I'm in Love with a Stripper (a One Direction Fanfiction)

After the tragic loss of her parents, Leila Karim abandons her life in Bradford and sets her sights on London. Working as a stripper at Victory Strip Club under the stage name Bambi, ex-best friend and pop superstar Zayn Malik is the last person Leila expected to be sitting in the audience watching her undress. Will Leila find herself falling for Zayn all over again or will cheeky Harry Styles win her heart instead?

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19. Happy Birthday Louis II

A/N: Hey everyone! I'm so sorry it took forever to get the final two parts of 'Happy Birthday Louis' up for your reading pleasure! Thank you all for your lovely compliments and hope you enjoy the conclusion!

 

Happy Birthday Louis (Part II)

 

Leila’s P.O.V (cont’d):

Strategically maneuvering the town car down the lengthy driveway, Zayn and I escaped Wrotham Manor at last, the ancient house disappearing in the rearview mirror as we zoomed off into the distance, our destination still a mystery. Rolling down the window, I took a deep breath of the cool January air, feeling like it was the first good breath I had taken since arriving at the Manor. Ripping off the white lace bonnet I had been issued to wear, I allowed the wind to whip my tangled black hair around my face, thinking that perhaps this little break from reality wasn’t so bad and that my real life was far more problematic than the one I was leading here; a life that was slow, simple, and not one that involved simultaneously dating two men at once or suddenly being thrust into the limelight.

There was a reason for it all however, a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I stole a glance at Zayn and took in his flawless profile; long dark eyelashes, straight nose, full lips and reminded myself that after three years of suffering I deserved happiness, and that Zayn Malik was what made me happy, that Zayn Malik was always what had made me happy.

Zayn’s warm brown eyes flickered to mine, a crooked grin appearing on his lips. “I found it.” Zayn grinned excitedly, nodding his head past a rickety wood fence and towards the silhouette of a building just out in the distance.

“A barn!” I exclaimed after a moment, my eyes adjusting to the darkness.

“An abandoned barn,” Zayn corrected me, a mischievous grin appearing on his lips.

Driving directly onto the dewy grass, Zayn brought us as close to the barn as was possible, the wooden building becoming clearer and clearer as we approached, at last coming to a stop near the entrance. The barn was painted a traditional red, however over time its once vibrant colour had faded to only a fraction of its previous glory.

Zayn and I emerged from the car, the cool winter air biting at my bare arms. Rubbing them furiously, I found myself gazing upwards at the night sky, clear, black, and littered with thousands of stars only visible this far out into the countryside. From behind me the trunk slammed shut softly, the light weight of Zayn’s black suit jacket appearing on my shoulders.

Turning to face him, Zayn’s stormy brown eyes were already on mine, a playful smile on his lips as he teasingly waved a silver flask back and forth, its contents swishing about inside. “To keep us warm.” He winked, popping off the top and taking a swig, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he drank.

Taking the flask from his lips, Zayn offered it to me, raising his dark eyebrows challengingly.

“I like the way you think.” I told Zayn with a smirk, accepting the flask and knocking it back, its contents searing my throat as it made its way down to my stomach. I pulled the flask away from my lips, wiping them with the back of my hand. “Let’s see what’s inside.” I announced, awash with a new sense of courage as I took Zayn’s hand into mine.

Slipping past the damp wooden doors, Zayn and I were inside of the barn, walking onto the hay-covered floor and marveling at the sheer vastness of the building. In the very center of the partially snow covered floor were numerous bales of hay, the barn’s two furthest walls lined with pitchforks and shovels of various sizes as well as numerous saddles and reins used for horseback riding. The barn’s ceiling was high; numerous areas of the roof missing through which the night sky as well as the stars could be seen.

Heaving Zayn over to the middle of the room, I collapsed onto the hay, pulling Zayn down next to me. Laying my head onto Zayn’s chest, a small smile appeared on my lips as Zayn pulled me closer, wrapping an arm around my waist protectively. Glancing up at Zayn, I saw that his dark eyes were trained on the stars, gloriously visible through the boarded up ceiling.

“I always think about that night at Lower Fields when I see the stars like this.” Zayn said quietly, taking another long swig from the flask.

“The night you broke my heart?” I told Zayn jokingly, taking the flask from him and knocking back a small sip.

Zayn stared at me incredulously. “It’s not funny, Leila.” He murmured; hurt flickering across his stormy eyes.

“Oh Zayn, I’m sorry!” I told him apologetically, sighing into his chest. “That was stupid of me.” I told him with a whisper, thinking that at the time, that night had been anything but funny.

Gently taking the flask from me, Zayn knocked another swig back. “I just think of everything we could’ve avoided if I hadn’t been such an idiot then.” He turned to me after a moment, the scent of alcohol fresh on his breath.

“We were sixteen, Zayn.” I whispered with a small smile, lifting my fingers to Zayn’s lips, still moist with drink. “We didn’t completely understand what we were feeling.” I explained vehemently, desperately not wanting Zayn to feel guilty for a minute longer. That I had already made him feel guilty enough to fill a lifetime and that it had to stop for us to ever truly find happiness, for us to ever truly find peace.

Zayn shook his head, shutting his stormy eyes closed. “It took me three years,” He began, his thick dark lashes fluttering as his eyes reopened. “Three years of attempting to fill the massive hole you left in my life, took me seeing you in Victory to realize that I knew exactly what I had been feeling that night at Lower Fields and every night before then.” Zayn spoke quietly, averting his eyes as he twiddled a piece of hay between his fingers. “I was just too much of a coward to do anything about it.” He revealed, his warn brown eyes finding mine at last.

Sitting up and leaning my back against a scratchy block of hay, I stared directly into Zayn’s eyes, allowing my fingers to trail along his soft cheek. “Even though I never would have admitted it then,” I began passionately. “There was always a part of me that knew you would come back, that it was just a matter of time until you’d be in my life again.” I declared softly. “We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be, Zayn.” I whispered.

Staring at me for a moment, Zayn’s familiar crooked grin at last found his lips, the moonlight illuminating his dark brown eyes. “I still think you can see the stars better in Bradford.” He told me playfully, leaning in and pressing his lips to my hair.

