Content Warning: This story contains references to and descriptions of Domestic Child Abuse. If you are aware of or suffering from Child Abuse, please contact your state CPS, (A list of United States CPS Agencies can be found at childwelfare.gov) or if you are in crisis contact the Crisis Text Line at 741-741
Viscount Caleb Pantona was not looking forward to dinner that evening.
“Her name is Lady Olivia Bano,” his mother had said, helping him into his jacket. He sighed. “I met her last week at the palace. I think you’ll enjoy her.”
“Carmine Bano’s daughter?” Caleb asked. His mother nodded. “Carmine Bano is opportunistic scum” His mother laughed.
“True, but that’s hardly the girl’s fault,” she kissed him on the cheek. “You need to marry, Caleb. I had hopes for you and Anne Brightcoast, but that Phanian friend of yours turned her head and she’s not coming back.” Caleb smiled. Anne would have been a good match, and her falling in love with Lestat Sanpierre was indeed inconvenient.
“So this is every night this winter then?” He asked. She nodded. “Bring on the debutantes, I suppose. Anton’s bound to disappoint a few of them.”
“That’s the spirit,” she smirked.
Caleb stood up as Carmine Bano and his daughter entered. Lady Olivia was wearing a simple white gown and her long red hair was down her back. Caleb thought he might swallow his tongue. She was almost otherworldly beautiful.
“Caleb,” his father said. Caleb cleared his throat and walked over to Lady Olivia.
“My lady,” he said, “I’m glad to finally meet you.” She raised an eyebrow as he kissed her hand.
“Your Grace,” she said, “I hadn’t realized my presence was anticipated.” He smiled. She was clever too.
“A beautiful woman’s presence is always anticipated,” he pointed out. She smirked. He spent dinner doing his best to engage her so she didn’t think he was a blithering idiot but he was reasonably sure he failed.
Olivia smiled to herself the next morning as she drank her tea thinking of Viscount Caleb. She didn’t want him, but of her father’s assortment he was certainly the best. Tall, with auburn hair that curled at the ends and clear blue eyes, he also had a boyish face and an easy laugh.
“Oh Good,” John Dugarry walked in, “you’re alive.” She looked at him and giggled. “Anton and Tom will be thrilled.”
“I didn’t realize they were so concerned about my whereabouts,” she said as he sat down. “My father wanted to introduce me to some of his friends.”
“Ah,” John nodded. “Of course.” She swallowed. “Did he hurt you again?” She looked away and shook her head. “Livvie,” he said softly. “If he does, you should.”
“He wants what’s best for me,” she said. “Are you here to escort me to the palace?”
“You don’t miss anything,” he grinned. Her father walked in. “Ah, hello Lord Bano.”
“Captain Dugarry,” he said, “may I have a moment with my daughter?” John nodded and excused himself. “What does he want?”
“The Prince wants to see me,” she went to stand up, “I shouldn’t keep him waiting,” her father grabbed her wrist and she twitched. “Papa,” she whispered.
“You aren’t some tavern wench he can summon whenever he wants you,” he hissed. “Remember that, remind him of that.” Olivia nodded and he let go. She followed after her. She pulled her sleeve down and walked out with John.
“Your father’s friends,” John said. She looked at him. “So Careton?”
“Obviously,” she said. He nodded.
“Then I’d guess, Wallace, Allred,” he smirked. She sighed and nodded. “But you haven’t been to the palace in four nights so I’m missing someone.”
“Pantona,” she said softly. He laughed.
“Well, Careton’s too old, Wallace doesn’t like women, and Allred is an idiot,” he said, “Caleb Pantona though, that’s a real threat. Anton should be worried.”
“He shouldn’t,” she said. John smirked at her. “He could have come to see me himself.”
“I told him as much,” John shrugged.
“Is he serious?” She asked. “You’d know, he tells you everything.” She looked away, she hated herself for asking.
“I think he’s considering being serious,” John said. “Tom is serious. Deadly serious.” She nodded. They’d all been friends, before. John was still her friend. She wished she could pinpoint when and what exactly had changed. And she wished it didn’t give her a knot in her stomach.
That night Caleb walked into the palace hall and looked around. He’d gone by Bano house first had been informed that Lord Bano and Lady Olivia weren’t there. He hoped they were here but he knew there was no guarantee of that either.
