A Sign of Your Love

By Letitia Logan <ll2781@hotmail.com>

Rated PG-13

Submitted December 1999

Summary: Even if Lois and Clark had been born in the Regency England era, romance would still bloom.

Here's a story set in another time, Regency England, with a different Clark, a different Lois—complete with different names, personality, circumstances— but still, some things never change :) Enjoy!

Note: Superman does not exist in this reality!

***

Lady Lois Laveney smiled wickedly at her own mannish appearance, reflected in the looking glass. She suddenly spun around and addressed her maid who was hovering near the door. "So what do think, woman? Would I pass for a man?" she asked in a deliberately gruff voice. Then, unable to help herself, she burst into giggles.

Her maid, Beth, took in the breeches, top boots, greatcoat and the whiskers with a nervous glance. "Aye, Miss Lois. But I think you best get out of them men's clothes 'fore the mistress sees you. She'd be mighty shocked, miss."

"Stop fretting, Beth. I would be back so soon and no one would be the wiser. I am so dreadfully bored! And I will not be kept inside like the common criminal on such a beautiful day. Besides, Mrs. Bram would not be waking for several hours yet," she finished triumphantly, eyeing her sleeping music teacher who was gently snoring, thanks to a generous helping of cakes dosed with laudanum. The poor maid continued to fidget by the door, watching helplessly, as usual, as her headstrong lady hid her long hair beneath a tight-fitting beaver cap. With one last glance at herself, Lady Lois sailed out the door, determined to enjoy this brief spell of freedom.

***

Clark Kelton wiped the sweat from his forehead and looked around at the modest acres of land that was their farm. He smiled in satisfaction at the thriving crops, the rich pastures with the grazing sheep and the neat pile of firewood he'd just prepared. His mind searched for something else to do, to repair, but drew a blank. Thinking that it was a fine day for a quick dip in the lake, he called to his mother, "I'm going for a swim, Ma. Shouldn't be too long."

Martha Kelton's voice carried from inside the farmhouse, "Alright, Clark. You just go. You've already done enough work for ten sturdy men!"

Clark grinned at her fond exaggeration and whistled as he headed for the woods at the far edge of the farm, towards the lake. Now, as he neared the familiar spot, he heard a loud, piercing scream for help. He ran instinctively towards the voice, bursting clear of the bushes to find what appeared to be a young lad flailing wildly in the lake, struggling to keep his head above water. Without thinking, Clark dove straight in and reached the gasping boy in no time. Throwing an arm across the heaving chest, he tried to lead them back to dry land, but the lad's thrashing about impeded his effort.

"Stop your floundering, boy, or you'll drown us both," Clark chided lightly, knowing full well that the slight figure posed no threat to their safety.

The lad continued fighting until Clark deposited him on the grassy bank, still gasping for breath and coughing up water. There was a light breeze blowing and not wanting the boy to catch his death, Clark began to undress the stranger. Just as his fingers found the third button of the greatcoat, Clark heard an indignant protest, "Get your filthy hands off me, you brute!" Surprised at the strangely feminine voice, Clark pulled away and looked closely at the "lad" for the first time. Hot, angry eyes glared back at him from a delicately shaped face with a full, sensuous mouth. The whiskers hung askew below a neat, straight nose. *Not a man,* Clark realized, *But a young woman.* As if reading his thoughts, she sat up, tugging off her cap as waves of luxurious brown hair fell about her face and past her slender shoulders.

"I am Lady Lois Laveney of Wentworth Manor and you will apologize for your most ungentlemanly behavior right now!" she demanded, thinking of the powerful arm of a moment ago that had been crushed against her bosom and later, the deft fingers working on her buttons. She knew she was blushing, but continued to hold her head proudly.

Clark stared at the beauty before him, a beauty wearing men's clothes and crooked whiskers, worrying about her modesty when she had almost drowned and he laughed; a deep, throaty laugh of genuine amusement. The lady was infuriated for she had expected this lowly servant to throw himself at her mercy, but this—he had the gall to laugh at her; her! a lady of the quality!

Suddenly, the humor of the situation hit her and she found herself joining in the laughter of her handsome rescuer. And he was handsome. Clark Kelton could set many hearts aflutter with his dark good looks and thick black hair. He stood up and offered his hand, which she took as she pulled herself up as well.

"Clark Kelton. Your humble servant, milady." He made a gracious bow, to her great surprise. Servants did not go around acting like gentlemen. Lady Lois gingerly removed the whiskers and studied Mr. Kelton. His eyes were teasing. She decided that she liked him.

"You may call me Lois and I shall call you Clark. Since you did save my life, I believe we should not be so formal. Speaking of which, you will be generously rewarded." She half expected him to grovel at her kindness. He didn't.

"No reward necessary, Lois. It is always a pleasure to be of help to such a pretty damsel in distress."

"I *insist,*" she pressed, not sure whether he was just funning with her or if he meant the compliment.

"If I may ask, how did you get to be in the lake in the first place?" He changed the topic, which Lois took for acceptance.

"I was riding and my horse," she gestured to her right and Clark clapped eyes on what must be the most handsome black stallion this side of England. "We came upon this lake so suddenly, you see, and my horse threw me off its back and that's how I found myself in there."

There was a long minute of silence as he stared at her, as if suddenly seeing something in her that he hadn't noticed before. He stared so intently that Lois tidied herself self-consciously. "I will not accept your money, Lois, but there is something else that I want, in exchange for saving your life and for my silence, of course." Lois felt an unaccustomed tingle of fear as Clark advanced on her. She hated to think what her parents would do if they found out how she had masqueraded as a man and was now about to disgrace herself. He was so close that she could feel his warm breath on her cheek and see the wicked gleam of his eyes. Wild thoughts of rape ran through her mind, leaving her heart pounding. "I want your horse." He pulled away and grinned at her. Lois was so startled and relieved that she could barely stutter out a reply.

"Uh, horse? My horse, yes, I suppose."

