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Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
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Joined
Jul 23, 2014
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Okie! Have 3 days off this week, so expect some words coming at you soon =p
 

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
***
Joined
Jul 23, 2014
Messages
2,919
Location
,
Chapter 18

By the time Geoffrey had thrown his clothes on, smoothed his hair, and made it into the hallway, he was already sweating and flushed. Voices echoed up the bare hall, unmuffled by carpeting, tapestry, ornament, or picture.

Poor Alice sounded like she was about to have a fit, her voice gasping and terrified. “If you please, sir, I will fetch some refreshments for you and my master while you wait in the – ”

“I do not please.” Mr. Belltaunt’s voice was often brief to the point of being terse, but there was now an added hard edge to his very clipped words. “I will stand until she arrives.”

He had to remind himself repeatedly; he does not know about Margaret - he is only looking for Clarice. Be calm. Do not give away your own guilt, or it is done. Stepping into view, he feigned surprise. He so often feigned his expressions in company that the raised brows, slightly widened eyes, and the startled-but-rapidly-falling-into-pleasure-at-his-company look feel into place naturally. “Mr. Belltaunt!”

The tall, lean, visitor was standing several feet back from the entryway, his cane in one hand. When he heard him speak, he did not turn to face him. Instead, his head turned slowly, eyes boring into the object of his scrutiny in a positively predatory way. “Telford.”

The mild disdain in his voice, and the way his guest’s eyes roved about with a damning judgement was nothing to the other sound in his voice. Something about the way the name was uttered sent chills up his arms, the hair on the back of his neck rising. Before Geoffrey could think of what to say, the other man began again.

“Where is my daughter? I understand that her carriage was mired in your…pond.” The word was spoken with some contempt. “I thank you for your hospitality on her behalf and trust - as I have received no letter - that she was not injured, and this lack was merely an oversight?”

“She was not injured, although she had a chill from the rain.” Not entirely a falsehood. She did have a very mild sneeze. “I apo – ”

The butt of the cane ground into the stone below it. “Thank you. I also see you could not send her on her way, as you have no carriage. I have arrived, however, and can take her away without losing much daylight.” The disdain of his surroundings once more stiffened into that raptor gaze as they landed on the fat man, who had just reached the last stair. “Where is my daughter, Telford?”

He could not lie or equivocate. Or rather, he could and either be found out, or be proven a liar in mere moments. For a quick calculation of time proved that by this time they would have been married and on their way back. Clarice had been militant in these particulars. Geoffrey let out the breath he had been holding. “She is at the local church, sir.” Stepping forward, he reminded himself that as reasonable as Mr. Belltaunt was reputed to be, he had locked up his daughter. And not just any daughter – from what Geoffrey had been given to understand, Clarice ran his business and informant network. He was not a man to be trusted, at least not anymore.

The other’s tall frame went quite still. Margaret had gotten her physical features and height from her father, whereas Clarice had inherited his armoury of piercing glances. And mannerisms – Clarice had that same stillness when deeply angered and offended. “At the church, is it? Let me guess. Harry Nottingham just happened to be at your house when my daughter’s carriage had an accident?”

“As hard as it may be to believe – yes.” Geoffrey still had a hard time believing the circumstances had so aligned to bring them all together. Not just at this moment, but at every moment since Kitty’s arrival in town last Season.

Click. Click. Click. Three deliberate strokes of the cane upon the floor as he stepped forward three precise paces. “And you expect me to believe it is mere happenstance that you, a good friend of Katherine Chelsey, introduced her to Raoul Nottingham? Do not look so surprised, old chap. News has a way of falling into my lap. It is no secret that you parted the seas for their union.”

“I – ” All he had done was assist Raoul to getting to her to make his proposals – nothing more.

“And then, is it not…convenient, that Raoul’s own brother sets his designs on my daughter? And that you insinuated your way into my house to facilitate it?” He thrust his free hand deep into his pocket, scowling at the floor.

He does not know, he does not know! “It is true that I did what I could to help my friend, who truly adores your daughter.”

“Margaret is easily mislead. She does not have the fortitude, education, or experience to make the correct decisions. She is easily panicked, and absolutely hates the carriage. She often has to be sedated to take long journeys.”

Geoffrey felt his skin ripple in anger at his tone. At the vindication of soft confessions of hurt so recently whispered against his chest. “Sir! – ”

“Silence. So what did you coerce her with, to force her into that carriage? Are you bent on ruining my entire family?”

Force? Ruin? “I have no urge whatsoever to ruin your family, or hurt your daughters in any way. I have the greatest respect in the world for them, and my involvement in this business was trying to facilitate Harry making his proposals to your daughter. Because she had been removed from society,” he gently prodded.

“That is MY decision!” In the ringing silence from that roar, Alice whimpered, turning her head to the left to look out the door at a shadow on the step. “I am her father. I will decide what is best for her. You had no right! No right! Besides - you expect me to believe any word out of your mouth? You, who ruined everything for us?” Giving the accused no time to speak, he sneered, raising the hand not holding the cane to point at the accused.

Alice shrieked, then fainted. The thump of her body sounded loud.

Geoffrey froze, staring down the black pupil of the barrel, mind blanking at this quickly escalating situation. Dear God, had the man lost his mind? What could possibly unhinge him so? Once again the questions rose up; what could make a man this powerful care about the marriage of a daughter? A daughter who he had explicitly advised that the rank of her suitor did not matter? What could fluster and coerce him into locking his daughter and business right hand? And then to come to his own house and point a pistol at him? “Sir, she should be back shortly. I believe we can discuss this when she returns.” A shadow moved behind the man, and he swallowed, speaking louder in case it was the group, returning from church. If the man was mad enough for this, who knew who he might shoot?

“You think I do not know what is going on? Do you really think that you are man enough to stare me down? The man who could never even consummate his own marriage? Whose wife cuckolded him nearly ever night? You think that I do not know all your dirty secrets? You think to fool me?” His voice had been rising with each word, and his last bellow echoed in the hall.

“Father!” Margaret’s voice broke from the top of the stairs. “What are you doing?” she cried, real panic in her voice.

“You,” he ground out. “I thought you would have been with your sister.” The gun wavered alarmingly as his attention shifted.

A small, highly irrational part of Geoffrey grew offended on her behalf. Such a tone! Of course Clarice was his favourite, but Margaret was still his daughter. “Margaret, go back to your room.”

Her father growled, waving the gun in a most disconcerting way. “No, let the little trollop join you.”

Trollop? Glancing behind him, he realized that Margaret was still ruddy faced, her long hair flowing down her back, and her clothing dishevelled. Damn. “Please, Mr. Belltaunt. Please believe me when I say that I am not trying to fool you. Clarice left this morning to be married to Harry, and will be back shortly. Your daughter is of age, and an heiress. I am in no position to tell her what to do.”

“You’ve had your eye on our money for years,” he sneered. “Propositioning my daughter – and when she refused you, trying to sabotage our ships! I do not know what you blackmailed her with to cover it up, but nothing scandalous stays quiet forever. Things have moved beyond that point, it seems,” he muttered to himself.

Nonplussed, Geoffrey blinked, casting a look over his shoulder at Margaret. Was her father drunk? His aim was wavering. When had he ever propositioned Clarice? And why would he had sabotaged them? He and Clarice both knew Martha had done it. He had actually learned of it from Clarice herself. And there had not been time to question how, or why, let alone blackmail. The plump heiress had sailed into his home, calmly informed him of what had happened, what was being done to cover it up, and that it was never to be spoken of again. Her only ask was to keep his wife as far away from her family as possible – something he could not refuse her. Geoffrey had suspected that Mr. Belltaunt had been kept in the dark but…he owed their family a debt, not treachery!

A crisp, familiar tone sounded from the doorway. “Dear Papa, he never propositioned me, and he certainly did not blackmail me. Raoul, be gentle with him.”

Gentle did not seem the proper descriptor for the sounds of pain echoing just outside the door. “It only hurts when you squirm,” was the deep growl. “I’ll shake you better if you do that again,” Raoul warned. “I’ll break your god damn arm to match your face!”

Her dear Papa was rather wild about the eyes, gun wavering as he fought the urge to turn and defend himself from a man who sounded more than a little incensed. “Not you - Margaret!”

The stair squeaked. “Margaret, stay where you are,” Geoffrey snapped.

“What the devil…?” Harry exclaimed. “Clarice, get back!”

Clarice stepped into Geoffrey’s field of vision, and into the corner of her fathers view. “Papa, what about Margaret? Why are you here? And with a pistol?”

At another time it would have been fascinating to see how the tone of her disappointment and disapproval brought a flush to her father’s palid cheek. Now, all Geoffrey could do was glance behind him and make sure Margaret was not coming any closer.

“This man has ruined our lives for far too long, Clarice. I do not know what they have threatened you or your sister with, but we can withstand it.”

Clarice looked nonplussed, her plump cheeks hollowing as she sucked on her tongue in thought. “I think you have been misinformed about matters.”

