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BHM The Rocky Road to Highcastle [BHM, romance, historical]

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Well-Known Member
Oct 23, 2019
United States
Author's Note: stupid covid finally got me, so this seemed as good a time as any to start on my next period drama. We're definitely got a slow burn to start, because this one will be much longer than The Honorable. I hope you enjoy!

The Rocky Road to Highcastle
by Ghostboo
In regency England, a hefty Baronet and eccentric young woman have both sworn off marriage. But that was, of course, because they ended up in the same place...

Chapter One - Guy Darby

The evening’s ball was, Guy Darby thought, just as usual as they always were. Highcastle wasn’t a particularly large town, which was part of the reason he’d relocated there in the first place, but it meant these gatherings showed almost entirely repetitive faces. He had no idea why he’d allowed Levi Baxter to drag him out tonight.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” Levi asked from his right, taking a sip of beer. Guy made eye contact with his friend, his deep brown eyes boring into Levi’s brighter blues, before sipping his own beer silently. Levi sighed. “One could argue that nothing would make you happy, Guy. When you’re getting lots of attention from marriageable girls, it’s too much. And now that you’re being left alone, you’re still sulking.”

“Yes,” Guy replied dryly. “It’s almost as if I should have stayed home.”

Guy Darby had moved into his home in Highcastle a little over a year earlier. As soon as his father, the Baronet Darby, had passed away, Guy had entertained no thoughts of moving into his childhood estate. Once the sale had gone through, Guy had taken what servants wished to move with him to Highcastle, where they took occupancy in Stormgrove. He still had his home in London, of course, but that was to remain unoccupied by any but the caretakers for the foreseeable future.

Shaking away the thought before any unpleasant memories resurfaced, Guy dragged a hand up his cheek and into his dark hair. He felt the scruff on his cheeks, but couldn’t muster the embarrassment he ought to have felt for going out in public looking so disheveled. He wasn’t planning on spending time with any partygoers but Levi, so why concern himself?

When Guy Darby first moved into Stormgrove, of course, there was a veritable stampede of mothers trying frantically to make matches for their daughters. A new young man in town with the coin to pay for an estate, and a Baronet no less? They were relentless for months on end. Guy was polite but firm - he would dance one dance with each young woman, then move on. He could see in the girl’s eyes their determination to win over a wealthy suitor, but the feelings besides that were…well, less than ideal.

For Guy Darby may have been a prime marriage candidate on paper, with his age and income written out, but what most noticed first was a different number - in stones. Guy had skewed chubby as long as he could remember, and despite a valiant effort to stay on the trimmest end of the spectrum that he possibly could during his years in London, that had failed in the end. And while he was far from being the only plump man in the area, he was certainly the youngest, and still one of the widest. Most let the older gentlemen, the fathers and especially the wealthy, slide with their stocky forms. They had earned it, after all, over the years. But Guy Darby was still in his prime - why couldn’t he resist the temptation to overeat? And he may have been wealthy, but he wasn’t that wealthy. A king ran a country, but Guy Darby was only a Baronet. What was he thinking?

Guy had heard it all, and seen it echoed in the eyes of the polite but obviously disinterested women in Highcastle. It was a relief that they were now leaving him alone, but as he tugged his too-tight waistcoat away from where his soft stomach pressed into it, Guy still wished he had stayed at home. He could have had his friend over for tea another day, couldn’t he? Why did he need to go out?

Levi Baxter, perhaps an inch or two taller than Guy at 183cm, scanned the crowd before grinning. Levi’s good looks and easy manner meant he was no stranger to attention of his own, especially as his yearly income - while not quite at Guy’s level - was nothing to sneeze at. However, the lanky young man had managed to develop quite the reputation as a rake, with no intention of marrying anytime soon, so most mothers steered their awestruck daughters away from his vicinity at parties. Still, if he wanted to seek them out, he certainly could.

Guy followed his friend’s gaze, then blinked. Once, twice, then instinctively sucked in his middle as best he could against the straining buttons. Of the pair that had just entered the ballroom, Guy recognized one - Nathan Seaborne, a tall, dark-featured young man who was the current topic of scandal in Highcastle. Next to him, though, was someone Guy didn’t recognize - unusual enough, but there was something else about her that made his insides stand quiet. Remembering finally to breath, Guy asked,

“Who is that?”

Levi’s sideways glance to him was brief, thankfully, before he answered.

“Do you recall how I told you about Nathan Seaborne’s problems with his wife? And how they’re using his father’s health as a cover for Nathan moving out of his marital home and back into his family’s?”