Clark continued to grin at her. At another time, perhaps, she would've found that boyish grin charming, for it lit up his face, but at this moment, she wanted nothing more than to wipe it off his face, preferably with a good hard slap. But she controlled her temper and contented with showing her disgust with a cold stare instead. How dare he played with her mind like so! He regarded her anger with amusement. "You thought I would rape you." It was a statement, not a query. "Be assured that I would never force myself on a woman. Never." He was deadly serious now. She acknowledged him with a curt nod, her heart still racing as she remembered his nearness, radiating sensuality. He gave her a disarming smile. "Does the horse have a name?"

Unsettled by the sudden change in Clark's mood, her mind momentarily stumbled. "Um, yes. Yes, his name is Sooty."

He laughed. "Sooty. I like that. Quite fitting."

Somehow gladdened, she decided to volunteer more information about her horse. "He was a gift from my father." At his interested look, she continued, "I had a pup once when I was very young. I named him Grouchy 'cause he used to make these whiney, growling noises. I loved him anyway and one day he just disappeared—we could not find him anywhere. I missed him so much that Papa got me Sooty. He thought that it would ease the pain of my loss." Lois had surprised herself for she never expected to be so open about her personal life. He'd saved her life and whether she wanted it or not, there was an undeniable bond between them. She found that the idea was not so abhorrent. In fact, it was rather pleasing in a comfortable way.

"And did it?" he asked.

"Pardon?" she started, losing her train of thoughts.

"Did the horse help with your loss?"

She made an 'o' with her mouth. "Yes. Sooty's been a big help, but much as I adore him, I still miss Grouchy sometimes." She gave him a blinding smile which he couldn't help but return.

"Lois," her name came easily. "I'm afraid I can't take your horse. I know now how much he means to you."

"Oh, no," she protested. "I want you to have him. You *saved* my life. It's the least I can do to repay you. Besides, I know you will take good care of Sooty. I won't take no for an answer."

Already, Clark could pick her mood and right now, her chin was set and she stood rigidly. He knew better than to argue with a determined woman. "Alright, alright. At least allow me to escort you home. It's getting late."

He looked up at the darkening sky. He helped her mount Sooty and together they made their way to Wentworth Manor- she on the horse while he walked beside her, both content with the companionable silence. At the trees by the mansion's gates, Lois called for him to stop. He understood that she had to sneak back in somehow and also that she should not be seen with any man unchaperoned. He swung her down from the saddle before she could protest and for awhile they were close together before he set her on her feet once more.

That smile again. Lois was conscious of the strange way her body was reacting to Clark. She whispered a thank you, turned and fled towards the rear of the great house. He watched her retreating back until it disappeared, mounted Sooty and retraced the path back to the warmth of the farm.

***

Clark straightened as he spotted Lois and her maid heading towards him. This time, she looked the part of the lady in a gown of deep blue muslin, embroidered with tiny silver blossoms. Over it, she wore a cambric pelisse with long, lacey sleeves that fell over her hands. Her glorious hair was piled up underneath a pretty straw hat, a few escaping tendrils curling against her soft neck. He smiled a welcome. "Afternoon, ladies. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

"I came to see my horse. Beth here is to accompany me as it is only *proper* for a young lady such as myself to be chaperoned constantly, else I might just speak at the wrong time or, heaven forbid, discuss topics of interest to me." Her sarcasm was not lost on Clark, who laughed softly at her performance and at her maid's obvious discomfort.

"Come on then. Sooty's grazing with the sheep." He led them to the field, with Beth lagging quite some distance behind. He suspected that Lois had a hand in it, knowing how she desired more freedom. Sooty and Lois were reunited happily. She hugged the horse and patted it fondly as it nudged against her. The Keltons' mare trotted past and Lois watched as Sooty pursued her.

"I see he has made a friend."

"And so he has." The two horses were now reacquainting themselves, their noses exploring. "And you, Lois. The life of a young lady is not to your liking?"

"I know I must sound so ungrateful, but when I have my terribly boring lessons in water colors or French, pianoforte and sewing, I long to be out in the fresh air, doing as I please. Mama says that if I refuse to behave like a docile, charming little lady, then I would most certainly remain a spinster. She's certain that it is what all men want for wives."

"Hmm, I suppose so," Clark answered thoughtfully. Lois felt an unexpected wave of disappointment which she passed off as annoyance at Clark for agreeing with her overbearing mother.

"Then a spinster I will be. Let those men have their meek, simpering little misses!"

"Oh, I think you need not worry about going long without a husband," Clark assured, thinking of Lois's unique beauty and her wealth.

"I am not worried! I don't *need* a husband. In fact, I don't *want* one." She checked to make sure that he was convinced. "But why do you say I have no need to worry, not that I was."

Clark opened his mouth to explain, but was forestalled by Lois whose attention was caught by two nearby sheep.

"What are they doing?" She pointed. A healthy ram had managed to climb atop his partner—they were mating. He told her.

"Mating? As in making a baby?" Her expression was one of naive innocence.

"Of course," he replied matter-of-factly.

She blushed prettily."Do we, uh, people make babies the same way?" She hated herself for her ignorance, having always prided herself for her admirable knowledge in mathematics and science and even politics (which Countess Laveney found most distasteful).

"In the crudest term, yes." He chuckled at her grimace.

"She sounds distressed," Lois said sympathetically, referring to the little noises coming from the ewe.

"It's the way nature works. Don't look so alarmed. I should think your future husband would have more finesse, Lois."

"I suppose one must endure the experience if one wanted a family." She had conveniently forgotten that she wanted no man for a husband.

"I gather that you want children then?" Clark enquired with a hint of surprise.

"'Course. Do you not?" The sheep were done. She met his eyes, noticing for the first time just how very brown they were, and warm. He grinned at her conspiratorially. "I want fifteen children of my own."

"Fifteen! I pity the poor woman who is to be your wife, Clark Kelton."

"No need for pity. My wife will have all my love. We'd build our home together and rejoice in our children—all of them fine, strong lads and pretty little lasses. I can see it now—my children gathered around their mother's skirt, waiting for their Papa to give them big kisses each," he finished. Lois was left breathless. He had said it with such certainty and it had sounded so perfect. For awhile, they were lost to the world, absorbed in each other until Mrs. Kelton's voice brought them back to the present. She was saying something about lemonade.