Brown hair shook. “No. Clarice, I know you tried to help, but your actions have made everything so, so much worse.”

Geoffrey and Clarice exchanged a baffled look. Behind his now wife, and out of sight of her father, Harry shifted closer with a murderous look on his face.

“You should have come to me when Telford tried to force himself on Margaret. You should have told me when he burned down our ships out of hatred.”

Ever practical Margaret spoke first; the others were too flummoxed to form a coherent response. “Geoffrey never forced himself on me. He did not burn down the ships, either.”

“Tell me he has never lain with you, and I will believe you.” Apparently her father was aware of her incapacity for telling falsehoods as well.

“I cannot.”

Harry and Clarice both shot Geoffrey scandalized and hurt looks. From outside, Raoul let out a grunt of surprise, and Kitty gasped out loud.

There was no shame or regret on Margaret’s face, which was a balm to Geoffrey’s unsettled emotions. This conversation was all very well, but the gun was still pointed at him!

“What I can tell you that it was not Geoffrey that burned the ships down.”

A long moment passed, where the audible squeaking of teeth being ground sounded out. At last, grudgingly, her father asked, “Then who was it?”

Instead of immediately answering, she closed her lips into a thin line and glanced at her sister.

The plump woman sighed and waved a negligent hand. “Go on, then.”

Thus given permission, she gave a brief and understated account of the events of that evening.

To corroborate her sibling’s position, Clarice added a few points for consideration. “Papa, think. Why would Geoffrey be the one to have the ships burned? Yes, his marriage was unhappy, but it had been unhappy for years. In all the gossip you had ever heard, did you once hear of him straying from his marriage vows?” Pausing, she sighed. “So why would he lay aims on dear Margaret, and then become so angry – that he destroyed his family? Remember, Papa. Geoffrey invested everything. He was the one who took on the risk in that venture. He had the most to lose by its failure, and the most to win by its success. You know Martha Telford was bankrupting them. Look around,” she added, waving at the bare walls.

All of this talk was humiliating, Geoffrey fumed. Turning to look back at Margaret, he was reassured somewhat by her look. Maybe he would be able to show his face – in five years instead of twenty-five.

The gun was finally lowered somewhat. Either due to the bearer’s arms becoming tired, or his slightly soothed mood. “That still does not tell me – who did it?” her father demanded impatiently. “If not Geoffrey, than who? I infer from Margaret’s story that Martha was jealous. I am not surprised, and she was as nasty a creature as they come. But who did it? I cannot imagine her physically involving herself. Like a spider, she merely plucked the webs.”

Clarice shrugged helplessly. “We do not know. A hired man, I suppose.”

“Oh – it was Westmore,” Margaret replied with calm confidence at the same time as her sister spoke, folding her hands demurely across her waist.
 

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
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Joined
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Chapter 19

“Westmore!” Clarice cried, her eyes flaring as wide as they could go. “What? Why would you think so?”

Margaret looked unsettled at being the singular focal point for all of their attention, hiding behind her bangs and casting her eyes to the floor. She muttered something indecipherable, looking away as if regretting her words. The poor woman’s pale skin flushed, then paled again. Her dark eyes darted, and she shifted towards the bannister. Her thin hand settled on it – seemingly less for support, than as a means of locking in her escape path.

“Speak up!” Her father barked, making his daughters both jump. His normally calm face was mottled, his agitation appearing in the deep furrows of his brow and in the twitching of his fingers.

She began to show signs of stress. Now that he was accustomed to her ways, Geoffrey was able to spot the warning signs of her discomfort. Others saw her actions as a manifestation of her oddities and instability, but Geoffrey had become more and more convinced that she acted thus under stress – and other reasons. As Geoffrey watched, her thin fingers fisted in her skirts, and she began rocking side to side slightly. Her normally pale face bleached of more colour under the duress, and she even stuttered a few times.

His heart gave a jolt in his deep chest, his stomach clenching to see her in pain. Even in the scant hours – lord, how could it have been so few? Geoffrey shook his head in disbelief at it all. Well, since her arrival the heiress had begun to act comfortable. Not just generally, but to act more like this was her own home than her grand house. And it pained him immeasurably to see her revert to this state of unhappiness.

When her dark eyes rolled towards him in silent supplication Geoffrey found himself hastening back up the stairs to her, ignoring the pistol and the group behind them alike. The man could shoot him if he liked; he would not abandon her to stand alone. Standing between her and her father, he gave her a reassuring smile, hoping that she would not notice how thin stress made it. Just because he was ignoring the threat did not mean it was past. “It is quite alright, my dear,” he murmured. Lightly stroking the back of one hand with his thumb, he leaned in. “I will not let him take you. Raoul will not let him take you, nor Harry,” he added when she look unconvinced.

Drawing in a deep breath, she clutched his hand and nodded. Rather than speaking to her father, she addressed herself to Geoffrey. In the quiet of the hall, her quiet voice was discernable, if faint. “He said that he did it.”

“I NEVER!” Westmore bellowed from outside, then gave a cry of pain. “Unhand me! There is no need to be so rough!”

From outside, threats and promises rumbled from a deep chest, and the sounds of an unsuccessful scuffle were heard. Feet shuffled, there was a rending of fabric, and harsh breathing. At least, it would seem to be unsuccessful, from the evil chortle that Raoul Nottingham gave at the conclusion.

When Geoffrey’s eyes met Clarice’s, there was an indecipherable light behind them. The wheels of her mind were clearly churning at a full gallop.

Mr. Belltaunt’s brows had threatened to climb into his hairline. To say he looked blatantly disbelieving would be an understatement. “What possible motive could the man have?” He demanded. “He was not involved in our transaction in any way!” The only benefit to his apparent shock was that the weapon between his fingers was now fully pointed at the floor, his arm having gone limp at the words.

Margaret tilted her head over his own at this demand as if trying to puzzle out a sentence spoken in a foreign tongue.

Geoffrey ignored her father’s sound of frustration; the man’s question had been unclear. How could the man not know how to communicate with his own daughter after years of being with her? Instead, he asked a more straightforward question. “Who did Westmore confess to?”

She scuffed a foot on the stairs, glancing up at him with more discomfort than she had evinced in days. “He…he…told Martha Telford...”

“And how would you know that?” her sister cut in. Her arched brows looked ready to climb into her hairline. “Who would have told you?” Clarice’s tone was scandalized, and also contained more than a hint of territorial irritation. She considered herself the ultimate spymaster; to have another learn what she could not clearly rankled.

“Servants. Servants talk,” Margaret murmured, now completely avoiding eye contact by turning her head away and hiding in in the lapel of Geoffrey’s coat. Despite that, her own tone held the slightest whiff of her own irritation. Her hand, still in Geoffrey’s, was both cold and damp.

He caressed them softly.

“But why – ”

Margaret was taller than him by a hand. Mounting and additional stair to gain height on her, he gently drew her to him. Geoffrey glared over his shoulder at Mr. Belltaunt. “I have more pertinent questions. Regardless of who did it, or why they did it – why the blazes would you lock Clarice up? Then come into my home – ” he emphasized, “Waving around a pistol and threatening? What could your possible motive be?” he demanded.

“How dare you speak to me that way!” Mr. Belltaunt inflated his chest like a songbird. From behind him, a shadow cast itself over the threshold.

Only Geoffrey and Margaret were clearly able to see behind the man, for Clarice and Harry stood rather off to his side. Harry more so at the rear, having begun to sneak behind him. Kitty was still outside, which left that dancing shadow to be Raoul, Westmore, or both.

It was both. Westmore was propelled through the doorway, his arm behind his back and held at an high, awkward angle. His rather sallow face was covered in sweat, and two bright spots of colour highlighted his cheeks. The man was no fighter, and he was breathing heavily, teeth clenched. He looked rather like the snake that would turn about to bite when released, than a prisoner. One of his eyes looked rather squinty – and a hint of a shadow around the orb indicated a colourful bruise approaching.

The fat man looked the least affable than Geoffrey had ever seen him. Granted, his experiences had been limited to a few parties and seeing him about town. Then, more recently, his mellowing as he and Kitty grew closer. That mellowing might have softened his heavy waistline, but it had not dulled his wits of strength much. He had grown so plump and placid that it was easy to forget that Raoul was a trained fighter, and had gotten into more than his share of brawls. Usually about conquests and honour, but that as it was. Despite being twice as wide as the wiry man in front of him, he looked anything but soft. One could almost see the muscles in his arms ripple, his shoulders bulging as he squeezed his hold. But it was his expression that gave Geoffrey shivers. It was the gleeful vindication of revenge coupled with a simmering rage that begged for a reason, any reason, to explode.

Westmore gave a squeal of pain directly behind Margaret’s father, who whipped about so fast his coat flared and his cane crashed to the floor.

Raoul’s dark head reared back in outrage at seeing the dark void of the pistol pointed at him. His shock faded into rage as he looked at the ladies in the room. “Devil take you, what the blazes do you think you are doing?” he roared at the top of his voice, stepping forward.

