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 Historical/Historical Fiction The Order of Janus (Plothunter & Epicurean)

Discussion in 'Roleplay Execution' started by Epicurean, Apr 10, 2019.

  1. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Local Time:
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    ((Text copied from PM; we were a little late in deciding we'd run this one publicly. ;) Epic ))

    Lady Charlotte Painswick, Countess of Westfordshire, widow of the late Earl of Westfordshire, sat bathed in candle glow from the sparkling chandelier that hung brightly in the ballroom of the Lady Diana Vayne-Tandy, another remarkable widow of note. Though while the great and notorious Lady Vayne-Tandy was known far and wide for secretly (not so secret) penning naughty penny bodice rippers, the Lady Countess Painswick was notorious simply for being a widow so young...with a dead husband more than thirty years her senior.

    Lady Charlotte had of course waited the appropriate amount of time before stepping out of her mourning attire, and for the first time in s year made her appearance back in society. She wore a gown of emerald satin, her throat decorated with a diamond and emerald choker, ear bobs matching. Her very dark hair swept up in a bejeweled peacock comb was all bouncing curls, her pale skin flushed with merriment and champagne. Eyes dark and fringed with sooty lashes batted coquettishly at the bevy of gentlemen surrounding her, and soft rosy lips were smiling with laughter.


    It was obvious that Charlotte was in full control of the room. She was a social architect, and like a siren she'd called toward her a myriad of potential suitors. One only needed eyes to see that the widow had designs to marry again. At least, that's how she wanted it to appear.


    Any one of these gathered could be part of the Order. Charlotte had few clues, save a signant ring bearing the image of Janus, the Roman God of the beginning and the end. A chill ran down her spine at the memory of a blood soaked rug. That poor maid. What had been done to her was intolerable cruelty. What monsters were these men?


    “Countess? Lady Painswick...we were just discussing politics where in they relate to the women of the aristocracy. What are your opinions on a woman’s place? Have you a position?” Charlotte glanced up at the rather pedantic Lord Bernard. He had rounded pudgy cheeks and a great red nose from too much gin. He reminded her of one of the Queen's lap dogs.


    “Position? I have many favored positions, Lord Bernard, though I should not reveal them here.” She gave the young man a tart thwack with her fan, then snapped it open, hiding her expression behind it while those gathered laughed around her.


    She really did wish to go home, but there was jo point in wishing for what she presently could not have or do. She was working.


    *


    Captain Bourke’s eyebrows twitched at the rather… free rebuttal Lady Painswick gave to Lord Bernard. It also seemed rather dull to him, even if the ladies giggled. Innuendo was all the rage at this salon, but that didn’t mean it pleased Christopher. Not tonight, anyway, he admitted to himself. He wasn’t in the mood for it, not in the mood for Lady Diana’s salon in fact, whose owner kept flirting coquettishly with the open secret that she wrote bawdy books. But it was more fun than the alternative, so he had come. He was in uniform as it pleased the hostess although he would have much preferred something more comfortable. At least his brother had arranged for a Guards position. He would’ve hated to serve in a line regiment or with the common tradesmen of the artillery.


    She may be a little lewd, the Lady Painswick, but she was most pretty. It was common knowledge she would likely be looking for a second husband. With the wealth and status at play and the woman’s obvious charm (obvious, he thought, perhaps in both senses of the word), Christopher wasn’t surprised half the bachelors in the room were trying to get her attention. He himself wouldn’t stoop so low, although marrying rich was about the only thing short of his brother’s premature death that would allow him to go any further than his current position in Her Majesty’s service.


    “Someone should guard your tongue, my dear Countess, if you seem unwilling to,” the hostess chimed in teasingly, having appeared in the group out of thin air. Christopher thought he remembered they were friendly, so this was no female insult. “Maybe Captain Bourke over here?” she added gesturing at Christopher, beckoning him closer. “He is a Guards officer, after all.”


    Christopher stepped closer, a little stiffly as the military attire required both physically and by etiquette. He inclined his head to both ladies, giving a small smirk and a wink to Lady Painswick to indicate he was playing along, aiming to be pleasant. “Of course, I shan’t wish to contradict our gracious hostess,” he replied, his voice a voluminous baritone that didn’t quite seem to fit his average height and (at least under the uniform jacket) unremarkable built. His rounded but masculine features turned a tad mischievous. “However, I would like to remark that I am used to guarding palaces – that is, things of, if I may be so bold, much portlier stature and much lesser beauty than Your Ladyship,” he continued, again paying a slight bow to Lady Painswick. He, too, received some laughter from the surrounding ladies and gentlemen. Perhaps the evening was, as a sailor might say, salvageable.


    *


    “Lady Tandy, I declare you are quite wicked to accuse a young widow. But I cannot deny my curiosity for your engaging Captain...Bourke was it?” The Countess Painswick offered her hand to the officer, flicking her silk fan closed with a snap. Stepping forward, she awaited his taking of her offered wrist.


    Charlotte's full painted lips twisted into a wry grin, flashing the barest pearl of her teeth. She did enjoy a military man. The regimented man before her was handsome, she had to admit. What bothered her was that she did not know him. “So kind of you, Lady Tandy, to bring him to me. She throws such lovely parties, does she not? And her favors are most charming. Perhaps you'd like to entertain me with tales of your service to the King? I should be endlessly fascinated.” She returned the wink.”At the very least, it would be generous to offer me the next waltz? I've not danced all season. I've been on mourning, you see.” It was bold. She intended it so. Charlotte meant to know this Captain Bourke, and his secrets.


    Lord Bernard, not to be bested, nudged his way back into conversation. Touching the Lady Charlotte upon her shoulder, a gesture which was a bit familiar, despite all friendly flirtation, Lord Bernard nestled neared Charlotte’s expansive decolletage, his expression bordering on the lascivious. “But Countess Painswick, my dearest, you promised a dance with me soon, and the Captain is certainly already promised to dance with some other young lady.” Charlotte nudged Lord Bernard's grasp from her shoulder, looking up at the Captain expectantly.


    *


    Bourke frowned; what sort of man was this Lord Bernard, anyway? He looked at him with the sour face he used to look at some of his Guardsmen when he was dissatisfied with them. Lord Bernard looked about ready to drool on the Countess and had touched her in a way she clearly had not wished for. Christopher remembered the expression his father had used on such occasions: That must not stand.


    He addressed the ‘perpetrator’ in a quieter voice than before, not wanting to embarrass the man needlessly. His uniform and the (as he immodestly acknowledged) excellent picture he made in it gave Christopher a shadow of the authority of the Crown – it was Her Majesty’s red coat, after all. However, the Captain wasn’t quite capable of hiding his disdain for men who lacked style. He understood better now why she would have shown exasperation with him before.


    “Lord Bernard, do you not agree that it is, shall we say, unfortunate to inject yourself into a conversation unbidden and touch the conversant lady in a way that, it would appear was unbidden by her?” he asked, managing to make the question a little less loaded than it was, hoping to smooth the matter over without a scandal. “I shall, as a matter of course, step aside if Countess Charlotte has, most understandably, forgotten a prior promise of the dance to you, if such exists,” he added matter-of-factly, shooting a questioning look at Charlotte, accompanied by a smile.