“I couldn’t agree more.” I told him, once again pressing my ear against Zayn’s chest and silently counting each soft beat of his heart.

 

Zayn’s P.O.V:

I opened my eyes to the dawn; the beginnings of daylight pouring into the barn as the dark sky gradually began to lighten. Leila stirred in her sleep, folding herself into me in an attempt to stay warm, her arm draped delicately across my waist. Leila looked so peaceful as she slept, her pink lips parted in slumber and her black hair pushed back from her face, her tanned skin as smooth and blemish free as porcelain.

Even in this bitter cold, just looking at Leila brought me back to the summers in Bradford, to the warmth of the July funfair. I had been so sure that the Bradford life hadn’t been for me, that Leila hadn’t been for me, that a life of fame was everything I wanted and more. It had been thrilling at first of course, having more money than I knew what to do with and the freedom to spend it how I wanted, the ability to pursue music in a scale grander than I ever could have imagined possible. And while Liam, Niall, Louis, and Harry had so seamlessly meshed into our new lives, there was me, continually telling myself that I loved my life, telling myself that auditioning for the X-Factor was the best decision I had ever made so much that I began to believe it. That is, until the stage lights of Victory strip club had flickered on, a barely recognizable Leila lying daintily across a sofa. And as Leila removed the mask she wore from her face, she unknowingly had removed mine too.

Sighing, I looked down at Leila once more, wondering if there would ever be a day where we didn’t have to hide, where we could be as free as we were when we were little, where we wouldn’t have to wear the masks we wore for a minute longer. “Leila.” I whispered, nudging her gently. If we waited any longer, we would run the risk of being seen together.

Leila let out a soft groan, her brown eyes fluttering open to meet with mine. She stared at me for a moment, taking my hand and pressing it to her cheek. “Already?” She asked with a pained whisper, dreading the idea of having to return to the manor as much as I did.

Observing Leila for a moment, I sighed deeply, my breath visible in the cool morning air. “Already.” I whispered in reply, brushing a lock of Leila’s coal black hair behind her ear and wondering when, if ever, the world would stop being in such a rush to keep us apart.

*

Leila and I walked in silence to the back entrance of the kitchens. Stealing a glance at Leila, I saw that her eyes were trained on the gravel, her pink lips pursed in thought. She didn’t have to speak to tell me what was going through her head, because the exact same thing had been racing through mine since leaving the barn; a mixture of guilt, disappointment, but mainly frustration.

Reaching for the screen door, I allowed Leila to breeze past me and in to the kitchens, following behind her after a moment. Peering at the clock on the far corner of the wall I saw that it was coming to five in the morning. Everyone would still be asleep but not for much longer. Glancing back at Leila, I saw that she had returned the silk white bonnet to her black hair, securing it in place with a double knot. Looking to the ground she averted her eyes once more, her lower lip beginning to tremble.

“Leila,” I began, taking a step forward, wanting so badly to pause the clock that continued to tick away in the background, wanting to turn its hands back to three years ago.

“Sometimes I wish they’d just catch us,” Leila sniffed, pressing her fingers to the corners of her eyes in an attempt to hold back her tears. “That it would just be done with already.” She whispered, her voice wavering.

I know.” I said, closing the distance between us so that we were only inches apart. Tipping Leila’s chin upwards, she finally allowed herself to look at me, her brown eyes still brimming with tears. Resting my forehead against Leila’s, I leaned in after a moment, pressing my lips softly against hers. Rigid for a moment, Leila relaxed, molding into me, her chest pressing up against mine in desperation. Circling my arms around her waist, Leila’s travelled up my back and crept into my hair, a soft moan escaping from her lips. Humming with electricity, I allowed my tongue to slip into her mouth, intoxicated by the kiss which felt so much like our last. Grazing my fingers along Leila’s thighs, I allowed my hands to glide over her smooth skin and up her skirt, Leila gasping into my neck as I squeezed her backside. Our hearts were beating away like mad, the both of us slipping further and further away from reality and from control, that is until the distinct shattering of glass reached our ears. Jumping apart instantaneously, Leila and I were met with the sight of Danielle Peazer looking upon us in horror.

 

Leila’s P.O.V:

Shattered glass littered the kitchen floor, the spilt milk slowly creeping its way across the frigid tile and beneath Danielle’s bare feet. I was shaking violently, gaping at Danielle who stood unmoving, my mouth opening and closing in an attempt to speak, but failing to do so each time. Danielle’s stunned gaze flickered rapidly from me to Zayn and then back to me again, a mixture of disappointment and revulsion mirrored behind her eyes.

What the fuck is this Leila?” Danielle whispered in distraught, her chest heaving up and down as she motioned to Zayn and I. Danielle was clad in a thin pink cotton robe which she had wrapped tightly around her slim frame, her mop of curly brown hair tamed into a messy side-plait. Danielle’s tanned skin was smooth and without make-up, suggesting that she had just woken up or was having trouble sleeping.

A high-pitched ringing sounded in my ears, the room beginning to sway violently as the reality of it all sunk in. “It’s not what it looks like, Dani, please.” I managed to croak out in terror, finding my voice at last. It was over, it was done. Zayn, Bradford, everything.

Danielle’s brown eyes were blazing. “Then what is it, Leila?!” She snapped accusingly, wildly throwing her arms into the air. “Because what I saw was you snogging your boyfriend’s best friend!” She spat, her voice raising an octave. Shaking her head profusely, Danielle turned on her heel in an attempt to retreat from the kitchen. In desperation I grabbed onto her wrist, pulling her back in, knowing that I had no other choice but to tell her everything, to tell her the truth that Zayn and I had fought for so long to keep hidden, the truth that I was beginning to think no one would ever come to know. Astonished, Danielle looked down at my hand wrapped around her wrist; her gaze travelling back up to mine.

“It’s him, Dani!” I exclaimed hysterically, no longer able to maintain control. “The boy from my past, the one I told you about! It was Zayn!” I sobbed, reluctantly letting go of Danielle’s wrist and praying that she would recall the conversation I had had with her and Eleanor months ago, revealing to them that before Harry there had been someone else, a boy who I had loved deeply but had not loved me back.