Geoffrey was not anywhere near the man, and felt the hair on his nape rise in response. In his arms, surprise rippled through Margaret’s slight frame.

Harry’s expression did not change, his calculating air unwavering as he waited for an opening.

Clarice took a step forward, hand raised to placate.

Kitty cried from outside, “Raoul!”

And Mr. Belltaunt, dark eyes stark in his pale face, flinched.

In the sudden silence left by the shot, Raoul gave a cry of pain, dropping his hold on Westmore to stare down in horror at the growing stain of red on his chest.

 

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
***
Joined
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Chapter 20

“Bloody get out of my bloody room and go to bloody hell you bloody…!” Raoul growled, looking about at home on the sheets as an irate bull. “I do not converse with men who shoot me!”

The thin face of the man across from him looked torn, as if the owner wanted to shoot him better for his impudence, yet also wanted to make his apologies known and accepted.

Rising from her bent position, Kitty cast a look of such loathing at him that Margaret was surprised that she did not hiss and claw at his eyes as well.

Clarice scarcely looked more forgiving. “Why are you still here? Haven’t you done enough damage?”

Margaret marvelled at her sister’s bravery. Never before had she heard her sibling address him so. Even when furious, she always ensured her tone was respectful. Now, not even affection softened her words.

At first, his face grew tight, his knuckles whitening.

Margaret stared uneasily at the cane across his knees, remembering all the raps she had received from that very article. Strong and pliable, it had been used on her until the men he had brought in had told him that it was not helping.

Finally, thin shoulders sagged and he swiped a hand down his face. “I did not mean to shoot him.”

“Yet you did mean to lock me up,” the plump woman countered harshly. “Cutting me off from business, family, friends. That was no accident.”

“Westmore came to me and told me he knew of my daughters’ involvement in covering up a crime. Of course, I did not believe him, and demanded proof.” His cheeks flushed an ugly shade of purple. “He was able to show evidence that my own family had covered up our own ships burning; paying massive bribes, and covering up their actions as part of the normal course of investigations. Investigations which never took place, as more bribes had been laid out. Westmore assured me that he would be more than happy to ensure that all the information he had would be destroyed; if I allowed him to marry into the family. And if I removed you from your role.”

“So he blackmailed you.” She sounded singularly unsympathetic.

His gaze lowered, then rose to meet Clarice’s. “Do you understand how ruinous it would be for us to be involved in a scandal that caused that much damage? Can you even begin to comprehend the legal ramifications of those actions? Let alone the precarious position it leaves us? Money is key, but even that can only bolster the reputation that is already there. Without that, we might as well be nothing more than pirates! And I still do not even understand why my daughters did this!” he cried, throwing his hands up in a way which clearly alarmed Harry, who took an intercepting step between his wife and his father in law.

Clarice, however, rolled her eyes at his earnest anger. “Margaret had a fit of histrionics the night before the fire. Remember how panicked she was at the press? How she ran off for a bit and none of us could find her? It seems Geoffrey found her and was comforting her. His awful wife saw them and assumed that they were lovers.”

Geoffrey jerked his head around to gaze at his soon-to-be sister in law, mouth falling open like a fish.

A shrug and look encompassed her next words. “She was clearly insane; she would rather ruin their lives than see him happy with another. Margaret does not speak untruth. If she said Westmore did it, I believe it. You are aware of Telford’s unhappy marriage? I can think of only one possible situation between Westmore and Martha Telford to elicit such a response on his side.”


Despite Margaret’s father knowing somewhat of the circumstances of Geoffrey’s shambles of a union, he hardly seemed to dwell on the particulars. Instead he changed tact, demanding, “Regardless; why would you two become involved in their spat?”

Because it was my fault, Margaret wanted to cry. And because I am not competent, I pulled her into the fray.

Her round face had worn an expression of mild annoyance, and now held more than a healthy dose of exasperation. “Papa, you cannot be so dense. What in heaven’s name could her motive be otherwise than responsibility. Yes – she told me that she felt responsible for the entire thing – no, don’t ask me why, her motives are mystery to me,” she snapped. “She is hardly sly, so when I found out she had already started the process, I decided it would be best to smooth the whole thing over. What was I to do? Leave a mess?”

Margaret was too busy looking at Geoffrey to listen much to her sister. He had the oddest look on his face. What was he thinking, to make the corners of his mouth turn down in that way? For those round cheeks with their rosy glow to dim? And for him to cease looking at her. Was he angry? Tears stung her eyes, and her heart began the frantic palpitations that preceded one of her fits. Oh, what if he was angry? Had she done wrong? Had she displeased him? She so wanted to please him – now more than ever. She would simply die inside if she had done wrong! She had never cared before what anyone thought of her…!

“You could have come to me!” her father bellowed. From the jerk both his daughters gave, it was an effective tactic because rarely employed.

From the bed, Raoul bellowed right back, overriding whatever impending herrange was signified by Clarice’s rapidly inflating chest. “As much good as it would have done them! What would you have done then that was any different than what you have done lately?” He grimaced, trying not to move the shoulder where the local surgeon had to recently been at the injury. The man was more used to sewing up wounds in animals than people, and was lucky that Raoul had been in too much pain to take umbrage to his terse, “Be still, damn you!”

Raoul was not done. He settled for venting his emotions in his hard glare. “I am a simple man. I fail to see a problem in this situation. Your daughter is married – congratulations. Your other daughter is about to be wed – and you do not even have to worry about a dowry, for it seems that it was already paid to Telford years ago in the form of money for the ships. And from what Clarice has told me, it sounds like Paulina will be shortly married to Westmore. His blackmail will be ineffective soon; for he can hardly escape involvement, having found evidence, hid it from the law, blackmail you with it – only to become embroiled in the same incident that he accused you of.”

The older man stared, slack jawed. Yet, a growing fury seemed to be growing in him as Raoul continued.

“You miscalculated, sir. I do not know how long you thought that you could effectually push Clarice aside, or even why you bothered. I have since ceased to care. You will find that their marriage is legal and binding. Your approval means little, as they are both of age.”

Instead of responding, their father turned a cold look upon them both. “It is not too late. Come home, we will find a way to resolve this. I will not have my daughters associated with a family of rakes who are indebted, or a man who could not even consummate his marriage, letting his trollop of a wife make a laughing stock out of him, and having so little control over her that she ruined them, and nearly us alongside them!”

Margaret took a step back closer to Geoffrey. She shook her head, hoping that Geoffrey would not let him take her. He still seemed deeply troubled, avoiding her gaze and standing utterly still.

Clarice cocked a brow with a cool look. “No. I think not.”

Their father rose to his full height, staring down at his previously favoured daughter. “There will be no money – no notice paid to you in society.”

“Oh!” she gasped, splaying a dramatic hand across her chest. “Not the cut direct!”

“You think this is a laughing matter?” he demanded.

Clarice smiled slowly. “There is a certain irony in it for me,” she admitted at last, casting a tender look at her new husband. “Now.” Smoothing her skirt, she offered her most distant smile. “If that is all, I believe you will be going…?”

Margaret felt a chill seep through her bones as he slowly turned his head to look at her. “No!”

“You are not married. You are under my protection,” he said with growing satisfaction. “They have no claim on you, and so you will be coming home with me directly. And – ”

“And then I will be making a lovely trip back into the city to charge you with attempted murder,” Raoul growled from the bed, lids looking heavy as the drugs began to take hold.

Mr. Belltaunt blanched, turning to the man with bulging eyes. “It was an accident!”

Harry finally spoke. “I do seem to recall you coming into the house with a loaded pistol.” He turned to his wife with an odd expression. “Clarice, my love, can you imagine any reason for a man like your father to come into a stranger’s house with a loaded pistol? No?” He gave a slow grin that was as threatening as his brother’s, but for a different reason. A slow, creeping, inevitable threat. “Because as I seem to recall it, Mr. Belltaunt hated the Telfords. And he burned down the ships to destroy their family. Of course, he couldn’t let it out that he had done such a thing, and so he commissioned his most trusted daughters to cover his tracks. When his daughters tried to come forward with the truth, he had Clarice locked up. When they escaped, he tracked her down to this house to murder her. My brother nearly lost his life protecting her,” he added with a dramatic flair. “Oh – and my favourite part,” he added, rubbing his hands together gleefully, “Is that you brought the man who blackmailed you here. Who, my brother told me, also has threatened my sister in the past.”

“I…you…I…” the man stuttered, looking almost unhinged.

Harry threw back his head and gave a loud, long laugh. “Sounds so much more believable than your daughter did it because she felt somehow responsible for it, destroying her future prospects of marriage by demolishing her own dowry. Then, on discovering your daughters had been involved, you came to ‘take them home’ with a gun, ending up by shooting the brother of the man your daughter wed without permission. And all because you feel your reputation could not take a hit? It does not truly sound like a plausible story to me. I prefer my version of the events.”

Hands shaking with rage, Mr. Belltaunt stood tall. “No money. None,” he managed, so angry spittle gathered at the corner of one lip.