    Lord Bernard was almost a head taller than Christopher and a good sixty pounds heavier, but something told the Guards officer the man was ultimately harmless. He had the impression he was half cowering before him already.


    *


    Goodness, such posturing. Charlotte flicked open her fan once more, rapidly cooling herself. There was a crush of party goers and she felt intolerably warm.



    Lord Bernard was an unconscionable lech. If Charlotte had not needed information from him on a regular basis, then she would not bother to humor him as she did. Now that she was marketable again, he had become quite the past.



    “Lord Bernard, of course I have not forgotten my promise. You know I could never refuse you.” The man beamed smugly, and Charlotte dared a quick glance at the good Captain, smiling furtively. “Captain, would you be so kind as to save the dance after, then? I should not like to discharge my promise to Lord Bernard.”



    Taking the lecherous lords arm, she smiled politely at the Captain, but there was something in her eyes that suggested she was entirely in control of her current situation. Brushing his forearm as she passed, she paused, softly saying “I shant be long, Captain.”



    Lord Bernard was an adequate dancer, though he did insist upon holding her close. Charlotte felt heat rising in the room, her skin hot and flushed. She could do with some fresh air, but certainly didn't wish to walk in the garden alone with the handsy Lord Bernard.



    Half way through the waltz, Charlotte gasped, her hand moving to her forehead as her legs seemed to fail in their support of her. She swooned, captured by Lord Bernard, who rescued her from falling to the floor. Several of Lady Tandy's guests also gasped as Lord Bernard loudly demanded a chair.



    Charlotte collapsed gratefully onto the tufted cushion of the offered chair, fanning herself furiously. Lady Tandy rushed in, taking the Captain by the arm as she went. “Oh my good gracious, Countess Painswick, my dear! You just have some punch! Immediately!” Lady Tandy joined in fanning Charlotte, who looked a bit flushed and embarrassed by this sudden turn of events.



    Glancing up at the bewildered Lord Bernard, she batted impossibly long lashes, gesturing toward the refreshments. “Lord Bernard, would you be so kind? I am quite thirsty.” Like the obedient lap dog he reminded her of, he was off across the crowded room like a shot.



    “My dear Countess, I do apologize! Far too warm! I told my butler the very thing! I shall order more icees next time!”



    Polite, but looking a bit wan, Charlotte raised a hand to soothe her hostess. “I am fine. Lady Diane, truly. But perhaps I could use some fresh air?” Looking to Captain Bourke, she smiled politely. “Care to escort a lady to the gardens, Captain Bourke?”


    *


    If one lesson had been driven home in the time Captain Bourke had spent in Her (formerly His) Majesty’s service, it was to march to the sound of the drums. He had approached upon noticing Lady Painswick’s weakness, but had quickly realized it was a convenient fainting, one clearly meant to get away from Bernard; Christopher could not blame her. The man was intrusive and obnoxious. Part of him would not have minded to teach him a lesson with the saber, but he had done nothing to warrant that, and if there was something Christopher did not need, it was the reputation of a bloodhound, seeking out duels with presumably less able men. Duels were too serious affairs to be entered into on a whim.


    At Countess Charlotte’s words, he gave a small bow and smiled. “Gladly, Countess; it will be my honor and pleasure,” he replied. It was perhaps a little much, but being a Countess, she was of higher rank than he. He offered her his arm, and soon they stepped out into the garden. As always when he stepped into a place of beauty and comfort, he wondered if he would ever possess a garden, like the one on the family estates in Ireland.


    “I do hope you aren’t too much weakened, my dear Countess?” he asked quietly, skillfully keeping his tone hovering between honest concern and a slight, knowing flirtation. There was no fog over London for once, a mild breeze from the see caressing his face.


    *


    Charlotte held onto the offered arm, leaning close to keep up the appearance that she had indeed suffered a spell from the heat. However, once in the safety of the shadowed garden, she perked up quickly.


    As a widow she was afforded certain privacy. No longer accompanied by a chaperone, she could do what she liked. If she cried out for help, should her company become taxing, surely she would have ten capable rescuers in a trice.


    “Let me be candid, Captain Bourke. I think we both know that my swoon was less to do with the warmth of Lady Tandy's party, and far more to do with the attentions being thrust upon me by Lord Bernard.”


    Smiling sweetly, Charlotte motioned toward the pebbled path that lead to Lady Tandy's trellises, which were fully in bloom with fragrant roses.


    “Tell me, Captain, how is it that I have never come to make your acquaintance before tonight? I make it my business to know everyone, and I should have remembered such a handsome young officer as yourself.”


    *


    ourke gave a self-deprecating smirk. There was a very good reason they had not met before. For a long while, he had not gone out very much, not taken part in the social circle. Her Majesty’s uniform always elicited a certain respect, but there were also a lot of sideways glances at the man without property, without prospects independent of his brother’s purse. The money he had himself as per his father’s will was not enough to do anything worthwhile with it, and so, what he didn’t need for upkeep went largely for gambling and the occasional use of opium. None of these things, however, he wanted to discuss with Lady Painswick.


    “Mere chance, perhaps,” he replied rather lamely, his lightness just a tad forced. “What counts, however,” he continued, quickly regaining posture, “is that we have met now, Countess Charlotte.”


    They walked along the path, his polished regulation boots making soft crunching sounds. His next smile was warmer and more humorous. “I did my best to get the Lord Bernard off your back, if you will permit me the liberty to say so. I did not succeed; one cannot break rocks with a letter-opener, after all. But I considered it unfitting to be more forceful. Excuse me if I failed you in that,” he said pleasantly. “You extricated yourself beautifully, however.”


    Indeed she had, he thought; everyone would know what she thought of Lord Bernard, yet no one could blame her. It was bad form, however, to address such things openly.


    *


    Snapping her silk fan open, Charlotte began to cool herself, delicately creating breeze as they strolled. “I like that. I am a staunch proponent for making something count. I do nothing by half.” It was a true confession. There was something about the Captain that, despite all logical reservations to the contrary, made her comfortable.


    “Thank you for your compliments. And you have not failed me, Captain Bourke, quite the contrary. I've gotten exactly what I wanted, on two counts. I have been extricated from the prowling pedantic presence of a particular gentleman with whom I did not wish to parlay, and have garnered the gregarious and gracious attention of a galant. I'd say I've come out on top. I quite like being on top.”


    Her own word play was obviously amusing her. Charlotte grinned wickedly. The Captain was no fool, she certain hoped that he felt every word that she had just alliterated.


    “I believe I know of your brother. Lord Bourke. He is your eldest brother, yes?” Charlotte knew damn well that was true. She was sensing his reaction to the mention of the man who inherited everything, including perhaps his very own happiness. “My late husband spoke well of your father often. He enjoyed getting fleeced by him at cards on a number of occasions. Fine cracking gambler, he said. My George was fond of the club. And cards. And drink. He was not overly concerned, however, with his health.” Her tone suggested some regret at the man's passing, but no deeper emotion. “Are you fond of cards, Captain? Or do your duties protecting the crown keep you far too busy for such amusement?"


