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

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Ghostboo

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Oct 23, 2019
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Chapter Nine

The following Saturday resulted in a role reversal as Guy cast his eye around the large sitting room he and Levi were in, looking for someone. That evening was a dinner party at the fine home of the Smiths, which meant rather a smaller gathering than a ball - but still an excellent opportunity to socialize and dance.

Levi, in one overstuffed red armchair, eyed his larger friend in a matching seat as he swirled his tumbler of whiskey.

“We both know she’s not here yet,” Levi drawled. “And that she’s sure to find us as soon as she is, whether you keep looking frantically about or not.”

“Who?” Guy asked innocently, blushing as he watched Levi roll his eyes dramatically back into his head. The pair both took a sip of their whiskey, one exasperated, one embarrassed.

“There’s no need to have any shame around me, Darby.”

“I know not of what you speak, Baxter,” Guy replied airily, swirling his own whiskey as he cast another sweeping gaze around the room before returning them to Levi. His friends eyebrows were raised so high they nearly disappeared into his hair.

“Fine, then. Why were you late again?” For cocktail hour was nearly over, with Guy having arrived nearly twenty minutes after the start. He had found Levi with a relieved smile, then observed the rest of the partygoers with surprise.

Guy was unable to hide the blush that crept up from his snug collar and to his cheeks at Levi’s question. To start the evening, the first suit his valet had tried to outfit him with didn’t even come close to buttoning. The second suit had gotten buttoned, but at Guy’s first breath, the tight vest’s second button from the bottom along with his pant’s button had burst off in protest. He was now in his green suit from the Middleton’s ball, but to his horror, had found the previously perfectly fitted suit now had noticeable puckering and pulling at the buttons on his widest bits.

Guy had mumbled something about being more aware of laundering needs to his household before rushing to get to this evening’s dinner party. He may still have made it on time, if not for another…inconvenience…that he refused to reflect on even momentarily. Now, instinctively, he sucked in a breath while tugging the slightly too-tight vest and undershirt away from his belly.

“I…lost…track of time,” Guy finally replied, his tone easy, but his words another obvious lie. Levi, who had observed his friend’s nervous adjusting to accomodate for his size at the question, merely nodded.

“As you say, Guy.”

But Guy ignored him as his dark eyes lit up, following a small blonde frame that had appeared in the doorway to the sitting room where they all drank. Juliet Seaborne’s lips were closed in a tight line, her eyes flashing, and the reason for her mood and late arrival became clear not long after.

Following Juliet into the room was, of course, her brother Nathan. But behind Nathan, already twittering at the evening’s decorations, was an older lady who shared her son’s dark features - Mrs. Seaborne. Guy hadn’t seen her for a few months, so it took him a moment to confirm, but while she stood next to Nathan the dots were easily connected.

Catching sight easily of Guy’s wide frame next to Levi’s tall one, Juliet practically stomped her way over - while still managing to smoothly gather herself a glass of red wine. She took an impressive gulp of it she reached the armchairs, allowing herself to lean against the side of Levi’s seat.

“Miss Seaborne,” Levi greeted with an incline of his head at the same time as Guy stood as quickly as he was able - unfortunately not the easiest feat to accomplish out of his overstuffed armchair with his snug clothing.

“Juliet,” Guy said as he did, bowing his head slightly. “How are you?”

“Please, no need to get up on my account,” Julie said, her voice appreciative but still dry as her lips tightened further. A glance over to where Nathan and Mrs. Seaborne stood near the fireplace, the latter openly staring at her daughter and the men she was with, elicited an audible groan. “I am…here.”

“How’d that come about?” Levi asked, his gaze flicking to Juliet’s family, then back up to her face. Guy gestured an offer to Juliet to sit in his seat, but she shook her head tightly. So carefully, Guy returned to the chair - keeping his stomach held in tightly as he gently tugged his shirt away from clinging to his round form yet again.

“You both know I swore to not attend any balls or gatherings unless my mother stayed home,” Juliet said from between her teeth, clearly resisting glaring over towards the fireplace. Both Guy and Levi nodded. “Well. I overplayed my hand. She saw how much…fun I’ve been having. So when someone let slip I danced three times with the same man last week-” Guy, being that man, couldn’t help but half-smile at the memory. “-mother took the opportunity to declare Nathan an unfit chaperone, and that she would be coming along tonight whether I liked it or not.”

Juliet took a deep inhale through her nose, the fire in her eyes flickering dangerously.

“I tried to call her bluff and say I would stay home, and she just…said okay. I don’t know how she knew I would eventually give in!”

Levi risked looking from Juliet’s furious face over to Guy’s round one with a cocked eyebrow. Guy avoided his gaze and Juliet, luckily, didn’t seem to notice.

“So here we are now,” Juliet concluded darkly, finishing her glass of wine and crossing her arms with a scowl.

“Julie-e-et!” A lilting call from across the room turned the heads of the trio. Mrs. Seaborne, either not realizing the two men watched her too or not caring, mimed uncrossing arms and pointed at her face to showcase a smile, then looked expectantly at her daughter. Juliet all but bared her teeth before whirling back to face the chairs.

“You should just kill me now,” Juliet said. “I ought to have stayed home and read. I’m just…” her green eyes flicked to Guy’s dark ones, softening just a little. But she quickly looked away and shook her head. “…just stupid, I guess.”

“Kill you and miss all this fun? I think not,” Levi said cheekily, raising his glass at Mrs. Seaborne. Mrs. Seaborne blinked in horror at the attention from the town rake and looked quickly to the paintings on the walls.

“Hell born babe,” hissed Juliet, whipping out an insult that meant Levi was both immature and evil.

“That he is,” Guy agreed, unable to hide a grin at the banter. “But I’m sure we can get through the evening without too much bloodshed.”

“I’m not,” Juliet grumbled.

“Guy knows alllll about dealing with problem parents out in society,” Levi said casually. “He can help.”

