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Old 08-17-2015, 07:22 PM   #1
Xyantha Reborn
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Default Reticules and Retinues by Xyantha Reborn (~BBW ~WG, Historical Romance)

Book 2 in the period romance trilogy.


Find book 1 here - Cravats and Coat Tails

Chapter 1


Gorgeous puffs of lace, velvet and other fabrics whirled about the dance floor, their owners extending long and graceful arms in pale arcs. Their male counterparts moved in a mass of synchronized darkness. Well, mostly synchronized. A few were a hair off tempo, and Clarice sighed as the couples continued to move their way through the set. Watching dancing was enjoyable, but watching good dancers was an absolute pleasure.

Her eyes eventually wandered, as they had all evening, back to the form of a plump yet graceful newlywed and the man who stood next to her. “Quite an original,” she murmured to herself. She tapped her lips absently with the edge of her fan as she continued her perusal. Silken hair was tied back simply, framing good skin and wide green eyes that tilted as she laughed up at her companion. Her skin was a touch too tanned but her complexion was still quite lovely, all peaches and cream.

“What was that, my dear?” Mr. Belltaunt queried as he glanced down at his daughter, mind clearly elsewhere. He was engaged in his usual sport; watching all the people in the room. Gathering information about those he knew little about, and cross referencing new data with what he had on file. A man of great intellect as well as a studier of the human character…if not the human condition.

“Nothing, Papa,” she laughed as she casually wrapped her arm around his. “I just made the most interesting acquaintance tonight, that is all. Are you familiar with the Nottinghams?” The male specimen currently under her observation seemed to sense the intensity of her gaze, twisting around to glance at her. The eyes in that face were grey and hawklike, following the motions of those around him with a firm gaze, even while he smiled or laughed. Which he did often, seeming to take a good natured enjoyment from everything around him. That twisting motion produced a most spectacular example of the masculine form. Despite the formal layers of clothing, his trim and tidy waist was obvious, flaring upwards into broad and heavy shoulders. If his torso was muscled anything like his arms were…beautiful specimen.

Her father was already responding. “Good family, good estate, but has fallen on hard times. They are operating on minimal savings and reputation alone at this point, I am afraid. I understand the eldest, Raoul Nottingham, recently married Katherine Chelsey. A poor choice, for securing the future of his estate, but it appears they hit it off quite remarkably. From what I can gather - ” which meant that his detailed and copious research had told him was true, “ – there is some sort of money mismanagement of the estate, although I haven’t had the time or need to investigate further.”

“Mmm,” the daughter replied, resting one plump hand on her heavily corseted waist, lightly pinching the round pad under her chin in thought. “Interesting. I wonder why he made the match, if the estate is in such a bad way. I have also heard that his Aunt takes an unfortunate and destructive interest in the property. Perhaps the two are linked?” Turning her gaze back to that side of the room for a moment, she tapped her father’s forearm. “And the younger?”

“Very likely. The woman is as vindictive as a viper.” Following the gaze of his companion, the elder man inclined his head. “Yes. That would be the younger, Harry. Unfortunately I do not have much information on him, my dear. All I know is that he and his brother had a falling out years ago and have never been seen in polite society together since, and that the younger boy has a sunny disposition to counteract the other’s stormy one.”

Only her Papa would classify that gorgeous man in front of her a boy. “A mystery, then,” she purred throatily to herself. Louder, she added, “Well. You know my sense of curiosity, Father. I believe I may grow quite fond of Katherine on closer acquaintance. Quite bosom friends, you know.”

Grey brows arched over shrewd brown eyes. “Oh, I am well aware of your curiosity. And your stubborn will. Far too much like your mother, you are. And what are you planning, Clarice?”

“Plan has such boring, plotting, long term intimations. I simply want to invite them to tea tomorrow – you will not have any objections, I am sure?” She fluttered her lashes up at him. “It will be quite the thing. I can see the expressions on the faces of those delicate doves already – oh, what sport! All to thin out the crowd,” she added with a tinkling laugh. “And I daresay that I may be able to rummage up some additional details on the estate, and possible…opportunities. I do need to marry at some point, after all.”

“Even if I did have any objections, I find it highly unlikely they would stop you,” he sighed with an affectionate smile. “But my dear, have a care. Although Raoul may have married, his brother has not. I find it highly unlikely that one brother would be an infamous rakehell while the other would be the epitome of goodness. Do not allow his smiles and winning ways to close your eyes to his real character.”

A deep sigh was nearly pulled out of her, only limited by the tight corset. It reminded her that she had gained more weight again, and that she was riding a dangerously close line between lusciously plump and unforgivably fat. She more like a sausage in a casing than…. A blush rose to her cheeks. Well, maybe she did still look like a plump piece of cake, if that man’s devouring expression was any indication.

*~*~*

“My dear, dear Katherine!”

The other ladies in the room immediately rose, their expressions smoothing from the curled lips of contempt to fawning interest. It was laughably easy to read their thoughts.

Clearly their newest member was a favourite among their hosts, and all of the city new that only the favoured of Clarice Belltaunt were invited over to tea. A privilege that most of the women here would not forgo, as they tried to smooth the path for their brothers to be introduced to this most eligible woman…if only in purse, not title. Many of the second and third sons would leave marrying a title to the elder and instead commit to a massive purse, and a bride who was rumoured to destined to be as massive as the dowry she brought to the union.

For a moment, the other woman hesitated, but only for a fraction of a heartbeat. In an instant, she was willingly putting her own hands into the plump ones of her hostess. “Thank you so much for having us, Miss – ”

Waving a hand, Clarice leaned forward to kiss each of her cheeks. “Pshaw, my dearest. No need to be so formal with such intimate friends about!” In a breathy whisper, she added, “Thank you for saving me from their insipid conversation. I really was about to fall fast asleep if we were to talk about the latest ribbons from Paris again!”

The combined breathless gasps from multiple ladies throats made both of them turn to glance at them. They curtsied almost in unison, answering the perfectly respectful and correct leg that the man behind Katherine made. His effect on the ladies was akin to a cat’s on a field of butterflies. They began to fidget about, pale pastels rustling, chirping and twittering to each other softly.

Clarice saw that her newest guests immediately understood what she was about, and her respect for each increased along with her interest. “Ah, and you have brought him! How delightful.” Turning, she cast a Cheshire smile at the semicircle of female forms. “Well, my dearest doves, do you think that between us we will be able to handle this one fox in our midst? This is Harry Nottingham and his sister, Katherine, who is bride of Raoul Nottingham. I’m sure you have heard the most…titillating details concerning them. But I am sure we shall be quite safe as long as we stick together!”

“Of course,” the eldest murmured, although she began to look quite distressed. Her sallow skin grew even more so, a light sheen of perspiration dampening her brow as her brain rapidly tried to calculate all of the social implications of being in the same room, unchaperoned, with the brother of a famous rakehell. But to shun the Miss Belltaunt’s tea party would be to close the door on a most eligible match…

Whereas her father loved to study the scientific facts, Clarice loved to watch the social aspects of the world around her, and took an unabashed glee in watching the tide of indecisiveness rise up and overtake even the bravest of girls. In situations of stress, it was all or none. It was one thing to be at a tea party, it was another to be nearly alone with the man.

Bravery quickly fled with each subsequent departure. One by one, the girls gave their regrets, leaving one by one or in pairs. Their hostess clucked her tongue at the unfortunate recollections of previous obligations. Until, at last, the large room held only the three of them.

When the last of them had exited, Clarice turned wide eyes to the two remaining, blinking vapidly and tapping her chin thoughtfully. “Well, I declare. What was that about, do you suppose? Such a mass exodus!”

The man had a slightly dishevelled appearance, and his Adams apple was visible through his messily tied cravat. It moved as he swallowed his laughter. “I feel like this was all according to your design,” he murmured. He hadn’t shaved that morning, and the light streaming through the windows caught at the dark brown whiskers just beginning to roughen the surface of his cheeks.

She had heard his brother speak, a slightly growling and raspy tone reminiscent of a threatening storm cloud. Harry had a lighter voice, full of laughter and much more like the threat of a summer rain shower. “Little old me?” she demanded, laying a dramatic hand to her breast.

