Note: Thanks to all you who are still reading this! Sorry for the bit of delay (and if you're reading Hostage too, I'll be updating that soonish). If you have any questions regarding either fic feel free to PM me. :)
Unfortunately for Caroline, it so happened that Klaus ushered her into a seat of his choosing and she had complied before she could stop herself. And once she'd been seated, as much as she might've liked to, rising and taking another chair would be making too much fuss—a most unseemly thing to do in the Countess' presence. So, Caroline conceded. And when Klaus settled next to her, she hid her wince.
She knew she was going to regret this.
Klaus was ungallant. Worse, he made her nervous—as if being a guest at the Countess' table wasn't taxing enough on her nerves. The two combined left her unusually quiet. And Caroline didn't often shut up. In any case, she was grateful for Miranda and her hogging of the table's attention with her talks of visiting the colonies, and of her niece, Katherine, who would be visiting in a fortnight.
To Caroline's great relief, nothing of note occurred during the first starter. And even the soup course seemed destined to pass without incident… And just when her nerves were beginning to calm, she felt an odd sort of tickling just above her knee.
Then she felt...fingers! A hand. Wrapped around her thigh!
Her spoon loudly clanged to the bottom of the porcelain dish, drawing all eyes. Caroline's cheeks heated—she loathed to ever be perceived as ill mannered, just as she was being right then. The Countess' tight lipped smile was both condescending and pitying. She probably attributed Caroline's poor handling of the gilded utensils to her being a simple country peasant…despite how far from truth that was.
But Caroline's worries were only just beginning.
Instead of retracting, the hand on her thigh traveled higher, slipping slighting inwards to her softer inner thighs. Caroline's fingers curled around the gilded fork meant to be used for the venison. A hair higher and she was going to stab him—the Countess' contempt be damned!
Perhaps the lech had read her thoughts, because instead of sneaking higher, his hand slipped off of her.
Her cheeks burned hotter now, and not from embarrassment. She turned to her left, meeting his eyes coldly. And to her increased annoyance, his lips twitched with what looked like amusement. He delighted in her scorn!
Caroline very nearly tossed her soup dish in his face. Anything to get rid of that stupid, smug smile. But thankfully, her better senses kept her in civilized. She might never have received another dinner invite all summer, otherwise.
While the soup course was being cleared in time for the next, in came Rebekah, all smiles and chirpy excuses. And Kol behind her, with a clean cravat and a new dinner coat.
"Good evening, Mother dearest. And what have we got here…" Kol paused at the doors as if to feast on the sight of them all at his dinner table, his exuberance burning like the sun at noon. "My, my. I didn't realize we'd be graced with these delightful people, else I'd not have kept them waiting. Apologies my dear Mrs. Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert."
The table tensed. The Gilbert clearly didn't share Kol's thoughts and met his exuberant friendliness with uneasy smiles and curt greetings (probably unwillingly given). And from the head of the table, the Countess stared at her son as though he'd ruined her silks with wine.
"He is an utter buffoon," Rebekah muttered, settling into the seat to Caroline's right and filling the air with her exotic, spicy perfume.
Klaus chuckled, having heard. "Let him have his fun."
Kol certainly wasn't done with buffoonery.
He paced around the table to where Miranda sat across from Caroline and took her gloved hand lovingly in his. Cherishing it with one kiss. Then a second. "Every time I lay eyes on you, darling, you are more beautiful than the last. What is this sorcery of yours?"
To Caroline's horror, Miranda actually looked pleased. She tried to hide it by tilting down her head in faux-shyness and by murmuring half-hearted refutes to Kol's compliments. But there was no hiding the bright glint in her eyes, or the slight, curling of her lips. None of which were lost on Mr. Gilbert who, despite his blank face, looked in danger of smashing the Countess' dainty wineglass in his fisted grasp.
Kol strutted over to Mr. Gilbert next, hanging an arm over the back of his chair. He slapped Mr. Gilbert's shoulder with his other hand, his smirk widening. "Hello, old boy. You look well, sturdy like your lot…"
But Caroline didn't hear the rest. She was distracted by Klaus staring at her. He leaned in when he saw he had her attention, murmuring, "You disapprove?"
"Yes. Yet, you ask that as if you expect a different answer—though, I can't imagine why."
He scoffed and moved a hair closer, holding her gaze as she did. "I would think that your rather wildly upbringing would incline you to see societal constraint on human behavior no more than superfluous tosh. After all, restricting the natural behaviour of the sexes to a monotonous tune is quite inane, is it not, sweetheart?"
It was Caroline's turn to scoff. "Well, you would be wrong. So very, very wrong. Society is what distinct us from the beast who run amok, always destroying because they act on instinct, selfishly caring only for their own immediate needs. Decorum is to ensure that we function well within society, that we are collectively at our most efficient—and as a result, we are all happier for it. I take no issue with society constraining selfish desires. I think it's all the better. The thoughtlessness of the male sex needs to be beaten out of them, and constraints can only help."
She inclined her head across the table to where Kol smugly took the seat on the other side of Miranda, across the table from Rebekah. "That is the result of too much privilege and not enough constraint."
