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 20. The Courage to Love

Chapter Notes: First of all, many thanks to those of you that are sticking with this story despite the irregular updates. Your reviews and the fact you’re enjoying both love stories made me unbelievably happy. So happy I managed to finish another chapter relatively fast (at least compared to the last one *g*). I think my muse wants to focus on this story for the time being, so I hope you forgive me for the lack of updates in my other WIPs. I promise I’ll get to those as soon as muse let’s go of AAO.

A million thanks as always to Tina, for betaing this chapter for me and for being your very lovely self; to Beth, for her wonderful suggestions; to Vara, for her historical expertise and saving me from making horrendous mistakes; and to Deanna, for inspiring my muse into action—it’d been a while since I wrote like that—and for editing for me. *snuggles* Love you, girls!


Love is a force more formidable than any other. It is invisible—it cannot be seen or measured, yet it is powerful enough to transform you in a moment and offer you more joy than any material possession could. ~ Barbara De Angelis

 

Spike strode down the steps towards the carriage as soon as it stopped in front of the townhouse, exhaling a relieved sigh when he peeked into the coach and saw his sister and best friend seemingly unharmed inside.

He didn't miss their crumpled clothes, or the fact they were sitting very close together. Neither did he miss the way his sister glowed or how Wes leaned forward to protect her when he practically tore open the door in his haste to get to them.

“Are you both all right?” He scanned his sister's features and body, searching for any hidden injuries before doing the same with his friend and finding none. “I was out of my mind with worry that something might have happened to you.”

Fred smiled, extending a hand towards him so he could help her out of the vehicle. “We're fine, William, I promise you. The rim broke when we were halfway back last afternoon from Mr. Thompson estate, leaving us stranded in the middle of nowhere. It was too late to get it repaired, so we decided to spend the night in a nearby inn that I'm not quite certain can really qualify as one.” She scrunched her nose at the reminder of it.

She cherished the time she’d spent with Wesley, loved how close they'd grown in the short hours they remained in their room, but aside from that, the experience had been one she was not looking forward to repeating in the future.

“I see,” the duke replied as they entered the house. “I imagine you want to take a bath and have some breakfast before leavin' for Berkshire at noon, so everythin' should be at the ready... if you're still goin' with Lady Joyce, Miss Summers and I after your ordeal, that is?” he added as an afterthought.

“Oh, but of course we are! Aren't we, Wesley?” She turned towards the brunet man for confirmation, laying a hand on his arm and Spike raised an eyebrow at the gesture. It was obvious they had settled their differences and if the way the brunet was looking at his sister was anything to go by, the trip had been far more exciting than they had let on so far.

“I wouldn't miss it for the world,” Wes responded with a smile.

“Perfect! Now if you excuse me, gentlemen, I'll be heading upstairs to my room and don't worry, little brother, I promise I'll be ready in time for us to leave at noon.”

The two men remained at the foot of the staircase until she disappeared down the long corridor that led to her room, one focused on her, the other focused on the man by his side.

There was something different about Wes, he appeared more... relaxed, more carefree, until he noticed Spike's eyes on him and he started to fidget under the force of the Duke of Aurelius’ stare.

“I-I,” he croaked, before clearing his throat, thankful he hadn't bothered with his cravat that morning, otherwise he would've been trying to loosen the knot by now. Spike was far too calm and Wes waited for the explosion he was certain would follow now that Winifred was out of hearing range.

Except the explosion never came and the blond man had a gleam in his eye that could almost be described as evil, or perhaps it was his overactive imagination. Spike couldn't know what transpired between him and his sister, could he?

Dread filled him and suddenly, he couldn't remove himself from Spike's presence fast enough. “I think I'll go get ready myself, if that's alright with you?”

“Sure it is.” He waited until Wes started to climb the stairs before adding, “And Wes? I expect you in my study in an hour. We have a lot to talk about.”