“I do,” Guy said. “This whole town can talk of little else nowadays.”

“Well, his father’s failing health is true, at least. Which is why Nathan’s sister, Juliet Seaborne, is back from Scotland.”

“Sister?” Guy tried, and failed, to give a more cohesive answer as he continued to blink in the sibling’s direction. Where Nathan was tall and lanky, Juliet was short and curvy. Nathan’s dark features were in stark contrast to Juliet’s creamy skin and strawberry-blonde hair.

“Not too many similarities, I’ll grant you,” Levi said, but as he did, both Nathan and Juliet grinned at something the other had said and Guy saw the family connection. It was hard to put into words, but the way their eyes crinkled and their smiles lifted up higher at one end matched perfectly despite their differences. “But both are loads of fun. Oi, Miss Seaborne!” Levi lifted his voice to call out to the new guest, and Juliet turned, smiling again as she saw him. Nathan motioned to the other side of the dance floor, and Juliet nodded, before the pair split up and the latter approached them. Guy felt his heart hammer in a strange kind of excitement and panic.

Up close, Guy could see that Juliet’s eyes were a light, sparkling green, that nearly disappeared in a half-moon as she grinned when Levi took her hand. Bestowing a light kiss upon it, Levi used his other hand to offer a sweeping gesture towards the ballroom.

“Welcome home, my friend,” he said as he straightened up. Juliet lifted out of her curtsy and Guy saw she barely came up to Levi’s shoulder, meaning she’d just be hardly above his own.

“Mr. Baxter, you’re too kind,” she replied. “It is certainly….something…to be back.”

“I can imagine,” Levi said. “Miss Seaborne, this is my friend and Highcastle’s newest resident, Sir Guy Darby.”

“Ahh, Sir,” Juliet said, dipping back into a curtsy. Guy bowed his head in greeting, feeling every awkward inch as he tightened his stomach. He still wasn’t used to the sir title, to be frank. It reminded him too much of his father, something he never aspired to be like. “So you must be the Baronet I’ve heard about.”

“I suppose I am,” Guy replied.

“Heard already? Your gem of a mother must be off to the races with your current marital options then,” Levi said with a grin. Juliet groaned.

“Why do you think I’ve waited until now to show my face? Because I wouldn’t come out if she was accompanying us. I really did think I had a little more time to continue to pretend to be looking for a husband in Scotland. But…” Juliet trailed off.

“I’m sorry to hear about your father,” Levi picked up sympathetically. “How is he feeling?”

“He has good days and he has bad days. It’s worth it to spend the time with him, of course. It’s just…being six-and-twenty and unmarried with a mother like mine in close proximity, you know, is…exhausting.”

“I have only observed, and can only imagine, but you have my sympathies,” Levi said. Guy nodded, wishing he had anything worthwhile to contribute to this conversation.

“Thank you, Mr. Baxter.”

“Knowing you, you must be ready to dance already? I am still finishing up my beer, but perhaps Sir Darby would be so kind?” Levi said, and suddenly Guy found both Levi and Juliet looking at him with hopeful expressions. But instinctively, he found himself shaking his head.

“As delightful a way to pass the time as that sounds, I am not dancing tonight.”

“I see,” Juliet said, the disappointment in her tone hidden behind a cheerful reply - the opposite of what Guy usually heard from girls he turned down. “Well, that’s quite all right. I’ll go make myself available near the dance floor. See who dares.”

“Godspeed, and I’ll certainly take you up on a position on your dance card later,” Levi said. Juliet smiled back and curtsied to him, then to Guy, before making her way towards the twirling pairs on the dance floor. Once she was out of earshot, Levi slowly turned to look at his friend, who was studying the way his feet interacted with the floor.

“Oh, you’re not dancing tonight?”

“I’m…not dressed for it.”

“And how is that?” Levi asked, looking him up and down. Guy, torn between embarrassed and relieved that it wasn’t too noticeable, admitted the truth.

“My suit is too tight.”

“I see,” Levi said after a moment, clearly stifling a sigh. “Well, I’m going to fetch another beer.”

Guy took the opportunity to relieve himself, then take a moment to study himself in the hall’s mirror. His wavy hair was longer than was fashionable, but brushing his hand through it a few times had it falling in a way that didn’t look too terrible, Guy thought. The stubble on his cheeks seemed to add volume to his face, rather than disguise it, but there wasn’t much that could be done about that now. He lifted his face up to see if that hid any of his double chin, patting underneath then dragging a hand down his thick neck. With a sigh, he straightened his suit jacket over the too-tight buttons that he refused to look at directly, then headed back into the ballroom.

