Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 12 of 13

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The life – the world – that Alice returns to through the looking glass is not the same one she’d left. She takes in the toppled furniture, shards of a once-was-water pitcher and matching basin, overturned table and tangled rug. Gasping, she struggles to move faster through the pressure of the mirror. When her ears emerge, the noise makes her flinch.

“Mirana?!” Alice reaches out and, thankfully, her friend is there to lend a hand. Careful not to actually pull Alice – still mindful of her promise to Tarrant from which he’d never released her – the queen holds still and Alice pulls herself back into Underland.

Sometime after her booted feet stumble out of the mirror but before realizing that her arms are covered in goose bumps, Alice identifies the deafening noise.


On the far side of the bed, Alice sees two men – two identical men – struggling on the floor. She recognizes Chessur by the irritated look on his “Hatter” face and rational – if narrowed – green eyes. Tarrant, on the other hand...

“Are his eyes... red?” Alice croaks.

“I’m afraid they are.”

Turning, Alice glances at the queen and gasps. “Are you all right?”

Mirana gives her a brave smile. “Yes, nothing a hair brush and a bit of needle-and-thread won’t fix.” She nods in Tarrant’s direction. “I’m sorry, Alice, he saw me standing next to the mirror and...” She sighs. “He didn’t listen...”

“Of course he didn’t,” Alice growls, tearing off her jacket. The fewer reminders from her old life, the better.

“We’ll stay until you calm him down.”

“Then make yourself comfortable,” Alice invites over Tarrant’s next roar of fury.


Alice strides over to the pair of hatters, one significantly madder than the other. As she draws nearer, Alice notices that there’s no logic, no rational thought whatsoever in Tarrant’s eyes. If he hadn’t already destroyed her water pitcher and soaked the rug, Alice might have emptied it directly on his face, but as there is no water available for throwing...

Alice pulls off her left glove – the only one she’d worn through the mirror – and unbuttons her cuffs for greater ease of movement. Moving closer, she takes in Chessur’s clenched teeth as he keeps his arms and legs locked around Tarrant who writhes and thrashes as if possessed.

How is it I always manage to hurt him so badly?

Alice kneels gingerly on the floor and reaches out her hand to his face. She places her hand against his forehead and temple and... something... flickers in the depths of his eyes, but in the next moment it’s gone. He shudders violently and renews his wild struggles. Alice ducks under his flailing arm and tries again.


No response.

“Don’t make me slap you, Tarrant Hightopp!”

He blinks.

“Look at me, you stubborn milliner!”

Another blink. A bit of a twitch, too. Alice reaches for his left hand and interlaces their fingers, turning their hands so that her heart line is in front of his face.

“Shush,” she murmurs. “Look at me. I’m here...”

For a moment, it seems as if he’d heard her. And then: “ALICE!” His mindless, desperate cry rings out.

With a sigh, Alice gets up, throws the largest and most dangerous pieces of broken crockery onto the rug as well as her weapons and every other sharp object in the room with the exception of one. Gathering up the rug, she tosses it out into the hall. She considers dragging the mirror out as well, but as she’d rather confine the struggle to this room, leaves it. After all, it won’t do for Tarrant go tearing after it and end up fighting her in the narrow corridor, where his strength and longer limbs would give him a definite advantage.

Decided, Alice says, “Mirana, I want you to go.”

“But, Alice, he’s gone completely mad!

“I can see that.” Alice holds her broadsword in her hands and ties the scabbard securely to the hilt so that it can’t possibly be unsheathed.

“What... are you going to do?”

Alice looks up and gives the queen what must be a predatory grin. Mirana looks a bit taken aback. “I’m going to fight as hard as I must... to win. I’ve a promise to keep.”

Mirana’s eyes widen in comprehension. “You might... Or rather, he might... do you serious harm.”

“He might,” she agrees as Tarrant renews his struggles and screams. “And I might do him serious harm. But, one way or another, we’re going to sort this out right now.” Alice Kingsleigh hadn’t turned her back on her family and her home to let Tarrant Hightopp throw their future away to madness now!

Slowly, Mirana nods. “All right,” she agrees. With one last desperate look back into the room, she exits and closes the door behind her.

“May I be excused now?” Chessur drawls.

“Yes, I’ll take it from here.”

And then Alice is alone... with a crimson-eyed, fever-mad hatter.

With Chessur no longer between him and the wall, Tarrant falls back against it and seems dazed by his sudden freedom. Alice takes a chance and approaches him. His irises are still red, but she doesn’t try to hide from him. She waits for her movements to capture his attention, but that dazed look lingers. Laying her sheathed sword on the foot of the bed, Alice kneels down next to him. She slides her left hand into his hair at the back of his skull and asks, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”


Alice sees a flicker of coherence. Despite her reservations, she feels the tiniest spark of hope...