Even half-turned as he was, Spike noticed how his friend blanched at the thought of what their 'talk' would entail, before nodding curtly and making a hasty escape towards the room he occupied when he stayed in the townhouse.

Oh yes, this conversation would surely reveal very interesting information regarding his sister and best friend and with any luck, it would occupy most of the morning .

He glanced towards the grandfather clock to the right and sighed heavily when noticing it was only nine thirty. Two and a half hours yet until he saw Buffy again. He really should've set an earlier time to pick them up, he thought before walking to his study room to wait for whom he hoped would soon be his new brother-in-law. About bloody time, too !

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

“Elizabeth, can I ask you something?” Joyce inquired out of the blue. Her daughter and she had been going through their correspondence in companionable silence ever since breakfast while they waited for William to pick them up, and after reading Lady Sefton's invitation to Almack's, she just couldn't stand it any longer.

“Of course, Mother.” Buffy left her quill to the side and placed her hands on her lap, giving her mother her undivided attention.

“I think there's no easy way to go about this, but I need to be sure this is what you want.”

“If this is what I want? I'm not certain of what you mean.” And she really didn't. It wasn't as if she'd ever been asked before if anything was to her liking by her parents. Although maybe that wasn't fair, her mother was different from her father, and he was the one who generally made the decisions in their home.

“I, well, I just… I mean, if you weren't sure you want to... say marry the Duke of Aurelius, I could try to convince him otherwise. Perhaps he could be sway—” She paused when she saw Elizabeth's eyes widening in fear as she brought her left hand up to her chest and it was then she noticed a ring she hadn't seen before. “What is that?”

“M-my engagement r-ring,” Buffy stuttered, extending her hand so Joyce could see it. “Mother, please, tell me you haven't told anything of this sort to Wil-his Grace,” she pleaded, grabbing her mother’s hand and holding onto it for dear life.

“No, of course not. I thought to ask you first. When did he give you this, sweetheart?”

“Last night when he proposed to me.” She smiled at the older woman, who just blinked in confusion. “It was so romantic, Mother. He told me he loves me and that if I wanted to break off the engagement he would make sure we had nothing to worry about and I—” She stopped herself from admitting to her feelings for William, it just didn't seem right to tell anyone before she told him, not even her mother. “I really care for him... more than I thought possible, so I said yes.”

“He proposed... again? And you said yes?” Joyce repeated, shell-shocked by her daughter's admittance, this she hadn't expected. Hoped for, most assuredly, but expected? Definitely not after the way it all started. “And you are certain you care for him?”

“Yes, yes and yes.” She nodded, beaming back before throwing her arms around her. “Oh, Mother, I'm so unbelievably happy.”

So happy it scared her, but she wouldn't focus on that now. Not when she had the next few days to look forward to.

“Well, if this is what you want, then it's also what I want. I'm very happy for you, darling.”

Joyce couldn't say she was surprised. She'd seen the change in her daughter, seen how her relationship with the Duke of Aurelius took a turn for the better, seen how much he cared for Elizabeth and prayed her daughter would learn to care for him as well in time. The expression on her face when she suggested putting an end to the engagement had been answer enough and her words after only confirmed that no matter how this came to be, it still might end with a happy ever after for the two of them.

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

Less than an hour later after he bid his leave, Wes knocked on the study's door, waiting until he heard Spike's rather dry, “Come in,” before turning the knob and entering the room.

He cleared his throat and wiped his sweaty hands on his pants before advancing towards the seat the blond man signaled with his hand.

“Would you like some whisky?” the duke inquired, nearing the small table that held a decanter and some glasses.

“Eh, well, it's a tad early for that, don't you think?”

Spike just raised his eyebrow. “So, what's your point ?”

“Right. It isn't like one glass would hurt.” He shrugged nonchalantly, his stomach in knots and gladly accepted the glass. God knew he'd need the liquid courage to get through this conversation .

“I see your wounds have healed nicely,” Spike said with a nod towards his friend's hands, which appeared in better shape than the day before.