***

Lois found herself seated in the farmhouse parlor, a cup of cold lemonade in her hands. Beth was to her right, Clark on her left while Mr. and Mrs. Kelton faced her. They were a friendly looking couple, their love for Clark so obvious that Lois found herself wishing that they were her parents instead.

"Lady Laveney," Martha Kelton began.

"Please, Mrs. Kelton. Call me Lois. I feel rather strange being so formal when your son saved my life just yesterday." She was favored with a warm smile.

"Oh? Clark forgot to mention that." Mother regarded her son with a mixture of love and pride. Lois proceeded to tell the story of her rescue and by the end of it, the atmosphere in the little room was more relaxed, intimate.

When it came time to leave, she found herself reluctant, wishing she could stay in the pretty parlor just a while longer.

***

And so the weeks passed in a similar fashion, a routine having been established with Lady Lois and her maid visiting the Kelton's farm every afternoon. It was another one of those pleasant days when Mr. and Mrs. Kelton were having a talk with their son.

"Son, your Ma and me are concerned about your relations with Miss Laveney," Jonathan Kelton began. Clark finished dumping the last pile of hay in the barn and turned to his parents. "She's a lovely woman, now I'm not saying you're not good enough for her, you're better than all those snooty faced men what call themselves gentlemen, but well …"

"Pa, it's not like we plan to marry! Lois and me, we're just good friends," Clark explained.

"Clark, what we're asking is that you be careful. You're two very different people. She's the daughter of an earl and countess and we're÷well÷just be careful," Martha warned. Clark regarded his parents seriously. They had spoken what always lingered on the back of his mind, whenever he was with Lois.

"I will, Ma." Just then, the lady in question called out a greeting.

The Keltons watched as their son's eyes seem to light up as he went to her. They were worried.

"I came to see Sooty," Lois said. She *always* said that. It was only part of the reason. The truth was she enjoyed being with Clark. She could talk to him about anything- not just the topics considered suitable for ladies, like the weather, family and pets, all so tediously boring she found. After making a small fuss over the contented horse, Lois suggested they go to the lake. Clark raised a questioning eyebrow at her boldness for they would be truly alone, Beth having disappeared into the house with Martha, no doubt already discussing a new recipe. "Come on," she urged. "There's no-one about to talk." As always, he happily gave in to her wishes.

***

"Now you show me the letter 'a,'" she prodded. Clark made a half-hearted attempt, his fingers flexing, signing whatever came to mind. She sighed. "Come on, Clark. You could at least pretend to try a little harder. Lucy and I used to sign to each other whenever we had intimate or secret things to say. Now pay attention." And Lois proceeded to sign the alphabet again to Clark, who watched her as if she were performing a circus act. "Finally, this," she said, making a fist, "means the end of a word. Like a space between words. That way it is much easier to understand what is signed." She looked at him expectantly.

"That was, interesting, Lois."

"That is all you can say?" she asked, not without some disappointment. He shrugged. She had shared something very personal with him and he didn't seem to care. "This is so like you. I do not know why I bothered with you at all. This is obviously beyond the comprehension of your simple farmer's mind," she said tartly, goading him. Clark refused to take the bait. He just grinned at her. Suddenly very angry, she turned to leave. Clark's hand shot out as he grabbed her arm, just above her elbow. It wasn't their first contact, yet he felt a new surge of electricity up his arm, invading his entire body. Lois turned towards him and, for a few sweet seconds, his fingers brushed against the side of her right breast, sending warm tingles straight down to her toes. She met his gaze. There was a strange light behind his eyes. Then he touched her—only with his lips as he kissed her gently before pulling away slightly. In that instant, his parents' warning flashed into his head and he cursed himself for his stupidity. *Damn it to hell. An earl's daughter! What chance do I stand? Now I've gone and done it: ruined our friendship!*

Dazzled from the kiss, Lois could only watch his face, still so close. Even as jumbled as her thoughts were, she noticed that he had a tiny mole on the right of his upper lip and had time to think *Oh, how adorable* before wanting again to fell his mouth moving so caressingly against her own. Defying convention, she threw her arms about him and pressed her lips to his. A confused Clark, his train of thought instantly derailed, kissed her back. His arms encircled her waist as he pulled her closer, feeling her warmth through the thin muslin of her gown. Their hearts pounded, as if in sync. His tongue delicately explored the inside of her mouth as fire consumed them. He ached to possess her, but the still rational part of his brain reminded him that she was a young virgin. Reluctantly, he ended their kiss and smiled at her flushed face. Lovingly, he tucked a stray strand of hair behind one ear. "They will be wondering where we have gone to," Lois whispered, quite breathless. A smile tilted the corners of his mouth. "One more kiss and then we'll go."

***

Lady Laveney sank gratefully into one of the chairs which lined the walls of the magnificent ballroom. Her body cried for rest, especially her poor feet. It seemed she had danced all day. No sooner was a dance finished then she was claimed for another. She wished Clark were here. They hadn't seen each other for days now. The Countess had kept Lois occupied with dress and hair appointments, intent that her daughter should secure a husband by the end of the Season. It seemed her hard work had paid off for Lois was an obvious success, drawing looks of admiration from the men and envy from the women.

It was no wonder for she radiated beauty in a violet silk gown with deep flounces at the hem and small puff sleeves. The neckline was low, showing the tops of two young breasts. Around her neck blazed a fine chain of gold and diamonds. Her shiny hair was made up in a Grecian style and crowned with a delicate tiara of amethysts.

"May I have the honor of a dance, Miss Laveney?" came a suspiciously deep voice. Lois swallowed a sigh and glanced up to find a playful glint in warm brown eyes. Her fatigue melted away, to be replaced by a feeling of joy and amusement, as she recognized Clark. He was looking very grand in a dark blue silk coat and knee breeches. He reverted to his normal voice.

"The name's Darrington. Lord Charles Darrington." Lois couldn't help laughing, a silvery laughter that commanded the gentlemen's attention. Clark was a natural at this game of masquerade.

"Well, my lord, I am afraid my dance card is full," she teased.

"Oh? Then perhaps another time." His eyes twinkled at her as he pretended to leave.

