WARNING: Charlotte’s innuendos get literary.
Charlotte gives Bran a gift.
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London – 1839
Emily and Elizabeth Ellington’s idea of a shopping trip seemed to consist of me watching them spend vast quantities of money while spending very little myself. It was a relief to get home until I saw Bran sitting at the desk in his study with his head in his hands. Not that his study looked any different from the library, except that it had a desk rather than tables.
I put the parcels down by the door and crossed to him. ‘Bran?’ I asked and reached to touch his shoulder.
He shied away, inhaled sharply and raised his head. There was blood on his hands and he wiped away the traces around his eyes with his fingertips. ‘Are you going to laugh about this too?’ he asked with a resigned calm that unsettled me.
‘Is that where you’ve been going by yourself?’
‘Going where?’ It wasn’t often I got confused but I was mystified. ‘What’re you talking about, Bran?’ I made to touch him again but he brushed my hand away.
‘Your… friend came to see me.’
‘I don’t have any friends. Except you.’ Unless you counted Father Brennan and I was doing a fair job with the Ellingtons.
‘I’m not your friend. I’m the man that pays… That…’ He picked up the book that was on the desk, got to his feet and crossed to the nearest bookcase, which wasn’t where that book went.
I stayed by the desk. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about at all. What’s happened?’
‘Don’t lie to me.’ He laughed. ‘What am I saying? I pay you to lie to me. Paying you to lie with me and lie to me… there’s a joke there and I’m the only one who didn’t get it.’ He hit the bookcase and shelf splintered, if the books beneath hadn’t been supporting it the contents would’ve spilled. ‘I should’ve listened to Josef,’ he muttered, his Irish accent stronger than I’d ever heard it before.
‘Perhaps if you explain to me exactly what’s happened then we can settle this,’ I said, wondering if Bran felt so odd when he played the voice of reason.
He jammed the book into the broken bookshelf. ‘That man of yours. That Aubrey. He came to see me and…’ Finally he looked at me. ‘I know you said but I never thought you enjoyed it, not really but… but I never thought you’d tell someone and laugh at me. I thought… I thought you were kind. I thought you liked me, just a little.’
‘I do like you, Bran,’ I said quietly, fingers tightening on the edge of the desk. I was going to find Aubrey and they’d be fishing bits of him out of The Thames until the end of days. ‘I like you a lot.’
He swiped the back of his hand over his eyes. ‘No, you don’t. Nobody does. I’m… I’m nothing.’
‘You’re not nothing, Bran.’ I stepped closer like he was a wild horse that might bolt. ‘Aubrey’s a con artist, Bran. He came in here and read you and told you the story that would hurt you the most. Because you’re hurting you can’t see that if it was true he’d have no motive to tell you.’
‘If it’s not true how d’you know what he told me?’
‘Because I know Aubrey.’ I stepped close but didn’t touch Bran. ‘Aubrey wanted to own me, Bran. He thinks you stole me away but I was never his to be stolen. It’s been a long time since I needed Aubrey.’ I rested a hand against Bran’s back. ‘But I need my chuckaboo.’
‘You need the money I pay you,’ he murmured and rubbed his eyes. ‘I’m not used to anyone.’
‘I need you because I want you.’ I pressed close and wrapped my arms around his waist. ‘I’ve never wanted anyone, but I want you.’
He turned in my arms to look at me. ‘And why would you want me?’
I glanced down. ‘Do you really want me to say? You won’t get embarrassed will you?’
He chuckled half-heatedly.
I clasped his hands. ‘Come over here, I brought you a present and I want to see you open it. I’ve never brought a present before.’ Though Bran had brought me many; books, dresses, flowers. I didn’t see the point of cutting perfectly good flowers but I did what I was supposed to and pressed one of the roses anyway which had pleased him.
‘Now?’ he murmured.
‘I mean an actual present.’ I rummaged around in my bundle and pulled out a little box wrapped in brown paper and string. ‘See?’
‘You brought me a present?’ he asked, taking the little package.
I didn’t ask why, I could guess he didn’t think himself worthy of the effort.
He untied the string, carefully unwrapped the paper and opened the box. He stared at the contents.
‘Let’s not break this one,’ I said.
He took out the smooth lump of amber, bubbles frozen in its centre. ‘You’re wonderful.’
‘I know, but let’s not be telling everyone.’ I took the paperweight from him, put it on a shelf a safe distance away and pulled him into a kiss. ‘Fancy breaking the rules?’ I murmured. ‘It’ll make you feel better.’
He looked towards the door. He had a strict no more than once a night and not during the day rule.
‘It’ll make me feel better,’ I added, unbuttoning his waistcoat. ‘I might be upset that you’d think I’d choose a shit like Aubrey over you.’
‘He’s young and handsome and –‘
‘Very good at what he does. Conning people, that is.’ I slid my hand down his stomach and caressed his balls through his trousers. ‘I feel like Aladdin rubbing the magic lamp. Do I get three wishes?’
He looked towards the ceiling, flushing red, his lips pressed firmly together.
‘Oh, look, there’s the spout.’
‘Actually, it’s a nozzle,’ he said, then turned a deeper shade of red.
I laughed and pulled him into a kiss.
He looked towards the door again then lifted me up. I laughed and kissed him. He whispered in Irish to me, perhaps not realising in his lust addled brain that he’d read me enough Irish poetry for me to recognise that he was saying he loved me.