“Oh yes, the cuts were quite shallow, thank the heavens. I don't even need to have them bandaged any longer.” Perhaps he'd overwrought himself for nothing, the blond man didn't seem to be in a hurry to ask him for any explanations regarding Winifred, and for that he was thankful. He started breathing a bit easier, relaxing as he brought the glass to his lips.

The Duke of Aurelius waited until Wes took a hefty swallow of his drink, before asking him point-blank, “So, tell me, Wes, what exactly are your intentions with my sister ?”

Spike was hard-pressed not to explode with laughter when his friend sputtered most of the whisky from his mouth, coughing and patting his chest as the alcohol burned a path to his lungs. Bloody waste of mighty fine liquor if you asked him , but it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“Went down the wrong way, I suppose?” he said with an evil smirk .

“I-I,” he paused for a second, trying to gather his bearings... and his nerve. He could do this. He had to do this. It wasn't like Spike was a stranger or that he opposed the idea of him with his sister. Quite the opposite, in fact. “I think you're enjoying teasing me a little too much,” he added with a frown.

“Well, of course I am. You're too bloody easy. Not that `m not deadly serious about this, though.” He threw him a pointed look as he drummed his fingers over the lavish oak desk, his good mood evaporating as he focused on the very serious issues he needed to discuss with his friend. “The truth of the matter is you spent the night with my sister at an inn. And while it's not my business if anythin' happened between the two of you or not, I have an obligation to look after Fred and I won' have her reputation sullied if this is known. So, `m still waitin' for your answer, mate. What are your intentions with my sister?”

Wes looked at the blond man sharply, suspicion gleaming in his blue-gray eyes. “I'm beginning to think you had something to do with our little 'accident', that you planned this so I would have to marry her,” he said, so lost in his own turmoil of emotions to notice the signs that Spike's temper was hanging on by a very fine thread .

Spike's nostrils flared and a muscle in his jaw ticked at his friend's accusation. He might've manipulated certain situations to his advantage upon occasion, but he'd never put anyone in peril because of his actions. That Wesley, of all people, could think him capable of doing that to him and his sister angered him well beyond belief.

“And `m beginnin' to think you're more daft than `ve given you credit for, if you truly believe that rot. For as much as I want to have you as a brother-in-law, I would never resort to somethin' of that nature and you bloody well know it!” He pounded his fist on the furniture with such force, the glasses on it tinkled, the whisky sloshing inside them. “Now. Answer. The. Bloody. Question!” he all but growled .

The brunet sighed in defeat, hanging his head. Spike was right. After twenty years of friendship, he should've known there were things the Duke of Aurelius wouldn't do. He crossed a line and now he had to make amends and try to explain himself.

“I, well, I apologize for what I said to you,” he replied, ducking his head sheepishly. “You're right, I do know you wouldn't put your sister or me in danger... it's just, you have to admit the accident was a little too convenient.” He raised his hand to stop Spike when he seemed like he was about to interrupt him. “No, hear me out, please. I was just lashing out at you because... you know I love your sister and I only want what's best for her, don't you?” He waited a beat until Spike nodded. “The thing is, I'm not certain I'm the best for her, because, let's be honest here… what could I possibly give her? I have no title or riches to offer a lady like her.”

Daft? No, the man was a blubbering idiot ! Spike rolled his eyes at his friend, his anger abating somewhat at his explanation. He saw his point, but really, how dense could Wes be? His sister was wealthy in her own right and more than titles or anything else, she longed to have love, Wesley's love.

“You could give her yourself, your love, she doesn't need anything else other than that. And it's not like you don' have anythin' else to offer, we're partners for Christ’ sakes!”

“Because you felt pity for me!” Wes replied airily.

“And you're back to that already. Really, what does it take, Wes? Are you really goin' to let your glowerin' pride overrule everythin' else, our partnership, our friendship and most importantly, the chance of being happy with my sister? You know as well as I do I didn' have to offer you a part in this business, however—as `ve told you before—I have no time to devote to an enterprise of the caliber this could be. You're an expert in the field and that's what `m countin' on to make the business flourish. `M startin' to doubt it will work, though.”