“I haven’t...!” That’s all he manages before he lunges for her.

“Botheration!” she grits out, grabbing his arm and, with a foot braced against the base of the bedpost, twists it behind his back. The hand not held securely between his shoulder blades scrabbles at the floor.


“I’m right here, Tarrant. Right here...” She presses against him, her shins across the backs of his thighs and her pelvis against his buttocks. “Remember? We fought like this before...”

He groans. “Alice...!

Hmm. A bit of an improvement, she thinks, hearing something other than desperation and panic in his voice. She leans down and, daringly, nuzzles through his hair to his ear. “Come back to me, Tarrant...”

His breaths lift her up and down over his back and shoulders. Alice begins to get impatient as the silence stretches. “Don’t make me bite you, Hatter.” Daring once more, she sets her teeth gently against his neck. He groans.

“Break?” she asks.

A heartbeat... and then another thumps in her chest and then – wherever Tarrant finds the leverage, Alice doesn’t know! – she’s tumbling off his back as he’s rising from the floor, looming over her.

Feeling the first spike of alarm since his first blood-curdling cry, Alice reacts. She hooks her feet behind his knees, grabs the legs of the armchair for anchoring, and pulls. He crashes to his hands and knees but she’s already scrambling away and gaining her feet. Before he manages to stand back up, she uses the bedpost to slingshot herself around and shove him back to the floor. He lands hard and she sits down on the small of his back this time. Catching his forearms in hers, she presses them down against the floor and hopes he tires himself out sooner rather than later or this really could become... painful.

“Are you all right?” she asks, struggling for a normal tone.

He doesn’t reply. Tarrant merely rolls his head to the side and shudders.

“I came back,” she tells him, trying a different strategy. “I did go through the looking glass. Do you know why?”


“I went to see my mother. She got the letter the day before yesterday about my ship. I went to see her while she was sleeping... to tell her good-bye. Do you know why I did that?” she asks softly, rubbing her thumbs back and forth over his jacket-covered arms. “I told her good-bye because I’ve chosen you. I’m staying.”

Still, no response.

“Is that what you wanted? That I’d stay in Underland... with you?”

He drags in a breath that’s much deeper than the others he’d been taking.

“Tarrant? Talk to me. What color do you think your eyes are now?”


Her eyes close in relief. Never has she been so happy to hear that whispered lisp. “Tarrant? Break?”

He shakes his head as he trembles with another shiver. “No’yet.”

Alice complies. She stays right where she is and murmurs to him, “It’s all right. I’m not leaving. I’m staying. It’s all right. I’m keeping my promise.”

Perhaps five minutes pass this way and then he takes one more deep breath. “I’m fine now,” he tells her.

Still wary, Alice moves off of him as gently as possible. He doesn’t move, though, so Alice circles around and, crouching down, searches his expression. “Tarrant?”

His gaze flicks briefly in her direction and she lets out a sigh of relief: his eyes are green. Finally. She holds out her hands to him. “Come on. Up you go.”

After a moment, he extends one hand and she urges him to his feet. Gently she pushes him back a step until he sits down at the foot of the bed. Alice pushes the sword out of the way – What a relief that she hadn’t had to use it to defend herself! – and lets out a great sigh. Sliding her arms around him, she prompts, “Tell me what’s wrong. I’m here. I’m fine. You’re fine...”

“No... no!  I’m not fine.” He gulps and stares at his hands where they rest, palms-up on his knees. “Monster,” he croaks on a breath of sound. “You’ve seen... Couldn’t stop myself... I could have... I wanted to...”

“What did you want?”

He closes his eyes. “No, no. I still... still...”

“All right, you still want to. What is it you want?”

His hands reach as if to grab her, but at the last possible moment, he turns them on himself. Grasping his jacket lapels, he twists them mercilessly. In a strangled voice, he confesses, “You. I must keep you, Alice. I will do anything, go anywhere, become anyone, but I must keep you!

Alice presses a hand against his cheek and the brief flash yellow-orange-red fades back to bewildered green. “If you keep me, then... that means I can keep you, too?”

The disbelief she sees in him hurts.  But, really, what had she expected?  She’s never told him that she... that he...   When he absorbs her words, a brief flicker of delight crosses his face. “Aye...” he replies hesitantly.

She smiles and runs her fingers gently through his hair, trying to tame it. She wishes it were this easy to soothe his soul.  She says, “So, I’ll keep you and you’ll keep me... agreed?”

