All quotes in italics are lifted from Chapter 20 of Georgette Heyer's novel Cotillion. Everything else however are ramblings of my very own.
"My felicitations, Freddy. I'll serve you trick-and-tie for that leveller one of these days."
Freddy stretched his elegantly clad legs out in front of him, as he leaned back more comfortably into the padded seats of the chaise. The gentle rocking of the vehicle had long since sent his fellow passenger into a peaceful sleep; curled up next to him with her head resting against his shoulder.
Shifting his arm ever so slightly so as not to wake Kitty, Freddy began to study the large purple bruise that spread like a rash across the knuckles of his right hand. As he traced the delicate skin, revelling in the slight sting it caused, his thoughts drifted back to the events of only a few hours before when everything had finally changed…
As he eased his long limbed frame in through the low doorway of Hugh's abode, Freddy found that he was entering upon one of the most extraordinary scenes he'd ever witnessed. Worthy of a place in a Cheltenham Tragedy, he looked on with amusement as the Honorable Lord Dolphinton, with a degree of trepidation, began to climb out of a corner cupboard; coaxed by a stoic young lady, who Freddy was yet to be acquainted with. Standing to one side and trying to maintain a degree of dignity, Hugh looked on loftily, though slightly spoilt the image by the way his mouth was continuingly twitching in his bid to hide his utter bemusement. Finally, leaning nonchalantly against the fireplace, stood Jack glowering silently to himself and surveying all with his perfected look of utter disdain. Yet Freddy had only a few moments to enjoy the scene, as his attention soon became riveted by the large brown eyes of Miss Kitty Charing, who had rushed up to him on his entrance and was now occupied with gazing up at him in a particularly endearing manner.
"Oh, how glad I am to see you", she cried thankfully. "We are in such a dreadful fix, and I don't know what to do!"
Freddy's heart skipped a little at such naïve faith in his ability to solve problems. People didn't tend to come to him for reassurance, being far more likely to dismiss him offhand as a feckless dandy with concern for little but the arrangement of his own neck-cloth.
Tulips weren't known for concerning themselves in other peoples problems.
Yet here he was defying them all, proving them wrong and taking command of a tangled situation. If he was to be perfectly honest with himself he felt that he had coped with surprising dexterity a situation which only a few months ago would have had him fleeing for the hills. A change really had come over him lately and he was becoming increasingly more aware by the day that he had Kitty to thank for such a transformation. He doubted somehow that he would have ever found himself in a similar situation in which he would find himself helping to instigate not one, but two clandestine elopements, had it not been for Kitty dragging him into her ridiculous scheme to teach Jack a lesson all those months ago.
Of course he had known for a while the real reason Kitty had persuaded him into a false engagement. Yet he also found that he couldn't bring himself to be angry with her, as in an odd way her scheme to make Jack jealous had linked her to him as a fellow kindred spirit; equally lost to Jack and his hypnotic charms. Freddy knew that whatever was within his power, he would protect Kitty from Jack before he could do her any serious harm.
Yet in the last few weeks Freddy had noticed that a slight change had occurred in Kitty's expression when she was around Jack. What once would have been looks of doe-eyed adoration (though only when she didn't think he was watching), had now become something slightly more veiled and contemplative, as if she were in a state of confusion of what to think any more. Jack had grown too complacent about Kitty's devotion to himself. It would have never occurred to his selfish heart that by revealing some of his more libertine tendencies to Kitty, he was in-fact jeopardising the hold he had over her. In the last month he had most certainly been showing some of the worst traits of his character, particularly through his dealings with Meg and that Olivia chit. As far as Jack was concerned, Kitty would always be there waiting in the wings for him; ready to be plucked when the prospect of marriage amused him. He did not particularly want Kitty (he was far too selfish) but he had marked her as his own; a puppet to be claimed when the mood arose.
After years of adoring Jack, determinedly ignoring his many faults, Kitty was finally beginning to see through his constructed façade, as all the charm fell away to reveal the man beneath in all his selfish, heartless glory. Freddy smiled to himself as he looked into Kitty's eyes, feeling a glimmer of hope spring from the naivety of Jack's actions.