“Caleb?” Anne Brightcoast walked up to him, surprised. “What on earth on you doing here?” She hugged him.
“I got to town a few days ago,” he explained. “I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you.”
“Hm,” she frowned. “I’ll forgive you if you walk me in. I can’t take another night of suitors.” Caleb smile and took her arm.
“You’ll tell Les I was taking care of you,” he said. She shot him a look. “My mother is terribly disappointed, by the way.”
“About Les?” She said. “So kind of her to be so invested in my happiness.” He barked a laugh. “Just your mother then?”
“Well, I agree with her that it would be tidy,” he pointed out, “but I do want you to be happy, and I’m not the man for that particular job.” She sighed as he glanced around the hall.
“You’re looking for someone!” She gasped. He sighed loudly. “Caleb, are you in love?”
“I wouldn’t go that far, I’m just,” he frowned. “We had Carmine Bano and his daughter to dinner last night.” She frowned. “I wanted to say hello.”
“Olivia Bano?” She said. “Well, I know where you’ll find her.” He followed as she pointed to the front of the room. Lady Olivia was sitting beside Prince Anton, who was whispering in her ear and making her giggle. She looked outstandingly lovely, her dark auburn hair piled on her head and an elaborate blue gown rustling with her every move. He swallowed. “Of course as it’s Anton, I’m sure he’ll have moved on in a week or so, he usually does, but then there’s Tom Martin.” His eyes got wide.
“Tom Martin?” He said. Anne nodded. “So you’re saying the first girl I’ve found interesting in, well, ever, is being pursued by the crown prince and Cornan’s chosen champion?”
“Unfortunately,” she sighed. “But by all means say hello. She’ll probably enjoy it. You’re reasonably good looking and charming when you want to be,” She kissed him on the cheek and floated away.
“Anton, stop,” Olivia said softly with a giggle as he kissed behind her ear gently. “Everyone’s looking.” They’d spent the afternoon in his room, she didn’t know what she was going to tell Tom, but it had been fun. She didn’t really expect more than fun from Anton, as much as she loved him.
“Let them,” he grinned, his grey eyes sparkling, “why shouldn’t everyone know I adore you?” She silenced him with a look and he leaned back. “Fine then, but you can’t disappear for a week like that again.”
“I wanted to be here,” she said, “but I can’t,” she exhaled, “my father.” She thought of the bruise forming on her wrist from where he’d grabbed her earlier. Did Anton see it?
“He doesn’t approve?” He teased.
“He has plans,” she said softly, “and I’m not sure he believes you’re serious about me.” Anton smiled. “And as I know you aren’t serious about anyone, well,” she shrugged.
“I could be serious,” he said. She picked up her wine and shook her head and laughed. “Gods, why is Caleb Pantona coming over here?” Olivia swallowed. The Viscount looked even more handsome tonight than he had before. His height and long limbs moved gracefully and his deep bow was mesmerizing.
“Your Highness,” Viscount Caleb said with a smile, but he was making eye contact with Olivia. She blushed.
“Viscount,” Anton said, he sounded annoyed. Olivia couldn’t help but be amused. “You know Lady Olivia Bano, I assume?”
“Of course, My Lady,” he took her hand and kissed it.
“Your Grace,” she said, “The Viscount’s parents had my father and me for dinner yesterday. I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”
“I went to see you this afternoon but I believe you were already out,” The Viscount smiled, “but I was hoping to at least claim a dance.”
“Of course,” Olivia smiled. Anton was scowling. Viscount Caleb bowed again.
“Livvie,” Anton said, “you’re spoken for!” She straightened her shoulders.
“Am I?” She said. He growled something about being as good as. “Oh, you’re being ridiculous, it’s a dance Anton, I’ll dance with you and Tom too.”
“I don’t see what Tom has to do with it at all,” he glared. She rolled her eyes. Boys were impossible.
Olivia had had enough of watching Anton be absorbed by that Phanian girl, and she was angry at Tom for leaving without a thought to how it would effect them. She knew she had to explain something to her father. He’d be furious about Anton so she rushed into the hall.
“Lady Olivia,” Viscount Caleb of Pantona walked out of the library. She looked at him. “I didn’t realize you were still here.”
