WARNING: Contains violence and sexual references.

The Reaper goes on an adventure.

Nine Shillings and Victorian Mistress are also available on Wattpad.

Travelling By Coach

London – 1844

Mr Norton climbed into the carriage and sat back. ‘Jesus.’

I hit the top of the carriage and it jerked into motion. ‘Saint Nick and I’ve got a lump of coal with your name on it.’

He struck the top of the carriage with his cane. ‘Stop.’

‘Sorry, your regular driver is taking a nap.’ In a cupboard at Mr Norton’s club.

He lashed at me with his cane.

I caught it and yanked it from his hand. ‘That’s very ungallant, Mr Norton.’

He dived for the door.

I shoved him back and held him with the end of his cane pressed to his chest. ‘We’re going to have a talk, Mr Norton, or I can throw you from this carriage and we’ll see if your head cracks like an egg.’

He pushed at the cane with both hands but his strength was no match for mine.

‘Children, Mr Norton. If you put a child under a machine and you know what will happen that’s murder. Maim a child and put them on the street and that’s murder too.’ I bent forward without letting go of the cane. ‘And I know a thing or two about murder.’

‘If you were The Reaper I’d be dead.’

‘A lot of people test that theory.’ I pressed a little harder on the cane. ‘But I’m a charitable soul so I’m going to give you a second chance. You’re going to fix the safety in your factory and pay compensation, enough to keep them comfortable for the rest of their days.’

‘You’d bankrupt me.’

‘You didn’t wait to hear the “or”,’ I said. ‘There’s always an “or” when you make a deal with the devil.’

‘Or?’ he asked.

‘Pay compensation or I’ll put this cane through your chest.’

‘That’s not a choice.’

‘It’s a bit like the choice to go under a factory machine or starve, but faster. Though, that really depends how much you annoy me.’ I applied pressure and he hissed. ‘Option one means you’ll still be a shit but you’ll be a shiny shit. Option two, you’re a dead shit.’

He jerked to dislodge the cane and yowled as if I’d impaled him. For a man who told children to stop whining when machines ripped off their limbs he didn’t have a high tolerance for pain. Too many employers looked on their employees as objects to be used until they broke then thrown aside.

‘No,’ Norton said. ‘A little girl in a hood might scare cowards, but –‘

The wheel hit a hole. The end of the cane thudded against the back of the coach. He exhaled and slumped forward.

‘Ooopsie.’ I pulled the cane out and looked at the bloody end. ‘God must be feeling vengeful today.’ I opened the door, shoved him out, and tossed the cane after him. Someone could make a fortune from his corpse, his clothes were worth more than most would see in a lifetime.

I climbed out onto the side of the carriage, shut the door and hauled myself onto the driver’s seat beside Josef.

‘He got your point in the end,’ he said, working some magic with the reigns to make the horses do what he wanted, I didn’t know anything about horses, the only riding I did was Bran.

‘Do I have to listen to you pun for eternity?’ I asked, eyeing the horses.

‘Oh, come on, you love a little wordplay.’

I gave him a side-long look and he grinned.

‘If you’re going to play with words perhaps leave it at “she’s incredible” next time. Rather than imply you masturbate to the sound of Bran and I fucking,’ I said.

His expression went rigid.

‘If I recall someone once mentioned I have a beautiful brain, would’ve been nice.’ I looked straight at him. ‘You’ve single-handedly demolished the sex life we were rebuilding. Thank you.’

He made a show of adjusting the reigns.

‘God knows how you two stayed friends for so long,’ I muttered.

‘It’s not entirely fair to say we can’t have banter in front of Bran,’ he shot back.

‘I will banter, flirt, whatever you want to call it, in front of Bran. The point is that you crossed Bran’s comfort line and we need to go at his pace, not expect him to catch up with us.’

Josef opened his mouth then hung his head.

‘You’ve put a lot of thought into my comfort, Josef, and I appreciate that,’ I said, a little more calmly. ‘But we need to consider Bran’s too or this isn’t going to work.’

‘I suppose I’m too used to talking about separate people not the same person,’ he said.

‘Bran talks about sex with you?’ The carriage bumped over something and I grabbed the edge of the seat, I didn’t fancy testing if my head would crack like an egg.

‘If you want tips you ask a master lover.’

I laughed. ‘And there I was thinking you were a masturbator.’

He spluttered and hunched over with laughter. ‘I think we were missing you all along.’

‘I’m assuming this isn’t a vagina issue,’ I said.

The road narrowed and I could’ve reached out and touched the buildings without straightening my arm.

He chuckled. ‘No.’

‘Then I shall take it as romantic rather than slightly sad.’ I pulled an exaggerated sad face.

Josef laughed. ‘If I’d been Bran you would’ve told me it was sweet and romantic.’

We came out into a square with a grassy patch circled by railings. Josef slowed the horses as we approached Mr Norton’s house and stopped before we got there.

‘If you wanted someone to tell you that you were sweet and romantic you wouldn’t be interested in me,’ I observed, tracing a finger along his muscular hand.

He watched the progress of my finger. ‘That is true.’

I leaned towards him. ‘I know you want my sharp tongue.’

He looked at me, breath warm against my lips. ‘I do.’

My lips touched his then I pulled away. ‘Sit around kissing here and we’ll get caught.’ I jumped down off the carriage.

He stayed, eyes closed, and I remembered thinking what long eye lashes he had when we first met, I hadn’t realised at the time how they softened his face. He opened his eyes and dropped to the ground to untether the horses.

I stepped close and touched the small of his back. ‘I trust you, Josef,’ I whispered. ‘I trust you to do your best, and that’s all I want.’

He frowned at me.

‘You’ve got a big soft heart.’ I put my hand over his heart. ‘You hide it from most but you let me see and now you’re waiting to get stabbed in it because that’s what always happens.’

His heart beat fast against my palm. ‘How do you know these things?’

‘Finding weaknesses is what I do, Sef,’ I said, caressing his chest with my thumb. ‘Yours are safe with me, I promise.’

He stared at me.

‘I’ll keep you as safe as Bran,’ I said. ‘Speaking of which,’ I slapped his chest lightly, ‘maybe consider doing something nice for him.’

‘Such as?’ He tied the reins of one horse to the railings.

‘If I told you it wouldn’t be you doing something nice.’

The second horse huffed at me as if it agreed with Josef that I wasn’t playing fair.

Josef patted its neck. ‘Can’t we keep them? They’re good horses.’

‘I thought I was the only good ride you wanted.’

He caught me with his arms loose around my waist.

I shoved him away with no effort. ‘Finish with your horses, they might get jealous.’

He grinned his beautiful annoying grin. ‘Or you might.’

I saluted with two fingers. ‘Keep wishing, soldier.’

‘Oh, I will.’

I laughed.

Read more episodes of Nine Shillings or read Lot’s first adventure Victorian Mistress on the Weekly Serial page.

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