village, complete with traditional English ducks.”

“What other kind of duck would there be? This is what I’d imagined England was like.”

“No wonder London came as a shock to you,” Adelle said, somewhat drily, taking his hand and steering him towards the house. “Let’s find someone who can take us to see the bride.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Judith will not thank us, if she first sets eyes on you when her father is walking her down the aisle.”

No one could arrive discretely at a house preparing for a wedding, especially when accompanied by determined bodyguards and an American Colonel. A steady stream of delivery men flowed among young women fluttering about and children racing around unsupervised.

Judith’s mother greeted them, distracted, confused and too polite to demand that they go straight to the Church like every other guest. “Judith is dressing,” she said, smiling apologetically at her attempted dismissal of them.

“I have a wedding present for her,” Adelle responded, equally polite but quite implacable.

“Leave it on the sideboard, with a note.”

“He isn’t a gift to be left on a sideboard.” Laurence’s lips twitched in amusement. “I won’t make her late, but I do need to see her urgently.” The mother of the bride looked positively alarmed. Her glance dropped to their clasped hands in a way that told Adelle she had previously thought the mysterious man had some sort of claim on her daughter and had been prepared to give them both sharp shrift.

“Camilla,” she said, beckoning a young woman, wearing what could only be a bridesmaid’s dress, “please take Miss DeWitt and her companion to Judith.”

“Of course.” Camilla looked bemused as she led them upstairs. Mason brought up the rear.

“Ma’am,” Mason said, a reminder and a request.

“No,” she said firmly. Mason couldn’t check the room before she and Laurence went inside. “A young woman’s bedroom cannot be violated in that way.”

“If you say so,” Mason said, his tone communicating that he viewed this as an unnecessary risk. His look to Laurence brought only a shrug.

“If Alpha is hiding under the bride’s dress, we’ll have to hope he trips over the train.”

“Yes, sir.”

“This is Judith’s room,” Camillia said, clearly uncertain about this visit. She knocked on the heavy panelled door and yelled, “Visitors for the bride.”

“The bride’s busy.”

“Tell her Adelle is here.”

Camilla looked mutinous, but her objections didn’t survive a stern look and raised eyebrow. “The visitor is called Adelle,” she replied, sounding a little belligerent.

After a pause, perhaps while the information was conveyed, the door opened and another bridesmaid poked her head out. “Come in.”

“Thank you.” She drew Laurence with her, Mason a step behind.

Several young women populated the bedroom, all of whom bore some resemblance to Judith, but she perceived no sign of her former assistant. Adelle ignored the startled looks the presence of two men in this very female environment produced. From the adjoining room, a familiar voice called, “It’s wonderful you’re here, Adelle. I worried you wouldn’t come back in time.”

“I wouldn’t break my promise to attend your wedding,” Adelle replied, exchanging a smile with Laurence. “I have a gift for you – one I think you’re going to want to see.”

“Really?”

Adelle had a moment to admire how pretty Judith looked, even though she wasn’t wearing her wedding dress yet before, with a squeal, Judith launched herself across the room towards Laurence.

* * *


Dominic caught Judith and returned her hug. If the looks of the women, other than Adelle, could kill, he’d have been dead before Judith pulled him into the adjoining room and slammed the door. Mason’s expression had been comical and he suspected Adelle already sought to pacify the bodyguard.


“I thought we’d lost you,” Judith whispered, looking young, fresh and impossibly pretty in a long satin robe tied with a beaded belt.


“Nope,” he said, standing still while she ran her hands up his arms and across his shoulders.


She smiled and something lurched in his gut. “You’re really here,” Judith whispered.


Unable to help it, he smiled back. “I am.”


“You’re here with Adelle.”


Glancing at the closed door, he said, “You might want to shout that or repeat it when we go back out there, so there’s no misunderstanding.”


“There won’t be,” Judith said, catching his hand, as he started to turn away. “We have a few minutes, Laurence. I promise.”


“If I make you late, your mother will kill me.” He grinned at the memory of the frazzled yet wary woman downstairs. “She’s already suspicious.”


“She’s only wondering if you’re an eligible bachelor,” Judith countered. She tapped him lightly on the chest. “Are you?”


“I’m not married,” he said, holding up his left hand for her inspection.


Judith sighed dramatically. “Are you and Adelle lovers once more?” His nod produced the bright unabashed smile he remembered. “Will you ask her to marry you?”


“I have,” he muttered and shrugged.


“She refused?” A second nod brought a thunderous frown. “Foolish woman.”


“Adelle has her reasons,” Dominic said. Judith appeared unimpressed. “She’s many things. Foolish isn’t one of them. You know it, probably better than I do.”


