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 4. Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Chapter Notes: Mil gracias to my little sister IBE, without whom I would be truly lost, no matter how much she tries to downplay all she does for me. You’re too wonderful for words, cariño! *smooches* A huge boatload of thanks to the lovely jamies_lady as well, whose help is truly invaluable. I’m learning so much from you, darling. *hugs* And again, thank you to OKDeanna and Sotia, just for being their lovely selves. ;)


When things are bad, we take comfort in the thought that they could always be worse. And when they are, we find hope in the thought that things are so bad that they have to get better. ~Malcolm Forbes
 
Chapter 4.  Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Spike was struck speechless for a few seconds.  He’d thought her beautiful the day before, but today… today she glowed.  The pristine white mull dress with silver tinsel embroidery brought out her eyes and made them shine like the emeralds his mother used whenever she’d hosted a party at the Aurelius town house.  An angel fallen down from the heavens she was, what with the small white flowers entwined in the glorious mass of honey brown curls, arranged artfully in a lovely up-hairdo, her blonde and red natural highlights glimmering under the soft glow of the room’s lighting.  Simply gorgeous.   

Fred and Wes exchanged amused glances when they saw how enthralled Spike appeared by the young girl.  Perhaps this wasn’t as bad an idea as they both had feared.

Buffy could barely give credit to her eyes.  The man from yesterday—the man who’d stopped her on the street, the uncouth villain who’d tried to make her climb into his carriage, the man she hadn’t been able to forget despite trying so hard to… the nerve of him!—stood right in her home’s drawing room.  Good Lord, he couldn’t be the Duke of Aurelius, could he?  That’d be… so not good. 

Joyce sighed in relief when their guests crossed the threshold.  While she tried to downplay her daughter’s worries earlier today knowing there was little they could do against whatever her husband had decided, she couldn’t stop giving thanks to the heavens it didn’t seem to be as bad as it could have been. 

The two men who entered the room were young and handsome, each in their own right, one blond, and the other brunette, each dressed in immaculate evening wear.  And Lady Winifred could only be described as beautifully regal.  Perhaps the dinner party would be better than she expected.  At least their guests weren’t the type of people her husband usually got along with, thank heavens.  The question might be how on earth had Hank Summers managed to convince one of the most powerful Dukes in the Realm of marrying their daughter and she intended to find out, perhaps not tonight, but she would.

A small smile played on Joyce’s lips when she noticed the blond man’s reaction to her daughter, certain now he had to be the Duke of Aurelius.  His demeanor, the way he held himself, the aura of power that enveloped him made that pretty obvious.  And Elizabeth seemed affected as well, perhaps not in the same way, but she had to see the reality of the Duke was so much better than the old wrinkly version she had imagined.  Hmmm, promising, very promising. 

After the butler announced their arrival she was about to greet them as befitted the lady of the house when Hank rudely crossed in front of her, pushing Buffy before him.

“Good evening, Duke, may I introduce you to my Elizabeth, as you can see, she’s just as beautiful as I told you.”

Buffy blushed profusely at that, lowering her head in both embarrassment and anger at being… well, sold in this way.  And to him of all men!  God she feared any minute now her father would ask her to open her mouth and show she had all her teeth. 

Spike saw the furious gleam in her eyes just before she lowered her head.  Whether her rage was directed at him or her father, or perhaps both of them was anybody’s guess.  But it reminded him of the reason why he wanted her.  Her fire, his need to have it for himself and convert it from anger to passion.  Perhaps not the best reason to marry, but in his mind it was as good as any.

Then again perhaps it is much worse, Fred thought as Mr. Summers addressed William with total disregard for Lady Joyce, who to her credit appeared completely unfazed by this.  Must be used to it by now, too.  She frowned when she also noticed the way Mr. Summers manhandled his daughter, unbeknownst he was being watched by her.  Oh my, this is definitely much worse than I ever imagined.  She would have to talk with her brother about this and the sooner the better.

