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London Calling

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Ann excused herself when she saw Elizabeth’s name pop up on her phone screen. She answered the phone as she started to run up the stairs, “Two secs Liz.” She entered Anne’s bedroom and smiled as she pulled the folding screen across the door. Anne had been so proud of it when she’d demonstrated how it would work. It had at least meant that they didn’t have to go across the hall to change in the bathroom, even if it didn’t quite give them the level of privacy they wanted.

She jumped onto the bed and propped herself up against the headboard. They usually texted regularly but it had been a while since they’d spoken properly. A mixture of the whirlwind her life had become since Anne had whisked her off her feet and Elizabeth’s non-stop circus as a mother of three young children. She made herself comfortable before raising the phone to her ear. “Hey Liz,” she said a little breathlessly.

“Where are you?” came the cheery voice.

Ann looked around at the room she was sharing with Anne. Her perfume and hairbrush on top of the dresser, Anne’s unfinished book on the nightstand on her side of the bed. She wondered how to answer the seemingly simple question. She had told her about the accident on the bridge and how Anne had come back into her life. She knew that they had been spending time together but she had been a little vague on the exact nature of their relationship.

“I’m home,” she finally answered. Technically it wasn’t a lie. She was in Anne’s home, and Halifax was her home.

“And how is Halifax?” A knowing lilt to her voice.

“H-how do you know I’m in Halifax?” Ann stuttered, her mouth falling open at being caught in a disguised truth.

“I’m your big sister Annie. I know everything.” If that was true, and right now she didn’t have any reason to doubt it, she wondered what else she knew. “And how’s Anne?”

“I’m fine.” As soon as the words escaped her lips she regretted them. She knew her sister hadn’t been referring to her in the third person. She shut her eyes tight bracing for the reaction.

“You know which Anne I mean,” Ann knew she was joking but the slight edge in her voice was deserved. “When exactly were you going to tell me you’d started dating Anne Lister?”

“Apparently I don’t have to,” she parried back.

Elizabeth was slightly surprised at the unusual boldness, apparently a lot more had changed than she thought, “No, you don’t.”

There was silence before she heard Ann sigh helplessly, that sounded more like her. She could almost see Ann wringing the bottom of her t-shirt, dress, or whatever loose material was within reach. She hadn’t called to interrogate her, but their Aunt Ann had been leaving cryptic messages asking about Ann and whether she’d heard from her. A quick call to Catherine had confirmed that she was fine but she knew there was something she was hiding.

She tried not to pry too much into Ann’s life, she already had to deal with their relatives always in her business that she tended to wait for information to be volunteered. She always knew that if there was anything important then she would tell her. She hadn’t told her about Anne though, and she was the very definition of important in Ann’s world. “It would’ve been nice if you had.”

Elizabeth’s tone had softened. “You’re busy with the kids and George,” Ann’s voice was small. Her problems always seemed so insignificant compared to everyone else’s, especially the ones she’d had with Anne. It was all teenage drama that she should have learnt now to deal with years ago - trying to figure out if your crush likes you, dealing with their ex-girlfriends, trying to find time to be alone. Sometimes it felt like she was living her adolescence all over again.

“I’m never too busy for you Annie. You know that.”

“I know.”

“So come on, kids are playing for at least an hour. Tell me about your girlfriend.” A huge grin spread across Ann’s face as she heard Elizabeth call her that. “Is she everything you dreamed?”

She let out a huge contented sigh, “She’s so much more.”

===

“No she’s upstairs.” Marian put her earbuds in so that no one else could hear the other side of her conversation with Tib and Catherine.

“What the hell was Lister thinking? That dusty old carriage, come on Marian,” Tib teased.

“She’s your best friend Tib, you tell her.” She couldn’t understand why that was being laid at her door, it wasn’t like she had any control of anything her sister did. She had thought the goats alone would have been enough to stop her from going into the stables.

“Don’t worry I did. Then she got a bit weird about Sam.”