Danielle’s eyes were on mine; her full pink lips parted in bewilderment. “What?” She breathed, so quietly that I almost did not hear her.

Leila.” Zayn cautioned softly, taking a step forward, his brown eyes frantic.

Pausing to observe Zayn for a moment, I took in his face; smooth tanned skin, lips so familiar that I knew them to be my own and two deep pools of ochre around which my entire existence had revolved since I was sixteen. I realized fleetingly that I could hide my love for Zayn for no longer, that in this very moment I would scream his name across rooftops if I could, and so I continued.

“We went to school together and like an idiot I told him I loved him and then he left!” My voice erupted from behind my lips. “And then my parents died.” I stammered, my voice shaking violently. “And I hated Zayn; I hated him so much for leaving me!” I implored, Danielle’s wide eyes surveying me in stunned silence.

“You had every right to, Leila!” Zayn interjected loudly.

I was breathing heavily, my heart thudding against the walls of my chest. “And there he was sitting in the audience three years later,” I said quietly, my eyes still on Danielle’s. “But even though so much time had passed I knew I loved him still!” I proclaimed, my chest heaving.

“You’ve known each other this whole time.” She assessed breathily, her eyes widening when neither Zayn or I told her that she was wrong, that she was mistaken, that we hadn’t been lying to her and the others this entire time. “I knew something was going on,” She continued, her eyes narrowed in thought. “The way you two looked at each other…” She trailed off, lowering her eyes to the tile floor. “I thought I was going mad,” Danielle swallowed, lifting her eyes to mine. “But I suppose I wasn’t, was I?”   

I took a shallow breath and began to shake my head. “You weren’t.” I told her, fleetingly recalling Danielle looking at me oddly in the limousine on the way to Buckingham Palace. If Danielle had managed to catch on to Zayn and I, it left me wondering if others had too. Had Eleanor noticed, had Liam? Or even Harry?

“But Harry…” Danielle managed to say after a moment, drawing me from my thoughts. “What about Harry, Leila?” She asked me with reproach, taking a step backwards and pressing her back against the peeling floral wallpaper.

“I tried with Harry, I tried so unbelievably hard –but I was already too far gone.” I told her in a pained whisper. “From the minute I met Zayn fourteen years ago I was gone.” I concluded with a whisper, hoping I wouldn’t have to explain myself further. No matter how hard I had tried to force my love for Harry, it just wouldn’t stick. Regardless of all logic pointing to us being happy together, like two magnets of the same force Harry and I kept repelling. No matter how hard I had tried to push us together, no matter how hard I had clung to him I was pulled towards Zayn. At first it had been reluctantly, at first I had hated myself for it. But with one breath of the clean air in Bradford, with Zayn’s silken voice reading Wuthering Heights to me, with his warm gaze beholding me in the Moors as he handed me the locket he had won three years before I was no longer being pulled to Zayn but running to him instead.

Oh Leila…” Danielle trailed off sadly, shaking her head to herself. “Do you at least plan on telling him?” Danielle inquired.  

Hesitant, I bit my lip, shifting my gaze to Zayn’s, his smoldering brown eyes drilling into mine until finally he nodded his head once, wordlessly encouraging me to continue.

I turned back to Danielle promptly, wondering if our friendship was over, and that if it wasn’t yet, it assuredly would be after what I was to tell her. “I was going to,” I said in a small voice, fingering the hem of my apron so that I didn’t have to look her in the eye as I spoke. “When I got back to London I went to see him, ready to tell him about Zayn.” I continued in spite of my dry throat. “But then he told me he was sick, that he had been depressed since during the tour and that it was serious.” I squeaked, recalling the medications lining Harry’s medicine cabinet, the leaflets for treatment centers splayed across his coffee table.

Danielle’s eyes widened. “Harry’s depressed?” She exclaimed in disbelief, leaning heavily onto the wooden pantry to her left for support, Danielle’s wild curls coming loose from her braid. “How can that be? He’s exactly the same as he always is!”

I nodded grimly, not shocked that Danielle had found it hard to believe. “He hides it well.” I explained softly, wondering how often Harry had put on a happy face for the cameras, for his mates, for me. “And that’s why we couldn’t tell him.” I concluded, stealing a glance at Zayn who had leaned himself up against the counter, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets and his dark eyes cast towards the ground.

A deep sigh emerged from Danielle’s lips. “What a mess…” She trailed off, shaking her head. “A bit tragic too.” She added quietly, perhaps referring to my and Zayn’s predicament of which the word ‘tragic’ would describe it well.

“I’m an idiot.” Zayn spoke up definitively, no longer leaning against the counter but instead standing at his full height. “You can say it, Danielle. It’s nothing I haven’t already told myself a thousand times.” He added bitterly, running his hands through his disheveled black hair.    

Danielle let out a petulant sigh, heavily rolling her eyes. “I won’t say that, Zayn.” She told him sternly, her tanned face losing all of its harshness as she directed her attention back to me. “And,” She began hesitantly, closing her dark eyes as an internal struggle encompassed her. “I won’t tell Harry.” She offered, her eyes opening to meet with mine once again. “As long as you do when the time is right.”

The composure I had been fighting to maintain for the past few minutes at last dissolved, a desperate sigh escaping my lips. Without thinking I threw my arms around Danielle, burying my face into her shoulder. “Thank-you, Dani.” I managed to sputter out after a few moments, thankful that I had not lost her like I was bound to lose the others.

Be careful, Leila.” Danielle whispered into my ear desperately, pulling back from our hug to examine me, her beautiful face wrought with worry. “Not everyone’s going to react to this like I just did, not everyone is going to understand –Harry, Louis, and especially the tabloids.” Danielle warned me, social media already having been the downfall to her three-year relationship with Liam once before. My skin had grown thick enough to deal with the insults, racial slurs, and even the death threats at times. A cheating scandal however, I was certainly not prepared for, especially one that threatened to be the end of One Direction.

I nodded grimly, Danielle giving my hand an encouraging squeeze. “I think I’ll head back to my room before the others wake,” She said, quickly glancing over her shoulder. “You two should probably do the same.” She added, cocking an eyebrow upwards, letting out a repulsed noise as she stepped over the broken glass and spilt milk from earlier.