At mention of his father, Guy instinctually stiffened, sucking in his belly even harder than he had been. Juliet noticed, tracing her gaze up and then down her friend’s round form, her brows furrowing slightly in concern. Guy’s memory, meanwhile, ran back a reel of some of his father’s greatest hits, including one of the last conversations they had: “Do you think anyone is going to respect the Darby name when it’s carried on by a puff guts?” Followed by a sharp jab to Guy’s smaller-than-now-but-still-soft midsection.

Guy took a breath, purposefully relaxing his stature, but before he could speak a bell chimed to signal that dinner was ready. Levi stood and offered Guy a hand, which he took gratefully to help keep his balance as he followed. Unlike most men Guy knew, Levi didn’t go on to crack a joke about his weight as Guy rose. Didn’t mockingly act like he was being pulled over, didn’t let out a purposefully exaggerated grunt of exertion. It was one of the things Guy was most thankful for in their friendship.

As was proper, Guy offered Juliet his arm to escort her into the dining room. Juliet took it with a half-smile as she joined the group on the walk towards the meal, ignoring her mother’s hiss to stand up straighter.

The half-smile broke into a full, broad grin as they found their place settings. Juliet’s name card was next to Guy’s, and she sat with relief as Nathan took his seat on the other side of her. Their mother was also next to Nathan, and Levi was directly across from Guy and Juliet. He offered the pair a wink as he sat, and moments later, the first courses were deposited to the middle of the table.

Just within reach, Juliet saw a steaming roast hare, cabbage salad, potato and leek soup, salmon, and a plate of asparagus decadently drizzled in butter. Recalling her conversation with Guy at last week’s ball, Juliet nearly squeaked with excitement at the sight. Enthusiastically, she began to add various portions of the offerings to her plate, depending on what looked good.

“What sauce is that, Levi?” She asked her friend, who was drizzling his roast with a delicious looking deep red color.

“Port wine,” Levi replied. “Here.” He passed it to her and Juliet added some thick sauce to her salmon, a bit to the salad, and even a splash in her soup.

“Here is the port wine sauce, if you care for it,” Juliet said to Guy, her voice starting off chipper before trailing a little. Guy was collecting his food slowly, one might even say uncertainly, and so far only the cabbage salad and salmon was on his plate. But within his reach on the other side of the table, Juliet could see plum pudding and chicken confit. “Did you see the asparagus, too?”

“Yes,” Guy replied, meeting Juliet’s eyes briefly before he gave a small smile and allowed himself to collect two pieces of the long green vegetable. He eyed the port wine sauce skeptically, but hungrily.

“Are you all right, Guy?” Juliet couldn’t help but ask as her friend hesitated. Guy licked just the middle of his plump lips, thinking to himself before answering.

“To be frank, this is my first dinner party in…awhile. And my very first in Highcastle. They’re not…always where I am comfortable.”

“Oh,” Juliet said. “Well, what made you decide to come to this one, but not the others?”

Guy lifted his dark eyes to meet Juliet’s, and there was a moment of silence before he replied softly: “I don’t know. Why did you come to this one despite your promise regarding your mother?”

Juliet flushed. Guy didn’t break their eye contact, so despite the pink heat on her cheeks, neither did Juliet. Guy took pity on her after a moment, and continued, “Like I mentioned last week, Juliet, I don’t tend to indulge in front of so many people.”

“This is hardly ‘so many people’, sir,” Juliet said, her voice a little hoarse as she matched Guy’s low volume. “Me, Levi…Mrs. Patterson on your right, who is plenty busy with her own plum pudding…”

Guy flicked his gaze to his right, stifling a laugh.

“And doesn’t it feel better when you do?” Juliet continued. “The champagne and salmon rolls at Griffinhead Hall, the toast triangles at Wolfbriar…that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“You are perhaps a a terrible influence,” Guy said wryly, eyeing the creamy soup in front of him before giving in to scooping himself a bowl.

“If that means you’ll eat, you know, at a dinner party, then I’ll take it,” Juliet retorted. “Everyone requires food, after all. No one minds.” After a pause, she allowed a glance of her own to her left, past Nathan. “I mean, my mother will - if she sees me going for seconds - but I trust us to be sly about it.”

At this, Guy did snort.

“My father would too,” he admitted, reaching for the port wine sauce. “Often well before seconds, unfortunately.”

“Before?”

“I might have taken what he deemed to be too large of a bite, or added a few too many varieties to my plate, or seemed to enjoy it just a bit too much - and he’d signal the footman to remove my utensils. I’d still have to sit there for the entirety of the rest of the meal - with no way to consume it.”

Juliet’s mouth dropped open, which she covered with her free hand as she stared at Guy with wide eyes.

“But why?”

Guy turned his head slowly to meet Juliet’s eyes, at which point his gaze flicked down and over his rounded form. When it flicked back up, he cocked an eyebrow in an obvious, but silent, retort - we both know you can see why.

Juliet did break eye contact first this time, her pink cheeks shining as she looked back to her plate to choose the perfect bite. Collecting a piece of asparagus, a piece of salmon, and cabbage all on the end of her fork, Juliet declared: “what an insufferably horrible man.” Before stuffing the bite into her mouth.

Guy grinned, helping himself to some of the rest of the food on the table.

“Yes, and that is putting it kindly. Care for some pudding or confit?”

“Yes, please!” Juliet replied enthusiastically as Guy added a delicious looking portion of each to her plate. As she was sure no one else listened at the moment, she added, “Thank you, Guy.”

“Mutton?” Nathan offered from her other side, and Juliet shook her head even as she still took the plate from her brother. He watched her in confusion as she turned to offer it to Guy.

“Mutton?”

“Oh, absolutely. Thank you.”

Juliet added a more than generous portion to Guy’s plate, ignoring his curious cocked eyebrow. She set the plate in between her and Levi, who made eye contact with Guy with a similar question on his face. Guy gave a nearly imperceptible shrug as he added a veritable lake of port wine sauce to the mutton and dug in.
 
