"The Open Secret – the secret that lies open to all, but is seen into and understood by only few."
Manchester Royal Infirmary, Manchester, England, April 1912
Matthew groaned. He tried desperately to hold it back, to keep it deep within his chest, but it burst forward as sensation shot through him. He swallowed and gasped, gulping air into his lungs desperately, his breathing loud and ragged.
"Darling," she laughed seductively. "You must be quiet. Someone could hear us and come in!"
Matthew groaned again. Her weight on top of him was warm and comforting, a delightful reminder that she was here with him, that this was real and not yet another fantasy running through his imagination. His hips moved of their own accord, responding to her light touch, his body yearning for her almost as fiercely as his heart did.
She kissed his cheek, then his shoulder and ran her tongue along his chest, her hand continuing its firm hold on him. His legs shook, his muscles tensing as the dull ache in his body flared sharply into an electric burst.
He ran his hands from her hair down across the silk covering her back. His fingers clawed at her skirt, pulling it up her legs as she kept him trapped beneath her.
"So impatient, Matthew," she drawled in his ear.
Her free hand moved down to cover one of his. She smiled against his skin as she guided his hand beneath her skirt to her knickers.
"Go on, then," she teased him, smiling as his fingers shook when they came into contact with the light silk covering her bottom.
Growling at her boldness, he pushed the garment down her hips, feeling heat radiating off of her as their exposed skin caressed each other.
"Please," he croaked, turning his head to kiss her fiercely.
She returned his kiss, her hands moving up to dance lightly through his blond hair.
When she pulled back and looked down at him, he gazed lovingly up at her dark eyes and swollen lips. What they were doing was quite shocking and forbidden, but their shared desire was so strong that nothing else mattered. It had been like this between them from the very beginning. He had always had a vague idea about what it would feel like to be with a woman. He had notions and beliefs regarding the proper way of doing things and behaving. She had obliterated all of that, thrown his world asunder, and though their conduct was rather startling, he was indescribably grateful for it.
She leaned down and kissed his neck, pressing her breasts against him and feeling him wrap his arms around her waist.
"Yes, Matthew," she breathed into his ear.
The mattress creaked as he turned them over, pulling her leg across his waist as he pushed her onto her back. Her arms encircled his shoulders and she cradled his head against her hair as she opened herself to him.
Matthew breathed out as they joined, his heart soaring as he heard her sigh and clutch him closer. All thoughts of teasing her and prolonging their bliss were entirely set aside as he began to move with her. She kissed his cheek, her hands splaying across his back, pulling him, urging him, and encouraging him to increase his pace.
She grit her teeth as she reached her limit, her cries of pleasure reduced to soft whimpers as she fought to contain the desire to scream at the delirium overpowering her. Matthew followed soon after, grabbing handfuls of the bed sheet beneath her as he stilled himself, his body tensing as he gave in to a moment he only knew with her, would only ever want to know with her.
Matthew kept his weight balanced on his arms, refusing to collapse on top of her. She ran her hand through his damp hair and pulled him back down towards her. She kissed him softly and he rolled them over again so he was on his back and she could curl into him, resting her head in the crook of his chest and shoulder.
Their sharp breathing slowed and their heartbeats returned to normal. He kissed her forehead several times, running his hand along her back, idly staring down at her in beautiful happiness.
"I have to get back to work," she smiled. "Your mother will wonder where I've gone to."
"I would very much appreciate it," he said in a low voice. "If you did not mention Mother so soon after what we've just done."
Her laugh was sultry and tickled his chest pleasantly.
"Would you prefer if your father found out how we are using this spare room then?" she teased.
"They wouldn't hold you responsible, they adore you," he laughed. "I, on the other hand, would be branded a seducer, and may find myself the subject of a new surgical technique."
"Well, we can't have that," she replied. "I'd like to keep you in one piece, thank you."
"As you wish," he smiled, pulling her into a kiss.
"Don't you have to go back to work?" she smiled at him, resting her chin on his chest and looking at him playfully.
"I took the rest of the afternoon off. My desk was clear," he smiled. "And I thought I would take you to dinner after your shift was done."
"I get dinner as well?" she asked mischievously. "Why, aren't you the gallant one?"
"I know how much effort is required to keep you interested, my Lady," he retorted.
"Make yourself presentable and come seek me out in another hour. I should be done by then," she smiled.
She rose gracefully from the bed and smoothed out her skirt. She buttoned her blouse and picked up her apron from the ground, looking at him pointedly as she tied it back in place.
Matthew sat up and pulled her down for another kiss. She slapped at him lightly and kissed him back, pecking him three times on the lips before pulling away.