“I’ll take care of it, Dani,” I told her as I shrugged out of Zayn’s suit jacket. “It’s my job after all.” I grinned playfully.

Offering me a grateful smile, Danielle poked her head out the doorway in order to check that the hallway was still deserted, only to turn around once more to smile at Zayn and I. “It’s really quite romantic, what you two have had going on. Could even be made into a movie, you know!” She let out a soft snort of laughter, and with a departing wave Danielle crept out of the kitchen at last.

Once Danielle had gone, I carefully made my way over to Zayn, his unwavering dark gaze on mine and his expression unreadable. “Hopefully our movie has a happy ending though.” He whispered, his brown eyes drilling into mine.

Hopefully.” I agreed with a whisper, never having known the luxury of a happy ending but hoping that perhaps one day I would.

*

After promising to meet later that night, Zayn and I parted ways, Zayn returning to the small cottage just external to the grounds that he shared with Collin in order to be readily available for Louis, Eleanor, or Liam’s use. Taking a right into the servant’s quarters, I silently crept down the sometimes creaky hallway, determined not to wake anyone from their slumber, Ms. Croft in particular. Tiptoeing past McCrae’s room, I had just about reached my bedroom door when an alert and perfectly coiffed Charlie popped his blonde head out into the hallway, a devilish grin plastered on his face.

Blast.” I muttered to myself in defeat, slowly turning my head to acknowledge McCrae, an awkward smile on my lips. “Good morning Charles.” I offered sweetly, hoping that if I was kind to him he would refrain from mentioning anything to Ms. Croft.

“My, my, getting in a bit late aren’t we?” McCrae drawled, widening his bedroom door and by doing so, revealing an eyeful of his toned and shirtless chest and a pair of tight white briefs clinging to his nether regions. “Like what you see, Karim?” He mused, noticing my prolonged gaze as he leaned against the doorframe.

Shaking my head furiously, I glued my eyes to McCrae’s face and only his face. “I got a bit tied up.” I explained through clenched teeth, not sure what excuse I could provide that wouldn’t sound like a complete and utter lie. “Did Croft say happen to say anything?” I inquired as innocently as I possibly could.

An amused smile appeared on Charlie’s lips. “She did actually,” McCrae began emphatically, his smile growing wider at the panicked expression that appeared on my face. “But I covered for you.” He revealed with a yawn. “Told her your monthly demon had struck you down worse than usual.”

McCrae would use the most mortifying excuse he could think of, I thought with a relieved sigh, but at least it had seemed to work. “Thank-you, Charlie.” I offered emphatically, for one being sincere. “I owe you one.”

“And I shan’t forget it.” McCrae teased, flicking his blonde hair out of his eyes. “You missed out on a fun night, you know.” He continued playfully, his warm brown gaze travelling up and down my frame.

Shifting uncomfortably, I let out a nervous laugh. “I highly doubt that, McCrae!” I exclaimed sarcastically, wondering when I would finally be able to make a break for my bedroom door and be rid of him altogether.

A seductive grin appeared on Charlie’s face. “Really, you did.” He implored with a raise of his eyebrows, stepping aside so that I had a clear view into his bedroom, my eyes popping out of my head at the sight of Victoria and Virginia sprawled across his bed, their naked bodies just barely obscured by a white sheet. “But I really must be getting back now.” He told me, and with an ear to ear grin, Charlie breezed back into his bedroom, slamming the door in my face.

Both stunned and revolted at the same time, I stood there dumbly for a moment, finally managing to stumble over to my way to my bedroom door. Slipping inside, I quietly shut the door closed behind me, relieved that I had not been caught in the process since once was quite enough for the night. Making my way over to the rickety white wardrobe on the far side of my room, my mind was clouded with the fact that Danielle now knew about Zayn and I. I was grateful of course, thankful that she had listened, understood, but could not help but recall her warning, not just about how Harry would react but how the world would react. The media had not yet sympathized with me, glorifying me in the tabloids as nothing but a gold-digger and a slut which I supposed came with the territory of being a stripper. What were the chances however; that the media would sympathize with me when they got wind that I was involved with not just Harry Styles, but also Zayn Malik?

Letting out a soft groan, I reached into my wardrobe for a fresh uniform when I recalled that tucked away in my apron was the letter I had stolen off Louis during dinner, still unread. Pulling it out I examined the front of the envelope once again and saw that it was addressed to: Louis William Lunkenheimer, Wrotham Manor, Hertfordshire and sent from: Barclay, Bevan, and Bening Bank and Holdings, Lombard Street, Central London. Ripping open the envelope, I pulled the letter out roughly and unfolded the thick parchment.

The letter read:

 

Dearest Mr. Lunkenheimer,

After having received no response to our previous warnings, it is with great regret to inform you that due to your failure to repay the various loans you and your company Lunkenheimer Oil and Co. have taken out over the past two years, Barclay, Bevan, and Bening Bank and Holdings will be foreclosing on your estate and liquidating all of your assets. Eviction will take place on January the 30th, 1912. Please have your affairs in order before this date.

 

Thank-you for your attention to this matter,

 

John Bigsby, Branch Manager

Barclay, Bevan, and Bening Bank and Holdings

 

Apparently the rumours that Charlotte had heard about town were indeed true; the Lunkenheimer fortune was dwindling, but worse than anyone had imagined. Replacing the letter back in its envelope, I hid it at the very bottom of my underwear drawer, making sure that it was completely out of sight. Returning to my wardrobe, I changed into a clean maid’s uniform, wondering what other revelations the day would hold.

*

Shortly after serving breakfast to Louis and the others as well as indulging in our own, we were set about our chores, Ms. Croft leading me to Louis’ study where I would be tending to a minor rat infestation that had been plaguing the room for at least a week. Halting in front of a set of wide oak doors, Ms. Croft went to detach a large bronze key from her belt where all the other household keys hung, perpetually clanging about on her hip.

“Now it’s a very simple process,” Ms. Croft began, handing me a small burlap sack filled with supplies. “Spread the blocks of cheese that Filip cut up for you throughout the room, sprinkle a drop of rat poison on each and by tea time tomorrow the little beasts will be dead and bother us no more.” She concluded, her thin lips turning upwards into a rare smile.