    Charlotte lightly stroked her hand down the jacket sleeve of the uniformed arm she was latched to. It was meant to be suggestive. And a test.


    *


    Christopher was glad he didn’t have to respond to the innuendo (even if he appreciated her wordplay) – but somehow, now that they were alone, the carnal implications were much less embarrassing. Years before, he would have thought Lady Charlotte’s flirting genuine, directed at him. But by now, he had learned it was most likely not. She, he recognized, was probably one of the court lionesses, playing a game too deep and too nebulous for him to grasp, at least at this point.


    Her touch he couldn’t place; he took it in stride for now, smiling at her in the dark and patting her hand in return. After all, she was being pleasant, so he should be as well.


    “I play at cards from time to time, and I’ve been to the races as well, as any man,” he said lightly but truthfully. It was really no more than that; he had no gambling debts. He used gambling to pass the time here and there, just as he used the opium den when his jaw had been clenched for a few days.


    “But neither is my favorite pastime,” he added from a playful mood he had not been in for a long time, giving his sonorous voice just the slightest hint of suggestion and removing his hand from Countess Charlotte's so as to brush against it almost like a caress.


    *


    He was sweet. Charlotte sincerely hoped that this Captain Bourke had nothing to do with the Order of Janus. She liked him. It would be a shame. “I am something of a sport enthusiast myself. I do love riding. And horses.” She smiled at her own quip, then looked thoughtful. “Races, hmm..what was I just telling Lady Diane? Oh yes! The Duke of Dillingham is hosting a riding party and hunt. I hear there will be a picnic as well. His home in Devonshire is quite bucolic. Would you be invited? We could ride together.”


    Charlotte paused in her stroll, looking out toward the topiary and the fountains. Beyond that stood an utterly useless mock up of the Temple of Aphrodite. Charlotte saw a thin shadow slip around the stone edifice. Trying to keep the movement in her peripheral vision, she smiled politely at the Captain, giving his arm an encouraging squeeze. “You must say you will come, Captain. I should be ever so grateful to have a riding partner who doesn’t bounce in the saddle like a dolt. You are certainly more amusing by far than Lord Bernard, and though he is terrible upon a horse he will insist on attending the shoot. He’s not much better at shooting either.”


    She was babbling and she knew it. But being watched didn’t exactly put her at ease. She felt irritated that THEY had sent someone to keep watch over her. It wasn’t for her protection, she knew that. They didn’t trust that she was doing her job.


    *


    “A hunt, you say…” Christopher’s hesitation was completely feigned, but he did not want to seem too eager. In any case, it was hard for him these days to find enthusiasm for anything. He smiled in the darkness, his gaze focused on the Countess rather than the surroundings.


    “I have not had any sport in a while. I’m sure I would manage to attend if I were invited, and I should very much enjoy riding with you,” he offered, signaling his need for help to get an invitation. He did not know Dillingham. “And I shall not try to embarrass you at shooting, Countess; as a soldier, at least, I know where the dangerous part is,” he joked stiffly to mask his suspicion. Why would the Countess be so nervous suddenly? Was it nerves, or did he mistake her reactions for it?


    His head whipped around before he knew why. Something had moved in the periphery of his view as he had looked away from the Countess for a second, moving behind a hedge. But the motion he had seen had been at ground level.


    “Pardon me,” he said with an embarrassed cough. “I saw something; but I should say it was only a cat.” He tilted his head and smiled at Charlotte again. “It seems one who has too much guard duty becomes jumpy, perhaps.”

    @Plothunter
     
  2. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
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    Local Time:
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    “Of course you know your business, Captain. I shall ensure an invitation is secure for you and sent round to your home tomorrow morning.” At the mention of strange shadows, Charlotte stiffened, glancing in the direction he had referenced. She could feel herself begin to expire, and began to fan herself again, furiously.


    “One w-who works so hard should find hi entertainment where he can. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as they say.” There was a crunch of gravel under boots behind them, and Charlotte started as though she’d seen a ghost. There was a gentleman approaching, wearing officer’s regalia, approximately in his forties. He had yellow hair and a muddled tan from too long a tour in India. He was wearing an officer’s uniform, identifying him as one of the Queen’s own Colonels. Captain Bourke would know this man well. He was, after all, serving in the same Army.


    “Countess Painswick, I had not expected to see you this evening. What a pleasant surprise. And I see you are in good company. Though I have not had the pleasure of an acquaintance.” Colonel Edwards was a tall man, a bit too slender, though quite fit. He had a cool expression, and a penetrating gaze, and Charlotte willed herself not to give this game away. “Colonel Edwards! I had not expected to see you here. Though it is good to know that you do leave your library on occasion.” it was a subtle jab. The Colonel seemed unaffected. “May I introduce Captain Bourke? He has been kind enough to escort me while I take a bit of air.” The Colonel met the Captain’s gaze evenly, offering the younger man a firm handshake. “What luck for you, dear Countess, to be so well attended. Not one, but two of the Queen’s very best men at your utter disposal.”


    Charlotte did not want any man at her disposal, especially not the Colonel. Yet here she was beside him. Sweat gathered at the base of her spine and she felt flushed with embarrassment for having reacted so poorly to the Colonel’s sudden presence. She wasn’t usually such a goose! Forcing a smile, Charlotte flicked her fan closed, tapping the Colonel on the arm playfully. “My dear Colonel, hold your tongue, for I should not wish to earn Her Majesty’s ire for taking away the attention of her guard.” The Colonel laughed softly, but there was no humor in it. “My dear Countess, if ever you are to gain the ire, or even notice, of Her Majesty, you will surely be aware of it.”


    Her face flushing, Charlotte laughed nervously. “Captain, you must forgive the Colonel, for he thinks himself drool. He is a dear old friend who takes far too many liberties with his humor at my expense. But I shall not let him tease me. Not without reciprocating.” The Colonel scoffed. “Indeed? Shall I withstand then the same rigors as Lord Bernard to win your affections? ” Had he been watching her all night? From where? There was a tense moment where the pair stared at one another, both smiling politely, neither saying a word. They didn’t have to. Gods but Charlotte hated him!
     
  3. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Indeed, Christopher knew Colonel James H. Edwards, 1st Viscount Brookeborough, Knight of the Order of the Garter, very well – by reputation, anyway. His actual position was a little unclear; at times, he had been considered an official Lord in Waiting to the young Queen Victoria and to her late father. At others, it had been said he was part of the General Staff somewhere in the Intelligence Department. He seemed to have connections with the Rifle Brigade, but even that was more of a rumour. In any case, when the hour was late and the lights down at any officer’s mess around London, someone would offer a tale about Edwards – how someone had crossed him and how that someone had then met some inexplicable misfortune. Such men did not die – but they frequently ended up disgraced, insane, or on postings in the colony little removed from actual transportation. Some resigned from Her Majesty’s service, but seldom did anyone hear any more of them.