The younger Nottingham cast his wife a glance. Receiving a nonchalant shrug in reply, he too shrugged.
“So - shall we see you out, or can you find your own way?”

After a while, they all heard the wheels churning on the drive. Yet all of them remained silent for several minutes yet, each processing in their own ways.

Margaret stared down at the floor, only now fully able to assess her racing heart, a dreadful weight threatening to smother her lungs. Her knees felt weak, jittering before her unsteadily. What had just happened? She could not think this quickly – what did all of this mean? What would happen now that her father was not here? He hated her, but she was not forced to do many things, anymore. What was going to happen to her?

When Margaret finally glanced up, Raoul was grinning at her from across the room. “Come here, mouse.”

Quickly passing to his side, Margaret let him draw her hands into his. They were stunningly warm against hers, making her shiver.

Though looking sleepy, he patted her hand. “You poor creature. See? You are family now. No need to be scared. We protect our own – never forget that.” Just as he used to do when he was a child, he tugged on her apron with a mischievous air. “So make me something to eat, won’t you? I took a bullet for you and your sister, you know!”

And just as she used to respond for his innocent applications for food all those years ago, Margaret ran a hand down his thick locks, bending down to press a kiss on his sweaty brow. When she drew back, he was staring at her – or rather trying to.

His grin slowly faded as he gazed at her. “I…know…you,” he managed, eyes sliding shut over a look of consternation.
 

Goreki

Fairy tales and Woe
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And this is why I've started *coughthreemonthsorsoagocough* checking this thread... let's say more than once a day.

Xyantha, this is brilliant. Thank you so much for continuing this story. As eager as I am for more of it, I truly appreciate the care and effort that you pour into it.
 

Anjula

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I came for Goffrey and I stayed for the amazing story line. I've said it countless times but this is amazing and I love every single detail. You're great Xyantha, thanks a million for writing this masterpiece 🙌🏼
 

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
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Thanks guys, you are the best!!! :blush::blush:

And thank you for being patient!
 

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
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Chapter 21

“Well, I think this has all gone off quite splendidly.” The ‘invalid’ reclined back on his pillows, looking inordinately pleased with both himself and the general situation as a whole. And looking as much an invalid as he had two days ago, aside from an occasional wince and hitch of breath.

“You got shot,” his brother retorted from his chair. His muscular arms were crossed over his chest, and his long, lean legs were crossed at the ankle as he observed his brother glutting himself. “That is your idea of splendid?”

Raoul glanced up from his tray, cheeks bulging with the hearty stew he had requested Margaret make, claiming he had acquired a taste for it while Kitty was in town, having been fed it by multiple tenants. After his first bite he had rolled his eyes back and fell to it with a vengeance, making a sound so very sexual both Kitty and Margaret had fled the room. He rolled grey eyes now for a different reason. “It was just a graze – it is not as if it went through a lung, Harry.”

A penetrating look beamed from grey eyes eerily similar to those they encountered. “Our Aunt will not give us any inheritance,” he added, ticking off another point on a long finger. He was leaning back in a chair, booted feet casually pushing at the wall to force his chair back.

“Bah. What of it? Nothing recently has changed that, and I would not retract my decision for the world.”

“No, I don’t suppose you would,” Harry chuckled, corners of his eyes crinkling under his grin. “She truly is your match, brother. I never thought I would see the day, but she has you wrapped around her finger one moment, and has you as cowed as Martha with her spoon the next! But - you were relying on Clarice’s influx of money, where you not? Her father was rather clear on that score. I cannot see that having gone off according to your plans/”

Another snort. “I would prefer to have the one who makes money - than the money itself. That woman has brains – she will puzzle her own way out of this, mark my words.”

Harry watched as his brother dipped a hunk of fresh bread into the stew. “And so Geoffrey is to marry Margaret. I would not have thought her the match for him, but I will be very glad if he is contented with it. Do you think she forced him into it?”

The response was low but forceful, almost a growl. “No.” Raoul fastidiously wiped her fingers on the cloth on his lap, an odd look on his face.

“How can you be sure? Last night you said you knew her, but…how? Where? When?”

Raoul’s swarthy skin darkened further, a ruddy glow catching his cheeks and dwelling for several moments. “I thought I knew her when I saw her at the Belltaunts – I had just gone back into town and Kitty was there. She marched up and presented me with this absolutely heavenly dish of little puffs of –“ he coughed, interrupted his rapturous exposition at Harry’s expression. “Anyhow, she seemed so familiar to me. The way she looked at me too, as if I was a naughty child that she was not sure if she should hug or box his ears….” He grinned, taking up another spoonful and reflecting.

“And…?” his brother prompted.

“And? You were probably too young to remember, but one year our Father had gone away for a few weeks on business. Well. The power went to my head, and with no one to tell me ‘no’ to seconds and all that, I was quite the little rooster, strutting around that kitchen.” Another glow rose, and he gave a self-conscious pat to his stomach below the thin sheet before adding ruefully. “Not just to my head, but to my waist! I ate like a pig at the trough – just spent the whole time shoveling delicious food into my mouth – all the food that he would never let us have.”

Harry’s Adams apple bobbed, looking anywhere but at his sibling. “I remember,” he replied rather tersely, re-crossing his legs and pushing back on the chair until it balanced on its hind legs “I do not see what this has to do with Margaret Belltaunt.”

“Don’t you remember ’Gretty from that time? The young woman that Martha was training up?”

The front feet of the chair landed with a heavy thump. “Dear God. You must be joking.”

Raoul grinned. “Martha came up this morning and reminded me of it, and damned if I didn’t nearly burst a stitch laughing. Who would have thought that circumstances could weave just so?”

The younger sibling blinked. “What was the heiress of the Belltaunt estate doing in our kitchen?”

“Oh, Martha concocted some story about school. I don’t think her father was in any hurry to keep her – did you see the way he treated her yesterday? I treat my dogs better! It seems, Margaret and Martha had been corresponding for a bit, and one thing led to another. It was ‘Gret that was always on hand to make sure I was well seen to, even if it was before the sun had risen.” Unconsciously, his large hands splayed, stroking his gut. He blinked, grinned, and returned to his soup. “And you know what I am most pleased with?”

“What?” was the hoarse inquiry. Harry might have asked how Margaret and Martha knew each other, but he was too busy squirming in his seat.

“That my wife’s childhood sweetheart is once again ineligible. Damn if I don’t like and respect the man, but having him hanging around, knowing Kitty held a flame for him before…! The man seems quite besotted with her. And if he knows how to treat Margaret, she will make him a damned fine wife.”

*~*~*

Geoffrey leaned back against the wall, head pounding and spikes of too long hair obscured his eyes. The brother’s comfortable conversation was still ringing in his ears. Eavesdropping was not gentlemanly. But then, he hardly felt or looked the gentleman - he was overdue for a trim, he realized with the clarity brought on by a mind otherwise engaged.

It seemed he had been taken far out by the undertow, and his head still reeled with the information revealed.

Clarice seemed so sure that Margaret had been the one to put forth all of the money. Was she speaking truly? Why would Clarice lie? Yet, why would Margaret have done that for him, a stranger at the time?

He remembered that night, even if it had taken him a great deal of time to recognize Margaret of late. His wife had been having a liaison of some sort during the party. Geoffrey had caught her while looking for a letter in his room, and had left them in a strange taking. It was bad enough that his wife acted so, worse that she did it with no compunction, took no pains to make it tacit. But that night had been worse. While their guests had laughed and drank, danced and talked, his wife had been in the throws with another man.

At the time, the event that had stuck him most keenly was his wife’s vitriolic hatred of poor Alice. His mind churned sluggishly to recall specific hatred towards Margaret, but nothing came to his mind.

Could it truly be possible that such a chance meeting, such a basic comfort, caused Martha so much seething jealousy that she would do such a thing? Of all of the disbelief he was experiencing, none of it was directed at his late wife. She would be capable of anything.

He walked slowly through the corridors of his house, deep in thought. He had not seen Margaret last night – had been too cowardly to search for her. Or Clarice. He had spent the night staring into the fire, poking the wood like one tonguing a tooth abscess. Maybe the sisters regretted their actions – Margaret’s from an age ago, and Clarice from her fresh decisions. He found his courage flagging, having failed to locate Margaret in her room, the kitchen, or Raoul’s room. Maybe she was avoiding him.

“Geoffrey.”

Inhaling sharply, he glanced up to see the plump form of Clarice sashaying towards him, looking as comfortable and poised in his barren house as in the finest ballrooms. “Clarice.” Was she angry?

No – but determined. Stopping abruptly before him, she eyed him up and down. “You intend to marry my sister, of course?”

His neck heated at the reminder of his actions, and the consequences still formally unacknowledged. “Of course,” he murmured, bowing his head. At least the woman could not claim the ground on moral superiority on this, he thought with a rueful shake of the head.

“Good.” She stepped to the side, then paused, capturing his forearm with her hand. When he looked up, she had an expression that the other had never seen her wear. Careworn, relieved, and deeply affected. “I am so glad that it is you,” She confessed. “It seems right, somehow. Everything coming back in on itself, you know? I have been worried for as long as I could remember about her prospects. I cannot express what a relief it is to have her marry into the family.”