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Ghostboo

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After the second course, with highlights including raspberry cake, turkey, crawfish, shepherd’s pie, beefsteaks, and the richest white wine & butter sauce Guy had ever tasted - and then a third course, a cheese and fruit forward dessert spread - a couple hours had passed since they had arrived. Guy shifted back in his seat, trying to subtly make more room for his stuffed middle as he felt it bite into his pants's snug waistband. No amount of breathing and tightening would hide the strain the buttons of his vest were under now, so Guy merely tugged forward the sides of his dinner jacket, hoping to at least make it less visible.

“Wasn’t that just delicious?” Juliet mused as their plates were cleared away and glasses of port appeared in front of them. Guy heard Nathan chime in an affirmation from the other side of Juliet, and Guy nodded his own - despite the very slow rub he was giving his belly with his thumb on Mrs. Patterson’s side of the table. Port arriving meant dancing was soon, and Guy knew he needed to digest a little more before he’d be able to hold his own on the dance floor.

“Take your time with the port,” their host Mr. Smith said from the head of the table, standing to display the now informal nature of post-dinner socializing. “The musicians are setting up for dancing in the front room, and shall play until the wee hours!”

Juliet clapped twice, gleefully, not noticing as her mother stood from the other side of Nathan. Mrs. Seaborne walked between the chairs of her two children, took a sip of her port, then announced: “I’m ready to go home.”

Guy saw Nathan blink up at his mother in confusion, Juliet’s head turning slowly, furiously, to look at the older woman standing above her.

What?

“I’m ready to go home,” repeated Mrs. Seaborne, her tone lilting and carefree, ignoring the way her daughter spoke between her teeth.

“Stay for one dance, Mama? You know we can’t walk home if you take the carriage,” Nathan asked carefully, looking between his sister and mother. Mrs. Seaborne bouncily shook her head.

“No, Nathan. No, I don’t feel well at all, and will be departing immediately. So, unless you and your sister can find another way to get home…” at this, Mrs. Seaborne’s hazel eyes slowly landed on the plump form of Guy Darby next to her daughter. “…we all need to depart immediately.”

Levi, who had ridden his horse from his estate not too far away, watched the interaction with fascination.

Mother,” Juliet hissed, at the same time as Guy spoke up.

“I can give your children a ride home, Mrs. Seaborne.”

All eyes turned towards him, Juliet whipping around to stare as Mrs. Seaborne broke out in a triumphant smile. Levi looked between them all, sipping his port. Nathan raised his eyebrows high into his dark hair, but said nothing.

“Oh, Sir Darby, I couldn’t put you out like that,” Mrs. Seaborne said, placing a hand on his upper arm. Guy smiled uncomfortably back at her, knowing he was being played, but still not willing to let Juliet go home before they’d had at least one dance.

Exactly as Mrs. Seaborne hoped.

“It isn’t an inconvenience at all. I insist,” Guy said, his tone gracious enough that Mrs. Seaborne beamed. But there was a concern beneath the calm that only Levi and Juliet picked up on, the pair looking at their friend in worry. Guy ignored them.

“Thank you so, so much, sir. We must host you at our home for dinner this week to express our gratitude,” Mrs. Seaborne replied, her grip on his upper arm tightening until he answered.

“That is unnecessary, but I would be honored.”

“Tuesday, sir?”

“As you wish.”

Looking so triumphant she might have been exiting a conquered battlefield, Mrs. Seaborne let go of Guy and turned to her children.

“I will see you at home. Nathan, I trust you to keep a close eye on our Juliet. Juliet, darling…” but something in her daughter’s face caused Mrs. Seaborne to pause, force a smile, and merely pat her on the shoulder. “Be good. Farewell, all.” And she drifted away to say her goodbyes to the host.

Juliet shook her head, and Guy leaned even further back in his chair as he wrapped his arms around his decadents-stuffed belly, setting his linked fingers over his straining buttons.

“Fun,” Levi said, grinning as he finished up the last of his port. Juliet merely groaned, setting her head in her right hand as she placed her elbow on the table.

“The night is young, sister,” Nathan reminded her, catching Guy’s eye with a smirk. Music was being struck up from the other room, and most of the party had emptied out to either dance or to drink in the drawing room.

“Give me five minutes, Juliet,” Guy said, his tone informal in their smaller group. “And I’ll be in dancing shape.”

“Just five minutes?” Nathan asked slyly, giving Guy a cursory once-over. Guy didn’t let anything show on his face, but he did test out drawing in his belly button closer to his spine with a deep breath. No dice, as he was still incredibly full. He would have admitted the point was fair, but Nathan spoke up again as he looked at his sister - apparently seeing something in her face that convinced him to reluctantly backpedal. “As you say.”

Closer to fifteen minutes later, Guy led Juliet in a waltz around the front room. It was much smaller than the ballrooms of the last few events, so Guy had to keep an eye on their spacing as he held her close to avoid bumping into others. This caused his overstuffed belly to be pressed almost entirely into her much flatter middle, and Guy did his best to focus on his breathing, and not that sensation.

At least from here she can’t see the buttons, he thought ruefully.

“Guy, I am…truly sorry about my mother and her imposition,” Juliet said as they twirled. “I don’t want her to think she can get away with things like this, so…I will be making good on my promise going forward. I shall just stay home if she insists on going to events.”

“No,” Guy said, gently but firmly, as he shook his head. “I meant what I said to her - it is no imposition. And if you call your mother’s bluff and are left at home, before you know it, the season will be over. I would…ah…” he tripped over his thought and paused, then slowly concluded, “I would hate to think of you sitting out the remainder of this year’s dancing just to make a point.”

“You would, huh?” Juliet said wryly, daring to tease Guy as they swirled around Levi and his dance partner.

“I am compassionate that way, yes,” Guy ribbed back. “And I suppose I might, perhaps, also miss your company.”

“I see,” Juliet said with an affectation of solemnity. “Well, we had best not risk that.”

“No, better not.”

Juliet laughed, ducking her head enough that more strawberry hair brushed Guy’s neck and against the chest of his suit. He held a breath and slowly lowered her into a dip as the song ended.
 