Jack was pure venom; a destroyer of lives. What did it matter that Freddy felt his chest tighten every time he saw him; all that mattered was that he fought Jack's spell as hard as he could, as, to be honest, it would be the death of him if things continued as they were. And he didn't just mean the forbidden act, it was more the fact that Freddy could no longer face loving someone who had little concern for anyone or anything but himself. Jack would always just take and take and then cast you aside.
Freddy was determined: today was when it ended.
"Thought very likely you would be," said Freddy. "Not sure, mind you, but I'd a strong notion you'd forgot to buy the special licence".
Kitty looked up at him with sparkling eyes.
"Freddy, you have not brought one?"
The look on her sweet little face when he had assured her that he had indeed brought a special licence, made the blessed farce of an escapade worth all the hassle. She then took him slightly by surprise by pressing his hand to her cheek while looking up at him with eyes swimming and whispered:
"Oh, Freddy, I might have known you would come to our rescue!"
Freddy smiled down at her, pleased with her gesture.
Their pleasant reverie was broken however by an unnaturally loud metallic snap from the corner of the room. Freddy's eyes rose from the gentle brown ones of Kitty's to look into eyes of stormy blue that pierced him with cold calculation. The only evidence of how angry Jack really was, was how he seemed to be gripping his snuff box with unnecessary force, that his fists had turned white from the effort.
Now this was getting interesting…
Luckily and to nobodies surprise, the uncomfortable atmosphere was swiftly broken by the fluting voice of Lord Dolphinton who now properly emerged from the cupboard proceeded, oblivious to the tension, to twitter about his liking for Freddy in his own inevitable fashion. Freddy met all this with his usual infallible calm, grateful to his cousin for breaking any chance for Jack to brood. No one had the ability to suppress pretension like Lord Dolphinton, without even realising he was doing so.
Freddy's attention was brought back to Kitty when he felt a slight tug on the skirts of his coat, issuing a slight protest in response.
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" Kitty said. "But how in the world did you guess that I had forgot the licence?"
Freddy had never been one to gain pleasure in triumphing over others but in this particular instance, what he was about to say would bring Jack his just deserves. As he explained about the special licence he couldn't help slipping in an extra line about the Olivia chit who would hopefully now be on her way to France. He contemplated making it his career to save people from Jack's clutches, as he was getting rather good at it.
If only he was capable of saving himself.
"Meant to have been here with it sooner, but the thing was I got detained. Had to buy the Broughty girl a toothbrush."
As he explained what he meant by such an unusual statement, Freddy couldn't help but watch Jack's reaction to the news that his little ladybird had flown of her own accord, with Freddy's help. An alien emotion of sadistic glee began to well up inside Freddy; revelling in being the one in control of the puppet strings for a change. All his longing and frustration welled up into a cold rage against the man he had loved so passionately but had treated him as nothing more than a disposable plaything.
"You have – you will agree! – a trifle of explaining to do!"
Every word dripped venom from Jack's perfectly curved lips, which had now reverted to an ugly sneer, that disfigured his perfect features. Revealing the true monster beneath, Freddy mused to himself.
"Not to you, Jack!" said Freddy, meeting his eyes fair and square.
There was much meaning behind this simple statement, as well Jack knew. Freddy realised that this was the closest he would ever come to saying that he refused to be Jack's puppet anymore. He owed Jack nothing and though his mind still returned far too often to that week at Arnside all those years ago, it was something that could only ever remain a memory.
Freddy handed the special licence to Hugh, who took it, still wearing the same bemused expression he had worn when Freddy had entered the room. Two elopements in one day was more than enough for anyone to cope with.
Kitty drew a breath. "Then – then everything is settled! Oh, Freddy, it is all your doing!"
Kitty, eyes shining, proceeded to tell him all about the unexpected engagement between The Fish and Uncle Matthew; insisting that she felt it was the most excellent scheme.
On the whole Freddy was inclined to agree with her, as it made a lot of sense as a natural progression. Also it tied rather nicely into his own scheme which he had been contemplating for the last few weeks.
Unfortunately however, it appeared that Jack was also aware of his plan:
"Well Freddy?" said Mr Westruther. "Do you think it excellent, or does some grain of commonsense exist in your mind?"