Tarrant returns her smile now and leans his forehead against hers. He breathes deeply for a moment, his eyes closed. When he opens them, they’re the most beautiful, rich, infinite blue she has ever seen.  He murmurs, “If I’m not mistaken, that was iambic pentameter...”

Alice laughs. “It was, wasn’t it?”

And finally, his arms come around her. Alice leans against his shoulder and, still smiling, sighs: everything is fine; everything is finally as it should be.


“Why didn’t you ever release the queen from her promise?”

Tarrant looks up from his tea. It’s Saturday, again, and nearly brillig. The previous three days had been wonderful: better than he could have imagined! (And that’s really saying something!) For one thing, Alice had gone through the looking glass, she had looked at her old life, and she had bid it farewell! Tarrant had never expected – although he’d hoped! – that she would choose him and it makes every day that much sweeter.

Another thing that adds to Tarrant’s joy is undiluted relief: he’d indeed faced his own personal demon and he had not hurt Alice in the process! He’d feared that he might be capable of so many horrid, unforgivable things, but he hadn’t done any of them. Alice hadn’t let him. He’d like to think that he wouldn’t have hurt her, regardless, but he’s more than happy with how things had turned out, in the end.

And the third thing that makes Tarrant extremely happy is the fact that his heart line – he can only guess as to Alice’s – had crested over his shoulder sometime last night and is nearing the center of his chest. Very soon, it will be time to consider the third and final exchange. He tries not to think about it too much. Especially when Alice is asking him questions.

“I beg your pardon, Alice. My mind was galumphing about.”

Alice smiles. “I can picture that quite vividly.”

He giggles.

“I was wondering why you never released the queen from her promise... Not to bring me back into Underland?”

“Oh, well...” Tarrant studies the ends of his cravat for a moment.


He looks up and into Alice’s expectant expression which is much closer than he would have expected normally – she’d moved her chair closer to his today! They’re nearly sitting side by side at the round table! Tarrant tries not to think of the fact that her knee is only a twitch away...

Clearing his throat, Tarrant offers her a proposition, “You have one question you’d like to have answered and I have two. Shall we trade?”

“Two answers for one? That’s not fair,” she protests, just as he’d hoped she would!

“A fair trade? You Uplanders have some odd ideas...”

Alice considers her response carefully. “All right, I’ll give you your answers, but, someday, I might have another question for you and you’ll answer it free of charge.”

“I thought you didn’t excel at business practices, Alice,” he teases her.

“Going once... going twice...”

“Agreed! Now, for my questions!”

“Excuse me?!”

He grins. “You didn’t specify that I couldn’t have your answers first!”

She arches a brow. “Well, you can ask, I suppose. I won’t promise to answer them yet!”

Thrilled, Tarrant quickly calms himself by repositioning his teacup on its saucer and then centering the saucer in front of him. “Ahem. Right. Yes. My first question: Alice...” he begins, suddenly somber. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going back through the looking glass to say good-bye?”

Alice’s smile fades and Tarrant nearly regrets asking the question in the first place. If it weren’t for the fact that he needs to know the answer very badly, he would have withdrawn it.

After a moment, Alice tells him, “Perhaps I wasn’t.”

Tarrant blinks. “I beg your pardon?”

“I wasn’t sure I was going back to say good-bye... I could have told my mother I’d been rescued during the storm... I could have gone back and stayed...”

Now, Tarrant regrets asking that question very much, indeed.

“But,” Alice continues, “when I went through the looking glass, my first thought was that despite the familiarity, it wasn’t anything like Mamoreal and... when I was telling my mother about this place and my friends and... you...”

At this point, Alice blushes so enchantingly that Tarrant retracts his desire to retract the original question.

“I realized I wanted to stay in Underland.”

“With me, Alice?” he dares to clarify.

“Yes, with you.”

Tarrant is beside himself with glee. He struggles to keep his seat – a bit of Futterwhacken might help alleviate his excess energy, but it would be rather rude to interrupt teatime with it! Impulsively, he collects Alice’s hand and brushes a kiss over her knuckles. “I’m glad,” he manages through his smile.

“Yes, I can see that.”

Tarrant grins like the Cheshire Cat.

“And your other question?” Alice wonders, not reclaiming her hand.

Tarrant brushes his thumb over her knuckles. Studying Alice’s smaller hand in his, their fingertips both callused and rough in certain places, their hands both scarred, he admits, “I nearly don’t want to ask this one... but I must.” After all, the response to his first question had turned out rather wonderfully and he’ll be pressing his luck to hope for as much with the second.

Alice waits.

He draws in a deep breath and stutters, “Well, you see, during the first exchange... that is, in my workshop... but you’ve been to my workshop many times... yes, well, on this particular occasion your heart-line finger had been pricked and I was wondering...” Tarrant turns in his seat and clasps her single hand in both of his. Swallowing, he forces himself to ask, “I was wondering Alice, if... did I prick your finger?”