“Right, Ms. Croft.” I nodded my head, returning her smile. “Once I’m through here shall I continue with the laundry then?” I inquired automatically, oddly having grown used to my duties.

Ms. Croft nodded vigorously, glancing down at her pocket watch. “Yes I think so. I doubt that Victoria and Virginia have managed to accomplish much since you left them.” She agreed with a roll of her eyes, inserting the heavy bronze key into the lock and swiftly turning it to the right. Retracting it from the lock, she placed it into my outstretched hand. “Do not lose this and return it to me as soon as you’ve finished.” She emphasized with wide eyes, turning on her heel and violently click-clacking down the hallway to deal with the copious household disasters that had likely taken place in her wake.

 

Gently pushing open the doors of Louis’ study, it was as if I had entered a dream. Shutting the heavy doors behind me, my gaze first took in the walls which were completely shrouded with books. The shelves upon shelves of books went up towards the ceiling through which sunlight poured in past a glass dome, a rolling ladder visibly resting on the furthest bookcase. Approaching the wall of books nearest to me, I dropped my bag of supplies, my eyes flitting over the leather-bound titles: Chaucer, Poe, Milton and thousands more, I was decidedly in my very own heaven. If I set to work right then, it was likely that I would have the time to lie back on the forest green chaise longue and sneak in a few stanzas of ‘The Raven’ before returning to my chores. And so I retrieved my supplies from the floor, reaching into the bag to retrieve the blocks cheese. As I placed the small blocks of cheddar throughout Louis’ study, I was able to take in the rest of it. Louis’ firm oak work desk was placed just across from the entrance, various papers strewn about and a scotch filled crystal decanter sitting directly in front of Louis’ plush swivel chair. Sitting on the rug just beside Louis’ desk was what looked to be a very fortified metal safe, a circular dial protruding from the front of it.

Once I had finished with the cheese, I reached into the bag once again, this time retrieving the small bottle of ‘Mort aux Rats’, so lethal that Ms. Croft had warned me twice not to get it on my hands. Unscrewing the dropper, I carefully placed a bit of rat poison on each piece of cheese. Finished at last, I began to replace all of my supplies to the little bag when my ears were met a series of voices outside the study. Quickly looking towards the doors, I could see the brass handles turning. Panicked, I took a step backwards, the bottom of my shoe catching on the rug. Falling into the bookcase behind me, it suddenly gave way, leaving me falling into the darkness and watching helplessly as the bookcase spun closed; the light departing as well just as the study doors flew open.

As I scrambled about in the darkness attempting to gather my bearings, a series of voices could be heard from beyond the bookcase. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see that built into the false shelf was a horizontal slit, a fine beam of light shining in from the study. Rising to my feet, I stood on the very tips of my toes, just able to make out Louis and Liam in the midst of an argument.

“We simply do not have the money to invest in Styles’ film!” Liam insisted, looming over a bored looking Louis who was seated comfortably at his desk.

“Don’t be so melodramatic.” Louis drawled, bending over in his swivel chair to turn the dial of his safe; once to the right, once to the left, right, and left again. “There’s a reason father left me in charge.” Louis countered, the safe popping open.

“He left you in charge to run the company!” Liam went on, his usually warm brown eyes blazing. “Not run it into the ground!”

Slipping a large brown envelope into the safe, Louis slammed the heavy door shut, the lock clicking back into place. “You needn’t worry Liam; I’ve got everything under control.” Louis told him calmly, his eyes dancing “How about we take the hounds out for a while? Perhaps we can hunt for tonight’s supper.” Louis offered with a charming smile, seamlessly changing the subject as he hopped to his feet, dusting off his black suit jacket.

“That does sound like good fun.” Liam chirped in reply, his warm countenance returning.

“It’s settled then!” Louis grinned, giving Liam a hearty thump on the back. “Come, let us find Croft and tell her to have the horses ready for us.” Louis smiled deviously, sauntering out the doors.

Liam followed, briefly noting with furrowed eyebrows: “You do realize there are little pieces of cheese everywhere?” Before slamming the doors of the study shut.

Letting out the breath I had been holding in, I pushed against the back of the bookshelf, thinking that it would easily give way as it had before. The shelf however, regardless of my attempts to shift it stood firmly in place. I was trapped. Fear dawned upon me, my heart slamming against my ribcage at the realization. Attempting to control my rapid breathing, I flailed my arms about, hoping to estimate how large of an area I had to move about when my fingers grazed what felt to be a hanging light switch. Giving the cord a tug, the small room in which I had landed was illuminated.

The room appeared to be a miniature office, a tiny desk and swivel chair located just a meter from where I was standing. The forest green walls were lined with hunting rifles of various sizes, a mounted head of a polar bear hanging precariously on the opposite wall. Always having found the concept of taxidermy quite unsettling, I averted my eyes, making my way over to the small desk instead. The flimsy wooden desk was covered in various papers, empty ink bottles, and a fallen picture frame. Picking up the nearest piece of parchment, I saw that it was addressed to a woman named Helen.

The short letter began:

My dearest Helen,

I am sorry that I failed you.

Eternally yours,

Robert

At last I realized where exactly I was. Robert was Louis and Liam’s father and this was his private office. Robert Lunkenheimer had been the Lord of the estate up until the year before when Louis had inherited everything. Lucy had brought up how she missed the kind and generous Lord Robert and how Louis had been so much better behaved when he had been around. I let out a laborious sigh, astounded that I had managed to stumble upon this hideout of Lord Robert’s that up until my presence had remained a secret, even after his death. Continuing to peruse through the other papers littering Robert’s desk, I saw that most were incomplete letters and notes to this Helen, whoever she was.

No closer to finding out exactly what had transpired between Robert and Helen, absentmindedly, I picked up the fallen picture frame, placing it upright. Expecting a photograph of Louis, Liam, or even Robert’s wife, I was instead met with the sight of a worn black and white image of a young woman, her arm wrapped protectively around a small boy and her lips planting a soft kiss on his cheek. The woman’s hair was obscured by a scarf, her face turned towards what was undoubtedly her son, and I knew exactly who I was looking at then.