“But…I am not part of the family,” he reminded her with no little consternation. “Or at least, not until I marry her.”

“Psh.” She waved a negligent hand. “Geoff, darling, please, do not exhaust me with false idiocy and dissembling. We both know you are too intelligent for that. Kitty loves you as a dearest brother. Harry counts you as his closest friend. And Raoul himself has felt you part of the circle so long that he said ‘damn fine of the man to make his entrance into the family official!’ And I have had an interest in you ever since my sister cleaved our fates together – how could I dismiss her good opinion when it is so rarely bestowed?”

Family…? All of these weeks. The invitations. The intrusions. The becoming so deeply involved. Family. Cleaved. Family?

The woman leaned across him, making him highly aware of her plump and supple form, to kiss his round cheek. “I will be honoured to call you brother,” she murmured with a curling smile. “I know you will treat her well – you already have been, having known none of the history.”

History, indeed. “You simply must tell me all,” Geoffrey breathed, capturing her hand and gazing at her with supplication. “My head has been spinning for hours. I – I do not understand any of this,” he confessed in a low tone. “Why did your father come?” he queried, feeling unsettled. That shot…he shivered. The ending to that meeting might have ended so very differently.

Clarice Belltaunt – nay, Nottingham, appeared as unsettled as he but with rage. Her eyes flashed, still riled from the event the night before. She appeared for a moment as if she would vent that rage upon Geoffrey, but instead swallowed it back and sighed. “My father came because several contracts are under negotiation that I was the sole caretaker on, I assume. Without me being present he is at a severe disadvantage. Both contractually and in knowing the people. And despite casting me aside, he apparently does not want another to possess me. Nor should he.” He hazel eyes glinted with a grim purpose. “If this is my family, I will build it up, no matter what it takes. He has made a grave miscalculation. Now – what else you want to know?” She began slowly moving down the hall.

He felt unaccountably pity rising up for the man who would be made to suffer at his daughter’s hands…until he remembered the man’s treatment of Margaret. Suddenly, he felt a curious zest to see what Clarice planned to inflict upon him. “I…do not know…I cannot seem to wrap my head around any of this.”

The woman turned her face and examined him with an all too astute gaze. “My husband and brother speak far more plainly than…others. Once I got past the familiarity and shock, I find myself appreciating this openness as rather refreshing. So let me speak plainly. My sister has adored you for years. Probably since the first moment you met.”

…Adored?...

The sound may or may not have left his lips, but the former heiress gave a sharp nod. “Indeed. Adored. Enough that the idea of any possible action of hers causing you pain or distress was intolerable.” Scrubbing a hand over her forehead, Clarice sighed. “My sister is one who thinks very much in extremes, Geoffrey. Either she looks at a situation and sees intolerable complexity, or she views the world in an overly simplified, childlike view.” Her lips curled again. “I think this family’s over familiarity, straightforward attitude and almost intolerable closeness will be rather enjoyable, actually.”

“But…why would she – Margaret – feel it was her fault at all? Clarice, all I did was find her in the hall and tried my best to comfort her, to wait for her to get her bearings and composure back! I swear I did nothing ungentlemanly!”

“From what I have since gathered from Alice, Margaret felt that none of it would have happened, if she had not been there. And so, feeling responsible, did what she thought was a simple fix.”

The idea of being loved from afar was absurd. Simple fix? Margaret had beggared herself for the passing comfort of an understanding shoulder?

“Geoffrey. Your wife was…” She pursed her lips. “The type of person who could do unforgiveable things, and yet expect perfect respect and faith in return. When she saw you and Margaret together, she assumed the worse. And to be honest, I cannot imagine why she would expect you to remain true.” Her gaze searched his, a colour rising on her chest. “Yet, in all my years, I have never once heard you tarnish her in any way, in deed or word. In comparison, my father has said unforgiveable things of your past relationship. Things that no simple apology can unsay.”

He waved a hand. What was the man’s words, compared to the situation itself? “I am not proud of my decision to marry her, or of the marriage itself. It was pain, a burden, and punishment beyond measure. Many would have found a way to throw her off…but that is not who I am. I cannot simply walk away from a life I have chosen, simply because I was not willing to wait for another. Chose her for the size of her purse, not the size of her heart.”

“Katherine?”

The red bloom on his cheeks was revealing, as was his pretending the word had not been spoken. “Assuming what you have said is true – why did you become involved?”

“Use your head!” She snapped, looking out a window, the sun defiantly contradicting the poor weather of only days before. “One cannot simply dump a fortune on something to drown out a problem. Papa was right, of course. In some things,” she muttered darkly. Rousing herself from her reflections she pierced him with her gaze once more. “I came in to work out the details of the cover-up, as he called it. Make sure the explanations were plausible. That the right people had been engaged to ensure it would never be spoken of. The last thing I wanted was for my sister to be taken away for insanity. To anyone outside the situation, you must understand what it would look like.”

In fact, he did not know.

Why must I be surrounded by dullards? Her expression seemed to say. “Harry painted a very different picture yesterday, given all that has since occurred. At the time, it would have looked as if Margaret had had the fire set, and thus had a deeply vested interest in covering cover it up. The reason for this action would be, of course, that you having an affair with my sister.”

Who would make that surmise? It was so ludicrous that he choked with laughter.

“Not to mention that my sister’s situation in society had gone beyond precarious into non-existent. Her ability to function is severely limited, and her ability to reason is deeply hampered – at least to those who do not know her. The way she communicates makes her seem dull – if she had been taken in for questioning who knows what might have happened!”

Geoffrey felt his hands go cold, and his neck heat. Stopping, he intoned, “Never, never speak of your sister like that again.”

The words were not threatening, but Clarice straightened in surprise. She turned to face him, mouth parting.

Geoffrey clenched his hands, drawing himself up. “Perhaps if your family had taken the time to understand and appreciate her, Margaret would not have felt so starved for attention that the passing comfort of a strange gentleman would drive her to perform so severe an action in the first place!”

Clarice’s eyes widened with anger, then immediately eased into a small smile. “Perhaps,” she acknowledged with an inclination of the head. “But then Harry, Kitty, Raoul and I might not have you for a brother – and my sister would not have a man so protective as her lover and guardian.” The flippant tone turned serious as she once again touched his hand. “I love my sister. But she deserves more than a sister’s love. The love that Kitty and I have from Raoul and Harry. The love of a husband.”

She sighed, lowered her head, and paused. “Margaret was not treated fairly – but neither did she take any pains to make herself lovable or approachable. You are right to hate how she was treated – I tried my best, but even so lost my temper far more than I ought to have done. But…I think that my sister would not trade her past, if it meant no future with you. Margaret does not love simply, easily, or my half measures. You are her world, Geoffrey. With you at her side she was able to stand up to Papa – I have never seen her do that. I promise you that I will try to watch my tongue. Go, spend time with her until we can make the necessary arrangements. Papa will not be back soon, not with Harry’s words still ringing in his ears.”

It was only a half apology, but it would have to do. Slightly mollified, he watched her turn to go. There was only one other piece of information that he needed. “Clarice - one last question, if you would be so kind. Why does your father hate Margaret so?”

Clarice, who had begun descending the stairs, turned and blinked. “Oh – Margaret looks exactly like his first wife, Margaret’s mother.”

“And for that he hates her?”

“No,” she replied coolly as she once more began descending, not bothering to look back as she took the stairs like a ship through swells. “He hates her for killing her through her own birth."
 

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
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Chapter 22

“Margaret, dear.”

She stared at the other woman, confused. Her brain was still wrapped up, swathed in a thick layer of reflection. Her muddled mind refused to stay in the present, slipping back gleefully along recent memories, tendrils playing along the keys to reproduce a pleasant echo of the feelings. Unconscious of the action, her fingers carefully drew the object in her hand deeper into her skirt.



The sound of Raoul’s moan upon taking his first mouthful was still ringing in her ears when she slipped free of Katherine’s grasp, fleeing downstairs to the safety of the kitchen. It was easy to use the excuse of retrieving Harry and Clarice’s meal, who had also requested that it be delivered to their room. To self-reflect on how that sound had caused chills to run up her arms, tightening her breasts and dropping her stomach to the area of her knees was impossible. And confusing. Raoul was no Geoffrey, so why did her body react so?

A helper had been fetched from the local village but was so terrified that it was easier to leave the tasks of cleaning to the woman and simply bring the food herself. Shooing her out of the way and taking the tray herself, Margaret tiptoed through the house.

Not just a house…home. It was odd how much this house felt like home to her, Margaret reflected as she mounted the stairs. The tray was carefully balanced in both hands, and she had tread lightly to avoid stepping on her skirts. She had heard countless people sigh and slump in relief as they declared how happy they were to be home. The kitchen had been a safe room for her, but she had never felt comfortable in the house in town, nor her father’s country home. They were simply places to sleep, eat, and exist. Filled with bric-a-brac and the clutter of things only bought for their perceived value. Messy, disorganized, and needlessly difficult.

