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Authors: Freya North


BOOK: Rumours
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For Daddy

… to misquote Bobby – thank you for holding steady my ladder to the stars, for teaching me how to be righteous and true, for helping me to stand upright, to feel strong and to be courageous.

Thanks to you, my heart's joyful – and it's your song I'll always sing.

Table of Contents

March 1790

Lord Frederick Makepeace William Fortescue, Earl of Barbary, ran his hands over the undulations of Molly's naked body, admiring the sight and relishing in the silky feel of her much as he did his favourite horse, Jepson. It gave him enormous pleasure, not in a carnal way, but for the sense of ownership. He loved to gaze, to feel, to assess what he had before he rode – either horse or woman – the delicious anticipation of how the external beauty brought with it the promise of such sublime physical rewards. He bucked into Molly hard, much as Jepson bucked after jumping a stile. Excited, he rode her energetically to the finish.

‘My dear,' he said, ‘though I would spend all afternoon with you, Lady Fortescue is shortly to return from Bath – and it would not do for your mistress to find you in my bed.' He slapped Molly's bottom and resisted the temptation to call it a fine rump. ‘Out,' he laughed, letting his hand linger and wander, before he gave her another hearty wallop which made her giggle lasciviously and climb aboard again. ‘Off!' he said. ‘Away!'

Molly gave him a reproachful look that was as beguiling as it was coy. ‘As you ask, My Lord,' she said, emphasizing the ‘Lord' in such a way that it warranted a further slap on her buttocks. He watched her dress. She was turned away from him – not from any shyness, but actually because after the act itself she no longer wanted to see his corpulent body sprawled inelegantly wasted. She felt that fornication, especially of the illicit type, was rather like gorging oneself when starving hungry. Once sated, the very sight of leftovers was repellent. Lord Fortescue didn't know this, of course. He thought it was a charming reversion of Molly from strumpet to servant; from a writhing, panting horny filly – unbridled, dirty and insatiable – to humble and reverent and back in her place. He wasn't aware how the extra coins he gave her provided her with both the last laugh
her growing independence and emancipation.

‘I shall call for you,' he said in a low growl.

‘I shall come,' she said, all meek, just the way she knew he liked.

‘Molly Molly Molly,' he marvelled. She gave a demure little curtsey. ‘A little something for your – exertion, a reward for your excellent fulfilment of all tasks set.' He nodded at the occasional chair, draped with hastily strewn clothing. ‘Pocket,' he said softly. She slipped her hand into the pocket of his breeches as if unsure what she might find and feigned surprise and delight at the lace handkerchief knotted on its bundle of coins.

‘Why, thank you, Lord Fortescue,' she said, as if payment was an unexpected bonus.

He winked. ‘Be off now. I will ring down in a while and ask Mrs Fulford to send someone up to make the room afresh.'

‘– because you had one of your funny turns –'

‘That's my girl,' said Lord Fortescue. ‘Away with you now. Shoo!'

Molly paused by the door. He was a good master. Her working conditions and remuneration were above par compared with other maids she knew. And, actually, the extras he sought and paid for honourably didn't offend her. He was rather good at it. And preferable to the fat fingers and clumsy cock of Lord Aldbury who'd had her before her move to the Fortescue household.

‘Lord Fortescue, sir,' she said. She turned. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, his stomach like a plump pink pillow partially concealing the instrument of his adultery. ‘It's just –'

He waited. ‘Just what?'

‘Something I heard,' she said.

He raised an eyebrow for her to continue.

‘Probably just tittle-tattle. But my sister – she lives in Long Dansbury. And there's all sorts of rumours in the village – so she says – about that new house you are building.'

‘Oh, yes?'

‘Yes,' said Molly. ‘And there's rumours, too, here in Knightsbridge – amongst the staff. About positions to be lost, or country pay being lower than London. And country ways, sir – being, well, unsavoury.'

Whoever gossips to you, gossips about you
, Lord Fortescue mused as he looked at Molly. ‘Bugger Knightsbridge,' he said, ‘but I am interested in what the villagers are saying out there. From a philanthropic point of view, of course.'

Molly shrugged. ‘Just about the house you're building.'

‘The house?'

‘The style – some say it's too modern. Too big. Ugly, even. Others say that you'll be chopping down all the forests to feed the fires just to heat the place.'