“She forbade me to speak of you after you left and tried to get me transferred from the SOE, because I reminded her of you.” Neither of those things fit comfortably with his understanding of Adelle DeWitt. “I caught her crying a few times over the travails of the Fifth Army, particularly during the Italian campaign.”


“That … that’s not … she didn’t …”


“She did.”


“What did you say to her on those occasions?” he asked, fascinated.


“Nothing,” she said. “I skulked away, hoping she hadn’t seen that I’d seen.” She squeezed Dominic’s hand. “I’m sorry for my cowardice, but I didn’t want to be shipped off to be a mere secretary for anybody else. She needed me, whether she knew it or not.”


“There’s no need to apologize, Judith.”


“There is and I’m ever so grateful to be able to do it in person. Thank you for coming to my wedding, Laurence. It means a great deal to me.”


“Adelle insisted.” The wedding present aspect of the situation could make for some very pleasant blackmail.


“I imagine she did.” Releasing his hand, Judith gestured toward a chair, as she took a seat on a small couch. “What of your friends?” she asked.


He remained standing and stared at the floor. “They’re gone.”


Judith remained silent for what seemed to Dominic to be a long time. “You don’t mean back to the States, do you, Laurence?” He shook his head. “I’m so sorry.”


“Thank you,” he mumbled.


“Losing them must’ve been very difficult,” she said, appearing at his side, startling him into looking at her and impressing him with her ability to move silently.


Judith’s intelligent eyes communicated her question eloquently, rendering mere words superflous. “Adelle helped me put their deaths in perspective and gave me a reason to carry on without them.” A thought struck him. “Like you undoubtedly did for Harry with respect to his … situation.”


“Losing your friends is more debilitating.”


“I don’t know that Harry or I agree.”


Judith shrugged. “Were you wounded?”


“Yes,” he said, oddly pleased by her sympathetic wince. “My shoulder fairly early on and then my knee. Both healed fine.” He decided not to mention the damage Alpha’s knife had done much more recently.


Someone knocked and a voice he didn’t recognize said, “Judith, look at the time, please. You need to dress.”


“I’ll be out in just a moment.” She giggled. “I can’t believe Adelle kept the hounds at bay for this long. She hasn’t lost her touch at handling people.”


Thinking about how deftly Adelle had handled him in their suite earlier, he grinned. “She certainly hasn’t.”


“You can attest to that, Colonel Dominic?”


“I can indeed.” Gesturing to the door, he said, “After you.” She smiled when he sprang forward to open it for her.


“Ever the gentleman,” she murmured, as she flounced past.


“Good manners don’t hurt,” he said.


“Not always,” Judith noted, looking over her shoulder at him, expression more naughty than her attendants thought appropriate, given the dagger-like glares aimed in his direction.


“I’ll bear that in mind,” Dominic said, focus narrowing to Adelle.


“How marvelous,” Adelle said, taking his arm when he passed into range and offering her cheek for a kiss. She didn’t appear at all surprised or put out when he kissed her soundly on the lips instead.

* * *

None of the uniformed wedding guests outranked Laurence and the arrival of a US Army Colonel at the church caused a stir and a flurry of salutes, including one from the groom.

Harry moved a little clumsily, not yet fully recovered from his injuries. Laurence remained quite still until Harry executed the salute, which he returned crisply. Adelle knew Laurence’s restraint was steeped in respect and she hoped that Harry recognised it as such.

Judith made a beautiful bride. She floated down the aisle on her father’s arm, looking absolutely determined and extremely happy.

As the vicar began the service, Laurence put his arm around her shoulders and watched Judith with an indulgent expression. The reunion had been successful and hopefully reminded Laurence that he had the basis of a special and enduring friendship with the young woman. Content to be tucked into his side, Adelle tried to resist the temptation to consider how she might organize a wedding for herself.

Given the strictures of rationing, putting on a wedding posed more challenges than it had before the war. Both families had obviously devoted a great deal of time and effort to the simple food and ample alcohol at the reception. Adelle and Laurence never quite determined how the people they sat with were related to Harry; possibly because they were unapologetically wrapped up in each other.

The happy couple made the rounds, taking time to talk to all of their guests. Adelle hadn’t asked Laurence what he and Judith had discussed and she didn’t think she needed to know. However, she suspected Judith would wish to speak to her about Laurence and amused herself by staying out of reach. Judith wouldn’t be deterred, but she’d rather receive her former assistant’s admonitions in a letter when safely back in Berlin.

After the meal and clearing the tables away, the younger guests became very excited at the prospect of dancing. Adelle thought this might be a good time to call it a day, but the music wasn’t as raucous as she’d feared. She leaned back against Laurence, as they watched Harry and Judith move carefully through the first steps of a waltz. The low and sweet melody had probably been chosen, because it did not require too much movement from Harry.