She frowns. “You don’t remember?”

“Not... no, not clearly.”

Alice places her other hand on top of his. “It was a pin in your cuff. It was an accident. Providence.”

And just that easily, the remaining shadows scatter.

Slumping slightly, Tarrant releases the breath he’d been holding. “Oh...”

Alice raises a brow. “And now will you answer my question?”

“Oh, oh, yes. Of course...” Tarrant glances away, frowning. How to make this sound less than horridly, unforgivably slurvish?

“You didn’t want me to come back?” Alice asks suddenly.

Tarrant lifts his gaze, shocked, appalled! How could Alice think...?!

No!” He gentles his voice. “No... I was... trying to say this in a way that might not make you think... too poorly of me...”


He winces. “I did want you to return. Desperately.Oh, what will Alice think when she hears the answer?! Tarrant closes his eyes and just says it: “I wanted you to come back to me. Not to, for, because of, due to, as a result of... anyone else.” The last part is said in a shamed whisper.

When he feels Alice’s hands gently pull from his grasp, he lets them go. A moment later, he startles when Alice gently grasps his wrists and pulls his arms wide and then – once again! – slides into his lap. She wraps his arms around her waist and frames his face between her palms.

Amazed, he can only watch and listen.

“When I was apprenticing with the trading company, I imagined, every day that I’d go somewhere exotic and amazing. And then, when I got there, I looked for you. I looked in each and every face for... something that would remind me of you. I thought of you every day. Sometimes it seemed like every hour. By the time we sailed for England, I had a plan: to go back down that rabbit hole and find you.” Alice searches his face. “I was coming back to you.” Tarrant feels a tentative smile stretch his lips. Alice’s expression softens, “I went through the looking glass, said my good-byes and then I came back to you. You’re not a bad person for wanting that,” she tells him. Then, a mischievous light enters her eyes and she shrugs. “You might be a bit... mad...”

“Bonkers?” he asks, hopefully.

“Off your head,” she confirms. “But you know something?”

Tarrant waits, entranced. Alice doesn’t disappoint him.

Leaning close, she confides, “I still think all the best people are.”

And then she kisses him.


“Are you sure you don’t want a ceremony?” Mirana asks for, perhaps, the tenth time that morning.

Alice shakes her head. “No ceremony, Your Majesty.”

“Oh, botheration,” the queen huffs. But, luckily, she doesn’t seem capable of holding onto a grudge. “I am so happy for the both of you, Alice!”

“Me, too,” Alice admits, perhaps a bit too smugly. In fact, she’s been feeling rather smug all morning: ever since she’d woken up and, upon bathing, had noticed the twining blue lines that had grown up her arm and over her shoulder were now converged to a point over her heart: she is ready for the third exchange.

Alice had gone out of her way to inform Tarrant of this before breakfast, pushing him gently against a wall in an empty corridor and, with a single finger, tracing the lines of red – concealed beneath his jacket, waistcoat, and shirtsleeves – to the point above his heart: the precise location where her own bright blue heart line had stopped.

“Alice...? Yours also...? Is it...?”

“At your convenience,” she’d reminded him. And then, with a teasing smirk: “Mr. Hightopp.”

Alice has been kissed in corridors before, but never quite so... thoroughly. At least none of the latches, keyholes, or doorknobs had complained this time... Which is just as well as she’s not sure either Tarrant or herself would have heard them.

She lets her eyes drift closed as she remembers those breathless kisses, his hands on her waist and then under her vest – so warm against her back! The embrace could have gone on all day (and likely would have!) if not for Tarrant finding some heretofore unrevealed shred of restraint. (Of all the rotten timing!)

“No, not... not... Now is not the time...” He’d breathed against her neck. His teeth had nipped her gently, making her shiver. Alice hadn’t particularly agreed with his assessment of their schedules, but as she’d promised, this would be at his convenience, so she’d kept her mouth shut... somehow.

He’d pulled back, his then-violet eyes sparkling, and had asked with flawless decorum, “Are you free for dinner this evening, Alice?”

Oh, yes, she is absolutely free for dinner. And Fate help anyone who tries to change those plans!

“Ahem? Alice?”

Alice’s eyes pop open. “Oh, what? Sorry?”

Mirana smirks. “You’re going to be utterly useless today, aren’t you?”

“Probably, but at least I’ll be useless with a smile!”

The queen raises a brow. “I sincerely hope your Hatter doesn’t run a needle through his finger...”

Alice wishes she could say (with confidence) that a sewing accident isn’t a distinct probability, but...