Ghostboo

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Throughout the evening, Guy and Juliet danced twice, and Juliet and Nathan regaled the room with three bawdy party songs, before they decided to call it a night. Or, more realistically, a very early morning. Levi bid the trio farewell as he climbed aboard his saddled horse, and the others waited for Guy’s carriage.

As it pulled up, Guy felt a hard lump in his throat that it was difficult to swallow past. He gestured Juliet and Nathan forward as the footman opened the carriage door for them, and Guy took the opportunity to speak to the coachman about the first stop they needed to make in order to drop off the Seabornes.

But that was quick work, and soon, it was Guy’s turn to enter. He swallowed hard again, smoothing a hand down his round front as he inhaled. Guy made eye contact with his footman, whose face remained neutral, but his eyes were knowing.

Years ago, one of the first investments Guy made with his business earnings was a carriage. It was beautiful, sturdy, and most importantly, made for him. The interior was large and comfortable, the entrance into it a double door opening on each side to create the most spacious possible opening. Even someone double Guy’s size would be able to squeeze in.

But that was not the carriage here tonight. Earlier in the week, his custom made carriage had broken an axel going over a pothole in the road. Guy had been certain that it would be fixed by the weekend, but no such luck. The custom size meant it had to be sent for in London, and he was still waiting. Which meant that the carriage he used to get to - and now from - the dinner party was an ancient vehicle that had once belonged to his father. And it had been out of style and comfort even before Guy was a child, with cramped seats and a narrow entrance. Not something most people would think about, but Guy didn’t have that luxury. Which he was reminded of earlier that evening, when his love handles stuck firmly on the outside of the carriage door on his way in to sit down.

Horrified, Guy had tried to twist to the side to free himself, but the confident propelling of his body towards the interior of the carriage meant that he had wedged himself firmly between an upper fat roll and the lowest, roundest part of his belly. Swearing loudly, Guy had tried to just push his way in as is, but the rocking that caused in the rickety carriage brought up a different sort of terror. Finally, the footman had helped him get fully in - with one firm hand pushing on a love handle, the other on his back, and Guy squirming and sucking his middle in as best he could. It had taken nearly 10 minutes.

Once they’d arrived at the dinner party, Guy had taken his time to extricate himself - approaching the door as much to his side as he could manage from inside a carriage. It did work better, as the footman only had to offer a light tug on Guy’s arm as the Baronet reached the fattest part of his middle to get him free. Since they were late, no one was around, but if they had been, Guy hoped it would’ve just looked like the footman was helping hold his arm for balance.

But now Guy was post-lavish meal, and remembering with sharp clarity why he had started out so hesitantly with his consumption. Barely a word from Juliet, though, and he had given in to his basest desires. And now he was about to face the natural consequences of his actions.

“Will you need a…hand, sir?” His footman asked delicately as Guy took the two steps up the side of the carriage to its entrance, the structure already creaking under his weight.

Guy murmured in reply: “Probably, though proceed with care if I do. I’d rather not knock over the carriage - or stumble through and squash my guests.” He exchanged a wane smile with the man, and then ducked his head inside.

To the left of the door Juliet sat, scooched as close to the far wall as she could. She offered Guy a smile. Nathan sat across from her, taking up more space in the middle of the bench.

Guy inhaled through his nose, then out his mouth, and made a quick calculation. He pivoted so that his left shoulder entered first, his front facing Nathan, his back to Juliet. He brought his left arm in next, steadying himself on the wall next to the door, before slowly scooting forward to pass his chest inside. The temptation to just throw himself forward and get it over with, and stopping the growing curiosity in the Seaborne’s faces, was overwhelming - but he resisted. If he forced himself forward and got as wedged as he had earlier in the evening, he’d be trapping his companions in the carriage for who knows how long.

After his chest had passed through, Guy placed his left hand carefully on the curve of the widest part of his belly that still sat outside of the door, then squashed down. Combining this with a deep, compressing breath, he began to force his waist into the gap. Unfortunately, as expected, with a stomach now full of food, his progress stopped much earlier than it had when he was getting out to enter the dinner party. A couple inches of his waist pooched over the frame and into the carriage, while the rest was wedged outside.

Guy stifled a sigh and began to work the back end of his belly with his right hand. Compressing his fat, giving a firm push, then pulling it through with his left hand. That actually worked well enough to squeeze several small sections to the other side, and Guy continued the routine as he kept his eyes diligently glued to the top right corner of the carriage. Juliet and her brother stayed silent, though the former’s eyes widened slowly as the latter smirked.

After a minute, Guy needed to exhale, and so he paused in his work - knowing the extra puffing out of his middle with the breath he took would halt him firmly anyway. He was almost halfway through, his belly fat cut neatly down the middle by the frame of the door. Guy opened his mouth, prepared to make a sheepish excuse to his unexpected audience, when he felt a firm shove against the plush middle of his side from the exterior of the carriage.

“Oof,” he grunted in surprise, the push from the footman causing his left foot to step forward into the carriage in order to regain his balance. It wasn’t much, but the force had squeezed just about another inch of Guy through. The end was in sight, causing Guy to abandon his methodical plan and instead lean into shoving the rest of the way through the carriage door. His left hand planted firmly on the wall, Guy began to push hard. He tried to keep his breath held, but another quiet groan escaped him as he squeezed, wriggling just slightly in the confinement of the frame to try and speed it along.

One last push from the footman on the side of Guy’s hip had the Baronet finally, fully into the carriage. Though the squirming, shoving, and final steps had caused the carriage to rock as Guy sat beside Juliet - not precariously, but still noticeably, as the vehicle also jostled forward to begin its journey across Highcastle.

Guy let out a shaky breath, hoping the red flush of his cheeks wasn’t as noticeable in the darkness of the late night. He could feel Juliet’s eyes on him, but he didn’t dare look back yet, afraid of what might read in them. With the cramped seats, the entire right side of her body was pressed against his left, and he diligently tried to ignore the heat that radiated from her.

