A Soul's Worth

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Chapter Twenty-One

The next few weeks went by quickly, and sooner than expected, Warren stood in front of a priest in St. Martin’s with a crowd of people in the pews and Elizabeth Trentham at his left hand. The Travers and Cam stood just to his right, all three of them dressed in black tuxedos to match him. Ben had decided not to attend the ceremony, and Warren couldn’t blame him. Even leaving aside the emotional turmoil it would no doubt cause him to witness, the entire event was dreadful dull. There seemed to be endless talking and frustratingly precise ritual. He listened vaguely to the priest tell him all the things that the Bible said love was, and he took the gold band when Simon handed it to him and placed it on Elizabeth’s finger.

They had discussed beforehand whether or not to kiss at the conclusion of the ceremony, since this was by no means a well-established expectation, but in the end they had decided that it could only do their image good to be seen as an affectionate couple. So, when the ritual was finished and they had signed their names in the massive tome before them, Warren smiled at her, squeezed her hands, and kissed her.

They attended the breakfast that was expected of them, which passed as quickly as such a thing can. Warren had absolutely refused Wakefield’s suggestion that it should be an evening wedding, which would invariably require more dancing and entertaining. They simply accepted their congratulations, allowed Cam and John to serve a small amount of champagne, and sent the guests home with their bits of cake.

“That wasn’t as bad as I expected, actually,” Elizabeth said as soon as the house had been emptied of all but Cam and the Travers, who returned to the parlor after ushering out the last of the guests. She dropped to the sofa without care and began to pull the innumerable pins from her hair, freeing her veil and dropping it onto the table.

“The ceremony, or the kiss?” Warren asked as he loosened his tie.

“Choose your favorite answer,” she said dryly, though she spared him a small smile as her hair fell in loose curls to her shoulders and down her back. "I'll have my things moved in next week, but John should have a bit of luggage for me to live on by this afternoon." She glanced up at him with a curious look when he chuckled. "I assume you have no objection to me making myself at home?"

"Not at all. I'm just wondering how much of the house is now going to be taken over by womanly accoutrements."

"You needn't concern yourself with my myriad and varied accoutrements, Warren. I know quite well how to keep to myself. As long as you and Mr. Cartwright are capable of maintaining some level of decorum in the common areas of the house, I expect we shall all get along quite well.”

“We’ll do our best.”

“Now, I intend to get out of this dress as quickly as possible, so you must excuse me,” Elizabeth said as she stood. She picked up her dropped veil and gave Warren a polite nod before disappearing down the hall to what would soon be well and fully her own bedroom.

Warren puffed out a short sigh as he looked across the room at the twins. “Well, it’s done now, isn’t it?” He dropped his voice slightly and waved them closer to him. “I assume I don’t have to tell you that we’ll all have to take extra precautions from now on. We’ve been doing all right with Ben being here more often, but Elizabeth is a permanent resident. Her servant as well—I won’t have him stumbling in on something he oughtn’t. No more surprises; do you understand?” He looked at each brother in turn. “I don’t care what kind of a row you get into—you warn me before you bring anyone here if it’s unscheduled.”

“Got it,” Owen said with a nod, and Simon only gave the silent stare that Warren assumed meant agreement. “You’re the boss, boss.”

“Thank you,” Warren said, and he excused himself to the master bedroom, where he shrugged off his jacket, collapsed onto the bed, and heaved a great sigh. He never would have expected in a hundred years for there to ever be a Mrs. Hayward that wasn’t his mother. His mother—he sat up on the bed while he unbuttoned his waistcoat. She would be heartbroken that he hadn’t told her, but it was still a better outcome than having both of his parents come up to London and inevitably want to stay in his home for an indeterminate amount of time. He wasn’t sure how to avoid that even now, since he supposed he would have to call. He certainly wasn’t going to ask Elizabeth to take a trip to Huntingdon to meet his parents. On the other hand, he supposed that a trip to America for her sake was probably in his future at some point, so she could manage if his parents wanted to stay in London—in a hotel—for a few days. He could maintain the hope that his father wouldn’t want to close up the coaching house for longer than that, in any case.

With a reluctant groan, he slid off of the bed and made his way to the telephone base in the parlor, passing by John and Cam cleaning up after the multitude of well-wishers. The Travers had vanished; Warren occasionally wondered what they got up to when they weren’t at home but ultimately decided he was probably better off not knowing. He picked up the receiver, hesitated, and then hung it up again so that he could find his small book of contacts in the study. It had been so long since he’d called that he couldn’t remember the number.

He found the listing under The Coach and Four—definitely one of the most blandly-named coaching houses in Cambridgeshire. He rang the number from the receiver at the desk in the study while he leaned back in the plush chair, and he listened to the series of beeps that told him he was being connected. He half expected no one to answer—his father certainly never answered the telephone, and his mother had trouble hearing it ring over the sounds of the kitchen.

When he was about to give up, he heard a small click, and his mother’s voice came through the line. The picture was distorted to the point that he couldn’t recognize the face that picked up the line. The screen hadn’t been working for ages, and his father refused to pay someone to repair it. “Coach-and-Four, Huntingdon; can I help you?”

“It’s me, Mum,” Warren said, and he pulled the receiver away from his ear for a moment to defend against her sharp laughter.

“Oh, darling, it’s so good to hear from you! Mason, come here; Warren’s on!” He heard his father’s muffled voice in the background, likely telling his mother that he didn’t have time to chat. “I stopped getting your telegrams; how’s everything been?”