“I expect it’s killing Judith not to lead,” she observed, while her companion sipped from a glass of scotch that had arrived courtesy of the groom.

“Will Harry recover?” he asked, eyes following the younger man’s slow, controlled and slightly clumsy movements.

“He refused to let them amputate the leg,” she said, “and he’s regained more movement than anyone expected – his Doctor included. He lost the sight in one eye and Judith said the scarring on his chest is pretty serious. Yet he wants to do something useful.”

“She never faltered, did she?” he asked, gaze resting on Judith.

“You know how determined she is once she’s set her mind to something. He was still Harry, no matter how badly injured and perhaps he needed her faith in him.”

The newlyweds laughed together, as other couples joined them. Laurence set aside his glass. “We’ve never danced, Adelle.”

“An oversight I am more than happy to rectify.”

They moved fluidly, not afraid to be close to one another and gazed into each other’s eyes as they danced. They sat out a few faster numbers, but as the evening drew on, more of the music became slow and seductive. Dancing with Laurence, she lost track of time and Adelle delighted in this new form of intimacy.

When someone cleared their throat, Adelle realised the bride stood beside them. Judith said, “Just before she leaves, the bride throws her bouquet at all the single women among her guests. According to the tradition, whoever catches the bouquet will be the next to get married. Harry and I are leaving now,” she continued, “and I thought, why waste everyone else’s time.” She placed the bouquet into Adelle’s hand and vanished in a flurry of white silk before either of them could reply.

* * *

“Marry me,” Dominic murmured in her ear, as he touched one of the fragile white flowers Judith had pressed upon Adelle. “Sebastian is looking forward to it.” An artfully raised eyebrow accompanied her slight flush from dancing becomingly. “I hope you don’t mind me letting him know you wouldn’t settle for anyone less.”


“It’s time to go,” Adelle said, slipping her hand into his.


“Do you think Harry and Judith might visit us in Berlin?” Before he’d articulated the question, he had no idea how much he wanted an affirmative answer. “Not right away but, you know, once they’ve had their honeymoon and are settled. When it’s warmer.”


“Harry’s father has friends in the British consulate,” she observed.


“I’m not trying to put him to work, Adelle. I’d just like to see them from time to time.”


Dominic squeezed her hand, as they headed to retrieve their coats. “Harry didn’t have to salute me for Christ’s sake. This was his wedding.”


“You outrank him.”


“It’s not that simple.”


Adelle bumped her shoulder into his. “It most certainly is,” she said. “You were unsettled because of his injuries but didn’t show it and that was the best wedding present you could’ve given Harry and Judith.”


He stopped and held onto her hand, forcing her to do the same. “I love you.”


“And I you,” she murmured.


“Then marry me,” he said. “Pick a career and do whatever the hell you want with your money. Just—.”


“I’ll show you,” she said, smiling at the young man who guarded the coats. “Tomorrow, we’ll go and see an example of what I’m doing with what passes these days for a very small fortune.”


He helped Adelle into her coat. “The offer of a couple of rings and tax disadvantages will stay open for as long as it takes.” After tipping the kid, Dominic shrugged into his own coat. “I’m willing to wait for the privilege.” He smirked and hugged her in the empty vestibule. “Or should I say the extremely high honor?” Laughing, he said, “I’d like a whiff of the rarified air of being your husband.”


“If you do not stop teasing me, I will not be responsible for any actions undertaken in retribution.”


“I’ll stop, but only because I thought of something better to do.” When they emerged from the stuffy house, Adams leapt to his feet, put out his cigarette, because Adelle couldn’t abide the smell, and waved the car forward. “I’m going to kiss you the instant we’re in the car and I’m not going to stop for a while, because Judith and Harry have inspired me.”


“I would be truly disappointed by anything less.”


* * *

They spent the night in an old coaching inn a few miles from Judith’s home. Adelle had chosen the location to accommodate their security requirements and to avoid difficulties about an unmarried couple sharing a room.

They were the only guests, it being mid January, and shared a hearty and lively breakfast with their hosts and the bodyguards. Adelle enjoyed seeing Laurence relaxed and happy, bantering with Driscoll and Adams, teasing Mason and, in between all of that, gazing at her. After the meal, they took a brisk walk, wrapped up in their coats trailed by Mason who appeared annoyed by the fresh air and averted his eyes whenever they kissed.

Warming up in front of a fire, Adelle could easily have stayed there all day, but they had a visit to make. On the outskirts of another picture postcard village about 40 miles further south, they arrived at a substantial brick villa. With tiny windows, the square and somewhat squat house lacked architectural beauty, but kindness and a great deal of affection lived within the thick walls.