Yes, precisely: But...

Alice actually has a rather busy day, alternating between dreamy, distant smiles and sudden, worried frowns. And, then, on top of that, she’s supposed to be thinking about the queen’s travel itinerary!

“Shuchland?” Alice asks, noticing the fact that the writing on the parchment in her hands had been intended for reading. “Are we visiting whom I think we’re visiting?” Alice inquires with a knowing grin.

“Oh, turn that smile off. It’s like having Chessur in the room with us!”

“My apologies, Your Majesty.”

Mirana giggles. “And to answer your question... Is it not only polite to accept an invitation in return for offering one?”

“Of course,” Alice says. “So how’s Dale these days?”

And Alice is highly entertained by the fact that the queen can blush rather well... in certain circumstances. They’d gone over the security details for transporting all of the ridiculous luggage Fenruffle had declared necessary according to his logistics forecast report. They’d also discussed appropriate gifts for their host and his parents. And, upon learning that Dale’s grandfather had, in fact, been a gypsy king from an clan of Outlanders similar to Tarrant’s, Alice considers lions... and Outlanders... and marriage... and children... and finally thinks to ask the most basic of all questions:

“Would Tarrant and I be able to have children, do you think?” she blurts out over the rim of her teacup.

Mirana, in mid-sip, coughs a bit, then sputters a bit more, and – eyes watering – replies, “I think you’ll come to find that there’s a rite for nearly everything in Underland.”

And so there is! Alice thinks, later that afternoon. She skims the passages the queen had recommended – again, blushing – just to be sure that she and Tarrant aren’t going to stumble onto another one of those spur-of-the-moment-rituals-that-is-actually-an-ancient-rite! Well, at least, not until they’re quite ready for that sort of thing!

I suppose I ought to ask Tarrant about his opinion on the matter... She snorts as she imagines that topic smoothly introduced over dinner tonight:

“And so I was reading books on childbearing rites between partners of different origins – Mirana’s recommendation, of course – and I realized I’d never asked you what your thoughts were on starting a family!”

Alice is quite sure Tarrant’s expression would be positively priceless. However, as she’s not all that sure as to which answer she’d rather hear, she’ll just save that bit of small talk for later.

After all, there’s no reason to complicate a perfectly lovely third exchange with thoughts of the future.

On her way up to her room – to get ready for dinner... finally! – Alice almost trips over Mirana. I must make more an effort to watch where I’m going!

“Can I interest you in a gown for this evening?”


“A dress, Alice. I remembered that you’ve only ever had trousers and such tailored. Now, if I’d had a bit more time I might have been able to commission a truly lovely gown for you, but as that’s not possible, apparently...”

Alice laughs. “Don’t be tetchy with me! And besides, my usual vest and trousers will be just fine.”

“Well, yes, but...”


Mirana leans in and, with a wicked grin, speculates, “Unless things become rather... urgent. Your seams might not survive. How long have you both been waiting for this?”

“Ah, good point...”

Sensing victory, the queen ushers Alice over to her bed where Mirana had already laid out several options. “What do you think of these?”

With a slight shake of her head, Alice picks the most comfortable garment and hopes she won’t have to explain to Mirana why a corset and stockings will not be necessary.


This isn’t the first time he’s seen Alice wearing a dress. No, of course not. Why, she’d even worn a dress he’d made just for her. (Although, if he’d had more time and a selection of fabrics and a bit of trimming it might have turned out considerably better...) Despite that, Tarrant can’t help thinking that he’s never really noticed Alice wearing a dress before. Tarrant hadn’t realized he could surpass himself in his skills in noticing Alice. He’d rather thought himself the expert at it. Until now.

“... never mentioned it before?”

Tarrant blinks, gives himself a brief shake, and realizes Alice had just asked him a question.

“I’m sorry, Alice. What was that?”

He sits, with his knife and fork still in hand – still gleaming! – and his untouched plate cooling in front of him. The scent of the dinner he’d ejected Thackery from the kitchen in order to prepare holds no appeal for him. From the moment Alice had arrived this evening, he’d been able to do little else than simply notice her.

And, oh what there is to be noticed!

The gown she’s wearing is a deep blue and it seems vaguely familiar, reminding him of a moonlit masquerade and music drifting on the summer breeze long ago... Alice is even lovelier wrapped up in that blue, but it’s her shoulders – irresistible! – that keep him riveted, for they are completely and utterly bare. Tarrant manages an awkward swallow as Alice reaches for her water glass and takes a sip. Her short hair curls gently at the nape of her neck and he helplessly follows the slope of it down to her collarbone and the tiny hollow at its center. And there, just to the side, he sees the end of her heart line, poised like the trail of a lover’s signature from his quill, over the curve of her breast. The plunging neckline and the insignificant scraps of fabric wrapped around her upper arms in a mockery of sleeves reveals the graceful, unchangeable, unmistakable evidence that she is completely, absolutely, irrevocably his Alice!

