Chapter Six

“He’s incredibly sick!”

I sighed and continued my forward lean, with a slight change of angle, until my nose was resting upon my pyjama leg. I remained bent double thus, inhaling the comforting scent of clean cotton, as the wardrobe door banged open and Boyd attained his feet in what might, in a lesser being, be called a scramble.

Wood was at it again. He breezily slammed the wardrobe closed behind him and bounced over to sit in the chair so recently vacated by Liv. “Sick in the head, that’s what you are, Dommie. Did you see her? I did. And she wants you.”

He whistled disbelievingly, and I lifted my head to glare at him. Still shirtless, of course, swinging his elegantly clad leg insouciantly. “Piss off, Wood, I’ve no energy for you at the moment. I’m busy planning my suicide. Boyd, take a note: I’d like gladiolas at the funeral. I always liked gladiolas.”

Boyd took a stance beside my chair. “Certainly, sir,” he said calmly. “Can I provide the young gentleman with a shirt?” Did I detect a hint of chill in his lovely lilt?

Oh, sod it. What difference did it make if Boyd knelt and looked at me with tenderness and care now, if he got jealous now? “He can get his shirt himself. Doodle, I’ll need you to get right out.”

He raised his eyebrows in mock astonishment and fetched his shirt, shrugging it carelessly over his smooth chest. “Seriously, Dommie, I’ve no idea why you would be upset at the prospect of marrying that dish. She’s gorgeous and she’s as dumb as a box of rocks–you could lead a perfectly happy life with her by your side and me in your bed.” He purred this last directly into my ear; Boyd stepped back frostily and I raised my eyes to glare at Wood.

“That may be true, but it’s not exactly jake. Not really what a Monaghan does, ta-very-much.”

He shrugged and turned to the door. “Your loss… darling Dommie.” He smirked and closed the door behind himself.

“Sir?” Boyd’s voice was warm again, warm and caressing and absolutely bloody aphrodisiacal, and I could only shake my head miserably, looking down at my knees. The silence between us stretched out for a good while, and then he moved, padding over to the bar and mixing something up. I raised my eyes to watch, and he began to speak, his lovely Scottish voice rolling over me like honey. “I take it that Miss Holm is once again affianced to you, sir.” I didn’t answer. “Quite a quandary.” He capped the decanters and turned, carrying a tumbler on a little silver salver. “But please, sir, I do hate to see you so pressed down by these worries.” He handed me the drink and I swallowed half in one go. “I am certain that something can be done; it was Herr Schlegel, I believe, who said that although everyone enjoys a bit of wickedness in the middle, happy endings are demanded for all. I paraphrase, of course.” I emptied the glass and stood. He gifted me a tiny smile and I felt my heart lift, all unwitting.

Or perhaps it was the drink; I was swaying where I stood, from the various shocks of the evening no doubt. “Oh, Boyd. If anyone can save me from the feminine wiles of that… female… I’ve no doubt it is you.”

He took my arm soothingly and led me to the bed. “I shall certainly apply myself to resolving the sticky situation with all due haste.”

Tucked up, lights out, Boyd (regrettably) gone belowstairs again, I pondered the mess I found myself neck deep in. I felt my panic overlaid by a strange certainty that Boyd would, indeed, apply himself assiduously, that all would come right in the end. This comfortable hope left me free to drift to sleep musing upon Boyd’s dulcet tones, uttering the words “sticky situation” and variations upon same.

~*~*~*~

The day did not begin auspiciously; Boyd came up to dress me, generally a pleasant and stimulating start. The morning, however, had found me once again weltering in the doldrums, convinced that I was doomed, doomed forever to a life of misery by the side of an idiotic flutterhead with all the wit and attraction of a mouldy bit of Stilton.

“Will you be seeing Lord Holm today?” Boyd asked, smoothing my jacket at the waist.

Oh, his hands, touching me, soothing me, arousing me, soon to be ripped untimely from my body– “Yes, I suppose so,” I gloomed.

He met my eyes in the glass, his face solemn and calm. “If I may, sir–”

Hope rose in me, like the coming of the waters in season of flood or somesuch, and I very nearly grabbed his hand. “Have you come up with a plan, Boyd?”

My soul was dashed upon the rocks with his next words. “No, sir, I have not. But I do have a spot of advice, if you are so inclined to hear me.” He bowed his head and stepped back.

“Say on, Boyd.” My shoulders slumped, but I was not so far gone as to ignore his words.

“You mentioned last night, sir, that Miss Holm has become aware of the dubious nature of our earlier statements regarding your mental condition–”

“My barminess, you mean?”

“As you say, sir. Miss Holm is now aware that you are sound in mind as well as body, am I correct?”

“Apparently so, Boyd, though how she knows it is a mystery to me.” I fiddled with a loose thread at my cuff moodily.

“I would merely like to point out, sir, that there is no reason to believe Lord Holm has the same information. And it might be useful to you to maintain the illusion, and not reveal that you are mens sana in corpore sanos, so to speak.” He was folding my pyjamas, smoothing the linen with his neat hands, eyes downturned modestly.

I cocked my head at him. Oh my sainted Aunt Edna he looked luscious. “I should keep acting loony around the old fish, you mean?”

“Precisely so, sir. You might, perhaps, tell him that you have received treatment and are calmer than previously. This paves the way to using the same ruse that was so effective two summers ago.” He reached to straighten my tie.

“A bit more sana in mens than before, what? Well, if you think it will be helpful…” I sighed as he finished and stepped away to survey my attire.

“I don’t know that it will, sir, but it is best to keep one’s options open, I have always believed.”

I squared the old shoulders and tried to look brave. “Very well, Boyd. I have the utmost respect for your wits–” and your arse— “and I shall do as you say.”