A girl of 15 came to the door, dressed for the outside. She smiled brightly at Adelle, before shouting loudly over her shoulder. “Frances! She’s here!”

“Hello Verity,” Adelle said, glancing towards Mason and Driscoll, “did your mother explain?”

“She said to go right ahead and search the house.” Verity stepped aside to let the two large men into the hall. “Don’t mind the dogs,” she said brightly, “they bark a lot, but they won’t bite” The men exchanged a look but disappeared into the house. A younger girl with a long, dark plait of hair and spectacles perched on a delicate nose joined them.

“Hello, Miss DeWitt.”

“Hello, Frances.” Both girls snuck looks at Laurence and she sensed his curiosity, since she had deliberately told him nothing of their errand. “Miss Palmer and Miss Dickinson,” she began, making the girls smile with her formality, “may I introduce, Colonel Dominic.”

“Pleased to meet you, ladies.” Verity giggled, but Frances looked at him with grave brown eyes that had already seen too much.

“I’m supposed to take the dogs for a walk.” Verity obviously regretted departing on an errand. “Frances, mother says you can use the study. She’ll be back from Church soon and you’re to invite your visitors to stay for lunch.” Waving she called, “Come on, you baying hounds!” A hoard of dogs of varying sizes and breeds raced after her.

“Are you well, Miss DeWitt?” Frances asked shyly.

“I am quite well, thank you, and enjoying the opportunity to show Colonel Dominic the English countryside.”

“The house is clear.” Driscoll directed the remark to Dominic, but his glance included her, as befitted a natural diplomat.

“Laurence, Frances and I need to speak in private. Do you mind?”

“Do you want me to wait in the car?”

“Mrs. Palmer would be pleased if you used the morning room, Colonel,” Frances said quietly. “She’d be mortified, if a guest waited outside.”

“We sure don’t want that,” he said and Adelle appreciated his understanding.

“The morning room is just this way.” Frances looked worried, perhaps at the thought of leaving him on his own.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, receiving a shy smile in return for the reassurance. “Take your time, Miss.”

“He’s nice,” Frances said, as she led the way into the study.

“Indeed,” Adelle agreed, “and how was school last term?”

“I won a prize for Latin.”

“Congratulations.”

“Verity says I could probably do her school work instead of mine.” A clear complement from the older girl gratified Adelle further.

“Is she still looking after you?”

“A bit, but I’m friends with the girls in my dorm. Verity acts a bit like a big sister, so the older girls don’t tease me.” Adelle thrilled to hear of her intentions playing out almost exactly.

“I’m glad you’re settled at school.”

“Mama wanted that.”

Adelle nodded and settled into a comfortable and somewhat battered chair in front of the fire and waited for Frances to sit opposite her. “She felt it important that you received a good education. It’s why she wanted you to have the scholarship.”

Adelle had sent Frances’ mother into France and arranged for her daughter to attend a rather good boarding school through the provision of a bursary in addition to Frances’ scholarship. A little more than a year later, she had visited Frances at school to break the news that her mother had been killed during a joint operation with the French resistance. That her death had been heroic afforded small comfort to a 12 year old girl whose father had been missing since the fall of Singapore.

“Did you enjoy Christmas?”

“Yes, Mrs. P is so kind and I was glad not to have to stay at school.” Adelle felt her responsibility for Frances extended beyond ensuring a good education. She hadn’t wanted the girl to be isolated. Fortunately, the school had agreed and had introduced her to Mrs, Palmer who supplemented her income by taking in children who had nowhere else to go. For a small payment, Frances had a home outside school and in Verity, an older girl who looked out for her. But Adelle was here to give her more than that.

“I have some news for you,” Adelle said, touching Frances’ hand, not surprised when the girl clutched at her. “I didn’t hear until after Christmas, so it’s a little late for a present. Your father has been found.”

“He’s alive?”

“He’s been in a prisoner of war camp for some time, so he isn’t in the best of health. However, his doctors hope he soon will be well enough to travel. I’ll arrange for him to stay in the village, where he can be nursed. You’ll be able to continue at school and Mrs. P will help out.”

“He’s really coming home?”

Being the bearer of good news felt rather wonderful. “Yes sweetheart.”

* * *

“Daddy?”


Laurence Dominic spun away from the bookshelf, where he’d been perusing titles. A woman in her mid to late forties smiled and a small blonde girl turned impossibly large blue eyes on him.


“She asks every man she sees that question, Colonel,” said the woman. “Jessica Palmer,” she supplied, offering her hand. He took it. “Would you care for some tea or perhaps something a bit stronger?”