Helen.” I breathed.

 

Harry’s P.O.V:

Awkwardly adjusting my skintight hunting pants over my crotch, I descended the grand staircase hoping that Louis and Liam had not left without me. Louis, truly taking this whole murder mystery thing to heart had arranged for us to go hunting, having horses at the ready for us as well as bloodhounds and rifles. The idea of killing any animal, even a quail had my stomach in knots; however it was the idea of Louis wielding a firearm that seemed to alarm me the most.

Descending the stairs, I began to turn the corner into the drawing room, freezing in place when I was met with the sight of Zayn heatedly conversing with Louis. By the way that Zayn was dressed; it appeared he had been playing the part of a chauffeur. Although it satisfied me to no end that I was portraying one of the rich while Zayn was not, chances were that Zayn and Leila were able to spend plenty of quality time together in the servants quarters, and this I simply had to put a stop to. Remaining out of sight, I silently watched their exchange.

You don’t understand,” Zayn implored desperately, his chauffeur’s hat clutched in his hand. “My mother is very ill, I need this loan.”

Bored, Louis nodded his head along, barely listening to Zayn, even going as far as to pick a bit of fluff from his red riding coat. “I’m terribly sorry about your mother, Zayn.” Louis drawled, slipping his hands into his brown leather gloves. “But I simply cannot loan you the money knowing that you will default on it.”

Zayn gritted his teeth, his dark eyes blazing. “I assure you, I’m good for it!” He exclaimed, taking a step towards Louis.

Taking this as my cue, I stepped out from behind my hiding place, casually sauntering into the elegant drawing room, Louis’ head shooting towards me as I entered.

“Ah, Harry!” Louis exclaimed jovially, his eyes lighting up. “I take it everything fit well enough?” He winked.

With this Zayn slowly turned to look at me as well, his jaw tensed and his dark eyes shooting unmistakable daggers in my direction.

“Well enough,” I grinned mischievously, ignoring the urge to adjust once again. “Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be joining you after all.” I offered, my lips twitching upwards. “I’m not feeling entirely well.”

A concerned grimace appeared on Louis’ face. “It must’ve been the stew from last night…I’ll have to have a word with Filip…” He mumbled more to himself then to Zayn or me. “You must go rest! We have a long night ahead of us!” He insisted suddenly, placing his hand on my shoulder. “Is there anything at all I can have sent up for you?”

“Now that you mention it,” I began slowly, finally sparing a glance at Zayn whose gaze had not shifted from me. “Perhaps you can have a maid bring me a cup of hot milk?” I concluded nonchalantly, returning my gaze to Louis.

“Of course, right away my good man!” Louis told me, reaching for a string, used to summon the help from below.

Returning my gaze to Zayn’s, I allowed my lips to form a cruel little smile. “And could you send it up with, Leila is it? The small one with black hair?” I added quickly. “I’m ever so fond of her.” I explained, my gaze remaining on Zayn while Louis simply nodded vigorously in response.

Zayn physically began to shake, his calm demeanor fading with each passing second. Darting his dark eyes to the carpet, he slammed his hat back onto his head and stormed out of the room and out the front door, slamming it roughly behind him. Grinning, I planned to make the best of my time with Leila, knowing that the entire time we were together it would be driving Zayn mad.

“I really must find a new chauffeur.” Louis rolled his eyes, interrupting my thoughts to steer me out of the drawing room and back towards the grand staircase. “Rest up old chap,” Louis insisted, his eyes twinkling as always. “We have a long night ahead of us, after all.”

Leila’s P.O.V:

Locating a lever in the form of an antique sword, I pulled down on it, freeing myself from Robert Lunkenheimer’s secret office at last. Stumbling out into Louis’ study, I took a deep and satisfying breath, relieved to no longer be cramped up. With thoughts racing of Robert and Helen’s relationship, and a small boy who was likely to be their illegitimate son, I made sure that I had not forgotten any of my supplies, making sure that the cap of the mort aux rats was screwed on tightly.

Knowing fully well that Croft would have my head for being late; I barged out of Louis’ study, quickly locking the door behind me. Tucking the key safely into my pocket as Ms. Croft had instructed me to, I went to turn the corner, slamming directly into something, a blur of blonde hair and blue chiffon the last thing I saw before landing directly on my behind, my bag of supplies flying into the air and scattering all over the floor.

Ugh!” The irritated voice of none other than Fiona Applebee screeched from the floor across from me. “Watch where you’re going!” She exclaimed hysterically, her blue eyes shooting daggers at me.

Rolling my eyes heavily, I clambered to my feet. “Sorry.” I mumbled insincerely, unwillingly offering my hand to her.

Glancing at my outstretched hand in disgust, Fiona slapped it away. “I can get up on my own, thank you very much!” She spat, struggling to her feet and dusting off what was obviously an incredible expensive gown. “If I didn’t know any better,” Fiona began rudely, continuing to clean herself off. “It would seem as if you were trying to make my stay here miserable!” She concluded through gritted teeth.

Narrowing my eyes, I offered Fiona a cool smile. “Not everyone’s life revolves around you, my lady.” I retorted with a sneer, Fiona’s eyes widening in anger, suddenly travelling to the floor where my supplies were still strewn about. “Rat poison, hm?” Fiona began slowly, her eyes travelling back up to mine. “Whatever were you doing with rat poison in Louis’ study?” She went, her eyebrows raised in suspicion.

“The housekeeper sent me to Louis’ study to tend to a rat problem, obviously.” I informed her through clenched teeth, not bothering to mask my irritation. Since we had first met, it was tacitly understood that Fiona and I simply were not fond of each other, mostly due to her resilient perusal of Zayn and overall superior attitude. And for whatever reason, Fiona had taken a strong disliking to me, something that didn’t bother me at all since the feeling was completely mutual.

Watch your tone,” Fiona warned me with a scowl, taking a step forwards so that her blue eyes were staring icily into mine. “We wouldn’t want Louis to get wind of you speaking out of turn.” She added, her grimace transforming into a crass smile.

