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– There were a million reasons to dissuade Hannibal and Will from carrying that kiss further, starting with the lack of locks on the washroom doors, or the proximity to their unexpected guest, or the unhelpful way in which the washroom seemed to amplify every tiny noise.

But despite all that, despite everything that had happened, the kiss they shared deepened with every second. It was a catharsis of pent-up tension, of exhaustion. It was Hannibal spitting in the face of the gods again, resisting their attempts to cow him with devastation. He had come so close to losing Will, so very close.

Yet, Will was warm and very much alive in his lap, and Hannibal was alive to marvel over him, and all else could burn to a crisp in the heat of his desire to love his little mate. Continue reading

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With the crew finally beginning work and so much to occupy them, life fell into a kind of rhythm. The happiness Will found began to grow, putting down roots that reached deep to take firm hold despite the unwholesome happenings at Marsham Heath. Taking the bitter with the sweet was simply life, he knew, and had tasted enough bitterness to savor what he had.

Abigail did not return to the House. Will’s concern in her direction was laid to rest by Magistrate Crawford, who called on the family personally at Hannibal’s insistence and due to his own worry for her safety. She was one of very few girls her age in Moseley who matched their killer’s preferences and the Magistrate was taking no chances. To all reports, she was abed with low spirits and Mrs. Hobbs was tending her, which had to suffice for them all. Continue reading

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Will stalked down the lane with purpose, Winston and his guard at his heels. His mouth was set with grim determination, his blue eyes narrowed behind the shield of his glasses. He was as much worried for Abigail’s state of mind as he was for her safety, and felt his indignation rise that she would have been deceived so cruelly.

Someone somewhere along the line had brought Abigail to believe she was Hannibal’s daughter, either to reassure her or to mislead her—either way, he was going to get to the bottom of it before things could go any further. Telling stories to entertain was one thing, but deliberately misleading a child was something he could not bear, nor tolerate.

There was no sign of Abigail on the trail along the way. The smokehouse was pouring its acrid, unpleasant scent into the air as Will approached the Hobbs’ house. He idly noted it in passing, cataloguing the fact that Mr. Hobbs must have been successful in that aspect, at least.

He could hear shouting ahead, Abigail’s voice raised in hysterical denials, and quickened his pace in concern, his guard calling a nervous warning after him.

Before he could reach the cottage, the door opened and Mrs. Hobbs emerged, the beautiful little hat box in hand, her face pinched and drawn. She caught sight of Will and paled, if such a thing was possible given her current state.

“Mrs. Hobbs,” he called, thrusting Winston’s lead at the guard, who fumbled to take it, leaving Will to move ahead. “Louise! There is something I need to speak to you about.”

“Please, my Lord, just take it and go,” she said, wretched pleading in her voice as she hurried towards him. She sounded teary and disturbed, her blue eyes darting around in expectation of interruption. She held the box out at arm’s length, a vain attempt to keep him at bay. “She’s beside herself! She’s not thinking clearly!”

“Mrs. Hobbs, Abigail seems to believe something that is patently untrue,” Will said, and waved an impatient hand at the young officer to halt him in his tracks. He lowered his voice and moved closer to Mrs. Hobbs, saying, “Who told Abigail that she is Lord Clarges’ daughter?”

“Please, my Lord,” she said, trembling. “Please, let it lie!” Continue reading

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Hannibal remained disturbed and unhappy on his walk back up to Marsham Heath, his mind occupied with the issue of Francis and the knowledge that so many children had gone missing. He had never imagined he would be bringing Will from one desperate situation to another, and was momentarily flummoxed on how best to proceed. Will would refuse to leave now that renovations were underway, at least at first, and it clearly was not safe in the Capital with Mason at large. Galley Field was an option but not one he wished to impose on Will so soon, and the other holdings in their hands were much farther away.

He was so occupied in his thoughts that the wet nose rubbing against his hand came as a surprise, as did Will asking, “Hannibal? Is everything alright?”

“No, it isn’t, actually,” Hannibal readily admitted, pausing on the path as Will reached him. He and Winston approached from a side lane where a little group of cottages sat in the distance, picturesque but isolated. Hannibal admired him for a moment, enjoying having his beautiful mate so near and finding that the sight of Will calmed him, even if the strange scent from the smokehouse in the distance made his nose sting. “Forgive me, I didn’t hear you come.”

