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Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
Jul 23, 2014
The third instalment in the series

Book 1 - Cravats and Coat Tails

Book 2 - Reticules and Retinues

Chapter 1

The wooden door did not creak even faintly as his hand met the surface. It swung wide at the casual push, but was halted in the progress of crashing-to by an object half way through the other side. Kicking it slightly, Geoff frowned down at it blankly for a long moment, uncomprehending. It was a black riding boot. He did not recall leaving his boots out this morning. In fact – he leaned down slightly, eyes narrowing as he assessed the shape. In fact - that was not his boot at all!

The realization of the meaning – another man’s boot on his bedroom floor – caused him to jerk upright. His eyes felt wild, bulging in disbelief as they landed on the bed.

His bed.

Where his wife lay, entangled in the arms of another man.

The world spun as his fingers clenched around the door frame - half to hold himself upright, half to mollify the overwhelming urge to tighten them around the throat of the woman that the law and God had bound him to for life.

The other man was facing away from him, thrusting deep within her. Sounds of pleasure escaped from between clenched teeth, the lamps casting soft shadows over them both. His breeches were off, but his shirt was still half on. Slim arms were moulded against that tanned back, fingernails biting into the exposed flesh.

There was a small part within him that desperately hoped that approaching the bed would reveal something, anything, other than the truth. A maid, a stranger, anything. Approaching on shaking legs, Geoff stared on, aghast and disbelieving. His wife moaned and cried to the heavens, her legs wrapping around the other man’s waist to draw him deeper.

His wife, who had claimed she could not come to church due to her ‘cold’.

His wife, who had always refused to take him to her bed after their consummation.

His wife, who opened languid eyes and began giggling, then laughing. Apparently helpless to control her mirth, she leaned her head against the bed, laughing until she was gasping. The man above her looked rather disconcerted at this change in mood, but following his lover’s pointed finger over his shoulder, began to chuckle too.

The sound of their laughter raked against his skin. Stop it!

The laughter distorted, echoing, making him clasp his hands to both sides of his temple until he thought he would break it like a melon. STOP IT!

The constant humiliation, the continual breaches of basic trust and respect, the laughing…

They WOULD stop! He found a statue in his hand, raising it above his head and bringing it down on their laughing faces…

He awoke with a jolt, shoving his heavy torso upright to gasp in the cool night air.

That was not what had happened. That time, or the countless other times his wife had cuckolded him.

Never, in all their years of marriage, had he ever struck her with his hand, let alone beat her with another object. Why he always struck out at her in his dreams was something he could not fathom. And although he always woke up before, something deep in his ample gut told him that in those dreams, it was not just one strike by his hands. And although that had been but the first time, and his shock was as it had been at that time, the deep anger following was something that had arisen out of continual cruelty.

For some reason, his mind dwelled unmovably on her infidelity in his hours of slumber. A time meant for rest and peace had become a source of unbearable agony. It was uncommon for him to get even a handful of hours of sleep on a good night, and the constant exhaustion and haze had settled about him firmly.

Geoffrey’s gorge rose at the memory of his dream, so similar in all of its iterations, and he rolled over to sit on the side of his bed to brace his hands on his knees to hang his head. He would have rested his elbows on his knees and held his head, but there was a physical impediment in his lap. Wiping the back of his trembling hand across his mouth, the fat mangazed down at it and wondered how he could envision that hapless limb inflicting so much harm. That is not who I am, he desperately cast out, squeezing his eyes shut in despair.

People supposed guilt was a sign of pain. But, in truth, there was nothing so painful as having to bear a lack of guilt.

Guilt was, if nothing else, self fulfilling. You could wallow in it, martyr your soul to the cause, lash yourself to feeling better. But to feel nothing, when one should feel… that was something else entirely.

He should be sorry for his loss. He should mourn for his dearly departed wife, and pray for her safe arrival at the gates of heaven. God bless her soul, and all that.

The truth was, he revelled in his freedom by day, dreaming horrid scenes by night. He was glad she was dead, and although he bowed his head in proper contrition, his soul would not join in. All he could truly feel was relief, the removal of a painful burden.

Instead of feeling grief stricken, he was stricken with guilt at feeling nothing but relief at her passing. Freedom from a marriage not only loveless, but from a wife who cuckolded him. Who brought other men into the marriage bed, rather than tolerate the touch of his skin on hers.


“Good afternoon, Geoff.”

His old body seemed particularly cumbersome, and his head ached acutely. With the realization he was no longer alone, he pushed aside his cares with a firm mental sweep. With a slight turn of his head and a wide smile, Geoff acknowledged his guest. “Good morning. Or should I say afternoon.” Harry had retired for a nap to sleep off the remaining headache. “Are you ready to eat? I hope you can stomach something. It will do you good, after last night.”


Harry looked rather worse for wear, swaying slightly on his feet as he squinted. At least his guest looked more groggy then in pain. Some warm food and drink and he would be right as rain.