"You'll make me late!" she scolded him.
He reached out and took her hands in his, squeezing them and smiling up at her.
"I love you, Mary," he beamed.
"I know you do," she smirked. She kissed him again before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.
Downton Abbey, Yorkshire, England, April 1912
Robert Crawley, Seventh Earl of Grantham, read his newspaper in silence. His daughters, Edith and Sybil, were quietly eating their breakfast and were seated at the far end of the table. They were not permitted to sit closer as a matter of decorum and instruction from their Cousin James, who was continually imposing his often tyrannical proclamations on the family. Young ladies should sit away from the adults, James ordered. There was no need for them to overhear the serious business discussed at the other end of the table, and so they should always be a respectable distance away. The order reeked of snobbery and paranoia, but the girls were powerless against it. They had learned long ago that their father could offer little defense.
Ever since the unfortunate incident, James had grown more bold and domineering, and Robert had retreated, allowing his Cousin free reign in most matters, and guarding his objections carefully. This morning, Edith and Sybil were grateful for having the Morning Room to themselves. With Cousin James and Cousin Patrick away, they could at least enjoy breakfast without fear of being chastised or worse.
As Robert turned the page of the paper, he sighed audibly. He motioned for the butler, Carson, who came immediately to his side. Although Carson was by no means elderly, he seemed to have aged significantly in the last year. There was a sad spectre haunting his steps, although he would always vehemently deny it.
"What is it, Papa?" Sybil asked tentatively as Robert murmured instructions to the butler. Edith shook her head. Sybil was always the bold and fearless one, not caring what other people thought of her.
Lord Grantham's face creased and he frowned down the table at Sybil. Edith shot her little sister a discouraging look, a plea for her to hush. However, as Carson departed from the room, Sybil raised her voice once more.
"Is it news about the Titanic?"
Robert sighed and set his cup of tea on the saucer. He placed his folded newspaper down and drummed his fingers on the table nervously.
"Yes, my dear," Robert answered, slightly agitated. "Of course it is about the Titanic. Nothing else is in the news these days. First it was rumours and now it seems some of it is true. I just hope for all of our sakes that James and Patrick survived this horrendous nightmare."
Sybil's eyes widened. While Edith took the time to consider what their Papa had said, Sybil forged ahead, a single thought entering her mind.
"Papa, you should write to Mary and let her know this news!" Sybil said quickly.
Robert's gaze grew cold. Edith blinked and looked down at her breakfast plate. How could Sybil be so foolish?
"No," Lord Grantham said curtly. He turned his attention to the family dog, Pharaoh, who sat by his feet. Robert scratched the dog's ears and stroked his neat and clean fur.
"But, Papa," Sybil said emotionally, undeterred by his rebuke. "This is a very serious matter for our family. Mary needs to know, surely?"
Robert rose from his chair, his paper neatly tucked under his arm.
"My dear girl," he said as he passed by her chair without stopping.
"Mary isn't family," he declared, his voice filled with venom.
Sybil's mouth fell open and she watched in shock as Robert Crawley, Seventh Earl of Grantham, left the room without another word.
Trafford Restaurant at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, England, April 1912
Matthew glanced about his surroundings, the bustle of the breakfast service all around him. He smiled. He truly loved this restaurant. It was spread over two floors separating the pub on the lower level from the fine dining room upstairs. The entrance to the restaurant was through the gardens, famous for their strawberries, gooseberries, and various garden herbs; however to enter the pub there was a side door off the street. This separation created a unique harmony, as though there were two different but coexisting worlds between upstairs and downstairs.
The restaurant had large bay windows that overlooked the gardens below, a cinematic view of cascading walls, plants and flowers. And as one walked up the staircase, the dark wood of the lower level gave way to the bright chandeliers and cream and aubergine wallpaper of the upstairs fine dining area. The upstairs not only served excellent food, but offered the intimate privacy that Matthew required. Normally, a man would be rather proud and almost boastful to be meeting a woman at The Trafford. However, when it came to this woman, Matthew knew that nothing was 'normal', and he had grown to rather like that. Having her to himself was quite exciting.
As he waited for his guest, he read over the Manchester Guardian for the sixth time, his brow furrowed in disbelief. It was impossible to understand. The Titanic had sunk on her maiden voyage. Less than a week ago it had left port in Southhampton, the first of what everyone thought would be many triumphant and luxurious journeys across the Atlantic. Now she was gone, the whereabouts of her crew and passengers unknown and presumed lost.