"Wait! There's been a mistake. It seems that I am free after all."

Holding in their laughter, they moved off to the crowded dance floor. Clark was careful to hold her the regulation distance away as their steps matched perfectly in the waltz.

"My lady, you are quite a sight. My poor eyes are blinded by your dazzling beauty!" Clark exclaimed expansively.

"My lord, you mock me. But perhaps it would be wise for you to stay a safe distance away then," she dished out with equal humor.

"Alas, I can not, for you have captured my heart. I am drawn to you like a bee is to the sweetest smelling flower."

Lois's own heart skipped a beat. Was he saying that he loved her? A search of his eyes showed he was still jesting. She quickly quelled the sinking feeling of disappointment in her stomach, determined that nothing should spoil the moment. She gave him a charming smile as they danced on. "Is it so bad? To be falling for me?"

"Well, it all depends."

"On what?" Lois asked curiously.

"On how well you kiss, my lady." His hand pressed suggestively against the small of her back. His eyes twinkled delightedly. "When will I be having that pleasure?"

"Never," she said gleefully, but gave his hand a little contradictory squeeze.

"I am a patient man. But pray tell me why ever not?"

"I have become quite fond of you, my lord, and would hate to see you a lovesick sop for that is what you will surely become if I shall ever kiss you. You would be devastated," Lois finished, priding herself on her ingenuity.

"Then I shall very much like to be devastated."

Lois felt a warm glow spreading through her body as she looked into his eyes, which were bright with their intensity. The dance was nearing its end as they slipped out of the ballroom, up the staircase and into Lady Lois's bedchamber. She threw her arms about him as he locked the doors.

"Now where were we?" she murmured. "Ah yes, I was about to devastate you." And she leaned in and proceeded to do just that.

Several minutes later, Clark reluctantly pulled away. "I have a surprise for you," he said huskily, pointing to a beribboned basket near the fireplace. She beamed at him and rushed to see the present.

"Oh, Clark," she breathed, "They're adorable!" The two pugs, who had been asleep, timely woke up and barked their greetings to their glowing lady owner. She stooped to pick them up and pet their tiny bodies. "I shall call them Clark and Charles. This naughty one here will be Clark," she christened the wiggling dogs, eager to get back to the warmth of their basket. With one last playful push of Lois's hand with their little noses, they promptly went back to sleep.

"I know that they can't replace Grouchy and I don't want them to, but I thought they'd help keep you company when I can't and hopefully, they'd be a constant reminder of the man who gave them to you." Clark smiled, thinking that he'd never felt this happy as he watched Lois's face fill with joy.

"They're perfect," she whispered, reaching out to hold his face, wanting to kiss him, when he flinched. "What is it?" she asked, alarmed.

"It's nothing. Just a little cut," he said dismissively as Lois noticed the angry looking wound just below his left earlobe. She grimaced as if she could feel his pain.

"How did you come by it?"

"Trying to earn a bit of extra money and didn't think. A small accident." His eyes skipped away guiltily. It wasn't a complete lie. He sure wasn't about to tell her that he entered a boxing contest so that he could buy her the pugs, and the gentlemen clothes for this party, with his prize money. His opponent had been a mean looking man built like a bull. At one point, it seemed to Clark that he would simply collapse from the aches and bruises his body had sustained, but he kept a mental picture of Lois in his mind and was finally rewarded with a great loud thump as the man fell and stayed down. Yes, it was definitely worth it to see Lois happy and besides, he still had enough left over to buy his mother a new dress and his father a box of quality cheroots and invest a little in stocks on the Market.

Lois studied him for a second. Clark could see her making up her mind to believe him and was almost glad of the time they spent apart during which most of his bruises faded. "Be careful next time," she worried. Then she tenderly kissed the healing cut before moving to his smiling lips. He held her close as he returned passion for passion. Her slight body was warm against his hard muscular one and suddenly, she felt so vulnerable to him that he felt a strong surge of desire to protect her forever. The realization that he loved her, had loved her from the beginning, filled him with an elation so immense that it smashed his resolve to keep his passion for her in check. Clark lowered them onto her large bed, pressing down on her body with the weight of his own. He planted kisses all over her face— her eyes, nose and cheeks. Her breathing quickened as his hand found one breast. His mouth continued to trail downwards from her neck to her shoulders and finally, the tops of each milky white breast. His warm breath caressed her tingling skin. With an impatient little groan, he slipped her gown off her shoulders to bare her to the waist. She trembled under his fiery gaze. Just as he lowered his head to kiss her again, they both heard the Countess's voice approaching in the hallway. They made a scramble to tidy themselves up. Back to his senses, Clark scolded himself on his lack of control and promised himself that he wouldn't bed Lois until they were wed.

And then it dawned on him that he was thinking about marriage to an earl's daughter and doubts began to assail him. However, Lois chose that moment to give him a last lingering kiss and he promptly forgot what it was that he was troubled about.

"I better go before she comes knocking and demanding to come in. I will see you tomorrow." With that, she slipped out the doors. Clark let several minutes pass before he too left the room. He felt like he was encased in a bubble of bliss as he descended the staircase.

"I am desirous to speak to you," came a commanding voice behind Clark. He turned and found himself face to face with the earl himself.

***

"Do sit, young man. You are the Kelton boy?" Earl Samuel Laveney enquired, lighting up a cheroot as he took stock of Clark.

"Clark Kelton, sir," he said steadily, his gaze direct.

The earl nodded, as if liking what he saw. "You are courting my daughter, are you not? And you are genuine in your feelings for her or just dallying?" he asked bluntly.

Clark found the earl's straightforwardness admirable and answered with equal truthfulness. "I love her."

His earldom sighed, as if fearing the worst. "Have you told her so?"

"Not as yet, no." The ball of dread in Clark's stomach grew in size. The earl certainly didn't mean it to be a pleasant conversation about his feelings for Lois.