Kol was certainly not a man worthy of good society. His noble birth meant he was beyond reproach. But that was only a pity. Perhaps if he'd been of gentry, his parents would've forced some decency into his head.
Klaus was still staring at her, even more intently than he had before. His expression still unreadable.
"In any case…" Caroline wanted to stop there, but the temptation to rant about the vulgar display she'd been witness to was too strong. Leaning a little closer, she fumed. "Flirtations may seem harmless, but they most certainly aren't when one party is wedded to another. Then, it becomes disruptive to the felicity of families involved. It's disrespectful and unkind. And it only serves selfish desires of two at the cost of being emotionally painful to another—sometimes more than one other."
He surprised her by bowing his head and agreeing. "And let's not forget, love, flirtations start innocent but they don't always remain that way. When one party is wedded to another, what could result of a flirtation is more than disruptive. It could very well be chaotic…"
His jawline had gone sharp, and while he was no longer looking at Caroline, but straight ahead at nothing, she bought his sincerity.
Maybe he'd lived through a courtship gone awry involving a flirtation taken too far.
Caroline shivered at the thought.
Her mother had told her that many Londoners had loose morals, by Caroline's standards. Some so loose that they would be outright shocking to Caroline's virtuous sensibilities. It's as if her mother had known she would be pulled into the acquaintance of the Mikaelsons.
Caroline could just imagine Elizabeth Forbes' amused face if she could see her now, leaned in, conversing civilly with a strange man who had caressed her leg underneath his mother's dining table! The thought made Caroline's neck heat, and not out of anger or annoyance this time. Any further and he'd have—
"We will have to discuss this further another time. Tomorrow afternoon, perhaps? If I can find the time to visit at the Gilbert's…"
Caroline's head spun.
Visit? The Gilbert's? Tomorrow…?
To her own shock, she wasn't totally opposed to this idea. Or at least, she wasn't until his eyes dropped to her immodest bosom, traveling up along her neck and resting only as far as her lips.
He was saying things, but she couldn't quite make them out.
Her neck burned hotter, the heat once again quickly spread to her cheeks. And by god, she was certain he could see the flush and read her mind. Read the wants that weren't supposed to be there. But Caroline wasn't a beast. She wasn't a creature that followed her immediate desires without thought. She was an elegant young woman. And she would behave as befitting the rose of good society and with utmost decorum...even if certain inappropriate notions were tempting. But not very tempting—only a slight bit. No matter, she wouldn't succumb to such cravings like a peasant girl rolling around in the hay with her laces half undone. Not Caroline Forbes!
Over dessert, the Countess turned her attentions on Caroline by bringing up her mother. They were acquaintances at one point. Caroline wasn't very surprised. Her mother had been a wealthy heiress, and before she had married, she had spent some time at court. In fact, Elizabeth Forbes had noble blood on the side of her mother.
"Elizabeth was a fine heiress. I imagine she hasn't left you with meager means… Do you have many siblings, Miss Forbes?"
Caroline might be new to society, but she was far from stupid. What the Countess was asking in essence was the size of her inheritance.
"It's only me. Of course, father's estate will be going to my eldest cousin, not me. But I'm my mother's sole inheritor."
"Lucky you." Rebekah sighed heavily. "I've got five brothers—er, I meant four. The eldest passed some time ago… Anyways, you're very fortunate, dearie. I would've very much liked to be my mother's lone inheritor. I suppose I shall have to settle for marrying well."
Four brothers? Caroline's heart sank, without her knowing exactly why. "Are your brothers all younger?"
"No, just one, Rik—Henrik. Mother looks well for her age, but she married at fifteen and…well, she and father were passionate."
The Countess scolded Rebekah for her boldness, which earned a petulant pout.
Caroline had cringed at the comment, the implications about the private life of the Countess—ick! But still, she thought it utterly unfair that Rebekah should be chastised for anything when Kol brandished such indiscretion, even now while he sat, adorning Miranda with near inappropriate attention. To Mr. Gilbert's continued frustrations.
But the matter of the four brothers nagged Caroline so she nudged the conversation back to its earlier course. "Lord Henrik, Lord Kol, Lord Klaus…and?"
"My eldest living brother, Elijah. He was the heir, and now that father has passed, he is the Count and has fully inherited his due."
Caroline ignored the fact that she was indeed disappointed. Why should she be? Klaus would never be the Count. He might not inherit lands to make him worthy enough to wed a wealthy heiress. But that was certainly none of Caroline's concern. Why should it be?
"But don't get any ideas, Caroline, dearie."
Caroline blinked, confused. "Ideas…?"
Rebakah laughed and craned her neck so she could share looks with Klaus, before turning back to Caroline. "I meant about my brother. About Elijah. He is married. Very happily married."
Caroline nodded, suddenly numb. "I have no ideas about anyone. And I'm happy for your brother. He sounds like a very important man."
"He is." Rebekah leaned him, lower her voice conspiratorially. "But, dearie, there are some ideas worth having. Ideas much closer. Perhaps to your left? You see? Our Nik is destined to be an even more important man than Elijah."