Matthew read over the front page story with a shiver down his spine. He skipped over the vast descriptions about the seemingly unsinkable ship. What did it matter to report the Titanic was eight hundred feet long? Or that she measured forty-six odd tons? Matthew scoffed at the focus on the boat when lives had been lost. He often championed the rights of the people, both personally and professionally as a lawyer. He was outraged that barely a paragraph detailed the extent of the horror for the unfortunate victims. There had not been enough lifeboats, only enough for one-third of the Titanic's total capacity; resulting in catastrophe. Just reading the words, Matthew imagined the many unanswered prayers, and empty cries in the cold Atlantic waters. An unofficial message from Cape Race, Newfoundland, stated that only a hundred and seventy-five have been saved out of two thousand four hundred persons on board.
"Mr. Crawley," the waiter said, interrupting his tumultuous thoughts. "Your guest has arrived."
Matthew looked up and his face brightened as Lady Mary Crawley was escorted to his table. She looked radiant in the new dress he had given her last night. He had thought that the cerulean blue fabric would suit her, and he was extremely pleased to see now that his estimation was correct.
"Thank you Henry," Matthew replied with gratitude, dismissing the waiter with a nod. Matthew rose from his chair and silently helped her be seated. He fought the urge to kiss her cheek, and instead kept a respectable distance as he went back to his chair. Mary gave him a conspiratorial smile.
He smirked as he watched Mary glance about, keeping her mouth shut until the waiter had disappeared and she was certain no one was within ear shot of their window table. It was almost as though she still distrusted everyone around her to be a spy, cataloguing her every movement. Matthew allowed her these idiosyncrasies. He learned long ago not to question her in certain matters.
"Good morning," he said softly.
"Good morning," Mary replied. "I see that you were able to steal away to meet me. You're taking a great risk being seen with me, you know."
"It's entirely worth it," Matthew said confidently, causing Mary to look away and bite her lower lip.
"You look stunning," he continued, dropping his stare before it became inappropriate. He reached over and poured her a cup of tea.
"I think you bought me this dress so that we will colour coordinate," Mary said as she picked up her menu. Her voice sounded like a sharp accusation, but he could decode that she was actually being playful. Her light smirk as she glanced down at the menu confirmed his suspicion.
He smiled as he placed the tea pot back down. "What do you mean?" he asked innocently.
"This dress is the same colour as your eyes," Mary answered, her eyes looking up to meet his briefly.
Matthew smiled at her and raised his eyebrow knowingly.
"That wasn't the source of my inspiration, actually. I'll have you know that your dress is also the same colour as the bedspread in my bedroom," he whispered.
"I know," Mary said lightly, blushing slightly as she lowered her eyes again.
"So then you should also know why I would want your dress to match the bedspread, and contrast nicely with the colour of my bedroom floor, as well," Matthew said, flashing his teeth briefly.
"Matthew," Mary scolded him, her blush deepening. "We're in public!"
"Very well, my Lady," Matthew smirked and busied himself with his own menu.
They paused briefly as Henry returned to take their orders. Matthew ordered for both of them. Mary smiled to herself as he got her order exactly right without her even telling him. They resumed their conversation after the waiter was out of earshot.
"Did you read about the Titanic?" Matthew asked as he stirred milk into his tea.
"Yes," Mary responded with seeming disinterest. "It's all anyone talks about, it seems. The Titanic, a name derived from Titan in Greek Mythology, which means gigantic."
"Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't your little sister Sybil say in her last letter that your cousins James and Patrick were going to sail on the Titanic?" Matthew asked.
Mary's posture grew rigid.
"She may have. The Titanic would be the only ship big enough to suit James and Patrick's egos." The bitterness and contempt in Mary's voice dripped as she was forced to repeat her cousins' names.
"Well," Matthew continued hesitantly. "Shouldn't you write home, given what has happened?"
Mary set her teacup on the saucer. Her hand came up nervously to fiddle with her string of pearls. Although her mannerisms were anxious, when she spoke again, her clipped tone was firm, leaving no room for sentiment.
"Manchester is my home," she said assertively. "There's no need to find out anything more than what I've read in the Guardian."
"Darling," Matthew said quietly. "I understand, truly. But, if something has happened to James and Patrick, you should contact your family. It could change everything. It could mean that…"
"It means nothing. It changes nothing." Mary said quickly, looking at him fiercely. "I mean nothing to them, and they mean even less to me."
Matthew swallowed. His expression softened and he nodded silently.
Mary reached across the table and patted his hand lightly before pulling back.
"Let's please change the topic of discussion," she said. "I'm bored talking about this. I want to spend a lovely morning with you, not waste our time discussing matters a world away that have no significance for us."
"As you wish," Matthew agreed. He was rewarded with the return of Mary's smile as the waiter brought their food to the table.
A note from the authors: Thanks for reading!
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