This is a choice-abridged version of the first story from my collection Northern Dandy, forthcoming from Sapiosexual Press.
I wonder if I can make #RidingLesson start trending…
Bustle and Flow: A Multiple-Choice Bodice-Ripper
by Zach Bartlett
You are a strapping young butler named Reginald Thickstrut, employed in a large manor house around whichever time period Downton Abbey takes place in. Hell if I know anything about that show.
You awake in the scullery one morning after having hid there to nurse a sore tailbone earned during your hasty exit from the Duchess’ chambers the previous evening. The fact that you have woken up assures you both that the Duke remains unaware of his wife’s ongoing tryst, and that the kitchen staff probably have the hots for you as well since they didn’t alert him to the fact that you were hiding there taking liberties with a bottle of cooking sherry.
While fixing your hair, collar, tie, cufflinks, lapel, pocket square, buttoniere, tie pin, and cumberbundt using your reflection in a polished serving tray, you notice that Bettina the maid is sneaking a glance at you from the pantry door.
“See anything you like, madam?” you say, cocking your eye while she’s eyeing your… serving tray, which she plucks from the counter before you.
“Good to see you’ve recuperated,” she says over her shoulder in a trashily-alluring cockney accent that I won’t even try to reproduce here. She sets the tray on the kitchen counter and begins to assemble the Duke’s typical breakfast, which you notice happens to include blood sausage.
To make a suggestive comment about the food to Bettina, turn to page 2.
To respect her personal boundaries, turn to page 70.
You approach Bettina from behind, sliding your hands around her petite waist.
“Good to see you know how to handl-”
“None ‘a yer gimcrackery, Thickstrut!” she says, turning and slapping you across the face with the cold sausage. “I’ve no time for rogering you in the stables. The Duke’s on a tear this morning, bellowing orders to everyone, all upset over that ghost what’s still haunting the family bedrooms.”
“Ah yes,” you say, suppressing a smile, “the ‘ghost.'”
“His wife held another seance last night trying to get rid of it. It raised an awful protest like it always does, moaning and rhythmically slamming the furniture. She’d told him she’s not to be interrupted during the proceedings, but the Duke was so worried that he just had to barge in and make sure she didn’t come to harm. He’d forced the door open just in time to see the ghost’s sheet disappear out the open window.”
You rub your lower back, remembering the event quite well.
“Maybe if she would just hire that red-headed medium to help them–ahem–her out more often…”
“Don’t play coy with me; everybody but the Duke himself is on to what you and that monied strumpet are up to. Rolling around with the butler on the side, how trite.” She slips out of your grasp with a hmph and takes the breakfast tray into the hallway.
To grab a feather duster and start butling, turn to page 67.
To grab a feather duster and chase Bettina trying to tickle her, turn to page 3.
You grab a feather duster and head out into the hallway, where you see Bettina carrying the breakfast tray into the main dining hall. You hurry down the hallway holding the feather duster suggestively in front of you at hip level as you round the corner. This has its desired effect of surprising Bettina. It also surprises the Duke seated at the dining table, upon whom she spills a glass of orange juice while trying to muffle her laughter.
The Duke orders you to clean the stable as punishment for your flagrant disregard for his furniture and clothing. Fortunately, you happen to know that the Dutchess’ daily riding lesson is scheduled to take place within the hour.
After you’ve spent twenty minutes pushing the same small pile of hay around the stable to look busy, the Duchess enters.
“M’lady,” you say, leaning on your rake in a way that allows your shirt to fall open a bit.
“Reginald,” she gasps, “what are you doing here?”
“I know it’s not one of my usual haunts,” you say, approaching her and sliding a hand up between her third and fourth underskirt.
“But Reginald, the instructor will be here any moment.”
It has been a while since you’ve taken two women at once!
To unhand her, you cad, turn to page 75.
To continue handing her, turn to page 4.
You slide your other hand between her first and second underskirts.
“Well there’s plenty of hay to roll in if she’d want-”
“Yeah, that’s the thing,” she backs away from your embrace as the riding instructor happens to enter through the door just behind her. As he does so, he reaches out and slaps her firmly on the ass.
That’s not what you were expecting.
“Ready to show off your riding skills, m’lady?” the instructor growls into her ear before casting an eye in your direction. “Did you order us stable service?”
“Woman, you’d dare cheat on me?” you say, aghast at her secondary infidelity.
The duchess crosses her arms and rolls her eyes. “Oh no, you poor cuckold.”
The instructor steps up and prods you in the chest with his riding crop.
“Now see here you reprobate, I’ve been shagging her on the sly for four months. How about you?”
To answer “two months,” turn to page 90.
To answer “five months,” turn to page 5.
“Five months,” you say, puffing out your chest.
“Two, actually,” says the Duchess.
“Aha!” shouts the instructor. “I’d laid claim to her while you were still playing grab-ass with that cockney maid!”
“You may have claimed it first, but I’ve claimed it better!” you retort.
“Nobody’s ‘claimed’ me,” begins the Duchess, “I’ve freely chosen to enga-” but her protest is lost beneath you and the instructor’s boastful voices.
“My nights with her are the talk of the manor,” you continue, “nobody even knows that you’ve been dangling your carrot at her down here in the stables.”
“That’s it then,” the instructor shouts, “I challenge you to a duel, tonight, using two of the Duke’s favorite dueling pistols behind his back.” He turns to the Duchess. “Care to judge, m’lady?”
“You two are children. I’m done here.”
With that, she turns on her heels and leaves.
You and the instructor are left in shock, both unsure of what to do next.
“You don’t suppose she’ll come running back soon, all grief-stricken and teary-eyed, do you?” he asks.
“No, probably not,” you say.
He glances around the empty stable for a moment.
“Well, I’ve got an hour to kill. You wouldn’t happen to fancy… ahem… a riding lesson, would you?”
To fancy a riding lesson, turn to page 6.
To turn down his… y’know, he did have a kind of animal magnetism about him when he was angry back there, all heated up… yeah, no, you’re turning to page 6.