Dominic crouched to bring himself eye level with the child. “What do you think?” he asked. “Tea or something stronger?”


“I don’t know.”


“What about him?” Dominic asked, gesturing to the battered black bear clutched in her arms. “Does he have an opinion?”


A hushed conference between girl and bear ensued. Expression grave, the girl said, “Mr. Buttons says you should have tea.”


He glanced up over his shoulder at Mrs. P. “Tea, please.” Mrs. P bustled out, leaving Dominic alone with the child.


“Colonel is a funny name,” she observed, frowning at the irregularity.


“It isn’t my name. It’s my rank.” Before she could ask for an explanation, he said, “My name is Laurence.” He tapped the bear on the nose. “I’ve been introduced to Mr. Buttons but not you.”


Her smile brightened the poorly lit room. “I’m Kate.”


He stuck out his hand and she slipped her tiny one into it. “Pleased to meet you, Kate.” She pushed the bear out before her. Dominic shook the bears paw. “Mr. Buttons, too.”


Kate favored Dominic with another smile. “Would you like to hold him?”


“If you think it would be all right,” he said, ignoring thoughts of what his men would make of this encounter. Kissing Adelle to tweak Mason was one thing, letting anyone observe him playing with toys quite another. “I’m out of practice holding teddy bears, Kate.”


She put Mr. Buttons on the coffee table, took Dominic’s hands and arranged them next to each other, palms up. Slowly and carefully, Kate lowered Mr. Buttons into his care. Once she stepped back, Dominic shifted the bear into the crook of his elbow, as he would carry an American football.


“That’s good.” Kate nodded approvingly. “You talk strange, Law-rents.”


“I’m American.”


“What’s that?”


He opened his mouth but closed it without speaking, momentarily at a loss as to how to explain. “Do you know how Great Britain is next to a large body of water?” She nodded. “America is on the other side.”


“No, it isn’t. France is. Frances told me so.”


“I didn’t mean the English Channel,” he said, glancing at Mr. Buttons to see if he had any guidance to offer. He stared straight through Dominic. “I meant the Atlantic Ocean.”

-
“Oh, you’re from the colonies?”


“They’re called states now.”


She leapt to her feet. “The Untied States!”


Laughing, Dominic managed to nod.


Kate’s frown called to mind one of Adelle’s better efforts and he struggled to sober up, when she crossed her arms in front of her like he sometimes did. “What so funny?” she demanded, a two foot tall tyrant in the making.


“United,” he said, “not untied, but I knew what you meant.”


“Kate, don’t be a bother to the Colonel,” Mrs. P said, as she returned with tea.


“She isn’t, ma’am,” Dominic said, rising and flexing his right knee, pleased it had held up to the extended crouch. He hadn’t told Adelle about the shrapnel he’d taken. She hadn’t commented on the scars. Dominic accepted the delicate tea cup resting on a matching saucer. “Is it all right for Mr. Buttons to take a seat while I have my tea?” he asked Kate.


“I’ll take him,” she said.


“Have your tea first, dear,” Mrs. P said, offering the child a sturdier mug. “Mr. Buttons can sit in your chair and you can join the Colonel on the settee.”


Dominic didn’t move until Kate nodded and then arranged the bear in a half-sized chair next to the wingback Mrs. P claimed.


“His name isn’t Colonel. It’s Law-rents.”


“I wish you would use it, ma’am,” Dominic said. She cocked her head and watched him, clearly waiting. “Jessica,” he amended, gesturing to Kate, “your daughter is charming.”


“She’s not mine, Laurence,” Mrs. P said, “but I love her to pieces just the same.”


Kate scooted next to Dominic. “Mummy got sick.”


“I’m sorry to hear that, Kate.”


“Genevieve passed away six months ago now,” Mrs. P said. “Kate barely remembers her.”


“She had hair like mine,” Kate insisted.


“No, she didn’t, dearest,” Mrs. P corrected, gently. “Your father did.” She sighed. “He looked a bit like Laurence and gave you your coloring.”


Kate climbed onto Laurence’s lap. “Daddy,” she murmured, tucking her small body against to his.


“I’m sorry, Laurence.”


“She’s fine,” he said, smiling at Mrs. P. Lowering his voice, even though Kate nestled so closely, he asked, “Was her father a soldier?”


“No.” Kate sighed and snuggled closer. Noting the edge in the woman’s tone, Dominic draped an arm around the little girl.


“Justin was … troubled. Attractive enough to lift plenty of skirts, but he drank himself to death in the end.” Her eyes softened as they came to rest on Kate. “This little one deserves better.” Gaze shifting to him, she asked, “Are you married, Laurence?”


“Not yet.”