“Sam?” That was exactly why Marian hadn’t wanted her to wander too far back there. Anne was much better now but it was too easy for the memories to be triggered. A bad outbreak of equine influenza in the local area had affected almost all of the horses a year or so after Sam’s death. The ones that survived were soon sold off. It was for the best since there was no one there to tend to them. Anne hadn’t even asked the next time she had visited, it was a part of the estate that held too many ghosts for her.

“She said he’d met Ann. Told her not to break her heart.”

Marian smiled at the thought of him telling her what to do, apart from Aunt Anne he was the only one ever allowed to, “Sounds like Sam.”

“Anyway, we need to get those two loverbirds together.”

“Oh god, please!” Catherine cried out. “If they don’t shag soon, Ann’s going to explode.” They all laughed, they couldn’t believe that they’d spent so many conversations on this topic. Though they supposed it was better than having to nurse one of them through a heartbreak. “Also, sorry Marian, when that happens I’d rather it happened up there than down here.”

“Someone’s coming to fix the door today. That should help.”

“They’re going to be louder than that,” Catherine quipped. Marian knew she was right though.

“What do you want me to do? Ship the old folks off to Scarborough for the day?”

“That’s actually not a bad idea.”

“Tib,” Marian said firmly.

“You know you’re starting to sound like her.”

“Shutup.”

Tib laughed, “There you go again.” There was a disapproving hum from Marian, she really was turning into her sister. “Leave that idea with me, I might be able to come up with something.” The cogs in Tib’s brain started to turn slowly before she clapped her hands loudly. “Right my fellow conspirators in Operation Annes Need a Shag.”

Catherine burst into a fit of laughter as Marian huffed, “That’s not what we’re calling it.”

“Alright, Operation Duracell.” Tib wanted to say that was another trait she was picking up from Anne but at least one of the people on this call wouldn’t appreciate it. “Any other orders of business? Are they going to this bloody wedding?”

Marian had been meaning to ask Anne about Eliza Belcombe’s wedding, but she was almost always with Ann and she didn’t want to bring it up around her. When she had caught her in a rare moment by herself she’d found her in such a good mood that she hadn’t been the one to ruin it. Her sister always shot the messenger.

“Anne didn’t mention it to Ann.” Catherine went through the mental itinerary in her head of all the outfits she had helped choose for their week away. “At least Ann didn’t pack for it. Unless she forgot to tell her?”

“My sister never forgets.”

“Maybe Miss Walker distracted her.”

She could almost hear Tib wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. “Maybe Anne finally is actually done with that woman,” she added hopefully.

“I’m putting my money on both.”

Marian heard the front door close, “Have to go, I can hear Anne depositing half the mud from Cunnery Wood in the Hall.” She heard the both of them laugh through their goodbyes as she ended the call.

===

Anne had tried to soothe Ann as best she could but she was still in a fretful state. She’d at least managed to coax her up off the floor. Now she was pacing along the foot of the bed. Anne glanced again at the text message still open on her phone next to her. It was a summons to dinner with the family at Stoney Royd that night. It had been under the guise of an invitation, but there was no mistaking that she was expected to be there, they both were.

Ann muttered to herself as she wore a hole in the floor. She tried to piece together how the day had turned. She had spent a lovely morning with Marian in the parlour. It was the first time they’d ever properly been able to talk alone together without being at some sort of social gathering. She realised that Marian had a wicked sense of humour, often aimed at her sister - the goats being a prime example. They actually belonged to John but she had moved them in just for the week that Anne was there just to make her think she’d turned the estate into an old farm as she’d feared.

Then Elizbeth had called and she was so eager to speak to her. After the initial unease when she knew she’d found out about her relationship with Anne, through some very clever guesswork and piecing together of clues, they’d settled into their usual sisterly banter. Ann had rushed through everything that had happened the last couple of weeks because she was afraid they’d be interrupted by one of the children. It had been a torrent of information to process but she’d said the important thing was that Ann sounded happier than she had ever known her to be. As long as Anne Lister was the reason for that happiness then she was glad that they had found each other again.