"Look here, Kelton. You seem a decent, honest young man so I will be frank with you. Servants talk and they are saying that you and my Lois are going around smelling of April and May. Admittedly, she's happier these days, but I fear you may be just a passing fancy for her." Seeing the stony expression on Clark's face, he continued. "You see, you have to know my Lois. She's stubborn, headstrong, independent. Traits that turn the fashionable gentlemen off as surely as her beauty attracts them. But one thing that she does is flout conventions, goes against the grain of society. Surely you must see how involving herself with someone so far below her social standing will appeal to her rebellious nature," finished the earl in a deliberately insulting manner.

"Sir, if you insist on demeaning your daughter, myself and our relationship, then I best be leaving," said Clark curtly, rising from the armchair.

"That was a wrong approach, I see. I want you to stop all further contact with my daughter." Earl Laveney got right to the point. Seeing the barely controlled anger on the young man's face, he hurriedly explained the practicality of his request. Here was no blabbering fool willing to be bribed off. "Lois is a member of the aristocracy. She's used to having pretty gowns, made by London's best. And jewels to wear, servants to wait on her and do her bidding, going to grand balls and having gentlemen fawn on her. Can you not see that she would never be happy with you?"

"Lois is a member of the aristocracy. She's used to having pretty gowns, made by London's best. And jewels to wear, servants to wait on her and do her bidding, going to grand balls and having gentlemen fawn on her. Can you not see that she would never be happy with you?"

"That is for Lois to decide." This was said through clenched teeth.

"Lois is still my responsibility and I've decided that life as a farmer's wife would not suit her. Now a certain Lord Ludsham- a very rich and pleasant looking man- has shown an interest in her. It is my belief that he would soon ask permission to pay his addresses and Lois has proved quite fond of the man. A good match. Before you do anything rash, need I remind you that your parents' farm is on my estate and for me to do with as I wish?" The threat was clear to Clark.

"What an effort on your part to keep me away from your daughter if I was, as you say, a passing fancy," he replied cynically.

"Lois does not realize her actions. In any case, further acquaintance with you will have her badly compromised and ostracized from society, something I am sure you would not want to see happen if you love her as you say you do."

Clark glared resentfully at the impassive earl. "Good evening, sir." He turned on his heels and left feeling very bitter.

Earl Samuel Laveney poured himself a glass of brandy. He did not enjoy the episode with Clark Kelton- a good man, but not suitable for his little princess. Daughters can be so tiresome. He drained the glass in one gulp.

***

Clark turned as a pair of slender arms hugged his waist. "Lois," he greeted her with a wobbly smile. Lois's glowing face was instantly transfigured with worry.

"What's wrong, Clark?" Fear clutched at her heart as he extricated himself from her embrace and placed some distance between them. He regarded her sadly, "I don't know how to say this so I'll just come right out with it? I don't think we should see each other anymore."

There was a long silence. The shock of it was evident on Lois's face. "But why?"

"I've been turning this over in my mind all night, Lois. You and me? it will never work. I'm just a farmer." He spread his arms out as if to prove his point. "Can't you see that I can never give you what you've been used to all your life?"

Tears sprang to her eyes, but she fought them down. "I don't care about all that, Clark. Besides, my father is a very rich man. He can help us."

Clark shook his head. "But *I* care, Lois. What is a man if he can't provide for his own family? And I won't go begging for help from anyone!" Seeing the hurt in Lois's eyes, he softened, "Lois, I will *always* treasure the times we spent together. You've made me happier than I have ever been before. But the reality of it is that we're two very different people. It won't work so it's easier if we say our farewells now, before our relationship gets too serious." He forced a smile for her, trying to lighten the situation when his heart was breaking. Breaking because he loved her so very much and there was a terrible ache tearing at it.

Lois stared at him blindly, not hearing anything as his last few words hammered at her on top of the turmoil that was churning within her. He's found someone else. He was only amusing himself with me, she thought desperately. I didn't please him last night and now he's tired of me?. slut! Whore! Hussy! Her mind taunted. She squeezed her eyes shut against the flood of tears which threatened to fall, her body trembling from the effort. Never before had she felt so pained and never again, she vowed.

Panic gripped Clark as he watched her. He could feel her distancing, almost feel the solid wall that was going up around her. He rushed to her side, touching her arm tentatively. "Lois?"

Her eyes flew open, bright with unshed tears and hot anger. "Don't you *ever* touch me again," she seethed, jerking her arm away. "All this time you were toying with me. I bet you and your friends were laughing at me behind my back. Must've been a great feat for you- to soil a lady of the ton! What did you bet? That you could bed me in two weeks? Three? I should have known to expect this from such common beasts of the field like yourself, Clark Kelton! Well, your plan had one flaw. You did not ruin me as you must have hoped. I only pretended to care for you!"

Clark had been listening to her outburst with horror, but the last sentence hit him like a whiplash. He suddenly wanted to hurt her like he was hurting. "Oh, but my lady, I think my plan did work. Look at you now," he raked her from head to toe with a disdainful eye, "I've seen tavern whores in better shape than you. It's hard to think that you were the same woman lying naked in my arms last night."

There was a resounding slap as Lois struck him with the full force of her agony. She turned and fled. She was crying.

***

While Clark kept the sorrow and torment at bay with long hours of grueling farm work, Lois was tearing apart her bedchamber. Beth arrived on the scene just as her mistress was attacking the dresser with brushes, pins, bottles of scent and anything else she could lay her hands on. Each smash was punctuated with a tearful "I hate him!" The maid thought to herself that Lady Lois must've loved the man tremendously to be hurting this way. As quietly as she came, the maid slipped out, knowing when she was, and was not, needed.

Exhausted, Lois crumpled onto the floor, the tears still coming hard and fast. "I hate him." It came out in a half sob.

The pugs, which had been hiding under the bed during the onslaught, scampered out to comfort her. She gathered them close as her eyes finally started to dry. "Oh, Clark," she whispered brokenly.

***

Clark searched the horizon through force of habit. He returned to grooming the horses with disappointment. Those two familiar figures would not be showing today. Or ever, he thought painfully. He gritted his teeth to fight back those tormenting images of Lois with her beautiful eyes staring at him, filled with so much hurt and anger. He thought of Lois married to this Lord Ludsham, Lois kissing and locked in a passionate embrace in another man's arms. He threw the scrubbing brush with such frustrated fury the horses whinnied and shied away from him. Feeling very alone, he made for the lake with its memories of Lois and their blissful time spent together.