“You were concentrating very hard,” Will remarked, frowning as he saw the worry on his husband’s face. “I sent the guard packing when I caught sight of you, before you ask. I am safe enough within shouting distance of such a ferocious beast.”

His blue eyes flicked to Hannibal’s face when he added, “And I had Winston with me, as well.” Continue reading

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Will drew Hannibal to his bed in silence, a quietly-determined shadow backlit by the single bedside lamp he’d left burning. Hannibal stayed when Will let him go, watching him move to turn the covers back. He was always so effortlessly beautiful, a masterpiece of symmetry, grace, and goodness. There was no art in the world that could compare to him in Hannibal’s eyes, no fortune that could come to a man which would be greater than the steady gaze of his blue eyes from beneath thick black lashes and the small smile that curved his full mouth.

And the heart that had suffered so much hardship but still had the bravery to try and try again despite the blows it had been dealt; that was a precious gift which Hannibal was not about to squander.

Will turned out the light and slid into his bed, listening to Hannibal shed the pants he still wore and to the soft tread of his bare feet on the rug as he came to the bed. He closed his eyes when the mattress sank, every sense keyed to his husband’s presence—his warm, earthy aroma and his heat, the faint glide of the blankets over his skin as he slipped into the bed next to Will.

It was the first touch, however, that made Will’s heart leap up in his chest. Continue reading

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Word traveled like wildfire on the heels of the Masquerade, fueled by tales from the Dimmond Garden Party and putting Will squarely in the eye of Society’s attention. Hannibal took absolute delight in it, reveling in Will’s surprise when people called out to him and strove to insinuate themselves in his good graces. Yet for being so out of his depth, Will was never once in over his head. He took everything with aplomb and his usual grace, undaunted by anyone or anything and eager to see all that he could of the Capital which his husband had called home.

Hannibal showed Will the city as only a native could—the factories belching smoke into the skies, the great bridge that crossed the sister river which ran past Hartford, the water foul with runoff. They toured his office and he watched Will’s brilliant, inquisitive mind taking stock of it all and what it would take to bring something similar to Hartford. His serious, bright-eyed mate’s mute excitement was heartening to see and it touched Hannibal how he tried so hard not to show too much interest in anything; the echo of those damned gods again, searching to snatch away what happiness he might eek from the world around him.

Now they would have to get through Hannibal first, and he had every confidence in his power to stop them. Continue reading

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They managed to escape the ballroom without drawing too much attention, and the coach was brought around for them with Hannibal’s mount tied behind, all but the coachman and a single footman sent home hours ago.

Will was handed into the coach and settled on the soft upholstery with a huff of relief, but he looked back at the Colosseum with a fond smile, humming softly under his breath.

“You’re near done in, aren’t you?” Hannibal asked, moving to sit across from him. He reached down and hefted Will’s feet into his lap, steadying him as the coach shifted into motion.

“I have never felt so exhausted, but pleasantly so,” Will said, querying, “What are you doing?” when Hannibal slid his buckled shoes off.

His only answer was to have the gentle, expert press of thumbs on the aching ball of one foot and Will sighed heavily, unable to muster the affront to scold him.

“Nice?” Hannibal asked, rubbing Will’s supple foot in both hands, smiling when he spread his toes. He teased a finger into a hole in his stocking, saying, “Well, holes this far, anyway.”

“I shall have to wheedle my husband to replace them,” Will murmured, his tired smile unguarded and sweet, the street lamps revealing his expression in a flare of soft golden light.

“I have it on good authority that he is prepared to buy out the store,” Hannibal said, working on his other foot as well, taking the occasional sidetrack down to his slender ankles just because they were so temptingly near.

Will chuckled, his head lolling against the seat, his eyes slit nearly closed with exhaustion and enjoyment as Hannibal worked on his feet.

“Thank you, Hannibal,” he said, the words slipping out of him almost on accident, an exhale of appreciation.

“For what?” Hannibal asked, intent on his task but looking up to catch a glimpse of Will’s face in the passing lights.

He seemed sad again, reflective, and Hannibal paused in his work, just holding Will’s ankles in his strong hands. “Will?”

“For acknowledging I have a right to choose,” Will whispered, his gaze dropping just a little. “For not resenting me for it.”

“I have no reason to resent you in anything,” Hannibal said, resuming his gentle massage. “Although I wonder what you will think come morning…” Continue reading