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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!”


Aug 20, 2007
I literally gasped out loud when I saw that you'd posted this. I'm SO EXCITED!


Library Girl
Staff member
Library Mod
Jun 21, 2008

I've been waiting for Geoffrey's story and perspective ever since he first appeared!

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
Jul 23, 2014
*stares patheticaly at her typo of "romance" in the thread title* agouderia...can you fix that? It is going to bother me like crazy haha


Library Girl
Staff member
Library Mod
Jun 21, 2008
*stares patheticaly at her typo of "romance" in the thread title* agouderia...can you fix that? It is going to bother me like crazy haha

Fixed! :)

I didn't notice the typo myself though.
First of all I was so thrilled to find the new story about Geoff to pay too much attention to format.
And from my reading it also made perfect sense: "Romane" means 'novels' in German, so as it is the third novel of your series - my brain just signaled 'makes sense'.....


Dimensions' loiterer
Staff member
Global Moderator
Library Mod
Sep 29, 2005
The great white north, eh?
I finished that first part then found myself gasping for breath -- apparently I'd been half holding my breath through that conversation!

I'm having a hard time keeping an appropriate work-face on at the moment, I just feel like grinning madly that this part has gotten off to such a tantalizing start :)


Busy writing
May 8, 2006
I think I was excited for this before you even posted it - and now I want MOAR! ;)

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
Jul 23, 2014
Chapter 2

The dough beneath her hands was losing the formerly grainy texture and beginning to become smooth and pliant. The colour is beginning to lighten as well, Margaret noted with abstracted satisfaction.

There was something particularly soothing in making bread. Something that absorbed the attention, focusing all the sounds and noises into one little ball. The feeling of the flour slowly combining, changing from disparate ingredients into a cohesive and uniform mass never ceased to fascinate her, just as the act never seemed to fail in soothing. Something about the soft texture numbed the constant grating on her nerves.

“Thank you,” she murmured to the footman without raising her eyes. The man did not pause in the motion of scooping up the little puffs of flavour, simply turning and bearing them silently upstairs. The response was belated; he was already out of the room, but murmured an acknowledgement as he ascended the stairs. Working with him was not so bad, Margaret reflected, peering after him. He was a taciturn fellow, and seemed to find speaking unnecessarily as wearying as she did herself. He also had a way of keeping out of her way that avoided causing her any undue stress. He never loitered in the kitchen, merely sweeping in and out.

Setting the dough aside to rise, the heiress turned her attention - along with her flour covered hands - to the next task. Everything in the kitchen was clean and orderly. The jars were arranged just so, and everything was appropriately labelled and positioned. Taking the chicken out, she began the task of running her hands over the damp skin, searching for any little pricks of feather that may have been missed. Light pink, pebbled skin moved under her palms, and –

A sound behind her caused her to turn - the man had returned. There was no point in troubling herself about his name, he would be gone soon enough. “What is it?” she frowned, wondering if the pastry had needed to cook for longer. They certainly had not been burned. The way he was standing in the doorway caused her anxiety to rise, and she shifted, trying to avoid demanding he step aside.

“There was a gentleman in the room with them,” he announced. “I could not catch an eye to see if it was appropriate to serve at that time. I do not know if they want the infamous Raoul Nottingham to stay,” he muttered by way of explanation.

Now intrigued, Margaret finished washing her hands and wiped her them on a cloth, all the while peering at him. “Raoul Nottingham.”


Martha had spoken fondly of her master, speaking with not just the pride of a servant, but almost the affection of a mother. In fact, she had spoken of him so often and so clearly, Margaret felt oddly compelled to greet him. It was an unusual emotion, and took her by surprise. Well, he practically was Martha’s boy.

Untying her apron, she brushed her hands over herself quickly to loosen any settled flour. “Give the tray here.” Another reason she liked this particular chap was that he never argued with her. Instead, he simply placed the tray in her hands and stepped aside to clear the way for her to exit the kitchen.

Overcome with curiosity, Margaret stole up the stairs, careful to twitch her skirts out of the way as she ascended. As usual, the transition from servants’ hall to the main floor came with a shocking rush of sensation; the air smelled of books and street, of marble and sweat, of carpet and wood. The sound, when she pushed open the door, was unnervingly loud and close, but a deep and unfamiliar laugh drew her forward.

As the door swung closed, cutting her off from her sanctuary, she swallowed, fingers tightening on the tray. Peering into the mirror against the opposite wall, she saw the back of wide, dark form. Steeling herself, she turned and stepped sharply into the room.

“Of course, that is what I said – ” Movement swirled around as someone twirled in place

Fabric rustled, and someone was half-heartedly humming a tune.

“Have you been to the park this week?”

Several things clinked, people pressed near her.

“Yes – ”

“I, ”

The things on the tray chattered along with her teeth as she realized that they had closed about her, and that there was no direct route back to the door. This had been a bad idea – she had just been so curious!

“Clarice -rung for refreshments?”

“Of course – ”

“- take a turn yesterday – ”

Shame rose up at her own incapability. Both her mother and father simply could not comprehend how overwhelming even family parties could be, let alone society. She was so blinded with sudden terror that she almost walked right into that broad, dark back she had seen in the reflection. Jumping back with a muffled shriek, Margaret felt her eyes flash up to his face. Any irritation one might have felt must have been allayed somewhat, as he began apologizing.

Oddly enough, Margaret found him rather soothing. Despite his height and breadth, he seemed oddly amenable. Something about the way he positioned his body when speaking to her almost cut the rest of the room off. And unlike others who spoke to her while turning away, this man faced her when speaking. Rather than feeling connected and disconnected from one word to the next as the object of her scrutiny turned it’s head about, speaking to the air and even turning away, Raoul stayed completely focused on her.

Those grey eyes fastened on hers, examining her features intently. His words were projected and pitched for her ears alone, and when she murmured an acceptance, he averted his eyes just enough that the stare was not intimidating.

His averted gaze suddenly seemed to drop to the tray in her hands. “Oh my,” Raoul suddenly groaned, bending over.

She was so unusually focused on him, she could see his throat move as he swallowed, pupils dilating, his nostrils greedily sucking in the smell. As he deeply inhaled, his stomach pushed out, then deflated as he exhaled.

Something shivered within her, and she found herself growing unaccountably warm. He was exactly like Martha had described, if more rounded. Dark eyebrows slashed over grey eyes, and a strong nose, mouth, and chin finished off the look. That look might have been stern, except that those brows were slightly raised in excitement, eyes wide and tongue protruding from the corner like a school boy. “I made these,” she told him, feeling pleased that he seemed so captivated by them.

Raoul Nottingham mumbled something indistinctly, glancing at something to his side before turning back with a torn expression. “Did you?”

“Yes.” Suddenly recalling that he might not know who she was, she added, “I am Margaret.”

His lips curved in a big smile, eyes still on hers. “And I am Raoul Nottingham.”

“I know.” Clarice faded into her peripheral vision – she could tell by the hair and width. It filled her with impatience to be gone, and she raised the tray slightly. If she stayed, Clarice was sure to begin to try and talk to her, and the thought filled her with aversion. “Take one.”

It took another moment of rapid glancing before he made his selection, but when he did, the man’s reaction riveted the eldest Belltauntchild to the spot, an odd sort of flutter going off in her stomach as something clenched within her. After winking at her, he slid the morsel in his mouth, a deep groan of satisfaction reverberating deep within his chest as he held the food on his palate, eyes fluttering in ecstasy.

Just as Margaret was about to make her escape, her father spoke at her elbow. “Don’t forget to offer this to the rest of the guests,” he rebuked.

Hitching a shoulder against the unwelcome intrusion, Margaret nodded. If she disappointed Papa now he would come downstairs later and invade her sanctuary to rebuke her. Moving quickly, she proffered the tray and avoided their eyes as much as possible. Conversation was beginning to pick up again, making her head buzz and nerves rattle.

Martha’s boy – man, really – had been tracking her progress with a hungry look in his eye. When she slipped by, a large hand darted forward to expertly snag another morsel. Face feeling tight, Margaret finally escaped to the hall, learning on the wall to gather her breath and energy.

Paulina’s voice said something, but Margaret could not quite make it out. Whatever it was, it seemed to displease Raoul, for he bit out, “I fear that our opinions differ greatly here. For my own part, I have the utmost respect for my cook, who was also my nursemaid, and has been the most loyal friend by family has ever had. I would do anything for her.”

True. And Martha would do anything for him. But what had brought this up?

“And Margaret is out sister, not a servant.” Clarice said, apparently explaining.

Ah, then. It had been about her. Vexed, Margaret rolled her eyes. She had not wanted Raoul to think badly of her, but he had sounded angry about something…had she done something to displease him?