A murky darkness had settled over the countryside by the time Clark decided to head back. Someone was holding a lantern, its yellow glow acting like a beacon. He recognized Beth and his first thought was that something had happened to his beloved. He rushed towards her as fear seized him. The maid was overset, her speech coming in a gush and quite unintelligible.

"Calm yourself and tell me again what's happened." He gave her a little shake.

"'Tis my lady. She went walking and hasn't returned. I was to accompany her, but she said to leave her be. Oh, what am I to do? I'd surely lose my position and poor miss. What if she's been kidnapped? Or raped by them footpads?" she shrieked, adding to Clark's already brimming fears.

"Go on inside. My parents will take care of you," he said hurriedly, snatching her lantern and racing for the stable.

Within minutes, Clark came across the earl and his regiment of men who were already combing the treacherous woods. He didn't need to explain. The earl solemnly handed him a whistle. "Alert us if you find her." Clark gave a sympathetic nod, both of them momentarily bound by their shared concern for Lois.

Clark tethered Sooty by the edge of the woods, knowing that he would make faster progress on foot like the rest of the men. He began his search with single mindedness, spurred on by love. Half an hour passed and Clark began to despair of ever finding her when he saw a scrap of torn muslin on one of the lower branches. There was a steep gorge right in front of him and careful of the slippery combination of mud and leaves, he slowly made his way down, heavy with anticipation. And sure enough, he found an unconscious Lois lying at the very bottom, messy from the mud and a wound on her head.

An immense relief washed over him as he detected her soft breathing. He blew the whistle long and hard before gathering her in his arms, wanting to reassure himself that he had indeed found her. And that was the scene that greeted Earl Laveney- his daughter being held tenderly in the arms of Clark Kelton, her rescuer for the second time. In the glow of the lantern and what little moonlight filtered through the dense trees, the earl could not deny the look of pure love on the young man's face as he stroked a dirty cheek gently. The earl admitted that he had been afraid that Clark Kelton was a fortune hunter, trifling with his daughter's affections for her money. Now there was no doubt of the man's declaration of love.

Orders were rapped out and shortly after, Clark and the still unconscious Lois were back on safe ground. Almost reluctantly, he handed her over to the earl. "Take my horse, my lord. He's over there by the edge," Clark offered, thinking only that Lois should be attended to by a physician as soon as possible.

His earldom looked at Clark with newfound respect. "Thank you, Kelton. I will take care of her," he added, noting the anxiety that was evident in Clark's face. Then they left.

***

A month later, Lois again found herself staring out in the direction of the Kelton farm from her bedroom window. She wondered what Clark was doing. Probably out seducing another heiress, she thought bitterly. He deserved whatever poxy trollop empty-headed enough to accept his advances, her mind thought up to soothe the wrenching pain at her heart. She bit her lower lip to stop it from trembling. She tried to tell herself that she was a stronger person now and that the idea of love had always been a childish illusion, but nothing could fight those bitter sweet memories of Clark, memories that haunted her with their vividness even in her dreams.

There was a gentle scratching at the door and a liveried footman entered at Lois's command. "Beg pardon, my lady, but there is a person who wishes an audience with you." Not in a mood to entertain at all, Lois was about to tell the footman to say that she was "not at home" when the footman forestalled her. "This person says he came to see Sooty."

Her heart skipped a beat. Clark! An overwhelming desire to see him warred against her fear of more heartache, but she knew that she just had to see him if not to clear the air between them. "I shall receive him here. You may leave the door open," she added, not wanting trouble for she sensed the servant's disapproval even though his face was a well-trained blank.

An anxious few minutes passed before Clark was shown in. Their eyes immediately clapped on each other, as if hungry for the mere sight of the other. Clark thought she looked perfect, though a trifle pale. She thought he was as handsome and strong as she remembered, but now a little distant. There was an electricity in the air, making both feel rather awkward.

"Are you well?" Clark asked, wanting her to confirm Beth's assurances.

"Yes, thank you," she said politely. "Papa said you saved me. Thank you again. I am much indebted to you."

He shrugged off her words of gratitude. "Be careful next time," he said softly. She nodded. She wasn't about to tell him that if he hadn't broken her heart, she would not have felt the need for an unchaperoned walk and if she wasn't so lost in thoughts of him, she wouldn't have slipped. Feeling frustrated with the formality between them, he crossed the room to her.

"Lois, I came here to apologize for my behavior the last time we talked. I was a total jackanapes and I'm sorry. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"

Lois met his pleading eyes. "Yes, of course." She thought, sadly, that she would do anything for him if he would just say those three precious words, but instead she said, "I behaved abominably and I hope you can forgive me too."

He smiled and said in a deliberately light tone, "Well all's forgiven then."

She smiled back weakly.

"Lois, have you been sleeping well? You look weary." He looked at her anxiously, instinctively reaching out a protective hand to her face. She jumped aside to avoid his touch. His concern was too much for her to bear for what use was it to have him care for her, but never love her?

"Clark, please don't," she whispered shakily before continuing on in a stronger voice. "I have never felt better for I am to marry Lord Ludsham next Season."

Here now was Clark's chance to declare his love, to beg her not to go through with the marriage if he truly loved her. Lois waited with bated breath for his response.

Clark stayed rooted to his spot, all his blood having drained down to his feet. He had come today, not just to check on her, but with the hope of repairing their relationship, to give it one more chance. He had thought that she loved him in return, but she had shown that her feelings were otherwise by accepting another man's proposal. Stricken, Clark tried to keep his torment hidden, all the while struggling with the fire of pain that throbbed in his heart. "I guess congratulations are in order then. May you and your groom have a long and happy life together," he managed to dredge up the strength to say.

Lois felt her hope shrivel up into nothing, taking with it her tears and leaving a gaping hole of sadness in her very being. He didn't even care enough to fight for her. Surely, he did not love her. She had accepted Ludsham's proposal only because he had his townhouse in London and she wanted to be as far away from Clark as possible if things between them could never be. Retreating behind her mind wall, she said, "Thank you. I am sure we would be quite happy together."