"How?" Caroline choked. She felt Klaus' eyes on her back, but didn't dare to turn. Perhaps he would note the disappointment on her face and mistake it for something it definitely wasn't.
Rebekah's eyes flickered from Caroline and behind her again, to Klaus. And right back to Caroline. "Our dear cousin, the Duke of Somerset, has always taken an interest in Nik—ever since he was a little boy. And as the Duke has no male relations of his own, he has long made our Nik the heir to his vast estates in the south. Can you imagine? My brother will one day become one of the five most influential men in all of England. I expect he will need a wealthy heiress by his side…"
Caroline's mouth worked soundlessly.
Rebekah couldn't be more obvious if she tried!
Thankfully, before Caroline had a chance to reply, Klaus spoke up. "Sister, you are overstep yourself. It's cruel to fill Miss Forbes pretty little head with fictitious hopes."
"Oh, Nik, don't be—"
But Rebekah's protests went unheard as Caroline whipped her head around, glaring furiously at Klaus, though managing enough control to keep mortified horror at a respectable volume. "Hopes? I have no hopes regarding—the one who oversteps is you, Your Grace. You make some unfortunate assumptions. Assumptions that couldn't be further from the truth."
Klaus bowed his head. "Apologies in that case, sweetheart."
"Please, I'd rather you refer to me formally, as Miss Forbes."
Klaus' lips curled at one end, but he made no protest.
Their little exchange, while kept hush, had attained the Countess' attention, who asked what their conversation pertained of.
"Marriage, mother." Klaus turned away from Caroline, to stare at the Countess. "I was just telling the lovely, Miss Forbes, about how I find the union as nothing but a garden seeded with betrayal and treachery. I've yet to see a faithful woman—I no longer believe she exists."
Caroline opened her mouth to object. To point out that the male sex was by the far the more, unruly and vulgar and—
"Niklaus, you are dismissed from table. You will leave now."
Klaus didn't argue, he merely did as told. When he was at the doors, the Countess said, "You will join us in the drawing rooms for tea. That is, unless you cannot be bothered to talk sensibly."
"Your Grace." He bowed his head.
But before he ducked out, he turned one last time and caught Caroline's eye. But not to smirk lecherously, as she'd have expected. Rather, he looked to be studying her...like she was a puzzle he meant to solve.
Later that evening, in the drawing rooms, Klaus sat with his tea, watching Caroline have a go at his mother's lyre. She had long, slender arms. Pretty and shapely, like everything about her. The music was sweet, sure. He so enjoyed it. But he missed her light flowery scent. Whenever she was close, it made him want to strip her and watch her soak in the scented waters of her bath...her perky breasts threatening to reveal themselves whenever she squirmed.
And just as he was thinking this, his eyes found her chest as it rose and fell with the strain of the task before her. He watched them unabashedly, waiting for her breasts to spring free from beneath the skimpy lace trim.
He would turn her into the wild beast she so desperately feared. All strung up on pleasure. Addicted to it. Screaming for it. It was a thought so delicious, he could almost taste it.
"You are studious. I assume you have a plan." Rebekah took the seat next to his, having gone to replenish her tea.
"I have many plans for her. So many things I will do to her delectable, little form. All soapy and wet..."
Rebekah laughed. "You like her."
"Yes, I thought that was established the moment I got a good look."
"No, I mean. You like her. Like you liked the first one."
The first country girl. Tatia.
Klaus winced. "There are enough treacherous whores in this room. No need for you to mention her, sister."
Rebekah blinked at the forcefulness of his retort. But she recovered quickly. "If you are so set on spewing misery all the time, Nik, you are sure to end up miserable."
Klaus had nothing to say to that. Instead he asked why. "Why do you suppose I like her as anything more than a conquest?"
"You were especially hostile at dinner. Fictitious hopes... Detrimental to your chase is it not?"
He met Rebekah's self-satisfied smirk with a sneer. "The more difficult the chase, sister, the more pleasurable its rewards. You would understand if you were a man."
"I understand fine. Perhaps, you are entertaining new methods. Or, perhaps, I'm right, and you are developing another infatuation. Though, I suppose given the outcome of the last—"
"I was a child. I didn't know anything of women then. I know them now...and my interests involving them are of a single nature. Believe me, sister, this country girl is not about to challenge that."
Rebekah merely sipped her tea. "With your luck, Nik, perhaps that would be for the better. For everyone."
Yes. It was for the better.
His eyes found Caroline again, and this time they locked onto her face. Country girls were such innocent inconsequential things. And soon enough, even those naive creatures became treacherous and cruel. Though, watching Caroline's satisfied little smile as her fingers worked tirelessly at the strings of the lyre, it was hard to imagine her ever turning cruel. She had the sweetness of a child, despite her sharp tongue. And her sharper wit. He would mourn her when she ceased to be the lovely rose she was in that moment.
Rebekah was staring at him, her eyes too knowing.
"Shall we make a wager?"
Note: I think so far this is still a T, but if anyone thinks it's more suited for M please let me know. :)