“Do not misunderstand me; I do occasionally enjoy being the fox who drives the hens out of the henhouse.” At that moment, he gave a big grin, full of teeth, and he really did look the part of a fox – sly, grinning and lean.

In this more intimate setting, away from the smells and sounds and intrusions, Clarice was free to examine his form in closer detail. Under the pretext of readying the serving things, she allowed her eyes to drink their fill. They did not come away parched, but instead only whetted. Long, lean and tightly muscled legs were visible under his breeches. The tailoring of his clothing was not the best she had ever seen, but the body it lovingly draped over looked good enough to be a marble statue. Delicious.

Katherine cast him a look before smiling at them both. “I take it that you had had enough of your other friends?”

“Anyone who cannot stand up to a little social pressure is no friend of mine,” Clarice responded coolly, gesturing for them to sit. “I have heard a lot about you, Katherine, and much of it pleases me. It is hard to find a woman who is unapologetically intelligent and strong willed…and equally rare to find a man does not feel…how shall we say this?” She paused for emphasis, casting a glance at the only male presence in the room. “Emasculated by it.”

Harry’s brows twitched, and he smothered his smile behind his tea cup which one of the maids had poured while they spoke. “Thank you,” he murmured to the maid. It was not done in the normal, absent fashion of the entitled. Instead, he made eye contact with her, bowing his head minutely in acknowledgement.

“Yes, thank you, Natalie,” she murmured. Curiouser and curiouser.

“You are taken aback?” he replied, his manner hesitant.

“Not at all. It is refreshing,” she murmured. “Tell me, is it true what they say? That the servants in your house are treated as equals?”

He blinked, cup lowered while he thought. “I would not go so far as to say equals, madam, but they are treated with respect. They are employees, and are paid according to, and respected for their abilities. I don’t spend much time at home, but I know my brother has one of the best functioning houses I have ever met.” He raised the cup back to those firm, sculpted lips.

Clarice smiled at Katherine, withdrawing her gaze from his cleft chin and firm jaw. “So I have heard. Don’t be surprised, Kitty – may I call you so? Thank you. Formalities are so exhausting! I am, as they say, ‘bourgeoisie’.” She tinkled out a laugh at the term. “And thus I am always concerned with the practical – and what can be more practical than the care and betterment of those who have the most control over our lives?”

Her female guest did not have the ‘refinement’ of masking her expression, and in its open expression was intelligence and interest. “I have always thought so,” she murmured with some hesitation. Emboldened by both of their interested gazes, she shrugged, cheeks pink. “We spend so much time worrying about how others in society may affect us – and yet those who have the most effect on our day to day lives are ignored. We forget that none of us would be able to maintain this lifestyle without those who we ignore in their very minutia.”

“Like women. Oh - close your ears, Harry. We are about to talk of truly scandalous things.”

Instead of following her directions, he grinned most roguishly, ignoring her use of his first name. “Don’t try to pigeonhole me, if you please. I don’t see how acknowledging the female contributions to society is scandalous. To my sister’s point; women are intrinsic in the bearing and raising of our children.”

Clarice’s eyes were widened in surprise, and she tapped his wrist lightly with a fingertip. “You astound me. How positively liberal!”

His ready mouth parted in a laugh, revealing good teeth. “I had a strong feminine role model as a child,” he admitted. “You would understand if you met our cook.”

“She is quite a woman,” Katherine admitted. Straightening, she made eye contact. “This has already been quite the unusual morning, so far. I was not expecting…such transparency. May I ask…”

“Why I invited you both? Is it so hard to believe I might want some intelligent female companionship?” Relenting, she shrugged. “I have said I am bourgeoisie, yes? As a family of merchants, we are always looking out for how to make the best of situations.”

Both looked at her curiously, not understanding the implications. “What situation?” Harry asked politely, raising the cup to his lips again.

Lifting her own cup to her lips, she sipped at the beverage before speaking, letting the preceeding silence emphasize her words. “I am in the market for a husband. You are in the market for a wife.”

Harry choked, spluttered, coughed, and rose to face away from them as he tried to breathe.

“It is a most eligible connection on both sides. We marry into a titled family, you have access to our more…material resources. And I think our manner of living is not quite as disparate as in other households, though we are certainly more provincial. And I think Katherine and I would get along quite nicely,” she added as she raised her cup in toast to the other woman.

Katherine had raised her handkerchief to her face, muffling a paroxysm of laughter that had overtaken her and rendered speech impossible.

The poor man looked completely caught on his left foot. “Are you propositioning me?” he demanded at last, mouth gaping.

“Check. You’re move, dearie,” she purred. “That is, if I have not offended your delicate masculine sensibilities about feminine conduct and their proper place in society.” The heiress batted her eyes, pouting her lips. “More tea?”

Most men would have at least pretended to look shocked and offended. Harry’s eyes narrowed and a slow grin bared his teeth. “I would love more tea…Clarice.”

Her name, spoken in that promising growl, made shivers of excitement run down her arms, and those firm lips slowly curling in promised retribution made her heart patter faster.

Well that wasn’t part of the deal she had envisioned.

Last edited by Xyantha Reborn; 08-31-2015 at 04:06 PM. Reason: I suck. Put the wrong last name for a character. Doh Doh Doh.
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Old 08-18-2015, 02:10 AM   #2
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Fuck yes! *happy dance*
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Old 08-18-2015, 07:24 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Anjula View Post
Fuck yes! *happy dance*
Yes, I think that pretty much sums up my reaction
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Old 08-18-2015, 08:17 AM   #4
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agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!agouderia keeps pushing the rep limit!
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Xyantha - as much as I love any new story you write - nevertheless you find be slightly confused and a bit distressed.

I had always hoped you would finish 'Cravats & Coat Tails' - being a fan of period romance. Or is the last installment here actually the end? Somehow I had never read it as such....
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Old 08-18-2015, 08:27 AM   #5
Xyantha Reborn
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Trying to haul cravats and coat tails out of the library for a few chapters tacked on at the end didnt feel right. There is still story to be told, but not through kitty and raouls voices. If i tried to continue C&C it would have felt abrupt and "off". As with most historial romances, the tale ceases upon marriage, and the user is left to imagine happily ever after...

Instead, i am going to be creating a trilogy where kitty and raouls story will continue to be told - through the interactions of harry and clarice. So this is chapter 1 of book 2 - many more chapters to follow (xyantha writes too much)....and then a third book with many chapters to round of the set.

If there is an overwhelming urge to tack a few chapters onto C&C for continuance sake, i can putter at something!
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Old 08-18-2015, 09:12 AM   #6
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[QUOTE=Xyantha Reborn;2143949]
Instead, i am going to be creating a trilogy where kitty and raouls story will continue to be told - through the interactions of harry and clarice. So this is chapter 1 of book 2 - many more chapters to follow (xyantha writes too much)....and then a third book with many chapters to round of the set. [QUOTE]

Fussy, demanding reader can live with this!

I understand it's difficult to take up strings that you put aside so long ago - so this is a good compromise.
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Old 08-18-2015, 09:46 AM   #7
Xyantha Reborn
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I am glad! and not nearly as demanding as Raoul, Harry and Geoffrey are!

"Dudes...its been half a decade. Can't we just let it go??" *feels their rentless, hurt eyes on her shoulderblades for FIVE YEARS!!* you know your characters wont let you go, when...
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Old 08-18-2015, 02:53 PM   #8
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Hooray!!!
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Old 08-24-2015, 03:19 PM   #9
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I'm so happy to read the continuation of this series! Wonderful job.
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Old 08-31-2015, 04:05 PM   #10
Xyantha Reborn
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Chapter 2


She was simply becoming far too plump.

The boning in her corset was beginning to cut unbearably when she went out in the evening, and although it tightened her upper waist into relative waspishness – in proportion to her more than ample breats and hips - it forced the flab below it to bulge in a round arch. Especially when her flesh was free, as now. Standing in front of her clear, full length mirror – a luxury she simply couldn’t do without – she spread her small hands across that bulge, seeing dimples on her hands where knuckles once rose. Clarice pushed, trying to force the softness back into momentary submission. When she released the pressure, it surged forth to fill the brief void.