“So…” Nathan said after a few minutes of silence, his lanky legs spread out far enough that they nearly touched Guy’s across the carriage. His tone was knowing, and Guy instinctively tensed. “Good dinner, huh?”

“Nathan,” Juliet said, her voice a warning.

“What? It was, obviously,” Nathan replied breezily. “I’m simply making conversation. But if that’s not what we wish to discuss…hmm, how about…Sir Darby, tell us, just between friends - what are you doing with a carriage two sizes too small?”

Nathan!" The horror in Juliet’s voice caused Guy to cringe imperceptibly as she kicked out at her brother’s legs. Nathan gleefully laughed, dodging her attempts.

“My usual carriage is out for repairs,” Guy replied honestly. “This backup is…not ideal.”

“I should say not, sir,” Nathan said back cheerfully, despite the glare on his sister’s face. “Is it always that difficult, or was this time just the luck of tonight’s feast?”

Guy’s blush deepened, betraying his otherwise calm expression. Juliet tried another kick, which finally landed on the side of Nathan’s calf. Her brother let out a groaning chuckle, and pulled them as far out of her reach as he could.

“A little of both, I suppose, Mr. Seaborne.”

“Well, for a minute there I thought I would have to pry you out with a shoehorn, so thank goodness-”

Stop it,” Juliet hissed, cutting off her brother as Guy’s heart continued to pound with embarrassment.

“All right, all right,” Nathan huffed, rolling his eyes as he leaned back in the carriage seat. “I was only kidding around, having a laugh between friends.”

“Has Sir Darby actually said that you are friends, Nathan? Because if not, I believe you owe him an apology.”

“Well…no, but…why would you give someone who wasn’t a friend a ride home?” Nathan sputtered.

Finally, for the first time since they had entered the carriage, Guy and Juliet looked at each other. It was dark, but Guy still didn’t sense any horror or disgust in the deep green pools of Juliet’s eyes, just exasperation with her brother. Guy cracked a relieved smile as he turned back towards Nathan.

“I understand, Mr. Seaborne. It is all right. I’m all right, you’re both all right, and that’s all that matters,” Guy said, sincere now that it seemed his biggest fear - judgment from Juliet - was not coming to pass. “It is rather amusing, after all. But I will stand by how that dinner was well worth it.”

Both Seabornes grinned at this, and Guy felt some of the tension in his muscles and bones relax. He sat back, realizing that he had been curled slightly forward in an attempt at a shrinking pose. He stretched his left arm around the back of the carriage seat - and which happened to be behind Juliet’s shoulder. He didn’t touch her, but he saw her smile grow before she quickly turned to look out the window.

A few minutes later, Juliet and Nathan were deposited outside their family home - Nathan exiting first, with a salute at Guy.

“Godspeed, sir,” Nathan said in mock solemnity, to which Guy just playfully rolled his eyes and waved him along. With more room in the carriage now, Juliet stood up to make her own exit, Guy shuffling back to get out of her way as much as possible.

“Thank you, Guy, for the ride,” Juliet said, her voice coming out a little more hoarse than the casual note she had been aiming for. “I’m not sure I would have…if I were in your position.”

Guy blushed, but knew she didn’t mean it as an insult. She was looking at him shyly, even admiringly, and it felt as though all the mortification from earlier had lifted away.

“What else are friends for?”

“I hope to find out,” Juliet replied, a flush rising up her own neck as she seemed to realize what she had just said. “See you on Tuesday?”

“Tuesday.”

“Goodnight, Guy.”

“Goodnight, Juliet.”

Even the struggle that came from the final squeeze out of the carriage once he finally got home couldn’t put a damper on Guy’s spirits.
 
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fiestyMad

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Jan 14, 2019
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Michigan
I’ve been meaning to read this, and WOW it so fantastic! I love the tension and shy attraction between these two. You’ve written this so beautifully. I cant wait for more :)
 

Ghostboo

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Oct 23, 2019
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Chapter Ten

“Juliet, would you sit down,” Mrs. Seaborne hissed as her youngest did another lap around their front sitting room, lightly touching and occasionally adjusting each decorative item as she passed them.

“Nope,” was all Juliet replied, not even glancing at her mother as she turned the vase on the end table a quarter clockwise, then gently fluffed the flowers within it. This was the fifth time she had done so in the last twenty minutes.

“Juliet, a lady is content to sit with her needlepoint, or book, or music until her gentleman caller arrives. Where he can witness her rising gracefully from a chaise,” Mrs. Seaborne insisted, gesturing to the old but still attractive green lounger in the corner of the room that Juliet had been instructed to sit on.

“Okay,” Juliet said. “I suppose I am not a lady then.” At the bookshelf, she pulled out a shorter volume and placed it closer to the end, more in line with the rest of them of its height. Mrs. Seaborne sighed, loudly.

“Mother,” Nathan spoke up from an armchair facing away from the window. “At some point you have to accept that attempting the same tactics over and over despite finding it yields the same results is, in fact, your own fault.”

Mr. Seaborne, in the chair next to Nathan, snorted a little behind his paper. Mrs. Seaborne gave her son and then her husband a wounded look, not noticing as Juliet exhaled and slowly sank onto the green chaise. Her eyes had caught movement outside the window, and soon, Guy Darby’s stocky form was revealed - approaching their front door.

Juliet picked up the book next to her that she was re-reading, Northanger Abbey, and stared determinedly at the page. Then she put it down. Then she picked it back up again, staring even harder. Then her mother let out a high gasp, causing Juliet to put it back down for good.

“Oh, God,” she whispered, unheard by the rest of her family as Mrs. Seaborne clapped her hands together.

“He’s here! Mr. Seaborne, he’s here! Juliet-” Mrs. Seaborne cut off as she saw her daughter sitting stiffly rather than continuing to pace the room. “-good.” Still, she couldn’t resist reaching out and brushing some of her youngest’s reddish gold hair out of her face - causing Juliet to swat at her intruding hands.

“Mama!”

“Sorry, dear. Just trying to make sure everything is perfect.”

