WARNING: Contains rude jokes
Lot, Bran, and Josef end up on a ‘date’
London – 1844
‘According to the paper Alistair Darlington fell from a window in a tragic accident,’ Josef said to the folded newspaper he was reading from.
I stirred sugar into my coffee, it was so bitter I didn’t know how Josef could drink it as it came. ‘How clumsy of him to fall out a window backwards.’
Josef smiled. ‘Throwing men twice your size out of windows, one day you’ll get in trouble.’
I sipped my coffee. ‘I am trouble. It’s why you like me.’
He chuckled and kissed me softly, much to the murmured disapproval of the coffee house. Kissing on the lips in public was outrageous, and we weren’t their idea of respectable to begin with. I curled my hand around the back of his head and deepened the kiss. He broke away, grinning, only because the small round table was in the way.
He sat back and tossed his paper on the table. ‘Display your strength like that and eventually the vampire council will take umbrage.’
I added more sugar to my coffee. ‘They can take whatever bridge they like.’
Josef grinned. ‘I find that far more arousing than I should.’
I shook my head. ‘You should read that agreement, they obviously didn’t.’
He tilted his head.
‘As long as you don’t violate the agreement I’m untouchable.’ I licked coffee from my tiny spoon. ‘See, they didn’t put any boundaries on my behaviour, only yours. Their presumption is the little lady would never cross the line.’
‘I don’t think the lady knows where the line is.’
I shrugged. ‘Someone less politic would say I’m no lady.’
‘I quite like my balls where they are, thank you.’
I slid him a look. ‘Me too.’
He folded his arms, leaned across the table and whispered, ‘You’re welcome to my balls whenever you want.’
I picked up the newspaper and unfolded it. ‘Be careful what you promise.’
He sat back, chuckling, and sipped his coffee
A moment of quiet passed over the coffee house when Bran came in and everyone assessed if they were about to be robbed. He didn’t notice, he didn’t even notice when I paid him attention unless I spanked his arse. He tucked his battered hat under his arm and nodded politely at the room, then went and got a cup of coffee from the counter.
When he squeezed passed me it was difficult to resist the urge to slap his arse with the newspaper I was pretending to read but I managed, I could save it for home.
He sat down on my other side, opened his bag and put a pie wrapped in cloth on the table. ‘I helped a woman with her pie tray and she gave me one. That was nice of her.’
I glanced him up at down from behind the newspaper, all tall and rugged in his frayed top hat and greatcoat. ‘Hmmm, “nice”.’
He frowned and nudged the pie toward me.
Josef leaned towards him. ‘Charlotte is saying she doesn’t think it was carrying a tray that got you a free pie.’
I folded the newspaper then broke a piece of crust off the pie and popped it in my mouth. ‘Charlotte is saying she thinks you’re very attractive.’
Bran blushed and looked at the table top, smiling.
I slapped his knee with the newspaper beneath the table. ‘I’m teasing. About why she gave you the pie, not how beautiful you are.’ I touched the newspaper to his thigh. ‘That’s no joking matter.’
Bran turned redder still, he was very good at blushing, and concentrated hard on drinking his coffee. The cup looked tiny in his long-fingered hands, like he was playing tea parties with Mary and Edward.
Josef tugged the newspaper from my hand. ‘Behave.’ He put the paper on the table with his coffee on top of it.
I pouted at him. He shook his head and I grinned.
‘You’re a wicked woman, Lot Maguire,’ he said.
I pushed my tongue against my cheek.
Bran spat coffee on the pie and coughed. ‘Sorry.’
I patted between his shoulders. ‘Alas, poor pie.’
Josef pulled out his silk handkerchief, reconsidered, and put the newspaper over the coffee pond.
‘So, did you get your shopping?’ I asked.
‘Oh.’ He set aside his coffee and rummaged in his bag. ‘A Bradshaw’s Railway Guide, some sun remedies for the children, and hats.’ He took out a small broad-brimmed hat out of his bag and put it on my head, it fit. ‘Don’t want the sun making them ill.’
I brushed loose strands of my hair away from my face to mask my smile. I suspected Bran had had been mulling on the idea of a family holiday for a long time, at the rate he was going he’d have a full itinerary before we left.
I tilted the hat. ‘Do you think it suits me?’
Bran frowned at the smoke stained ceiling. ‘Everything suits you.’
Josef waved his hand in an I’m-dubious manner.
‘I can still go off you, you know.’ I tossed the hat to him.
He snatched it. ‘But you won’t.’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure.’
He put the hat to his chest with a mock wounded expression.
Bran sighed and shook his head. ‘Bicker, bicker, bicker.’
Josef reached over and plonked the hat back on my head. ‘We’re keeping your life interesting.’
I bent towards Bran and whispered, ‘Very interesting.’
‘Just the way I like it.’ Bran kissed me gently. ‘I got a map as well.’ He got the map out and opened it part way then remembered the coffee pond and put it away again.
‘We don’t need a map, some of it’s my land,’ Josef said.
‘When was the last time you stayed there for more than a week?’ Bran asked
Josef gave the damp pie an intent look and mumbled, ‘Some time.’
‘The world has changed since sixty-six,’ I said and saluted him with my cup of coffee.
‘Sixty-six?’ Bran asked.
‘As in ten-sixty-six.’
Bran nodded, looking into the distance. ‘Even I wasn’t born then.’
I took a gulp of coffee. ‘Translation, you’re bloody old, Sef.’
‘I prefer…’ He tilted his head in a pose worthy of a portrait. ‘Experienced.’
‘Bran’s right though, things change.’
Josef sighed. ‘Christianity and sexual shame got boring quickly.’
Bran cleared his throat and sipped his coffee, he was both a former Catholic priest and very good at sexual shame.
‘I’m no history expert but I’m fairly sure women got it in the neck first, in that respect,’ I said.
Bran nodded, not taking his eyes off his cup.
‘I’m sure we will compensate you in any way we can.’ Josef pressed his tongue to his cheek.
‘You’re a wicked man, Josef Mathers.’ I shook my head.
‘You have no idea,’ Josef said.
Bran knocked his cup over and mumbled an apology as he bent to pick it up. He came back up and set the cup back on the table carefully.
‘Stepping back from the line,’ I said and squeezed his hand.
‘Sorry, Brandon.’ Josef pushed his half-full cup toward Bran.
Bran squared his shoulders, looked Josef straight in the eye, smirked and said, ‘Well, I’m not giving.’
‘Of all the rejections I’ve ever had, I think that was the harshest.’ Josef pretended to sniffle but it came out as an abrupt sniff.
I clapped and people looked over at us as if we were causing a ruckus, but the etiquette rules could be summed up as ‘never have fun’. ‘Not technically a rejection. More a negotiation.’
‘I haven’t got a chance,’ Josef said. ‘You’re better at it.’
I threw up my arms. ‘Victory.’
‘When you –‘
Bran cleared his throat, people were watching. ‘I think we’d better go.’ He got to his feet.
Josef and I looked at each other, then up at Bran, then back at each other. We nodded and got up. If Bran wasn’t comfortable it wasn’t fun.
I picked up his hat and handed it to him. ‘Where you lead we’ll follow, chuckaboo.’