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Chapter 10 – THREE IS THE CHARM

Proberta had so wanted to join Brawn, travel out of the confines of the forest to the great Mossgrove estate. But alas, Brawn would not have it.

“You’re still too frail, my dear,” he said as he packed his leather satchel with the few items of clothing he required for the journey. He didn’t tell her that once there, he would be expected to don his royal attire and perform the duties of a rightful second born son, second heir.

Proberta pouted and sulked about, hoping her behavior would sway him. She busied herself with mindless chores staying mostly out of doors. For one thing, Smitty was still in the hut, waiting for his friend before traveling together back to the estate. She had no intention of raising suspicion about her brief encounter with Brawn’s best friend. There were no regrets, from either one of them she suspected, but nothing lingered between them either. It had been a fun afternoon fling. No more.

Soon the two men were ready to go. Brawn held Proberta close and nuzzled his face into her soft curls.

“I will miss you, my sweet, Proberta. Please take good care of yourself,” he said, breathing in her scent. “And don’t stray too far from the hut. You seem to be accident prone and I won’t be here to help you.” Smiling, Brawn pulled back to take a final look at her, keeping his hands firmly on her shoulders. Smitty’s eyes danced with delight at the sight of them together. Yet memories of her body, her easy arousal were still fresh in his mind. He was happy for his friend. Brawn had needed to meet a woman after the loss of the two things he held dearest in the world. But he wondered if Proberta was good enough for the honest, steadfast Brawn. Indeed, he didn’t get the sense Proberta was a bad person, but she certainly did not have the kind of faithfulness Brawn was looking for and had cherished. Smitty shook the thoughts from his mind. Time will tell, he thought. The two men reined their horses to the north and, with one final wave goodbye, were soon out of sight.

* * * * *

Days passed, then a week. Proberta had not expected Brawn to be gone such a long time without sending word. Finally one day, when she was out tending the blackberry bushes along the path beside the hut, a rider approached. From a distance it could have been Smitty, with the dust flying, and the horse and rider’s easy stride. But as he neared, Proberta realized he was much younger, not a man, a mere boy. With flaxen hair and gangly limbs, the young lad rode up confidently, dismounting as if he’d been born in the saddle. His baby face showed no sign of facial growth in his near future, nor had he the a layer of muscle upon his scrawny frame that established he was even close to maturity. Proberta couldn’t help wonder if this youthful fellow had been sent specifically to test her as a way to ensure she wouldn’t hop in the sack with the next rider who came her way. If this was true, there was no guessing which of the two men would want to test her. She had come to realize there was not a jealous bone in Brawn’s body.

“Allo, Ma’am,” the lad said, tipping his worn tweed cap. “I’m ‘ere to ‘scort you back ta da Mossgrove ‘state, orders a Master Mossgrove hisself.” The boy stood tall and proud that he had delivered the message as prompted. Proberta smiled, but also thought it was an opportune time to seek out more information.

“Thank you, young squire. Pray-tell, which Master Mossgrove has requested my presence?”

“Oh, well dat id be Master Mossy, Ma’am. ‘E’s da one who pines fer you M’Lady. I o’er ‘eard ‘im talking ‘bout you ta Master Mossgrove.” Suddenly he looked a bit confused himself. “Dat id be Master Philly Mossgrove to you, Ma’am.”

“Phillip, you mean?”

“Er, yeah. Philly’s what ‘e’s called mostly.”

“Yes, I see. And did Philly inquire after me? Did you ever hear him inquire after me?” Proberta tried to restrain herself from sounding desperate.

“Well, no Ma’am. Seein’ as ‘e and Mistress Mossgrove jes ‘ad the new babe an all. A wee girl. Seems ta be all ‘e talks ‘bout, now.” The boy wiped his nose on the scruffy sleeve of his shirt, looked around the place to take in his surroundings. Proberta stood speechless. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. A wife, a baby? What was she to think?

“Well then,” she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “I best prepare my things for travel.” She wanted to move, to get out of this place quickly. “Meanwhile, why don’t you come in. I have a nice bowl of rabbit stew in a pot by the hearth. It’s waiting just for you.” The boy’s eyes lit up. Proberta did well to muster strength, showing no outward evidence of her dismay. Inwardly, however, she was confused, wounded, and heartbroken.

“Oh, me. Dat’s me favorite, t’is. Rabbit stew.” He almost sang the words.

The boy loosely tethered his horse to the fence rail, allowing enough slack for the mare to graze on oats that grew wild and plentiful along the fence line in to the adjoining meadow. Once inside, the boy immediately removed his cap and ratty jacket and hung them both on the back of the kitchen chair, not quite able to reach the hooks by the door. Proberta dished out the hot stew that had been simmering in the cast iron pot for her evening meal. He ate heartily.