The half wondering, half reviling expression revealed her thoughts clearly. Good lord. What was she doing to herself?

Her hands couldn’t begin to reel in that doughy softness, and she began to knead it as her sister did her breads. Gently grasping the swell of her lower belly, she rolled the swollen flesh between her fingers, alternating finger pressure and watching the flesh move with the motions. As she stiffened each finger, a round bulge appeared between each digit, while the overall curve of her belly spilled out from below. If she did it quickly, ripples appeared as well as dimples.

Staring full into the mirror, the heiress to a very large fortune sighed, cheeks reddening. In a flash of piqued anger, she slapped one hand across the pale flesh in a vicious strike, then yelped and shook her hand, glaring at the red mark which immediately began to take shape. “Get a hold of yourself - at least wait until marriage to let yourself go completely!” she whispered vindictively to the woman before her. Never one to mince about the bush, she resumed her judgemental perusal, apparently determined to know all the sordid particulars. Her upper arms, once rounded with plump elegance, had the beginning of a sag and wiggle when she raised them, the flesh toneless. Her breasts were, as always, large, and she hefted one in each hand, watching the flesh ooze over her little hands. That, at least, was proper.

That however, was not. Hazel eyes narrowed as they fastened on flaring pads of fat above each hip, which merged into her abused stomach, which continued to redden. Below, pillowy thighs met thick calves. Plump little feet completed the picture of overindulgence.

“Bah,” she growled, stamping her foot in irritation at the whole situation. A jiggle travelled across her thigh and stomach, making her lip curl…and then the other side as well. However much disdain for her appearance she might appear to have, it did not stop her from taking three biscuits from her bedside jar while she robed and her hair was dressed. Luckily, her family did not adhere to the formal dinner clothing regimen while alone in their own house, and so she was able to seat herself at dinner without significant shortness of breath or discomfort.

“Good evening, my dears,” their father murmured, dropping a kiss on each dark head before seating himself at the head of the table. “How has your day been?”

Their youngest sister’s face was already mottled with anger. They had all been able to hear her shrill voice as she vented on the maid about her day. At this invitation, she immediately burst out with; “That stupid, ignorant dressmaker refused to take my order today! Can you imagine? She said that without cash in hand, she was unable to take credit! I am a regular customer! Who is she, some stupid sewer who cannot do any better for herself, to tell me what I can and cannot purchase?”

Her shrill rage washed over their placid father, who calmly finished his spoonful of soup before delicately patting his lips with his napkin. He seemed disinclined to speak, merely raising his spoon again. The only sign of his growing irritation was a slight tightening of his jaw, his lids lowering over his eyes.

“That woman should be flogged! I – ”

Clarice, seeing her father’s building frustration, kicked her sibling under the table. She jerked her head slightly towards their father, who was now watching his youngest daughter’s gesticulations and listening to her shrill voice with a sort of silent and growing contempt. “Quiet!” she hissed, and received a smarting kick in return for her trouble.

“You be quiet!” The other retorted, throwing any remaining shreds of decorum to the wind. “You are always getting new dresses and things, Papa never tells you no! Because you are his favourite! And you wouldn’t need to buy so many, except that you keep growing too fat for them!” She threw out viciously.

The ugly flush that spread over the heavy young woman from cheeks to the top of her dress was the only sign of the rage from the insult.

Mr. Belltaunt’s expression barely changed as he glanced at his eldest, then back to her tormenter. “Paulina, your habits of expense have long been a point of contention. Let me be rightly understood, once and for all. I have asked you for several months to curtail your spending, but you continue to buy fripperies and useless items, leaving me to pick up the tab.”

The brown ringlets bounced as she tossed her head. “And what of it? It isn’t as if we are poor.” She infused the last word with scorn.

“Indeed we are not,” was the almost agreeable response. Only those who knew him best would be able to discern his disappointment in his level features. “This is because despite our fortunate circumstances, we do not let ourselves forget where we came from, or how we got here. We are not poor, it is true, but the accumulation of wealth means nothing if it is simply squandered. And you have proven with your behaviour - that you squander.”

The other young ladies at the table all bowed their heads, obviously feeling the shame that their youngest sister could not. All were trying to appear as if they were not listening – except Clarice, who watched them both coolly, her flush fading gradually back to her normal pale tones.

After a long pause and a sigh, their father rested the palms of his hand on the table before him, smoothing the cloth. “I myself went to all of the worthy shops in town, and myself directed them to refuse all requests from you - at the risk of losing my business entirely.”

Paulina’s normally pretty eyes bulged in a rather ugly way, but her father continued speaking in his customary, dry, calm tones. “This will be the state of things until such a time as you can prove to me that your expenses have been justified, tallied, and recorded appropriately in your logs. During this time, all your necessary purchases – ” he marked this word with a raised finger – “will be made by Clarice, who at least excels in her personal economy. You would do well to learn from your sister,” he added firmly. “Clarice has made not an insubstantial amount of money, investing what I give her back into the business as well as her own ventures. She never goes over her stipend, and thus has gained full discretion and trust. If you do as welI, I am sure that all of this history will soon be forgotten.”

Clarice heard her father with a mental shake of the head. One of her Papa’s most unbecoming traits was his inability to ever forget past behaviour, and use it in every following encounter. He would forgive his daughter, but he would never forget. While she was musing on this point, she tapped her spoon lightly on the edge of her plate, frowning at her youngest sibling, whose face was beginning to purple as she threw herself into a hysterical fit. “Paulina, control yourself!” she snapped. “You wouldn’t act so if Mama were here!”

The man watched the growing tantrum with a mildly disapproving face. “Please assist my daughter back to her chambers,” the patriarch of the house asked of the footman and housekeeper, who were watching her antics with bland faces. He only pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed his face once she was out of sight. “I don’t know where I went wrong,” he muttered. “I raised you all the same…”

Clarice patted his hand. “It isn’t you, Papa.”

The second youngest smiled at her from across the table, looking rather relieved that the storm was subsiding. She followed up on this with a ready change of subject. “Who was that man and lady you had visiting you earlier?” she queried, face alight with curiosity. “I haven’t seen either of them before. She was rather pretty. Was she showing off her eligible brother?”

The unconscious irony of the other’s words made Clarice smile. “In a manner of speaking, yes, I suppose she was. That was Raoul Nottigham’s wife, and his brother. I simply asked them over for tea,” she murmured before sliding the soup between her lips. “Ah, delicious. I will have to go down and tell Margaret that dinner was superb.”

Not to be dissuaded by talk of food, the other stared at her significantly. “And?”

“It seems dinner is just not to be had, tonight,” she murmured in minor irritation, laying down her spoon and smoothing the cloth on her lap before raising her voice to an audible level. “Yes Di, what is it? Out with it.”

“I think you like him,” Di whispered, face alight with mischief. “And I think he likes you too.”

Casting her eyes upwards, the eldest bit back a sigh. “They all love me, Diana, and we all know why.”

“He was positively dishevelled,” Di whispered back, as if their father wasn’t within earshot. “I would have suspected the most naughty things, but I saw him come in that way.”

Their father snorted. “You have been reading far too many novels,” he said before diving back into his soup with an amused shake of his head.

Shamelessly persisting, Diana tilted her delicate head. “Do you like him?” she asked seriously.

“I only met him last night in company, and sat with him and his sister for an hour for tea. I hardly know the man, let alone like him.”

Diana seemed about to speak, only biting her lips at the last moment and giving her sibling a significant glance towards their apartments. She seemed positively bursting to speak through the entire meal, barely able to eat as she fidgeted.

For her part, Clarice took the time to fully enjoyed the main course. More especially as her thin and tidy younger sister was not there to make her feel overblown and dowdy. Every item was cooked to perfection, and she allowed the tastes to swirl about her tongue before fully chewing and swallowing each bite. The pleasure that faded from her tongue quickly took up residence in her stomach, which felt pleasantly full by the end of the meal. A surreptitious glide of her hand under the table confirmed that her stomach was beginning to distend, and she forced herself to put her fork and knife down and gesture for it to be removed with a smile of thanks.