“Too bad,” Mrs. P said. “Kate’s very taken with you.”


He wondered what being married had to do with anything but not enough to actually pose the question. “She’s … special.”


“Mr. Buttons special too,” Kate said, belligerence barely discernable over contentment.


“Very,” Dominic agreed. “He looks at home in your chair. Do you allow him to use it often?”


“Sometimes.” Kate sighed, eyes drifting closed, opening again but growing heavy almost immediately.


“It’s past her naptime,” Mrs. P offered, smiling indulgently, making Dominic aware of how he and Kate must look. “I’ll take her to her bed once she’s drifted off.”


“All right.”


“You’re a natural, Laurence. You should consider having children.”


He shrugged and looked down at Kate, marveling at how tiny and yet mighty she’d seemed, until she’d gotten tired, anyway. “She’s beautiful,” he murmured.


Mrs. P nodded agreement before excusing herself to attend to something having to do with lunch.


* * *

Adelle faltered in the doorway to the morning room, forcing Frances to squeeze past her. A small girl with pale blond hair curled up on Laurence's lap and, if not asleep, certainly on the way. He’d draped his arm around the small body and looked down at the child with a perfectly gentle expression.

The sight provoked mixed and somewhat complicated feelings. She couldn’t help but be moved, because they looked so adorable together. Seeing Laurence so comfortable around a child also brought a pang of guilt. He looked like he ought to be surrounded by children and, even if she agreed to marry, she doubted she could provide that. A wave of panic descended. Him being a permanent feature of her life had come to mean a great deal and her thoughts led to letting him go, rather than force him to make such a sacrifice.

Taking a deep breath, she decided against being over-dramatic. Laurence was a grown man, capable of articulating what he wanted and, so far, he had been very clear that he wanted her.

When Laurence smiled at her, she felt drawn inexorably across the room to his side. “I see you've made a new friend,” she commented quietly, wary of waking the child.

“This is Kate.” His voice held awe.

Adelle perched on the edge of the chair and met the curious blue eyes that opened at the sound of her voice. Glancing up she beheld eyes a slightly lighter blue, but which had lost any trace of guileless innocence long ago. “Kate, this is Adelle.”

“Hello Kate,” she whispered, unsure how his small companion would react to her presence. She needn't have worried.

“Ad-elle,” Kate enunciated carefully, smiling at her.

“That's right.”

“Pretty,” Kate said and patted a chubby hand to Adelle's cheek. Her heart lurched in an alarming manner, revealing that her vulnerability to the child matched Laurence’s.

“Kate and I agree on that,” Laurence said. “Kate’s teddy bear is named Mr. Buttons.”

“Really? When I was a child, I had a bear called Gustav.” Laurence looked as though he didn't quite know how to react. “I took him everywhere.”

“Laurence is from,” Kate frowned, “the Untied States. It's why he talks funny.”

“He has an accent,” Adelle admitted, winding her fingertip around one of Kate's ringlets. “I think it sounds nice.”

“Me too.” Spotting Frances, she demanded, “Spin!”

“Sure, Katie-cat.” Frances caught Kate as she leapt down from Laurence’s lap and span the little girl, making her squeal with delight.

“Would you like some tea, Miss DeWitt?” Jessica Palmer didn't bat an eyelid to see her perched on the edge of the chair. “Frances, don't make her too excited,” she instructed, “Kate needs her nap.”

“Tea would be lovely, thank you.”

“I hope you'll both join us for lunch?”

“If it's no trouble?” Adelle wondered if there would be enough food to feed two extra mouths, but she didn't want to refuse Mrs. Palmer’s hospitality.

“We're having soup, nothing fancy. Frances told me her good news.” she mentioned before disappearing towards the kitchen.

“What good news?” Laurence asked.

Before Adelle could answer, Frances said, “My daddy is coming home, Katie-cat!”

“Damn!” Laurence breathed and Adelle understood that Kate’s father had passed away.

“Daddy?” Kate asked. Frances looked mortified and Kate's lower lip trembled, a sob escaping her. Laurence started to rise but Adelle crossed the room, reaching Kate before she started to cry properly and swinging her up to rest on her hip.

“Frances' daddy is coming home,” she said. “He's been lost and poorly for a long time. I know you're sad because your daddy isn't here, but you can be happy for Frances.”

“Frances smiling,” Kate observed thoughtfully, “that's good.”

“Yes, it is.” Bouncing the child on her hip she turned back towards Laurence.

“I’ll check on Mr. Buttons,” he offered. For a second, Adelle thought Kate would demand to be put down, but she pressed her face into Adelle's shoulder and closed her eyes.

“Nap time,” she informed the room, gesturing grandly with one hand, “Law-rents take me.”