    That was one reason why Captain Bourke kept quiet since his sharp salute and handshake; the flattery the Colonel had for him was so routine, so perfunctory, that it was a message in itself, and one that did not fail to register. The exchange between the two was disquieting; they were clearly having some conversation very different from the one they seemed to have, but Christopher couldn’t quite make it out. Another reason was that he could not, in proper manner, interfere in this discussion between a superior officer and a lady of higher rank than himself.

    His pleasant acquaintance was quickly turning into a positively dreadful experience; first those shadows, her sudden nerves, and now this shadowy, intimidating appearance by Edwards. Shadowy. Could such a man really be called that? But he was shadowy. Everyone in Her Majesty’s service seemed to agree – when, of course, only friendly ears were about.

    Edwards ignored Christopher, and the young Captain was glad for it. He had not felt like this since he had been introduced at court years before, and even then, he had not been so disquieted by His Majesty’s presence. Quite suddenly, the Colonel gave Countess Charlotte a smile a shepherd might give to the ewe he intended to slaughter, then a polite nod to Christopher, bade them good night and marched into the darkness, the gravel hardly seeming to move under his boots.

    Christopher swallowed and took a deep breath to regain his composure, which, to his embarrassment, had been shaken by this little scene. “Countess…” he asked haltingly, like a huntsman searching for a forgotten trap, “is Colonel Edwards your enemy?” Somehow, he managed to make himself sound calmer than he was, as strange as his inquiry would have been out of context.
     
  4. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

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    Considering the circumstances, Charlotte could hardly blame the Captain for his rude question. It was clear that the Colonels reputation preceded him. She hadn't considered that Captain Bourke would not only know of the Colonel, but know just the kind of man he was.


    “What a question” Charlotte retorted, laughing softly. “As if a woman such as I could have an enemy.” She hadn't exactly answered the question, and her voice was not steady when she spoke. Forcing herself to inhale a slow and steady breath, she flashed the Captain her best and most charming smile.


    A change of subject was most certainly in order, and fast. The Captain was either a suspect, or he was innocent. Either way, Charlotte could not afford his curiosity. The Captain was a nice man, and it would be a shame to entangle him in her problems.


    “Goodness, it really is growing late, Captain Bourke. And I have monopolized you from Lady Tandy's party for far too long. Someone might think you've been attempting an assignation with me.” She had replaced her mask again, quite seamlessly. Taking his arm, she motioned back toward the house, and Lady Tandy's party. “I'm certain that my carriage driver would be grateful if I were to return home before dawn.”


    Allowing the good Captain to escort her to Lady Tandy's front hall, Charlotte received her wrap, her carriage being called for at the front. Turning to him, Charlotte smiled again, speaking to him softly. “Thank you, Captain Bourke, for your gallantry tonight.” Her tone seemed one of regret. “Look for your invitation to Lord Dillingham’s hunt with your morning letters, won't you?”


    Charlotte climbed into her carriage with the aid of one of Lady Tandy's grooms, the door snapping shut, enveloping her in darkness. She was not, however, alone. “Must you haunt my every waking step, you vulture.”


    Colonel James H. Edwards, 1st Viscount Brookeborough, sat forward in his seat across from Countess Painswick, his hard features set in shadowy relief from the lamp lights they passed. “Her Majesty requires it, my dear Lady Painswick. And I might ask, must you take every opportunity of your employ with the Crown to flirt with every man you meet like a drunken Whitechapel harlot.”


    Charlotte flushed red with florid anger, her dark eyes flashing dangerously. “How dare you!” The Colonel rolled his eyes, making a fist upon his knee as if he were refraining from the urge to strike the woman before him. “No, Countess. How dare you! We are running on borrowed time. Lives hang in the balance and we are no closer to finding these culprits because you choose to dally in the garden with a no account!” The Colonel regained control of his anger, reigning in his tone. “I could recommend to Her Majesty that her faith in you is misplaced. Considering your checkered past, she may not wish further association with a fallen woman. Shall I tell her of your dirty secret? Or are you willing to forego your high and mighty tone and do as I command?”


    Charlotte bit her tongue, looking out the window rather than directly at the horrid man across from her. “Well?” he asked sharply. Charlotte conceded. “Yes Colonel.” He smiled at her, then rapped upon the ceiling of the coach. The coachman drew the horses up to a halt and the Colonel opened the door, stepping out onto the streets of Piccadilly. “Goodnight Countess. I trust when next we speak you will have something more than a full dance card to present to me.”


    The carriage lurched forward again, and as it did, Charlotte felt bile rising in her throat, gasping for air, she cursed the too tight laces of her corset. She put her face in her hands, and refused to cry. She would not cry.
     
  5. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
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    Local Time:
    5:50 AM
    The invitation, as the Countess had promised, was forthcoming; it reached Captain Bourke at the Guards Barracks in Windsor the next afternoon. His company was not due for mounting the guard at one of the palaces or any major training duty, so he was granted his leave for the trip to Devonshire; he had the impression his fellow officers at Regimental Headquarters envied him the invitation. They were right, Christopher thought to himself; not many non-royal Dukes existed. Dillingham had won the title for his deeds as a dashing Admiral against Napoleon, in a time before Christopher had known how to walk. Now he was, as far as Christopher heard, an immensely rich spendthrift without an heir to his title – there was even a rumour Christopher had picked up from his brother that the late King had promised Dillingham protection against debters as long as Dillingham did not attempt to bequeath his ducal title to anyone.

    Christopher had to put some energy into making travel arrangements, because while the invitation said that transportation from a place called Fenny Bridges would be supplied and the railway had turned a good few days into just one, he hadn’t travelled on the railway a lot before.

    The fare curtailed his budget for the next few weeks considerably, but he didn’t mind. The Countess had been first a rather charming (if somewhat free) acquaintance and then had turned into an intriguing mystery with the sudden appearance of Colonel Edwards. The bucolic surroundings in Devonshire might allow him to delve a little deeper into the veils she kept around her. The hunt would not, in any case, be boring, and that meant it was easily better than anything else Christopher could have done with the days. His duties for the few days until the hunt seemed lighter than they had in a long time.

    Travel by railway was constantly becoming more organized and less of a bother. Bourke slept for most of the way, smoking his pipe and admiring the countryside when he did not – even if it whisked by too quickly to really appreciate it. He was alone in his compartment, which suited him well. This way, he could think of Countess Charlotte and what it all meant in perfect piece.

    Even travelling in civilian attire, a coachman from the Duke’s estates recognized ‘Captain Bourke, the Baron Ardenerie’ when he arrived in the early evening. Christopher had almost not reacted to the title, so seldom was it used. The driver informed him he was going to a guest-house of the Duke’s possession, which turned out to be a stately manor in itself. Dinner was over by the time Christopher arrived, but the majority of the guests, a good ten people just from these guest accommodations, were still in the garden, enjoying the mild evening.

    Christopher joined them after eating sandwiches and found them wandering around in small groups. The festivities surrounding Dillingham’s hunt would start only tomorrow, but everyone seemed eager to get warmed up for it, so to speak. He stood on the Veranda, hands clasped behind his back, and tried to make out the various small groups and individuals, hoping to find that Countess Charlotte would be here as well…
     
  6. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

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    The Countess had arrived in Devonshire that afternoon, along with her lady's maid, Anna. She made a suitable travel companion on the train, as was proper, and Charlotte was glad of her. Anna was a kind soul who seldom pried, and she was loyal to a fault. The small woman stood now with Charlotte, dressing her lady's hair in the looking glass, tying and securing in a pale blue ribbon.