This house…Margaret squinted around her. This house was clean, homey, and welcoming. One did not have to retrench ones skirts to avoid knocking over a vase. Or feel that huge paintings might topple off the wall and onto oneself. There were not carpets to trip over. It was simple, tidy, and orderly.

She knocked on the door lightly, not wishing to alert Raoul of her presence. His questioning this morning had quite set her on edge, despite her liking of the man. There was no response, but she waited a minute more. After a moment, she heard Harry’s lighter tones coming from his brother’s room around the corner. With a mental shrug she eased the door open. Carefully nudging it with one hip, she walked to the side table to deposit the tray.

There was a large volume, a sketchbook of sorts, lying on the table. There was no room to put the tray down, nor could she hold it with one hand. A sigh of vexation left her lips, and she carefully eased the tray along the surface, nudging the book before it. Unfortunately, the book slid from the polished surface, cartwheeled off the edge, and landed in a heap her at feet with a thump and rustle.

She winced, hoping she had not caused damage. Bending down to take it, Margaret found herself hesitating. Looking when she knew she should look away. For a long moment, she bent at the waist, fingers hovering above the surface. Finally, she took it up, cradling it as reverently as many would hold scripture. The pages in her hand were not of text, nor of landscapes or animals.

They were of people. Sketches of people. Many to which she had an acquaintance, and to which she felt an immediate affinity at a guttural level. Sinking to the bed, she slowly turned page after page, her thin fingers hovering just above the sketches. The artist’s style was immediately recognizable, even if the author’s signature or choice of subject would have left her in doubt.

But it was not the subject matter alone which had riveted her attention. Something else caused her dark eyes to widen, then narrow, finally smouldering under their canopy of dark lashes. A heat rose from her belly, travelling up her chest and to her cheeks and appearing as a deep flush and heaving breast. That heat also spread lower, pleasurable tingles and whispers fluttering deep within her.

There were half a dozen pages she had recourse to in her perusal. Every time she passed these particular pages, her eyes half closed and a shiver past through her. A familiar face beamed up at her, the telltale straight locks falling over one eye. The artist had captured him mid laugh, and the wide curve of his mouth underlined his twinkling eyes. The pose was of him sitting in a chair, one booted foot resting on a trunk with a bent knee. The other foot was firmly on the floor.

What had him in such stitches was not discernable, but Margaret found her gaze returning again and again to his hands and torso. His was in a shirt, untucked. Each hand rested on side of his large belly, as if clutching it in laughter. Somehow the sheer size, the curve, the heft, had all been captured. Margaret could feel her own fingers twitch with excitement at the memory of how soft he really was. In the detailed sketch, one could see how his hands had sunk deep into the softness, causing it to overflow and bulge around each limb. Below his hold, his stomach swelled forth. The raised thigh had forced the bulge of fat to one side, and had also hiked his shirt up. A drooping curve of flesh could be seen dipping below the hem, the slightest shadow teasing at where his navel was almost in view.

The others were even more delightful, and she spent long minutes obsessively pursuing every line. Finally, the slim woman closed the volume and set it on the side table. Two steps away, and she was again before it. Her dark glance speared towards the door before opening the volume and carefully teasing a page free. “This is mine”, she whispered as she exited.

When she stepped back into the hall she felt as if the paper in her hands were on fire. As if every person could tell instantly that she held it. The fact that not another being was in the hall was irrelevant to that feeling.

Speaking of people…where was Geoffrey? Last night he had not been in his bed.

And…it had been lonely. As the long night had slipped by, she had woken several times, reaching for the slumbering form that was not there. Finally, she had slipped from her own bed and curled up in his, wrapping her body around the coverlet. Seeing his happy face on the page had caused a rusty clang to echo inside her, a newly discovered wish to be near another being.

Perhaps he was in his room now?



“Margaret,” Kitty asked again, stepping closer so that her face came into focus. “Can I speak to you? Privately?”

She was looking plump and pretty, Margaret realized. She had this glow about her as her hand reflexively came to rest on her abdomen.

Margaret licked her lips, her treasure still clutched gingerly between her index finger and thumb. The urge to take it had been overwhelming and undeniable, but being caught so immediately after her theft had her wanting to run right back to the kitchen. Oh, it had been a mistake! Yet, she shifted the hand out of sight. “Of course.”

Her pretty green eyes crinkled. “Raoul is currently holding court in our room, it appears. May we use yours?”

“Yes.” As they walked to Margaret’s room, the taller woman cast a curious look at the shorter. “Did I do something wrong?”

Kitty appeared startled, turning and regarding her companion with wide eyes. “No! Of course not! Why would you think that?”

So she had not seen the picture in her hand. Relived, and feeling selectively candid, she shrugged. “People only talk to me when I have done something wrong.”

Katherine placed a hand on her distended stomach. “Well.” After a moment of looking as if she was about to cry, she once again had a smile on her face. “That just means that I will have to speak to you every day – and not about things you did wrong!”

“Every day?” Margaret asked in no little dismay. Her kitchen would be crawling with people!

Kitty laughed aloud as they stepped through the doorway into her room. She half closed the door behind her. “Well, not every day if you do not wish it! Come. Lay down with me,” she urged, patting the bed.

Clarice had never done this, and after a long hesitation of deciding what to do, Margaret joined her. Despite her companion’s proximity, she did not feel boxed in and suffocated. Instead of leaning into her space or blocking her path, Kitty lay beside her, looking out the sunny window absently, a strange smile on her face. After a long silence, Margaret’s look of mild disturbance faded at this arrangement. “I do not feel crushed like this,” she confessed quietly, looking up at the ceiling. The paper she held was carefully placed on the bed behind her, out of sight.

“Good! This is the best way to tell secrets,” the other giggled. “Snug and comfortable in a soft bed.” Abruptly turning her body to face the other woman, she pillowed her head on her hand. “Speaking of soft. I saw the way you looked when Raoul was eating.”

Heat flooded her face, and she shook her head. Kitty did not seem angry, but there was an intensity about her that set off her unease. She had not looked, she…

“Oh yes,” Kitty chuckled. Placing her fingers under Margaret’s chin, she lifted the other’s face until she gazed deep into her eyes. “When he tried to sit up in bed and had to use his arms because his belly was weighing him down. The way he squirmed with delight and set upon his food like a starved thing. That sound…”

The both shivered.

Katherine noticed. Continuing, her smile widened as she leaned forward and lowered her voice. “The way his waistcoat strains after one of your big meals…how that soft lower belly rolls out from its prison, straining against his shirt. Those buttons of his were barely clinging to the fabric when we arrived! And now…” she paused, making a tsking sound.

Her companion was staring, caught on the other foot and blindsided.

“Two night ago at dinner, do you know that one popped right off? That is why he left the table last, so that no one would see the indignity. The only problem,” the other woman whispered very slowly, placing her lips closer to Margaret’s avidly tented ear, “Is that he just…kept…eating. Mouthful after mouthful of that tender lamb, until he ate every scrap on the platter. You should have heard him panting softly as if he had run a race. But he can’t really run races anymore, can he? Oh, and he cannot resist that bread you make either and he sopped up every bit of gravy on his plate with that thick, soft crust.”

Margaret was frozen, her lips parted. Her neck arched slightly as her breast heaved softly, and she made a sort of stuttered exhale, unable to speak or look at her companion.

Kitty almost laughed aloud at the look of aghast, squirming lust on the other’s face. Instead, she closed her eyes as she whispered softly right above the ear of her spellbound companion. “And then…you brought out dessert.” Her own voice hoarsened as she continued. “His poor trousers could hardly compete with your cooking. Did you hear that odd pinging sound? Remember when Harry looked up and asked what that that sound was? It was two of his trouser buttons flying off and skittering across the floor. He was sweating, and he complained that he could not possibly eat another bite.” Pausing significantly, she licked her lips. “But…it was pudding…his favourite.”

Margaret remembered how he had given a painful whimper, eyes widening in piteous greed as the large bowl was placed on the table. They had all left shortly after, leaving Kitty and Raoul languidly talking. Had he really been that stuffed? His eyes had looked a little glazed…

“No one else wanted desert…Raoul could not stand that it would be wasted. Once you were all gone, he abandoned his plate, pulling the serving bowl closer. He wrapped one arm around it, spooning each mouthful up. The second button on his waistcoat gave way, and his belly swelled out, pressing into the table, lapping it top and bottom. He was halfway through when he leaned back and opened his mouth. Like a fat, greedy, baby bird…he had me feed him at least four helpings of that rich pudding. He was so full he couldn’t get up for an hour, he could only moan…and lick out the bowl as I rubbed his poor, stuffed tummy.”