“And she seems lovely,” Raoul interrupted her thoughts. Glancing up, she caught his penetrating eyes meeting hers through the reflection of the mirror, and he gave another one of those wide, saucy winks. His right hand unconsciously rested on the side of his stomach.

Unexplained heat rose to her face, and she fled back to her kitchen. Comforting closeness and the smell of fire greeted her, the unpainted walls a glaring contrast to the opulence on the other side of the swinging door.

The footman glanced up when she entered. “And – what is he like?”

“He is Raoul.” Martha had assured her that she would like him, should they ever meet. And from that, Margaret was not inclined to disagree.

“You refuse to leave the kitchen on most days, and even refuse to eat with the family. You hate strangers, and yet the minute you hear one of the biggest Rakehells is in the drawing room, you dart up? You are an odd one.” the man observed. “You do know that, yes?”

It was time to prepare the dough for another rise. Perhaps she could make another loaf of bread. Even if the family did not eat it, she could always take it to the poor kitchen. Yes, making a loaf of bread was exactly what she needed to calm her nerves and cool her still hot face. “Yes. I know that,” she murmured, mind already elsewhere.

That was where she had seen Katherine! It had tickled at the back of her mind for days now. Of course...

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
Jul 23, 2014
Chapter 3

He could feel his eyebrows attempting to crawl into his hairline, and it took a concerted effort to keep them steady.

When Raoul Nottingham had first made his reappearance back into society, he had been lean. Not as lean as Harry, but thick shoulders and arms heavy with muscle had flared out above a hard, if not slight, waist. After he began seducing – Geoffrey was not fool enough to use the word courting, even in his own mind – Kitty, he had softened noticeably. By the time they were married, the man had a distinctive pot forming.

Young ladies had giggled, some vindictively celebrating his loss of form as he took firm steps towards marriage. Others shook their head at the loss of so fine a figure. It had only been a few months since he had seen the man, but he had certainly…blossomed.

No stranger to the ways of overindulgence himself, Geoffrey’s eye judiciously noted the most recent additions, understanding the amount of hedonism required to puff up so significantly in so short a period of time. His arms, once straining the fabric with muscle, seemed now to fill them with fat as well. His legs too, appeared thicker and softer. But the most noticeably differences were the now clear double chin, rounded cheeks, and distended stomach. It was still nothing compared to Geoff’s own rolling belly, but it was still a belly.

Raoul noticed his look of scrutiny just as he bit into a mouthful. Cheeks flooding with red, he coughed delicately. A momentary pause gave way to a shoulder hike and a continuation of his meal, however.

Not being one to either harp on another or to pretend to be blind, Geoff merely commented how married life agreed with him. For it was true. Besides the bursting seams, he looked enormously content, his eyes softening along with his waist.

Beyond any rapid physical changes that Raoul Nottingham had undergone, simply watching the two brothers was proving to be an interesting subject.

Harry appeared to be as vibrant as his brother. Although his disposition appeared to be more naturally happy, he seemed firmly under the thrall of depression of spirits. Or, rather under the thrall of a certain one, Clarice Belltaunt. The only reason the young man seemed to be shaking it off at all was his brother’s presence. They seemed to relentlessly and unconsciously jockey for position, taking little swipes and snips at each other.

“Well this is awkward,” he murmured at last, unsure how the two were to back down from the precipice that they had put themselves onto. Both men’s normally swarthy features had reddened, and their large fists were clenching, eyes flashing lightening across the table. Not that he could blame the emotion in Raoul. Having experienced the pain of having your woman cheat another man…it was agonies. Let alone your brother stealing your woman. So why Harry appeared so incensed was something he was less able to comprehend.

Prior to Raoul’s interest in Kitty, Geoffrey had not been more than introduced in passing to the elder, and had never met the younger. Of course, he had seen and heard of the darker side of the older sibling, whose quick temper had landed him in fights, even as his quick wits landed him in bed with the fairer sex. That side had been diametrically opposed to his behaviour when he had come back to down and began pursuing his now wife. And here was yet another facet; adoring and doting as he spoke of his wife.

It stuck in his craw…just a bit. Having never experienced even the glazing of the joy the other expressed, Geoffrey could only nod and smile as if he did understand, all while the other dwelled on his wife’s beauty, intelligence, and the joy of having her as part of his life. There was a knot of something green and sinister deep within his chest, a knot he struggled to shove deeper.

“Congratulations – I mean, condolences on your loss,” Raoul chuckled at last, raising his cup in a toast.

The laugh that bubbled up was impossible to supress. Even Kitty had handled the subject with delicacy. But instead of feeling incensed, or offended, Geoffrey felt a tightness in his chest release. When Raoul leaned across the table to grip his forearm, the other sent him a look of such deep understanding that heat rose up. There was no avoiding the fact that Raoul, at least, was highly aware of Martha’s infidelities.

Of course, perhaps Raoul had been yet another that Martha had tupped. Peering into dark grey eyes, Geoff tried to discern if that was the case, but guilt or even awareness was absent.

Harry was casting an odd glance between them, but Raoul ignored his pointed interest, leaning back and sipping at his drink. For his own part, Geoffrey found himself unable to speak for a moment.

Raoul seemed to sense it, for he immediately turned the conversation to their Aunt.

Beyond any byplay, this was news to Geoff, and he found himself listening with keen attention as they discussed her apparently fraudulent activities and the poor funding of their estate. Wide jaws bunched at the sides as the brothers ground their teeth in unison.

It was impossible to fully suppress his unease. Mainly because it was impossible to set aside the part he had played in Katherine’s marriage. It had seemed a good match, all things considered. But to learn of the hard times they were under… What had he gotten Katherine into? Had his intervention been the cause of locking her into a marriage without material comforts?

But, as his own marriage had proved, material comforts were not the be all and end all.

Conflicting emotions rioted as his eyes swung between the two. On account of Kitty, he wanted to back up Raoul’s clearly sensible plan of a quick marriage to Clarice. After all, he did adore her. But then, he admitted as his eyes swung to the haggard face of the other, material comforts were not the be all and end all. As his own marriage had proven. For as much as Harry seemed to adore Clarice, she did not seem to return his fascination, and a loveless marriage was not something Geoff could not, in good consciousness, recommend to anyone.

Harry’s nostrils finally flared, his lip curling in clear derision at the thought. “All I am saying is; do not throw that pressure on me, simply because you didn’t want to fulfil it yourself.” Seeming to feel the other’s smile, he demanded, “What?”

“I respect you,” the fat man murmured after a moment of thoroughly choosing his words. “I admit that I married for wealth and connections. It was the worst decision I have ever made. Yes, I was able to buy more and I was invited to bigger events. I got the reward I was seeking. And yet, I would give nearly anything to exchange those years of hell.” Fighting the urge to smile, he somberly nodded in commiseration of the other’s sentiment. “Money is trouble. You are right. Don’t marry Clarice.”

Both men must into laughter as Harry automatically corrected him, confessing his wish to marry her – if she would have him. The youngest of the three turned scarlet and cast an accusatory glance at them both, mumbling into his drink.

What a strange family.


“Geoffrey!” Kitty’s soft, glad voice cried softly from his elbow.

It was impossible not to return some of the innate happiness that shone in her green eyes. Those upturned eyes that still seemed so kind... “Kitty, dear. How are you this evening?” His chest seemed to tighten, and his eyes sting at the reminder that she was farther from him than ever.

Twining her arm around his and allowing it to rest firmly against his plump side, she patted his forearm with her other hand. “Geoffrey, dear - he is driving me mad.”

Unwilling to hazard the fifty-fifty guess between her husband and her brother, Geoff contented himself with an “Oh?” and a raised brow.

“Harry is just a tangled mess right now, is he not?” she queried softly, even as her eyes found him, leaning against the wall with a darkly introspective countenance.

Dancers swirled about to their left, and Geoff found himself stiffening in his breeches as Katherine inadvertently pressed into him to avoid the crowd. “He is indeed,” was the abstracted response he was finally able to articulate.
“I do not know what to do,” she finally admitted, heaving a heavy sigh that had her bountiful breasts straining.
Clarice was surrounded by her retinue, dimpling and laughing. Tapping a gentleman on the forearm with her fan, smiling coyly. One would have taken her to be completely ignorant, or at least uncaring, of Harry’s attention. Except that one had watched her carefully since his friendship with Harry had begun to blossom. And whenever she thought herself alone and unwatched, her gaze would turn, cheeks turning pink as she nibbled on her lower lip.

Unlike Harry, who was a recent acquaintance, Geoffrey had known Clarice long enough to understand some of her more minute mannerisms. Although not giving Harry a great deal of encouragement, she did not treat him as she did her other suitors. The man seemed to stimulate her almost to piquancy, and yet draw her attention back again and again. Transferring his attention back to his partner, Geoffrey smiled. “And what do you think we should do about it?”

