Kit Redford’s Christmas
This bonus prequel scene for Restored, which comes out on 28th October 2020, is set a few months before Restored begins.
Cradling the glass bowl of a brandy snifter in his right hand, Kit Redford settled himself more deeply into his favourite armchair, and contemplated the glowing embers in the fireplace. He still wore his evening clothes—Redford’s had closed less an hour ago—but as late as it was, he did not feel tired.
The house was very still, very quiet. On the mantel over the fireplace, a carriage clock ticked, each metallic snick of the filigree hands behind the glass absurdly loud in the silent room.
Hardly surprising it was so quiet. The house was practically empty. Clara had left for Margate yesterday with little Peter, and now Tom was gone too, though in his case, he hadn’t gone very far. Only to see his mother and younger sisters in St. Giles.
Lifting the snifter, Kit absently took a sip. The spirit trickled a heated path down his gullet, its deep, mellow flavour blooming on his tongue. Ordinarily, he’d have relished such fine brandy, but he wasn’t enjoying it tonight. Perhaps he was unsettled by the silence.
Or perhaps by its being nearly Christmas.
Kit did not enjoy Christmas. Too many memories, some happy, and some very much not. And too much time to think about them. Redford’s would be closed for the next few days, town being so quiet at this time of year. The familiar sights and sounds and smells of the festive season didn’t help. Whenever Kit came across the aroma of roasting chestnuts, he was transported back to that one Christmas with Henry.
That Christmas—just one, during the heady, foolish year he’d spent under Henry’s protection—had been painfully wonderful. Of course, back then, he’d fancied himself in love and, like an idiot, he’d even thought Henry might feel the same way.
As if a man like Henry, a duke for God’s sake, could love a whore.
Looking back, Kit cringed at his own naïveté. Henry had paid Kit for the use of his body. Nothing more, nothing less. He hadn’t even paid the agreed price in the end—presumably, he hadn’t thought Kit worth the bargain. And yet, that brief Christmas they’d spent together… Kit may have been deluded, but he’d been happy. Truly happy.
He still vividly remembered Henry arriving at the little house in Paddington Green late on Christmas Eve. He’d stayed till the early hours of Christmas Day. They’d roasted chestnuts on the fire in the parlour in a little copper pan, splitting open the searingly hot skins and scooping out the sweet fragrant flesh.
It had snowed that night—no more than a light powdering that hadn’t even lasted till morning—but when Kit had let Henry out, it had been to find fat, feathery flakes drifting gently down from the heavens. Charmed, Kit had tiptoed outside in his bare feet and lifted his face to the sky, letting the delicate clumps fall, then melt, against his cheeks and lips. As he’d stood there, mesmerised, Henry had slid his arms about Kit’s waist and pulled him back against his chest. And when Kit had turned in Henry’s arms, ready to scold him, Henry had stolen a kiss. For a moment, their lips had clung sweetly, right there on the dark street, where anyone passing could have seen them.
It was lowering that, even now, not far off twenty years later, Kit still remembered every particular of that moment. The warmth and strength of Henry’s arms, the soft brush of his mouth, the freezing ground under Kit’s bare feet.
Kit could never have imagined that the next Christmas would be so very different.
The following year had started well enough—Kit had been blissfully happy all the way through the spring and early summer, but in July of that year, Henry’s visits had abruptly stopped. And soon after, Kit had been given his marching orders.
God, but he’d been devastated. He’d thought, like a perfect fool, that he didn’t care if he lived or died. But by the time the next Christmas came around, he was able to test that theory—and discovered that, in fact, he did very much want to live.
He spent that Christmas Eve lying on the floor of the apartments that had by then become a prison, half-unconscious with broken ribs and fingers, and an endless dissonant ringing in his left ear from the final, awful blow his “protector” had landed. Left for dead, Kit had somehow managed to live, stumbling down to the kitchens to leave by the back door and make his way back to the Golden Lily.
Kit closed his eyes against those memories—and against the other, even worse memories of that night, suppressing the wave of nausea that assailed him as he recollected the pain and shame that had been heaped upon him. The humiliation of being forced to beg for mercy, and of doing so, almost desperately, only to have his pleas denied. Now, two decades later, it was those memories—far more than those of his physical injuries—that tormented him. Of having to remember how thoroughly his pride had been shredded. Of how he’d been forced to acknowledge his own craven fear and weakness.
A sudden snap brought Kit back to himself. His eyes—which he realised had been tightly shut—opened and he looked down to see that he’d broken the snifter, his tight grip snapping the delicate glass stem quite in two. By some miracle, he hadn’t cut himself. He shook his head, as though to rid it of the images that had just been tormenting him and dragged in a few deep breaths, pushing back memories that still prowled the perimeter of his mind.
Shakily, Kit got to his feet and crossed the room to the sideboard, setting down the pieces of the broken snifter and getting out another. He reached for the decanter and this time, the measure of brandy he poured himself was double the size. When he tossed the spirit to the back of his throat, he relished the desperate burn of it, tasting nothing.
On the mantel, the clock ticked on, the hands moving relentlessly, patiently onwards.
Time marched ever onward. That was the pity of it, but it was a comfort too. These were always his darkest hours—the early hours of Christmas morning while the rest of the world slept. But soon it would be dawn, and the day itself would be easier. He’d been invited by Jean-Jacques to dine with the Mercier family—always a happy and bustling occasion—and he’d told Mabel he’d visit her in the evening to play cards and drink sherry and gossip about the old days. They might stay up all night, as they used to. Perhaps, by the time he went to bed, he’d be exhausted enough to sleep dreamlessly.
And then Christmas would be over again, for another year.
Tom would come back in a day or two, then Clara and little Peter would follow in the new year. The ordinary rhythm of his days would resume again, and the memories would be, if not entirely set aside, at least easier to ignore.
But for now, one memory still lingered. It was not of being beaten or shamed though. It was of Henry. Henry’s face, above his own, looking down at him. Henry’s mouth half-hitched into a lopsided smile, his grey eyes filled with tender affection. Dark hair ruffled from their bed-play and dusted with flakes of whisper-soft snow. And behind him, the sky, wide and very black. Infinite and unknowing.
Just the two of them in all the world.
Just Henry’s lips.
Strangely, the memory of Kit’s foolish happiness in that moment, near twenty years before, was almost more painful than all the injuries he’d sustained the following Christmas. Painful, yet after all these years, still oddly sweet. Still… precious.
Both the best and the worst memory of all his life.
Kit wondered if Henry ever remembered that long-ago Christmas. If he even remembered Kit now.
He smiled sadly to himself.