Charles laid a hand over Elsie’s, stopping her from fussing with his tie. “Are you sure, Elsie?”
Elsie smiled and gently patted his chest. “I am. I’ve stayed relatively secluded here in our cottage, only venturing out some times to make a few purchases in the village. I think it’s time we got involved in the goings on.”
Charles nodded then frowned. “But a village dance? In a barn?”
Elsie laughed and tugged at him so that he bent down enough for her to press her lips to his. “Oh Charlie. You forget. I grew up on a farm. We had dances in barns a lot. Those were happy times.”
“You enjoyed them?”
“I did,” she nodded, pulling her hand from under his to finish fixing his tie. “Now, your tie is straight but my dress isn’t buttoned all the way, would you help me?”
Charles smiled at her then gently turned her around. “Did you often have dances in the winter? This seems an odd time for one.”
“The barns are warmed. Besides, this is for a special occasion.”
“Yes. Little Andrew Jenkins.”
“Not so little if he’s getting married.” Charles murmured cheekily.
“Don’t be cheeky.” Elsie scolded playfully as she moved to stand in front of the mirror. Tucking a hair back up into its pins, she smoothed out her dress, then grabbed her hat.
Charles watched as Elsie placed her hat on her head just so before pinning it in place. “You’re beautiful, Lass. You’ll be the envy of all of the women there.”
Elsie wrinkled her nose at him. “Oh, get away with you. If I’m the envy of the women, it will be because I managed to snag the great Charles Carson, turning the bachelor into a married man. Many of the single women in the village had their eyes on you.”
Charles huffed. “Do be serious, Elsie.”
Elsie chuckled as she walked back to where he stood. “I am, Darling. I heard the murmurings, the whispers.”
“Surely they knew that butlers do not marry.”
“Ah, but many of them thought that if you married a woman outside of the house, it would be permitted.”
Charles rolled his eyes. “If I had married while butler, it would have been you and no one else. Silly women.”
Elsie smiled and caressed his face. “Thank you for that, Charlie. Now, shall we go?”
Moving her hand to his mouth, he pressed a kiss to the palm. “And you’re really sure?”
“I am. Just don’t let me go.”
“I’ll keep your hand in my as long as you want it.”
Richard smiled as he spun Isobel around. “Elsie’s having fun. I didn’t realize she was such a good dancer. I don’t know if Charles will be able to keep up with her.”
Isobel laughed as Richard spun her around again so that she could see their friends. “I don’t know. It looks like he’s doing a good job so far.”
Richard nodded. “I suppose he is. I’m glad to see her out and about. So far I haven’t noticed any problems.”
Isobel rolled her eyes. “Of course not. With a big bear of a man scowling down at anyone that even acts like they’re going to be a problem, who would try anything?”
Richard chuckled and patted his wife’s hip. “He is very protective. Of course, Beryl’s been doing her fair share and so have we.”
“Do you think they will play a reel? I would love to see you and Elsie dancing something from home.”
“I don’t know if they will or not. Depends on the musicians.”
“Elsie told me that dancing brought back good memories from home.” Isobel whispered as she watched Charles lead Elsie off the dance floor over to the drinks table. “I’m glad she has happy things to remember about home. Do you think she’ll ever want to go back to Scotland?”
“It’s in our blood, Isobel, just as England is in yours. She’ll go back some day. Not necessarily to Argyll, and definitely not to that God forsaken burgh she lived in for three years of hell, but somewhere. Maybe some time we could invite them to go with us.”
“You’re a good man, Richard Clarkson.” Isobel whispered, her brown eyes soft as she looked at her husband.
Richard shrugged as they clapped for the song then made their way over to join their friends. “Only doing what any friend would do.”
Isobel leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Remind me to show you later how very much I adore you for that.”
Richard raised an eyebrow and squeezed her hand. “Behave, Mrs. Clarkson.”