The look she cast up spoke volumes. “They are both being such…block heads! No, do not laugh, it is true! I do not understand them. Clarice most of all. I can see the same sort of love Raoul has for me in the way that Harry looks at her. And I swear that she likes him…” Trailing off, she pursed her plump lips and cast a gaze of frustration across the floor at her friend.

“Not every woman is in the position you were in.” At her flash of surprise, almost looking nettled, he continued. “You were on the market, looking for a husband. So when your perfect mate – ” Shut up, he warned himself, sipping to cover the pause “Came along, you had but to accept his advances. I think you forget that Clarice is not in that position.”

Now pouting, she turned her face away in displeasure. “I had not forgotten it. Clarice had said something similar. But if that is true, why does she act this way? I am beginning to love her dearly, but I feel sometimes as if I do not know her at all!”

Harry had pushed away from the wall, stalking across the floor. Clarice paused in her conversation, eyes tracking his strong back.

“Clarice Belltaunt is more than just a woman,” he murmured closer to her ear, smiling to cover his serious words. “She is the right hand man of a very, very rich man, and an heiress. She has liberty, power, and the trust to wield her judgement. Not to mention that she is intelligent, well learned, and considers herself an equal to any man.”

“Do you think she is pretty?”

The question clearly caught him off guard, for he rocked back on his heels with a blink. “Oh, yes, of course she is. And even if I did not think so, it is clear that Harry thinks she is.” Reaching out, he gently pressed her fingernail away from her teeth. “And I have not seen you do that particular vice in many years.”

She looked sheepish, then laughed. It was followed by a sigh. “I miss those days.”

The days where you used to run across the field to me in your little dress? The afternoons you spent laying in the grass at my feet as I read? The evenings we spent as I held you safe as you explored the water? “Dwelling on the past is never healthy. And besides; your future is so much brighter. You have a husband now.”

At the mere mention, her lips curled up and her glance strayed to her husband. “I never got an opportunity to thank you properly,” she murmured as she turned back to him. “Raoul told me how you helped breach the wall of protectors so that he could make his proposals…”

That same bitterness rose up, and swallowing it down, he kissed her hand. “I could not do less for you, dearest.”

Jittering her foot in a nervous display of energy, she ground her little teeth. “I want to assist Harry in the same way! I want it with all my heart!

“Some things are best left to take their natural course,” he murmured.

So why he was once again playing intermediary was beyond him.

The plump woman had a particularly sour expression on her face. It appeared Harry had directly rebuffed her. Clarice had not only the pride of a female, she had all the pride of a male, and Geoffrey would no sooner call her on her conquest than he would any other man. Nodding to the wine in her hand, he raised a brow. “It appears that the wine has soured somewhat – is it bitter?”

Daggers darted his way, but her lips gave a telltale tug. “Yes – it is the wine,” she responded dryly. “I was just watching Harry dance; I was not aware that he was such a good dancer.”

It was not often that Geoffrey found himself speaking to someone who could double entendre and verbally repartee as well as Clarice, and he mentally applauded her ability to both acknowledge his tap and snap out her own admission so subtly. When he expressed his surprise at her ignorance, considering the number of times Harry had asked her, her lips thinned in a clearly supressed smile.

But she appeared tired. More than just fagged, a sort of weariness hung about her, as if suffering from some ailment. Fetching her a chair despite her protests, he eyed her. Kitty was not wrong; the woman was pretty. Large eyes with a dark penciling of eyelashes. Expressive brows…but although each feature was excellent, it combined to make a face as interesting as it was pretty. And she was rather more plump than his own tastes ran.

Bringing up the subject of how much he owed to her brought up all the humiliation of the past, despite her quick and unequivocal request to cease mentioning it. Even if they both never spoke of it again, how was it possible he could forget it?

Even as he thought it, his own motives became clear to him. As much as he adored Kitty and liked her brother, his true allegiance must lie with the woman who had saved his reputation and his financial future. What did Clarice want?

Several probing questions caused her to rear back in surprise. “So, you are another who says to marry for love?”

For some reason, Kitty rather encompassed his notion of a loving wife. Imagining Clarice in that capacity was oddly jarring. “No – but where money is no object, marry for mutual affection and respect.”

“But it is an object,” she admitted after snapping her fan briskly.

And Harry had been right! Geoff mentally tipped his hat to the man, rather surprised.

“I will not marry her for her money,” Harry had snapped on multiple occasions. “She would hate me for it!”

Personally, Geoffrey had never given it much credence; this was the woman who had put down a great deal of money just to reverse a disaster that would have destroyed him – with no provocation, and no ask of anything in return. The idea of Clarice being unwilling to have her own funds, for her future family’s estate, had seemed ludicrous. But apparently, Harry had been right.

Opening up his mouth to tell her of Harry’s good qualities, including his refusal to even consider her financial state as a benefit, he was overridden by the brother shamelessly interjecting himself in the conversation. Frustrated, he clamped his mouth shut, wondering again why he had tied himself up so closely in a family whose affairs had absolutely nothing to do with him.

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
Jul 23, 2014
Chapter 4

He had never felt generally joyful, but his spirits were particularly depressed tonight. Perhaps it was Katherine’s husband, come back and recapturing his wife’s undivided attention. Or mayhap it was Harry, brooding about. Or, most likely, it was the fact that he was utterly alone.

Coming home late, he stared up at the dark façade for a moment before entering. After slipping off his coat and removing his hat, he had stared up the staircase with a feeling of dread. She is not here, he had reminded himself. He had not been beyond this foyer for some time, and it felt odd to be in his own house once more. Tentatively stepping past the threshold, he reacquainted himself with the layout and features of his own rooms. The old rug had been removed for a garish design, but the furniture was still the same. He could still remember sitting on that blue chair when he first brought his wife home.

Never beautiful, but at least less acidic, Martha had gazed at him with a sort of resigned disgust as he seated himself. Her pinched features had tightened, a momentary spasm crossing her features. Approaching the faded fabric, Geoffrey gingerly lowered his ass down, only to realize there was not room for his overly substaintial person. A low chuckle broke out from his throat as he tried to reverse his motions, succeeding in freeing himself after a brief struggle.

His brow knit for a moment as he turned to view the rest of the room. Whatever was depressing him so, it certainly was not his empty house. Even now, he often cringed in anticipation of Martha’s loud and indignant squawks, or her venomous hisses as she abused the people she had seen that evening. Making with his usual slow deliberation towards the stairs, he let his hand rest on the railing.

A candle was proffered. “Would you like anything else?”

The third stair still creaked, and he pressed his foot into it several times before responding. “No, that will be all, thank you.”

“Very good.”

In order to lift one thick leg up the stair, he had to shift his weight and belly over to the side, then do the opposite to raise the other leg. That big growled with far more hunger than something so well fed should have been able to produce. The aggressive sound was born out of several weeks of low intake. It was not that he purposefully set out to eat less, but Geoffrey generally found his appetite muted. Even if he did set out to eat, he more often caught himself staring into space than finishing the last mouthful.

Pausing a moment on the landing, he took several steadying breaths before continuing. Perhaps it would have been better to bring Harry, in daylight, he reflected as long shadows grew and died by the light of the candle in his hand. But tonight he was doing his friend a turn. A favour that would involve a certain amount of discomfort on his own side, and he needed to remind himself of…things.

The door opened under his gentle push, just like in his dreams. There, however, the similarity ended. No sexual depravity was being enacted on his bed. No humiliation awaited, only silence and memories.

The room was still, silent, and rather stuffy. One of Martha’s dressed still hung, ready to be worn. Her cosmetics and scents still crowded the little table with the mirror. Everything about the scene announced that she would fly in, berating him, at any moment. Yet, his rational mind knew she had passed on. He had watched her paroxysms, standing by her as the physician was fetched. She had been feeling ill all morning, complaining of fatigue and stomach pain. By the time she tried to rise from poking at her meal, her face was pale, and she was wheezing in agony. Even so, she had given him such looks of hatred, almost as if the devil possessed her, when he tried to help or offer water.

“Given how vivid my dreams have been lately, I almost feel as if I am tempting ghosts,” Geoff murmured as he edged further into the room. Her contorted face, full of rage, flashed through his mind just as a lone draft caught his candle. It danced wildly before winking out. “Balls,” he yelped, heart in his throat. Having a healthy dose of the superstitious, he backed out of the room by feel, groping the door shut and hurrying down the hall as soon as he could.

“That is it. I am selling, selling, selling,” he repeated rapidly as he descended the stairs far more rapidly than usual. Setting the metal on the table, he did not wait to put on his jacket. Simply clapping his hat on his head, he let himself out with his coat still over his arm.