After the meal was over, Di snatched her hand up and darted up the stairs. Clarice, full and content and not in the least inclined to run about like a ninny, sedately resisted her yanks and took the stairs at her normal pace.

Her sister had barely closed the door behind her breathlessly before blurting, “I heard you propose to him! Are you out of your senses?” she hissed, fluttering her hands about uselessly.

Gently seating herself, Clarice began glancing through the notes of day that her network of informants had procured for her. “I hardly proposed. I simply reminded him of the obvious; that I am on the market. It was a statement of fact, as well as a hint to pursue the opportunity. ”

Sinking down breathless, Diana sighed. “I so envy your boldness. I hope that one day I shall have some.”

“Backbones are grown, dearest.” A hastily scrawled note with a familiar name caught her attention. “Oh, look at this – it appears that horrible Telford woman has died this afternoon, and of a stroke. May God have mercy on her soul,” she added reflexively as she read through the note again. “I won’t speak ill of the dead, but…” Both sisters exchanged a glance full of meaning. “She was no merchant,” Clairice said finally, tone carefully neutral.

Diana made a face. “That shipment of wine would have sailed, except for her.”

“Remember – in the end, it is all a matter of business, and a deal that has fallen through is just an opportunity to make a better one come in disguise.” Pausing, she scribbled a note of condolence on behalf of the family, as well as a short sentence to her little nightingale that had brought her the early intelligence. “Anyhow, back to the point – yes, I was flirting with him. I flirt with many men,” she added with a shrug after a pause of consideration.

Di threw herself back onto her sister’s bed with a dramatic sigh. “Oh, how I should love some flirting!”

“I welcome you to the odious business. Please, for God’s sake, take them all!” Clarice grumbled, standing. “If you are satisfied that I am not living the life of a woman in a novel - I need to go down to the kitchen to see Margaret and to wish her a good night. Are you coming?”

The expressive face wrinkled in a grimace. “I don’t like her, Clarice…She makes me uncomfortable.”

None of her siblings felt any affinity with the poor dear. Even their Papa had eventually left her to languish alone in the kitchen. Often, Clarice had to force herself to keep up the social interactions because they were so awkward on both sides. It wasn’t her sister’s fault that she was such an oddity – she didn’t deserve to be a social pariah in her own home.

“Good evening, Margaret.” Was her greeting as she stood by the kitchen door. “I won’t come in because I know it makes you uncomfortable,” she added in a slow and clear voice. “But I just wanted to come down and say thank you for dinner, it was wonderful.”

Dark eyes met darted in her direction through thick, unfashionable bangs. Finally, Margaret nodded shortly as she twisted her skirts tightly in her hands. The silence grew on for several moments. “Good night,” she finally managed in return.

“Good night,” Clarice murmured as the door was unceremoniously shut in her face. As she made her way back upstairs, the young woman glanced over her shoulder, all affectation fallen from her aspect. “And who will take care of you, when we are all gone, I wonder?”

Shaking her head as if to clear it, the eldest of Mr. Belltaunt’s daughters stood before the same mirror and began the careful murmuring of tonal inflections, mimicking her own body language as if in practice. It was a nightly ritual, a dance of meticulous consideration of what she would do, say, and how each thing would be executed on the morrow. "I don't know the man, how can I like him?" she asked of the reflective surface. Clearing her throat, she tried again, forcing her tone into nonchalance and raising a brow. "I don't even know the man, how can I like him?"

Her closest confidant was silent as usual, only betraying its disbelief in her performance by showing her a distracting rise of colour.
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Old 09-05-2015, 05:11 PM   #11
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I hate to beg, but please do write more. I so loved the first book of this!
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Old 09-11-2015, 06:24 AM   #12
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I have some stuff written, but i got distracted by the Dims minecraft group!

I will set aside some time tonight and over the weekend, so i should be able to post a new chapter in the next few days!
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Old 09-14-2015, 03:18 PM   #13
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This story is excellent. I can't wait to read more!
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Old 09-15-2015, 02:15 PM   #14
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I am so thrilled that you're continuing with this, and giving us all these amazing new stories to boot. I'm also excited that we're getting to meet some new characters in this world and follow their stories, too!
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Old 09-20-2015, 04:17 PM   #15
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Chapter 3

Gliding across the floor, Clarice bestowed her smile on several potential suitors, never allowing her energy level to flag. It was not an easy task, given the rising heat and humidity in the room. Perspiration gathered at her brow and dampened the back of her neck as she energetically snapped her fan. It only wafted hot air, but at least it was something.

Beyond the heat, she was acutely uncomfortable. Her corset was making it difficult to breathe, and everything felt so tight that she was surprised she was able to move at all. Her breasts were pushed up so high that she was sure one wrong move would have her spilling out. The constant compliments on her looks and feminine grace were irking her more than usual, considering how unflattering she knew she looked, and how uncomfortable she was.

Not to mention that her sister was driving her to the madhouse with her constant badgering for her frivolous expenses. Her father had meant well, but the whole situation really should have waited until their mother was back. It was only pitting them against each other and irritating them both.

On the bright side, she was out tonight, and Harry was here. Her stomach had given that little flip flop when she gazed his way, but the smile he had given her had made her want to stamp her foot. Instead of immediately moving to greet him and Kitty, she had purposefully kept her perpetually present retinue between them. Giving him the proverbial cold shoulder caused his cocky expression to darken, and for him to sulk. It made her laugh to see his looks of vexed confusion. He has walked in precisely as she had known he would – with an air of self-assurance, his arrogant glances indicating that she was already won. Simply because she had expressed mild interest and iterated their respective positions. A personal pet peeve.

Clarice was not ignorant of her relatively unique position – the position of being at complete and total liberty to choose her suitor. Or no suitor, whatever struck her fancy. Her father’s cool and logical mind eschewed that custom, and his respect of her was expressed in complete trust and open handed generosity in all areas of her life. Several poor fools had already tried to speak to her father about an offer, but the answer was always the same; IF my daughter agrees, I would be more than happy to give you my blessing.

“The part that confounds me,” she murmured to her companion, for they were in the midst of this exact conversation, “Is the sheer gall of them, to assume that any woman should be so happy as to accept their offer.”

Kitty raised a dark brow. “Most of us are not in your position, and the only chance we have of securing any form of future is by marriage. And, may I add - you do not exactly seem to be discouraging them. In fact, I would go so far as to say you give them all a degree of false hope,” she rebuked gently.

The light reprimand made Clarice smile. “I hope what I am about to say doesn’t offend you, dearest. I could snap my fingers and have half of the eligible young men in this room at my feet. And I assure you, I do not say this as a point of pride, but rather as a tiresome statement. I know that their interest springs from no liking, no attraction to me. It is simply my money that they crave.”

Her companion lifted her other brow. “I am not sure I comprehend your full point. What does one have to do with the other?”

“Half the fun of hunting is the chase, not the kill,” the heiress whispered, casting a pointed glance at a young man who brought her a drink. Once he had bowed himself away, she continued, “If you believe I am the hunted, then my hunters will be put through their full paces, and only the top performer will win. If you believe I am the hunter – well. Why on Earth would I accept a second best prize? I encourage them all to make a bid for my hand, but ultimately only one will succeed. And that will be the one most fitted to be my husband from a social and political perspective.” Though Harry Nottingham fit neither of these descriptions…

Kitty furrowed her brow as she accepted the cup that was also offered to her. After a long sip, she commenced speaking, albeit in a hesitant manner. “Does…love not figure into your plans at all?”

“Truly? Are you really a romantic?” Clarice exclaimed, pulling back slightly. “No, I see you are not – not really. Tell me. I hear you met your husband this year, and within a few months were engaged. A few months thereafter, you were wed. Tell me, at what point did this mythical true love take place? When you first saw his striking, fit person?” Her glance strayed to the brother. “Or was it after you realized he had an estate? Or was it after marriage?”

“Love isn’t like that!” her companion objected, setting aside her cup and fanning just as vigorously as her companion as her cheeks bloomed with pink. “Love isn’t a business transaction. You can’t weigh it, or quantify it, or delineate it. You cannot look back and determine the exact moment it happened. It is gradual. It is natural. It is built off of attraction, and then deepened by mutual affection and proximity.”