“So tell me boy, what’s your name?”

“Damon,” he said between mouthfuls.

“So, Damon, how does Mistress Mossgrove fare?”

“Oh, she be fine, Ma’am. ‘Ad her baby girl few months past. Sweet ‘lil thing too. Fair as da day itself. Dey call ‘er Margaret after Mistress’s mum.” He paused to take a large bite of rabbit. “Sure is good, Ma’am,” he said, nodding to his wooden bowl, slurping at the savory broth. “Master Philly, er, I mean Phillip ta you, Ma’am, ‘ad been out ‘ere in da forest da very day she was birt’in’. I know ‘cause I’s da one ‘ad ta ride out an get ‘im, bring ‘im ‘ome.” Again, the boy flushed with pride.

So that’s why Phillip left the compound so suddenly, Proberta thought. Yet she still couldn’t figure out why he had flirted so unabashedly with her when they had met? She knew it to be true, her memory never failed her. Her mind worked backwards trying to piece the puzzle together. Did Raven know about Phillip’s wife and the expected child, and was she trying to avert an affair between them? Was that why Raven behaved so oddly with her that morning months ago, the morning she ran off? Or was there something more? Proberta was perplexed. How could this be? How was it that Phillip was really married, a father, and how had she ended up with Phillip’s brother out here in the middle of the woods? It made no sense.

Proberta served Damon another scoop of stew and left him to eat while she packed her traveling clothes. When she had everything she needed for the journey, the two dresses she owned, modest as they were, her boar bristle hairbrush, clean undergarments, bone hair adornments, and a spare pair of worn leather boots, she sent Damon to the barn to groom and tack her horse. She stirred the coals in the fire to a white ash, put the screen up in case a stray spark should pop out and randomly ignite something while left unattended, quickly rinsed the dishes and stowed the stew in the larder, and then they were off.

The sun was nearly set by the time they reached the estate. liverymen greeted them on arrival and took their tired horses to their stalls. Proberta was whisked upstairs to an elegant room that was to be her bedroom during her stay. There was a steamy bath set behind a lace curtain, drawn and ready for her, and a lovely albeit demure dress laid out on the canopied bed. Along the wall near the bed was a Victorian dressing table hand carved out of birds eye maple, above it, an oval mirror. In the corner stood a tall mahogany French Armoire. There were no paintings on the walls. Instead, decorative stencils of ivy, cupids and doves bordered the crown molding in muted pastel colors.

Feeling quite at home, Proberta disrobed, letting her dirty clothing fall shamelessly to the polished marble floor. She hadn’t soaked in a tub since she had left the Hornbrook estate four months ago, so she luxuriated in the pure decadence of it, dipping her head underneath the hot soapy water, rubbing her hands over her silky skin. She wondered where Brawn could be, and hoped maybe he’d stop in to surprise her. She dreamed of his strong arms surrounding her soft, naked body and immediately felt excited. One hand reached down between her legs and she eagerly reached up her hips to meet it. The sensual feeling when her fingers entered was soothing and arousing at once. Her thoughts drifted to Phillip now, the day they had first met. Hot blood coursed through her, and suddenly she wanted him more than she realized. Her other hand reached up and found her erect nipple, then cupped and rubbed both of her full, round breasts. They felt exceptionally smooth and sensitive underneath the water. Thoughts of Brawn returned to the forefront of her mind. His ability to touch her in just the right places, his gentle kisses, yet forceful, animal-like lovemaking, made her coo aloud. He knew what she needed, what she wanted. Yet, she had never been with Phillip, so the fantasy of having sex with him drew her into a more heightened state of stimulation just for the sheer mystery. She knew she couldn’t have him so she wanted him all the more. Then there was Smitty. A passing fancy, yes, but remembering their spontaneous, lustful afternoon made her writhe and whimper. She wondered if maybe he could become one of her regular lovers.

Proberta’s daydreams toggled between sensual scenarios with Brawn, Phillip and Smitty. Moans were kept soft and low, but the feelings she was experiencing made her want to scream out in ecstasy. Water splashed out of the tub as her hips gyrated rhythmically with motion the growing arousal caused, her fingers drove in and out of her submersed wetness. Just as she was bearing down, delving her fingers deeper and deeper into her juicy temple to find her orgasm, the door to the bedroom opened and in walked Sarah, the chamber maid. Proberta withdrew and was left panting and wanting in the wavy tub, to later be satisfied by her lover, Brawn. Indeed, she would be very ready for him.

“Madam Proberta, you are expected down in the drawing room for cocktails. Shall I help you dress?”