Isobel just simply grinned at him and moved off to talk to Elsie.
Richard shook his head as he accepted two glasses of punch. His wife was something else.
Elsie sighed as she let her head rest on Charles’ chest. The dance had been lovely, and she’d not wanted to stop even after they’d returned home. “Mmm, Charlie. I like this dance.”
“I do, too, though I think we’d scandalize the whole of the village if they saw us dancing like this.” Charles whispered against her hair.
“Oh, most definitely. We’ll keep it our little secret.”
“It’s a good thing, too. They’d not only be scandalized by how close we are, but they would think we’ve gone a bit mad dancing with no music.”
Elsie snuggled closer. “Then sing to me.”
“And what would my lady like to hear? Hmm?”
Charles held Elsie a bit closer as he searched his mind for a song. He smiled when a song he’d heard on the wireless just before leaving Downton came to mind. He hadn’t heard the whole song, just the chorus, but it was enough.
Elsie heard the words, felt the rumbling of the melody against her ear, and felt tears fill her eyes. Her man was a romantic when he wanted to be. She hadn’t heard the song he was singing to her, but it was beautiful and perfect for them.
They had both always been there for the other when things hadn’t gone how they’d hoped. When she would have died, Charles had found her – had just been there. And now here they were. Married and working on becoming so much more to each other than they’d ever been.
“That’s beautiful, Charlie.”
“I heard it once on the wireless before leaving Downton. It stuck with me.”
“I like it.” Elsie pulled back and looked up at Charles. “Charlie?”
“Take me to bed.”
Elsie nodded. “I think,” she took a deep breath. “I think I’d like to try going a little farther than we have.”
Charles caressed his thumb over her bottom lip. “You lead and I’ll follow,” he whispered.
Pressing a kiss to his thumb, Elsie gasped when he lifted her into his arms. “I didn’t mean literally, Charlie!”
Charles smiled. “Say what you mean, Lass.”
Elsie shook her head then laid it on his shoulder as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Oh you daft man, how I love you.”
Setting Elsie gently on her feet by their bed, Charles looked down into her upturned face. “Let me help you out of your dressing gown,” he whispered.
Elsie nodded and turned, pulling the sash to loosen the knot holding the garment closed. Shivering when Charles slowly helped her out of it, she turned and watched him lay it across the foot of the bed. When he looked back at her, she smiled. “May I?” she asked, pointing at his dressing gown.
“Of course.” Charles answered in a voice a bit lower than his usual timbre.
Elsie shivered at the tone. His voice did things to her insides, if she were honest with herself, it had always caused a reaction, but now it was different – a different she fully intended to explore. “That’s dangerous, Charlie,” she murmured as she took his dressing gown and placed it over hers.
Charles frowned. “What is?”
“The way you lowered your voice.” She shivered. “It does all sorts to me,” she admitted quietly.
“Hmm,” he hummed as he pulled back the blankets, letting her climb into the bed then settling beside her. “Comfortable?” he asked as he propped his head up on his hand and looked down at her.
“I am.” Elsie smiled as she lifted her hands, curling her fingers around his neck. Humming her pleasure when their lips met, she closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the kiss as she seemed to do now days. Letting a hand fall from his neck, she searched for his free one. Pulling out of the kiss, she held Charles’ gaze as she cupped his hand under her breast.
Charles’ eyes widened as he felt the fullness in his hand. So far in their explorations, he hadn’t actually done more than just move his hand over her curves. The soft weight in his hand now, caused him to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from groaning and to try and control himself. Keeping his focus on Elsie, he moved his thumb, brushing against the nipple that responded to the touch.
Elsie gasped and blinked then used her hand to encourage Charles to continue. Keeping her hand over his, she tried desperately to control her breathing, her heart feeling like it would beat out of her chest. “Charlie,” she breathed.
“No. Oh no.” She shook her head, her hand pressing into his. “Don’t stop. Please. Don’t stop.”