“I’m always perfect,” Juliet mumbled, again unheard by anyone else in the room as the presence of Sir Guy Darby was announced and everyone rose to their feet. For the not so formal dinner, Guy was in day half-dress, which was more casual than Juliet had seen him before. The color palette of his suit was beige and deep brown, with the collar undone, preventing any squeezing of his neck and chins that the more formal wear tended to cause. Still, it was impossible to miss the way his waistcoat struggled to contain all of his middle - despite Guy tugging his tailcoat towards his front and holding it together with his hands in an effort to try and disguise it.

“Welcome, Sir Darby, welcome!” Mrs. Seaborne spoke up first, beaming at their guest. Mr. Seaborne and his daughter exchanged a look.

“Hello, Seabornes,” Guy said, giving the room a somewhat shy half-smile. “Thank you for having me.”

“Dinner should be ready any minute now, and they will call us when it is,” Mrs. Seaborne assured. “But if you’d like to sit in the meantime - there is room next to Juliet?”

“Certainly,” Guy said, crossing the room as the family sat in near-unison. Juliet’s cheeks were pink, her gaze on the carpet as she scooted to the curved back of the chaise lounge to make room for Guy. But as her friend sat, she looked up to catch his eye, offering a matching half-smile.

“We’re glad you could make it,” Nathan chimed in. “We had such fun at the Smiths - and on our journey home - after all.” Before their parents could catch it, Nathan winked at Guy and Juliet, who each blushed a little redder.

“Oh, Nathan,” Juliet said, making sure she held her brother’s mischievous eye with a warning look. “We both know you always have fun.”

“I do what I can,” Nathan shrugged.

“It’s nothing special, but I do hope this can serve as start to a proper thanks for taking Nathan and Juliet home,” Mrs. Seaborne added.

“Further thanks are unnecessary, Mrs. Seaborne, but I was still pleased to make time to spend the evening with you all.”

A bell rang out, and Mrs. Seaborne was the first to her feet.

“It’s dinner time! Come along, Mr. Seaborne,” she said, helping her husband up from his elbow and leading the way out the door. Nathan followed, casting a sly glance back at his sister and Guy.

“Truth be told, this is also my first casually attended dinner,” Guy said as he and Juliet stood to follow. “Levi and I usually just do tea, and…well…we haven’t for a while.”

“A while?”

“Since this waistcoat fit properly,” Guy admitted, brushing his hand along the straining fabric as he averted his eyes from Juliet’s. “I need to get in to London to be outfitted with more options, but…there’s been quite a lot to do.”

“I can imagine,” Juliet agreed. “I wouldn’t concern yourself overly, though. You look quite nice as it is.”

Brow slightly furrowed, Guy looked up at Juliet as though expecting to find a teasing expression on her face. But she just smiled, sincerely, and took his arm.

“Hurry up,” Nathan said, poking his head back into the room. “Or there are going to be decisions rapidly made without you.”

“Ope,” Juliet squeaked and shuffled more quickly towards the door, Guy following along with a low laugh.

In the dining room, five places were set at the table in front of tall wooden chairs with curved handles. Which were nice enough looking, but were also quite old, being from even before the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Seaborne. Juliet took a seat across from Nathan, with the seat in between her and her father at the head prepared for Guy.

But as Guy went to join them in their seats, he encountered a problem - the love handles at the curve of his belly that had protested so at the door to the carriage also bumped up against the wooden armrests of the chair, not allowing him to squeeze in any further. Guy rose slightly and tried one more time to sit, in case it was a fluke, but he quickly shot up when his waist folded again over the chair’s restraints, refusing him passage.

“Apologies for the inconvenience, Mr. and Mrs. Seaborne,” Guy said levelly, despite the warm flush on his exposed neck. “But I may require a different - larger - seat for during dinner.”

“Oh! Of, of course. Cecil…” Mrs. Seaborne shot to her feet and pushed into the kitchen to confer with the family’s limited staff, while Juliet stood back up out of her seat next to Guy. She subtly knocked her elbow into his while looking away, succeeding in eliciting a rueful smile from their guest. Moments later, his dining chair was being swept out of the room.

“How unlucky, Sir Darby!” Nathan grinned from across the table, leaning back in his seat. “First the carriage, now this?”

“One might make the argument that spending time with you Seabornes is a curse,” Guy replied wryly, before Juliet could unleash hell onto her brother. His words sparked a low, surprised giggle from Juliet and appreciative smirk from Nathan.

“You may have me there,” Nathan said as a low chair, free of arms, was brought into the dining room and deposited in front of Guy. It was a soft seat from the front room, covered in deep red, and Guy sat on it carefully as Juliet followed, sinking into her own seat. The dining chairs had the seats themselves so much higher, however, that Juliet’s eyeline was set just a couple inches below Guy’s - unlike the nearly full head length that was usual for the pair while standing.

“My God,” whispered Juliet out of the corner of her mouth as plates of food began to appear from the kitchen.

“What?” Guy asked, his tone equally subdued.

“You’re just so short. I had no idea.”

Guy snorted with laughter, which caught Mrs. Seaborne’s attention.

“Are you comfortable, Sir Darby?” She trilled nervously.

“Mmm, very,” Guy said, transforming his laugh into a low cough to compose himself. “Thank you.”

Juliet did her best to hide her grin as she took a plateful of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and mixed greens. Guy followed suit, filling up his plate approximately the same amount as Juliet, but deliberately taking his time before eating from it. The table occupants were all close enough together that Juliet couldn’t risk another sidebar, though, so she just snuck Guy an encouraging smile or two as he slowly, carefully, ate his meal.

A little while later, they had mostly wrapped up consuming the simple yet tasty food over small talk and idle gossip at the table. Guy, though, still had some scraps of chicken and half a serving of mashed potatoes left on his plate. Of what was already a small portion for a man his size, Juliet thought. She caught Guy’s eye, and he raised his eyebrows at her mildly concerned expression. But before any more silent communication occurred, Mrs. Seaborne spoke up.