‘I see.'

‘And that the barley fields will be turned fallow. And that you'll do cattle not sheep. And that the villagers won't get the jobs – us London staff will. But us London staff won't want to go all the way out there if we're not on Knightsbridge wages.'

Lord Fortescue was enjoying all this. And he could see Molly wasn't done.

‘And there's more.' She reddened yet glanced at him lasciviously. ‘They say none of the men will let their wives or daughters work for you – on account of your
.' She licked her lips, as if he'd whetted hers.

‘Away with you, Molly,' Lord Fortescue laughed. And when she was gone, he rubbed his hands and his cock and his belly gleefully. ‘Idiots! All of them! Hertfordshire is the new Knightsbridge – and those who choose not to come with me are fools. Longbridge Hall will put the village of Long Dansbury on the map – geographically and architecturally. I fully intend to touch the lives of the villagers in ways they'll never forget!'

Chapter One

Stella knew there was a private car park at Elmfield Estates, and that a space would have been reserved for her little Fiat, but she pulled into a side street some way off and stopped the car. Adrenalin ate away at her, like lemon juice on teeth enamel; the same fresh but sour sensation, excitement and dread churning into an audible curdle in her stomach. She needed to compose herself and turned the ignition back on so she could have the radio on low, providing a comforting soft din to an otherwise loaded silence broken only by the rumble of her stomach. She hadn't eaten a thing at breakfast – usually her favourite meal of the day. This was so much more than first-day nerves. This job could be life changing. She'd done the figures and, with potential commission, they'd all added up. She checked her reflection – an early-morning hair wash and a brand-new mascara certainly made her look fresher than she felt, she thought to herself, as if judging the face of someone else. She knew she looked younger than she was, but no one else would know that she appeared brighter than she felt. If she could fool herself, hopefully she'd fool the office of new colleagues awaiting her arrival just around the corner. She ought to waltz on in and simply say, hullo! Stella Hutton! Reporting for duty! How lovely to meet you all! Right, where do I begin! After all, if ever there was a new beginning, a golden opportunity, a lifeline, then taking on this job was it.

The first day of March, the first day of the week; the sky startlingly naked of clouds; the sun a slightly harsh white light and rather unnerving, like bare legs revealed for the first time after hibernating behind opaque tights all winter. Stella thought it must be a good omen – sunshine to signify the change from one month to another, not least because February had been alternately drenched and then frozen. A positive nod from the universe, perhaps, to say, it's a fresh start, Stella. Here's some brightness and warmth to prove it. Winter's receding, put spring in your step. Especially today. Of all days,

She shifted in her seat, flipped the sun visor back up, switched the radio off and the engine on, crunching the car into gear. My back aches, she thought. And then she wondered what on earth was being said behind it by the office personnel a few streets away.

I'd certainly have something to say about it, Stella thought, if I'd been told a person like me was starting today.

‘Apparently, she has
little experience.'

‘How can you go from being an art teacher to an estate agent?'

‘Chalk and cheese, if you ask me.'

‘No no – I don't think she was an art teacher – I heard she owned a gallery and it went bust.'

‘How do you go from paintings to property?'

‘Well, it's all sales, isn't it.'

‘She did work experience here – during the summers when she was at college.'

‘Well – obviously that's how she got this job. Her father is brother to Hutton Senior – apparently they don't speak. Black sheep. Apparently she's estranged from her father but really close with

‘Dear God, You Three – you've never met the woman!' Geoff looked up at Belinda, Gill and Steve, to whom he always referred as You Three. Every day that triumvirate of three interchangeable voices gossiped the air into an oppressive cloy around him. Mostly, he was able to filter it out, like dust in his peripheral vision. But not today. Today the talk wasn't about Z-list celebrities or people he didn't know, it concerned someone about to walk in through the office door any moment. New blood in the company. It made him more nervous than curious. There'd always been only four agents working here in the Hertford branch of Elmfield Estates, excluding the chairman Douglas Hutton Senior who came into the office infrequently, and Douglas Hutton Junior his son and managing director whose door was mostly closed though he heard everything. With this new person it meant five. And as he was the eldest and his sales were down, he wondered if it was true that she was being brought in to edge him out. New blood. New bloody person.

BOOK: Rumours
5.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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