Hank Summers’ grip on Buffy’s arm tightened—hard enough to leave a bruise—to remind her of her modals.  Still not willing to meet the Duke’s intense stare, she curtsied then started when he took one of her gloved hands in his and raised it to his lips.  “Very beautiful indeed,” he answered, kissing her knuckles, lingering a little longer than deemed appropriate.

Buffy blinked before her cheeks stained a deep crimson, surprised by the strong reaction his kiss and words elicited in her, his hot breath scorching through her thin lace glove.  She shook her head to clear it, shivering before snatching her hand away.  He must be the devil himself to make her feel this way, he had to be. 

She retired her hand from his as if burned, her eyes fixing him with an icy glare, which had him chuckling inwardly.  Oh yes, he would enjoy taming her… very much!

With difficulty he tore his eyes away from the lovely Miss Summers and walked past her and her father to stand in front of the lady of the house. 

“Your Grace,” Joyce said as she curtsied.  “It’s truly an honor you could join us tonight.”

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Joyce.”  He took her hand and kissed it—much in the same fashion he’d done with her daughter.  “And please call me William,” he added with a soft grin.  “After all, we’re goin’ to be family, aren’ we?”  After she nodded her agreement, he offered her his arm and brought her to meet the rest of his party.  “May I introduce my sister, Lady Winifred Williamson and my personal assistant, Mr. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce?”

“Good evening, Lady Joyce, I hope you will forgive me for intruding your dinner party without being invited, but I’m certain you’ll understand I couldn’t very well leave my dear brother alone on such a momentous occasion as this,” Fred explained.

“But of course I understand, Lady Winifred, and you’re welcome into our home at any time, as are you and your assistant, your Grace… I mean, William,” she amended with a smile at his pointed look.  She liked the man who would surely become her son-in-law, especially since he’d left Hank with his hand extended in lieu of greeting her.  He certainly had impeccable manners.

They sat and made small chat for a few minutes, talking about mutual acquaintances and the weather.  In the meantime, Buffy’s thoughts traveled inside her head at a dizzying speed, the majority of them regarding the blond man she was supposed to marry. 

It felt surreal, almost as if she were in a living nightmare, one she had no hopes of waking up from.  One day she was happy and missing the man she loved, the next, she met a stranger in the street and before she knew it, she was being promised to marry him without being able to speak against it.  Oh, it wasn’t that she didn’t try, she did.  Had the lashes on her back to prove it, too.  She should’ve known better than to speak to her father.

She simply couldn’t understand why the Duke wanted to marry her.  He wasn’t… well, all that bad looking and if he was the most eligible bachelor in the city, as Willow had claimed, there must be a lot of ladies vying for his attention.  Why would he choose her then?  It didn’t make any sense.  It wasn’t like she was the heiress of a huge fortune, quite the opposite in fact and she doubted she would bring that much of a dowry—if any—into the marriage.  And how had he come to know her father?  She didn’t like the Duke of Aurelius and never would, but he didn’t seem like the type of man her father usually associated with.  She was well and truly confused. 

Spike observed Buffy from his seat.  He wasn’t sure what it was that attracted him so much to her, but it was undeniable, irresistible.  And while yes, he was painfully aware she wasn’t all that happy to marry him, he knew he could change her mind.  He was nothing if not persistent. 

All too soon the butler came to announce dinner was ready and Joyce arranged for William to escort her, Hank to escort Lady Winifred and Mr. Wyndham-Pryce to escort Elizabeth to the dining room, before Hank interrupted her.

“Nonsense, the Duke will escort Elizabeth and that’s that,” he declared, waving his hand off.  “I’m sure Mr. Wyndham-Pryce won’t mind escorting you.”

Everyone else looked at each other, unsure of what to do until Joyce shrugged nonchalantly, “Of course, dear, as you wish.”  She put her hand on Wesley’s arm and preceded everyone out of the room.  Joyce knew better than to contest her husband’s authority, be it in public or in private, no matter how much of a faux pas he’d made.