Narrowing my eyes at Fiona, my gaze flickered to her flaxen blonde hair that she treasured so, thinking that I could easily take hold of it and rip out a substantial chunk. But after a moment I thought better of it, knowing that I had never resorted to confrontation before and never would. Ignoring her aggravating stare, I instead crouched down, gathering my supplies once again, quickly shoving them into the tiny burlap sack. Rising to my feet, I shot Fiona one last glare and stepped past her, allowing my shoulder to bump hers for good measure. Striding down the hallway, I was about to turn the corner when Fiona barked out “Wait!”

Stopping in my tracks I turned to face the lanky blonde, her usually cool expression unreadable, matching ever so flawlessly with her floor length gown. “Hurt Harry and you’ll be sorry.” She uttered quietly, her gaze unwavering as she spoke.

Harry? Had I heard Fiona correctly or had my ears betrayed me? With my eyebrows pulled together in a hard line, I parted my lips to speak, but closed them once again, unsure of what I would say anyways. Letting out a swift exhale of breath, I continued to round the corner, leaving Fiona staring after me. If Fiona wasn’t already a mystery to me, she certainly was one now. Deep in thought, I automatically led myself back towards the kitchens, entering it to see that on the furthest wall the tiny silver bell hanging beneath the delicately scripted name Harry Styles was ringing. Glancing up from her newspaper, Croft stared at me from beneath her spectacles. “You’ve been asked for personally as well as a hot cup of milk.” She told me, her lips twitching upwards ever so slightly.

Averting my eyes, I could feel my face burning with embarrassment. Crossing my hands behind my back, I looked anywhere but at Ms. Croft. “Right away, ma’am.” I managed to sputter out, quickly scurrying off to retrieve a bottle of milk from the pantry.

“Just a minute Ms. Karim,” Ms. Croft began before I could get far. Halting in my steps, I turned to face her attentively. Ms. Croft’s blue eyes were surveying me, an almost melancholy expression wrought on her face. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t.” She warned me earnestly, folding her newspaper neatly and placing it onto the table in front of her. “Your job depends on it.”

I studied her in silence before answering, wondering what she would think if she knew the truth about Harry and I, about Zayn. “Of course, Ms. Croft.” I told her, giving her a curt nod and made my way towards the pantry, my thoughts drifting to Fiona once again. Since when had Fiona ever cared about anything that didn’t involve her seducing Zayn, and since when had that person been Harry?

 

*

Knocking twice on the white panel door, I returned my hand to the hot cup of milk that I had cradled to my chest, waiting patiently. Not even a moment later, footsteps could be heard approaching, the door swinging open to a tuxedo clad Harry Styles, his brilliant green eyes lighting up when they took me in.

“Right on time.” Harry assessed with n amused smile. “Please come in.” He told me, licking his lips ever so slightly as he ushered me inside his room.

“Thank you.” I told him with a smile, stepping in cautiously and surveying my surroundings, placing Harry’s glass of milk on the nearest table. Harry’s room was awe-inspiring, my sleeping quarters appearing to be even worse than what I had originally assessed it at. Harry’s room was painted a deep maroon, his four-poster bed outfitted in a red down quilt with gold-detailing and various throw pillows strewn about. “Harry, your room is breathtaking-” I turned to Harry excitedly, my words ceasing when Harry crushed his lips against mine. Taken by surprise, I froze in place, gasping as Harry’s warm lips moved against mine skillfully.

Breaking away from our kiss breathlessly, Harry’s cheeks were adorably flushed, his previously coiffed hair already in an unruly mess. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to do that.” He whispered hotly, leaning in for another kiss which this time although unwilling, I was prepared to receive.

I allowed myself to melt into Harry’s chest, closing my eyes and pretending that it was Zayn’s lips pressed against mine instead. Snaking his hands around my waist, Harry tugged me closer to him, my hands resting demurely on his shoulders. Pulling away for air once again, Harry feverishly began to plant kisses along my jaw, making his way down to my neck, eliciting an involuntary moan from the back of my throat. Crushing his lips down on mine once more, this time Harry’s tongue hesitantly flicked across my lips, wordlessly requesting entrance. Overwhelmed, I permitted him, remembering that I had landed myself into this mess in the first place by telling myself I wasn’t still in love with Zayn when I had been. Gently steering me towards the bed, I could feel the panic begin to rise in my throat. Gently laying me across his bed, Harry was hovering over me, his green eyes taking in my face, the both of breathing quietly.

Licking his pink lips apprehensively, I could feel Harry’s fingers trail along my skin, leaving a blazing path of fire in their wake as they crept up my calf and along my thigh. My heart thudded violently against the walls of my chest, wondering what Harry would do next, wondering if I would have to stop him.

“Leila,” Harry began, his voice thick with passion. “I’ve been wanting to say this for a while,” He stammered, his green eyes falling momentarily before returning to mine. “I think I might love you, Leila.” He whispered in a pained voice, brushing the back of his hand along my cheek.

Both stunned and horrified at Harry’s declaration, I simply stared at Harry in shock, completely at a loss for words. He loved me? Harry loved me? This was the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen, the exact thing that would complicate things even more for Zayn and me. Hurting Harry had already seemed to be a Herculean task as it was. Where did that leave me now? And most importantly, where did that leave Zayn and I?

Harry continued to examine me, waiting patiently for a response. “Leila?” He began with a frown. “Say something, please.” He begged.

“Since when have you and Fiona been friends?” I blurted out suddenly, realizing this was not what Harry had wanted me to say, but unable to give him the answer he had hoped for. Hurt Harry and you’ll be sorry. The way Fiona had said it, the way her eyes had drilled into mine, for the first time in all the months I had known her, she had seemed sincere.

A momentary beat passed between us, Harry breathing heavily above me, his green eyes drilling into mine. “What do you mean?” He inquired gently, appearing to be genuinely confused.

I wondered then if perhaps I had heard Fiona wrong, that perhaps she had said something else. I shook my head, knowing for a fact that I had heard her clearly, recalling Harry’s name emerging from Fiona’s thin pink lips. “I bumped into her in the hallway earlier,” I told harry, swallowing hard and averting my eyes from his. “We had a few words, and then when I was leaving she told me not to hurt you, and that I’d be sorry if I did.” I concluded, returning my eyes to Harry’s.