Allowing her fašade to drop for a moment, Clarice turned to her. “And how well do you know your husband? Do you know his innermost desires? The condition of or the funds in his estate? You say that you are here to find your husband’s brother a wife, but we both know that he sent you away so he could deal with family business without your presence. Would he have been away from you in the initial stages of your courtship? I fail to see how marrying for love changes anything after the initial interest has faded.” Seeing her companion was truly distressed, she snapped her mouth closed. “I apologize. That was uncalled for – I should not have spoken so of your family. Please forgive me.”

For several moments, they stood in silence. To her surprise, the most stimulating man in the room was not flaunting or preening for her notice, but was instead watching them with a flat and somber gaze. Muscular arms were crossed over his chest as he leaned against the wall, his eyes fixed on them. He seemed more hesitant than when he had entered, which soothed her miffed mood. “I am truly sorry,” she murmured again to her companion. “I am hot and tired and spoke without thinking. Are you angry with me?” She begged, truly contrite.

A deep sigh was pulled out of the other woman. “No, not really. It just upsets me that you seem to know more about my friends and family than I do. I didn’t think…I should have seen it…that this was all a ruse.” She ground to a halt, looking more furious by the minute. Heaving in a sigh so big that her breasts swelled dangerously, Kitty stared at the floor for a long minute, apparently lost in thought.

Turning her to face her, Clarice smiled down at her. “It is what I, and what my family does. I am not spying on you – I just obtain a great deal of incidental information. I was angry, I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. I am not normally so vindictive. I am truly sorry. Will you forgive me?”

A smile blossomed over her face, and her eyes crinkled softly “There is nothing to forgive – if you tell me more about his Aunt. Neither my husband nor Harry seem to willingly speak of her, and I am very interested to know more about my new relations. ”

Relief made her sag with relief. “Agreed – if in return you tell me about him,” Clarice replied, inclining her head towards Harry.

Turning to follow her gaze, Kitty laughed. “I will tell you everything I know, but as you pointed out so succinctly, I have not known my husband for long and have known Harry for even less. I do not know how much use I will be to you.”

“Well, this is hardly the place to discuss. Will you come over tomorrow afternoon and stay the evening?” the heiress demanded with an eagerness uncharacteristic of her normal invitations.

Another smile and a nod was her answer. “I would love that. To return to our previous conversation – what is your family’s criteria for selecting a husband? Connections?”

Turning hazel eyes towards the dancers, the plump woman shrugged. “To be honest, I could marry any man here and my Father would not object. His primary objective is my happiness. It is I who have put all of these restraints and constraints around the union.”

“If that is true, why can you not set aside all of your other games and simply give attraction a chance?” Kitty seemed baffled, blinking as she tried to process the information. “I know you do not believe that it will bring you long term happiness, but simply marrying for financial considerations does not seem to offer much more security for bliss. It seems like you have nothing to lose in the attempt.”

Clarice laughed bitterly at the na´ve statement, eyes following the large form in mourning black that had just entered the room. “Of course you would think so. You see, I have become jaded. I am not giving love a chance because I see no love in all of this. Just a mockery of a business transaction with a tiniest frosting of social nicety. I am also no fool. I am not beautiful or graceful or feminine – no, please, do not attempt to diminish my point,” Clarice added as her companion opened her mouth. “Devoid of my financial state, I would be relegated to the role of spinster. No man would pursue me, as there are dozens of examples of the female form more desirable in this room alone. You disagree?” she inquired coolly when the other compressed her lips.

“Yes. The men here who are interested in your money - would of course abandon their schemes if you did not have it,” she agreed readily, but with a specificity of tonal inflection that indicated only partial agreement.

“The men who are here for my money,” Clarice repeated archly. “And are there men here who are not interested in my money?”

Before she had the opportunity to speak, a sea of dark fabric stood beside them, pale and somber. Clarice instantly recognized him, but was startled when her companion stepped forward with a glad cry, wrapping an arm around his.

“Geoffrey!”

The man’s face stoic face softened slightly, and he patted the small hand on his arm lightly. “Good evening,” he murmured softly, inclining his head respectfully. “Miss Belltaunt. Again, my sincerest apologizes for everything that came before. I received your note and was most grateful for the attention.”

“Of course – think nothing of it. As you know, business is business, and that particular bit of history has long since passed. May god be with you in this time of trial; I am so sorry for your loss.”

An odd expression, almost a grimace, crossed over the fat features.

Kitty tilted her head up at him. “What loss, Geoffrey?” Her eyes widened. “Oh. Oh,” her soft voice murmured again, and she pressed the arm within her hold more closely.

Clarice found herself waiting for the inevitable condolences that always followed, and was rather unsettled when none were forthcoming. Not that condolences were in order; privately, Clarice was more inclined to congratulate him on his freedom. It was more that the pointed omission spoke louder than words – that Kitty agreed.

Telford too seemed to wait for it as well, and seemed mightily relieved when none came.

“I was not aware that you two knew each other,” Clarice murmured at last, glancing between them. Telford had looked solemn when he entered, but not grief stricken. Now, as he stared down at her face, a look of frustration, resignation - and what she would almost classify as anguish crossed over his face.

“We have known each other since childhood.” He spoke in a low tone, his stomach heaving with his sigh. “And how do you do, Kitty? Are you enjoying your husband and your new house?”

The woman attached to his arm flushed and swallowed. “We are well, thank you for asking.” She seemed to feel the desperate need to fill the silence as well, because she began a rambling sort of talk about her estate, why she was here, and meeting Clarice.

Clarice herself felt none of the embarrassment that Telford seemed to. As she had said; business was business, and they had in fact made some longer term connections with a higher probability of profit. Telford himself seemed an excellent man – it was only that harpy of a wife that had soured their transactions. Right now, she was more fascinated by watching the byplay between the two than remembering past occurrences.

Her observations quickly told her that Kitty harboured deep affection for him, and unless she was wildly mistaken, found him very handsome. Her eyes strayed to Harry and then to the fat man before her. The contrast between the two could not have been more extreme. Harry was swarthy skinned with thick chestnut hair and stormy grey eyes. Telford was so light he was almost blond with bright blue eyes. Both had laughing eyes – well, Telford was more serious than usual - but it was not their physiognomy which was so striking. It was, to be blunt, the contrast between Harry’s long, trim legs, tight waist, flaring shoulders and bulging arms…to just bulging.

They also informed her that the man loved her with a deeper longing that was not fully reciprocated. His fleshy face turned towards Kitty with an inquisitive and gentle expression as he listened intently. Perhaps Clarice had no right to judge being quite heavy herself, but Telford was simply massive. His fleshy face had a large mound of skin under it that bulged over his cravat, and below that his fleshy torso seemed to bulge outwards in all directions. And yet, Kitty seemed more comfortable clinging to his soft arm than when she was doing the same to her brother. Clarice’s contacts had told her the two brothers were so similar as to be twins, except that the elder was rather thicker with heavier muscles.

Her train of thought was interrupted as Telford turned to her and asked, “Will all of you come to dinner next Thursday?”

Kitty nodded before turning eyes on her that might as well have been in the face of a spaniel, they were so begging. “Of course we will! We simply cannot allow you to be alone too much right now.”

“Of course we will come. Both Kitty and my brother have spoken very highly of you. Clarice, will you be joining us?”

Clarice nearly jumped out of her skin at the unexpected words, spoken just behind her. Harry's arrogant tone made her stiffen, and she swallowed the acceptance she had been just about to give. “Unfortunately I have several engagements next week I simply cannot miss, and one is on Thursday.”

Consternation painted his face for a moment, but he momentarily recovered, a cocky smile spreading his lips over white teeth. “Then may I ask for a dance now? There is only one set left.”

Raising her chin, she carefully lifted her skirts and stepped around him. “No.”

It was impossible not to cast a glance over her shoulder. And it was equally impossible to halt her feet from increasing their tempo as the panther soundlessly whirled and stalked after her.
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Old 09-20-2015, 05:20 PM   #16
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I am intrigued. I can't wait to further read about the developing romance between Clarice and Harry.
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Old 09-22-2015, 04:23 AM   #17
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Sorry for the slow updates, i am working on this a bit each night...