    Charlotte mused to herself that they were quite a contrast. Anna was small, with golden hair, and just a few freckles. She had pretty hazel, and a sweet smile that made her instantly likeable.


    There was something in her own features, Charlotte thought, which made her seem always up to something. Wide dark eyes and a too full mouth, a slight upturn to her nose, and rosy cheeks that made her look like a pixie.


    Smiling with approval at the vision created in the glass, Charlotte smoothed an errant chestnut curl and applied perfume to her wrists.


    The Duke had invited his guests for refreshments that evening. Charlotte could hardly refuse. She was here to work, though, were she honest with herself, she might admit that she has hoped to see the dashing Captain Bourke again, just for the hunt. There was no harm in that, was there?


    Having spent the earlier portion of the evening trapped with a Lord Montgomery, discussing the fascinating world of bovine husbandry, Charlotte was grateful to have escaped him when he was distracted by tea sandwiches. The day had been warm, and she was grateful for the light silk gown she had chosen, it's cream fabric offset with lace trim and delicate embroidered flowers of pale blue.


    Looking around at the pleasant and dowdy faces gathered here, Charlotte doubted that few, if any, had nefarious designs ST all, let alone designs to overthrow either the British government, or the Crown. Of course she had been wrong before. There was a time when she hadn't been forced to wonder at all. She missed that, to breathe easy, to sleep well. The world she had known without danger lurking around every corner, was gone. This was reality, and she must face it.


    Charlotte had been enjoying idle conversation with several older ladies, one of whom was the Duke’s own mother. She tried hard to be interested. They were prattling on about needle work and Charlotte wished to die of boredom on the spot when who should wander out onto the veranda, but the good Captain Bourke.


    Setting her punch glass aside, Charlotte moved quietly behind the Captain, slipping two lace covered hands over his eyes and laughed softly, the sound low and full of mischief. “Guess who” she teased.
     
  7. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Christopher jumped a little at the sudden touch, deep in thought as he had been, but smiled as he heard Charlotte’s voice and let her hands linger for a moment.

    “It’s not a brigand, I hope!” he replied. “If so, I must announce my intention to fight to the last for my kerchief, but my purse you may have.”

    He turned around to face Countess Charlotte and put his hands on her shoulders for the merest second before smiling at her brightly. Something about her sudden appearance made him happy.

    “However, I must warn you: assaulting an officer of Her Majesty is treason. I should have to arrest you if you do not desist,” he joked, raising a playful admonishing finger.

    Her eyes sparkled in the light of torches being lit around the garden. Charlotte’s dark hair was a mystery, Christopher could only catch glimpses when the light hit a spot at the right angle. She had a perfume on her that mixed with the fires and the garden scent in a way Christopher could not have anticipated. For a moment, he felt spellbound as he gazed into those dark eyes, unsure whether to stand at attention or embrace her, as impossible as that was in public.
     
  8. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

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    Charlotte returned the Captain's stare, her polished smile fading, her cheeks flushing suddenly with color. “I should not wish to enact treason” tonight, she thought. Indeed she was attempting to prevent it!


    His familiar touch upon her shoulders was startling. He dropped his hands almost immediately, though still the warmth of his hands was burning through the lace of her gown. “I had feared you might not come. I am glad that my fears were misplaced.”


    There seemed a strange weight hanging between them. It was unexpected, and Charlotte wished she hadn't noticed. She had asked the Captain here to know him better, but not for her pleasure. He was a possible suspect. She knew so very little of the Captain that she had determined he was a risk. Though now, standing here in the dim light, fires dancing around them, she was having a great deal of difficulty finding him suspect at all.


    Stop it. You are not here to have fun. He could well be a murderer, you idiot girl!


    Charlotte especially hated that the voice in her head had begun taking on Colonel Edward's tone. Lowering her gaze while she self admonished, she placed her neat social graces back where they belonged and forced another dazzling smile upon the handsome Captain Bourke.


    "I do hope you are ready for the hunt tomorrow. Fox and pheasant both, that is the rumor. The Duke has in his possession a great many ill-mannered fox hounds. It should be quite jolly, and quite loud." Charlotte laughed softly, a rich sound that most young women would often forego, instead tittering like an idiot.


    Placing a hand on the Captain's forearm, Charlotte leaned in closer, speaking low with much conspiracy. "I confess that I was only just having the most sonorous conversation of my life before I spotted you. But thanks to Lord Montgomery I can now invest in breeding cattle." Charlotte rolled her eyes.
     
  9. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    The Countess’s flirtation was strange somehow; Christopher did not know how to place it. He was reminded of a cavalry screen: A group of cavalry heading far ahead of the main column of an army or division, gaining knowledge of the enemy while denying that knowledge to him. He saw the flirtation, but he could not see past it. That was somewhat hurtful; some reservation was, of course, in order and he would not have thought ill of it, but a cavalry screen was something used against the enemy, not a potential ally – but perhaps, Christopher thought, the metaphor had already outlived its usefulness.

    “Breeding cattle, eh?” the Guards Captain replied, his voice very even now. It was good to find some distance, some middle ground where he could recover from the moment of her appearance and the tingling sensation that something about her was less than genuine. “In my position, one deals with horses more than with cattle, I’m afraid, so I shan’t be able to test your knowledge. And, of course, I ride horses rather than breed them. I should not like to think of the image my company would present, were I to ride at its head on a jolly milk-cow,” Christopher joked, affecting the manner a man considering the pro and contra of a weighty matter.
     
  10. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

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    The Captain seemed reserved, retreating from Charlotte even as she had done the same. She was certain why, but she felt guilty, as though she had been called out. A silence fell between them for extraneous minutes while Charlotte politely observed other guests. She was trying to regain her footing.


    "Then perhaps you might test my knowledge of other subjects more pleasant?" Charlotte set the question between them with a tone that was polite, charming, but there was tension behind it. She felt guilty for these games, but found them necessary now. If she didn't have something by the end of Lord Montgomery's little countryside getaway, then she feared that Colonel Edwards might eat her alive.


    Charlotte moved closer to the Captain, a closed distance which was still appropriate in consideration of the dim fading light, but one which still seemed somewhat intimate between them. Making eye contact with the Captain, Charlotte allowed herself a moment's enjoyment in his lovely gaze. Was it wrong to enjoy his company? So long as she did not become attached.


    The truth was that she did want to know Captain Bourke, to be friends. Charlotte had so few of them. Loneliness was the curse of a young widow. Women her age were either newly married or having their children. They did not wish to keep such depressing company. Most widows Charlotte knew could well be her grandmother.


    It had been so very long since someone had shown any sincerity to Charlotte that she had difficulty in recognizing it for what it was. And the canny Captain could sense now that she was not being sincere herself. Damn.


    Her face fell, that carefully constructed mask slipping in favor of a more earnest Charlotte. She frowned a little, looking exasperated. "I pray you might forgive me, Captain. Perhaps my travels have tired me. I have no humor for small talk this evening. Tell me...something true."