When he arrived at the doors to the whorehouse, he saw Harry leaning against the wall, looking dark and furious. “I still think this is a damn terrible idea,” he announced without preamble.

The light from overhead cast Harry’s eyes into shadow. “She is not the only woman in the world,” he growled in return. “Sometimes a man needs to do what a man needs to do.”

Granted, but why ‘a man’ needed another man to go whoring with him seemed an odd thing. Stepping into the hot, pungent interior, he blinked rapidly to adjust his eyesight. “What is the etiquette?” he drawled when Harry looked back at him.

The other man gave him an odd look before several ladies descended upon them, drawing him into a corner.

When they began to put hands on him, their dead eyes and smudged makeup made his soul tremble. “Enough,” he said quietly. “Enough!” He repeated more firmly, raising his hands to placate them.

They withdrew as a bunch, but allowed him to step closer to the bar. If he had felt depressed before, his soul felt utterly worn, here. The interior was dirty and damp - and the women no better. Some had sores, others coughs. Their eyes looked almost predatory in their hunger, their flesh just a lure to bring in their prey. There was a reason that Geoffrey had not resorted to this, even in his most desperate hours. There were women of the night who kept a far greater standard than these poor girls. Courtesans and even those of a ‘clean, country girl’ bent. Harry, however, had seemed determined to sink himself as far as he could, in choosing this establishment.

The women were hovering nearby, assessing which of them would be most likely to entice him. Unfortunately for them, there was no room for arousal – only pity. Geoff turned to the man behind the bar. By uniform, he was an innkeep, if not by trade. “Food for all of these ladies,” He ordered, handing over the requisite coins.

“They get fed,” the man grumbled, glowering down at the money as if suspicious that by completing the request, he would be admitting to a fault.

“I don’t doubt it.” I absolutely doubt it. “But, you see, I cannot enjoy myself until I see these lovely ladies enjoy a good meal.”

“Oh, ‘es a talker,” one of the other women cooed, as if suddenly falling upon a particularly adorable puppy. “Come on then, love, tell us your stories. I’m a great listener,” she added with a broad wink

Round face filled with dismay, he looked from one to the other. Perhaps staying in that house for the night would have been preferably. Martha had, if nothing else, refused to touch him or allow him to touch her.

Good gods, Harry, hurry!


It had taken several long baths to convince Geoff that he was clean from simply being in that establishment, and he still felt soiled as he stepped into the hall several days later. A familiar face caught his eye, and he sighed.

The former Miss Chelsey moved across the floor with an innate grace. The normally rather serious expression that usually guarded her face had softened into a sort of gentle joy. Although joy indicated an overwhelming burst of happiness – this was a sort of inner buoyancy that lifted her spirit to be displayed through her sparkling eyes.

The thick man across from her grinned in a rather wicked manner, saying something as they drew near that caused her emerald eyes to widen fractionally, then shake her head with a rueful smile.

Alone, as usual, Geoffrey fiddled, grasping and releasing his own fingers. His beautiful little Kitty no longer sought his arm. It had been such a small thing, and yet somehow represented a closeness that he had never fully comprehended until it was gone.

Once, Kitty had confided to him, “There is very little difference between those poor women on the street and women of the upper class. In both cases, our soul and liberty is purchased. We both know there are men whose tastes and tempers are not what they ought to be; I do not just want to find a husband. I want to find a man who loves me.”

He had not known that delicate Kitty was aware of men whose sexual predilections were rather on the shady side of things. Although her father’s temper had grown rather rough in the subsequent years after Mrs. Chelsey’s death.

Even if Martha had died a year ago…

Even if Kitty had not met Raoul…

Would he have been able to please her? Truly please her?

Despite her happiness at seeing him, and her pleasure in his company, Kitty had never bestowed that hungry look on him. Never, in all their years of acquaintance, had Geoff made her blush and flush as she did with her husband. Although she had often pressed uncomfortably close, she had never stroked his arm or swayed towards him in that subtly wonton way. Having long suspected that she would not mind his size, he felt rather sour as her hands touched Raoul’s new additions in a rather appreciative manner as they approached.

“I know, I know,” Raoul murmured to her as they came within feet of the refreshment table. His rumbling voice had a rueful note as he explained, “But the farmer’s daughters and wives were so persistent in their demands. How could I refuse to enjoy their cooking?”

“How indeed,” Kitty laughed, grazing the backs of her fingers along the bottom of Raoul’s swollen middle through his waistcoat.

“You did tell me to enjoy the food,” he added, broad face looking boyishly unsure for a moment.

Kitty filled her cup and raised it to her lips. “And did you?” she asked impishly after a swallow.

“Uh-huh,” he admitted, eyes lidding. “May I confess something else?” Leaning down, he murmured, “Then I went home and ate Martha’s cooking. I kept thinking about your little hands on me every night. It drove me mad thinking about you touching me, and waking up to nothing. It was as if a void had opened up within me, and I could only fill it by eating…”

They drifted away, but if the heated look sent his way was any indication, his wife clearly approved his recent additions, hanging on his every word.

Turning his eyes back to the floor, he exhaled. “Good god,” he groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. There really was no woman for him. He had made a selfish decision to marry for money, and had paid for it with years of agony and humiliation. “Might not have been perfect for her…” he breathed.

Under his gaze, his belly took up a portion of his lap. His fat man breasts creased, sweat accumulating under them. His fat arms made the shoulders of his coat pull, and his thick thighs strained the seams of his pants while sitting. Transferring his gaze back to the couple, he saw his old flame pinch Raoul’s growing double chin. “…But she was the only one right for me.”


If the other men’s expressions were any indication, the short shriek of dismay from behind them caused a similar jolt to crash through their frames. As one, they turned to look back down the path in time to see pale arms disappear beneath the surface on the pond. Almost instantaneous in their thoughts and actions, all three darted towards the water that they had been meandering from.

His heart thundered in his chest, fear and exertion causing him to pant as he made for the water as quickly as his thick legs would take him. In their combined terror for her wellbeing, both Geoffrey and Raoul moved their well-fed bodies at a faster clip than either had done for some time. Although it was nothing compared to the athletic, sprinting dash of the younger brother, who moved as if the devil himself was nipping at his heels. Before Raoul had reached the halfway mark, Harry had already speared through the dark water.

Eyes darting, Geoffrey sucked in ragged breaths. The old, thin planking that led out into the water was listing dangerously to one side, nearly touching the water. Clarice was nowhere in sight, but Kitty’s pale face and dark hair was above the surface, thank God. No maiden in distress was she, however. The impetuosity and daring that had nearly killed her as child had resulted in her being a strong swimmer. Unable to move her legs, she utilized her arms, turning half onto her back as she drifted closer to shore.

“Don’t you dare,” she hissed at her husband over her shoulder as she managed to pull herself to the shallows, lifting her head above the waves created by Harry’s dive. “It is ridiculous enough that I am wet. I swear to God that if you jump in after me….!” The normally quiet woman looked ready to spit nails, or come out clawing like a wet cat.

Her husband teetered comically on the edge of the water, arms wheeling as he struggled to halt his forward momentum. “Kitty!” He rasped, looking like he was about to disobey against his own better judgement.

Katherine’s eyed widened, and her mouth compressed. If looks could kill, that would have been one of them. “If you think of jumping in to ‘save’ me I swear…!” She left the threat hanging as she tottered, struggling against the weight of her garments.

Apparently her semi implied threat was sufficient to prevent a dramatic dive to save her, but her husband paced the water’s edge like a restless wolf. As soon as she was within reach, he snatched her up with a grunt, cradling her against his torso as heavy water poured from her dress.

Now that she was safe, Geoffrey put his hands on his hips, gasping for air. “You are well?” Now that the panic was easing, the urge to laugh was nearly overwhelming. If she had been injured, it would have been different, but if her expression was any indication, the only thing hurt was her pride. Turning his attention to his left, he saw that Harry had Clarice in his arms and was kicking them back towards shore.

“Yes, I just wet through,” she responded crossly after struggling to wring out the parts of her dress within reach. “You can put me down,” she added to Raoul, who was puffing. Her garments clung to every curve and valley, and Geoffrey was surprised to see how plump she was. Not that it was unbecoming in the least. Water was still sluicing off of her, adding to the weight.

Still ignoring her protests, Raoul turned serious eyes to the only man of their party unengaged. “Geoffrey, fetch help.”

“I don’t need help,” Kitty immediately rebutted.

He strode on, grinding his teeth. “Ignore my wife. She is clearly irrational.”

“Clearly…?” She puffed like an angry cat, bristling. “Oooo!”