I basically had to rewrite a bunch of it and shift stuff around, so it is taking longer than i expected!
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Old 10-07-2015, 08:03 PM   #18
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Chapter 4
Diana rounded on her as she swept through the hallway to check her letters. “Oh, Clarice, how could you!” was her cry of dismay, even as tears began to gather in her big, soft eyes.

“How could I do what, dearest?” she asked as she opened the door to her study. Her face, illuminated by the light streaming through the window, was filled with satisfaction at the sight of letters nearly covering the silver platter. Last night had certainly been successful. Several of the men were clearly interested and committed to the race. Their posturing and posing had been rather amusing.

“Do that to the poor man! You have been positively torturing him!”

Considering that she was ‘positively torturing’ a number of suitors, Clarice was at a loss to discover which her sister was referring to. “I will need more information than that.”

“Harry Nottingham!” was the tragic response.

Mild irritation made the older woman knit her brow for a moment. “What about him?” she demanded with some annoyance. The reference brought up too many emotions, and some warmth spread a light blush along her cheekbones.

“You are being so cruel to him!”

“He is a man. I am sure he will live,” Clarice responded coolly as she seated herself at her desk and began opening letters.

Diana swept the letters to the side in a show of force that took her sister so much aback, that she merely raised wide eyes as the other began her harang. “That man is besotted with you, anyone can see that! Do you know how rare it is for women in our times, and in our stations, to marry for love? You have a man sitting before you - who anyone can see - would dote on you, and yet you scorn him! Insult him! Treat him with cold disregard!” The other stamped her foot. “You didn’t see the way that Katherine’s husband looked at her – you were with Mama when they were in town. I’ve never seen a man look more devoted, determined, and in love than Raoul Nottingham – except maybe the way that his brother looks at you!”

Finally recovering from her surprise enough to speak, Clarice sighed. “Di, you are young in the ways of men. You say he loves me. How can he love me? He knows absolutely nothing about me. Besotted? He sees my money and my position and craves power, and probably the ability to control me if we were to marry. It is the way of all men.”

Quick pacing eventually brought her closer. “If you keep playing with his affections, you will lose him.” Her normally insipid and languishing sister looked positively fierce.

“Then they were not worth having.”

The blunt response made Di huff. “I do not understand you. You are so bitter and jaded – Mama and Papa are so happy together, so I do not know why you seem to think married life is full of strife! And considering how little you think of men and matrimony, why are you even looking for a husband? It isn’t as if you need one!”

Drumming her fingers on the desk, the older sister considered her younger for a long moment. “Get out of my room,” she gritted at last.

Instead of instantly obeying, Di stood as tall as she could, her drooping curls kissing her neck. “Clarice Belltaunt, you are being an idiot! Use that common sense that Papa says you have so much of. You keep playing games, as if you want the best chess partner instead of the best life partner. How are they going to make you happy after you are married? Do you think that they will want to fight for your affections day in, and day out? How is marrying a man who is actually attracted to you a bad thing?” She nodded sharply at the other woman’s jerk of surprise. “You are a fool if you think it is your money he craves. He stares at you as if he wants to devour you! Last night, he literally walked away from a conversation about how much you were worth because you walked out of his sight. He literally turned his back and walked away without a single apology, or even seeming to notice that he was being spoken to!”

“Get out.” Was the calm, reiterated response, even as plump fingers whitened around their hold on the edge of the desk.

When her sister had left without a further word, shutting the door behind her, the older woman sagged against the desk. After a long moment and several deep inhales, Clarice picked up a letter. Her eyes were locked on the paper as if she was reading, but the distant look in her eyes, and how hard the paper was shaking belied the attempt. Slowly, a hand rose to cover her mouth, and her eyes closed tightly.

With a violent, explosive movement, she swiped all of the letters off the desk, not to mention her writing supplies. Seemingly unsatisfied with this single example of her displeasure, she proceeding to kick the letters across the floor, stamping on them recklessly. An observer who was used to seeing her in polite company would have been shocked and appalled at her red face and glittering eyes, especially if they were aware enough to realize the frenzied motions were hiding an even deeper emotion.

By the time her frustration was spent, Clarice was sitting with her back against her desk, dry and burning eyes staring down into her lap. Some of the letters were in rather rough shape, and she gathered them up with painstaking care, smoothing the crumpled and torn edges as she read through each one. The whole scene had taken place in almost absolute silence, and continued on as the women read through her correspondence.

“Interesting,” she murmured absently, her chest still heaving slightly from her exertions. After a moment, Clarice allowed her head to fall against the hard wood of the warm desk. She did not feel desired – just chased and hunted and harried. What Di said was true, to some extent. No man had ever looked on her as Harry did. But there was something unsettling in his gaze. Someone that smacked of a sense of entitled ownership that simply rubbed her the wrong way.

Then again, what Clarice herself had said also held truth. What sort of insanity must the man be capable of, to be besotted with her after less than two weeks acquaintance? What sort of marriage could be built on transitory affection, built on nothing more than imaginings of what the person was?

She had just finished her musings, gathering up the last letters and was rising to her feet when a light tap was quickly followed up by the sound of the latch moving.

Light footsteps tripped into the room. “What are you doing on the floor?” Paulina asked with the flat tone of one who uses questions as exclamations of surprise and disdain, rather than tools to gather information. The impression was reinforced as she quickly continued speaking without pause. “I simply need a new dress for this next ball.” The tone was as dramatic as the head toss that accompanied them.

“No, you simply want a new dress for the next ball,” Clarice corrected absently, looking down at a letter in her hand. “I take it you have come to annoy me about money? I have already given you your budget each week. If you want a new dress, you will need to wait until the end of the month, or shop around for a better price. If you stopped spending money every week, you would see more accumulate month over month.”

Her sister’s angry face appeared in her field of vision. “Just because you are fat, and old, and no one wants you does not mean that I am! Just because you have chosen to give up on new styles and any attempt to make yourself more attractive does not mean that I have! You can walk around in last year’s fashion and think no one notices, but they do!” Struggling to calm her manner, the shorter woman stepped closer.

Although the words clearly offended her, Clarice struggled to remain composed as the other woman continued in a softer, more pleading accent. Her plump hands carefully deposited the letters on the desk, except for one she retained, holding onto it almost like a talisman.

“Clarice, you have your money to secure your marriage. Other than the money Papa has set aside for me, I have nothing but my looks. Looks fade, Clarice. I need to make the most of them while I still have them. Do you understand? I know I do not speak the same business language as you all do, but surely you can understand that you can’t hold on to an apple forever; it is only fresh for so long. I am that apple!”

A deep sigh answered her, but then Clarice nodded. A response clearly unexpected by the other. “I understand you. And I understand the concept of a commodity losing value due to spoilage. I think you underestimate your talents, but I do understand. Unfortunately Papa has put us in an uncomfortable situation of me managing your money, and I cannot allow you to fritter it away.” The hope that had quickly flared to life was instantly snuffed out, but the embers burnt on as she continued, “I can, however, help you make the most of it. I will help you shop for the fabric and we shall see what can be done. Agreed?”

“Oh!” Paulina’s face immediately softened into the beautiful expression it always had when she was getting her own way. “Thank you!” she breathed. And as always, when she got her own way, all of her bitter anger gave way to more genial feelings. “I am sorry for insulting you. It isn’t that you are not pretty enough, in your own way, but you really do need some new dresses. You are not…as light as you could be, and that style truly does nothing for you. Thank you again!” She still seemed startled by the lack of anger she has expected to elicit, casting a curious glance over her shoulder as she went.

The last was thrown over her shoulder as she ran out of the room, and Clarice collapsed into her chair, frowning. She was surprised at her lack of anger as well. Normally, such digs would have gotten a rise out of her despite her best intentions. Priding herself on her ability to think rationally despite her feminine emotions, she was forced to admit that wearing last year’s fashions probably was impacting the way others viewed her. She had been avoiding the fashions from this year because the fits were even tighter than before…and she ware barely fitting into her current wardrobe.