With a pleased smirk no doubt due to his wife’s acquiescence to his wishes, he offered his arm to Lady Winifred, who had no other choice but to place her hand over it, barely able to repress her shudder of revulsion.  She truly didn’t like Mr. Summers… at all.

Fred stole a sideways glance at her brother and noticed the way William’s jaw clenched and the flash of irritation which clouded his eyes at the odious man’s actions before he turned to look at the young woman who stood behind them.  His tension disappeared as if by magic and she couldn’t stop the smile that came to her lips then.  If only the lovely Elizabeth didn’t have such an ox for a father, she truly wouldn’t be happier by her brother’s choice of bride.  If only, she sighed.

Spike was incensed by Hank’s behavior, but not surprised.  He knew the man was capable of that and more, but he wished he’d actually been in the position to do something about it and not allow him to treat Lady Joyce in such a poor way.  His annoyance vanished though when he twisted on his heel and set his sights on the adorable Miss Buffy, who was currently biting her lower lip, her eyes throwing daggers at her father’s retreating back. 

“Shall we, Miss Buffy Summers?” he asked, touching her arm lightly, chuckling when she jumped slightly backwards, her beautiful emerald eyes wide as they settled dazedly on him. 

She’d almost forgotten about him. 

So intent had she been on her righteous anger against her father, she almost forgot she’d been left alone with the cause of all her problems, other than her father that was.

Knowing no good would come of rebelling against her father’s wishes… for the moment at least, she placed her hand on his arm and followed the rest of their party, trying her best to ignore the unsettling way he kept staring at her.  Damn him to hellfire!

*~*~*~*

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place, she sighed miserably.  Buffy knew she shouldn’t have been surprised to find herself seated with her father to her right and the Duke to her left at the dining table.  Especially knowing her father, he’d made his intentions quite obvious. 

Etiquette demanded she talked with either of them and while the prospect of engaging in conversation with the Duke was nerve-racking, it was still better than the alternative.  Then again, perhaps she could pretend to be too interested in her food to talk? 

Not too difficult considering her mother had truly outdone herself with the menu.  It consisted on almond soup, followed by broiled salmon with caper sauce, boiled French beans, roast lamb with mint sauce and for dessert, iced oranges and a selection of jellies and creams.  And maybe if she weren’t afraid she’d end up vomiting all over the Duke’s immaculate attire—and wasn’t that an enticing idea?—she might have done it justice. 

She is too bloody adorable, Spike thought as each and every one of his attempts to talk to the girl by his side were met with frozen silence.  While at any other time he might have been annoyed by her chilly demeanor, this time he couldn’t help but think how much more alluring it made her to him.  He’d never been one to back down from a challenge, be it by racing his curricle, boxing at Jackson’s Saloon or shooting at Manton’s.  A mischievous smirk graced his face when the thought of thawing the ice surrounding this maiden’s heart until she was truly his.  It would be a challenge he’d meet with glee.

Buffy had steadily moved her chair closer to the Duke, not because she wanted or desired his nearness, but in an effort to evade her father from either hiss at her not to ignore the Duke or pinch her arm to make her behave.  She jumped slightly when a voice suddenly purred in her ear,

“Why, love, didn’ know you cared, otherwise I would’ve offered you to sit in my lap.”  He waggled his eyebrows at her, reveling in the becoming flush that covered her cheeks, in the way her eyes flamed with anger.  Like green fire they were, burning him, setting his insides ablaze. 

“I’m not your love,” she gritted from between clenched teeth, moving her chair back to its original position.  She might have added a haughty ‘I’m not your anything’ but they were interrupted by the butler who’d brought a calling card to her father.

Buffy couldn’t have been happier when after paling slightly, her father made his excuses and left the room.  At least she didn’t need to worry over him mauling her poor arm.

They finished dinner in silence, even if Buffy could feel the intense indigo gaze following her every movement at least the Duke didn’t try talking to her any more.  She wondered if maybe he’d finally given up and observed him from the corner of her eye, only to see the amused grin that tugged at his lips when he noticed.  Dammit!