Proberta rose, accepting the fresh cotton towel Sarah handed her. The handmaiden dressed Proberta in the lovely satin gown that had been laid out for her. She could not imagine where it had come from and how they managed to get her exact size. Nonetheless, it did the job. Sarah combed out and pinned Proberta’s hair into a beautiful up-do so that brown curls framed her oval face perfectly. Stray wisps licked delicately at her smooth thin neck, drawing the eye to a bright diamond pendant that hung demurely just above her cleavage. She felt like the old Proberta preparing for a grand meal at the Hornbrook estate.

As Sarah escorted her downstairs, Proberta felt so at home she wondered why she hadn’t missed this well appointed lifestyle more than she had. She thought how strange it was that she could slip so easily from one extreme to another, how each lifestyle she lived felt equally comfortable to her in its own mysterious way.

The Lord Mossgrove was in the drawing room when Proberta entered. His back was turned but she knew it was him. Phillip, she breathed.

“Proberta, my dearest, you look stunning. I see the gown fits like a glove.” Brawn came over from the corner of the room, a glass of sherry in his outstretched hand. “How was the ride? Was it terribly tiring?” He was dressed in regal finery from top to bottom; tall, black, well-polished leather boots overtop starched white trousers, a royal blue jacket with broad, gold lined collar and cuffs, with a double row of brass buttons down the breast. The red and blue cummerbund secured a long sword in its sheath. He looked a picture, and quite unlike the Brawn of the forest she made love to day in and day out. Even his beard was trimmed.

“Uh, no, Brawn. The journey was quite satisfactory, thank you,” Proberta answered. Then she lowered her voice to a whisper. “I didn’t know you were a member of the Royal Navy?” she said, giggling. “I’ve never seen you in this form before, Brawn. It’s quite startling. You look,” she paused. “You look…simply dashing.”

Just then, Phillip turned from the deep conversation he was having with Smitty and with one look at Proberta, his face paled to an ashen white.

“Philly, my good man, come meet the woman of my dreams, the love of my life.” Brawn reached out his arm to invite his elder brother to join them, which Phillip did, rather tentatively.

“Good evening, Madam Proberta,” Phillip bowed his head and kissed her hand. “So very pleased to meet you at last.” He looked at his brother. “Mossy has not stopped talking about you since his arrival, have you, Mossy?” He gave Brawn a playful nudge.

“Oh, come now, Phillip. There’s no need to mince words. Don’t deny we are friends, acquaintances at least. Brawn, or shall I say Mossy,” Proberta said, somewhat sharply. “Your brother and I met a few months ago when he was out riding near the compound. In fact, he was on a special visit there, weren’t you, Philly,” she nodded toward a red-faced Phillip. “Which I presume is part of the job of Viscount?” Proberta took a long sip of her sherry, savoring the flavor, and the moment. “In fact,” she went on. “I believe that was right around the time your wife was giving birth to your new baby daughter. Margaret is it?” She glared at him all knowingly. “I believe congratulations are in order.” Brawn glanced between Proberta and his brother, a miffed look on his face. Phillip stood frozen in place, his face a shiny crimson.

“Philly, why didn’t you say something. You never told me you two had met,” Brawn said, clearly intrigued. Phillip cleared his throat nervously.

“Actually, Mossy, I didn’t know it was her until now, after further inspection. I didn’t recognize Proberta to be the same woman I had met on the side of the road. Nearly ran over for that matter.” He laughed nervously.

“Further inspection?” she said.

“Well, you know what I mean. You know, we hardly spent enough time together for me to really remember you, and so much time has passed, so much has happened since then. Well, you know,” Phillip stammered.

“No, actually I don’t.” Proberta was livid.

“Now, now. There’s no need to argue.” Smitty entered the conversation, fresh faced and jovial having just polished off a glass of whiskey. He slapped his friend, Mossy, on the back, nodded to Phillip, and swept Proberta’s hand into his, planting a tender kiss on top. His eyes remained stuck on hers as he did so, causing the corners of her lips to curl up in pleasure. “The fact remains,” he went on. “Proberta is here, much to the delight of her Brawn. We are so pleased to have her, aren’t we gentlemen?”

“Who’s Brawn?” a bewildered Phillip asked.

“I am delighted you’re here, my dear,” said Brawn, reaching out to her. “I’m also anxious to return to the forest, but Mother is gravely ill, which is why I sent for you. I just couldn’t be another day without you. Another night without you would have been simply intolerable.” Brawn winked. Proberta blushed as she accepted another glass of sherry offered by the manservant. Perhaps she didn’t know what the future held, but she knew she had just had glorious sex with all three gentlemen upstairs in her steamy bathtub.

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