Levi had his beer, and was watching the dancing. Guy joined him and was surprised to see Juliet still standing on the edge of the floor, not joining in on the dancing. Meanwhile, the women who had been dancing most of the night still had various partners on their arm.

“Has no one else asked Miss Seaborne to dance yet? Or is she taking a break?”

“No, no one’s asked. I will after I finish this,” Levi said, taking a larger gulp of his beer.

“But why? She seems…” Guy trailed off, not sure how much of his opinion he was able to verbalize. Levi looked at him with a cocked eyebrow.

“Juliet Seaborne isn’t what one would call ‘popular’ in this town. Highcastle isn’t particularly large, as you know. There’s a reason she’s been in Scotland for so long.”

“What reason is that?”

“After rejecting nearly every man here who believed he could handle a life with her, it seemed like the best option for Mrs. Seaborne to be able to find her daughter a husband. It wasn’t, clearly, but here we are.”

“‘Handle’ a life with her?”

“I told you that Juliet was fun, and I meant it. But her sense of self is…strong. It’s unappealing for most men who are looking for marriage and just want an easy temperament to go with the pretty face.”

“Well that just seems absurd, Levi.”

“I’m not saying I agree with it. That’s why I said men looking for marriage, which I decidedly am not. She’s a good friend, but many hold grudges for themselves or comrades who were let down not-so-gently.”

“I see.”

“I’m off to her rescue,” Levi said wryly, finishing the last of his beer and setting it down. “And if your unfortunate suit choice provides you enough comfort to merely stand all night, I may recommend staying later than your typical silent early departure.”

“Why is that?”

“Our hosts tonight aren’t too conservative, and when these parties die down, the Seabornes have been known to provide their own entertainment. It’s been a few years, but…well, one can hope.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see. Try and enjoy yourself, Guy.”

This was easier said than done, but despite the biting his pant’s waistline did into his soft skin, Guy took a seat to observe the party around him. He normally would have snuck out by now, but he was curious enough about Juliet Seaborne and what Levi had told him that he stayed even when others began filtering out.

Once the elder members of the party had mostly made their way home, Guy observed Levi and a couple other guests speaking to Nathan Seaborne. With a grin, the young man accepted the English guitar that was offered him by a servant, and made his way to the area where the band had played until their shift was done. Juliet moved to join him, and Guy stood to get a better look.

“Here we go,” Levi told him, smirking as they watched the two set up. Nathan took a seat on a stool, while Juliet found a position where she could see him but still face what guests were left. It was a much smaller group than before, mostly of young adults, but still decently sized. Soon, Nathan began playing, and Juliet sang.

Guy quickly realized what Levi meant when he emphasized fun, but also not exactly popular. The songs the pair performed were bawdy, just occasionally verging on scandalous. The listening group giggled and blushed, and a few even engaged in unofficial dancing, linking arms and spinning around while Juliet sang about whiskey, or life on a sailing ship, or often both. One song featured a story about a racing donkey that even had Guy smiling into his cups.

There were, however, a few partygoers with a markedly different reaction to the music. Guy recognized Felton Pendergast standing near Priscilla Underwood, both openly rolling their eyes. Felton was about Guy’s age, and though Guy had only had a few conversations with him, they had all been noticeably unpleasant. As such, Guy avoided him. Priscilla, meanwhile, was a particularly determined breed of young woman who had tried much harder than many of the others to find and keep Guy’s attentions. From the get-go, Guy could see barely disguised revulsion behind Priscilla’s polite smiles, so he had done the bare minimum to get through their interactions. Still, unlike the others, she did not give up. Money and a title was, it seemed, a top priority for the Underwoods. Guy quickly looked away from the exasperated group.

After the party wrapped up, concluding with a surprisingly touching farewell song that several others joined in for, Guy made his way home. Since he had stayed longer than expected, he was a little tipsier than he meant to be, and he was glad for the promptness of his carriage back to Stormgrove.

He dismissed his servants back to bed as they greeted him, content (and preferring) to undress himself. While he couldn’t see it exactly under the round swell of his belly, he could feel the tight lines that formed where his waistband had been, and he ran his fingers along them absentmindedly. It was a relief to be able to take full, deep breaths again, without pesky buttons to worry about. As he splashed water on his face before bed, Guy avoided looking below the neck as he drew a thoughtful hand across his chin. He was too drunk now, but tomorrow, for certain, he would shave.

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