“Juliet, Nathan, shall we retire to the sitting room for now? Mr. Seaborne and Sir Darby can stay here for now with a glass of port, and chat…”

“What? Why would I go with you? I’m a man too,” Nathan said, his brow furrowing.

“Well, Nathan, consider that Sir Darby may require a moment alone with Mr. Seaborne-” hissed Mrs. Seaborne out of the corner of her mouth. Juliet, distracted by something as she stood, didn’t seem to hear her - but Guy did. And on instinct, he shot up out of the low red chair - the only one in the room he could fit into - as he felt blood rushing into his ears at the implication.

“Sir Darby?” Mr. Seaborne asked, his tone curious. Guy turned towards the patriarch and put on a tight smile as the family looked at him.

“I’m terribly sorry, but I actually need to be going,” Guy said, the regret in his voice genuine despite the fear that swirled in his chest. “But it has been lovely.”

Already? Are you sure?” The naked devastation in Mrs. Seaborne’s voice caused both her children to look at her in exasperation.

“Mother, Sir Darby is a Baronet, as you may remember,” Juliet said dryly. “He has better things to do than while away the entire evening with us.”

“Not better, I assure you,” Guy added. “Just…necessary, for now. But I owe you my thanks for this excellent meal.”

“Well…you are welcome any time,” Mrs. Seaborne said, the disappointment in her tone laced just slightly with a pout.

“You are,” added in the more sincere Mr. Seaborne, nodding at the Baronet who stood above him. Guy, who had grown to genuinely like Juliet and Nathan’s father over the course of the last couple hours, returned the gesture with appreciation.

“May I walk you out?” Juliet asked him, and Guy nodded, offering her an arm. The pair exited the dining room, then out the front door, hearing the scramble of the rest of the family behind them as they softly closed the door. “They’ll all be peering out the front room windows. Likely without even an attempt at subtlety. I apologize.”

“No need,” Guy said, waving the apology away with a rueful smile. “I understand.”

“I do appreciate you coming. Did you get enough to eat?”

“Yes. And it was quite good, I promise. I just…need you to do me a favor.”

“Anything.”

“Please go back inside before I have to load into my carriage,” Guy said with a soft wince, gesturing to the vehicle they had all ridden in the other night. It was out of sight of the front windows, luckily, but visible to anyone standing outdoors.

“Oh, no, heavens! Your regular carriage isn’t fixed yet?” Juliet said, a slightly playful laugh accompanying her words as she half-covered her mouth with her hands.

“Unfortunately, no. I would call this night, again, worth it - but I also knew I had to be careful regarding my consumption,” Guy replied ruefully, giving Juliet a half-smile as she stood before him. Nerves and regret coursed through his body, but he tamped it down.

I can’t…talk to her father…before knowing how SHE feels.

And I’m not ready to find that out for certain yet.


Something crossed Juliet’s face that Guy couldn’t read, but it was gone almost as quickly as it appeared, replaced by a smile. Her linen day dress was such a light blue it nearly matched the beige on Guy’s attire, and it brought out the seafoam notes in the outer edges of her eye. It was nearly enough to break Guy out of his fear and silence, but Juliet spoke before he could fully convince himself.

“Well, then, I’ll see you in two weeks for the Crowley ball?”

“You will. I look forward to it. Have a good night, Juliet.”

“Goodnight, Guy.”

As the large Baronet crossed down the front path to his carriage, Juliet hesitated, more than a little tempted to spy on him squeezing his way into the too-small aperture. But she had promised him anything for a favor, and so, with a small sigh, she opened the front door and returned to her family.

Her mother was, of course, wildly vacillating between what had gone wrong that evening and intense optimism. Perhaps he had seen Juliet nervously pacing, and didn’t want such unladylike behavior in a wife. Then again, maybe he really did have to go, and they just needed to try again soon. Should Juliet have worn a more elegant gown? Had she really been her wittiest tonight? Was there someone else? Or was he waiting for a grander occasion?

“Mother, enough. Please,” Juliet said finally, her voice strained with exhaustion. Before exiting the room to give herself a well-deserved break, Juliet caught her reflection in the mirror against the wall. Once again, the feeling crossed her face that had flared up outside with Guy - and again, Juliet forced it down and out of sight of her expression.

She wasn’t even willing to admit to herself that she was, if truth be told, a little disappointed.
 
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Ghostboo

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Chapter Eleven

Juliet took a shaky breath in through her nose, then out through her mouth, as she tuned out her mother’s chattering about the lovely estate of the Crowley’s from behind her. She had been more than inclined to stay home, lean into her initial refusal, teach her mother that she couldn’t push Juliet around from a set boundary - but.

Guy would be here. At one of the last balls of the season. Fall and winter would yield an occasional dinner party or two, perhaps even a wedding reception to stop by for the luckiest attendees, but the near weekly occasions to socialize would be firmly over.

And the dancing, Juliet reminded herself. The time to regularly dance was coming to a close. Even if she only ever had one partner in mind these days.

“All right, sister?” Nathan asked, his tone an impressive balance between casual and concerned at her shoulder. Juliet nodded, albeit slowly, as she took in the room.

There.

In the northwest corner, Guy and Levi sipped their cups and chatted, though the former’s dark eyes were firmly set on the arrival of the Seabornes. Even from across the room, Juliet could see his suit was new, undoubtedly a rush job from Highcastle’s tailor. He wasn’t nearly young or skilled enough to refurbish an entire wardrobe, but a suit or two for the season - that was doable. And clad from head to toe in a perfectly fitted, pale brown full dress suit, Guy looked beyond plump and incredibly handsome.

Juliet, in a silky lilac gown she had brought back from her time in Edinburgh, felt her uneven breath hitch at the sight. She didn’t bother to engage in the social niceties on the way as she beelined in their direction, Nathan trailing just long enough to peel away and snag a drink. Mrs. Seaborne watched, then headed off to friends - or at least acquaintances - of her own, smirking triumphantly.

“Gentlemen,” Juliet greeted her friends as she reached them, dipping into a low enough curtsy that both Levi and Guy grinned.

“M’lady,” Levi replied teasingly as both he and Guy bowed.