Her husband cast a hard look down on her. “You just fell into a filthy pond full of cold water. You have been feeling ill for weeks now. And you refuse to be seen to?”

The look he received in return for his concern was full of scathing irritation rather than gratitude for his concern.

The irony of the situation was not lost on their observer. Years ago, he had held the very woman – well, child at the time – in his arms. Unless he was wildly mistaken, she had held some affection for him - for years. That his wife should die just after Katherine’s marriage, and that another man should be scooping her up made him want to crawl back to his room and not come out for a year.

“Where the hell did you learn to swim?” Raoul growled as he carried her, water pouring from her, to the carriage. When she named Geoffrey, Raoul cast him a look that was two parts gratitude, one part surprise, and one part jealous suspicion.

Knowing that the jealous suspicion was more than a little warranted, he forced his face into blandness. Geoffrey turned his attention to the other brother. First he was dreaming of violence, and now he was lusting after a married woman. If Raoul saw his eyes, Geoffrey was convinced he would learn it all. And despite wanting to tuck tail and leave all of them…he rather liked this odd family.

“Raoul, I am not injured. I am just cold and wet. All I want to go home and get into dry things. Was Clarice injured?” Kitty added, casting her glance about for the other woman.

“Harry has her,” Raoul snapped. “Let us worry about you, shall we?”


the bitchy one
Nov 26, 2010
Poor Geoff :( he needs a cute little kitty himself. As much as I like Raul and Kitty together I would love to see her with Geoff :D I'm horrible I know, want to ruin perfect marriage

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
Jul 23, 2014
Chapter 5

She was almost on top of her before she recognized her. “Martha!”

Turning, the short, round woman broke out with a wide smile. “Margaret, dearling, how are you?” she demanded. She looked the same as she had the day they met, but for more grey in her hair and happy wrinkles that radiated out from her eyes in delight. In all other points, she was immutable.

She was as solid as a boulder in a river. People seemed to part around her without even being conscious of it. Her steadiness dulled the unease that being out in public always caused. Even in the shades of predawn there was enough bustle to make her twitch.

That sense of constancy and security allowed the taller woman to submit to the brief kiss on the cheek and equally brief hug with only the smallest sign of discomfort, for her hand twisted in her skirt. “I am well, Martha. I had not expected to see you back in town so soon - I thought you had gone to the country.”

An affable nod answered. “Yes, but Katherine came back.” A sort of smirk ran over her face as she chuckled. “And oh, my boy simply cannot be without her!”

“Oh yes,” she realized, the connection occurring to her belatedly. “Of course. I saw Raoul myself – I should have realized that you would be back.”

“No need to fuss, Margaret. You know I have no need to stand on those social formalities. Indeed, he is back in town, and as tetchy as a badger! Apparently his little miss fell in a pond and now the sky has fallen. He sent a man himself to come fetch me the minute it happened. I just arrived, and thought I would make a few purchases. If she does have a cold, we shall get her right with good food!”Gently drawing her taller companion to the side to clear the isle for other shoppers, Martha placed hands on her plump hips. “You look troubled, dearest. What is troubling that pretty little head of yours?”

Margaret smiled. Some things never changed. The older woman had this way about her that made it seem like she would lash out like a protective mother goose if anyone so much as eyed her gosling.


The streets were so, so crowded. They had come out on purpose to see a troop of performers. Papa’s new wife was trying to spoil her into loving her. Papa had told her to walk on her own like a big girl, but when a man pushed by, Margaret lost sight of him.

All the coats and hats looked the same; there was no way to distinguish which one was her Papa. And no one seemed to notice or care that she was being pushed about – they merely looked at her as both sexes drifted by.

“Papa?” she cried, staring around wildly. Flashes of clothing past her, blurs of countless faces. He had been holding Clarice to see the performers more clearly as they approached. He had been beside her just a moment ago. He could not have gotten far – where was he? Oh, Papa!

The rattle of carriages, the clop of hooves, and the drone of countless voices drowned out even her thoughts. What should she do? Should she stay here? Would he come for her? Should she try and go home? Which way was home?

“Yes my dear!”

“No, I – ”

“Indeed - ”

“- that is what I told the sorry chit - ”

“Pies! Pies!”

It smelled of mud, and dirt, and the odor of hundreds of bodies. “Papa? Papa!” The blue sky seemed to whirl overhead, the grey earth below. A countless sea of faces and bodies surrounded her, pressing on her until her heart felt it would burst in her chest.

Sheer panic overtook her. In that moment, it did not matter what came of it, she could not be here an instant longer! Turning again, she pushed through the crowd, wrapping her arms around herself and closing her eyes against the onslaught. Sobs wracked her, and she kept choking out calls for her Papa, forcing the sound out past the lump in her throat. Suddenly, she walloped into a soft form.

“Shh, dearling,” a voice above her murmured. “You just have a good little cry, then tell me what is troubling you.”

That had sounded like excellent advice, given that there was no way she could have stopped the hysterical sobs that had wracked her.

“Keep your pretty little eyes closed. That’s a dear. No one here but me and you. You stay with me and I wont let no one bother you, you hear? What is your name?”

“M-Margaret Belltaunt,” she stuttered. The woman was soft and warm, and she cradled her softly against her big bosom and stomach, rocking lightly. She smelled like sun and freshly baked bread. When Margaret was finally able to breathe without crying, she pulled back and gazed up at her rescuer.

Warm eyes met hers with a smile, and the woman took up the edge of her apron to pat away her tears. “There now, Margaret. You are safe with me. Did you lose track of your parents in this awful crush?”

Another tear leaked out, and she dashed it away impatiently as she turned her head to –

“Now now,” the older woman scolded. Taking up her hand in a firm hold, she towed her towards a shop. “No looking at those awful people. You just hold onto my skirt, you hear? Whenever you feel unsafe, you just grab my skirts good and tight. You hear me? Just look down at my skirts, and pretend like we are the only ones here.” She bustled forward into the store, allowing the door to close on most of the din. “Your parents will be along shortly to collect you, I daresay.” One callused hand rose to gently pet the younger’s hair.

It felt incredibly safe to stay, tangled in her skirts, the fabric clutched tightly in her hands. Even the smaller crowd in the shop broke like waves before the bow of a ship as the busty young woman stepped smartly through. Those that did not were given a brusque request to move – and they were so startled that they seemed to obey in spite of themselves.

Peeking past her skirts, she realized that they must be in a spice shop. Hundreds of smells assailed her from the jars on the shelves. Above them, sprigs of unknown plants hung. Overwhelmed, Margaret buried her face in her skirts. The woman smelled like cloves and flowers and bread.

They were just at the counter as the goods were packaged, when the door opened again. The little bell tinkled, drawing her notice. “Papa!” Margaret cried, dashing forward to throw her arms around him.

He nodded down at her, allowing her to cling for a moment before pushing her gently away. “I’m glad to see you are safe. Your Mother will be worried about you.”

“She is not my mother,” Margaret objected, scuffing a toe as tears rose again.

“Enough, Margaret!” Was the curt instructions.

Wincing, she shuffled after him as he turned on heel to exit. “Goodbye…” she called, waving a little over her shoulder. “Thank you!”

The buxom brunette winked and wriggled her fingers. “Goodbye, little miss.”

As they were leaving, a little boy darted into the shop, almost tripping Papa. He pounded up to her with little arms raised to be carried.

“Well, hullo, little Master. What has my handsome little man been up to, to be so dirty about the hands?”

“Mekkin pies,” the plump youngster replied with the natural, slurred authority of a three year old. He cast a curious glance over his guardian’s shoulder as he was settled on one sturdy hip. His dark locks were in his eyes, and he tossed them back to regard her with grey eyes, shadowed with a thick pencil of lash. “Whossat?”

“Never you mind, Raoul. And don’t you dare let me catch you sticking those dirty fingers in your mouth, unless you want me to wash that mouth out with soap!” And she gently smacked his hands away, despite his wailing protests. “You be quiet, or your Father will hear!”

That instantly sobered him, and he ran a sleeve across his watering eyes. “I’ll be a good boy…Promise!”

The door swung shut. Before Margaret had a chance to let her eyes adjust, she was being shaken heartily by Papa’s wife. “Don’t let me catch you running off like that ever again, do you understand me?”

“Yes, I understand.” If I ever run off, I need to not get caught. And I hate you. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!


A gentleman tipped his hat. “Excuse me, ladies.”

A quick step cleared the way, and Margaret remembered to try and smile. “Nothing is wrong with me,” she answered. “Katherine was not the only one who fell. My sister was with her, and she is also ill.”

“Good food.” Martha advised. “Nice, stout, healthy meals, and staying still in bed will fix her up better than any medicine.”