    Her face lighted again, the smile now genuine. "It shall be a new game between us. A game of truth." Charlotte lowered her voice so only he could hear. She knew she was being shocking. "Shall I start by saying that, in truth, I find everyone gathered here exceedingly boring. Except you."
     
  11. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Christopher could not help himself; he believed Countess Charlotte. He admired the keen sense she had for his mood, he adored the way she dropped her pretense – it was almost like seeing her in the nude, something bared to him he had not been able to see before. An act of trust, he understood, even if, by nature perhaps, she could only frame this act as a game.

    He was usually quick with his words, but he took some time to reply this time. He wanted to weigh the things he wished to say against each other – and against the rules of propriety. They could be relaxed by a moment like this, but they never went away – never could go away.

    “In truth, Countess, I know no-one here; you are the first I speak to,” he said quietly, trying to be as dignified as possible while the strange feeling of coming close to a precipice tried to impinge on that. “I have no desire for tomorrow’s sport. Forgive my plain words: I came because you asked it of me. I wished to see you once more, and speak to you perhaps without the interruption of men akin to snakes.”

    Christopher wondered if he had gone too far already; he could not know the relationship between Lady Painswick and Edwards, but one rarely loved people one was afraid of – and Countess Charlotte was afraid of the Colonel, he realized. Suddenly, he desired to have his sword with him. The long peace had denied him a campaign so far, but he had always thought he knew a dangerous situation when he saw it, and that sense, unrefined as it may be, told him this was one. He returned Charlotte's gaze with a hint of worry; had he overstepped the new, broader boundaries she had meant to establish?
     
  12. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

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    Charlotte's cheeks flamed and she smiled brightly. His answer was one she had not expected. Perhaps the Captain was simply toying with her. Perhaps he already suspected Charlotte, was indeed himself guilty or had something to hide, and was now disarming her, eloquently, and deftly.

    Perhaps.

    Charlotte stared, her dark eyes wide and fathomless in the glow of the fires in the brasiers set around the gathering.

    "Oh" she said, finally. "There is no need for apology, Captain. We are speaking plainly." Charlotte smiled knowingly. "It is part of our game, after all" she added, smoothly.

    Her turn now. Charlotte bit her lower lip, nipping at the full soft petal while she thought of what she might offer to equal the gauntlet he had thrown. There were so many things she could say that would make the game intriguing. She didn't really have to tell the truth, but she found that she wanted to. What harm was there in honesty?

    A great deal of harm. Secrets and truth were tools used to cause destruction. To defame. To ruin. But did the Captain wish to harm her, truly? There was no gain for him in doing so. Was there? She sincerely hoped not.

    "Snakes? A snake is cunning, Captain Bourke. Perhaps we ought compare them more similarly to vultures. I think you should know that last night was a disappointment on one score, however." Charlotte's smile was sly then. She spoke softly, not daring to raise her voice above a whisper. "I could have asked any vulture to take a turn around the gardens, but I chose you, hoping that you might be s bit cunning yourself."

    The light in her eyes was positively wicked. "Or better still, an unrepentant libertine." She was quite serious, not at all teasing. "Though there is something to be said for the influence of an honorable man in uniform."

    "A man can be both honorable and unrepentant. Can he not?" Charlotte shrugged non-committaly. "Oh, I know. I'm awful. You don't have to say so."
     
  13. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Bourke swallowed surreptitiously; he would have been glad to have his pipe or some other object to better cover the effect of Countess Charlotte’s words. But there was no pipe, so continuing the conversation was the only means he had to camouflage the strange mixture of emotions he had no time (and little wish) to explore.

    “Libertinage smacks of indiscretion,” he replied a little more abruptly and coldly than he had intended, “which is why I have always done my best to steer clear of it.” So far, Christopher thought, he sounded like a prudish fop, not even as if he were truly virtuous – just hypocritical. But he had spoken truthfully. While he had never been a pillar of virtue, he had made sure he kept his honor intact, and that of his… acquaintances. Brothels, however, he shunned; as an Ensign, he had once visited one and had found that the pre-arranged conquest and feigned desire were hollow to him.

    “Which does not, however, make me a hermit,” he allowed, his voice relaxing, taking on a low, intimate tone. Christopher had always known that his baritone helped him in flirting. “I would agree that one who wishes to maintain his honor need not be a saint. My honor, Madam, I shall leave to judgement…”

    He leaned forward with a smile and half-whispered in Charlotte’s ear, his hand hovering near her waist. “Saints, however… even a saint would weigh again his virtue’s value in the face of your beauty. And I – well, I have never had the merest pretension of being a saint…”
     
  14. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

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    That low and dusky whisper sent warmth through Charlotte's limbs that caused her to blush all over, though she was hardly embarrassed. Call it expectation.

    Charlotte took in a tremulous breath, her smile lighting her eyes again. She seemed anxious suddenly, or perhaps giddy. Too much punch, she reasoned. There had been rum in it. Tucking an errant dark curl behind her ear, Charlotte lowered her dusky lashes, biting her lower lip in a demeanor of timidity.

    There was something in how the Captain had boldly taken her question. He was being honest. It was a rare trait. Charlotte's entire existence was comprised of lies, and misdirection. But what if he was simply far better at misdirection that she? She would find out soon enough. And either way, it would be a success for her.


    Charlotte lowered her own voice, whispering in response as the hand she had laid on his forearm gently caressed. It was an innocent gesture, though her words were not. "It is good then, Captain Bourke, that neither of us find ourselves over burdened with either an abundance of virtue, or pretense. I shall consider this a fortuitous event, and pray that your opinions on honor extend to the fairer sex as well."


    Dropping her hand, Charlotte stepped back only marginally, gazing up again at the Captain, her smile fading as she glanced around to be certain they were not being watched with any great amount of scrutiny. She had noted that Lady Rosamund and Lady Ophelia, two notorious old gossips, had made a pass by, likely hoping to hear anything worth clucking over like the old hens they were.

    "I shall retire early this evening, since the hunt will require an early rise" she said, conversationally, her words for the benefit of those who might be prying. Their onlookers seemed disinterested in listening further, and so Charlotte lowered her voice once more.

    "Captain Bourke, my maid will surely be dismissed for the evening by ten o'clock. After which time I shall be alone. For prayer and reflection upon saints...and virtue." Charlotte glanced down briefly. "Your left pocket" she whispered.


    A small brass key on a satin ribbon was weighing there in the pocket of the Captain's jacket. Charlotte had dropped it there only moments before. It was the key that fitted the servants door to her room.

    "Good evening, Captain." Charlotte turned to leave, her stomach flipping and making her feel giddy. She found herself wondering if the Captain thought her horrid, then wondered if she cared. If he was truly a part of the Order of Janus then she had larger concerns than his opinion, and if he simply wished a dalliance with a widow, then he was equally as culpable.

    Risking one last glance at him, Charlotte disappeared indoors.

    Upon returning to her guest room, Charlotte had asked that Anna help her to prepare for bed. And while Anna took the pins from her ladyship's hair, Charlotte explained the protocol of her plan.