“Well, I have a bit of news.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry for not telling you sooner. I’ve gotten married.”

“Married?” she shrieked, and Warren flinched. “You mean you’re to be married, surely. You couldn’t possibly have been through an engagement and a wedding just since we last spoke.”

“No, actually, I can.”

She called his father’s name again and repeated the news loud enough for the entire house to hear, then returned her attention to the telephone call. “Warren, how could you? Without a word! Not a thought at all about your poor mother’s heart!”

“I’m sorry, Mum; it was rather sudden.”

“What, sudden? Oh, darling, you haven’t gotten some poor girl into trouble, have you?”

“Of course not. I just…” He took a breath and attempted to sound as serious as he could. “I’m in love, Mum. I couldn’t wait.”

“Oh, dear,” she sighed. “Well, who is she? We’ll need to meet her, of course.”

“Her name is Elizabeth. She’s American.”

“American? Is she...like us?”

“No, Mum. She’s not a witch.”

“Oh dear, oh dear,” she worried, and Warren almost laughed. “Darling, do you know how careful you must be? You never could make things easy on yourself, could you?”

“It’ll be fine, Mum,” he assured her. “I know how to keep a secret.”

“Clearly you do! Not even telling your mother when you’re to be married. There were at least photographs, weren’t there?”

“Yes, Mum; I’ll give you a photograph.”

“I should think you will. Now then; we’ll be up to see you as soon as possible, of course. Are you still staying in Sir Bennett’s house? Poor man. Such a shame to hear about his passing.”

“No. I’ve a house in Belgrave Square.”

“Belgrave Square! How on earth are you paying for such a place?”

“I’m not entirely incompetent, Mum. You can’t stay here in any case; there isn’t any room. Tell me when you’re coming and I’ll arrange for a hotel.”

“Oh, you have been keeping secrets, haven’t you? You have a lot of explaining to do once I arrive, young man. I’ll talk to your father; we should be able to leave by a week Monday. Will that be all right?”

“Of course. Call me when you know for sure. If I don’t answer the telephone, just tell Cam, and he’ll pass the message along.”

“Cam? What on earth kind of a name is that? Who’s Cam?”

“He’s...a servant,” Warren said. “I’ll explain when you arrive.”

“Yes you will,” she said sharply, but Warren could hear the smile in her voice when she added softly, “Congratulations on your wedding, you awful creature. I’ll see you soon. Take care, darling.”

“I will, Mum.” Warren hung up the receiver and sighed. He jumped when he looked up and saw Ben lurking in the doorway. “Christ,” he laughed softly, “do you always have to sneak up on me?”

“Mum?” Ben asked as he leaned against the door frame. “Your mum’s coming?”

“I had to tell her, didn’t I?” Warren stood and stepped over to the other man, slipping his arms around his waist. “They’ll come for a few days and that will be the end of it.”

“How was the ceremony?” Ben asked with admirably restrained bitterness.

“Slow and boring. I’ll certainly never do it again,” he added with a slight tilt of his head, satisfied with the small smile he brought out of Ben. “It’s going to be all right. Come along; I’ll show you.” He took Ben’s hand to lead him to the bedroom, but stopped short when the other man didn’t budge. Warren noted the sad frown on Ben’s face and followed his gaze down to their interlocked hands. The gold band on Warren’s finger glinted softly in the light.

He squeezed Ben’s hand. “It doesn’t mean anything,” he pressed. “Think of it as a shield. This ring protects us against the outside world, Ben.”

Ben tugged on his hand quite hard, pulling him in close and holding him in a tight embrace. Ben’s fingers tangled in Warren’s formerly neat hair, and he buried his face into the shorter man’s neck, keeping his lover pressed close against him.

“I know I agreed,” Ben said softly, “and you’re probably tired of listening to me. I know you promised.” He squeezed Warren tightly, his unsteady breath hot against the other man’s neck. He sighed as he felt Warren’s fingers grip the back of his coat. “This isn’t what I wanted. I wanted you all to myself. I love you.”

“Ben,” Warren whispered, almost scolding him, and he pried himself out of the inspector’s grip to look him in the face. “Come on.” He took Ben’s hand once again and led him into the master bedroom, shutting the door behind them. “You can’t carry on like this,” he said softly, and he sat Ben down at the foot of the bed and crawled into his lap, his knees on either side of the inspector’s hips and his fingers intertwining behind his shoulders. “You’ll make yourself sick.”

Ben held Warren steady with a light grip on his hips, and he let out one last sigh before leaning in to kiss him. “Tell me once more,” he said. “Tell me that you don’t care about this woman, and that you’re still mine.”

Warren chuckled humorlessly at him. “Ben, I have gone so far for your sake that you’ve done nothing but ask me to stop for weeks. I work at all hours when you aren’t here. I put a man into a coma for you.”

“Don’t joke about that,” Ben snapped back.

“Don’t you see that there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you?”

“Just—” Ben sighed, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Warren’s. “Just say it, will you? Last time.”

Warren dug his fingernails gently into the back of Ben’s shoulders, pulling him in for a firm kiss. “I don’t care about that woman.” He kissed him again. “You’re mine until I tell you otherwise.” He took a firm grip on the hair at the back of Ben’s head and tilted him up to look into his face. “And I will do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”

Ben’s brow furrowed slightly, but he accepted Warren’s kiss and kept him close.

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