Staying still in bed did not appear to be an issue. Clarice had not emerged for days now. Margaret specifically avoided the details of her family, but even she could see that her father was in a strange taking, as was her father’s wife. “I no longer want to be in this store,” she announced, feeling an abrupt and overwhelming urge to no longer be in this place.

“Nor I,” Martha agreed instantly. “Let us pay and then be gone.”

Being with her was so much easier than being with others. She never said things she did not mean, only to become vexed at her. Like Raoul, she always turned to look at the person she was speaking to. Unlike her sisters, she did not begin speaking, turning her face away so that half of the message was lost. “Will you come back to the house? My house,” she added belatedly. “My family’s house,” she amended once again.

It was in a tone of real regret that the other demurred. “I should be getting to Raoul. Invite me over another time though, will you? Your lovely kitchen gives me the tingles all over!”

Navigating the streets at this time of day was not too bad. This was the hour for errands. After even the latest partygoers had gone to bed, and far before they rose to tea, the streets were filled with men and women walking with brisk steps as they went about their day. Once the day warmed, the streets would begin to crowd, the smell would rise, and the murmurs would rise to a cacophonous volume. But for now, there was a sort of peace in the early morning grey.

Signs creaked in the brisk wind that picked up, carrying little bits of trash in its wake. Flicking her head to push her bangs out of the way, the young woman appeared lost in deep thought to the casual observer. Only a close inspection would have revealed the white knuckled grip on her basket, and the eyes which grew slightly wild when passing through a knot of people.

Slipping in through the back door, Margaret quickly tied on her apron and began the process of breakfast. There was something special in personally the produce she used. Martha used to say that what made her own food so special was that it was done ‘birth to grave’. Mother nature birthed the food, but the cooks were the ones who raised it and nurtured it into its full potential before sending it off to be consumed.

This kitchen was her home, her fortress, and her life. It had been meticulously designed by her; from the placement of the counters to the size of the cabinets. It was impeccably clean; no clutter marred the counter. Each jar was in a specific place, accorded just for it. Unlike the fancy furniture and carpeting above, the luxury in this room would only be understandable to other cooks. It was the material comfort of top quality materials, arranged in the most efficient way.

The sun was streaming in through the open door, the light creeping across the floor with a resolute yet infinitesimal slowness. The ovens were all on, however, so the interior was snug. Once this dough was ready, she would close the door. The draft would do no favours to her loaf. Looking down caused he bangs to slip into her eyes, and she blew them out of her face with a upward huff of her lips.

This was her abode; here, even her family rarely intruded. She was left at peace, at liberty, at -

“Excuse me…”

Jumping, she whirled at the sudden voice. It was soft and cordial, and it sent shivers racing from the tip of her head to her toes.

“I apologize, I knocked, the door was opened…I know it is incredibly rude…”

Swallowing hard, she stared at the trespasser’s round face as her heart pounded in her chest. Her stomach had swooped down somewhere in the region of her knees, and she could not seem to quite find the breath to speak.

He smiled, his tow headed locks falling over twinkling blue eyes in a look of cherubic abashment. “I am Geoffrey Telford…”

“I know,” Margaret whispered, feeling the old butterflies take flight. They battered wildly against their prison, sending eddies of warmth to her cheeks. The man was as insufferably gorgeous as the first day she had seen him.

Rays of sunlight caught in his hair, which almost seem to shine like a halo over his head. He took half a step inside the threshold, turned his face away from the sunlight streaming into his eyes, and shook out his hair with a careless hand. “I truly do apologize for the intrusion. I know that Kitty stayed over as Clarice’s particular friend…do you remember her?”

“I do,” she mumbled. As her eyes fell, they revealed that she was covered in flour, and it had crusted around her nails. Belatedly shoving them into her apron pockets, she swallowed. Why, whenever they met, was she never at her best?

He sounded relieved when he sighed, “Oh good.”

The scuff of his boot as he shuffled another step forward caused her eyes lock onto his shoes, and the deliciously thick legs above them. He was, however, blocking the door, and her eyes flicked repeatedly towards the open door behind him. I wish he would clear the doorway, she moaned. But If I say anything, he might leave!

Fortunately, the man seemed to sense her unease. “If it is not too irregular…not too much of an imposition…may I tarry for a moment?” And at her nod, added, “And where would you like me, so that I am out of the way?”

A shiver caused goosebumps to raise all over her forearms. “Just over there,” she mumbled, jerking her chin at a set of high stools in one side of the kitchen where trays of pastry were cooling. Stumbling after him, she huddled on the stool, staring at his thick thighs. No! Do not stare at his legs! She tried to look up, but they just landed on his massive middle. Jerking them away, she fastened them on her own hands, folded resolutely in her own lap.

“Again, I apologize – ”

“Please stop apologizing. It is making me uncomfortable.”

He laughed at this. It was a warm chuckle that caused his round middle to quake lightly.

Her mouth instantly dried, the moisture rushing to other parts of her body.

“Well, let me just bring it forward. Kitty and Clarice were walking in the park the other day, and fell into the pond. I wanted to see how Clarice Belltaunt was.”

“Oh. Is Katherine’s baby safe?” Margaret inquired, glancing up.

The man blanched. Recovering quickly, however, he paused, exhaling a wordless noise after inhaling to speak. An odd expression flew over his face, and those blue eyes quizzed hers. “How…? Why do you think she is with child?”

Clasping her hands tightly in her lap, the eldest Miss Belltaunt struggled for words at his direct gaze. “I…she…that is to say…she was sicking up every morning. And would not partake in any wine. She had said to her maid, that she had been sicking up for the past few months every morning. Did I say something wrong?”

He swallowed, sticking his tongue between his lips for a moment as if gathering strength. “Wrong? No, not at all. Well. She seems to be fine, so I think so. And how is Miss Clarice Belltaunt?”

There were too many possible answers to such a broad question. Did he mean physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Her sanity?

Seeming to sense her confusion once more, he smiled. He had nice teeth, and his smile always made those round cheeks bulge. “I am mostly concerned for her health.”

That was easier to answer. “She hurt her chest. Thomas comes to give her drafts every day.” Why had Geoffrey come to ask about Clarice? How did he know Katherine?

“And emotionally – how is she? Is she happy?”

“Clarice has never been happy,” Margaret responded casually, without thinking. A muffled sound made her look up. “What?”

Geoffrey’s eyes were dancing as he struggled to keep from laughing. After several moments, he simply let it out, whooping quietly until his eyes teared and he was gasping for air.

Each huff of laughter caused his belly to shake, and he had covered his eyes, shoulders shaking in his mirth. Taking the opportunity to gaze, Margaret saw that the fabric covering it was slightly loose, but even that could not disguise the sheer volume of man under the shirt. It appeared so soft, so luxurious. Her hands itched to knead it.

Eventually calming himself, he sighed, still smiling. “I apologize. Your honestly caught me off guard, and is incredibly refreshing.” There was an abrupt squeal.

It was loud enough that they both noticed. Geoffrey flushed as Margaret looked around, blinking.

Another squeal, and realization dawned on her face. “Oh, you are hungry!” she cried softly. Much in the same way that others would have cried oh, you are injured! Instantly shifting forward she pulled the tray of pastries closer. “Please, eat.”

“Are you sure?” He queried, again flipping his locks out of his eyes. At her nod, he took one and carefully bit into it. Instantly, he made that same noise Raoul had. When he opened his eyes, his impromptu hostess was gazing at him with hooded eyes. “Delicious.”

“Please, eat as many as you want.”

Margaret was so enraptured with watching his plump fingers capture a morsel and deliver it to his lips that she quite forgot to feel shy.

He seemed to have acquired some of it, however. When his hand reached out and scraped the empty pan, his already ruddy cheeks darkened further. “Oh, damn,” he swore, looking quite upset.

“Do not worry!” Margaret hastened to assure him, jumping up. “There is more!” And fetching the other tray, she carefully laid it atop the now empty one.

Instead of looking relieved, he still looked upset. “Thank you, but I should be going. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me…and for the most excellent food...” And with that, he manoeuvred his thick body off the stool and took his hat in hand.

And just like that, he was going to waltz out of her life again.

“Will you….will you come back tomorrow?” Margaret blurted as he was about to cross the threshold. “Perhaps...perhaps I can learn something to help you..?"

His handsome face softened, and he stepped back towards her. “Would you do that for me?”

“Of course I will,” she stuttered, fighting back light headedness as he pressed grateful lips to her knuckles for a moment.

The touch sent ricochets of tingles all over her, warming her from the inside and causing her blood to pound in her veins in a disturbing way.

