Author’s Note: this chapter if for Melly, who had written expressing her disappointment that my bad guys’ histories weren’t covered in my story lines. So, just for kicks, I added this part to make her grin.

Reining in the Belle, part 8

Tauch growled softly to herself and pushed aside the reports her aunt had provided. The papers covered the basic information that had been gathered about Grasen's family and connections. They were as she thought; a small House with few powerful friends but the few they held had great influence. Grasen's House was fairly quiet and didn’t go out of their way to make enemies. It was considered an honorable family although not a great one. Few families would scorn a connection to them. So why didn’t Belle formalize their union?

Kospa’s niece could only shake her head in confusion. Their family had come so close to gaining the power associated with the Queen. The Counselors had approached her aunt prior to Tashalia’s 28th natal day to propose a joining between them. Their ambitions were on the verge of paying off when the alien woman snatched their hopes away. For years Tauch had heard the grumbling among her kin.  She grew up knowing how much her family resented the alien and her influence in their society although they kept this strictly within their own. The populous of C’helan favored the union because of the approval of the religious leaders and would look at anyone who publicly denounced their joining. As long as her family kept their thoughts to themselves they were safe.

They had nearly lost that after the fool Daz had attempted to murder Lona and Belle when she herself was an infant. Tauch had been a toddler then and had no memory of those times. After Daz’s death they had been quick to turn on the unfortunate household, publicly condemning Daz for her cowardly actions. It had been just enough to keep their standings among the Nobles. They had built their connections carefully after that. She had made the only stumble to that goal.

 Tauch flushed in embarrassment. The elders of her family had been appalled when she had stabbed that girl last year. They didn’t want to hear her excuses as to why she had done it. They had been too busy placing bribes and doing their best to cover up the mess she had made. The only person who had asked had been a cousin who had tried to understand.

The girl had resented Tauch’s win that day at the competitions and Tauch, who felt cocky, had gloated about her accomplishment. Tauch’s mind went back to that day.

“I wouldn’t gloat about that victory, Tauch,” she had snarled. “I was a few paces behind the two of you and I saw how you cheated to win. So much for the ‘honorable’ House of Tharl,” H’sa mocked.

“You saw nothing of the sort. You are merely jealous of my abilities and strength. You are just angry I defeated your friend.”

The girl had laughed without humor then her eyes gleamed with maliciousness.

“Go ahead, gloat this year. Next year you will do nothing but lose to the Queen’s daughter. I hear she’s damned good.”

Tauch held her tongue to a point but the taunt had hit home. “Her strength is from her consort parent. It could hardly be a fair comparison.”

H’sa had grinned. “Yes, she does get her strength from Consort Lona. Too bad your aunt had let Tashalia slip through her fingers. Belle could have been your cousin who earned honor for your House. Instead, you have to resign yourself to losing to her over and over next year. I can’t wait to see you wallowing in the dirt like some common bisht, with her standing above you in victory. I’ll be in the stands cheering her on and enjoying every moment of your defeat.”

All Tauch’s life she had been compared to Belle, and felt the unfairness of it. She had been an infant, barely older than Belle herself had been when her aunt’s friend Daz had tried to murder them. How was this her fault? From childhood to this moment it had always eluded her, the reason she had been the focal point of failure in her family. Nothing she could have done as a baby could have caused the trouble. Unfortunately, as most victims rarely understood, that sometimes individuals or groups of people found a scapegoat for their woes. Tauch had been the family’s whipping girl. It had been unfair and cruel, true, but there was little she could do to change the pattern as things stood. Now this bitch was once more reminding her that Belle, the darling of the Nobles, would once more show her how small she was in comparison.

Tauch didn’t remember much, her anger and humiliation at her words, spoken in front of her friends, had been the final insult. She didn’t remember pulling the knife from her hip sheath but she did retain how it felt when slamming it deep into H’sa’s back, feeling it strike bone. The warmth of blood had covered her hand in sticky satisfaction. Never again would her words make her feel small.

The present reasserted itself and Kospa’s niece shook her head. The elders had urged her to form an alliance with Belle for the sake of the family, but Tauch wanted it for her own sake. If she could somehow replace Grasen in Belle's life then she would have the satisfaction of becoming the Head of the House. It would be she who would be sought out for favors. No longer would she be considered the least among them. With Belle as her mate she would be the second most powerful person on Ch’ela. All that was needed was to eliminate Grasen without the finger of guilt pointed her way. Somehow, she would find a way.