When the text came through moments after they’d said goodbye as one of the children had demanded their mother’s attention, she’d thought that maybe she had forgotten to mention something or it was Anne telling her where she’d disappeared off to. She hadn’t expected to see a message from her Aunt Ann informing her that the family were having dinner tonight and that she wouldn’t want to disappoint them by not attending, with Anne.

She kept asking herself how they’d found out they were there. Someone must have seen them she thought, but the only time they’d been off the estate was to go to church and she’d not recognised anyone there. Then she thought someone must have told them, but Anne had reassured her that only a handful of people knew and none of them would have said anything. Ann had snapped at her saying they’d obviously found out somehow from someone. That was when Anne had decided to let her run through her thought process.

Anne sat patiently on the bed as Ann continued back and forth, brow furrowed in concentration as she wrung her hands together. She was concerned at her agitated state and had considered going downstairs to get her a cup of tea but when she’d tried to make a move Ann had immediately pounced, asking her where she was going. She’d emphatically stated that she didn’t want anything so Anne had sat back down.

She tried to think why Ann was so distressed. Before going up to Halifax they had talked about whether she wanted to see her family and that had been a firm no. Anne largely understood that; her relationship with Christopher had always been tempestuous and she had been fodder for Nelly Rawson’s gossip circles for decades. Those altercations were nothing new to Anne though and she would easily suffer through a visit if that’s what Ann had wanted.

Ann noticed the concern in Anne’s deep brown eyes as she watched her. She struggled to form her thoughts into words and wished she was half as articulate as Anne. They hadn’t really spoken about her family in any great detail. She knew their history as well as anyone from Halifax did, better probably due to the proximity of their estates. Whenever the subject had come up Anne saw how uneasy she got and had told her all she needed to know was that she had chosen to move away from her family, and that was enough. Ann had been so very grateful that she hadn’t had to explain herself, but now she wished they’d taken the time to talk when they didn’t have a family dinner looming ahead of them.

For the first couple of weeks after she had moved down to London, Ann had received message after message from her family. Her aunt would tell her to stop being so silly and to just come home where they could keep an eye on her and that she was being a burden to Catherine. Then her cousins would chime in saying how frivolous she was being with her finances living in London when she had a perfectly good home there.

Catherine had suggested she block them but after one day they just resorted to messaging her asking why their messages didn’t appear to be going through to Ann. Instead they turned off her notifications for the family and she only looked at her messages from them once a day. After a while they had gotten the message and the constant barrage had stopped. It also helped that Catherine would regularly update her grandmother to tell her Ann was doing just fine, which she was. In fact, Ann had been thriving in London, especially now that Anne was in her life. She hated that all it had taken was one message to undo all the good that had been done.

Over the years she had learnt to take the sustained jibes aimed at her. All the little ways in which her family would tell her that she was an invalid. She wasn’t outgoing and sociable like John had been, and she wasn’t as smart as Elizabeth was. Since Christopher was the executor of all the family’s wills, it had been a struggle for her to gain financial independence when she was younger but after she turned 25 he had little actual say. He still kept a close eye on all of her finances though and she would often get a phone call from her aunt enquiring about her purchases.

They obviously knew about her relationship with Anne, perhaps not the detail of it although assumptions would have been made. Ann didn’t want her to be subjected to the same sort of scrutiny they had always placed her under. They would question her motives, Christopher had always commented on how Shibden paled compared to the other great estates in the area. He was sure to taunt Anne with the idea that she was only seeing her for her money. Then there was the obvious age difference, one of them was sure to bring that up too, that Anne was just chasing after someone far too young for her.

She looked over at Anne, still sitting patiently on the end of the bed. All the possible reasons they could attack her racing through her head. She hadn’t even known who she was when they first met, how could they ever question her motives? Then a new thought sprung into her mind. What if that wasn’t what they did? What if they made Anne doubt her choice?