He had a distinctive way of walking, his thick thighs combating for supremacy. From behind, thick love handles pushed out over his hips. Once he had waddled out, Margaret bit her lip as she looked down on the hand he had held, feeling a surge of joy –

Her eyes rolled towards the ceiling in exasperation, her fingers curling into frustrated claws. She still had flour dough on her hands! Glancing at the doorway, she groaned. “Why am I so incapable of doing the most simple things?”


Nov 12, 2014
This makes me so happy! (I've been waiting for some Margaret/Geoff romance to start ever since Margaret was preening about Raoul's compliments on her food.) Margaret is such a dear! :)

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
Jul 23, 2014
Some of my characters demand their own stories, or explanation of their past...Geoffrey was so nice and unassuming that I simply had to tell his tale!!!

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
Jul 23, 2014
Chapter 6

If someone were to have asked him, “Geoff, how are you feeling?” he would have answered; “Odd. Very Odd.”

But off course, no one thought to ask him.

Harry was beside himself with distress for Clarice. Having heard nothing about her health and safety, he seemed to assume the worst. Geoff’s reassurances did not seem to count for much, as they did not come from her own lips or hands. Only concern for his sister kept him in the house at all. And the other brother was nearly as beside himself with worry for his wife, who was indeed pregnant.

There was no way to articulate the cascading emotions running through him. But above all, he blessed Margaret. Her disclosure allowed him to take in the information calmly. When the physician came down and told them, it did not take him as a thunderclap - as it did Raoul. It allowed him to properly moderate his expressions. Without that forewarning, Geoffrey did not know how he would have reacted.

He was also pleasantly stuffed, courtesy of Margaret’s excellent cooking. His stomach felt full and heavy, and made him feel much calmer than he would otherwise have been. It had been weeks since he had indulged, and all he wanted to do was lay down in torpid repletion.

It even allowed him to cope with Raoul turning to him, thanking him and calling him family. Though he had no idea how to respond to that statement. “I will never forget your assistance. Without your help, I might not have my wife – and a son on the way.”

“Daughter!” Kitty bellowed over the railing, although there was amusement in her voice.

Geoffrey forced a half smile to his lips, inclining his head to mask his features. Well, this is dreadfully unpleasant…It was as if life was not content with simply knocking him down, but it needed to kick him between the legs again and again.

A glance at Harry showed some lightening of his mood.

The thinner brother gazed after them with affectionate smile ghosting around his lips. Turning his eyes on Geoff, he sighed heavily. “Well. I am glad she is safe. Now, if only I could have similar assurances from Clarice.”

Unwilling to give him hope which might only result in disappointment, the heavyset man refrained from disclosing his possible lead. Instead, he poured another thumb. “Drink up, lad. We will find out the truth. And besides. You are about to be an uncle.”

The word seemed to strike Harry with special force, and a true grin spread over his face. It was roguish as well as impish. It was rather unfortunate that Harry was so down about the mouth, because he was far better looking when in good spirits. “Ah, I never thought of it that way.”

Both men sat quietly for some time. Harry, it would be safe to assume, was back to brooding over the object of his obsessive affection. Geoff, for his own part, was mulling over more pleasant reflections. Eventually rousing himself, the older man pressed Harry’s shoulder. “Good night, my friend.”

When Geoffrey stripped down for bed, he ran absent hands over his wide, heavy stomach. Hefting it in his hands, he dwelled for a moment on Margaret’s amazing cooking. Hopefully she did not think him utterly porcine, what with gorging himself silly. But then, at his weight, who was he attempting to hoodwink? Of course he was a big, fat pig. His upper arms wobbled slightly as he reached outwards around his gut.

At least she had not seemed too offended. She was an interesting woman. With her height, she could have looked imposing. With her elfin, slender build she could have looked graceful. With her thick, glossy hair and dark eyes she could have made herself a beauty. And yet somehow, she managed to represent none of these things.

Although tall, she had a way of holding herself that made her seem smaller. A sort of unconscious hunch to her shoulders, and a quiet way of moving about. And her eyes, so dark brown as to appear black in the shadows, were cast down so often that she almost gave the air of a child. And she looked dreadfully uncomfortable in her own skin, hiding those pretty eyes under heavy bangs, twisting her hands in her skirt and looking anywhere but at him.

When he sat on the bed, the silky skin of his lower belly slid across his thighs, pooling between his legs. Even leaning back on his arms did not cause any loss of contact, but allowed his breasts to slump to the side. He had eaten so much that when he left the Belltaunt kitchen he had been forced to carefully mince his way home, as each step threatened to push a burp through his lips. His stomach, empty for so long, had been deliciously heavy. The skin tingled from the internal pressure, his insides felt pushed about to make room. And the heavy sway of his belly as it shifted had seemed immoderately pleasurable. Glutton, he had scolded himself.

It had not been long since his wife’s death, but it felt as if an eon had slipped by. Getting caught up in the whirlwind of life that seemed to swirl between the Nottinghams and the Belltaunts, every day seemed spoken for. Even tomorrow, he would be going back to that beautiful little kitchen to speak with Margaret again. Glancing down at the pale pillow of flesh before him, he felt his cock twitch at the thought of eating more of her delicious food.


Just because the food was there did not mean that he needed to glut himself on it.


“I made these for you,” Margaret murmured in her throaty, smoky voice as he entered the kitchen, blinking against the sunlight. “I was not sure what you would enjoy…so I made one of each.”

An inhale made his mouth explode with saliva, and he swallowed it back as his eyes adjusted. On the little table where they had sat the day before lay several small pies. Which, if his nose informed him correctly, were quiche. He salivated, almost tasting the rich custard on his tongue. “Oh, you should not have gone to the trouble.” When he was able to rip his eyes from the glory before him, he saw her looking rather crushed. “Although your little pastries were so delicious yesterday that I dreamed about them,” he hastened to add. He had also dreamed of waking up next to Martha’s cold corpse, but that was neither here nor there. It seemed like his mind was determined to torment him.

Her downcast expression lightened somewhat, and she took the seat on the same tall stool as yesterday. “I love cooking,” she murmured haltingly. “I love seeing people enjoy my cooking…”

“I loved your cooking,” Geoffrey said so empathetically that she blushed. Her skin was not only pale, it had a delicate transparency about it. Her veins were visible under it, her pulse visible in her throat. That dusting of red was the only colour in her face. Besides of course her lips, which she occasionally caught in her teeth, causing them to look full and red. “I just did not want to make you feel socially obliged to feed me just because I am imposing on your time.”

“I do not do that.”

The response was odd, and made him peer at her more closely. “Do what?”

“Feel socially obliged. I am terrible in public. That is why Papa does not take me out anymore. I do not say the right things at the right times. I hate crowds, and dislike dealing with people.”

Brushing his hair back with a fat finger, he peered even more closely. “Margaret,” he sounded slowly, as if puzzling it out aloud, “Are you a Belltaunt?” Although formed as a question, it was more of a statement.

“Yes,” was the simply reply as she pressed a fork into his hand.

Damned fool. He had snuck in the back door, and instead of making friends with a kitchen maid, had accidentally revealed himself to Clarice’s sister. Made a fool of himself by stuffing himself, and even more so by not knowing who she was. Margaret Belltaunt…something tickled in his mind, but fluttered out of reach.

He had thought it odd at the time, that she would introduce herself by her given name. She would, of course, have thought he knew who she was, and was clarifying which of the sisters she was. Taking the fork at last, he felt the unfamiliar heat of a blush spread to his cheeks. “I am so sorry – you do not look like your sister,” he managed at last. Overcome with anxiety, he quickly cut a mouthful and stuffed it into his mouth.

“I know.” After a moment of silence, she peered up through those heavy locks. “Do you like them?” Her voice was rather small.

Geoffrey was desperately trying to avoid eating the whole thing, but his tastebuds were alive, and his stomach audibly screeched its protest at his slow consumption. “Oh, yes, very much,” he murmured fervently. Also, it kept him from further insulting her by giving his mouth another task.

“I made them all for you.” Again, one shoulder rose shyly, and she flashed her dark gaze at his face.

The idea that one of the daughters of the richest families – and one to which he owed everything to – had purposefully set out this bounty made him feel oddly. “And I suppose I should eat them all?” Her answering smile made him groan internally, but what was he to do? She was taking the time out of her day to converse with him. And had seemingly taken time out of her morning to cook, specifically for him. Such generosity could not be ignored – not that he had even the slightest wish to. In an impossibly short period of time, the first quiche lay in his stomach. Patting his lips with a small cloth, Geoffrey felt his face burn in shame. For, despite the rich flavour and heavy nature, his appetite was only whetted. After feeling uncomfortably full all day, the slow fires had sprung to life. He had awoken with a long familiar growling, pangs of hunger stabbing him from within. “Well, that was absolutely delicious,” he declared.