Clark winced. "Because you two suit perfectly? What with him being a lord and you, a lady," he said bitterly. "Now you and I, say, would never be happy as husband and wife?" he posed the last part in a slight question.

To hear what she had wanted and wished for so wholeheartedly put in that context pained her more than anything else that he had said, even more than the certainty that it was all over for them. She tried to smile, "No, you're right, we would not have suited. It is just as well we realized our mistake and ended that part of our relationship before anyone got hurt."

One just had to take a look to see how much both were hurting and yet they, themselves, were blind to each other's pain, so lost were they in their own misery and misconceptions.

Their eyes met for a last time. "Goodbye, Lois."

"Goodbye, Clark." He left. The pugs came bounding in. Somehow, they were always around when they were needed.

***

And so, Lois's wedding day rushed upon her. She let herself be pinned, turned, fitted and dressed as if she were a mannequin. Finally they stopped their fussing and cried delightedly at their handiwork. They maneuvered her in front of a full-length mirror, imploring her to look at the beautiful vision that was herself. Lois stared vacantly, vaguely seeing her wedding gown which had been made by London's top designer and her carefully made hair. *I wonder if he would've found me beautiful today* her thought strayed. Somewhere also in her thoughts was a slight interest as to why her wedding had been pushed forward unexpectedly, which accounted for all the rush as they attempted to prepare a grand wedding within two weeks. It was just as well, Lois thought, for it meant that she would be far away from Clark sooner. She wondered if distance and time would wipe the agonizing feeling of loss that resided within her. She was only dimly aware that she was being helped inside the carriage which would take her to St George's, in Hanover Square, where she was to be married.

Clark was feeling a little nervous. Tongues were wagging busily. Who was this man who took Lord Ludsham's place? Why the rush? Several theories flew around. Lady Lois was with child. That was why the wedding was so disgracefully rushed. The groom was actually a foreign prince and having set eyes on the lady, paid Ludsham to break his engagement. No, no. They fought a duel. No, no, no? he's a mere servant and so it went on. The consensus was that Clark Kelton was a very rich duke who adopted a secret identity as a farmer's son to fend off fortune hunters and pushy mothers. He looked to his parents for support. They smiled encouragingly from their front row pew, both looking like the other aristocrats and gentries- thanks to Countess Laveney. Clark transferred his gaze to the earl, who was gesturing animatedly to the gentleman next to him.

Why had he given in to the earl's wishes? He moaned inwardly. Because he threatened to evict us from the farm, that's why, he told himself. Then that annoying little voice in his head kicked in. Oh, come on. You know it's because you truly want this. To marry your heart's desire. Admit it. Well, of course, she might not go through with this. Probably hates you with a vengeance despite what she'd said.

His thoughts were interrupted when the massive doors of the church opened and the bride walked in. Clark caught his breath. Murmurs of appreciation and awe went around the huge room as Lois moved gracefully down the aisle. She was wearing a gown of the softest white satin, trimmed with gold threads and seed pearls, and ending in a magnificent half train. Matching white satin shoes adorned her feet and a strand of winking diamonds circled her neck. Her hair was dressed up, with a few loose tendrils and she wore a coronet of little white and pale pink silk flowers. She wore no veils as they were quite exploded. She looked virginal and ethereal, but Clark felt a tug at his heart at the look on her face. She was staring straight ahead, not seeing him at all. There was an air of stoic resignation about her, as if she was about to sacrifice herself. Her face was devoid of emotions, but her eyes? they held a deep sorrow that made her seem more vulnerable to Clark than ever. Clark suddenly felt sick. She must really not want to marry me if she's this downhearted, he thought, not realizing that Lois was not informed of the change of groom. Well, all of London society was here so they might as well go through with this sham of a marriage. Feeling empty inside, he promised himself that he would get their marriage annulled straight after.

Lois dreaded the moment when she would have to look into her soon-to-be husband's face. She wondered how best to keep her disappointment from showing. Thinking that now was as good a time as any, she sneaked a glance in the groom's direction and then stopped dead several feet from the altar. Clark was looking straight back at her! She was struck by how handsome and stately he was- in a black silk coat embroidered in gold, white silk knee breeches and stockings. Diamonds glinted from the buckles of his flat pumps and amongst the intricate folds of his snow-white cravat. Had she actually wanted this so much so that she was hallucinating? No, it wasn't a dream for Clark was approaching her now.

"Lois, they're waiting," he prompted softly, offering his arm which she took. The simple feel of her hand on his arm was enough to dizzy his senses. The sermon began. Clark made the appropriate responses.

It was Lois's turn."to love and cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance?" She glanced at his profile- so hard and grim. And then it hit her. Clark was being constrained to marry me, she thought. Tears sprang to her eyes and then she realized that once again, everyone was waiting for her response. Clark had released her hand and stood facing her. She gazed at him, wanting so much to be his wife, but knowing that she could never marry him without his love. She choked down a sob that caught in her throat. The guests shifted about uncomfortably and murmurs began circulating the room. "The bride's not going to go through with it!" they gasped.

Clark took in her beautiful face, saddened by her bright unshed tears. He thought that he obviously underestimated the strength of her feelings for him. She really doesn't want me, he realized. Her body shook slightly with her anguish and her lips trembled, making Clark wish that he could crush her against himself to still her body and her lips with his own. Staring into her glitteringly vulnerable eyes, Clark realized that he'd never wanted anyone more. He'd do anything to have her, however briefly. She just had to know how he felt about her. He held her gaze, directed it downwards and signed what was in his heart. The crowd's voices rose with curiosity, vibrating against the walls. Lucy, who had managed to get back in time for her sister's wedding, felt tears of happiness rise for, besides Lois and Clark, only she knew what had passed between the couple.

At the altar, those tears that she had kept in check flowed freely down her cheeks as she cried with the warm joy that filled her. Her first thought, surprisingly, was not that he loved her afterall, but that he *had* been paying attention to her careful teaching. Smiling through her tears, she said, "With my body I thee worship."