They could pick apart Ann’s life, the way they always did. She’d always needed help to run the household, she had never travelled, didn’t have any kind of career plan. She was in her thirties and still flitting through life. What if Anne cared about what they thought? They were her family, the ones who supposedly knew her best. Her mind was bombarded by all the possible weaknesses they could use against her to show Anne that she deserved more, that Ann wasn’t worth her time.

Ann’s obvious distress was worsening. Anne wasn’t even sure that she had registered how laboured her breathing had become. Finally when Ann turned to her, the inner torment that whatever thoughts were racing through her mind written clearly on her face, Anne decided it was enough. She stood from the bed and grasped her firmly by her shoulders before pulling her close into a tight embrace. She seemed to surrender to whatever thoughts she was having as she felt her sobbing against her chest as she rubbed her back trying to calm her.

===

They lay on the bed together, Ann curled up against Anne’s side, her arm wrapped around her waist. Anne slowly ran her fingers through her hair as she casually tried to check the time on her watch. Ordinarily she would have been happy for Ann to take whatever time she needed before they spoke, but she was aware that someone would be there in the next half hour to decide what repairs needed to be done to the door.

Anne looked down at the top of the golden mess of hair that fell on her chest. Her breathing had evened out and she appeared less troubled now. “Darling?” There was a quiet hum from below her, that was something. She was about to ask her exactly why she was so worried about the dinner, but Ann’s next words came completely unexpected. “I don’t think you should come to dinner.”

She wanted to pretend that she hadn’t heard the words come from Ann’s mouth. She tried her best to keep the tone of her voice even although the hellhounds that raged inside of her were shaking with fury. She paused a moment, before asking, “Why not?”

“You shouldn’t have to put up with my family. I know you and Christopher -”

“I can deal with Christopher Rawson. I have done my whole life.” She felt Ann wince at her terse words, but she remained wrapped around her. “It’s something else.”

She felt Ann’s hold loosening before she heard her quietly reply, “No.” Anne’s arm automatically withdrew from beneath Ann as her first lie filled the space between them. She swung her legs off the bed and looked out of her window. How many times had she sat on that bed whilst the people she shared it with chose to lie to her? The promises that they would call, that this wouldn’t change anything between them, that they were leaving Charles. She felt herself start to detach as the pieces of her armour began clicking into place.

Anne closed her eyes as she squeezed the bridge of her nose between her fingers. “They know you’re gay.”

“What? Yes. Of course.” The mattress shifted as Ann sat up. Anne hadn’t intended it as a question. She was thinking out loud, trying to find any possible reason other than the one all of her past demons were whispering in her ear, that she was ashamed of her.

“We just, we don’t talk about those things, especially not around the dinner table.” She recoiled at the memories of all the times her sexuality was ever mentioned in front of the tribe, the disdain that coloured their faces. The echo of their words slipped out of her mouth with venom, “It’s vulgar.”

“Oh.” The unanticipated words struck Anne deftly as she recalled the conversation they’d had around the breakfast table that morning. The playful japes her family had flung across the room about her past relationships, all in an attempt to make Ann feel more at home. To show her that they liked her more than any of the others there had been, it had all been for her benefit alone which is why Anne had allowed it. It was all apparently vulgar. The word burned at the back of Anne’s throat.

“They’ll take one look at you-”

“It’s fine Ann.” She had heard enough. “I understand,” her voice was already wistful. She pulled her shoulders back as she tilted her head up, hoping to help the tears that threatened defy gravity.

Ann grew increasingly frustrated the more she thought about how her family had dictated the course of so much of her life. She was an adult when John had died, but they’d made her feel like a child. It had taken her this long to finally establish some independence again and it had barely been a few days and they were already trying to control her again. “They’re just so judgemental.”

“I said it’s fine.” Ann’s head jerked up at the sharp delivery of Anne’s words. There was no ‘Darling’ or even ‘Ann’ to soften the words. They had been spoken through gritted teeth, and her back was to her. This wasn’t right.

