A/N: Happy new year, dear readers! This is a story I've been writing - and hinting about! - for quite a while now. Up until recently, I didn't think I'd be brave enough to post it here, but 2020 changed my mind about that.

I must acknowledge that this is a collaboration with the amazingly talented katherine-with-a-k. The premise for this story was actually her idea, but somehow, over the past year or two, I ended up being the one to write it. But without kwak's input, this would never have grown into the story it has become, and I owe as much to her as LMM for the creation of this wickedly juicy tale. Kwak is my co-author, beta reader, editor and rock-solid Anne consultant throughout this story. She never fails to make me a better and braver writer, and I am endlessly grateful to her.

I am starting off in the T section for the first few chapters, but I should warn you, this story will be changing to an M rating very, very soon. Because this is Anne and Gilbert as you've never seen them before...

~ Much love to you all from FKAJ xxx

Mount Desire

Part One

Chapter One

Kingsport, March 1886

Anne Shirley came skipping down the stairs at Patty's Place, clutching a letter from Marilla Cuthbert, and a delicious secret to herself.

The early spring evening was crisp and cold, but inside the fire crackled in the hearth and friendly shadows flickered over the walls.

Golden hues in Anne's red hair glowed in the firelight as she entered the living room, where Philippa Gordon and Stella Maynard were hanging decorations from every nook. The girls were all studying for their B.A.'s at Redmond College, but Anne's twenty-first birthday was the next day and offered the girls a welcome break from their looming Junior year exams.

The three girls had been happily renting the little white frame house since the beginning of their Sophomore year at Redmond, along with Priscilla Grant and Stella's Aunt Jimsie. The sweet, herringbone walk, old-timey garden and vine-covered brickwork made Patty's Place seem like it might have been transplanted from some remote country village; it was certainly not the sort of house you would expect to find on the finest street in Kingsport, and it reminded Anne of the quaint and cosy homes in her beloved Avonlea.

Anne had lived on Prince Edward Island since she was eleven years old when she had been adopted by Marilla and her brother, Matthew Cuthbert. The Patty's Place girls knew that Anne treasured letters from home, and they also knew better than to disturb her until she'd finished reading them and 'licked up every last drop.' Moreover, the Patty's Place girls knew letters from Marilla were Anne's most precious correspondence, especially after Matthew had died. Anne felt a deep responsibility for Marilla and for their farm. No matter how much she adored Patty's Place, the girls knew Anne's home at Green Gables meant everything to her.

"What news from Green Gables, honey?" Phil asked, noticing Anne's flushed cheeks. "You look positively aglow."

"Well, Phil," Anne replied. "I know I won't have to ask for this not to go any further, but…" she paused dramatically, her grey eyes dancing with glee as she glanced at each of them in turn. "I have just found out I have only three months to find myself a husband!"

Phil dropped the colourful garland which she'd forgotten was still in her hand. Stella froze, her dark eyes wide, with a yellow lantern dangling from her fingers. Priscilla, who'd been baking Anne's birthday cake, dashed from the kitchen, a smudge of flour on her face and her pale gold hair flying out behind her.

"Anne Shirley!" Priss cried, wrapping her arms around her chum and kissing the red curls atop her head. "Did you just say you're getting married? Has Roy actually proposed to you?"

"No, silly girl." Anne reached up to brush the flour from her friend's pert nose. "Marilla has just told me that, according to Charlie Sloane's mother, I must be married by June."

Anne clapped one slender hand to her mouth, trying – not very hard – to smother a laugh, with her eyes dancing merrily.

"What?" Stella was shocked out of her manners. "Why?"

"Anne, honey," Phil said, tapping her foot. "You're not making any sense. Why don't you come and sit with me and tell me what you really mean?"

Phil pulled her chum to the sofa by the fireplace, her pointed eyebrows raised higher than usual.

"It's true!" Anne said. Her lips were stretched into a wide grin as she waved the letter in front of her friend's face. "Mrs Sloane has apparently uncovered an old document concerning Green Gables, which says that after Matthew's passing the title should have gone to the next male heir, or failing that, a married woman."

"No!" Stella and Priss exclaimed together.

The girls knew quiet, reserved Matthew Cuthbert had loved Anne unconditionally as his adopted daughter, and Anne had loved him in return with all her passionate young heart as the father she never knew. It was ridiculous to think he'd stipulate such a thing.