    "I've the blade and the pistol, Anna. I shan't be in any real danger. And if I am, I will cry out. You will be just down the hall and you can summon any number of servants who will come to my rescue." Anna looked at Charlotte in the glass while Charlotte dabbed perfume onto her wrists and behind her ears. "Your ladyship, I don't see how inviting the Captain to your room will prove anything about him that can't be said of any other man." Charlotte smiled politely at the young woman. "A great deal if he should attack me."

    Still worried for her mistress, Anna went about quickly preparing the rest of the chamber. There was a silver tray sat out with brandy, and the fireplace had made the room quite pleasant and warm.

    Once she was alone, Charlotte placed nervously, continually looking into the glass to smooth the fine dark blue satin of her robe. Beneath it she wore a fine silk nightgown, the neckline plunging and trimmed in french lace. Her dark hair was a heavy chestnut and auburn curtain of curls that lay halfway down her back, and she had dotted her lips with a deep berry stain that still lingered in sweetness.

    Checking once more that her pistol was safely concealed in the Bible next to her bed. And that the small dagger lay tucked between her pillows and the mattress, Charlotte had little other choice now but to wait. Perhaps he would change his mind?
     
  15. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    From the moment they parted in the garden, Christopher knew, he just knew he would follow her invitation. The reasons, manifold and complicated as some of them were, stood crystal-clear before his mind, undeniable, irrefutable. The simplest reason was boredom. The unchanging routine of training, administration and guard-mounting, the punishments and promotions and leaves of absence to hand out – all that, he knew, was getting to him. He felt it dulled not only his mind, but his person. Whatever the Countess had to offer, it must be better than that.

    A more complicated reason was lust. He could not remember desiring a woman with such clarity. Perhaps it was her free manner; in any case, something in Countess Charlotte gave him a new kind of desire. Not a youth’s sheer hunger – but a feeling a connoisseur might have upon smelling the fumes of a fine old wine. Yet there was more. He wanted Charlotte to be his. That he had never felt, and he did not know what to make of it. He knew that, if the illicit affair they would start might be salvaged and made into something more reputable, she would be the most splendid match he could hope for, but that was not the point. She fascinated him. The air of secrecy, the veneer of flirtation under which he could already sense a need deeper than the merely carnal, the raw physical beauty…

    To keep up appearances, he mingled with some of the guests. Apparently, the more entertaining invitees of the Duke had gone to the main palace, so the guest-house was stuck with people just as boring as Charlotte had judged them. He got through it, thoughts of the night making him patient and eager at the same time.

    The fantasies became overwhelming as he took off his waistcoat in his room, a small one probably usually occupied by a footman or something of that nature. He could not restrain his physical reaction; it had been too long since his last lover, a laundry girl at the Guards, using him as much as he had used her, both nonchalant about the arrangement. This was different, most different. There was fear in Countess Charlotte. He hated that fear like the Duke of Wellington had hated Napoleon Bonaparte – he wanted to crush it, to drive it out of existence, and prove that no trust, no affection she might place in him would be wasted. He composed himself and took a last look in the mirror, setting his lips in a confident, aristocratic curl and arranging his short, hazel-colored hair so he looked more the gentleman than the officer, making no attempt to hide the wave. The riding at the head of his company and the training as well as the abysmal mess kitchen made him look well, he thought – so much the better if he didn’t want to be completely outshone by his… perhaps, he reminded himself… new lover.

    Ten minutes after the hour, Christopher slid along the corridor towards Lady Charlotte’s room. He could feel his juices welling up, his skin tingling and his heart racing. What if she was only toying with him? It could all be an act. Some trick. But as that thought cooled him a little, he had already reached her door, key in hand. He looked at it as it glinted for a moment in the moonlight. She had given him this access. She could have asked him to knock… but she had given him the key instead. That had to mean something, he thought.

    Quietly, Christopher unlocked the door and pushed it open to reveal Countess Charlotte in the middle of the room, turning to the sound. Her fine robe, revealing the alluring neckline of her gown with its shimmering white skin, seemed the most noble and magnificent thing he had ever seen. It was all he could do to keep himself from throwing the door shut and leaping at her.

    “Good evening, once more,” he said quietly as he closed the door behind him, holding up the key with a small smile and a . “I have something of yours, Madam.”
     
  16. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

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    Charlotte had been listening to the deafening silence of the settled household, it's guests a great many widows, and old maids already tucked in their beds. Most married couples were put up in the great house. It afforded larger rooms, and greater opportunity for them to exchange their lovers in the night.


    The guest house rooms were more humble by comparison, of course. But no less comfortable, and far more private. Charlotte heard the key turn the lock, and her felt goose flesh rise on her skin, a cold chill running down her spine. She mentally reminded herself that both her weapons and her maid Anna, were nearby.


    Turning to face her intrepid captain, Charlotte felt her stomach flip. "Good evening". He was handsome, far better looking than most of the foppish men she had been accustomed to spending time with. The fireplace cast a warm glow as he passed, amber light dancing in his pretty gaze.


    Absently Charlotte pressed a hand to breast, conscious of both her state of undress, and the liberal expanse of bosom she had put on display. Good god, what was she doing?


    A job, she reminded herself sternly. The Captain was here to be tempted. He had taken the bait. The trap was set. She need only now know what kind of man he truly was. She sincerely hoped he was not what she was to be looking for.


    Charlotte smiled, her dark eyes dancing. She could not help herself, the Captain had charmed her from the start. She had wanted him, never kind that he was here because she was attempting to determine if he was part of a plot to destroy the power of the monarchy.


    A soldier would have a unique opportunity, she supposed. He might be privy to information of a delicate nature, state secrets, or the procedure on security for the queen herself. Could a man like Bourke truly harm the Queen? Or anyone? She did not know.


    "Have you?" She asked with mock curiosity when he mentioned her key. "So kind of you to return it to me, Captain." Charlotte's lips quirked into mischievous smile, and she held her hand out, crossing toward the Captain with an open palm.


    Her knees wobbled like jelly. Charlotte could feel her skin growing warm. Goodness girl, it's only a man! She admonished herself, trying very hard to appear casual, though her cheeks went flush with color and she dropped her gaze, dark lashes concealing the trepidation held there. She hoped it seemed coquettish, and not like she was hiding something.


    Her last lover had been one of only two. Her first had been, undoubtedly, her late husband, the Earl of Westfordshire. The other gentleman had been an indiscretion, an affair which threatened to make her notorious. It had ended. Abruptly. The gentleman, a young and passionate writer and journalist, was now living abroad in America. Charlotte was the reason for his self imposed banishment. The circumstances of their affair were known by only two others. The Earl, and the Colonel. Charlotte had ended her affair, abruptly, and her lover has never forgiven her. He had not been born into the privileged class, and so had not been burdened by its social mores, or its laws. He has been free to love. Charlotte had not. It had nearly cost her everything.


    "Would you care for some brandy?" She quickly moved toward the tray that waited nearby, taking one snifter and briefly enjoying the aroma before taking a quick swallow to steal her nerves. The brandy was sweet and warmed her to her toes. After another sip it was far easier to smile without her lip trembling.