“Thank you, sir. I believe breakfast is available downstairs, if you feel so inclined.”

I shook my head sadly. “I do not feel so inclined, Boyd, I would feel more inclined to a rough bit of dentistry–” buggery— “but perhaps I should swallow a few bites of something strengthening before braving Goliath’s den.”

“Very wise, sir.”

Upon entering the breakfast room I was greeted by the sight of Miranda Otto, who, if you will recall, Liv had brought with her from the snowy wastes of Scotland.

The Otto girl, as I have mentioned, could be considered somewhat horsey. I do not say it in reference to her looks, which were quite passable–strawberry blonde locks, well-shaped nose and mouth, curves in the places where girls should have curves and dips in the places where those are requisite. No, I say she is horsey in the Pony Club-sponsoring, jodpher-wearing, riding-crop-wielding, smells-vaguely-of-barns-and-leather sort of way. So I found her now, slapping the side of her boots (shiny, black, tall, and I craved a pair of my own immediately, wondering if Boyd would approve of them) with a crop (which I also craved and rather wondered if Boyd might approve) and looking sullenly at the morning’s culinary offerings, which were substantial, if poorly attended, seeing as Miranda and I were the only two souls in evidence.

“Lovely morning, eh, Miss Otto,” I offered timidly.

She directed upon me a gaze of such withering disdain that I felt my cravat crumple sadly. “For god’s sake, Dommie, call me Miranda. Just because we haven’t seen each other in a year and more doesn’t mean you have to call me Miss Otto.” She speared a defenseless kipper and ate it while glaring at me.

I approached hesitantly to look over the groaning board. “Corking, old girl, ah, Miranda,” I replied, hoping this was the right tone to take.

“Liv tells me you’re engaged to her. Again.”

Perhaps not, as her voice was significantly chilly–made my bones long for the tropical Arctic Circle, in fact.

“I, ah–hmm.” I cast about for the words which would say Not for long, if I can possibly help it, because you see I find her a hideously weak-headed bore and I would rather put paid to this too, too solid flesh than spend one hour, nay, one minute, espoused to her, but the words simply weren’t there–should have asked Boyd, he’d have biffed off a spiffing response for me in a jiffy–and so I trailed off weakly.

She was glaring at me now, blue eyes boring into me like, well, like something that bores dreadfully, really, and I’d no idea why. “I just want to tell you, Dommie, that I think you’re a complete ninnyhammer, and I hope that Liv doesn’t go and do something so chowderheaded as to marry you.”

“Oh, ah?”

“Yes. You are a bit better than that crashing boor she was engaged to, but not by much–a half-inch if that.” Without looking at the board, she stabbed another kipper and popped it into her mouth, staring me down while chewing on it in a way that I would call unladylike if I were not such a paragon of gentlemanly gallantry.

“I shall–” I sniffed with an attempt at haughtiness. “I shall keep your opinion in mind. Good morning.” And taking a small collation upon the plate in my hand, I fled.

You would think, would you not, that things must certainly have improved from there, wouldn’t you? Alas, no, such was not to be upon that wretched morning. Already prone beneath the weight of despair, my soul could only give a faint and pathetic wriggle when I was cornered, upon leaving the nook where I had hidden to choke down a few dry swallows, by Bean.

Cornered would be the correct word to describe the event; if ever a fellow cornered another fellow, that first fellow was Bean, and that second fellow was me. No sooner had I emerged, leaving my dish tucked handily behind a potted palm, than he was upon me. It was almost as though he’d been lurking in the halls waiting for me.

“Monaghan,” he barked, and I leapt into the air in a way that twelve lords a-leaping could not possibly best.

“Bean!” I shrieked, attempting to change it at the end to a jaunty, if highly pitched, hello. “I say, Colonel Bean, I should say, I mean, goodness, you startled me rather, how are you, old fish, I had heard you were here, but didn’t dream I’d have the pleasure so early in the day–” Etcetera.

You may wonder, if you’re a curious sort, what this Bean chap was like, to inspire such whole-hearted terror in a frame as courageous, as doughty, as stalwart and dauntless as the average Monaghan frame. Wonder no longer; he was hair-raising. “Now, Dommie,” you are no doubt saying indulgently, “my dear lad, how awful can be? He’s just a man, is he not?”

In species, I suppose that Bean might loosely be classified as homo sapiens. In saying he is a man, therefore, you would be at least within the realm of reasonable supposition. It is in that persnickety and erring adjective “just” that your sentence will have gone astray.

Bean’s size could be loosely estimated at eight feet, give or take; his body was leanly fleshed out with the appropriate amount of poundage, roughly equal in musculature to a Bengal tiger, wolf, or any other large predator you care to name which has green eyes, a superfluity of sharp teeth, and a sublime if panic-inducing sort of lazy grace.

He snagged me effortlessly, gripping my upper arms tightly as he backed me against the nearest paneled wall; in the meantime I chattered on in an attempt to prevent myself wetting myself. “Topping weather we seem to be having, I was thinking of taking a stroll, a ‘walk abroad in the snowy day’ and all that rot–”

“Shut up,” he said, pushing his square-jawed face right into mine.

“Oh rather,” I squeaked. The paneling was causing a tiny amount of discomfort to my skull, shoulderblades, arse, and so on, but I was strangely disinclined to lodge a protest.

“Monaghan,” he said again; he appeared to be having trouble formulating just what he wanted to say, and I felt sympathetic, really–how often have I looked at Boyd’s delectable features and felt much the same? I waited patiently, feeling the intricately carved wood pressing its curlicues and leaves indelibly into the flesh of my rearmost sections. He breathed in and out heavily several times and then found the words he was searching for: “Monaghan, I think I shall have to kill you.”

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