Her disappointment was palpable. “You…do not want to try the others?”

What was he to do? Sliding the next one closer, he served himself a hearty portion. “How is your sister today?”

“The same as yesterday,” Margaret replied with rather an air of indifference, seemingly focusing on assessing his enjoyment of her cooking.

The flavour burst on his tongue afresh, and he closed his eyes against the onslaught of hedonistic pleasure it brought him. “Would you mind if I asked you why she has not sent our letters any reply?”


Again, flummoxed, he opened his eyed to regard her before realizing that she had, technically, answered his sentence correctly. He had asked her if she would mind, not the actual question. Biting back a smile he swallowed the bite in his mouth. “Why has she not responded to our letters?”

“She has not gotten any letters.” When Geoffrey paused in the act of putting the forkful into his mouth to gaze inquiringly at her, she offered this little tidbit. “Papa has taken all the mail and letters in hand.” Abruptly changing the subject, she flicked her glance at his breakfast. “Do you like that one too?”

“I cannot decide which I love more,” he replied honestly. Overcome with curiosity, he added, “How did you learn to cook like this?”

“I had a very good teacher,” she answered softly. “I spent a great deal of time learning. And food speaks to me – I understand it. I listen to it.”

“Food speaks to me too. It says ‘eat me, eat me!’” Geoffrey chuckled. “And given my size, you can see I listen to it as well. And unless you stop me, I fear this last quiche is not long for this world.”

As if the disarming reference to his weight was permission, she shot a curiously bold, slanted glance his way, seeming to take in every bulge and roll. Her gaze lingered on his face, and she reddened before dropping it. “I am very glad you enjoy my cooking.”

Geoffrey had thought, perhaps incorrectly, that her lack of eye contact and abrupt responses was a sign of painful shyness. But there was a lack of apologetic air, and a bold turn to some of her phraseology that seemed to contradict that assumption. Tugging the third pie closer, he gave her his most disarming smile. “I am going to enjoy this deliciousness – but please, while I do…tell me about your Papa. Why has he taken the letters in hand? Why would he refuse to let Clarice see a simple inquiry after her health? Is he angry with Kitty?”

Margaret Belltaunt watched him consume her cooking with an oddly contented look before answering in her usual, broken way. “Clarice stuck Paulina.”

He coughed on his mouthful. “She – what?”

The woman across from him simply raised delicate shoulders, canting her head on her long neck. “Paulina is rude. Clarice does not like it. The servants say that Paulina destroyed her room. Clarice struck her.”

Geoffrey tried to control his brows from arching skyward, but failed miserably.

Margaret gazed at his fork for several moments, and when he had taken it up again, continued. “Papa was furious. I heard him say that Clarice had offended several important people, and her behaviour was unbecoming. That she had been given too much freedom and discretion.”

“Miss Belltaunt…”

An odd grimace passed over her face. “Do not call me so.”

“…Margaret…it just seems quite odd. My friend, Harry, is beside himself with worry for her. He is desperate to know what has happened, and why.”

Tilting her dark head, she eyed him closely. “Then why is he not here himself?”

Excellent question. Geoffrey had found himself oddly unwilling to invite anyone along to this tête-à-tête. And besides, what good would it have done? Harry was in such a fuss that he was likely to have scared this delicate creature before him. “He is pursuing other leads,” he answered instead, covering any oddity with another insertion of food into his maw. “Besides,” he added, recovering himself. “I did not want to share this feast with anyone.”

Her eyes were hooded as they met his own, disconcertingly unblinking. “But you did not know I was going to cook these for you.”

“Ah, but my excellent judgement informed me that all your food was likely to be delicious. And I have been proven right.” And he was becoming comfortably overfull on it. Not only was it a significant portion of food, it was also sinfully heavy, stretching his insides pleasantly. Another slice of the third pie remained, as well as nearly half of the second. A deep inhale brought on a sudden pang that had him pressing a palm into his side. “Tell me about yourself,” he said with an encouraging smile.

Her eyes fixed on a knot of wood on the table. “There is nothing to tell,” she whispered, lips barely moving. Her eyes snapped up as he gave a great hiccup, then groaned. It brought on another hiccup. By the fifth one, she had brought him a glass of fresh milk. “Drink,” she urged.

There was only one way he had found to be rid himself of the blasted things. Tilting up the big glass, he relentlessly swallowed again, and again, and again without pause, until at last it was empty. “I am sorry,” he murmured after he had caught his (blessedly hiccup free) breath.

She murmured something indistinctly, her cheeks again painted with the rouge of embarrassment. “I am the one who is sorry,” she muttered. “I wish I could have learned more to please you.”

Again, that odd phraseology. “I am pleased. Very pleased. I am passing my morning in the most pleasant way imaginable – with excellent food and a beautiful woman.”

“I am not beautiful.” Margaret replied flatly, turning her head away abruptly.

“Says who?” Geoffrey replied indignantly. That was not the immodest boasting of a debutant, but the heart wrenching denial of perceived truth.

Startled, her hurt eyed met his. Her mouth parted and those eyes filled with water.

“Damn,” he breathed. “I seem to offend you every few sentences.” He sighed, the winced. “Shall I leave you?”

A sniff and deep inhale answered as she tried to master herself. “But…but you have not finished,” she protested, jerking her chin at his breakfast.

He gazed over at the remainder. He glanced back at her. “If it pleases you,” he murmured fretfully, slowly and methodically eating every bite. Several bites from completion, he had to pause. Panting, he cast a glance to his companion.

She was watching him with a tremulous and happy smile on her lips.

When he finished the last bite – how could he not, with her gazing hero worship his way? – Geoffrey was forced to support himself on the table, inhaling carefully around the brick of fatty food in his stomach. “I should probably go,” he murmured, but grimaced when he shifted. His shirt and coat felt tight against his swollen flesh, and every motion sent warning thrills through him.

“Stay for a while…please?” she urged softly, twisting her apron in her hands.

He obliged. More from necessity than anything else. For, given his druthers, he would surely have fled.

But the Miss Belltaunt was oddly solicitous, becoming more communicative as his torpor increased. “I would like to assist you,” she concluded. “But I do not know how…”

Geoffrey had an idea, but he needed to involve at least one brother. Margaret’s original observation had more than a dash of truth to it. He was playing a part in this love drama, but he could not, and should not, be responsible for the execution. He had found a path, and it was now time to turn the reins over to another.

Once he could stand.


Margaret seemed to feel their presence behind her. Twisting around, she blinked in surprise at their proximity, then seemed to experience a second start at having to tilt her chin up. She was a tall woman, and only very tall men towered above her. Which only made him feel even more rotund and homely.

“Hullo there.” Raoul grinned, crossing thick arms above a bulging stomach. “I’ve been waiting to catch you out for quite some time.”

She seemed as if trying to interpret his tone, or his words. Something about his inflection did make it sound quite naughty. Eventually, she stepped to the side, her hands nesting in her skirts. It was not the shunning of acquaintance, but looked rather more like a precursor of great stress.

“Well? Can you guess why?” he pressed.

After a moment of due consideration, she darted a glance at the taller man. “You want more of my pastries?”

His grey eyes lit up, and he licked his lips unconsciously. “Yes! I mean, no! I mean, yes, I would love more of your little bites of puffed heaven, but no, that is not why I have been trying to catch you for the past few days.”

“Oh. Then I do not know why,” Margaret shrugged, ready to turn away. A gentle touch on her elbow halted her.

The elder brother steered her to the side. “You know my brother is in love with Clarice, yes?”

“I do not know it.” Margaret cast her glance to Geoffrey, seeming to find something encouraging in his presence.

He waggled a thick finger at her, catching the mild and yet flat inflection of ‘know’. “Don’t you play word games with me, little missy. Geoffrey told me he had seen you yesterday – he must have informed you how desperate my brother is to know that Clarice is well.”

Margaret gazed up at him blankly. What did he want? Her expression seemed to say.

When she only blinked up at him, Raoul continued. “Geoffrey told me that your father is redirecting all her letters from her. Knowing Clarice, she would probably work herself too hard and not heal. But it is quite important that we get one, specific letter to her.”

Geoffrey took mercy on her, stepping forward and catching her hand in his. Her expression of agitation and mild confusion fell away, and she cautiously raised her eyes to meet his. In the sunlight they were a rich, dark, and fathomless. “We would be in your debt if you would carry a letter to Clarice directly. Bypassing your Papa. Will you do that for me?”

Glancing between them for a moment, she looked down. “Yes,” she murmured faintly. “I will do that for you, Geoffrey.”


Active Member
Jul 16, 2008
Eeeeee! This is everything I have been waiting for! You tell the most beautiful love stories in the most honest and vulnerable ways. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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