“Come on then, this way.” Proceeding the other into the private dining room, he seated himself. Under normal circumstances he avoided eating in front of others. Harry, he suspected, would not judge him. In fact, he would be willing to wager that his young friend had more than a typical passion for his lady’s plump form. There was a tendency, well hidden to casual observers, for Harry to follow each bite to her lips. If Geoff had not suspected it with Kitty, then had it confirmed with Raoul’s courtship of her, he might not have seen it himself.

Ah, Kitty…

It wasn’t often that Geoffrey found himself in deeper waters than he could handle, or had anticipated going. In that way, he supposed, he was rather like Clarice. However, his actions all those months ago at the engagement ceremony had come with many unexpected twists, turns, and entrapments.

Actions which, given events, he utterly regretted.

Not that he did not thoroughly enjoy the company of his new young friend, and he would be sore to lose him. But that loss would be nothing in comparison to the gain of a beautiful wife. A woman who he had held a deep and abiding affection for, for over a decade.

The little drowned rat he had scooped out of his pond had blossomed over the years, and her gentle beauty caused an ache deep in his chest every time she smiled up at her husband. That smile could have been his!

At first she had been a capricious little brat who bothered him with her constant shadowing. Even on his dark days, the man still felt a rueful twitch in his lips when he remembered Kitty trotting after him on errands. Her bright green eyes glinting as she told him he was the ‘handsomest’ boy she had ever seen.

Then a rangy filly of a girl, all knees and elbows with eyes too big for her face. She had grown more awkward then as society began leaning on her for proper behaviour. He had not had much time for her then, he admitted. He was too busy trying to find a wife – he had had no time to entertain his neighbour’s daughter.

A smile with no humour spread over his face, and he took a deep swallow from the cup in front of him. Little had he known that the wife he had been looking for was in front of his very eyes. If only he had waited just a few more years, this becoming, shy and glowing young woman would have been his. Kitty would be hanging on his arm, her hands caressing his skin.

If only he had been able to overlook the shape of their estate, to see beyond a heavy dowry. But then, he had been too young and not nearly worldly enough to realize what he was about. Fool.


Blinking, he transferred his gaze from the blinding morning rays on the wall to Harry’s worried face. “Beg pardon, I was lost in thought.”

The other man had it bad, the previous evening’s events aside. His face looked revenged, eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep. He had forgotten – or refused – to shave this morning, and the dark shadow along his jaw scraped the hand that rubbed it. “I am not particularly hungry…”

Geoffrey shrugged. “As you will. I for one am famished. After last night, I need some solid food in me.” Filling his plate with a modest portion of food. “You can watch me eat, if you prefer,” he chuckled. “I am sure I put on quite a show.”

Harry flushed and ran a hand through his hair. Those intense grey eyes settled for a moment on his stomach, and he seated himself abruptly.

It would have been foolish to be offended at the other man’s taking note of his bloated form. It was so unlike his own, and inherently obvious to the casual observer. “So. Dare I ask - what are your plans?”

“Plans?” the other man echoed, chasing an egg around his plate with his coffee spoon in a curiously childish gesture.

The grease on his lips was delicately dabbed away. “In regards to Miss Belltaunt, of course.”

Features darkening, Harry scowled. “I told you – I am through with her.”

“I see.” The clock above the mantel ticked away, filling the silence. Observing the other man, Geoff felt a surge of compassion for him. It was the same surge of compassion that had overtaken him as he watched the same expression of longing and pain on an almost identical face months before.

In their own ways the two brothers tempers, although unlike, shared many similarities. Harry, when happy, was all smiles and carefree. When sad, he turned dejected. Raoul’s temper was not nearly as steadily happy as his sibling’s, but when happy he overflowed with mirth and impish good humour. When vexed, it darkened into anger. Their volatility and obsession over the objects of their affection were eerily similar.

Ignoring the small part of his brain which prodded him, reminding him of the pain that his last ‘help’ had caused, he opened his mouth. “If those are indeed your plans… Why don’t you stay with me for a few days? I suspect it will be impossible to avoid seeing Clarice often if you are under the same roof as Kitty.”

Wide grey eyes rose to his face. “You do not have to – ” Gratitude and embarrassment warred in that face.

“Harry.” When he was sure he had his attention, Geoff smiled. It was soft, but made sure it held a gentle rebuke. “Kitty and I have always been good friends. You are making her crazy with worry for you, and tearing her apart with feeling she has to choose between her brother, and her friend. She has never had the opportunity to have a female friend of her own age. If nothing else, will you let me put her mind at ease by taking you off her hands for a few days? Besides, I quite enjoy your company. In fact, you will be doing me a service by staying and distracting me from my own thoughts.”

A deep exhale caused Harry’s shoulders to slump. “I would like that,” was the quiet admission as large hands played with his spoon. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” he responded before biting into the slice of ham.

The usual silence, awkward by its very nature, stole about them. It was the silence of two private men who had opened to each other in their drunk hours. Neither could fully remember what each had said, nor fully forget what the other had said. Subjects were reviewed and discarded as perhaps striking too close to a nerve laid bare by alcohol.