“W-why d-didn’t he s-stop when he was f-ful?” Margaret stuttered, her body alternating between sweating with heat and shivering with cold. The fire betwixt her thighs that had been kindled by the drawings roared forth. Not a fire, a flood. Raoul had grown quite plump as a boy, but shed the weight as he grew. Who could have imagined such gluttony from the man formerly so fit? Not an accident, but a purposeful decent into sin, gorging himself. Margaret raised her eyes and stared as if for the first time at Kitty’s face. And she had fawned over his bloated form, feeding him when his own gorging had long made the ability to move possible? An answering flood of heat made her give a moan before she tamped down on it.

A low laugh answered her. “He is a demanding glutton, Margaret. Do you know that when I met him he was as thin as Harry?” When Margaret’s eyes widened, Kitty chortled. “I fear he will make Geoffrey look thin in a few years!”

Margaret felt her body thrumming with an unknown tension, her nipples so tight and swollen she could feel the very weave of the fabric against them. “And you do not mind his growing fatter?” she demanded, disbelieving. No one else…appreciates…what I like in a man Margaret managed mentally, unable or unwilling to put a name to it.

“Mind? I love it. Just like you love Geoffrey eating, his plump body. Do you rub his stomach when he has overeaten?” Kitty demanded with blunt candor, nibbling on the end of one of her curls.

No! Never! “You - do that?” Margaret gasped, her cheeks flooding with red.

“Oh yes,” she responded affably. “I trace every one of those red and silver lines on his body. I love kneading his middle, kissing it…and I love how heavy it is when we make love.”

Margaret swallowed heavily, looking away. “Geoffrey does not like to overeat in this manner. He would not appreciate such attentions.”

Extending the curl between them, Katherine traced a pattern on her pale cheek. “Do you know that Geoffrey and I grew up here? My family’s property was just on the other side of the pond. I have known him for years, and I can tell you that he absolutely adores eating. He just likes to do it more slowly that Raoul does. Mark my words, get him distracted or reading a good book and he will eat himself out of house and home!” Her face softened, and she brushed back the thick locks that hid Margaret’s eyes. “This is important - does he know you adore him and his body?”

Margaret stopped herself from answering, because two distinct responses, at complete opposites, rose simultaneously and with equal force. Yes, he seemed to understand that she loved him, including his body. But then, there were also times where he refused to eat at all, apologizing when he finally did. And sometimes when she was touching him, he would capture her hands and redirect them. She certainly could not imagine worshiping his body like Kitty was describing…

Pressing a soft kiss to her cheek, she leaned back with a sigh. “Clarice and I differ in this area. She feels this level of honesty is damaging. I disagree. I say it is enlightening and freeing. Geoffrey had a joyless marriage to a terrible woman. I never knew how much you loved him until…well. And although I do not know you well, Raoul speaks very highly of you, as does Martha. And I cannot but adore the person who makes Geoffrey happy. He deserves to be happy,” she added fiercely. “Just realize that Geoffrey will never ask for what he needs. He is still a man in that respect.”

“And what are we speaking of – taking the entire sex in vain?” Harry asked jovially from the doorway. Toeing the opening wider he smiled at the two conspirators. “Thank you for the food, Margaret.”

Kitty whispered something in her ear that caused Margaret to regard him with a wide eyed stare. Those wide eyes quickly fell into a look of speculation that made Harry step into the room.

“Here now – what is this?” he demanded, stalking forth and eyeing the two. “Secrets, is it? I was not aware that the two of you shared such intense interests!”

“On some things, yes.” Kitty replied, sitting up and smoothing her dress ostentatiously.

Harry, in the meanwhile, had locked his gaze on the bed between Margaret and himself. His cheeks flushed, then paled. “Kitty, Clarice said she wants you – something about your opinion on the estate’s finances…? She said you have an appointment…?”

“Oh, I nearly forgot!” Kitty yelped, darting from the room. “Lovely speaking with you Margaret – think about my advice, will you? Just remember that you have me to talk to now!" Pausing, she turned at the threshold of the door, happy tears standing in her eyes. "Oh Margaret, it feels so incredible knowing I am not alone!"

The tall man stood, hands clasping his elbows behind him until she fled the room. Abruptly stepping forward, he pointed at the paper. “I don’t even want to know what advice you were given. I want to know - where did you get that?” He appeared quite incensed, eyes wild.

“I…found it…in your room…” Margaret confessed, picking it up as a knot formed in her stomach. She wanted this…! Having never felt possession before, she could put no words to the sensation.

“Damnit, do not be so distressed!” He snapped as he saw her begin to rock back and forth. Pinching his brow, he swallowed. “For God’s sake, I should have burned those weeks ago. No one can know about them! I can draw you more – better ones!” he added with desperate inspiration.

She eyed that teasing, peeping swell of flesh in the picture, imagining Geoffrey enjoying his food as much as Raoul did. “But I like these ones,” she murmured fretfully, one finger tracing the air above her favourite aspect.

Placing one hand on either side of her, he swooped down to inspect her face closely. “Why, you little minx,” he finally bit off, barking out a laugh. “Of course – why wouldn’t she,” he murmured to himself. He bored his light eyes into her. “Margaret, it is very important to me that no one else knows that I drew these pictures of Geoffrey. I will burn them – ”

“No!” she cried, starting bolt upright. “No! If you do…I will…” Realizing it had come out as a threat, she stumbled to an awkward halt, eyes wide.

He swallowed, wiping a hand across his face. “Arg! What do I have to do, to ensure that you will never speak of these blasted pictures again?”

Margaret looked at the drawing in her lap for several long moments. “There were six drawings…I should like them all,” she finally whispered.

“Done!” Harry agreed, about to straighten. His weight lowered onto his arms as his sister swallowed, leaned forward, and whispered something in his ear. He cocked a long leg and swallowed himself. “Truly?”

She nodded, leaning forward to murmur again in his ear several long sentences.

The man hung there, enraptured by her words. His eyes half closed, and he wetted his lips several times. “If I do this, you will never speak of those pictures, nor show them to another? And if anyone discovers them, you swear you will never breathe an inkling of my name?”

Her eyes dropped to her knees, her own boldness making her shy by reaction.

“Done and done!” was the decisive announcement, and his big hand engulfed hers. “We have a deal, ‘Gret.” Leaning down, he gave a deep chuckle. “Oh yes. I remember you. I clearly recall how you baked and baked…letting Raoul eat whatever he wanted. Making him everything he requested, no matter how ridiculous. Do you remember what the results of your cooking were? Rather similar to what your effect on his waistline has been recently, no? Wouldn’t it be curious to see if anyone else had noticed the correlation between your cooking and rapidly expanding waistlines? ”

Guilt bubbled up as a red flush on her cheeks. “I…” Feeling caged in, she stared at his chest . “I do not like this, you are too close.”

Harry grinned, kissing her brow. “And I do not like being blackmailed. Do not ever do it again, dear sister," he added with affectionate warning.

She was not alone, she repeated to herself when he left. There were others who were like her...at least in some regards.
 

Anjula

the bitchy one
Joined
Nov 26, 2010
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Location
pooland
Seriously Xyantha I'm at lost of words. I can't think of anything I haven't said before. This is truly the best story I've read, and now they have a secret FA club. I love it so much it hurts lol
 

Xyantha Reborn

- Actually Very Tame!
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Joined
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Chapter 23

The man of the house wandered, listless, through his grounds. With his hands clasped behind him, he made an oddly ponderous sight as he strolled up the meadow and through the orchards. His large belly proceeded him, as did a scamp of a lad. Occasionally, he touched a stem or stooped to examine something more closely. Somehow he cut quite a dashing figure, radiating calmness despite his trundling form. However, that mien of peace would have been belief by the pain and confusion in the blue depths of his eyes – had anyone had been close enough to see them. Behind him a smaller twin version of himself now romped and roamed, occasionally able to draw an absent smile from the older man.

And he did feel old. Ancient, really. His hair was so pale that most would never see the silvery hairs that had begun to grow in at his temples. And without his beatific smile in place a little line of worry appeared, bisecting his brow. Those lips were turned down at the corners as he walked on, deep in thought.

So damn much had happened in the past few months, it did not feel real. A year ago he was married; and he was about to be so again. Margaret herself at times seemed the least real of it all. The elfin creature who had graced his bed and his arms seemed to have disappeared after her father left.

He had looked in the kitchen, in both her room and his, and even checked in at the other’s doors. Everyone always seemed to have just seen her, which lead him to conclude that she must be avoiding him. There was no way they could avoid meeting any other way; the house was so small they were all tripping over each other as it was.

“Ah, my lad, what am I to do?” he finally breathed, letting his gaze wander down the rolling hill to the house.

Blue eyes twinkled up at him over a wide grin, and he tilted his head in inquiry.

Geoffrey snorted. “If I tell you, you must promise not to tell a soul,” he whispered, bending over in confidence.

That grin widened further, and he nodded vigorously. Some thought the boy was daft because he could not speak; it was not true. The boy was intelligent and lively, just incapable of speech.

Gingerly lowering himself onto a stump, he pinched his brow. “I confess I do not know what to do about Margaret.”

The boy got a worshipful look on his face, licking his lips unconsciously.