“Wait.” Ann tried to understand what was happening. “What’s wrong?”

Anne noted the difference in her tone, it was softer again, but she was familiar with how wavering a person’s moods could be where she was concerned. Ann continued to stare at the back of her head, why hadn’t she turned around?

“My family’s too vulgar for you.” Ann’s mouth fell, that’s not what she’d said. “Your family would take one look at me and think I’m beneath you.” Her words sounded so cold and detached. “I get it Ann. I’ve spent my entire life not being enough.”

“That’s not what I said!” She reached out her hand to touch Anne’s shoulder but her fingertips had barely made contact when Anne moved slightly so that she was no longer in reach. It was the smallest of movements but it spoke volumes.

“It’s what you meant.” Ann quickly tried to replay the last few minutes, where had they begun to misunderstand each other so terribly?

“I’ll drive you to your family’s for dinner. I can drop your things at Crow Nest so you don’t have to come back. Now that they know you’re in Halifax there’s no reason for you to have to stay here. I’m sure you’re missing it.” Ann’s head started to spin at the words. In a few sentences she seemed to have lost everything.

She saw Anne start to stand but before she could she launched herself off the bed and pushed her back down, keeping her hands firmly on her shoulders. “Damn it Anne you’re being just like them! Why won’t anyone listen to me?” Her heart was pounding in her chest as she closed her eyes tight as she tired to calm the thoughts in her head. She held on tight to Anne’s strong shoulders, hoping it would ground her.

After a few moments she felt a hand on top of her own. She slowly opened her eyes, Anne’s deep brown eyes staring up at her. She searched them, looking for the faintest glimmer to show her she understood, but there was nothing. She had never seen her eyes look so empty. “What is it you have to say Ann?”

Ann knew that she would never say anything more important than what she was about to say. Anne’s jaw was clenched tightly but her hand remained on Ann’s. There was a slight tilt of her head, even though her eyes remained blank. Ann dropped to her knees in front of Anne, pulling her hands into her lap as she held them tight.

She looked up at Anne, her eyes imploring her to believe what she was going to say. “Anne, I adore you. When I’m with you nothing else matters and the whole world makes sense. But my family,” Anne turned her head to the side. She knew that this was where she had lost her, and where she would have to get her back. “My family, as soon as they get their claws into me, into us. Don’t you see?” She paused briefly but it was long enough for Anne to turn back to her. With her heart completely laid bare she said in the smallest of voices, afraid that giving life to the words would make them true, “You won’t want me.”

Ann’s head fell into Anne’s lap as her confession escaped from her lips. Anne’s eyes widened as she realised, not for the first time, how wrong she had been when it came to Ann Walker. She wasn’t worried about how her family would react to her, that she wasn’t good enough for them. No, Ann was scared that after meeting them Anne wouldn’t want her.

She slowly pulled Ann’s head up from her lap, gently cupping the sides of her face. ”Ann.” Even that one word soothed her, the timbre of Anne’s voice back to the soothing low lilt that her ears craved. “Darling, they can’t touch me. There’s nothing anything of them can say that would stop me wanting to be with you.” Ann started to trouble her bottom lip, these were the words she’d dared not hope for.

Anne placed a kiss against her forehead, leaving her lips pressed against her for a beat before pulling back to look at her again. “You don’t have to face them alone, you don’t have to face them at all.” A small smile formed as Ann looked hopefully back at her. “We can stay here, at Shibden. We never have to see them.” She saw a flicker of hesitation in her eyes, “But if you want to go, I won’t leave your side for a moment. We can navigate our way through this and everything the damn tribe throws at us together.”

Ann jumped up into her lap as she wrapped her arms around her strong shoulders as she held onto her tightly. Anne’s arms closed around her waist, keeping her close. It felt like they had crossed a huge chasm in those last few moments. Both sighing with relief as they remained in the loving embrace.