    Holding out another glass to Captain Bourke, she waited for him to take it if he wished.
     
  17. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Christopher followed Charlotte over to the tray, keeping close enough to perceive the rosewater she must have applied. The way she held out the glass confused him for a moment; it hovered between them like a sword she was using to keep him at a distance, the proverbial arm’s length – but they were much closer already.

    He accepted the glass and took a sip, keeping his eyes locked with hers. Charlotte’s obvious nerves endeared her to him and he was flattered that he would have such an effect on her. At the edge of his consciousness, there were warnings of another emotion in her demeanor, a fear or anxiety, but Christopher was too entranced by the Countess that he did not care.

    There was no other word to describe it – Christopher ached to touch her. But it seemed she needed time, so he restrained his impatience; at least, he did not rip away her robe like he wanted…

    “I hope I can aid in your… reflections,” he said softly, placing his left hand on her arm. “I’m much in need of them myself…”
     
  18. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

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    His touch was a fire brand. Charlotte's eyes widened, lips parting to allow for much needed oxygen. She exhaled slowly, looking very much the proverbial doe caught in the sights of a skilled hunter. But soon enough she regained her footing.

    "And what else are you in need of, Captain Bourke?" She smiled, a slow and warming thing that blossomed on her features, lighting her dark eyes. She felt tingling in her limbs, heat spreading through her. Perhaps the brandy? Perhaps just one more sip.

    Setting her glass aside, Charlotte decided that further staring would get them nowhere. It was a funny feeling, alone with a man, a stranger, after so long. They barely knew one another, though she had been alone with a stranger on her wedding night too, had she not? This was far different, however. Captain Bourke was not an overweight, balding old drunkard she had been promised to. He was young, and rather beautiful, she mused. And she had chosen him. She wondered what the captain must be thinking of her now. She had invited him here with obvious intent, and they were still addressing one another by their titles.

    Charlotte moved closer to the Captain, very nearly an embrace. She was admiring him, her eyes traveling with no real hurry to take in truly handsome features. He was not like the Earl had been, far from in fact. But neither was he at all like Johnathan had been.

    Captain Bourke, Christopher, was lean and muscular. He was a soldier, and had the carriage of a man who knew long hours in a posture of readiness. He was no doubt skilled with a blade, and could ride beautifully. Charlotte blushed as her mind wandered, and she placed her left hand upon his chest, his skin warm through the pressed linen of his shirt. Her right hand fell to rest upon the captain's waist. She was close enough now that she must tip her head back to look at him fully.

    Feeling suddenly bold, after all, why stop now, Charlotte pushed up onto her tiptoes, pressing her lips delicately upon the captain's cheek, just near his right ear. It was an innocent gesture, but felt all at once intensely intimate. Charlotte spoke softly into his ear, her breath warm and caressing. "You may have whatever you wish" she said sweetly.

    Glancing up at him, Charlotte waited. Should he really be a suspect of any kind, he wouldn't want her to be too forward, would he? Or perhaps that was what the killer enjoyed? The thrill of a wanton? Oh god, a killer. Her heart was pounding now. She could feel it, and wondered if the captain felt it too. Was it wrong to wish that the captain was truly a good man? Charlotte's own virtue was clearly in question. She closed her eyes, willing away the barrage of thoughts.
     
  19. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Christopher relished the deliciously simple shape his thoughts started to assume. He wanted this raven-haired beauty, wanted to taste every inch of her skin, enter her, possess her and let her possess him like welcome, transitory demons. With a soft sound of desire, he brought his hands down to her hips and pulled her against himself, making her feel his hardness against her stomach.

    He plunged down, pushing away her hair with his nose and kissed the side of her neck, not yet ready to bite. He caressed her skin with the tip of his tongue while his grip on her soft flesh became firmer; he had to willingly relax it to avoid hurting her.

    Whatever I wish… oh, so many things…” he whispered in her ear on the edge of coherence.

    He let one hand wander around the curve of her body, touching her stomach through the night-gown, just above her intimate triangle. Disjointed shards of desires, some almost animalistic, others more refined and debauched, tumbled through Christopher’s conscious mind. The one thing all of them had in common was that in all these images, Charlotte wanted him, ached for him. He had never been one who found pleasure in imagining a haughty, distant lover like some men did. But just the same, he had never understood the attraction in the goading and borderline (or outright) coercion some men considered ‘seduction’. That’s why he had never had much taste for whores. Paid pretense was nowhere near even the gifts of opium – let alone the thrill of being invited to the bedroom of a beautiful woman by her wish, and feeling her reactions at his touch.
     
  20. Plothunter

    Plothunter Well-Known Member Member

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    The Captain had managed to surprise her. He had seemed a reserved man, though now his passion was a fire, its flames licking across her skin and igniting in Charlotte a new sensation of need coupled with danger that was a heady drug in her veins.


    She gasped softly, tipping her head to one side in invitation as Christopher's warm soft lips brushed along the point of her pulse in her throat, causing it to leap rapidly there, and causing Charlotte to grasp firmly the linen of the good Captain's shirt, lest her knees give way.


    He was aroused, that was plain. And he was strong, and taut as a bowstring. Something predatory lay in wait, beneath the surface of him, and Charlotte wondered if she had made a mistake.


    No. He meant her no harm. She didn't wish to believe it. Not when he had managed with barely a touch to set her ablaze. He was restrained, even as he caressed her, and Charlotte could feel her thighs tremble as his hand stroked over the soft curve of her abdomen and hip, his palm warm through sheer silk. It was a touch that promised sweetest pleasure.


    Wide brown eyes lifted from under the shadowy fan of her dark lashes and Charlotte's lips parted into an inviting smile. Her hands moved down the Captain's chest, and slowly she began to unfasten the rest of the buttons there. The expanse of his chest exposed, Charlotte explored warm flesh with soft caressing fingertips, gently raking her fingernails through the curls of his chest hair, and over the small circle of one nipple.


    She was nervous, but it was unclear why through simple observation. She was not unskilled in her touch, neither shy in her approach. Stepping back and away from Captain Bourke, Charlotte pushed the blue satin of her robe off her shoulders, allowing it to fall to the floor. Beneath she wore a silk and linen gown of Ivory, laced down the front, its lace trimmed hem brushing just below her knees, and over silk clad calves that curved in lively lines, her thighs, concealed, holding up the delicate make of her french silk stockings and garters.


    Fire light cast through the sheer fabrics, outlining a petite but ample feminine form. Charlotte's legs were long, her hips curving and luscious in their shape. Trim waist and the soft planes of her abdomen gave way to a sacred dark space concealed between welcoming thighs, and Charlotte's breasts were full and large, the barest suggestion of rosey nipples piquing beneath the fabric that covered them.


    Charlotte moved toward her bed, a four poster with drapery that hung in brocade folds. She climbed into the center of the mattress and waited there, sitting primly with an imperious and knowing smile. Waiting there like a won prize, Charlotte untied the top of her gown, letting the fabrics fall down one shoulder in invitation.


    "It is impolite to keep a lady waiting, Captain Bourke."
     
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