Against All Odds by Dusty273

ReviewsRating: NC-17

Summary: Buffy Summers is a vibrant, passionate young girl in love for the first time in her life with Angel O’Connor, to whom she’s secretly engaged. When he has to go back to his native Ireland to take care of his business, fate intervenes and she meets the very daring and impulsive Duke of Aurelius, Spike. From the moment he lays eyes upon her, he decides he wants her for himself and sets upon making it happen. Will Spike get what he wants, and if so, at what price? Written for the Spuffy_fantasy (LJ) Art-A-Thon. For the gorgeous banner made by drkdevin (Number 9).

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Chapter 16. Truths and Revelations

Chapter Notes: Thank you to those of you who’ve taken the time to review. I’m behind in replying (again), but now that my daughters’ birthday is finally past me, I hope to finally have more time to answer to them. Please, don’t think I don’t appreciate them or you, because I do, more than you can’t imagine.

As always a million thanks to my lovely hermanita Tina, writing while chatting with you is one of most wonderful experiences. ;) Thanks for the suggestions, edits and just for being there for me. *besos* To Vara, for editing the first part of the chapter and saving me from committing several historical inaccuracies; and to Beth and Carrie for reading part of the chapter and reassuring me it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. *hugs n’ kisses* Love you, girls! Ooh, and the quote in this chapter was provided by my gorgeous friend, Carrie. Thank you, sweetie!


"He who listens to the truth is not less than he who utters the truth." ~ Kahlil Gibran

 

Buffy hadn’t felt as carefree, happy or relaxed in years. Even if she couldn’t gallop as she would’ve liked, instead having to settle on a trot or a light canter at the most, she couldn’t deny she was having the time of her life. Illyria was a beautiful specimen, a dark true blue roan mare as William had explained to her when she’d commented on its exceptional color, and she was a dream to ride. She barely had to give the noble equine the slightest indication with the bridle for it to follow her lead. Which was providential; she refused to use the riding crop on a horse unless absolutely necessary.

She had to admit she was very impressed William didn’t deem its use indispensable, either. His control over his horse, Vendaval, was admirable. The purebred was almost an extension of its owner as they paraded through Hyde Park, both moving in perfect synchrony and she couldn’t stop herself from feeling proud at the envious glances she was the object of for being in such handsome and distinguished company.

While she’d heard of the Fashionable Hour in Hyde Park, she’d never expected it to be like this. There were hundreds—if not thousands—of the elite members of the most aristocratic families of the English society, la crème de la crème, the Ton, promenading up and down the avenue while showing off their wealth, clothes and carriages to their peers while flirting, chatting and catching up with the latest news. It was quite fascinating to her; they didn’t have anything remotely like this in America.

William and she had to make more than a few stops along the way to meet several of the duke’s acquaintances, some of which she’d met at the theater, although the majority she was being introduced here for the first time. There were so many that, after a short while, she gave up altogether on trying to remember their names. Which was just something else she found commendable about her fiancé, he knew each and every one of these people. Not only their names, but who they were, inquiring about their health and relatives. They seem to genuinely care for him, too, and were obviously very curious about the American woman who had ensnared one of their most eligible bachelors.

Not that she could blame them.

While she’d come to terms with marrying the Duke of Aurelius, she was intrigued as to why a man like him would want to marry someone like her when there were others who would be more… qualified to become his wife than she would ever be. She was not particularly beautiful, titled or rich; had actually flaunted her intelligence to him with the hope it would discourage him and had been more than surprised when instead of being put off by it, he’d shown her his intellect matched hers at the very least and that he was not ashamed by it.

Plus, the details of how they became betrothed were sketchy at best. How did her father convince the duke of marrying her? Or had it been William’s idea? What was the real extent of their association? What was the reason for the hasty wedding? She couldn’t spend the rest of her life wondering about her fiancé’s motives, when he would reveal his true nature or if the one he’d exhibited when they were alone was the real him. She had to find out, tonight if possible, ask him, give him a chance to explain himself, to tell her his reasons for wanting this marriage. She wanted to believe in him, in his words when he asked her to let him win her heart, but she couldn’t until he answered her questions, until he showed her he was the kind of man she could trust and give her love to.