“You look…lovely, Juliet,” Guy breathed, pausing only to collect himself as he teetered on the edge of a less than socially acceptable compliment. He was rewarded with a grin from his friend, even with his more subdued word choice.

“Thank you, Guy. This suits you quite well too,” Juliet replied cheekily, swiping a hand briefly over a shining new button on his light brown vest before dropping it back down to her side. If Guy hadn’t felt her touch, he might have thought he had imagined it.

“Can I fetch you a drink?”

“Only if your own is so full that a dance will be impossible in the next few minutes,” Juliet replied. Levi grinned into his cup, and Guy followed suit, but with a light flush of his skin along with it.

“Would you look at that,” Guy said, his tone with a smooth yet fake wonderment in it. “I don’t believe it is. Levi?”

“Oh, was I involved in this? Could’ve fooled me,” Levi added, eliciting an annoyed nudge from Juliet’s elbow.

“I’m happy to dance with all my friends, of course,” Juliet said, though she didn’t bother to force her gaze from doing anything but tracing up and down Guy’s exceptional form even as she stood by Levi.

“Mmm hmm,” Levi said, his blue eyes rolling.

“Levi,” Guy said, also not moving his own stare from Juliet’s curvy lilac form, “could you hold this.” But there was no question in his words as he put his cup into his friend’s chest and offered Juliet an arm to take to the dance floor as the music lulled to set up for the next number.

The dance was intimate, but suspiciously quiet for such a long turn of the ballroom. Both of the partners took a few deep, steadying breaths, seemingly building to something, then instead of speaking what was on their mind, exhaled and moved smoothly into the next dance motion over the course of the next half hour. Unable to break eye contact, they hardly seemed to notice the occasional whisper and raised eyebrows around them as they finally stepped into a large dip for the finale.

I’m going to find out tonight, Guy thought as he looked into Juliet’s deep green eyes beneath him, remembering all the crumpled letters filled with the deepest truths of his heart that he had thrown away this week. He didn’t want the uncertainty of waiting for a written response. He’d rather know for certain here and now.

“Are you ready for a drink now?” Guy asked as they exited the dance floor, arms wrapped around each other’s. “I was hoping we could speak, perhaps in private.” He inclined his head towards an offshoot of the ballroom, where two armchairs rested unoccupied in between a grandfather clock in the corner before the hall veered off in another direction. It wasn’t a scandalous location, as they’d be well within everyone’s eyeline, but they’d also be able to see anyone approaching their conversation - from either direction - from a ways away.

“Yes,” Juliet breathed, her grip on Guy’s soft arm tightening imperceptibly. “I…yes. Let me get them. I’ll be right there.” She slipped away with a final glance, heading to the punch table on the other side of the room while Guy moved towards the chairs, his smile unshakable.

Rather than sitting in the slightly darker hallway, Guy hesitated outside the entrance to it, waiting for Juliet to get their drinks. A few steps behind would have taken him to the armchairs, and on the other side of his right arm as he faced Juliet on her errand was an open area with tables and cards. A low wall, just barely tall enough for Guy to see over, separated him from the gamers.

As Guy watched Juliet wait in line for their drinks, a voice he recognized rose up from the card tables.

“He is, of course, a bit fatter than we would have chosen for our only daughter,” Mrs. Seaborne spoke, her tone slurring just enough to make her eager consumption of the drinks without much of the party’s food evident. “But as they say - every 1,000 pounds per year takes a stone off, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Well, perhaps, though we both know it's more than a 'bit',” sniffed another woman around Mrs. Seaborne’s age. “I’m not sure my girl Beatrice could have borne his size, in the end.”

“Oh, please, Ida,” sniffed Mrs. Seaborne. “Beatrice could have borne being a Lady just fine. It’s not my fault she couldn’t play the part as well as Juliet.”

A moment of silence occurred, presumably as the table watched Juliet finally achieve getting the drinks.

“I mean, think of the way she looks at him,” Mrs. Seaborne said, the pride radiating through her voice. “You can’t teach that sort of acting. It’s just…innate skill.”

Her tablemates grumbled inaudibly as Juliet practically skipped her way to Guy, who was frozen directly on the other side of the wall from her mother. Mrs. Seaborne and company must not have seen her approach, though, as Juliet’s mother continued - this time well within earshot of her daughter.

“Worry not, girls. When I am the mother of Lady Darby, you shall still be invited to tea. I shall even ensure there is some food left behind for us. I’m certain Stormgrove will have enough."

Juliet’s smile faded slowly as she approached and realized what she was hearing, the ladies at the cards table beyond them all sharing the type of giggle that usually accompanied particularly vicious gossip.

“Oh…God. Guy, I’m…” as she spoke, Juliet took another step towards Sir Darby with her left foot. As she did so, however, Guy reflected her in the same moment by taking a step away, backing up with his right foot. Juliet marked the deliberate gesture, and froze.

“You don’t…” she stared at him, only catching his dark eyes for a moment before he looked away, first down at the rug, then over to the right down the hall, where another exit lay. But it was long enough eye contact to see they were filled with a deep hurt. Juliet, clearly rattled, gestured to the nearby hallway chairs, offering Guy the drink in her left hand. “Sit with me. You know that isn't...it's...let's talk. Okay?”

“There’s…” Guy took a final, definitive step away from Juliet, holding up his arms as she attempted to offer him the drink. “…there’s nothing for us to talk about any longer. I need to be getting home.”

“Guy,” Juliet said, his name a frantic breath on her exhale as she started to realize what else he might have heard before her arrival. “Wait. Please.”

But before she had finished the last syllable, Guy had bowed shortly and concluded, “have a good rest of your night, Miss Seaborne.”

And then he was gone.
 
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lurksville

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Ugh you’re killing me! You made me unlock 2 accounts to be able to sign in here after however many years. Please update for us!!!! Lol. Seriously though. You’re a fantastic writer.
 

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
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I love this. I know I've ghosted a while and missed so much, but coming back to this was sooooooo amazing and inspirational!
 
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