As she lowers the crystal stemware, Tarrant notices the shimmering of the silverware in his hands. Trembling, again. Alice’s hand is not very steady, either, he notes as the water sloshes a bit.

“I was saying,” she says, reclaiming her fork in her hand. Tarrant stares – defeated and distracted – at her pale fingers as they wrap around the utensil. “That you never told me you were so skilled in the kitchen. Why didn’t you mention it?”

Tarrant opens his mouth to reply, but – meeting Alice’s gaze – finds he has to clear his throat before any sound will emerge. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” he says, replying only to the question directly rather than the inquiry behind it.

Alice smiles and glances down at her plate, which is noticeably emptier than Tarrant’s. (Oh, he’d hoped she would like it!) He has yet to give a thought to his own meal and with a vision like the one opposite him, he feels no inclination whatsoever to redirect his attention.

Tonight, her skin seems so soft and warm and he knows how her hair smells – he’d sampled its scent as he’d pushed her chair in for her! – and, if he’d had but a moment more, he might have been able to measure the visible curve of her back...

The invitation Alice is wearing teases, tortures, torments...!

The knife and fork quiver again, reflecting the candlelight.

Touch me... the dress seems to whisper.

He clutches his silverware tighter.

As Alice lifts another morsel to her mouth, as Tarrant watches it disappear between her lips, he squeezes his eyes shut briefly and promises himself that he will never as long as he lives invite Alice to a private dinner again!

Yes, this is an unmitigated disaster: he can’t concentrate on anything but that expanse of lovely, marked – his mark! – skin. He can’t speak for the ache that has conquered every part of him. He can’t release his knife and fork, not even to remove the perfectly clean napkin from his lap, for fear a desperate, overwhelming, fevered madness will possess him. And then what would stop him from touching, tasting, taking everything he desires?

There’s a soft clatter as Alice lays her fork down. Unable to resist just one more glance, he opens his eyes.

“I have a proposal,” she offers tentatively.

“Ah...?” At least his nod is coherent, he muses darkly.

“Tonight, let’s bow to the logic of Underland and have dinner... afterward.”

If Tarrant had kept a clock in his parlor, he’s sure the sound of its ticking and tocking would have been exceptionally noticeable. Almost as magnificently noticeable as Alice! He stares, comprehending her words but fearing to understand completely, quite obviously tongue-tied. (He’s sure he’ll be highly embarrassed about it later, but he simply doesn’t have the resources to dwell on it at the moment.)

Alice stands, the fabric of her dress brushing against her chair and the edge of the table cloth. He can only watch as she rounds the table and approaches him. When she’s so close he can feel the heat of her arms across his, when her fingers gently grasp his own knife and fork, intending to lift them from his hands, he panics.

“Alice, I...”

Those delightful fingers pause just an instant away from touching his own. “Have you changed your mind?” she asks calmly.

Calm. Yes, calm is good, he tells himself. Draws a steadying breath, only to have Alice’s scent kick the world upside-down.

“Too much,” he tells her, not even considering the possibility that she might not understand. There are no words that can describe his desire. He’s waited for this moment all his life. Ever since that moment when the White Queen had asked his Fa about the heart line... In that moment, Tarrant had realized what a heart line truly meant. And it had not been until well after the deaths of his family, friends, and fellow hatters – when he’d realized that he’d lost this miracle for all time – that he'd felt his heart shatter from desolation and loneliness.

And here Alice is offering it to him before the conclusion of dinner!

He shouldn’t let her take the silverware from his hands, but he watches as they’re laid down upon the table. He shouldn’t let her remove the napkin from his thigh, but that also is set aside. He shouldn’t let her take his hands and urge him up and toward the bedroom.

Oh, how he shouldn’t!

But moments later, he’s there, standing beside his bed and Alice’s hands are working at his cravat.

“This is your new suit, isn’t it?” she asks. “The one you wore to the banquet after each duel?”

Duel... He shivers at the thought, his mind struggling to form coherent thought. Is this another of Alice’s duels? In a way, he hopes it is. He wants her to... well, not fight him perhaps... but he wants her to seek her own pleasure, her own victory tonight as well. Tarrant would give her anything she desires, if only he could be sure the madness would allow it of him.

His cravat is folded and placed on the side table. His cuff links follow. He feels a spike of mind-blanking panic-lust-want-need-MUST-HAVE! as her fingers unbuckle his belt. He fists his hands and clenches his jaw.