"Not my affair", said Freddy. "At least – come to think of it, not sure if it isn't, in which case I do think it's an excellent thing. What I mean is, I don't want that woman living with us, and if she marries my great-uncle she dashed well can't."
Miss Charing's cheeks became flooded with colour. "But, Freddy - ! she faltered.
Freddy realised that it wasn't one of the most romantic of proposals, though to be perfectly honest they weren't one of the most romantic of couples. They had been drawn together more by accident than anything else. If Kitty had never come to him with her ridiculous scheme, everything would have happened so much differently and he would have still been living in the past, hoping for something that could never happen. It was even possible that Kitty would be married to Jack by now; without realising the true nature of the monster she had married.
Fate really was a funny thing.
Mr Westruther laughed. "Just so my love! You have left your own future out of account, have you not? It has been an amusing game, my little one, and you must not think that I blame you for having played it. It was very unhandsome of me not to have come to Arnside that day, was it not?"
Freddy's pulse began racing swiftly, fully aware of what Jack's game was. Now that Kitty, his puppet, was being claimed by another he finally felt that the time had come to claim his property once and for all. Freddy also had the feeling that Jack was doing this out of malice, punishing Freddy for his work in letting the Broughty girl slip through his fingers, by taking Kitty away from him instead.
Though Jack hadn't counted on a change of heart from Kitty.
Jack, laughing with his most angelic smile on his lips, walked towards Kitty with his hands held out to her, as if he were offering her the holygrail. Such was Jack's conceit that he didn't falter for second when Kitty took a step back from him with a look of confusion.
"I collect that you mean to ask me to marry you" said Kitty, "but – but I beg you will not! Pray, Jack, say no more!"
"Oh nonsense Kitty, nonsense!" Mr Westruther said impatiently." This folly has gone far enough!"
For an experienced seducer, Jack was being particularly blind at the moment, unable to see the truth staring out of Kitty's innocent brown eyes. Freddy felt proud of her for her bravery. She was saying what he had always wished to say but had never had the courage to put into words.
"Indeed, Jack, I am excessively fond of you, and I daresay I shall always be, in spite of knowing that you are quite odiously selfish, but, if you will not be very much offended, I would much prefer not to be married to you!"
Jack's smile changed from a soft endearing curve to a hard line in the blink of an eye. All the anger and resentment he had been carefully concealing welled up into a red hot rage, as the reality of what he had just heard had finally began to pierce his vain core. For Kitty to reject him, Jack's only logical conclusion was that she must be a scheming little madam trying to secure the most eligible husband.
This would be Jack's greatest mistake: where he could have walked away with his dignity intact, he had instead laid the last stone that would send his kingdom toppling.
"You had indeed set your heart on a title and a great position, and so you laid the cleverest trap for Freddy that I have ever been privileged to see! You cunning little jade!"
Freddy didn't even need to think, as he found his fist colliding with the side of Jack's face; sending him sprawling to the ground in a most undignified heap.
With one punch Jack's puppets had tore loose their strings and rebelled. With one punch Freddy had bought all his bitterness, longing and anger to the surface and literally smashed it to the ground. The sting in his hand made his body aware of what he had just done, yet his mind remained in a state of disorder as he tried to process what he had just done.
There was no going back from this moment…
Freddy leaned his head back and sighed, screwing up his eyes as if to block out his own memories. Could one action really create such conflicting emotions of relief and pain at the same time? He was finally free from Jack's strings but he also knew that he'd never be able to completely forget the past.
Jack was not someone who you easily forgot.
Freddy looked down at Kitty's sweet innocent face, unconcerned by thoughts of betrayal and lust. He began to stroke her hair absentmindedly; feeling a sense of calm begin to sweep over him from the process. He did truly love Kitty and knew that in marriage they could have every chance of finding happiness together. But he also knew that the love he felt for her would never meet the fiery, all consuming passion he'd felt for Jack.
Freddy smiled a twisted smile. Passion was one thing but a strong, caring companionship would last far longer once the fire had burnt out.
Passion would have to remain where it had always been for Freddy: confined to forbidden dreams of a hot summer night all those years ago.