Harry sighed, a brown tendril of hair falling into his eyes. “We bonded while we were in Sweden.” He told me at last. “I confided in her about you, told her how badly I mucked things up.” He concluded quietly.

“I see.” I nodded quietly in reply, Harry giving me just one more reason to feel guilty for assuming that he had moved on so easily, that he hadn’t thought about me once while away from home when he most certainly had.

Gazing upon me in concern, Harry opened his mouth to speak when suddenly the door of his bedroom flew open, a dumfounded Charlie McCrae gaping at us in shock, a freshly pressed suit jacket laid across his arm. Harry and I were still in a rather precarious position, Harry hovering above me, our faces inches apart while the skirt of my uniform had been hiked all the way up. Harry rolled off me instantly, hopping to his feet and dusting off his tuxedo, his cheeks flushed in embarrassment. Mortified, I quickly adjusted my skirt, knowing fully well however, that Charlie had already seen far too much. Clambering off Harry’s bed as well, I got to my feet and adjusted my bonnet, supplying Charlie with the deadliest stare I could muster at the same time.

“I’m so very sorry, sir, I knocked but heard no reply.” Charlie began slowly, quite obviously suppressing a huge grin. “Should I come back later?” He added, his brown eyes flickering to me and a smile tugging at his lips.

“No.” Harry replied quietly, running his hand through his curls. “That’ll be all, Miss Karim.” Harry told me with a courteous smile, his green eyes wordlessly conveying that we would continue our conversation later.

Nodding once, I curtsied deeply, my eyes directed to the floor while Harry bowed awkwardly in response, Charlie looking on in amusement. Striding towards the door, I gave Charlie one final warning glance, daring him to bring this incident up to anyone. Exiting the room altogether, I quickly dashed down the hallway and back towards the servants quarters, thinking not only of Harry’s confession, but that this was the second cup of milk that had gone to waste on my account.

 

Fiona’s P.O.V:

Daintily grazing my fingers along the handrail, I descended the grand stair case, hoisting the extra fabric of my dress upwards so as not to trip. For the night’s festivities, I had selected a black silk floor length gown, speckled with elaborate beading along the bodice. For a change, I had worn my hair in a sleek bun and paired it with a jeweled headband, hoping in spite of my trepidation that Harry would think I looked nice. Letting out a scoff at my own girlishness, I descended the last step of the grand staircase and stepped onto the sleek black and white tile of the foyer, my stomach continuing to flip-flop nonetheless.

While Louis and Liam had rode off into the woods bordering the manor with their rifles and bloodhounds earlier that day, the women had been left to their own devices, agreeing to meet for high tea at noon. Eleanor had tried her very best to involve Danielle in our conversation, Charlotte and I dominating most of it while Danielle simply sat in silence, apparently so deep in thought that she had barely touched her tea. It was nice to see the both brazen and highly opinionated Danielle off her high horse for once, unable to act as self-righteous as she usually did when Leila was flanking her. Luckily, Leila had been limited to the purgatory that was the servant’s quarters, leaving my weekend mostly pleasant until the stupid slag managed to ram directly into me. The midget had been in quite the rush, her supplies flying in every which direction when she quite viciously clothslined me. And if I wasn’t already suspicious, I certainly was after seeing her in the possession of what looked to be quite lethal rat poison.

I continued down the deserted hallway which led to the drawing room, the click-clacking of my Oxford Jane’s being my only company when suddenly a hand darted out from behind the large statue of a gargoyle, pulling me into the shadows. I let out a delayed yelp as I was pushed up against the wall, the green eyes of very cross looking Harry Styles drilling into mine.

“What the hell did you tell Leila?!” Harry hissed through clenched teeth, his eyes blazing.

Oh right, that. It had slipped out really, what I had said to Leila. With everything that had happened, with my somewhat epiphany in terms of my feelings regarding Harry, I had in not so many words threatened her. And although I would have liked to tell Harry that it was an accident, there was no point in lying to him, or myself for that matter.

 “I told her what she needed to hear!” I spat, ripping my wrist out of Harry’s grasp. “That there are people who won’t stand by and let her break your heart!” I concluded passionately, my eyes wide.

Harry fell silent, his green eyes falling momentarily to the marble floor. “I told Leila I love her.” He revealed, letting out a sigh and leaning heavily against the wall, his gaze flickering back to mine to observe my reaction.

I stood completely still, almost certain that my heart had ceased its beating. Harry loved Leila. I repeated the thought in my mind, trying to understand how something I had known to be true for months could still burn me so. I continued to stare back at Harry, his playful green eyes, wild brown locks, and lips that always seemed ready to break into a smile, wondering how things had gone so very wrong. I let out a shaky breath then, trying my best to maintain my composure. “And what did she say?” I asked him, a rehearsed smile finding my lips.

Harry smiled dejectedly. “She didn’t have the chance to respond,” He shook his head. “But I think I have a fighting chance, Fiona, I really do.” Harry emphasized, standing at his full height. “But only with your help.” He added, a hopeful smile tugging at the corners of his pink lips.

It struck me then that Harry truly did love Leila, that he wanted to be with her enough to go through with all the lying and scheming that he had originally found so immoral, that his relationship with Zayn was even worth sacrificing for her. And just like Harry was willing to make sacrifices for the girl he loved, I too would make a sacrifice for him. Swallowing hard, I reached out, grasping Harry’s hand in mine, his green eyes taking me in curiously.

“Since when had I ever planned on not helping you, Harry?” I asked him with a sad smile, for once wanting no happiness of my own, but only his.

Harry grinned at this, his boyish smile lighting up his whole face. I could not help but smile in reply, Harry being the only person that had ever really managed to crack my cool exterior. There were many things I had grown to love about Harry, but I decided then that his smile was probably the thing I loved most. But since when had I ever loved anything to do with Harry Styles?

“Let’s go!” Harry announced excitedly, drawing me from my thoughts and tugging me behind him. “Wouldn’t want to miss the murder now, would we?” He shot me a cheeky smile that only further cemented the fact that I had fallen quite hopelessly in love with him, in love with Harry Styles.

What had I done?

 

A/N: Thank you for reading my dears! Read onwards to Happy Birthday Louis (Part III)

 

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