* * *


Recognizing an order when he heard one, Dominic rose and took Kate from Adelle, smiling when the handoff took place without a hitch. “I don’t know where to go, Kate,” he admitted. “Where do you sleep?”


Gazing at him with what looked remarkably like pity, Kate pointed up.


“I’ll show you, Colonel,” Frances offered.


“Thank you,” he said, before turning to Adelle. “I’ll be right back.”


“No need to rush,” Adelle said, smiling indulgently, demanding a sharp look in self defense. Unperturbed, she said, “Have a good sleep, Kate.”


“Bye-bye,” Kate mumbled before tucking her head beneath Dominic’s and making soft contented noises.


Dominic followed Frances in silence, wondering how he came to be putting a small child down for her nap. The decided spring in the older girl’s step put a smile on his face, but the abject trust emanating from the vicinity of his heart terrified and enchanted him.


“This is where Katie sleeps,” Frances said. She stepped inside a room not much larger than the tiny bed, chair and table it contained. Frowning, she said, “I guess it’ll go back to being a sewing room when she goes. It’ll be too small for the new arrivals.”


A tiny fist tightly clutched the shoulder of his uniform. “Where’s Kate heading?” he asked, hard pressed to think of a better place than Mrs. P’s for a parentless child.


“She’ll go to a children’s home soon,” Frances said, eyes sad. “That’s what happens when no living relatives can be found after a time, unless special provisions are made like Miss DeWitt did for me.”


Children’s home sounded like a fancy name for orphanage. Copying Frances’ whisper, Dominic said, “Special provisions could be made for Kate, too, right?”


Pushing her glasses up on her nose, Frances said, “Yes, but Mrs. P has agreed to take on twin boys at the end of the month. There’ll be no room for Katie-cat, then.”


“Somewhere else, then?”


“Maybe,” Frances allowed, speaking carefully, likely picking up on his rising agitation. “If a suitable situation could be found, I should say.”


“What’s a suitable situation?” he asked.


“Ideally, she’d go to foster parents, but those are few and far between, with the war taking so many men.” She tried not to smile that her father wasn’t among them, but Dominic didn’t hold her failure against her. “Mrs. P is a stopgap measure, but she’ll be sad to send Katie-cat away.”


“Understandable,” he mumbled and wondered if Kate sensed the change coming. The grip she had on his uniform now struck him as desperate. “She’s sweet,” he said.


Frances watched him out of the corner of her eye. “An American officer could offer a stable home,” she said.


“Me?” Dominic blurted, but his reflexive dismissal of the notion died in the face of Frances’ solemnity. Now he understood Mrs. P’s earlier comment. “I’m not married,” he said.


“Oh.” She blushed and developed an intense interest in the floor. “I’m sorry. I thought … well, I assumed you were … never mind. You can put Kate down now, Colonel. She prefers to sleep on her back.”


He nodded to Kate’s fist. “I’m not sure she’s ready to surrender to the inevitable.” Smiling, Frances rubbed her forefinger across the smaller girl’s knuckles and the diminutive fingers relaxed. Dominic gently lowered her pursuant to Frances’ instructions. “Pleasant dreams, Kate,” he whispered, not thinking how empty his arms felt. He and Frances stood side by side, watching the toddler shift into a more comfortable position. “I forgot Mr. Buttons. Damn.”


“I’ll bring him up for her,” Frances offered.


“I’m sorry for cursing,” Dominic said, stunned by the conflicting feelings whirling through him.


“We should go down for lunch,” Adelle’s protege said.


Dominic closed his eyes. He’d forgotten they’d agreed to stay for lunch. With no enthusiasm, he followed Frances into a pleasant room with a plethora of windows. The scents emanating from the kitchen made his mouth water. “Something smells good,” he observed.


“You’re too kind, Laurence,” Mrs. P said, bearing a tray with bowls of soup and two baskets of hard rolls. “Please be seated, everyone.”


The lunchtime conversation flowed around Dominic. He didn’t feel like talking and had little to contribute to the decidedly feminine topics under discussion. Adelle glanced at him from time to time, offering him small smiles when he met her eyes.


When Mrs. P, Verity and Frances cleared the table, Adelle placed a hand on his forearm. “Is something wrong, Laurence?”


“No.”


“You’re a wretched liar.”


“I don’t want to talk about it.” He pretended he didn’t see the concern in her expression.


They declined dessert and made ready to leave. “I hope we didn’t bore you over lunch, Laurence,” Mrs. P said. “My husband often observes that we natter on far too much over things of little consequence to the world at large.”