The buttons of his waistcoat surrender to her and then the jacket and vest are laid across a conveniently placed chair. Alice places her hands on his arms and guides him back a step to the bed. He sits, dazed, as she pulls off his boots and socks.

“All right?” she whispers.

His fingers curl into the bedding like desperate claws. Tarrant’s entire body is tense, wound, coiled. He manages a nod with difficulty.

She holds his gaze for a moment, cradling his face in her palms, before she smiles softly and turns. “Would you?” she asks over her shoulder.

Tarrant stares at the line of buttons clinging to the curve of her spine. He’s not sure how long he simply looks at those mocking little closures, but Alice doesn’t pull away as he takes one calming breath after another. Finally, when his hands are hands once again rather than frantic claws, his fingers touch the first button and gently urge it back through the button hole.

With the first undone, he pauses, evaluates himself, and determines he might try another... With each button he hesitates, waits for the madness to take him, but nothing of the sort happens. Finally, when there are no more buttons to undo and the sheer fabric of Alice’s chemise is revealed, Alice takes one step away and the dress slides off. She places it beside his jacket and vest on the chair, steps out of her slippers, and pulls something from this left jacket lapel.

Feeling as if he might break into thousands of tiny pieces at the slightest provocation, Tarrant returns his hands to the bedclothes and clutches them in his grasp.

Taking a seat next to him, lovely in only her underthings – the delicate chemise that is far, far too thin for his peace of mind and a layer of petticoats – Alice turns toward him.

“Are you ready?” she asks.

He notes that she doesn’t ask him if he’s sure. There is nothing he is more sure of! She asks if he’s ready. He closes his eyes briefly and prays that the madness will not make an appearance tonight. Tarrant nods and forces himself to look at her.

For a moment, he stares at the fabric pin in her right hand. When he accepts it, their fingers brush and the touch settles him in an unanticipated way. When Alice offers him her heart-line finger, he holds it steady with his hand, leans down to brush a kiss over her palm and then, meeting her gaze, applies the pin... for the last time.

Her breath hitches as the point breaks the skin, but she doesn’t flinch. Tarrant waits a moment, long enough for the bead of blood to swell, and then guides her fingertip to his mouth. He can’t help closing his eyes to savor the third and final experience with her blood. His tongue slides over her skin once, twice. The arm in his grasp shivers. With pleasure, he hopes. The first of innumerable to come...

Opening his eyes, Tarrant feels heat and urgency run riot within him at her dazed expression, her parted lips. Releasing her hand, he offers the pin to her as well as his left hand. Alice is as silent as he had been: she holds his hand aloft, positions the pin, meets his gaze, and pushes it home.


Aye, he and Alice have that now. Together.

He feels slightly dizzy – giddy! – watching her eyelashes flutter closed, her mouth open and his fingertip disappear within it. The touch of her tongue makes his entire being twitch and the gentle suction she applies makes him tear at the quilt with his free hand.


With aching slowness, she withdraws his heart-line finger, opens her eyes and says, “Yes.”

That’s all he needs to hear.

The next breath he breathes is from Alice’s lips as their mouths come together. His hands delve deeply into her hair, hold her to him. Her hands grasp at his shoulders, seeking perchance against his shirt before grabbing fistfuls of the fabric. Her name is a litany in his mind, his link to sanity.

Her breasts press against his chest and one thigh presses between his and he groans, realizing that he must have laid her down upon the bed. At the thought of the bed, at the feel of her heat, he groans and nuzzles the base of her throat, in that fascinating hollow.

Alice arches against him, her hands moving over his back, in his hair, along his sides. He bites her shoulder when her hips lift and she rubs against his thigh. And then...


Somehow, her hands have found a way beneath his shirt and her palms are pressed against his skin. Growling, gasping, groaning, he pulls her chemise out of the way and traces her heart line with the tip of his nose to her breast.

Ah!” she cries out, gasps, breathes. He rubs his cheek over her nipple and the sound of his name, stuttered so breathlessly, helplessly, inspires even greater passion. Unable to resist, his right hand finds her knee where it’s bent up beside his hip and – no stockings?! – slides greedily up her thigh.

Alice arches, head pressed against the pillow and moans. “Tarrant...

Yes, that is precisely how he’s wanted her to say his name: all need and desire and want and please-give-take-MINE-YOURS!

Leaning back, he watches her expression as he brushes his fingers higher, there between her thighs. She startles but doesn’t pull away. The second pass of his fingers is a bit closer and he groans at the warmth of her there. The heat. And she’s so wet...

Shaking, shuddering, Tarrant curves his body over hers, licks the tip of a peaked nipple, closes his lips around it securely and tugs.