At last, Harry spoke. “Tell me – what was my sister like as a child?”

A deep chuckle slipped out. “A treasure, and an annoying little thing. Did either of us tell you how we met?”

The other man’s shoulder lifted in a vaguely depreciating manner; perhaps, but please go on.

“Our properties adjoined each other. I was already a boy grown by the time she was born. We had met, but the age difference meant our young social circles never truly crossed. I was also not much of one for foot races, riding, fishing, and the like.” Patting the side of his bulging stomach, Geoffrey laughed. “I was more of a sit in the window and read a book with a pastry type of boy. But I loved swimming after dark. When the sun had warmed the pond, and it felt all the warmer for the cool night air. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but one day the little neighbour girl was playing on my dock.”

Mobile lips twitched, and Harry chuckled himself as if envisioning it.

“Full of self righteousness, I was about to go give the little brat a piece of my mind and threaten her with telling her father…when she slipped. I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified, or moved so fast in all my life.” The feeling of his stomach dropping to his knees as her pale form disappeared, and the air leaving his lungs in shock had been the only thing keeping him from crying out. “Everything worked out fine. Fished the little minx out…” Handsomest boy ever…

“How did you tell her parents? Or was it a secret?” Harry interrupted his thoughts.

“Eh? Oh. Told them she seemed to be sleepwalking. I had to get her dry of course - I couldn’t hide the incident itself. But the fact that it was not in fact sleepwalking was a secret between us for years. Of course, Katherine was even more obsessed with the water after that. I taught her to swim; more from fear of her drowning than affection I admit. I had nightmares about coming out of the house in the morning and finding her little body, face down in the water. Those lessons were a harder secret to keep, but the sleepwalking story continued to smooth over any little inconsistencies that might have gotten us caught.” And only increased her young hero worship.

The younger Nottingham cast a glance at him from under lowered lashes, but bit down on what he was going to say.

Geoff had a feeling he had admitted more of his affection than he had meant to last night, and tensed. Although they had the start of a promising friendship, all sorts of awkwardness might arise, given that Harry was her brother.

Instead, he cast about with his eyes in quest for a new vein of conversation. “And your wife, when did you meet her?”

The vision of her laughing at him from under the other man flashed through his mind. “I met her at twenty three. Our estate was in a rough way. I married for money.” It came out more brusquely than he intended, and he cleared his throat, adding, “Not an uncommon thing, I think.”

“Indeed not,” Harry murmured.

Again, an uneasy silence followed. One should not speak ill of the dead. Feeling it incumbent to start the next tract of conversation, Geoffrey smiled, tilting his head. “And you – what do you think of your sister?”

True affection suffused his eyes, and Harry grinned. “I love her. I may not have known her long, but I love her.”

The truth of the emotion recommended the other man to Geoffrey even more. “She and Raoul seemed like they hit it off quite strongly. I am surprised he is not here with her. Why did you come back to town with her?”

Face too still, body unnaturally stiff, the other man gave a strained chuckle. “It was high time I found a wife.”

Geoffrey generously buttered his bread, studiously examining the creamy texture, as if abruptly fascinated by the commonplace item.

Now fumbling slightly, Harry spoke again. “And Raoul had business to attend to.”

A small nod, and another studious study of the butter. At times, it was better to not speak, than to speak to gain information.

“Family business,” Harry managed eventually, halting his disjointed mumbling by putting his cup to his lips.

The buttered bread tasted heavenly, dulling the rotting sensation in his gut caused by over imbibing.

“With our Aunt.” Exhaling sharply, he inhaled again, looking relieved to have spoken the words out loud. As if relieving himself from the burden of secrecy. “Kitty does not know,” he added.

A secret. Feeling his brow arch in interest, he bit into his bread again. “Well, I hope he resolves it speedily. Kitty misses him fiercely, I am sure.”

The inoffensive square of cloth on his lap was again creased and folded as the other fiddled. “He is coming,” he admitted.

“And yet you do not seem particularly happy about it,” his host observed over the rim of the coffee cup.

“Things between us have never run particularly smoothly…Kitty has helped repair some of the damage…” Again, that grin tugged at his lips. “She knocks our heads together every time we quarrel. I swear, between her and Martha we are kept well in line…” After a few more moments of silence, and resuming chasing his egg, he spoke again. “He wants me to marry for money.”

Clarice has money. And you love her.

The words were utterly unspoken, but Harry raise his eyes and flashed a warning look as if they had been.

Carefully not-smiling, Geoffrey raised his cup to his lips again.

Geoffrey.” There was a tone of warning, and of exasperation in that one word.

“Harry,” he acknowledged, biting his tongue to keep from chortling at the other’s growing agitation.

The younger man seemed to be struggling to supress a smile of his own “Stop it.”

All innocence - “Stop what?”


Now wounded innocence. “But I have not said a word!”

His glare faded into soft laughter, and Harry scrubbed his face with both hands, groaning. “How can you be so blasted cheery all the damn time!”

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