“Not at all, Jessica,” he lied, hoping he did a better job this time. “I just don’t know very much about dressmaking or fashion.” With a supreme effort, he kept from looking at his watch, as Adelle said goodbye and gave Frances advice and encouragement with regard to her father’s return.


Adelle waited until the car pulled out onto a wide avenue. “What is it?” she asked.


“How do you feel about kids?” he asked, tilting her chin up so he could see her face.


“In what sense?”


“In the sense of us having some,” he said.


She took her time. “Having a child seems indulgent in a world where so many children are now missing one or both parents.”


“Like that little girl who’s headed for an orphanage soon, because she has Mr. Buttons instead of living relatives.” He gripped Adelle’s chin. “Are those places awful? I bet they are. How can they be anything else? A bunch of kids with nobody, all of them waiting to see if anyone will happen along to give them a home—what kind of life is that?” He snarled his own answer. “Depressing. Kate’ll hate it, Adelle. You know she will. She’s used to love, hand me down teddy bears and being spun around until she’s dizzy. The situation stinks and I can’t even blame the war for it. I think that’d be easier somehow, but I have no idea why.” Dominic glared at Adelle. “Stop smiling. This isn’t anything to smile about.” She didn’t comply. “Why in the hell are you smiling, anyway?”


“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man so smitten by a child.”


“I’m not smitten!”


Adelle laughed. “Kate looked at you with those lovely blue eyes, so like your own, and you fell for her. Admit it. You’ll feel better.”


“It doesn’t matter,” he muttered. “I can’t provide her a suitable home. I live in Berlin for Christ’s sake. That’s likely to be viewed as unfavorably as being unable to offer her a mom.” Dominic turned away, staring out the window without truly seeing anything.


* * *

“Do you want children, Laurence?” Adelle asked, slipping her hand into his, unwilling to allow him to brood.

“I don’t know.” When she waited, he shrugged. “I assumed I’d have a family someday.”

“A charming wife and a house full of clever blond children?” When he didn’t react to her light tone, she added, “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“It’s what everyone has. I didn’t expect to be any different. I didn’t know any different. The war changed that – you changed that.”

She believed him, how could she not? He loved completely, with all of his being. That’s why the loss of his closest friends had been so devastating. Yet he’d been emerging from his isolation over these last few months and today a little girl had proven how far he’d come.

The question of whether she could share him didn’t concern Adelle as much as she had expected. She’d never been so certain of her importance to another person; Laurence’s love liberated her and from the place of safety it provided, she could build a new life without sacrificing her identity. Why couldn’t she share that with someone who had nothing?

“I may be able to help find an alternative to the children’s home for Kate,” she said, gathering his attention straight away. “There’s a couple I know of, who might be interested in adoption.”

“Are they kind?” he asked, his expression a mixture of hope and disappointment. “She’s obviously used to being somewhere with a lot of love; it’s much less important than money.”

“They’re charming,” she told him, “and not without means. They’re very much in love.”

“That’s good.” He exhaled, perhaps a little shakily. “You’ll speak with them. Remember, she’s due to leave Mrs P’s at the end of the month, Adelle.”

“Some things require attention first.”

“Right. The authorities won’t let just anyone adopt and they haven’t even met her.” Eyes a little frightened, he said, “No one could resist her, could they?”

“It would certainly be very difficult.” Kate had captured Laurence’s heart and Adelle could easily succumb to those big blue eyes and blond curls. “That wasn’t what I meant.”

“Then what?”

“That question. The one you keep asking me.” He blinked and looked startled. “Ask it again.”

“Why would I...” She pressed a gloved finger to his lips to silence him.

“Because the authorities won’t let just anyone adopt.” She saw the penny dropped but continued, “The couple I’m talking about aren’t yet married.”

“Oh Christ.” He swallowed. “Adelle, are you sure?”

“Ask me and find out.”

“Marry me,” he breathed. “Not for Kate. Marry me because you love me and because you want to.”

She hesitated, because, after all, it was a momentous decision. Her heart beat quickly but Laurence’s steady gaze gave her the strength she needed. “I will, because I do.”


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(Deleted comment)
Thank you! We wanted something meaningful to finally get them over this hurdle (and get Adelle to the right answer to THAT question). Glad you enjoyed.

Oh my god!!!

Ahhhhhh!

I don't know what to do with myself now! This entire chapter was perfection!

Ahhhhhhhhh!

Thanks so much for the kind words and taking the time to type them.

We thought long and hard about going in this direction and how to go about it. It's wonderful to know that it worked.

AH!! Everything was prefect and wonderful and amazing!

I have no words to describe just how much I loved this chapter!

Thank you so much.

I've long held the view that Dominic is the more emotional of the two. It was a blast writing him falling in love with a little girl.

Glad it worked for you!

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