Glancing down at the paper still in her hand, she shook her head even as her lips curled in a smile. Smoothing the paper on the top of the desk, she traced a finger along the signature. “Not everybody finds me old, and fat, and unattractive,” she murmured, a line appearing between her brows. “But nothing is about just one person,” she said more loudly, setting aside the paper and preparing to write.

Beside her, on the desk, her talisman sat. As she wrote, Clarice absently traced the edge of the paper, casting curious looks at it. Although the edge of the top right corner was a little ripped, the item itself remained whole. On it, a young woman smiled at the viewer. Instead of the closed lipped, vapid stare, this artist had captured his inspiration in a moment of movement. The woman was facing away, but her face was turned over her left shoulder, an almost wicked grin on her face. Even half lowered lashes did not provide the appearance of subservience. The large eyes seemed to make direct eye contact with the viewer, compelling and clear.

She would almost certainly be described as beautiful – except for the extra weight, clearly expressed by the rounded cheek and blurred chin. Even with the artist taking the liberty of smoothing out the imperfections Clarice herself knew were there.

On the bottom of the page there was no signature, only three words.

Other than those two words, the only other communication was a small slip of paper that had been enclosed with the packet.

I was not aware that my brother could draw
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Old 10-08-2015, 01:19 AM   #19
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Beautiful! Thanks for writing, can't wait to read more!
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Old 10-11-2015, 08:11 PM   #20
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Chapter 5


“But the plan was so perfect!” Harry groused, stalking from one end of the room to another with quick steps. His sister reclined on the sofa, looking sickly, and he stalked around her chair several times before seating himself. “It was so perfect!” he lamented once again. He let his head drop into his hands, staring down at the carpet.

Kitty coughed into the handkerchief, trying to suppress the dry, hacking sound. When she spoke, her voice was more hoarse than usual. “Oh, do relax. I merely have a cough - I am not dying. My dinner with them is deferred, not cancelled. Please be patient. It is distressing me to see you like this - and the apocathary said I needed to rest.” She shot him a glance full of reproof with her red rimmed eyes.

The momentary guilt that expressed itself in a wave of heat and a flush was quickly overridden with anxiety. “I need to know more about her, Katherine!” The use of her full name made her raise her brows – good, it was important she understood the importance of this!

“Harry…”

The hesitating tone in which she said it made him look up apprehensively. Her eyes were full of concern, and a little line had appeared between her brows. His heart sunk at the unpromising mien. “What?” Checking his impetuous tone, he repeated the question more calmly as he sank into a chair opposite.

“Just…try not to set your heart on her. I’ve told you already that she seems like a wonderfully intelligent woman, but not one whose heart is worn on her sleeve. She has more on her mind – ” Kitty broke out into coughing, and cleared her throat before continuing. “She has more on her mind than just romance. In fact, I would almost say she doesn’t even know what it is.”

Startled, Harry hooked his ankle over his knee, considering. “Every woman knows about romance. It’s practically one with your souls. What would make you say she isn’t romantic?”

Although she rolled her eyes, she merely sagged back onto the pillows with a barely stifled yawn. “She doesn’t seem to think that loving your husband is important to a happy marriage.”

Harry’s face spasmed before becoming too still. “I can personally attest to the importance of affection in marriage. My mother and father had a purely political union, and their life was filled with stress and irritation. It is hard enough to be in the same room for an evening with someone you do not like. Imagine spending the rest of your life with that person!” He swallowed the rest of his words, snapping to his feet and turning away.

“I am not disagreeing with you,” Kitty murmured gently, raising her tea to her lips. Lowering it, she stared into the liquid before sighing deeply. The exhale was interrupted by another fit of coughing. “All I am saying is that Clarice does not seem to feel that way. She seems to be enjoying the chase and the attention more than anything.” A pause and a look of reflection crossed her face. “If I were to hazard a guess, she has not found a suitable match at all, or she does not plan to seriously look until she feels she has to. I just think it may be better if you guard your heart somewhat, and not take such a vested interest in her.”

He was back to striding around the room. “You think that she does not like me.”

“I didn’t say that!”

“And yet, maybe it is true. It’s always been the way of it. Always second hand.” He drummed his fingers on the back of a chair, staring out of the window. A low growl of frustration escaped him before he straightened, crossed to the window, and clasped his arms behind his back. “Damn Raoul.”

Behind him, Kitty shook her head, a fond smile hovering about her lips. It was as if she was seeing someone else in his place, and shook her head lightly to dispel the image.

From below, there was the sound of the door. Moving to another casement, the man glanced down. “And it appears the devil herself has come to torture me,” he groused, crossing muscular arms over his chest.

“Harry!” Kitty gasped, rather shocked at his irreverent remark.

The young man stood, waiting for the door to open. The glass above the mantle showed his sour face, and he forced himself to assemble it into a less sulky expression. No woman liked to see a man pout. When the door opened to admit Clarice into the room, he felt himself to be composed. When she swept in, his stomach gave a lurch so hard he had to choke down his gasp.

She was so voluptuous, so womanly. It wasn’t just a sexual draw. He wanted to run his fingers through her hair, trail them down her soft skin. He wanted to hear her talk about trade routes and treaties…in nothing except her bare skin. And he wanted to lose himself in her soulful eyes. Gorgeous, wide hazel eyes with a fringe of dark lashes contrasted with her smooth skin. Not only in texture, but also in physical planes. No slash of cheekbone marred the smooth apple cheek. No sudden and disconcerting cut of the jawline – rather an elegant curve of softness drew the eye down to the top of her extraordinary breasts, straining to escape her dress. Sometimes when she was smiling, as now, her little chin popped forward, and the softness under it became defined into a chin in its own right.

The buxom woman glanced at him with no expression for several long moments. Confound the woman! What was her game? At last a hint of a smile crossed her face. It both galled and instantly elevated his mood. It was the first pleasant expression he had received from her since the other night when he had asked her to dance. No matter what he said or did, he seemed to vex her. And yet, when her lips curved and she smiled up at him through her lashes, as now, his skin goose pebbled.

“Kitty, love, I came to see how you are! Wretched cold! My sister makes the most wonderful herbal drops that help with sore throats and coughs, and it doesn’t taste nearly as bad as those drafts!” And she bustled forward to sit by her friend.

She seemed even more beautiful now than the last time he had seen her. Creamy skin glowed, her light chestnut hair shone in the afternoon light. Those wide hazel eyes he liked to much seemed to draw every man to her like a magnet. Having never comprehended his brother’s fits of seething, rage filled jealousy, Harry was forced to grudgingly admit that it was a singularly unpleasant sensation. Every time an eligible man had approached and spoke to her, Harry had felt his temperature rise and his fists clench. Having her here, almost all to himself, felt made muscles in his shoulders relax that he had not even realized were tight.

He had assumed, obviously incorrectly, that she wouldn’t be as much the centre of attention as she clearly was. Harry had thought her body tended to his more…particular tastes. A different sort of heat rose up along his neck at the guilty realization, and he hastily distracted himself from that train of thought by turning his attention back to the two women. Clarice was pressing a palm below her ribcage in what appeared to be a habitual gesture, a slight tightening of her features visible at the same time. There was a lot of woman strapped into that tight outfit, he was willing to wager. This afternoon’s outfit seemed even tighter than usual. Given his preferences of female beauty, he was not overly fond of the fashion. And it couldn’t be comfortable - the poor woman often seemed sorely pressed to breathe. He was so caught up in watching her soft arms move as she gestured that he started and blushed at being spoken to. “Beg pardon, I was lost in thought.”

“I said, ‘would you care to take a stroll outside?’.”

“Yes.” The word was out almost before she was done speaking, and he stood with equal eagerness. A grimace passed over his face, and he quickly subdued his excitement. His normal, scheduled, and regulated life seemed to have gone topsy-turvy ever since he had walked in on his sister as she poured over the accounting books. From several months of boring and consistent proceedings, he had been thrown into a whirlwind. A half reconciliation with his brother, a genuine friendly affection developing for his sister. Not to mention the situation with his aunt. And now her.