Her cry echoes in the room and her hips push against his hand just as his fingers pass over her center and he whimpers as one slides into her. She pushes against him, finding a hesitant rhythm that inflames him.

“Alice, please...” he begs. It’s too soon! Much, much, much too soon! But he can’t...! “Please, please, please...!” Bracing himself above her with one elbow and his other hand there in that hot, slick, irresistible center of her, he can’t move, can’t think!

When he feels her hands tear at the buttons on his shirt, exposing his chest and then ripping open the fastenings of his trousers, he pulls his hand back then and eases two fingers into her.



Free from the confines of his trousers, he spares the shortest of moments to kick them off and away, and then his hands are at her hips, the petticoats are a froth between their stomachs, her thighs are opening to his body, her hand is grasping him there and guiding him into her and her back bows against the bed and he’s inside and it’s so... so... so... so...!

Alice...” he moans helplessly against her neck. Locked together, their bodies remain utterly still – frozen. And then she moves beneath him, pulling her knees up and he feels her heels against his buttocks and her hips lift and the pressure...!

He can’t bear it!

He gives no thought to the madness now. Perhaps it takes him. Perhaps the pleasure does. Perhaps it’s all one-and-the-same. His body moves against, over, in hers again and again and again and again and again and...!

Her cries caress his ears. His name bursts forth from her, syllable-by-syllable with every thrust. Perhaps he whimpers or growls or moans or screams her name with every pounding heartbeat. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t notice.

Alice is HIS now!

Every thought reduces to that one truth.

And then, he hears her frantic gasp, “It’s... It’s... now!

He clutches her tighter as her body tenses helplessly around his over and over and over and over and over and...

The heat, the rush that explodes from deep in his core, erupts then and he’s left in darkness, struggling for breath, straining to keep his arms braced and his weight from crushing her. A moment that is both incomprehensibly long and far too short occurs in silence. And when his heart stops pounding quite so hard and his breaths do not gasp quite so frantically, he notices something very important...

He’d come, had spent himself spectacularly, but Alice is still moving against him, helpless, desperate noises marking her rhythm. Tarrant knows he’s not hard anymore – and, at his age he’s not likely to be again in the same night! – but the slickness inside Alice – both from her own body and his – allows his softening shaft to slide within her.


One hand curls around the back of his neck, the other flattens over his heart – which he presses closer with his own briefly – and her legs tighten around his waist. Leaning down, still panting, blood still racing, he licks at the corner of her mouth, nuzzles her neck, and, moving lower, tugs her nipple between his lips again.

Alice cries out and presses even closer to him. Releasing her hand against his chest, he once again finds her thigh and pushing her leg open just a bit more, passes his thumb over that place above where their bodies are joined.


With his mouth and hand and the regular rocking of his hips, he concedes to her and she reaches for her own victory. In the end, he realizes, in this bed together, pleasure and victory are indistinguishable from each other. And there is no room for the madness he so fears here!

Suddenly, she stiffens, tenses. Her hips seek his touch once, twice more... and then... Shuddering.  Gasping.  Reaching...!’s over.

Shaking, Tarrant studies her closed eyes, the burgeoning smile on her lips – like no other smile he’s ever seen in her features. Her hands drop away from him as every muscle in her body relaxes. Even her feet drop to the bedding. Tarrant regards his Alice with reverence. He reaches out and smoothes a few wayward strands of hair – she’ll need a haircut again before the next duel, whenever it comes! – away from her eyes, which she opens slowly.

Blinking up at him, she gives him a smile that would have made him come all over again if he’d been capable!

“Mmmm,” she says, and re-wraps her arms around his neck. “Are you all right?”

Is he all –?!

Tarrant leans down and kisses her soundly. “Aye. You? Did I hurt you?”

Beneath him, she stretches luxuriously. “It was lovely...”

He notices that she hadn’t answered his question but, nevertheless, she appears to be quite... satisfied. The leisurely movement of her body pushes him out of her and he reaches for the towel beside the water pitcher and basin on the sideboard. Gently, he cleans up Alice, who merely sighs and rolls over when he lifts the cloth away from her, and then himself. Disposing of the linen, he gathers her into his arms and presses his nose into her hair. On his chest, her fingers trace patterns over his heart.

“It’s revealing,” she whispers and Tarrant looks down to see the emergence of rosy lines, curling and twining in a four-pointed, unending knot.

“We’re bound, now. In heart, by blood.” His fingers trail over her shoulder and down her arm.

She sighs. “So it’s finished, then?”

Tarrant smiles gently. His Champion, always concerned with her duties. “Nae,” he whispers, taking her hand in his and lacing their fingers together. “’Tis only jus’ beginnin’.”

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 12 of 13

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