That deflated Wes' sails quite effectively. He'd been grasping at straws and he knew it. Trying to find an excuse to get out of a mess of his own making. He was sure that Winifred would be better off without him. But after last night, would she really? Not likely. She would be crushed if he took back all he said to her and if he did, she would never forgive him. And who could blame her?

Was he prepared to have her hate instead of her love? Was he prepared to see her flirt with Alasdair Chandler or any other man who might vie for her attention? To know he could have it all or lose it because of his own foolishness, of his pride?

The crippling pain he felt inside his chest at the thought of seeing her smiling at someone else, of her giving them what she so passionately gave to him, of her loving someone that wasn't him was more than enough answer for him. He couldn't. No matter what, he simply couldn't give her up.

“I... you're right, Spike.”

Huh? “Wha—I mean of course I am. And it’s high time you realized it.” He fought the urge to pout . He'd been ready to continue arguing his case for at least a while longer. That was a mite anticlimactic if you asked him, but if it got Wes to see the light so to speak, well, so be it.

“I know. Believe me I know.” He breathed in deeply as he prepared himself for what he had to ask next. “Would you do me the honor of having the hand of your sister in matrimony?”

“Only her hand?” Spike chuckled, raising an eyebrow. “I'll make you a deal, I'll gladly give all of her to you, bloody nuisance that she can be, if you promise you won' ever mention anythin' about me pityin' you in any way again. Deal?” he added, extending his right hand.

Wes laughed heartily, relief that things seemed back to normal with Spike coursing through him as he shook his hand, sealing the deal they just made. “You're impossible; but yes, you got yourself a deal.”

“Right then, so when are you goin' to ask her?”

“Perhaps while we're at Berkshire ? There'll be more time to build up my courage, just in case she says no.”

“She won't. I can guarantee you that and not because `m going to force her into this or anythin' of that sort. I think it won' come as a surprise to you to know she has deep, abidin' feelings for you. So, I have no doubts this will work out perfectly.”

“Hope you're right.”

“I know I am and you should, too. I trust you're well aware I expect the weddin' to take place as soon as possible, don' you?” Spike inquired, a hint of threat tingeing his voice.

“Err, yes, as soon as possible, I promise.”

“Good man. So now that that's finally settled, tell me, did you find a suitable horse for my lady in Mr. Thompson stables?”

“Oh yes, we did. It's a beautiful specimen, too. I'm quite certain Miss Summers will love it. He promised to send it to your estate in Berkshire first thing this morning, so I'm sure it'll be there when we arrive.”

“Perfect! Speakin' of which,” he paused, glancing towards the clock for the thousandth time that morning and exhaled a relieved sigh when noticing it was finally a little past eleven and as such, an appropriate time to go to the Summers' household. “It's time go pick Lady Joyce and Miss Summers up. Would you please tell Fred we'll be leavin' immediately upon our return?”

“Of course.”

Spike walked towards the door, but before going out, he turned back to his friend. “Wes?”

“Yes?”

“It's `bout time you stopped being so headstrong regardin' my sister.” And with that, he left the room.

Wes snorted, taking another sip of his whisky. And wasn't that the truth! He'd lost so much time already but now, all he had to do was find the courage to propose to his ladylove and he'd be set... as long as she accepted, that is .

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

Oz made the run from his townhouse to Buffy's in record time and Spike couldn't be more grateful for it. Because the sooner he saw her, the sooner he could put to rest his doubts that last night had been nothing but a dream.

He took the stairs leading to the main entrance two by two, pleased when the butler opened the door before he had a chance to ring the bell.

“Good morning, your Grace.” He bowed to him.

“Good mornin'.” The duke gave him his hat and gloves. “Lady Joyce is expectin' me, I presume?”

“Yes, Sir, Lady Joyce is waiting for you in the drawing room.”