He felt like he was atop of a high tree blowing in the winds before a storm. Sometimes, while in the eye, it felt utterly peaceful and even sunny. Yet, without warning, the winds would whip sand into his eyes as his perch flung itself wildly. And instead of climbing down like a rational man, he kept moving higher up that blasted tree, leaving himself open to her.

Kitty smiled at them weakly from the comfort of the couch. “Enjoy the day.”

Clarice blew her a kiss. “Is there anything I can get for you, darling? No? See you soon.” Chubby fingers waved, lights glancing off the facets of the jewels on her hand.

Harry felt like he was a young oaf again as he nearly tripped over his own feet following her down to the front door, and even more so when his tongue nearly tied itself in knots. For the life of him, he couldn’t think of a single topic to introduce, and walked for several moments in dumb silence. After several belated moments, he courteously offered her his arm.

Clarice took it with a calm grace and equal silence. Her pace was relaxed, her movements round, buoyant and elegant. After they had turned the block, the woman tilted her pale face up to his. “You are very silent today,” she observed with a ready smile as her hazel eyes met his.

Having been so sure that she reciprocated his feelings, he had felt confident enough to take on the world. But her subsequent coldness, her brusque conversation, and her changeability had him questioning himself. And no small part of him was certain that if he did open his mouth, he would somehow offend her again. “I am simply enjoying our walk,” he muttered at last, hoping it was a banal enough response to avoid her anger.

Dark brows did contract, but she seemed more confused than angry. “How does Kitty know Telford?” she asked instead as they rounded a corner.

Ah. She was here to learn about them. He had no illusions to the sheer amount of information her family amassed, and how it improved not only their financial resources, but also their position in society. “From what I understand, they have known each other since Katherine was but a girl.” He replied with indifference. “Why do you ask?”

“I would not have thought that they would have been so close…”

There was enough meaning in her gaze and tone for Harry to catch her drift. “I believe that Kitty was, and is, rather fond of him. I believe that Telford feels for her - as an older brother.” He glanced down in time to see a flash of disbelief expressed in a quirked brow.

It was immediately banished, and Clarice shrugged. “As you say – long acquaintance does breed strong affection, does it not?”

“And what does that say about your friendship with Katherine?”

They had just turned into the entrance to the park. The heiress appeared startled, slowing her already ambling pace. Her hand was pressing at her waist again, and she seemed out of breath. “Kitty? She is an absolute dear!”

“Are you feeling well?” Harry demanded. It was clear that she was not able to breathe properly, and panic was slowly setting in. “Clarice, look at me.”

Wide eyes rolled his way, and she began fluttering her hands softly, trying to inhale more deeply. The extremely taut corset prevented these efforts, which caused her to try harder. The plump woman began to change colour, alternately paling and reddening.

“If this was a different time, and a different place, you would not have that blasted contraption on you,” The muscular man growled, stepping forward and gently grasping her elbows. “I cannot even try to loosen it without compromising you. You need to relax.”

“Loose it, loose it,” the woman whimpered. “Oh God, I can’t breathe. I’ll do anything, please!”

Gently assisting her to the ground, Harry carefully placed himself next to her. “Clarice, listen to me. You need to lay flat on the grass for a moment. That’s it. There’s a girl,” he murmured, casting a glance around. Unluckily, the park was not empty, so his options were limited. Scooping up a cultivated flower, he gently touched it to her cheek. “Focus on me. Can you see me?”

Clarice nodded, transferring her panicked gaze from the foliage overhead to his face. “Yes.”

“What colour are my eyes?”

“G-grey.” The woman stuttered.

“Are you sure?” Harry smiled.

The woman was so nonplussed by the response she forgot to panic, taking a second glance. “Yes,” was her testy response. “At least I pay attention. You don’t even know mine.”

“Your eyes are beautiful. They are the colour of coffee with cream around the centre, and they fade to the colour of spring grass. The outside is boarded by a darker shade of green, almost blue. And your left eye has a freckle on it. The only other freckle that you have is on the top of your right breast.”

Now completely sidetracked, Clarice blushed. It was a singularly becoming expression. Completely horizontal as she was, she looked incredibly young as she turned her face to his. The sunlight dappled her face, the sun causing her eyes to light up and dim by turns. “Why do you look at me that way?” It could have been interpreted as an insulted demand, except for the gentle inquisitive tone which it was uttered with.

Sliding the warm, velvet petals of the flower down her other cheek, Harry blinked. “Like what?”

“Like you…enjoy looking at me.”

Thrown, Harry sat upright. “Of course I- ” He knew before it slipped from his lips that it was not going to be a very elegant comment, but he was so shocked by the vulnerability he saw in the normally proud and confident woman, all he could do was blurt the first thing that came to his lips.

“Nottingham. Miss Belltaunt.”

Both of them started at the sudden interruption. Their startled eyes met those of a gentleman who had just come upon them, looking almost angry. Harry recognised him for one of the select few that Clarice seemed to have focused her attention on.

“Westmore,” she greeted him, pushing herself into a sitting position. Immediately, a sort of shield seemed to rise around her. Except for the fact that Harry had just seen it lowered, he would not have understood that direct smile to be anything other than confidence.

The man gazed hard at Harry for a long moment before made a leg. “I am acquainted with your brother. I am sorry to interrupt, but Miss Belltaunt has promised her afternoon to me. We are going to be driving around the park in my new gig. Do you drive? I haven’t seen your team about.”

The intended barb was laughably obvious. “I am a passable horseman - but no, I do not drive.”

“Ah, a huntsman than. A good shot, eh?”

Harry felt the muscles in his jaw contract, and he couldn’t help but glance at the woman who he assisted to rise. “I rarely hunt, sir.”

“A pacifist, then,” Westmore said with a half smothered smirk. It looked sinister, considering his broken nose.

His brother was not stupid, but Raoul frequently let his temper get the better of him. In Westmore’s gloating pricks, Harry easily recognized the same tactics that would quickly anger his sibling. He was seriously displeased with the attempts to emasculate him in front of Clarice, and all of the close affection he had just been feeling vanished in a wave of anger as she slipped her arm through the other mans. Perhaps he had more of a temper than he cared to admit.

“Westmore,” he instead murmured, touching the brim of his hat. “Clarice.” He finished, purposefully omitting the formality the situation called for.

She glared at him as the man turned her away. I’ll make you pay for that, she mouthed over her shoulder.

Instead of feeling excitement, he sighed, feeling utterly exhausted. Every interaction with her was draining, as if he was being put through his paces at each interview. Even Kitty, who was becoming Clarice’s friend, had warned him towards caution. Perhaps his sister was seeing the situation more clearly than he was. Perhaps she really was not interested. She had come to see her sick friend, and had gone for a walk down a public street with him. And he was somehow making this into a romantic tete-a-tete!

If she was interested in him, she would not be expressing herself to, and spending time with, these other men.

Perhaps she was not just goading him on, encouraging his suit. Perhaps…

If he had to fight this hard for something…

Perhaps it was not meant to be.
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Old 10-13-2015, 08:25 PM   #21
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Loving this. The dynamic between Harry and Clarice is fascinating, and for some reason I just really love Harry's aversion to corsets. Thank you for another wonderful chapter!
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Old 10-14-2015, 06:32 AM   #22
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It only has five chapters? I am way too sad right now.
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Old 10-14-2015, 06:58 AM   #23
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Thanks!

Only five chapters yet. My works tend to be, um, verbose, so its more likely to end up as twenty five chapters

Good news is i feel like i just slipped over my writers block, so i am hoping i can post a little more frequently!
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Old 10-14-2015, 09:13 AM   #24
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Aside from enjoying your writing, as always, I have to particularly admit my admiration for how well you write from Harry's point of view--he feels totally believable as an FA. (maybe this is easy for you, but not everyone can pull that trick of points of view so nicely)
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Old 10-14-2015, 07:34 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tad View Post
Aside from enjoying your writing, as always, I have to particularly admit my admiration for how well you write from Harry's point of view--he feels totally believable as an FA. (maybe this is easy for you, but not everyone can pull that trick of points of view so nicely)
I completely agree with this. I love how you are not only able to write so well from the different perspectives of FA or object of admiration, but also so seamlessly between genders and time periods. It is a particular talent I admire in your work. I'm loving the story!
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