WARNING: Some sexual references.

Lot and Bran have a serious talk about where their relationship is heading and meet some mud monsters.

Nine Shillings and Victorian Mistress are also available on Wattpad.

Sabotage and Stubbornness

London – 1844

I should’ve apologised for getting frustrated at Bran but Mary and Edward came to get into bed with us before my frustration cooled. I worked my way through my morning appointments worrying about Bran’s anxiety festering. I visited Atticus to invite him to take tea with us one day, pretending I was there to see if he’d found anything new on our murderer. I drank tea with the wealthy ladies of Lady Arton’s acquaintance, listening to the latest gossip about Widow Merryborn’s social circle. By the time luncheon arrived I excused myself from further social engagements to recover from a headache.

When I got home Bran was trying to get Edward to put on a coat. There were two problems with this; Edward didn’t want to let go of his wooden wolf, Rawr, and he’d decided his little red mittens made the perfect monster puppets to nip Bran’s face.

‘Rawr, rawr,’ Edward said, pinching Bran’s nose. ‘Munch, munch.’

Bran’s laughter sparked in his eyes and lit his face. The tightness in my stomach eased.

‘Muma, I had nap now I’m a wolf,’ Edward shouted, snapping a mitten clad hand at me.

‘I’ll munch you, little fella,’ I said, tickling him.

He squealed in delight, hugged my neck, and blew a slobbery raspberry on my cheek. It made him giggle so he did it again, giving my cheek a liberal coating of spit. ‘Ooopsie.’ He wiped dribble across my face with his mitten.

‘Are you washing my face?’ I asked.

He giggled and blew another raspberry.

‘Don’t you want to play outside?’ Bran asked, rescuing me from further spittle.

‘Want to,’ Edward said, tugging at my curls to make them bounce.

‘Shall we put your coat on then?’

‘Wolves don’t need coats.’ He scowled at Bran. ‘Got fur. S’right, Mummy?’

‘Your Pappy wears a coat.’

‘Papa not a wolf.’

‘Shall we put your magic fur on then?’ Bran asked. ‘Magic fur will keep you warm, won’t it?’

Edward considered this, sucking Rawr’s nose as he did. ‘Magic fur!’ He put out one arm and I managed to persuade him to let me hold Rawr so he could get his other arm in the sleeve.

Bran fastened the buttons then picked Edward up. ‘Shall we go see what games Mary and Merry are playing with Miss Ronni?’

‘Play with Mary,’ Edward sang as Bran carried him through the house.

I went to Bran’s study and poured two whiskeys from the drinks cabinet.

Bran reappeared with mud splattered on his face, I could’ve point it out but he looked good dirty.

‘They’re making mud monsters,’ he said and sat down in his favourite armchair without looking at me. ‘Veronica is joining in, perhaps she wasn’t a bad idea.’

‘Probably doing all the things she didn’t get to do as a child. I can appreciate that.’ I offered him a glass but he didn’t take it. ‘I’m not angry.’

‘You’d have every right to be,’ he said, frowning at his knees.

I put the glasses on a table beside the chair and I sighed. ‘Your problem, chuckaboo, is you have the patent on self-sabotage.’ I straddled his lap. ‘Lucky for you I’m stubborn.’

He raised his gaze to mine and settled his hands on my thighs. ‘I was… I was struck by this sense that I wasn’t good enough. Josef would hear and know he’s better. Then I realised how ridiculous that was because he’d been able to hear all along but it was too late I was frozen there like a fool.’

‘You’re not a fool.’ I rested my forehead against his. ‘I never knew love and kindness, I trusted no-one, and nowhere was safe,’ I whispered. ‘Then I met a man who is all love and kindness, I trust him with every part of me, and I’m always safe with him.’

He twisted my wedding band on my finger. ‘You don’t need me to protect you.’

‘No, but I need you to protect yourself.’ I put my hand over his heart. ‘This is the most vulnerable part of me.’

He looked away, eyes rimmed red. ‘I do want this to work. It’s just…’ He shook his head.

‘You can’t get over the feeling you’re competing with Josef. I can’t get over the feeling I’m betraying you.’ I shrugged. ‘Nobody expects us to magically figure this out overnight, Bran.’

He smiled and nuzzled my nose. ‘I’ll follow your lead.’

I gave him a look.

‘I trust you,’ he said. ‘I know you won’t push me further than I’m comfortable with but I might pull you back, unintentionally.’

‘You’d think after a few centuries you’d know yourself better.’ I caressed his nose. ‘You’re always safe with me, Brandon.’ I kissed him. ‘And don’t worry about Josef, I’ll give him a talking to.’

‘I’ve not doubt.’

Edward wailed in the distance then Mary joined in.

‘There’s too many pieces of my heart running about these days.’ I kissed his nose. ‘Clean up your face and I’ll go rescue our little cubs.’ I slid off his lap.

I met two muddy children and a muddy Miss Ronni in the kitchen. She had Edward on her hip and Mary by the hand.

‘Muma, I hurt my finger,’ Edward wailed and stuck his hand out to me.

‘Me too,’ Mary cried and did the same.

I inspected their uninjured hands and gave their hurt fingers kisses. I was already dead, a bit of mud wasn’t going to do me any harm.

I took Edward from Veronica, he settled down to grumbling sobs, and I crouched down and lifted Mary up with my other arm. ‘And what have you two been doing to hurt yourselves? Were the mud monsters fighting back?’

They nodded.

Veronica dried their faces with two handkerchiefs she appeared to pull from nowhere then made a vague gesture at the door. ‘I should probably go and keep an eye on Merry.’ She retreated as if I might be angry the children were dirty.

‘Bring her in for biscuits,’ I said.

‘Biscuits!’ Mary shouted too close to my sensitive ears and clapped, finger injury forgot.

‘Muma dirty,’ Edward said, wiping dirt on my face, I had to wonder where his mittens had gone. ‘Want moon bikits,’ he added, he couldn’t say macaroons.

‘We’d better wash our hands then. Remember, Mrs Stapleton always tells us to wash our hands before meals, doesn’t she?’ She included me with the children in that suggestion, the first time we’d met she said I needed a bath and didn’t seem to have changed her opinion in seven years.

Bran came in and lifted Mary off my hip. ‘Have you two been playing with mud or taking a bath in it?’

‘You can’t take a bath in mud, silly Pappy,’ Mary said. ‘Babby is messy.’

‘No, no,’ Edward said. ‘Not me.’ He flexed his fingers, frowning at his hands. ‘Mits-mits. Want mit-mits.’ He stared crying again. ‘Where mit-mits, Muma?’

I rocked him back and forth. ‘Your Pappy’s a detective, he’ll find them. The mystery of the missing mit-mits.’

Edward looked at Bran with big wet eyes and a trembling lip. Poor Bran stood no chance.

‘I’ll help,’ Mary shouted.

It took half an hour for Bran, with the help of Mary carrying a magnifying glass, to sniff out Edward’s mittens buried near the mud monsters. Edward didn’t settle down until he had a little bowl of water to splash about in ‘cleaning’ them. Much like he’d ‘helped’ me knit them by sitting on my lap and ‘knitting’ me toy called Woolly the Fluffylump who lived on the bedside cabinet and kept the monsters away.

My wool basket had never recovered from his knitting adventure.

Read more episodes of Nine Shillings here. Or read Lot’s first adventure Victorian Mistress here.


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