Spike’s heart swelled with love for his future bride. Not only was she the most beautiful woman around, but she was gracious and courteous with everyone they met, even when some of them had been downright nosy. She’d answered some of their inquiries and skirted around the rest with a sweet smile, leaving their interlocutors content even if they didn’t get the response they wanted or hoped for; all the while throwing him sidelong glances and shy grins that made him wish they were anywhere but here.

He’d been truly lucky his father had died before he could force him to marry for the sake of the family, as he’d done with his poor sister. Bloody hell, just thinking of whom his father might’ve deemed suitable to be his wife made him shudder in disgust. Neither of the vapid women in their circle of so-called friends held a candle to his ladylove. From the moment he saw her across the street he’d known she was the one for him, and every moment spent by her side since then had cemented that knowledge.

He knew Wes was right; he had to tell Buffy about the circumstances that had led to their engagement… before she found out in some other way. He wouldn’t put it past Hank Summers to find the means to tell her just to spite him for the way he threw him out of his house. He couldn’t take the chance, there was so much more at stake now.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Cecily had been going to Hyde Park all week hoping she would see William again… to no avail. Whereas before he spent almost every afternoon riding there whenever he was in town, no one had seen him ever since he returned from the country the week before and that had to be that awful Summers girl fault. There was no doubt in her mind about it.

Before Elizabeth Summers entered the Duke of Aurelius’ life out of nowhere, Cecily Addams had believed it was just a matter of time until she became his wife. All her friends and her family expected an announcement eventually. It didn’t matter that William had never singled her out, because he never singled anyone else out either. However, she knew better. She knew he would offer for her, because she was perfect for him in every way… until that evil witch intervened and with who knew which black arts she’d manage to snare not only William’s attention but obtain an engagement from him as well. A hasty one at that.

Despite the duke’s threat the night they met at the theatre, she just knew she had to do something to prevent this wedding from happening. She was certain he would thank her for it later, just as she knew after that he would finally do as he should and marry her instead of the blonde who was so beneath their station.

Her heart started beating harder when she saw the duke riding down the avenue on his black Arabian stallion, looking as handsome and imposing as ever. She straightened in her seat, nervously arranging her curls as he came closer, a blush tingeing her cheeks and a smile forming on her lips… until she noticed who was riding by his side and then her expression promptly soured, the smile turning into a moue of disgust while a frown creased her forehead.

And that wasn’t the worst of it; the absolute worst being that he didn’t even acknowledge her as he passed by her, the odious Miss Summers did though. The triumphant smile plastered on her face was definitely for her benefit, but it wouldn’t be there for long, she would make sure of it.

“…couldn’t believe it when Archibald Turner told me about it,” Cordelia Chase was saying to the other occupants in her carriage. “But he swears he was at White’s when the deal was made.”

“Deal? What deal?” Cecily asked, turning towards her friend.

“Why, Cecily, haven’t you been listening to me?” She arched her brow, knowing perfectly well why the brunette hadn’t paid attention to her and wanting to tease her a little. There weren’t that many opportunities when she could put her on the spot. She didn’t particularly like Cecily Addams, but she’d learned early on that it wasn’t in her best interest to get on her bad side, especially not when one of her parents’ prospective suitors for her was the Addams’ heir. Not that she was all that eager to get into that family, but she knew better than to oppose to her father’s wishes.

“Just tell me, Cordelia,” she gritted in a no-nonsense tone.

The other girl rolled her eyes and sighed in defeat. “Well, it seems our dear Duke of Aurelius won Miss Summers’ hand in a game of Faro.”

“Really now?” Cecily smiled wickedly. That was exactly the sort of news she needed to hear about. She was quite certain Miss Summers knew nothing of this, since usually these kinds of dealings were kept under wraps. She doubted the blonde girl would be as arrogant if she found out she’d been gambled off in such a way. And perhaps, just perhaps, if she had any self-respect left after finding out about it, that would be enough to get rid of her for good. One could hope at least.