“I was looking for my father,” she said, “I wanted to say goodnight.”
“He retired about an hour ago,” he said. She exhaled. “If you’d like, I’ll walk you to your rooms.”
“I’d like that very much,” she said softly. It wouldn’t hurt to flirt with him a little. “Why are you still awake?” He laughed.
“I don’t sleep well,” he said, “so court life obviously suits me.” She nodded. “You?”
“I was waiting for Anton,” she said softly, “I lost track of time, obviously he did too.” He nodded. “Are you staying all summer?”
“No,” he said, “I have to get home for harvest at some point.” She cocked her head to the side. “That surprises you?”
“A little,” she said, “most of the men who,” she stopped, “I just assumed you spent most of your time in Dovetail, I mean.” He laughed lightly.
“Finish your thought,” he said, “most of the men your father threw at you.” She blushed and looked down. “I’m not an idiot, Lady Olivia,” he said, “I’m an excellent prospect and you’re hardly the first girl from a Dovetail family I’ve been flung at.” She giggled and looked up at him. “Most of them aren’t as pretty as you though.”
“Well done,” she said as they reached her door. “I’ve never seen anyone pivot quite that well.” He smiled.
“Not even Prince Anton,” he said, “or Commander Martin,” she blushed again. “I happen to be telling the truth,” he said and turned her face up, “but I think you know that. I think you’re quite aware you’re the most beautiful girl in every room you walk into.” She frowned. He’d been so honest and easy earlier, now it felt like he was flattering her and she didn’t like it.
“What do you want from me?” She said. “Besides what every other man does when he sees that girl walking in the room I mean.” He frowned, then.
“I don’t want anything from you,” he said, “why would I?” She bit her bottom lip. “Like I said before, I’m an excellent prospect, I can get that anywhere,” she swallowed, “I want you to see me, Lady Olivia,” he said, “All I care about is if you want me, if you want to be with me.” She swallowed and quickly turned and opened the door and rushed in. Her father was sitting in an arm chair with a glass of something brown in his hand.
“You’re late,” he muttered.
“I was waiting for Prince Anton,” she said softly, “I didn’t want to be rude.” He nodded. “And then I was coming back and ran into Viscount Caleb,” he stood up. “He walked me back.”
“The Duke of Careton went home tonight.” She swallowed. “He’s marrying some tenant’s daughter.” She looked down. “Did he apologize? The Prince. He made a fool of you tonight.” She exhaled, she wanted to say the right thing. He grabbed her chin. “Olivia, answer me.”
“No,” she said, “of course not, and it isn’t,” she exhaled, “he was only being polite, I’m sure.”
“And the Viscount? Are you more certain there?” He said. She looked down and then felt the heavy slap across her face. “Anton made you his whore, and now he’s moved on, so I suggest you fix it.” She nodded. “Go to sleep, I can’t stand the sight of you.” She rushed to her room and cried herself to sleep, not even changing out of her gown.
Caleb had gone to leave when he heard shouting from the other side of the door. Then the slap and whimper. He froze. He ought to break the door down. He’s noticed certain things. The way she flinched when her father went to touch her, bruises here or there. He hadn’t wanted to believe it. But now, well, there was just no denying it.
He went to find her the next morning and found her sitting in a courtyard reading.
“Hello,” she looked up at him with a smile, but her eyes were still rimmed with red. He looked serious. “Is something wrong Your Grace?”
“I don’t know quite where to begin,” he said, “are you alright?” She swallowed.
“My feelings are a little hurt,” she said, she was trying to tease. “Anton does get distracted, but usually not quite so seriously. And with Tom and John leaving,” she swallowed. “We’ll have plenty of time to get to know one another better, I suppose.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” he whispered, and took her hand. “You can trust me.” She swallowed and stood up. “Please, Olivia, trust me.” She looked at him.
“My father lost his temper last night,” she said, “that’s all.” He looked at her. “I just have to get through the next few months, and I thought,” he exhaled. “But if Anton isn’t,” she exhaled. “I’m engaged. My father doesn’t know, he thinks I’m still, that Anton and I,” He nodded.