“And Miss Summers? Is she there, too?”

“No, I believe Miss Summers is in the morning room, your Grace. Would you like me to fetch her for you?”

“No, that's fine.” More than fine really, if he could convince Lady Joyce to allow him a few minutes alone with his fiancée that was.

He followed the butler to the drawing room and after being announced, advanced to greet his future mother-in-law who stood from the chair she occupied as soon as she saw him.

“Good mornin', Lady Joyce.” He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it. “I hope `m not inopportune for arrivin' a little earlier than the time we set?”

“Of course not, William. We have everything at the ready if you wish to leave. I'll just call Elizabeth and—”

“Actually, Lady Joyce,” he interrupted her. “I arrived earlier than I should have and for that I apologize, but I wanted to talk with your daughter before we left, in private if possible.”

“Oh, certainly. You'll find her in the morning room.” She pulled a cord and the butler appeared a few moments later. “Mr. Roberts will lead you there, your Grace.”

“Thank you, Lady Joyce.”

He beamed at her then followed the man down a long corridor until they reached the door to what he presumed was the morning room, stopping the servant before he announced his presence.

“I'll announce myself, thank you, Mr. Roberts,” he said, waiting until the butler disappeared around the corner before entering the room, closing the door silently behind him.

She hadn't noticed him yet, engrossed as she was in reading one of the books he'd sent her, so he neared her carefully, trying his best to not alert her of his presence so he could observe her unimpeded .

He'd never tire of watching her. She was beautiful, absolutely breathtaking with her hair swept up and away from her face. He longed to take all the pins from it, to feel its weight in his hands, to bury his face in it and lose himself in its fragrance. His eyes followed the delicate column of her throat, her collarbone, the sea foam green of her dress that provided the perfect frame for her golden skin and he couldn't stop himself from coming closer, leaning down to place a soft kiss on the nape of her neck, startling her.

“Wha—” She swatted at her neck, swiftly turning around on the sofa to find William standing there. “William!” she exclaimed, her eyes shining with happiness as she threw her arms around his neck. “I didn't expect you until later today.”

“I know, sweetheart. I just couldn' wait any longer to see you. Had to make sure last night wasn' a dream.”

“Well, if it was, I think we both had the same one.” She blushed under his heated stare, lowering her head.

“Now, now, pet, none of that.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “Thought we’d gotten past that last night?”

He smirked when her eyes glazed with the memories of their passionate encounter. “Did you dream of me, my sweet Buffy?”

She nodded, hypnotized by the sapphire gaze that held hers captive.

“And what did I do to you?”

“I-you, er, kissed me.”

“Like this?” he asked, pressing the softest of kisses on her lips.

“N-not exactly,” she said breathlessly.

“Like this, then?” He traced her bottom lip with the tip of his tongue before retreating again.

“Ugh,” she pouted. “You're evil.”

“Well, yes, hadn' I told you I was before?” he asked with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

“No, I was under the delusion you were the kind of man I could love ,” she replied without thinking, her eyes widening when she realized what she'd blubbered out.

He blinked and swore his heart stopped for a second before resuming its mad gallop in his chest as he stared at her perplexed. She couldn't have told him what he thought she did, could she? “What?”

“What ?”

“Tell me, Buffy, please,” he begged.

“Tell you what?” she replied, shrugging nonchalantly. “I don't know what you mean .”

“And you say I'm evil!”

“You are, you admitted to it,” she said smugly.

“Can I be that, Buffy? The kind of man you could love?” Say yes, say yes, he repeated in his head.

“Perhaps you already are.” She looked at him from beneath lowered lashes, her green eyes shining with an enticing blend of mischief and nervousness that took his breath away.

He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down. “Perhaps I already am... what, love?” He tilted his head, putting his finger under her chin to bring her eyes level with his. “The kind of man you could love or...” He couldn't bring himself to finish the question, fear and hope grappling his insides in a way he'd never known before.

“Or... perhaps you already are the man I love,” she said simply.

tbc

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