* * * *

“I don’t know how mother does it year after year. I’m exhausted and all I did was sit and watch,” Belle complained as she plopped onto the couch next to Grasen. She had spent the afternoon in the Great Hall listening to petitions brought before her mother. It was part of her training to learn how things are run.

“Aww, poor baby,” Grasen teased, kissing Belle's cheek. Her lover pouted and the hazel-eyed young woman chuckled at the expression. She crawled over Belle's lap and faced her, placing her hands each side of her head and leaning down to kiss her softly. “Better?”

Belle grinned and pulled her down for another sweet kiss. “Yup, much better.”

Grasen noticed the naughty look in the larger woman’s eyes. “Oh no you don’t! They are about to serve dinner and I won’t get teased again like last time.”

“You’re no fun,” she pouted, leaning forward and nibbling on her consort’s collarbone. “Just a quickie to hold us until bedtime.”

Grasen took Belle's chin in her palm and made her lean back, stopping her from nibbling further. She felt a draft and wondered how Belle managed to unbutton her shirt without her noticing. She began refastening the buttons and glared at her lover who shrugged with a wolfish smirk.

“Go wash up and we’ll head downstairs. I have a feeling we’re going to need all the nourishment we can get by the look in your eyes. I’m glad there isn’t any classes tomorrow because I won’t be in any condition to attend.”

Belle snorted, “Like you haven’t left me walking funny a few times? I couldn’t join the wrestling practice that day because every time my practice partner grabbed me between the legs to flip me I went crazy. I didn’t know I could turn that color of red until everyone teased me after practice.”

Grasen couldn’t contain her mirth any longer and broke out with a belly laugh. Belle smacked her bottom with a pout. “Fine, be that way. Let’s get some dinner. I’ll get my revenge later,’ she promised with a voice so husky that Grasen's knees nearly buckled.

I am in so much trouble,' she thought to herself.

·        * * *

“That was a good match Mistress Belle,” Tauch offered her arm in congratulations and walked away.

Belle's teammate lifted a brow and stared at the retreating woman. “I wonder what drugs she’s on. She’s been nice to everyone for weeks. I don’t understand it.”

The next queen wondered as well. The bully had done a complete turnaround of late. She no longer tried to intimidate people or begin fights. She had been quiet and thoughtful of her studies and her grades had steadily climbed higher. She was actually behaving pleasantly with others. Belle was beginning to wonder if they somehow found a good twin and switched them. It was just too weird. She didn’t see the smirk on Tauch’s lips as she walked away.

She had a goal now. For too many years she merely floundered and suffered silently at her family’s abuse. It was her lack of a goal that had gotten in her way all these years. She needed to prove herself worthy of being considered as Belle's mate before getting Grasen out of the way. Although thumping other students gave her a lot of satisfaction it did nothing more than present the view of her as a hot-tempered bitch who was probably capable of anything. She wanted that impression eliminated. She didn’t want to be the first person sought out in an investigation.

It might take years to undo the damage to her reputation but it would be worth it in the end. Belle would be hers.

* * * *

“You can’t be serious!” Grasen said to her lover. “School is out for the summer months and you plan on working? Don’t you train with your mother during the school break?”

“Yes, but not for that many hours. I like my summer job at the plant. It’s the only time I’m cool and not heat sick,” she explained. Belle felt sympathy for her consort because she would alone for much of the day and lonely. Perhaps she could spend time with Lonny while she writes. Brittany had summer sports she joined and wouldn’t be around. Grasen would probably be bored much of the time.

“I think Lonnie would be happy to have you as company during the summer,” she suggested. She knew her parent was fond of Grasen.

Grasen smiled weakly. “But she isn’t you,” she whined softly and moved into her lover’s arms for a cuddle hug. Belle wrapped her arms around her and tried to offer her comfort.

“Think of my job this way, love. I won’t be heat sick so I’ll have energy to spend on you rather than too ill to give you any attention,” she offered.

Hazel eyes popped open. “You mean when you get overheated you have no sex drive?” That put a whole new light on the matter. She wouldn’t want to go the entire hot season without making love with Belle.

“Okay, I can accept you being absent during the daytime, but night times are mine!” she demanded. Belle grinned because she knew how Grasen would react to that piece of information. The next queen knew she would pleasantly exhausted most of the summer but that was okay, she could take it.

To be continued...