Cordelia felt a frisson of fear go through her at the manic grin that settled on Cecily’s face, sharing a concerned glance with Amy Collins and Harmony Kendall who’d joined them for their outing that afternoon. They all knew of the brunette’s obsession with becoming the Duchess of Aurelius and what she was capable of and it was only then that she realized the full extent of her mistake in telling her about the bet.

Oh God, what had she done? She paled and was suddenly nauseous at the mere thought of the lengths her ‘friend’ might go to obtain what she wanted. Cordy loved a good intrigue as much as the next person—and this, like it or not, was as good as they got—but she was aware now that if anything happened it would be her own fault. She had to do something, anything to prevent whatever Cecily was planning to come to fruition and it would have to be soon or who knew how catastrophic the results might be.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The trip to Hampshire was uneventful and while Lady Winifred had warmed up considerably to him since that morning, Wes knew he still had a long way to go before she fully forgave him. If she ever did, that was. For the time being, he knew he should count his blessings and be grateful that she was talking to him again. The silent treatment coupled with the insane jealousy that he felt whenever Alasdair Chandler was mentioned, just about did him in.

As Spike had told them, Mr. Thompson had quite a selection of purebred horses at the ready for their inspection. Arabians, Lusitanos and Andalusians, all with impressive backgrounds and pedigree, all beautiful animals in their own right, ranging from the deepest of blacks to the purest of whites, bay, chestnut, even blue and some that appeared pink or lilac due to the strange pigmentation of their coats.

While not an easy task, between the three of them and with the explicit instructions they’d been given by her brother, it didn’t take them too long to settle on a bay Andalusian mare. It was a truly gorgeous animal, its reddish brown coat lustrous and shiny, its lines proud, strong and elegant and its black mane and tail thick, long and flowing with each gracious movement it made. And if her future sister-in-law was anything like her, she had no doubts Miss Elizabeth would absolutely adore her brother’s gift.

After having tea with Mr. and Mrs. Thompson at their home and making Mr. Thompson promise he would deliver the horse to the stables at the duke’s country estate near Windsor the next day, they began the one-hour trip back to London.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

“Oh William, I had such fun today,” Buffy gushed as they walked through her garden after having supper with her mother.

She had changed into a lovely white lace gown with a blue satin under dress after they’d arrived at her house a little earlier and had her hair pinned up, a few stray curls artfully framing her pixie face. If Spike had his way, the up-do wouldn’t last up for long. He loved to see, to feel her silky golden tresses tumbling into his hands. Of course, that’d only happen if he still had the right to do so after he told her about the bet her father—no, not her father, thank the heavens for small mercies—and he made. And if she didn’t forgive him? What would he do then?

She frowned when he didn’t answer her, turning on her heel to find him a few paces behind her with such a somber expression etched on his handsome face that she couldn’t stop a shiver from running down her spine.

“Is something amiss?” she neared him, putting her hand on his arm and startling him out of his stupor.

“I-I,” he choked, closing his eyes as he tried to steel himself for what he had to say. He was afraid out of his bloody mind over how she would take this revelation. Afraid of the power she held over his, or rather their future.

He patted his vest until he felt the small object he’d hidden inside one of its pockets and sighed. He was taking a huge gamble here, hoping whatever they’d built in the last few days would be enough. Enough for her to hear him out, enough for her to accept his apology for the way he secured her hand in marriage, enough to still want to marry him after she learned what he did. But he was nothing if not a gambling man, and so far Lady Luck had always been on his side, hopefully that wouldn’t change in the most important bet of his life.

“William?” she asked when the grave look on his face changed to one of nervousness. And frankly, it was making her nervous, as well as scared. What could have him in such a state? Perhaps he was having second thoughts about marrying her. And why did that thought make her feel like crying when she should be jumping for joy? He hadn’t given her any indication in that sense, but seeing him like this… she couldn’t help her insecurities from earlier in the afternoon to arise.

It was so unlike him, so unlike the confident, completely sure of himself man she’d come to… to what? Care about? Care seemed too tepid an emotion for all he elicited in her, though for the moment that was all she felt truly comfortable accepting to feel for him, even if only to herself.