Hank returned to the dining room just in time for the ladies to retire to the drawing room and leave the gentlemen to their port. 

A frown marred his features, none too pleased after having to deal with a most insistent creditor.  He had to promise to visit him tomorrow or else…  He wasn’t sure what the ‘else’ entailed, but was quite certain he wouldn’t like to find out.  Now where would he get the hundred guineas the man asked for, that was another question.  Perhaps he should ask the Duke to lend him the money, after all they were about to become family, weren’t they?

*~*~*~*

“The betrothal contract will be up for signing tomorrow at noon,” Wesley informed Mr. Summers.  “And the announcement should appear in the paper tomorrow as well.”

“But we haven’t reached an agreement yet,” Hank said, knowing this was the perfect time to negotiate.

“Considerin’ I won your daughter’s hand in marriage and the Clarence estate fair and square, I think you’ll find my offer quite reasonable, Mr. Summers.”  And if he didn’t, well, that wasn’t his problem.  “Once the weddin’ ceremony is finalized Mr. Wyndham-Pryce will see to it your gamblin’ debts are paid in full up to that date.  In addition to that, I’ll pay for Miss Summers trousseau and settle one of my estates to her name.”

“What about my estate, will you return the deed to me, too?”

“What and have you gamble it all over again at the first opportunity?”  Spike smirked and shook his head.  “No, Mr. Summers, the estate will remain in my property.”

“Hmph, you drive a hard bargain, Duke,” Hank said, caressing his jaw, knowing he was cornered.  It wouldn’t hurt to ask for a little ‘leniency’ on some of the man’s rules, though.  After all, he’d already offered to cover all of his gambling debts, a few days earlier couldn’t hurt.  “But how about you settle some of my debts before the wedding, as a sign of good faith?”

“One debt and tha’s all.  At least until your daughter and I are married.”  And after that, you’re on your own, old man.

“Alright, alright, it’s not like I have any other choice but to accept, do I?” Hank grumbled.  And he truly didn’t.  The Duke had all the winning cards in his hand, but at least now he’d be able to pay Mr. Sharpe off tomorrow. 

“No, you don’.  Now, how about we join the ladies, gentlemen?” Spike replied, already walking toward the door, quite pleased with the outcome of this meeting. 

*~*~*~*

In the meantime, in the drawing room…
 
“Oh Miss Summers, these are just divine,” Fred gushed over Buffy’s paintings and some of her cross-stitch projects.  Lady Joyce having left them alone while she went to freshen up before the gentlemen joined them again.

Buffy smiled, her cheeks blushing with pleasure at the flattering remark, especially because of the sincerity behind it.  “You may call me Elizabeth if you desire, Lady Winifred.”  She liked the older woman, almost as much as she despised her brother.

“Then you have to call me Winifred or Fred, like William does.  After all, we’re going to be sisters, aren’t we?” Fred asked, a beaming smile gracing her features. 

“Unfortunately,” Buffy replied, the very picture of despair.

“Elizabeth,” Fred started, taking one of her new friend’s hands in hers.  “I realize this mustn’t be easy for you, but I promise you… my brother is a good man.”

So good he’s forcing me to marry against my will? she wanted to shout.  Not like she could though.  Not unless she was willing to endure the beating her father would subject her to if she actually did.  So she only smiled sadly and said meekly, “If you say so.”

Just then her mother returned to the room and a little while later, her father, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce and the vile Duke rejoined them as well.  The blond man looked like the cat that ate the canary, so very pleased with himself.  And why wouldn’t he be?  He was not the one being forced to relinquish the love of his life for what could only be a passing caprice, now was he?  Damned the man and the day their paths crossed!

“Elizabeth,” her father’s voice pulled her from her musings.  “I was telling the Duke how beautiful our garden looks under the moonlight.”  She blinked at that.  He couldn’t be about to say what she thought he would, would he?  “How about you give him a little tour through it?” 

Then again, it seemed he could.

tbc

 

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