WARNING: This is a Charlotte story so beware adult content.
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London – 1838
The flare of sunlight singed the back of my eyelids. I raised my hand against the glare and opened my eyes. Mrs Stapleton, Bran’s housekeeper, was throwing open the curtains that covered the two large windows, unfortunately on the side of the room I was facing.
‘Wicked slattern,’ she muttered, as if I couldn’t hear.
I rubbed my eyes. ‘Morning, Mrs Stapleton.’
Bran’s side of the bed was empty but his pocket watch was still on the bedside table so he hadn’t gone far.
‘Shameful behaviour,’ she continued, as usual pretending to ignore me. I wasn’t going to hold it against her, she thought I’d seduced and debauched her employer for his money and she was completely right. While I had to wonder what she’d make of it if she knew I’d turned down seven hundred guineas I wasn’t going to tell her. I quite enjoyed her rantings.
I made sure the sheet was tucked under my arms but still held it in place when I sat up. ‘Where’s Bran?’ I asked, settling against the headboard.
‘Speaking to a friend,’ she said, though her tone implied she wasn’t much impressed with that friend.
It surprised me I hadn’t known Bran had any friends, unless you counted people at his gentleman’s club, which I didn’t because their ‘pet paddy’ seemed to be the butt of their jokes.
I reached across and checked the time on Bran’s watch. Ten in the morning, excessively late for me as I still tended to run on workhouse time but we’d been out to the early hours at a party. I couldn’t see the point of society parties, like the opera it all seemed to be about seeing and being seen, perhaps my former occupation had set my mind against that one. A successful thief didn’t go around being seen unless they wanted to swing from the gibbet.
‘Will you be wanting breakfast, Miss?’ Mrs Stapleton asked, picking clothes up off the floor.
I clicked the watch shut and put it down. ‘I can fend for myself.’ Just in case she got funny ideas about poisoning me.
‘As you will, Miss,’ she replied and left with the bundle of laundry. I couldn’t get used to someone else picking up my mess, it seemed unnatural.
Sheet wrapped around me I got out of bed I went out into the hallway and across into the opposite bedroom. All the rooms in Bran’s house were fairly similar, if it wasn’t for the beds in the bedrooms you’d be hard pushed to say which rooms were libraries and which ones weren’t. The house was full of dark wood bookcases with leaves carved into them and filled with books of every kind, from little leather bound volumes to large tomes drawn by monks.
I stood at the window and looked at the street. Horses and carts clopped by, people hurried to and fro across the cobbles, there was a boy selling newspapers on the corner but he was too far away to tell what he was shouting. The previous week there’d been a fiddler on the street, the well-heeled residents must’ve clubbed together to get rid of him, or he moved on as I seemed to be the only one who gave him any money. This part of town was quiet, street sellers and musicians didn’t come this way often as far as I could tell. After the bustle at the heart of the city sometimes it seemed too quiet for me.
I’d been perched there some minutes watching people go to-and-fro when the front door opened and a man stepped out onto the street, he wasn’t particularly tall but he was bulky and his jaw was so squared it could’ve been used as a an anvil. He turned back towards the house, waved and blew me a kiss. I simply stared back. He grinned and walked away.
The man had disappeared down the street and around the corner before Bran came to the door. There was a bruise darkening under his eye.
I got off my perch on the window seat. ‘What happened to you?’
He touched the spot on his cheekbone. ‘Banged it last night. Clumsy.’
I reached up and caressed my fingers over it, I felt him wince but he covered it well. ‘Why’d he hit you?’
‘He didn’t.’ He smiled faintly. ‘I told you, I was clumsy.’
I grasped his chin lightly, drew his face down and kissed his bruise, lingering longer than necessary. ‘There you go, I kissed it better.’
Bran tilted his head and kissed me back then seemed to decide if he picked me up and put me on the bed for kisses and cuddles I’d forget about it. I let him have that, and would’ve let him have more, he’d obviously had a bad start to the day.
If he wanted me to think his visitor hadn’t hit him I’d go along with it for the time being, but it was foolish of him to think I’d let it alone.
I never forgot anything.