They heard a loud cough from behind them, both quickly turning the heads to the door. Marian was standing sideways in the doorway trying not to look as her good friend Ann straddled her big sister. Ann let out a little giggle, as Anne kissed her cheek. She had missed that sound. “Impeccable timing as ever Marian.”

===

Anne smoothed out the creases in her blazer as they stood at the grand front door. She had never felt intimidated when visiting the Rawson family home, but she was always impressed. The large Victorian mansion with its perfectly manicured gardens was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful estates in all of Yorkshire. It had been a while since she had sparred with Christopher, the idea of taking him down a peg or two in his own home thrilled her a little. Tonight, her top priority was ensuring she was there to support Ann, however she needed her to.

She glanced quickly out of the corner of her eye, she seemed to be doing okay. Ann had chosen a dark crimson cocktail dress saying that it would compliment whatever black ensemble she would choose to wear. It certainly did that, and it fit perfectly to every curve. Anne couldn’t stop thinking that they made a very handsome couple.

Ann looked across at her and took a moment to appreciate the close-fitting black suit, paired with a black dress shirt Anne had buttoned all the way up. She was treating tonight like a business meeting with a hostile future client and wanted to look the part. As Ann’s eyes slowly raked up the length of her lean taught body she was glad that whatever the night brought she’d enjoy the view.

“I do hope none of your family are mind readers Miss Walker,” Ann blinked at the sound of her name as she turned to Anne. She smiled smugly, “Because if they can, they’d be scandalised by the filth running through your mind.” Her sweet smile feigned modesty but Anne was absolutely right. Anne took a deep breath before clasping Ann’s hand in hers, “Shall we?”

Ann knocked tentatively on the door, perhaps if no one answered the door they could run away and say they tried but no one was home. It was wishful thinking of course. All too soon they heard someone on the other side of the heavy door. ”Finally, young people!” They both looked at each other surprised. They hadn’t expected to see Delia there tonight, as far as Ann knew she hadn’t mentioned that she was coming up to see the family. Delia wrapped them both up in a hug, “Save me from all these old people.”

“Good to see you Delia,” Anne said politely as they entered the house. She took a moment to admire her surroundings. The large curling staircase that dominated the entrance, all of the family portraits that lined the walls. Shibden would never be this grand, but at least it felt like a home. She always thought Stoney Royd felt more like a museum. “Come through to the drawing room, we’re having pre-dinner drinks.”

Delia groaned as they walked through the house. She couldn’t understand why her grandmother insisted on everything being so proper for a midweek meal celebrating nothing in particular. She immediately went to the drinks cabinet to make a drink for herself. Ann leaned in closely and whispered to Anne, “Do you think Delia told them we were here?”

Anne looked up at the woman pouring herself a large quantity of gin, “No, I don’t think she would. Catherine made a point of telling me that she’d told her not to say anything.” Ann hummed, if it wasn’t Delia then she would have to try and get the information out of another member of her family. She wondered where the rest of them were as Delia came back, thrusting a gin and tonic into Ann’s hands, “You’ll need this.” She turned as Anne snickered, “You might need one too.”

“I’m driving.”

“Suit yourself, but you’ll probably regret that. Granny’s dinners are much more palatable with alcohol.” She took a large swig of her own drink as she noticed how the two of them still held a tight grasp of each other’s hands.

“What is this dinner for anyway?” Ann asked.

She let out a little laugh, “For you!” Ann looked at her incredulously as Delia looked between the two of them, “Did you really not know?” They both shook their heads. “Cousin Christopher said he’d heard that the both of you were in town and so of course put it in Granny’s head that she needed to invite you over for dinner.” Well, Anne thought, that solved part of the mystery but she still didn’t know how he’d found out. Delia seemed to have all the answers and from the way she was knocking back her drink she’d be willing to tell all in a moment or so.

“But who told him?” Apparently Ann didn’t think she needed another moment.