"Yes!" Anne pressed the letter over her knee and sought out the relevant passage. "And it gets even better. Mrs Sloane also says Green Gables belongs to Charlie now – ooohh, yes, I forgot this part – because he is the great-great-grandson of a Sloane I've never heard of, and some long-forgotten Cuthbert ancestor who Marilla never even knew existed."

"But that's ridiculous," Stella exclaimed. "I've never heard of such a thing!"

"Nobody has!" Anne burst out, finally giving in to the laugh. It began as a bubbling giggle and ended with a tear rolling down her cheek. "Of course, this all comes from Charlie's Great-aunt Mabel, and she must be at least one hundred and two. The poor woman keeps insisting she is the secret sister of the Duchess of Kent."

Priss joined in the laughter.

"Imagine if you have to marry Charlie?" she gasped.

"She did have to imagine it," Stella said, and shuddered so much her black topknot wobbled precariously on her head, threatening to come undone altogether. "Remember when Charlie bestowed Anne with the 'great honour' of proposing to her in Freshman year?"

"Imagine their children!" Priss grimaced, her china-blue eyes screwed up into ink spots. "All goggling and greasy with bright red lashes!"

"That's not funny," Anne pretended to be offended, before laughing along with them. "You shouldn't make fun of other people's misfortunes."

"Imagine making them!" Stella continued, ignoring Anne's advice. "If I was stuck under Charlie Sloane I should be worried his eyes would pop from their sockets the instant he –"

"Stella!" Anne did not have to pretend anymore.

Phil cleared her throat in an attempt to restore some decorum. Philippa Gordon may not have been a 'good girl', but she had been raised a lady. After all, Phil's family was amongst the bluest and richest of bluenoses in Bolingbroke.

"Mrs Anne Sloane..." Phil tried out the name, her dimples coming out with her feigned consternation. "No, it doesn't sound right."

"Besides," Priss said. "We all know if it came to it, Roy would marry Anne in an instant."

Anne flushed and her heart twisted strangely at the thought of Roy proposing to her. Surely it was from girlish excitement. So, why did she feel a little bit uneasy as she imagined Roy on one knee proposing to her?

"Not without his mother's say so," Phil reminded them. "Perhaps you'd have to marry Charlie in the meantime, Anne – you know he wants to!"

The girls all shrieked.

"Ugh!" Anne screwed up her face. "I'd rather be homeless than marry a Sloane."

"What about George Parker?" Phil asked.

"No!" Anne shook her head vehemently. "The last time I danced with him I felt a certain something poke into my hip."

"His knee?" Priss asked.

Anne rolled her eyes.

"He very nearly felt mine. But then I thought he might enjoy it."

"Ewww!" Stella and Priss shrieked again.

"Well, well, little Georgie Parker," Phil mused. She placed her chin on her hand, and looked thoughtful for a moment. "I never knew he had it in him."

"Well whatever he has, it's certainly not going into me!" Anne said, planting her hands on her hips.

Every girl at Patty's Place was now thoroughly riveted by the conversation, and very much wanted to keep it going. Aunt Jimsie would not be returning till nine that night. She lived with the girls as their chaperone and her absence always ensured there would be lots of italics, affected shrieks, all punctuated by numerous shocked gasps.

"How about Will Leslie?" Priss suggested – she wouldn't mind him herself.

"I think not," Anne said, thinking of Will's long neck and flaring hips. "He has a figure better than mine!"

"Besides, I'm not sure he likes ladies," said Stella meaningfully.

"Marcus Holworthy then?" Phil said. "He's very good looking."

"And he has very bad manners!" Anne asserted.

"Ooh!" the girls chimed together. "What did he do?"

"Well…" Anne faltered. She had promised herself she would never recall the incident again; this would mean extra prayers tonight. "He – he said the 'F' word."

"Fertiliser?" Phil deadpanned.

"No," Anne answered.

"You mean..?" Stella breathed.

Anne nodded gravely.

Priss's brow crumpled in confusion; that is until Stella went on tiptoe to whisper in her ear. Then her eyebrows were raised so high on her forehead, they very nearly disappeared into her fair hairline and she covered her mouth with one hand.

Phil stood up. "How on earth did that come up in conversation?" she asked, giving Priss a comforting pat on the back.

Anne's brow was furrowed as she recalled the concert she had attended last week.