The apprehension he heard in her voice was what finally gave him the strength he needed to proceed. It wouldn’t do either of them any good if he kept delaying this. So after taking a deep, long breath, he finally opened his eyes and fixed them on hers.

“I have to tell you somethin’, love… somethin’ that—” he looked around them until he found a stone bench. “Le’s sit there for a moment.”

Her stomach was in knots as she followed him, a feeling of dread enveloping her. She sat primly on the bench, her hands folded in her lap as she tried not to give in to the despair that threatened to engulf her.

“I have to tell you somethin’, but I need you to promise me…” he paused, swallowing hard. “I need you to promise me you’ll hear me out, that you’ll let me explain.”

“Explain? Explain what?”

“Jus’ promise me, Buffy? Please?” he all but begged her, grabbing one of her hands in his. Needing to touch her, to feel her, to fool himself into thinking everything would be all right after all, at least for the time being.

She looked at him doubtfully and he sighed, resigned. Time to up the ante. Double or nothing worked for him before, perhaps it’d work for him now, too.

“I know it’s a lot to take up on faith alone, but if you listen to me without interruptin’… I’ll give you a choice when I finish and I swear I’ll abide by your decision, no matter what it is. You have my word on it,” he avowed.

Now she was well and truly curious and didn’t they say curiosity killed the cat? She just hoped trusting William wouldn’t end up being her downfall. “Alright, I’ll listen to whatever you have to say.”

“Firs’ of all let me say that I know we didn’ start off on the right foot and that `m to blame for that. I-I, from the first moment I saw you across the street the day we met, I couldn’ think of anythin’ else but you. Still can’, to tell you the truth.” He let out a self-deprecating chuckle. “It wasn’ that you are one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, or that you didn’ make it easy on me. That only made me more determined to see you again, to find out more about you, to discover anything that could be discovered about you.

“And so I commissioned Wes to investigate everythin’ about you, your family, your antecedents, anythin’ that might be helpful to me to get to you. And I found a way, perhaps not the most brilliant, but in my head it was foolproof. I arranged a meeting with your father at White’s, knowing perfectly well the kind of man he was and `m ashamed to say, set him up in a way where he’d be cornered to give me my heart’s desire… you.”

She didn’t know what to say, what to think as his words spiraled inside her head while she tried to grasp their meaning. He had been the one who instigated their engagement, sought her father out to obtain her hand in marriage. It simply didn’t make sense.

“`F course, I didn’ take into account that once I saw you `gain, once I began to really know you, I would fall for you like I’ve never fallen for anyone else before. You’re everythin’ I’ve ever wished for in a woman, in a wife. You’re all that and more, so much more. All I’ve ever wanted, but never dreamt I could have. Which makes what I have to say even harder…” he said, feeling her tense at his words.

“I-I did somethin’ `m not proud of, somethin’ that could make you hate me but that you need to know, regardless of what it would make you feel concernin’ me,” he continued, lowering his head and settling his eyes on their linked hands. He could feel her pulse jumping on her wrist where his thumb was caressing her, while he tried to come to terms with the very real possibility of her throwing his love back in his face once she knew what he did.

Her heart was beating so hard inside her chest it was making her feel slightly dizzy. Not that it could be helped, not with the way he was behaving. It had to be bad for him to react that way.

“I wanted you no matter the cost, so I made a bet with your father, offered him a deal he couldn’ refuse… with you as the prize if I was victorious,” his voice cracked a little when he said that and he winced, imagining how much she must be hating him now.

She blinked as she processed this new piece of information. Her father had actually bet her in a game of luck as if she were nothing more than a possession to him, which truth be told, didn’t come as much of a surprise. What she hadn’t expected was that William wanted to marry her so badly he’d done something like this. She truly couldn’t understand the reason why.