“Some woman he’s been doing business with.” Delia scrunched up her face as she tried to think of the name, she hadn’t really been paying attention when she’d heard them speaking earlier. “Parkin...Larkin...Larson…”

“Lawton,” Anne stated.

“That’s it!” Delia’s smile fell when she saw the Annes exchange knowing looks, looks that said whoever this Lawton person was, she was trouble.

“Lister!” They all turned to see Christopher stride into the room, drink already in hand. He walked over to them and nodded a greeting to Ann, completely ignoring Delia. He offered a hand to Anne and she took it reluctantly, tightening her grip as she shook it. Ann saw him wince a little at her obvious display of strength. “Good to see you,” he looked at how close the two of them stood together, “The both of you.”

“Rawson,” was all Anne responded with. There was no use pretending that it was good to see him. It had been some time since she’d seen him, he still looked the same. Too thin in some places, pot belly and slightly balding in others. Totally insipid. She had planned to be civil to him, but now she knew that he was in cahoots with Mariana and she had obviously been discussing more than business with him she was on guard.

“I’d heard the two of you were up visiting,” he smiled insincerely. Anne momentarily let go of Ann’s hand but only so she could snake her arm around her waist, Ann responding similarly as she wrapped her arm under her blazer, forming a united front. Delia’s eyes lit up as she watched the powerplay unfold before her.

“How are the Spurs?” Anne felt her lip curl at the reference to her company. He always felt his little nickname for it was so clever, she refused to rise to it. “Business is great, we’ve just redecorated the office.”

“Ahh yes, I heard. Terrible business, a break in.” He took a sip from his drink as he waited for a reaction, but none was given. Anne filed away the knowledge in the back of her mind. There was no reason for him to know about the break in, that must be Mariana again, keeping tabs on her and letting everyone know her business. “What do you expect having a business named after the Spurs in West London?” Another failed joke. It had been less than ten minutes and Anne was already tired of him.

“Actually Anne’s business is named after her horse, Hotspur.” Anne turned in surprise as Ann spoke up, “He was named after an English knight because of his speed.” They saw Christopher’s lip flicker as he gave a simpering smile. He downed his drink and quickly excused himself saying that he should get a top up before dinner. Ann smiled as they watched him retreat to the other side of the room. “Score one for the Annes!” Delia declared triumphantly as she clinked her glass against Ann’s. Noticing her drink was half gone she decided that she was in need of a top up too.

As Ann stood there smiling to herself Anne turned her and placed both hands on her hips as she looked at her curiously, “How did you know that about my horse?”

Ann looked down briefly, she realised she hadn’t told Anne this story before, she actually hadn’t told anyone. “Sam.”

Anne drew her head back, “Sam? My Sam?”

Ann nodded, she reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind Anne’s ear. She could see her trying to understand what she was saying, “When I used to ride around Lightcliffe I’d sometimes cross into Shibden and he’d always be out exercising the horses.” Anne nodded thoughtfully, “We’d race sometimes, he’d always let me win.” That made Anne smile, Sam was always far too chivalrous, “Except when he was riding Hotspur.” Anne tilted her head. “He told me that he was your horse, and that if it ever got out that you didn’t have the fastest horse in all of Halifax you’d have him fired as horsemaster of Shibden.”

A sad smile graced Anne’s lips as she pictured Sam racing across Shibden on the beautiful bay colt he’d gifted her. “I told him that would never do, especially since I was the one who recommended he buy him for you.” A gift Ann had apparently chosen for her. How had he never told her this story? Anne let the words sink in as she leaned forward, Ann tilted her head up a little and their lips met in a tender kiss.

“I should’ve known that’s how I’d find the both of you.” The two of them broke apart at the sound of Nelly Rawson’s gruff voice.

“Mrs Rawson, good to see you.”

She smiled knowingly at the two of them, “Good to see you too Anne, and Ann.” She raised an eyebrow as she saw their hands find each other. She motioned towards the dining room, “Shall we?”