“Yes, her food is delicious, isn’t it?” A stout nod answered. “I want to make her happy, but I do not know seem to know how.”

A rather scathing look was slanted his way, and he raised his chubby fist to level his index finger at the master.

“Me?”

A nod.

“You think I make her happy?”

A look of disdain passed over the young face, followed by an exaggerated rolling of the eyes.

Geoffrey could not help but chuckle at the familiar expression – for it was the same one he had worn at times. The boy certainly had a knack for imitation. “Ah well, from the mouth of babes, eh?”

They strolled back towards the house. Abandoning Geoffrey, the chubby shadow darted for the kitchen as the smells drifted to his eager nostrils. Following the steps to the door, Geoffrey shivered at the memory of the shot so recently fired there. That particular incident had turned out quite well, given what could have happened. He was loitering, reflecting on the incident, when a voice called his name. Stepping into dining room, he found everyone seated and just settling in to the meal. His eyes skipped over the familiar faces, looking for Margaret.

“She is just fetching something from the kitchen,” Harry informed him as he tucked his wife’s chair in. He smiled down at her face, contentment radiating over every fibre of his being. Obtaining her had done wonders for his constitution, restoring him to what Raoul and Kitty swore was his natural self.

“Ah,” Geoffrey managed, seating himself at the head. Raoul beamed back at him from across the table. “I see you are feeling better,” Geoffrey acknowledged with a forced smile.

Raoul’s shoulder was bandaged, and he gave it a wry glance before answering. “It hurts like the blazes but I cannot stand to be in bed anymore. Where have you been?”

Geoffrey opened his mouth to respond, then paused as the door opened. Margaret stepped through with a plate in hand, quickly depositing it on the table before shyly taking her seat beside him. At first she seemed uncomfortable but quickly calmed as Kitty, of all people, drew her into conversation.

The fat man served himself a portion of the duck but spent more time looking at his guests than eating. At opposite end of both the table and the spectrum, Raoul eagerly devoured anything within arm’s reach. If the man wasn’t careful he will be as big as I am, Geoffrey reflected.

Clarice was busy speaking to the brothers about her plans. Both brothers readily bent the majority of their attention on her, as did Kitty, who occasionally chimed in with an opinion or observation. She still appeared taken aback at the highly informal dining arrangements, often looking for a footman to serve her.

Why Margaret was watching Raoul as well, and with such avid fascination, perplexed Geoffrey. As did the odd, angry emotion rising up within him. She had barely glanced at him in the past five minutes. Her pale face was turned steadily in the other man’s direction, those dark eyes following the steady motion between plate and mouth. Wholly engrossed in the spectacle before her, she seemed to forget about anyone else at the table. He stabbed an innocent piece of vegetable on his plate in vexation, then let it drop with a sigh.

The loud sound finally drew Margaret’s notice, and she peered towards him. “Do you want any more?” she queried softly. She opened her mouth as if to say more, but instead looked down at her lap. Her incredible hair was drawn into a thick braid which wrapped over her shoulder and fell past her breast. She took it up and swished the end of it against her other hand, entirely fixed on her extemporized plaything.

Feeling oddly cross and woe betide, he shook his head. “No, thank you.” He was too tired to eat. The three bites he had taken had already sapped his remaining strength. All he wanted to do was sleep, but there was conversation that needed to be had with Margaret. Who seemed to want to look anywhere but at him.

Her expression fell, and she turned in her seat slightly. “You…do not like it,” she whispered, her eyes falling to his barely touched plate with a look of deep consternation, followed by what appeared to be pain. A line appeared between her dark brows, and her eyes clouded.

Not like it? It was…well, he couldn’t taste much at the moment, but every single thing she had ever baked or cooked was absolutely delicious. So it was both easy and true to tell her, “Margaret, that is not true. I enjoy all of your cooking.”

She did not answer, her eyes downcast to the surface of the table until a heady sigh escaped Raoul, who had leaned back in his chair with his hands clasped over his rotund middle. “Raoul, do you want more?” she asked him next.

The response was immediate and decisive. “Oh, yes, only as soon as I digest a bit. Just need to catch my second wind.”

Harry, who was still neatly working on his meal, raised his eyes with a smirk. “One has a second wind while eating?”

“Indeed!” the elder brother cried, patting his taut middle. Or at least the fabric straining to contain it was straining – that waistcoat looked like it might give up at any moment. “Martha is a wonderful cook, but I have to admit that Margaret takes the thing to a whole new level. We will be off soon; I need to make sure I stock up until I see her again!”

The pleasure of having the house to himself again was muted. The master of the house stared at Margaret as she squirmed, pleasure highlighting her cheekbones as she stared up the table at Raoul.

When she looked back at Geoffrey’s plate, however, she rather wilted in her chair. “I can make you something else if you do not like this…” she murmured fretfully.

She sounded so bloody sad that Geoffrey hitched his chair forward with a growl. So Raoul got all her smiles and blushes merely because he shoved the food back? Given how quickly he was consuming, he could hardly be tasting it, let along enjoying it. Eyeing her, he quickly and neatly devoured every morsel on his plate. Raoul made a production out of the experience; Geoffrey was quick, efficient, and neatly finished in moments.

Margaret’s attention was once again riveted on him. The thick locks she normally hid behind were starting to grow out, framing her pale brow and letting the light flicker in her eyes. Her expression, however, was still as fragile as the thinnest china plate.

“I do not know how you make every morsel taste this excellent,” Geoffrey told her, reaching under the table to gently take up her hand. “It is delightful, as always.”

She appeared startled at the contact, glancing down. “…Are you sure?”

Geoffrey felt his brows contract. “Margaret, I have never seen you this shy around me. Why are you so worried about what I care about your food?” At least she was looking at him again. As he took a second portion he caught a strange expression in those dark eyes.

She looked down, mumbling something, but her attention was once again snapped from him as Raoul gave a loud laugh, speared another slice of ham and leaned forward to devour it.

As she watched Raoul eat, Geoffrey watched her. Watched as her breathing shallowed, hitched. How her hand, still in his, alternated between hot and cold. The fat man beside her glared in a most frightening way at the man across from him, but none noticed. Why was she do damn distracted – he stilled, throat drying out as he went cold. His vision grew dark for a moment as his heart thundered in his chest.

Oh. Of course. Dear God, how had he been so blind?

For several minutes he struggled to stay seated. His body went cold even as he began to sweat, his vision darkening along with his mood. Before he could say something – in fact, he was so angry he doubted coherent speech could pass through his lips – he stood, murmured an apology and an excuse, and made his way out the door. He barely knew where his feet were taking him until he ended up in his own kitchen. Anywhere but with their cumulative overbearing presence.

The kitchen had changed remarkably in the few days Martha and Margaret had been at the helm. It now bore a rather startling affinity to Margaret’s own kitchen, with everything orderly and in its place. Of course, Geoffrey now understood that this organization sprang from more than a preference; Margaret’s vision was so poor she probably could not see most of the things in the kitchen. Her hesitation in acknowledging people until they were directly before her. Her panic at the press of strangers. And her obsessive behaviour in placing everything just so. Although mayhap not the sole cause, her poor sight was certainly a driving factor.

The clink of a glass and a laugh reached his ear before the door was shut, leaving him in silence. Martha, Alice, and her boy were down the hall. They would be at least a few minutes. The cellar was to the right, and he quickly stepped in and grasped the nearest bottle, uncaring as to what it was. As long as it would drown out the pain.

The same articles of food that had been brought upstairs sat in their respective nests, unplated. Although not hungry, a sort of emptiness gnawed at him, and he sat down on one of the high seats and put his head in his hands.

No one would want you…

Geoffrey knew he was considered weak by other men. A good beating was a sure way to bring a wife to heel. However, the idea of striking a woman left him feeling sick to his stomach, despite how much he had dreamt about it with Martha. But his inaction did not mean he was blind; he had seen the constant indiscretions.

That sparkle in Margaret’s eye as she looked at Raoul…

This was what he deserved for daring to hope, he reflected as he quickly opened the bottle and put the opening to his lips. His lips drew back at the bite of the wine rushing across his palate and causing his jaw to tingle. Following the swallow with the little puffs of pastry before him, he gave a bark of a laugh. All he had wanted was to have a woman who was his and his alone. Margaret had seemed to exemplify loyalty. Look at how she had selflessly given her own fortune. But it appeared the vices of the flesh were too much for her.

“Geoffrey?”

He tipped the bottle up again, cheeks hollowing as he sucked. And why wouldn’t she find the rakish good humour and handsome face of the other man enticing? He was bold, interesting…hell, he had even taken a bullet! And although rapidly on the increase, Raoul still was not match for his own girth. He snorted as he looked down at his own body. Compared to the two men upstairs he was about as exciting as a roll of unbuttered bread.

“Geoffrey?”

The inquiry was closer this time. Turning his fleshy face towards the intruder, he scowled. “Why are you here?” he demanded with uncharacteristic irritation. “Go back up and have enjoy your evening with Raoul

The tall, slim woman lowered her face, hands fisting in her skirts.
 

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