“`M aware I messed up, that what I did was ludicrous, that I probably ruined any chance I might have of you ever reciprocatin’ my feelings, but you deserved to know that I did it because from the moment I saw you, I knew you were the one for me. I swear I only did what I did because I was certain you were it for me. And I still am,” he said in earnest, getting on one knee in front of her and taking the ring out of his vest’s pocket. “`M givin’ you a choice, love. The choice I should’ve given you from the start.”

Buffy gaped from his blue eyes to the gorgeous emerald and diamond ring in his hand and back, tears prickling the back of her eyes, all kinds of overwhelming emotions running through her.

“I love you, Elizabeth, and if you can find it in your heart to ever forgive me for what I did, for forcin’ you into an engagement with me against your will, I promise you I’ll make sure you never regret it. I’ll devote my life to making you happy. If you can’, well, then we’ll call the weddin’ off and you’ll never have to see me again. Whatever you decide, however, you have my promise for as long as you live, I’ll make sure your mother and you are well taken care of. It’s the least I can do after gettin’ rid of your father the way I did.”

Any lingering doubts she still had about her feelings for the man currently laying his heart at her feet for her to either pick it up or stomp on it, vanished into thin air. The sincerity in his tone, his words, the love, fear, hope and despair swirling amidst the piercing sapphire gaze as he waited for an answer made the decision easy for her. Easier than she ever imagined it might be. She knew how hard it must have been for him to give her this alternative, this way out. He was a prideful man, a man used to getting all he wanted and yet, he was giving her the chance to say no to him.

She wouldn’t, though, she couldn’t say no to him. Not when he was giving her the greatest gift she could ever wish for, a man who loved her above everything else and a man she could love with all she had in return.

She pulled her hand away from his and he cringed, closing his eyes so he didn’t have to see how she walked away from him and out of his life forever. Not that he could blame her after what he revealed to her.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked out of the blue, and something in her tone made him raise his eyes to hers, his breath catching in his throat at what he found. There was no hate in the gorgeous green depths that had him captured in their light; they were filled with trust, a hint of mischief and was that… some kind of affection? Perhaps it was only wishful thinking on his part, but even if he tried to squash the hope that blossomed inside of him that she might return his feelings even if in just a small measure, he simply couldn’t. Not when she looked at him like she cared for him.

“Huh?” he inquired dumbly, still unable to get past the notion she was still there with him, talking to him.

“Thought the ring came with a question?” She raised a perfectly trimmed eyebrow at him, a smile tickling the corners of her lips. The awe in the azure gaze tugged at her heartstrings and she couldn’t stop herself from bringing her hand up to caress his handsome face.

“Depends,” he replied, nuzzling her hand with his nose before planting a kiss on her palm, slowly gaining some of his confidence back.

“On what?”

“On your answer.”

“But I can’t give you my answer if I haven’t heard the question, now can I?” she teased him.

“You know what I want to ask.”

“Perhaps, but I would still love to hear it,” she batted her eyelashes at him.

“Aren’ you… angry at me because of what I told you?” He should’ve quit while he was ahead, but they needed to talk about this now.

“I won’t say I’m ecstatic that you and my father bet me in a game of… whatever were you playing?”

“Faro,” he said, sheepishly lowering his head again.

“On a game of Faro; however…” she sighed, putting a finger under his chin until their eyes were level again. “However, it’s obvious the reasons you both did it were abysmally different and you came clean to me about it and that… that means the world to me. That means that you’re the kind of man I can give my heart to.”

“Buffy?” He didn’t want to sound so needy, hated it matter of fact, but if she was telling him what he thought, he didn’t care.

“Now are you going to ask me or not?” she pouted.

“Well, if you insist…” he said with a wink before grabbing her left hand and bringing it to his lips, kissing the finger where his ring would be placed before putting it on the tip of her finger. He inhaled deeply, his blue eyes clouding with emotion as he gazed up at her lovely face. “I love you more than life itself; more than I ever thought possible to love anyone. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. So please, love, please, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Her eyes misted while she nodded her acquiescence to his proposal and he slipped the ring onto her finger. She smiled through her tears, throwing her arms around him and kissing his face repeatedly, a whispered, “Yes, yes, of course I will,” all she managed to say before he captured her mouth in a searing kiss.

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