The vicar breathed in relief, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." The bells rang out and people cheered. Clark was oblivious to everything else but her smiling face. His heart soared. She loved him too! The world was right again. He grinned back at her. She threw herself into his waiting arms in a decidedly unlady-like manner and they kissed with the force of all their pent-up passion for each other. Several stuffy "gentlemen" and "ladies" gasped in shock. Surely no respectable members of society would kiss so lewdly?

The glowing couple moved down the aisle, stopping before the earl. Lois kissed him fondly on the cheek, whispering, "Clark told me what you did. Thank you, Papa." The earl was beaming with pride. They were shortly in the bridal carriage which would take them to a posting-house for the night.

***

Clark waited patiently in their wide four-poster bed as he watched his wife brush her shiny hair for the zillionth time. "Honey, don't you think it's time you came to bed?" he suggested, not knowing how much longer he could wait.

"Give me a moment longer, Clark. My hair's a mess," she replied, as her hair moved silkily through the brush. He sighed and got up to stand behind her. Having him so near only made her more nervous. She began to babble as he lifted her hair and kissed the nape of her neck. "I do not think you men understand the importance of a lady's hair to her. It can affect her whole appearance- it must be clean, shiny and tidy." She took a deep breath as Clark's hand circled her waist, caressing her stomach. "Why, I heard that Colonel Bram broke off his engagement when it was revealed that his intended's hair was limp and quite lifeless underneath her wig. Don't you want me to have neat hair? I want my hair to be nice for you. I don't know what?"

"Lois," he whispered, cutting her off. "Come to bed. Your hair's beautiful, every part of you is." He guided her up from the stool and took the brush firmly away.

All of a sudden, she boxed him on the arm. "Do not think that just because we are wed that you can tell me what to do!"

Unfazed, he smiled tenderly at her, realizing that it was bridal nerves she was suffering from. He tilted her downcast face. "Scared?"

She looked at him sadly. "Very. Oh, Clark. I'm sorry, but I am afraid that what we will do will give me a disgust of you. I love you so very much."

He smiled again. "I love you too and I promise that we will not do anything that you don't feel comfortable with. And I'll ask your permission first, instead of being the autocratic husband you seem to think me," he teased. "Now, Lady Lois Laveney-Kelton, may I take this lovely night gown off you?"

She gave her assent meekly. Clark unfastened the tapes at the back and let it slip to the ground. Color rose into her cheeks as he admired her excellent body. Then he disrobed himself.

Her gaze traveled down to his flat muscled stomach before she quickly averted her eyes. Her blush deepened. "Clark, you are naked."

He laughed joyously. "I thought it only fair that I be undressed too. Otherwise, you'd feel at a considerable disadvantage."

"You're mocking me!" she said angrily, turning her back on him.

With one swift movement, he was behind her, holding her close. Their skin touched and she felt her heart pounding ever harder. "You know I'd never intentionally do that. I admire you greatly," he said softly, his breath warm on the side of her face. He turned her so that he could look into her eyes. "May I kiss you here?" he asked, tenderly touching her lips. She smiled lovingly at him. He captured her soft lips in his and gently kissed her until her breath quickened. Her arms tightened, pulling him to her as they kissed with increasing fervor.

"And here?" he whispered urgently, his voice made husky with his burning desire.

Yes," she gasped as his large hands fondled her. What followed, as Clark continued his loving exploration, made her arch against him in ecstasy. The sensations that blazed in her were so excruciatingly sweet that they were almost painful.

"Clark, stop asking and take me to bed," she pleaded. Hooking his arms behind her knees, he lifted her effortlessly and deposited her on the large bed. There, he continued his adoration of her body with his questing hands and mouth. Finally, he raised his head and gazed deeply into her eyes before burying his mouth in hers, his fingers intertwining with her hair, gathering them on top of her head. He nuzzled her exposed neck affectionately. With something close to impatience, she guided him up for another heated kiss. Her chest, heaving from her furiously beating heart, pushed against his, driving him crazy with need.

Outside, the moon rose high in the star specked sky and the water in the lake was like a black mirror in the still night air. Inside, the two bodies moaned and turned, oblivious to all else.

***

Lois laid in the warm circle of her husband's embrace, overwhelmed by that wonderful feeling of contentment that makes one wish that time could freeze. Shifting slightly, she kissed the strong column of his neck and ran her palm over his chest and arm, powerfully muscled from years of farm work. She smiled as she recollected how gentle, but passionate he'd been at the same time. *It wasn't at all like the sheep* she thought, her smile broadening. Her little movements eventually roused him from sleep. Propped on his elbow, he smiled lazily down at her. She reached out to caress his face and the bed covers slid off her chest. His eyes shone with renewed energy and ignoring her shriek of surprise, he fell on her for another bout of lovemaking.

Long after, he cradled her as they waited for their heartbeats to slow. "Lois?" he asked, a little reluctant to break the spell they were in.

"Hmm?" she replied dreamily.

"Lois, I don't want you to ever have to worry about our future — about money."

She frowned, but it didn't even come close to marring her beauty. "Clark, I am *sure* that we will do quite well. My dowry alone will keep us comfortably."

Clark shook his head. "No. I feel guilty enough for the expense of our wedding on your father. We'll use your dowry to repay him. Then I'd build us a mansion and my parents one too, if they want it. Or a large cottage, more land for the farm. And you, my sweeting, you will have whatever your heart desires- gowns, jewelry, balls and parties. Our children will live like little princes and princesses." He beamed at her, making her hesitant to ask her question. "Clark, how will we ever afford all that?"

He remained smiling. "I was hoping you'd ask me that. Remember I invested money on the Change? Well, it seems I've quite an eye for stocks. It's all paying off handsomely. Now I can give you the kind of life I've always wanted for us." He caressed her face lovingly, kissing her with the happiness they were both feeling.

"Clark, do you really want fifteen children?" she asked, a little apprehensively when they finally pulled apart.

He laughed joyously. "No, my pet. For you, I'll settle for ten," he teased.

Sitting up, she boxed him playfully as he pretended to yelp in pain. He caught her hands in his and pulled her under him. His last thought was that he was insatiable when it came to his Lois.

THE END

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