"It wasn't a conversation, so much as a request. He offered to help me on with my coat and then he just whispered in my ear – while Roy was right across from us, buttoning up his gloves!"

"Not marriage material then," Phil decided, settling back into the sofa.

"I can think of someone else who'd like to marry you, Anne," Stella said. "And he's also very good-looking."

"I can't imagine who you mean, Stella Maynard!"

Anne tilted her little pointed chin in the air in defiance, but it was no use; she knew her face had just turned pink.

"Oh, I think you can, Queen Anne," Phil said. "And you needn't tip your pretty nose in the air like that either. He's already asked you once before, so you know very well that Gilbert Blythe would marry you in a minute."

"He'd do more than marry her!" Stella said, her ruby lips curved in a smirk. "We all know he would."

"I know of no such thing," Anne replied indignantly. Her skin was growing warmer by the second, and she suddenly wished she hadn't laced her corset quite so tight. "Besides, I would never humiliate myself by asking him. Not now anyway…"

Anne looked almost wistful as her voice trailed off and she thought of how strained things had become with Gilbert. Well, it was his fault. He had spoiled their perfect friendship, and Anne had learned to live without it.

She wouldn't admit to the girls, much less herself, how much she missed Gilbert Blythe. In truth, Anne couldn't deny the twist in her heart whenever she thought of him. His smile as he pulled her close to him when they danced together or his bright hazel eyes twinkling merrily at her as he told some silly joke. Studying, laughing and debating with him. Why did Gilbert have to ruin all that by proposing to her last April? He was usually so sensible, why couldn't he have been sensible about that, too?

"I never, never can love you – in that way – Gilbert." Anne was still haunted by the look in Gilbert's eyes when she had uttered those words to him that dreadful day in the Patty's Place orchard. She still found it difficult to go into the orchard without remembering his stricken face, white to the lips.

But it was true. Although she acknowledged that as a companion, nobody could be so satisfactory as Gilbert, Anne didn't love him. Not in that way.

Now, instead of laughing and joking with Gilbert, competing with him for top honours in class, and being swung crazily about the room when he danced with her, Anne was blissfully happy being escorted to all the Redmond functions by the most eligible bachelor on campus. Ever since he came to her rescue in the pavilion on that rainy afternoon last November, the tall, dark and melancholy Royal Gardner had been Anne's constant companion. Not Gilbert Blythe.

Of course she was happy, Anne told herself. Who wouldn't be happy on the arm of Royal Gardner? As Phil said approvingly, he was 'handsome and clever and rich and good.' What more could a girl want? And were not half the Redmond girls wildly envious?

Besides, Anne reflected, Gilbert seemed to be more than happy with Christine Stuart as his companion these days. All of Redmond had been buzzing with the fact that he was 'quite crazy' over the girl, and the couple were constantly in each other's company.

She had first seen Christine with Gilbert at a Redmond reception a few weeks ago. Anne had been thrilling from head to toe as she ascended the steps to the Great Hall, feeling resplendent in a gorgeous cream gown which Phil had painstakingly embroidered with the tiniest, most darling rosebuds. That feeling vanished the moment Anne saw Gilbert standing under the palms talking to Christine Stuart, whose rose-leaf complexion and starry violet eyes were all exactly as Anne had always dreamed of looking herself.

It was apparent Christine was the one Gilbert preferred to dance with now, and judging from her endless smiles, the raven-haired beauty liked it that way, too. Gilbert was so besotted he could barely take his eyes off the girl, and he had never so much as glanced in Anne's direction all evening.

No, Anne would never admit to the other girls how much she missed her childhood friend; why, she practically never thought of him at all. Just because her stomach made flip-flops and she blushed hotly at the mention of his name – well, that just showed how much she missed the way things used to be with Gilbert. It didn't mean she wanted to marry him! Let alone do all this 'more' Stella alluded to.

"It doesn't matter, anyway," Anne said quickly. "It's just some silly story Mrs Sloane is putting about. Now," she concluded, a smile returning to her lips as she changed the subject. "Who wants to hear the astonishing postscript I got from young Davy-boy?"

Thanks so much for reading. Next chapter, we'll catch up with Gilbert, and find out what's happening in his world right now.

In the meantime, please leave me your thoughts about this first chapter. I've already got a fair chunk of this written, so I am hoping to post regularly every week. I hope you will come along and enjoy the ride!

Love from FKAJ x