Charlotte learns a secret.
London – 1840
Mary was staring up at Josef with her mouth open while Merry hid behind Bran’s legs and sucking Patches’ ear. Millie was out with Mrs Stapleton doing whatever it was they did when they went out. Staying away from alleys, hopefully.
‘Do you spend too much time in the sun?’ Mary asked.
Bran and I exchanged a look.
Josef crouched down to Mary’s level. ‘I was born in a different country, not everyone is as pale as you English people.’
She considered this for a moment, her face scrunched up. ‘Is it sunny?’
‘Carthage was very sunny and very hot.’
She nodded. ‘Pappy said Mummy had abastard skin and she said she was sun-prived ‘cause in Ireland it rains aaaalllll the time. But she doesn’t talk funny like Pappy. You talk a bit funny, but it’s different funny. Is that Carti… Cartha… caterpillar?’
I pinched the bridge of my nose.
Josef was grinning so wide I had no idea how he wasn’t laughing. ‘I’ve been all over the world,’ he whispered. ‘I speak all sorts of different languages.’
‘Do you like ginger biscuits?’ she said. ‘I like biscuits.’
‘Who doesn’t?’ he asked.
‘Will you tell me stories and eat ginger biscuits with me?’ she asked
‘I like you.’ She hurried over to Merry, grabbed her arm and tugged her across the room. ‘We need to get the biscuits so Mr ‘Sef will tell us stories.’
‘Get Nora to reach them for you,’ I called after them.
When they were gone Josef straightened. ‘I didn’t know you they were related to you.’
‘What?’ I shifted forward on the couch.
Josef looked at me. Then he looked at Bran. Then back to me.
‘I see,’ he said.
‘You see?’ I replied and looked at Bran who looked away.
‘I misspoke. English isn’t my first language,’ Josef said.
Josef never misspoke. Unless you counted when he was being an arsehole.
I thought of Mary and her red hair and that of all the children Ellington had brought to work in his factory Father Brennan had saved these three. I thought of the fact Father Brennan was my brother, dark haired but that didn’t mean it wasn’t possible that he was red-headed Mary’s father. It should’ve occurred to me sooner that my brother was a hypocritical bastard who’d been lecturing me on my sexual indecency for years.
As far as I knew Bran didn’t know I had a brother but knew I’d never had children, he’d had a damn good look. He must’ve known the whole time the children had been living with us and never said a word. As far as Bran knew the children’s father had died, he wasn’t to know that man wasn’t my brother.
I grabbed the nearest reading table and flipped it over, spraying books across the floor. ‘That hypocritical bastard. I’ll bloody kill him.’
‘Well, there’s a resounding statement of familial affection.’ Josef chuckled.
I picked up the nearest book and threw it at him.
He snatched it out of the air and set it on the window ledge.
‘Smug bastard,’ I muttered.
‘I thought you were lovely before but you’re beautiful in your rage,’ he said. ‘Stop wincing, Brandon, she’s not angry at you. That’s years of resent boiling over, if I’m not mistaken.’
I’d been so absorbed in my fury I hadn’t noticed Bran jam himself into the corner made by two bookcases.
I took a deep breath. ‘Don’t talk about me as if I’m not here, Josef,’ I muttered and threw myself down into Bran’s favourite chair by the fire.
‘I thought you didn’t want to talk about it because their father, your brother, died,’ Bran said quietly.
‘He’s not dead,’ I said. ‘He’ll bloody well wish he was when I get hold of him.’
‘Bran told me a priest rescued them, he thought the priest did it for love of you…’ Josef said.
I glared at him.
‘Your confessor…’ Bran turned an impressive red. ‘He’s your bother?’
‘We share parents.’ My knuckles tightened on the arms of the chair until they popped audibly.
‘A liar complaining about lying, so oft the case.’ Josef grinned.
I strode out and slammed the door behind me. I headed for the front door then paused. The last time I went out in a fury looking for trouble I got myself stabbed, not something I cared to repeat. Instead I went to Bran’s study, and slammed that door for good measure.
A few minutes later I was pacing back and forth when Bran opened the door just enough for him to squeeze in, then locked it and leaned against it.
‘You’re angry I didn’t tell you,’ he said, gaze fixed on the floor.
I stopped pacing. ‘No.’
‘Mary and Meredith are his,’ Bran said. ‘Millie has a different father.’
‘The husband, presumably.’ I sighed, stepped close to Bran and wrapped my arms around him. ‘Brennan shouldn’t have been casting those stones.’
He hesitated then hugged me back.
I felt so much calmer just pressing my face to his chest and inhaling the old book and warm whiskey scent of him. My hand slipped downwards.
He caught my wrist.
‘Worth a try,’ I murmured. ‘I suppose I’m going to have to talk to him.’
‘Do you want me to come with you?’ he asked.
‘No, but you could oblige me by being in the bedroom when I get home though I’m torn between naked and having just enough clothes on that I watch you get naked.’ I smiled. ‘We might have enough time before the children appear for me to have a little peek.’
I tugged at his shirt but stopped when he put his hand over mine.
I chuckled. ‘I’ll just have to take advantage of the perfect memory of mine.’
He didn’t reply, perhaps worried that Josef would hear. I supposed Josef could hear everything we said, not that it bothered me.
‘Can I stay here a little longer?’ I murmured. ‘It’s probably best if I don’t go and talk to Brennan when I want to punch him in the face.’
The way he squeezed me seemed to say, ‘Stay, please.’
I tilted my head to look at him and said, ‘Sure you don’t fancy a fuck?’ I held up my finger and thumb. ‘Just a little one?’
He smiled wearily and shook his head.
Sadly tomorrow there will be no publishing schedule because…
It’s the beginning of Jesse’s Studio’s FICTION FRENZY 14 back-to-back episodes of Victorian Mistress between 4th June and 17th June 2017.
An episode everyday for 2 weeks. Enjoy!