“But you can’t marry Tom Martin if your father beats you to death,” Caleb said gently. She stared at him. “Does he know?” She shook her head. “The Prince?” She shook it again. “Gods.” He whispered and went to hold her. “Always come to me, I’ll protect you.” She looked up at him.
“You don’t hate me?” She said. “I’d be using you!” He smiled gently.
“You’re welcome to,” he said, “I don’t feel punished by spending time with you.” She looked up at him. “I feel a little selfish, for wanting you to hide with me.” He cupped a hand gently against her face. “But I can help you Olivia, I can keep you safe, let me.”
Olivia paced in her bedroom, Anton and Marie had announced their engagement. She was thrilled for them. Marie had asked her to served as Lady in waiting, she was honored. She’d watched the boy she once hoped to marry grow into a man who deeply loved someone, even if it was someone else.
But now she was away from the crowd and all she could feel was dread. Caleb had been watching her carefully all night, it was the only thing that had made her feel calm.
“OLIVIA!” Her father’s voice bellowed through the house. She swallowed as he opened the door, holding a leather strap.
“Papa, please,” she whispered, “please, I won’t,” but all her begging and pleading didn’t stop it, and the next thing she remembered she was standing on the front step of his house. She hadn’t changed, hadn’t done anything, just run.
“Olivia?” Caleb said opening the door. “Come inside, darling what is it?” She was sobbing. “I’ll take your cloak.” He reached for it and she flinched.
“No,” she said, “I shouldn’t have come here, but I didn’t know,” she paused. “There wasn’t anywhere else.” He carefully touched her face.
“Come along,” he said softly, ushering her to a parlor. “Do you want tea? Something stronger.” He noticed the way the cloak was sticking to her. “Gods,” he whispered, and carefully peeled it off of her and saw her ruined gown and the gashes bleeding on her back. He was furious. He’d murder her father, if he thought it would help. “You need a healer, I’ll send to the university.”
“No,” she said, stopping him from ringing the bell. “I just,” she swallowed, “I need to get cleaned up, but I was,” she looked down. “I thought he was going to kill me, Caleb, I don’t know what to do.”
“You don’t have to do anything,” he said. “You’ll stay here.” She swallowed.
“Anton can’t know,” she said panicking and standing up wringing her hands. “He’ll think it’s his fault and it isn’t. Marie’s wonderful and he loves her,” she paced. “Tom is so far away and he hasn’t written in weeks.” He stood up and took her hands.
“Look at me,” he whispered, “you need a healer, or you’ll get infected. No one has to know if you don’t want them to.” She was still sobbing and gasping. He grabbed the bell and rang it. A girl with dark auburn hair walked in. “Go to The University and ask for a healer to come, a woman if you can manage it. And have a bath drawn and get one of my mother’s robes for Lady Olivia.” The girl nodded and rushed out. She swallowed and pressed her head against his chest. “Everything is going to be fine.”
“How?” She whispered. “He’s going to kill me,” she whispered.
“No,” he said softly, “I promise you, that won’t happen.”
Caleb sat watching the healer work over Olivia’s back, glaring at him occasionally. He didn’t blame her, it certainly looked as though he’d had something to do with this.
“You’ll be fine,” the healer said, “there’ll be scars but nothing anyone but a lover would ever see.” Olivia nodded and sat up. “Viscount.” The Healer slipped out. Olivia looked at him.
“Thank you,” she said softly. He nodded.
“Get some rest,” he whispered. “You won’t have to wear my mother’s things for long, yours will be here in the morning.” She nodded. He walked out of the room and then to the large Bano townhouse and marched in to where Olivia’s father was sitting, far too calmly, staring at the fire. “A moment, sir?”
“This is unexpected,” Carmine Bano looked at him. “Did you bring her back or do you intend to keep her?” Caleb looked at him and grabbed him from the chair and shoved him against the wall.
“She won’t be coming back here,” Caleb said, nearly growling, his hand around this man’s throat. “And if you ever try to get near her again, I’ll kill you, very simply, very cleanly.” He stepped back. “As far as your daughter is concerned, her father died tonight. Get whoever it is you pay to keep their mouths shut about whipping a girl nearly to death to pack Olivia’s things and have them sent to my house. This game is over.” He stood up and stalked out of the house and then back home.
He’d be damned before he let anyone ever hurt her again.
Olivia woke up and twitched. Her back was still tingling, and all she could think of was the awful sting and burn of the leather where her father had struck over and over again.
She closed her eyes. Caleb had taken care of her. He’d gotten her healed and clean and given her a place to cry herself to sleep. But she would have to go home. And she didn’t know what that would look like. Her father, his reaction to this. He’d be furious, except that he could leverage this into an engagement.
“Good morning,” Caleb said softly walking in, holding a cup of tea. “Do you?” She nodded and reached out taking it. “How are you feeling?”
“Better,” she said, “Thank you.” He nodded. “I know I can’t stay here, but I appreciate it.” He looked confused. “Maybe I can go in as Marie’s lady in waiting early. She’s not technically supposed to have one yet, but,”
“Of course you can stay here,” he said. She looked at him. “I told your father as much when I saw him last night.”
“You WHAT?” She said jumping out of bed. His face was flat and serious.
“If you don’t want to, of course, we can make other arrangements,” he said softly, “but you can’t go back there, and I won’t let anyone hurt you.” She stepped closer to him. “Olivia,” he muttered cautiously.
“Caleb,” she said softly.
“Don’t play with me,” he said softly. She swallowed. “Please, I don’t know how else to say it. I’m glad to be your friend if that’s what you need from me,” he said, “but I care for you, more than I realized, and if you don’t and can’t see yourself caring for me the same way,” he exhaled, “we can’t cross that line.” She rested her hands against his chest.
“Caleb,” she smiled gently, he nodded. “Please kiss me. I’ve been thinking about you kissing me for months.” He pulled her close and kissed her gently at first. Their mouths only gently opened. She deepened her hold on him, molding her body against his and then pulled away. “Well, that was lovely,” she said softly. He smiled.
“Yes it was,” he said. They kissed again and fell back against the bed. He moved his hand to her thigh and she whimpered gently. “I’ve wanted this for a long time.” She smiled shyly.
She wasn’t an innocent. There was Tom, and Anton. But Caleb’s touch, and the way he made her feel, and the way he talked made her feel shy, like she’d never even been alone with a man, let alone had a few lovers.
“I want you,” she said softly, running her hands over his chest. He moved his kiss to her neck. He sat up, straddling over her and undressed. She leaned up on her elbows.
“Are you sure?” He asked, lowering her back down under him. “It’s the point of no return, Olivia.” She smiled and cocked her head to the side.
“I’m sure,” she whispered. He slid his hand between her legs and spread her thighs. She exhaled a whimper.
“Mm,” he said as his fingers found her soft spot. “I do like all your little noises.” She panted as he started working her gently, whimpering and writhing a bit. “Tell me what you like, Olivia.”
“This,” she groaned arching into his fingers, “I like this so much.” He moved the material off her shoulder, letting the robe fall off of her completely, then he kissed down to her chest and found her nipple and sucked on it softly. “Caleb,” she exhaled, closing her eyes. “Yes, please,” she groaned. “More.” He pulled away and then straddled her again. “Don’t stop,” she whispered.
“I just want to look at you,” he said brushing her hair off her face. “So beautiful, I can barely believe it.” She smiled as he cupped her cheek. They kissed again he pressed into her, gently, moving in and out. “Olivia,” he whispered. And he repeated it over and over again. He shuddered.
“It’s alright,” she said, “I use whip willow.” He groaned and finished. After they lay together. “I like the way you say my name.” She whispered. “You use the whole O,” he laughed, fingering her palm. “And you don’t call me Livvie, like we’re still children.”
“Olivia,” he whispered and kissed her on top of her head.
“Caleb,” she said softly.
“Come to Pantona with me,” he said, “marry me. Let me keep you safe.” She smiled and touched his face gently, he pressed his lips against her palm.
“I can’t just run away to Pantona,” she said. He sighed and stretched, still smiling but something sad in it.
“Martin?” He asked. She nodded.
“I owe him a conversation, at least,” she said gently, “I do want to marry you.” She stretched.
“How are you feeling?” He asked. She smiled.
“Fine,” she said, “good. Thank you, for being my safe place.”
“I’ll always be here,” he promised. “For you, always.” She pressed her forehead to his. “I love you,” he whispered. She exhaled, feeling safe in that declaration.
“I love you too,” she whispered.